Star Wars – From the Other Side of History
Over the years, I’ve run and played quite a lot of the various Star Wars RPG’s. Until the time of the Prequel Trilogy, it was one of my favorite movie series, and I delved pretty deeply into the lore of the setting. While it was originally bourne of outright fandom, the role-playing game from West End Games offered me something of a practical outlet for my unnatural obsessions. It helped that WEG themselves were pretty hardcore in their general fandom as well, to the point that their source books were handed out as reference guides to incoming authors.
As such, I’ve spent a lot of time with players who wanted to build their own versions of the ragtag group of heroes that will ultimately scrape through and save the galaxy from the predations of the so-named evil Galactic Empire. While fine and good, this particular genre of games has something of a shelf life for anyone who’s seen it all already. When I realized that there was a particular antipathy settling into my bones towards the normal sort of Star Wars game, I began casting about for something different to allow some fresh air into my games.
The remedy that I settled upon was the idea of an Imperial based game. There was plenty of source material that was available for such an endeavor, between the novels, comics and WEG source books, so it just fell on me to sort through and figure out which sort of game was best suited for a new group. A lot of the original thinking for this particular game idea was sketched out while I was living overseas, and since I lacked the proper gaming group to be able to fine tune these ideas, I simply worked out most of the campaign ideas with an eye to running it in the future.
For better or worse, I managed to run part of my original idea with one of my local groups, but the logistics of the group ended up stalling it partway into the first act. A lot of the baseline ideas were solidified, but there was never any sort of forward motion into the later parts of the longer campaign.
The idea was that the characters would start out the game as relatively fresh Stormtrooper recruits, assigned as part of the main detail on a sector-based Star Destroyer.
And yes, recruits. As I’ve stated before, I loathe nearly every aspect of the Prequel Trilogy, so any canon that is derived from those movies is almost instantly stricken, as it manages to contradict both its own internal logic and much of the Expanded Universe that came before it. For that matter, I made a firm point of removing the latter half of Return of the Jedi from canon as well, for a number of reasons. Moving on.
The first act of the campaign would entail setting up the worldview of the Galactic Empire from the standpoint of the Imperial Marines, as they had to act as the peacekeepers throughout the galaxy where some million separate worlds had to peaceably coexist. From their outlook, the Rebel Alliance was a band of hostile terrorists seeking to undermine the authority of an interim Emperor who was desperately trying to hold everything together as internal struggles threatened political stability.
The punchline to all of this was that it was entirely true, even in the scope of what Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back portrayed. Everything that these Stormtroopers were fighting to maintain was according to a secret agenda that the Emperor himself had set up, based on knowledge that only he held.
See, if you return to the original themes of the Empire, as established in the first two movies, the idea of the Emperor as a powerful Jedi actually weakens the movies. Darth Vader is not a powerful or highly respected individual in the A New Hope; rather, he is a mocked and derided character, a superstitious and broken old man who clings to an ancient religion even as the galaxy moves on without him. At the same time, the New Order itself is clean and sleek and full of technocratic authority. Even Leia recognizes this when she’s captured by Vader and brought to Grand Moff Tarkin, as she refers to Tarkin as ‘holding Vader’s leash.’
At the same time, Vader is noted as being utterly faithful to the Emperor. Given that A New Hope is directly pulled from the plot of Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress, the allegory of Vader being an aging samurai warrior whose loyalty to his daimyo is absolute, there’s specifically no reason for making the Emperor into a Dark Jedi, as he’s already powerful enough with his political influence. Physically, he may be a frail old man, but he wielded enough influence to dissolve the Galactic Senate with very little opposition, and it is this same presence and influence that keeps an aging warrior like Vader under his sway.
I’ll leave the Nixon allegories out of this, for what that’s worth.
So, let’s work with the idea that the Emperor was acting on a different agenda. The Clone Wars are in the recent past, something shadowy and vaguely embarrassing to the galaxy that avoids being brought up. Tarkin himself has taken command of the Death Star, an Imperial military project that the Emperor authorized for some specific and currently unknown purpose. According to other sources, there exist a number of weapon stockpiles scattered across the Galactic Rim, in places such as Mount Tantiss on the planet Wayland. All of this points to a secretive build up of forces somewhere outside of the military command.
The second act of the campaign would follow the characters on a series of missions set by the Admiral in command of their ISD home base. Having found a couple of these mysterious storehouses of materiel and clone tanks, there would be enough evidence of some deeper agenda, which the Admiral would task the characters with investigating. Along the way, there would be seeds of a larger conspiracy, as specific agents of the Emperor would be involved in keeping the secrets, without working to sabotage the efforts of the player characters.
The third act would come after the assassination of the Emperor, whose confirmed death would invoke a final directive to the active Imperial forces. This would reveal the nature of the weapon stockpiles, as they were put in place to defend the galaxy from an external force that threatened to pull everything down around them, now that the Emperor could no longer work to dismantle this threat.
Overall, I figured that each act of the campaign could cover specific time periods. The first part would take place before the events of A New Hope, and the final part would pretty much be set in motion after the (heavily revised) events of Return of the Jedi, with narrative skips to cover the intervening years between parts. The exact nature of the extra-galactic threat would come down to whichever villain I felt would best fit, whether it was a Ssi-Ruuk sort of adversary, only writ large and fearful, or something closer to my own interpretation of the Yuuzhang Vong.
As it happened, I only managed something like a third to half of the first act, where the characters had been firmly established as proper Imperial Stormtroopers, and they’d become marginally aware of the larger aspects of what was going on behind the scenes. It was a fantastic game, but there was too much fracturing in the group to be able to hold a long term game together, and accordingly, it fell apart after a fair number of sessions.