Force and Destiny is arguably one of the most eagerly-awaited additions for FFG’s SWRPG line. I recently talked to Keith Ryan Kappel about his contributions to F&D – the “Introduction” and “The Galaxy” chapters. You can find our previous interview with Keith about his work on Suns of Fortune here.
Appreciated your comments on GMs and fun in the Introduction, as that’s one of my priorities. But any tips for GMing “on the fly” for those of us that aren’t naturals at it?
Thanks! For me, the FFG Star Wars RPG represents a culture shift in tabletop RPGs from the D20 tactical combat simulator (which is great for that kind of experience) to the rise of more narrative-focused story-telling games. On the slider-scale between pure combat simulator and pure improvisational storytelling, the FFG Star Wars game definitely leads toward storytelling, so I wanted to make sure right away in the Introduction that the focus was absolutely on fun and storytelling over rules for tactical balance. In my experience, FFG Star Wars runs best when it runs fast and stays focused on the core mechanic of using the dice to tell the story, and divert it into fun, new, unexpected directions.
I think there are two keys to a solid improvised session of GMing on the fly. I do this a lot, particularly with younger kids. The first rule, and this should be generally accepted anyway, is to just say yes to absolutely any PC plan.
I once had an 8 year old girl, playing in a demo game I was running, slice into an Imperial computer system, and she came up with the idea to distract all the stormtroopers deployed in town by throwing a pizza party for them on the far side. She made a very difficult roll to get Darth Vader to foot the bill for the party. This enabled the rest of the team to move an illicit cargo across town without any combat complications.
It was a great, fun moment that had all the kids at the table giggling as we described the stormtroopers dancing and eating pizza, and Darth Vader’s reaction when he got the bill, back on the Death Star. That fun moment never happens unless I say yes. You have to adopt a very zen-like, go with the flow approach to player plans. This also applies to point two:
Crowd-source. I think the FFG Star Wars narrative dice system lends itself to this, but as a GM operating without any sort of pre-conceived plan, I think it helps a GM to be more open to suggestions from around the table. Push your players for a narrative expenditure of positive or even the negative dice results. If it takes more than a few seconds for one of the people at the table to shout something out, consult a chart on a GM screen or Core Book and move on.
Getting narrative expenditures from the table (which, again, you should still be doing if you have a plan or don’t), is going to always send the game in new, unexpected directions. The more you are doing these two things, with or without a pre-planned adventure, the more fun you’ll have at the table. It’s also going to train that improvisation skill. You’ll get better at thinking on your feet, adapting to your players, and moving the story forward toward something.
From a more nuts and bolts story bit of advice, this approach is going to work way better for one shots than it is for entire campaigns. So start the one-shot with a pre-defined goal. I usually run my demos with maps from the various Beginner Boxes, and I’ll just look at the map and make up a goal. Free this prisoner, recover this data, escape this jail cell, commandeer this ship, capture this officer and take him back to your base, whatever.
I like the FFG Adversary Decks. They really allow me to run games on the fly at conventions and events without having to lug the heavy CRB around with me. A few decks of cards, my dice, some maps, tokens, and pre-gens from the Beginner Boxes, and a GM screen for tables, and I really have everything I need for a fun, improvised, pick-up one shot game. I can sprinkle some tokens on the map, flip a few adversary cards out so I have stats handy, and go for it.
Your account of gaming with kids warmed my heart. I well remember my teens’ first RPG experiences. And they still play. What, if anything, is different about GMing for kids?
Well, I’ve done a few different library events three times a year or so for the past year, and I’m predominantly running the game for first-time players aged 4-12-ish. I find the younger the kids are, other than following my general guidelines for fun, you just have to be open to the game the kids want to play. You can’t try to impose your vision of the adventure or campaign on the kids, you have to let them direct the story with their ideas.
The other big trick, I think, is to keep it short. Under an hour, preferably around 20-30 minutes. The other thing, if it’s their first time, is to spend about 2 minutes tops explaining the rules of how the dice work. Let them learn the rest as you go. Just explain how symbols cancel out, and what the symbols mean, then explain the basic scenario so they know who their character is and what their goal is, and then get right into playing. And make sure you are picking an objective that can be accomplished in that amount of time.
I love GMing this system for younger kids, though. They pick up the narrative dice in minutes, and the creativity they naturally bring to games makes them incredibly fun, though you never know which way the game is going to go.
In both the Introduction and Galaxy chapters – your contributions to F&D – the Rebellion and fighting the Empire in general comes up several times. To me, it seems to encourage combining Age of Rebellion with Force & Destiny. Was this deliberate and would you elaborate a little more on how to do this?
