The Decoder

Guest Writer Bryan Young Makes Things a Little Complicated

"Empire's been known to implant lower level technicians with cybernetic circuits. Personality sacrificed for productivity."
     –Sabine Wren

Over the course of a few different articles, guest writer Bryan Young has shared his thoughts with us on the idea of blending the Star Wars®: Age of Rebellion™ roleplaying game with the X-Wing™ Miniatures Game.

  • He explored what a character like Ahsoka Tano might look like in your campaign while playing a role similar to that of the Fulcrum role she plays in Star Wars Rebels.
  • He discussed how blending the two games can add visual appeal to your roleplaying sessions, even as it adds another layer of depth and intrigue to your X-Wing battles.
  • And he addressed the need for a villain that can provide your heroes with a real sense of challenge—and who would have the authority to dispatch squadrons of Imperial fighters in pursuit of them.

Today, Bryan offers a deeper understanding of what the blend of X-Wing and Age of Rebellion might offer by presenting a recap of his first session as Game Master.

Blending X-Wing and Age of Rebellion: The First Session

Blending X-Wing and Age of Rebellion is something we’ve been discussing over the course of a few articles, and I’ve since run my first game with real-live players. It's still very early in the campaign, but so far it’s been a rousing success. And this leads us to an important question: how do you prepare for such a session?

Obviously, you need to start by thinking about the mechanics you want to use. For this particular session, I knew that I wanted the beginning of the mission to feel like an espionage plot that leads to a daring escape. After talking to the players about the sort of game we’d be playing and making sure they were on board, I set to work on the story.

George Lucas always said that a “special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing,” and I think the same holds true for roleplaying games. I set out to make this one something special that the characters could easily invest in.

In Media Res

Every Star Wars story starts in media res (which is a fancy latin term for “in the middle of things”). When the Tantive IV arrives over our heads with the Devastator trailing it, we know things are bad.

And how much context do we need for that? The opening crawl tells us everything we need to know to understand this is bad news for everyone. That’s why I start every RPG session of a Star Wars game with an opening crawl. Here’s the opener I wrote for my session:

This gave my players everything they needed to know to feel instantly in the story when I told them they were in hyperspace on their way to the remote outpost.

Since I knew I wanted them to be able to escape in their own single-seat fighters, I told them they were in a massive, stolen Imperial cargo hauler. In the cargo area were five ships. These were folded up and ready for them to make their way out of the base when the time came. They also corresponded to the X-Wing miniatures I had in my collection and had prepared for the PCs' eventual escape.

This setup gave the players time to talk and formulate a plan, and they could tell me when they wanted to leave hyperspace and have the mission begin in earnest.

Player Complications

For me, it’s important to let my players set the tone for the session and to allow them to make their own mistakes. In a Star Wars game like this, where they’re in a squad and following orders to complete a mission, giving them as much latitude as possible in completing that mission is vital to ensuring that they will feel invested.

It also almost always leads to them making fun and hilarious mistakes.

Those mistakes and complications can come from their actions, but some of the best come from the die rolls as well. Especially in a game like Age of Rebellion. The Varactyls made all of the successful bluffs they needed to in order to be granted clearance to the secret Imperial hangar, hidden in a rock in the rings of a distant planet, but they failed a piloting check on the landing, earning plenty of despair, quickly changing the rest of the encounter. Suspicions ran high and made for a tense situation with no obviously right or wrong answers.

But just because your players and the dice may lead to a number of complications, that doesn’t mean you can’t complicate the situation further as a Game Master. For instance, I knew that the decoder wasn’t a module of technology or a datatape to steal, but a person. This person was pressed into service by the Empire, and his brain—augmented by Lobot-like artificial intelligence—was the thing that the team of Rebels were really after. This is actually an element of story that was inspired from Star Wars Rebels, and the character of Tseebo, a Rodian analyst the Empire pressed into service with artificial intelligence.

My players got their first clue to this reality when one player broke into an Imperial terminal to find the exact location of the codebreaker. It was a little confusing to them when the computer told them it was in the cellblock. But the faces they made when they realized what was happening—and that they had only brought single-seater fighters to make their escape—was nothing short of priceless.

The Cliffhanger

We didn’t manage to get to the X-Wing combat in this first session. The players spent five hours turtled inside their stolen Imperial freighter with one exception. One enterprising player managed to sneak off the ship and find the codebreaker. Because of the big to-do his companions were making in the hangar bay, he had a largely clear shot at getting the living decoder out of the cellblock and back to the ships where they would make their escape.

It was nearing midnight when the players finally hatched a plan to get everyone aboard their escape craft and begin the chase, so we decided the next session would begin with a session of X-Wing miniatures. We all left terribly excited for that prospect. And that’s where I’ll leave you…

Next time we’ll talk about how well the blend between games worked and how the successful the Varactyls were in their mission. We’ll also talk about how they’ve now attracted the attention of a Kallus-like villain and how their Ahsoka/Fulcrum-like Rebel contact will help them deal with that.

Bryan Young is a writer, podcaster, and gamer. He writes regularly for StarWars.Com and Star Wars Insider, and hosts the Star Wars podcast Full of Sith. You can follow him on Twitter @Swankmotron.

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