Yeeeeahoooo! You’re all clear kid! So grab your lightsaber and dive back into that galaxy far far away with Star Wars: Rise of the Infinite Empire, June’s Campaign of the Month! Search your feelings as we interview GM HumAnnoyed, the Jedi Mast.. er GameMaster at the helm of this action packed campaign using the Fate Accelerated system.
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!
I have been playing RPGs ever since I saw the first Star Wars movie as a kid in 1977 and fell in love with all things nerdy. I began trying to draw all my characters for the various games I was in which led to me discovering I had a passion for art. From there I went to a fine arts high school and even got a degree in painting. After doing the starving artist routine for many years I rolled the dice and moved to Seattle. Here I found employment as an artist in the video game industry for over 12 years. Currently I have a job as the senior artist at an education gamification startup company. I really love it here in Seattle and not just because of the cooler weather. The gaming community here is larger and more diverse than in any other place I have lived and I have been lucky enough to discover groups that played a variety of great games over the years.
Tell us about Star Wars: Rise of the Infinite Empire in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?
My group has been playing The Dresden Files RPG (The Emerald City) for the last 6 years now. Every once in a while somebody wouldn’t be able to make a session and we wouldn’t want to leave them out. Especially if their character was vital to a particular storyline in the campaign. Around 2 years ago we decided to set up a pickup game that we could play in those instances. I suggested Star Wars. It was a universe we all loved and Fate Core was hitting its stride at that point and I really wanted to give it a try.
I developed some Star Wars rules inspired by the work of others I had discovered primarily on the Fate Core Google+ group. To be honest I wasn’t sure at that point if I could convince the group to try Fate Core Star Wars so I made the Obsidian Portal site with the idea that “if you build it they will come”. Apparently it worked.
I ran a character creation session and we all immediately fell in love with the way Fate allowed us all to play any and every character concept we could conceive off. We have an Archeologist Jedi who solves problems with his wit, a former Clone Wars General who was in stasis for over 100 years and was now more machine than man, a Fringer who has a knack for all things mechanical and is captain for our ancient Jedi cruiser and finally a Jedi who is dedicated to the emancipation of all slaves no matter what the political cost. Our little band of misfit Jedi took shape and we came to realize just how exciting they were.
The first episode was an unqualified hit with the group and the game and universe became deeper and more intriguing to us all with each session we played. So much so that it eventually took over from the Dresden campaign becoming the group’s primary game. We were all shocked when we realized that it had been over a year since we last played a session in the Emerald City. Several of my players have even ended up taking the reigns as GM adding their own voice to the game. This allowed me the opportunity to play my own character and the others to tell their own tales.
Fate Accelerated is your system of choice this time around. Why Accelerated and not FATE Core? Or a different system entirely? What does Fate Accelerated uniquely bring to Star Wars: Rise of the Infinite Empire that no other system could?
Actually, we started the campaign using Fate Core (see the original Fate of the Jedi site). It worked quite well but one problem we ran into was that the characters really couldn’t be quite as broadly competent as they were portrayed in the movies. This was most evident when we dealt with starships. Unless someone spent a lot of skill points and stunts making their character a pilot or gunner they were useless in a space battle. And Star Wars without a good space battle just isn’t Star Wars in my opinion.
Also, the stunt and power system I had developed for Force abilities and Lightsaber styles was a bit too fiddley. I had set up a sequence of powers that all required the purchase of individual Stunts. Unfortunately, there was no way the PCs could gain the full range of abilities of a Jedi Knight without a massive amount of Refresh.
Fate Accelerated allows the players broad competency and power especially when we used the Power Facts suggested in Four Color Fate (a FAE superhero rule set). It accommodates all the abilities of a Jedi (or anything else for that matter) with fewer rules allowing us all to concentrate on the overall story. Suddenly a PC could be very effective and useful as long as they had a narrative reason for their ability even if it wasn’t the focus of their character. It really revolutionized the game and allowed the players to become even more creative and invested in their characters. Oddly, FAE’s use of Approaches instead of a long skill list really helped to differentiate the characters who had overlapping skills and power sets.
For those of us out there about to start a campaign of this style, we know there are a lot of places to draw inspiration from, but where do you draw yours from?
One of the best things about Fate is that it gives the players a direct way to influence the campaign with universe building mechanics. When I asked the players what kind of campaign they wanted to play they said they wanted mystery and intrigue with a lot of action and high adventure. In particular, they cited the archeology based adventures of Indiana Jones as an inspiration.
I had never really pictured an archeology campaign and I must admit I was a bit at a loss at first. It wasn’t exactly common in the Star Wars milieu. I remembered the old Knights of the Old Republic video games which featured the lost technology of the Infinite Empire and there seemed to be some good fodder for a campaign there. I replayed the original KOTOR game and read some of the Dark Horse comics featuring the founding of the Jedi Order which gave me a framework for the main storylines of our campaign. Mostly though I relied on the player character’s Aspects and the Galaxy Aspects we all worked together to create when we set up the universe for the game. Half the time my sessions seemed to write themselves because of all the world building we had done at the beginning of the campaign.
Aside from Fate Accelerated, I’m sure you play other systems too, which ones do you play most?