I think I reference fighting the Empire much more so than the Rebellion itself. The Dark Side is personified by Emperor Palpatine, Darth Vader, and a small horde of Inquisitors and dark agents. Because these folks all work for the Empire, which is also outlawing and erasing the Jedi from history, I think it is naturally going to set most Force-powered characters against the Empire. So this means that fighting the Empire, or at least fleeing them, is going to be part of most F&D campaigns set in the Rebellion era.
I don’t think I did this any more than Edge of the Empire does the same; criminals are likewise automatically put in a position where they find themselves in an adversarial relationship with the Empire. So that was certainly the intent. I suppose it might stand out a bit more since the Age of Rebellion CRB has already released, which wasn’t an element at play during the Edge of the Empire CRB release. In general, I do encourage combining all three game lines, as your campaign will better reflect the same mix of characters the movies portray if you do.
That said, there are some great stories that can come out of sticking to a closer theme by restricting a campaign to a single line. I think the system works great either way. Obligation, Duty, and Morality all can be used together, interchangeably, or in any other number of ways without breaking the game.
Do you have any thoughts or suggestions for using F&D for play in other eras, when the Jedi Order was active?
This is tricky. Obviously, in most other eras, the big difference is that you don’t have the Empire hunting Jedi or suspected Jedi down. Instead of being on the run from the government, the Jedi are supported by it. When you move out of the Rebellion Era, you sort of lose that lever of balance as the GM. So if this were me, and I were just house-ruling at home? I’d probably add on to Morality.
For instance, the Jedi Council might require you report in every so often on your progress, when you make that Morality check, and if your character slips toward the Dark Side, I might have the Council impose some kind of mechanical drawback for slipping, or a story drawback. I might also add to the Morality chart for things that give you Conflict to represent the beliefs of the Jedi Council of that day.
I mean, I think we see that love isn’t automatically harmful to Jedi, but the Jedi of that era consider it forbidden. So when a Jedi does it anyway, it requires being dishonest with allies and the Council, and generates a lot of guilt, and other emotions and feelings. So I might add things like that onto the Conflict generation chart to give it more of a feeling of that era. I might also ratchet up how much conflict is generated, to represent the oversight; that Jedi really have to mind their emotions and the like to stay on good terms with the Council.
The other big thing, as a GM, would also just be to make the lightsaber more standard as starting equipment, though probably just the most basic training lightsabers at first.
It looks like you had a pretty free hand in what you included in “The Galaxy.” Did the shift in what is officially Canon have any affect on how you approached this part of the project?
Honestly it really hasn’t, certainly not on this book. The map of the galaxy, while rotated counter-clockwise from what we see in the Essential Atlas, still presents the same galactic geography, planets are in the same places, with the same hyperspace routes. For the smaller planet entries, I only had 1-3 sentences per entry, really. So it’s hard to step out of bounds canon-wise when you are saying so little. The one exception to this was probably Korriban/Moraband. The name change was news to me at the time, so it made that entry a bit interesting.
The real trick with this section was trying to do the same job Sterling Hershey had already done so well in both the Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion Core Rulebooks, and cover the same basic ground, without saying the same exact thing. I knew a lot of players and GMs would be shelling out 60 dollars for a third core rulebook, and I wanted to make sure that I covered as many different planets from the two previous CRBs as possible. On those planets you absolutely have to reuse (the major movie planets, for instance), I wanted to make sure that I was saying something different about them than the previous two CRBs, that either spoke directly to the F&D game line, or that just examined a different aspect of the world.
I enjoyed the Shadowfeed sidebars on old Jedi enclaves and other locales. While I do recognize some from Legends, many are new to me. Are they your creations? If so, will you share some of your inspirations?
Actually, pretty much every location, and whatever was referenced as being at that location, is drawn from the EU/Legends material. The idea of parsing them as shadowfeeds from a slicer interested in Force-related stuff was Sam [Stewart]’s brilliant move, though. I originally just had them as random excerpts from random in-universe writings. His repackaging of the sidebars really tied them together better and elevated them, IMO.
Most any location listed in the sidebars can be researched on Wookieepedia for GMs that want to learn more about what the EU/Legends has to say (but aren’t by any means restricted by that; the entries are meant to act as seeds to help GMs and players explore their own ideas and stories), but if you want a side-bar end-notes list, here you go!
“The Force’s Song”: I had this idea of a Jedi that perceives the Force like music. I think there have been other characters from the EU like this before, but I specifically wanted to do a Pa’Lowick (famous for singing in Jabba’s Palace) as a Jedi. I must have been feeling a bit poetical that day,and wrote some flowery words from her perspective, about her experience of the Force as she discovers a lost world strong in the Force.
