This series follows the trials, tribulations, successes, and failures of a fairly inexperienced GM who has recently picked up the hobby after a long time away. It aims to assist new GM’s by examining what worked, didn’t work, and what failed miserably as he spins up new campaigns, modules, encounters, and adventures for his friends and family in Fantasy Flight Games’ Edge of the Empire/Age of Rebellion/Force and Destiny system.
I don’t consider myself a good GM. Maybe some day. But certainly not now. Not when I’m picking up the hobby for the first time in decades and running a system I just learned in May. I have a long way to go. But my players have heaped me with (I think unwarranted) praise in how I run my games. After a few sessions I started asking my players why they say my games are fun. We are playing in Fantasy Flight Games’ Star Wars RPG game lines.
One thing they said was that the games “feel” like Star Wars. The players said the games feel cinematic and like their characters are in the movies. That’s good because that’s the point and the heart of the narrative dice system, or any rpg for that matter. But as I examined their answers, I started learning there was one thing inserted deliberately into my games that significantly increased their enjoyment. Multimedia. Not much, just a little bit. But the reason that I included multimedia in my games was to fill in gaps of some Game Master shortcomings I have.
So, I started using some techniques to make the groups feel immersed into a Star Wars adventure despite my poor narrative skills. While I am playing the Star Wars lines, I would use most of these techniques in any rpg.
Don’t read… show and play an opening crawl
This is not an original idea. Many GM’s do this. FFG’s books recommend you at least read an opening crawl before new adventures. Because it’s very easy, I simply show one to my players with my laptop, complete with an episode number, title, and music. According to my players, when the crawl is finished they are pumped up and ready to go. I admit when I hear the opening trumpet blast and see the Star Wars logo shoot back into the screen I get goosebumps still.
There are a few crawl generators out there. A simple google search will score you some. StarWars.com used to have one too. However, I felt all of these were missing something for different reasons. Either the font wasn’t right, there was no music, they had character limits, or there was no opening logo flying back. But then I found some crawls that were done by OggDude, a FFG Forum staple who has given the Star Wars RPG world many great tools. At this thread I found many stand-alone HTML files for crawls he did for his adventures. All you need to do is download any of the files, open the source, and type over appropriate text, replacing it with your own, and save it as a new HTML file. Yes, this does take a small amount of technical acumen, but it has everything: music, the opening logo, and complete control over all text. I pick one of these HTML files as my template and each week change the text to match my adventure. (If anyone would like an example or see some I have done, contact me here or through Facebook and I’ll be glad to show you!)
Bottom line is, when the crawl is finished, my players usually have goosebumps and feel like they’re about to be in Star Wars. There’s no better way of setting the stage. Sure you can read one, but with a few minutes of effort, you can just show it to them!
When you can, show your players the things they encounter
I’m a complete Star Wars nerd. I realize and admit this freely. All my players are Star Wars fans too, but I happen to know more than any of them combined because of my level of nerdery. Luckily though, the internet is full of guys like me who have much more talent than I have. So I take advantage of that!
I’m a poor narrator. At least I don’t think I’m great. So because I likely know more about the Star Wars universe than my players, while I can imagine something easily in my mind, my players might not be able to. All you have to tell me about the bounty hunter in front of me is that he’s a dangerous looking Aqualish with a disruptor, and I’ll see that easily in my mind. But my players won’t know what that is, most likely. So, I show them. The good thing about the internet is that just about any and everything you’d ever need to find is out there. Any species, ship, world, or weapon in the universe has tons of photos, videos, and artwork with examples.
So when my players need to have something described, I simply show it to them whenever I can. I put up the picture on the laptop and display it to them. I do this for every world or setting they visit, almost every NPC they encounter, and for ships and weapons sometimes. Even if the image isn’t exactly what the game calls for, if I find something close, I’ll still show that. For my remote players on Google Hangouts, I screen-share and show them too. There are infinite places to find things but here’s the top ones I use:
- Wookieepedia – The unofficial/official encyclopedia for Star Wars. Most articles have images there. Most Star Wars fans know about this one.
- Google Image Search – A no-brainer, I know. But it’s never let me down. I have yet in 7 months running the game not found an image I was looking for.
- Fantasy Flight Games Forum Thread – This summer, an great thread started on the official FFG forums for people to post Star Wars artwork from all over the web. I’ve found several NPC’s and adventure settings from this thread, which is at 77 pages worth of content at this article’s writing. Similar threads and fan sites for other rpg’s are out there too.
Don’t just see it, hear it
Something that’s also common at some gaming tables for Star Wars roleplayers is music. John Williams has given us now seven movies worth of incredible music from Star Wars. None of the iconic images from the films come without music. These songs can be purchased of course, but all can be found on music services as well as YouTube. Chris Hunt also gave us a smashing overview of other Star Wars soundtracks out there worthy of inclusion.
Playing music softly in the background during scenes can be extremely epic. In Star Wars roleplaying it is even more impactful because of how integrated the music is with the world of Star Wars. I believe it is more useful in Star Wars RPG’s than any other genre, but can serve wonders for any rpg. It will immerse the room into the game’s universe with no additional help. I personally own all seven soundtrack albums on my phone, and have set up playlists depending on the type of action going on in the game. Playlist names like “General Ambiance,” “Space Battle,” “Climactic Battle,” or “Bad Things Coming” help me quickly get to the music needed for the mood of the scene in seconds. Music for other rpg’s is easy to find as well. Several websites and apps are out there for just that purpose.
I have also used music to get across what sounds an area might have to my players, rather than describe it. In one scene, my players needed to meet a Rebel contact at a large, heavily populated dance club. So, for a few seconds, I played a techno song I found on YouTube and let the players hear exactly what their characters were hearing. At one point the players were trying to have their characters communicate in the club, so I turned the music up to illustrate the fact they couldn’t hear each other easily. My players told me after that adventure they could really “see” the action. And the way they “saw” was through the music.
These few multimedia techniques are very simple, but not original. What they are is powerful. Many GM’s out there are likely considering these suggestions as obvious, but they are new techniques for me. When I’ve asked my players why they say an inexperienced GM like me is running a great game, I believe a lot of the answers I heard back equate to having that “Star Wars experience” when they play. The more they’re immersed into the world, the more they’re immersed into their characters and the game. That would hold true for any rpg. The best part is, finding these images to display, a crawl to run, and music to play takes very little time. A few simple bookmarks and a directory of images on your laptop, tablet, or phone will get you set.
Recently, I started up a 2nd campaign in the system with friends from work. The first game we played, I put an opening crawl up on the monitor for everyone and they were wowed. They said the production value, passion, and work I put into the game was amazing. But all I did was use the opening crawl files mentioned above. I didn’t do anything complicated. That simple opening crawl gave the players the impression of a ton of work. But what they were really getting at was…the game felt like Star Wars. And isn’t that every game master’s goal?
Do any of you have other things you do to add flair with technology? Do you do anything to make the games feel like you’re there beyond the narrative? Have any of you had success yourselves with these techniques?