A Simple Man Making His Way in the Universe

I’m just a simple man, trying to make my way in the universe.

~ Jango Fett to Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars Episode II – Attack of the Clones

One of the more frequent challenges I’ve heard in emulating Star Wars in RPGs is having an effective mix of Jedi and non-Jedi characters. How does one prevent Force-users in a game from overwhelming things?

I’ve been playing and GM-ing Star Wars games for a long time (1987 – but with “let’s pretend” games going back to 1977), and while there’s likely no perfect “solution” for this, I can offer my views and how I’ve dealt with it.

When prepping a game, beyond working at a solution for an adventure/mystery/etc., I try to keep two domains in mind. First, there is the idea of niche protection. Does every character have a chance to shine at accomplishing something? Second, if a player has developed a backstory/personality/etc., as GM, I’m very likely to try to take advantage of that. These two domains can often be complementary with each other—like a player running an intergalactic gangster whose backstory has a sibling imprisoned by the authorities.

My initial experience in Star Wars RPGs was in the original West End Games incarnation. In it, Force users tended to resemble wizards of D&D—not being incredibly effective at first but crossing over a certain threshold where they become dominant. One could say this mimics the classic Star Wars trilogy fairly well, with Luke Skywalker becoming far more effective as the trilogy progresses.

Later Star Wars shows and movies allow us to see how the Jedi fit in with the rest of the galaxy. We see the Jedi have foes who can go toe-to-toe with them without the benefit of the Force. Mandalorians like Jango Fett and bounty hunters like Cad Bane engage them in battle and come out victorious – or at least break even. Zygerrian slavers can use the Jedi ethics against them, threatening not the Jedi but innocents.

What about the allies of the Jedi? Looking at the original trilogy, Luke’s allies were also very competent—Han Solo flying rings around Imperial starships and fighters, Lando Calrissian leading the life of a scoundrel and looking good at it (something that is seen even more in Rebels), R2-D2 able to fix pretty much everything, etc. The Clone Wars showed elite Clone Troopers incredibly effective in combat. Steela Gerrera led a rebellion on Onderon, and her brother Saw became a major player in the Rebellion. One obvious counter-example can be seen in The Mandalorian, where Luke Skywalker easily overcomes a band of enemies that the main protagonist could barely face one of—something that I would view akin to a high-level D&D character meeting mid-level ones.

Much of what I described above is a matter of niche protection – a heavily armored jet-pack-wearing Mandalorian weapons-master will serve a different role than a Force-wielder who tends to rely on a single weapon and Force abilities.

However, beyond niche protection is taking advantage of character backgrounds. The characters’ objectives and histories are almost certain to differ, and those differences make for great adventure opportunities. In A New Hope, Luke wants adventure, Han wants to clear up some debts, and Leia wants to restore freedom to the galaxy.

As with any RPG, the most important thing is to have everyone on board with what they’re playing. If a gaming group wants to have a game similar to the first Clone Wars animated series, where Mace Windu could take on an entire army of battle droids with his bare hands, then go for it—and pick a game system that supports it.

Below is a small sample of Star Wars: The Clone Wars episodes I’d recommend viewing what I’d consider highly effective non-Force users functioning as either worthy adversaries or allies of Jedi. The entire run of Star Wars: Rebels is also great inspirational viewing, with the core group being a mix of different specializations—very much like your typical RPG party.

  • Season 1: “Hostage Crisis” — Cad Bane and allies take hostages in the Senate.
  • Season 2: “The Mandalore Plot” — Introduces Death Watch and shows Mandalorians more than capable of being a major threat to Jedi, something seen throughout The Clone Wars, Rebels, and The Mandalorian.
  • Season 3: “Wookiee Hunt” — The Jedi Padawan Ahsoka Tano works with Chewbacca to escape and defeat slavers. Ahsoka during The Clone Wars is a great example of what I’d consider a “mid-level” character. The episodes before this show how challenging the slavers are to even Jedi.
  • Season 5: Onderon Revolt – four episodes beginning with “A War on Two Fronts” portraying a resistance movement’s training and activities on Onderon.

~ Daniel Stack

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Excellent and thought-provoking write-up on the Jedi problem in RPGs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Daniel Stack says:

      Probably one of the trickiest things is which Jedi do you want to emulate. You do have Mace Windu doing a bare-handed massacre of battle droids in the original Clone Wars cartoon….

      Liked by 1 person

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