“Rediscovering the Jedi”: Bleys Harand is perhaps notable to EU diehards as the college professor who instructed Corellia Antilles. Chandrila’s Jedi Tomb comes from the Jedi Academy video game. It was my idea to link the unknown Jedi tomb to the Jedi Consular player in the TOR video games, known as The Barsenthor. The Green Jedi Enclave comes from the TOR MMO video game as well. The idea that CorSec Imperial Liaisons exist comes from the X-Wing novels by Mike Stackpole, but the idea that their liaison building took over the enclave I believe was my idea. The Rhinnal Jedi Chapter house, and its use as a med center came from Coruscant and the Core Worlds by WOTC, and the Kamparas Academy was first mentioned all the way back in Zahn’s Dark Force Rising.
“Ruined Temples, Forgotten Fanes”: The Ambria Jedi Enclave goes back to the old Tales of the Jedi comics, and introduces this idea of the entire saga of Ulic Qel-Droma being drawn from ancient epic poetry. The idea for this came from, of course, Gilgamesh and Beowulf and other real epic poems, but also from the Tartovsky cartoon series. Tartovsky actually went to grade school within a mile of where I live in Chicago, and I always had a fondness for his micro-series of Clone Wars cartoons. StarWars.com later classified the events of those cartoons as an actual holovid produced by the little boy character on Dantooine. I thought that was an interesting way to handle that, and came up with this idea of the primary modern source for information regarding the TOR and KOTOR era material being these ancient epic poems and related works. Bogden’s Jedi Chapter House came from DHC’s Dark Times comics and the Bounty Hunter Code book. Truuine is another Tales of the Jedi reference from West End Games.
“Evaluation”: I really wanted to do a correspondence between an Inquisitor and someone issuing them orders. WEG used to do a lot of this sort of thing in their sidebars, and I always enjoyed it. Almas came from the great Living Force Campaign for the WOTC incarnation of the RPG. Alpheridies comes from the Tales of the Jedi comics, but the Luka Sene were another WOTC invention. Umbara and their shadow assassins were a Clone Wars cartoon creation.
“Captain’s Log”: This is an interesting one just because the entire sidebar is actually an homage to Kai Justiss, a Legends Jedi character often drawn by artist Joe Corroney for various essential guides and some WOTC RPG books. His lore has him as a student of Jocasta Nu, cataloguing Force-sensitive creatures for the Jedi Archives. The Jedi Path book had a narrator named Master Bowspritz, with an entry on Akk Dogs, though judging by the age of the book, the entry might have been in need of updating. I thought it’d be interesting to see that reaction and aknowledgement to the “in universe” tome. Justiss also has a Legends link to Kashyyyk, so I couldn’t not mention it. Abhean is the planet that constructed the Chu’unthor. When I was doing Star Wars fan comics at Fandomcomics.com, one of our books was called Tales of the Chu’unthor, surrounding a massive Jedi training ship which was built at Abhean Shipyards. On Aleen, the subterranean goddess refers to the Clone Wars episode featuring the planet.
“Inquisitor’s Evaluation”: Here’s another chunk of that correspondence between an unknown Inquisitor and his handler. Bosph is a WEG creation that has a great four-armed species with a native Force tradition. The Base Delta Zero is an EU reference to destroying an entire planet with sustained bombardment. [Also used in Star Wars Rebels. Linda] The Gand are an EU mainstay, and the last line of this entry was meant to perhaps sway Darth Vader’s decision to include Zuckuss, a Gand Findsman, in his rogues lineup of bounty hunters in ESB. The planet Voss comes from the TOR MMO.
What are some of your favorite planets and other locales in “The Galaxy”? What makes them special to you?
Man, there are so many. I was happy to get Koensayr in there, and give it some flavor as a Gran Colony (which makes the Gran control of the new Y-Wings in the Clone Wars make more sense). The Bogden entry was fun to write. Phateem was probably my favorite, because the bamboo combined with mountaintop temples just makes it feel very Eastern-influenced, which is what Lucas drew on for Jedi inspiration in the first place. I also like what I did with Truuine, pitting the shark-like Karkodons against the smaller Patrolians, both new species introduced by the Clone Wars cartoon. Also, the idea of programmers living in a luxurious vacation resort on an otherwise factory planet of Fabrin seemed like a cool idea to me.
Do all the authors work separately or is there collaboration?
It’s a combination. It really depends. For some things, problems get crowd-sourced. For instance, during development, a placeholder name was in use for the points accumulated during a session whenever Force users did something immoral. Dark Side Demerits, I think it was. Sam crowd-sourced an actual name, and I came up with Conflict, based largely on the film dialogue about characters sensing the conflict within each other.
Other times there is a need for two writers to collaborate. On this book, I believe I had a few conversations with John Dunn (who worked on the species for the book) to make sure we were on the same page when it came to writing about the species and their homeworlds. I’m always a fan of collaborating with as many co-writers on a book that can spare the time in their often busy schedules. I find I can generate ideas much more quickly and organically in conversation than I can staring at a blank page, but not everyone works that way. Plus I always have my frequent co-writer Ryan Brooks to bother with that sort of thing if my other co-writers get annoyed with my email bombardments.