These days we are fixated on Fate and all the many iterations and worlds that are coming out for it. We have also been toying with starting a Dragon Age or Fantasy Age campaign but that hasn’t gotten much further than a planning session to date. In the past I have played virtually every game under the sun (Traveller, Cyberpunk 2020, 2300AD, Twilight 2000, Shadowrun, D&D, Pendragon, World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu/Delta Green, Chill, Hero System, AFMBE, Buffy/Angel, Witchcraft/Armageddon etc.).
How did you get into tabletop gaming?
The same year Star Wars first appeared in the theaters a friend of mine at school had picked up the AD&D box set. It wasn’t too long after that that we started our first dungeon crawls. I have been playing off and on ever since.
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?
I have been using OP since 2010 and I love how it gives me all the tools I need to write up and run our games. It allows us to come up with incredibly complex and expressive stories by giving us all the information we need at our fingertips. Plus, I can use the sites I build to try and convince my players to play in a particular campaign by providing them with information and new rules for their consideration. It has even allowed us to find and recruit new members to join our group as others move on.
Your wiki customization is really slick, do you do all that work yourself?
I do all of the art and coding for my group’s sites although my players contribute to the Adventure Logs and Wiki. In my job I work with Photoshop every day so I am comfortable making images for the site as needed. I never would have gotten anywhere though without the aid the OP community. In particular, Wolfhound’s tutorials really taught me a lot about CSS and provided me the knowledge I needed to really customize the site.
If you had to pick just one thing, what would you say Obsidian Portal helps you with the most? Do your players get involved on the wiki too?
In general, our games have developed labyrinthine plots with dozens of NPCs with their own agendas. OP makes it easy to build upon what has gone before with its organized characters, Wiki and logs. It also gives me a venue to sell a particular campaign concept to my players like our current Star Wars game. Almost all of the players have contributed in one way or another by writing up Adventure Logs or Wiki entries on political factions and this has inspired some of them to take their own turn at GMing the game. OP makes it much easier to participate in the game in a collaborative way.
How much time do you usually spend prepping your sessions, and how do you go about it?
I probably spend around 2 or 3 hours prepping a game the night before. I usually just consider what the main antagonists and their minions might be up to. I also carefully consider the implications of PC actions from previous sessions and plan out responses accordingly. I try not to overdo it though. The PC’s usually will go off on some direction I had never considered and often times it is more intriguing than anything I might hash out on my own.
What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?
As a GM I think my favorite moment was when the party was attacked by an ancient war droid on an old satellite that orbited a scary Dark Force infused planet. I channeled a little bit of the Aliens movies in that game as the droid was insanely fast and had advanced camouflage that made it almost impossible to stop. It hunted them from the shadows striking with incredible speed and cunning. It battled the players to a standstill as they desperately tried stop the station’s sabotaged reactor from exploding. I feel like it gave all the player’s a moment to shine.
As a player I think my favorite moment is probably when my character was ordered to take on a new padawan. He had been causing a lot of trouble for the Jedi Order because of his unbending stance on ending slavery in the galaxy and they saddled him with her so she could spy on him. The debate between my character and Master Kataar was great fun and she dressed him down and showed him that while his goals might be noble he was teetering on the edge of arrogance and even the Dark Side with his absolutist positions.
For me, I would have to say the Basilisk Fight and the scene that followed it in the campaign that I ran. I loved it because it was serendipitous on multiple counts. First, it was the culmination of a side-scenario I was running based on Galen’s High Concept & Trouble Aspects and a small mention of a sister in his backstory that James had written. It led to a really, really dramatic moment when Galen met his long lost sister and delivered a strong hook for storylines to come. Second, I had been leaving breadcrumbs about what people could expect from the encounter the sessions before by having wave after wave of escalating Bounty Hunters and had the PCs asking, “How could this get any worse?” The Mandalorian Huntmaster armed with a Basilisk War Droid. That’s how. It ended up being a really dynamic encounter with PCs scrambling to survive and forced to get creative because Lightsabers didn’t work on the droid. Then we got to follow it up with the PCs taking responsibility for the carnage of the battle…Great stuff.
I do have a fondness for those moments that sometimes highlight a character’s ‘awesome’ factor in a cinematic way. For example, the scene on Kashyyyk when Maze dropped from high ground like a silent whirlwind to attack Garek. However, my favorite all around scene so far was the stuff on The Wheel. It was an exciting mix of intrigue, espionage, mystery, and a little bit of combat. Like a heist movie and a spy thriller, mixed with Star Wars! (And for me, the dynamic between Maze and Rilu was exciting, full of various degrees of suspicion, trust, and genuine concern for each other!).
The chase through traffic over the skies of Coruscant is tempting, but I’d have to say when we were on an Imperial occupied planet, needing to free the Jedi resistance: we just took down a Sith and his Stormtrooper bodyguard and were wondering how to get into the Imperial base. I say “The Star Wars thing to do would be to put on their armor as a disguise and bluff our way in” as a joke, then look around the table, and see people thinking about it, so that was what we did. We sliced orders sending ourselves right into their base with a warning to keep away from the grumpy Sith, and blow it up with explosives authorized from their own armory.
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
I guess the main advice I would offer is to not get too bogged down in your own story. In my experience RPGs are best when they are a collaborative effort with everyone pitching in ideas. Don’t be afraid to abandon your preconceived narrative and just run with whatever mad, genius plans your players come up with. They will thank you for it. Also, it is far less frustrating to just go with the flow and let go of your ego and let the story develop organically rather than trying to beat it into shape.
That’s all we have for this month folks. Stay tuned to find out what July has in store. Until then, may the force be with you.