In planning for my next Star Wars campaign, I've spent a lot of time paging through the GM chapters in the various sourcebooks. That's usually Chapter 3 in the Career Sourcebooks, though it might be in other places in the Location and Era Sourcebooks. As I've read through them, I started making a master index of GM advice, optional rules modules, and other handy tips. My index included a column simply labeled "!!!" where I marked my favorite ideas.
In looking over my "!!!" column, I found that I had marked 10 individual bits of advice, subsystems, rules modules, or other interesting tidbits. Some of these I've used before as a GM, some I've enjoyed as a PC, and others just struck me as a great idea to incorporate in this or future games.
Two side notes:
First, almost all the Career Sourcebooks include a great deal of information about incorporating characters of that particular career into your game. That advice is generally very good, but very specific. I didn't include those sections here - I'll definitely spend some time with the specific sections relevant to the PCs in my next campaign, but none of them are so general as to make this list.
Second, I didn't include any of the "major" rules modules here, specifically Crafting and Mass Combat. Those rules are great for what they are made for and I felt like there's been plenty of discussion about them. Here, I was going for some of the more easily overlooked ideas.
With all that being said, these are my Top Ten favorite GM advice ideas or rules modules from the various FFG Star Wars Sourcebooks.
10 – Bringing Urban Environments to Life (Endless Vigil, 66) – This section helps to flesh out a city, so that a well-developed city can almost function as its own NPC. The chart for spending dice results in urban settings (Table 3-1 on page 67) provides a ton of great narrative options for using Advantage, Triumph, Threat, and Despair for any number of rolls made in the big city.
I like this section for its general advice, but the dice results chart is one of my favorites from across all the various Star Wars sourcebooks. It does a good job of tying some mechanical effects to otherwise general city development advice. This probably isn’t the only chunk of city building advice among the various RPGs I own, but it’s so well presented and executed that it definitely made my list.
9 – Including Astromechs (Stay on Target, 72) – This set of mechanics includes rules for astromech droids on starfighters, allowing them to participate in Astrogation and Piloting skill checks. There are rules for astromechs taking maneuvers and actions that would otherwise be pilot only, along with providing some new maneuvers and actions specific to astromechs.
It’s nice to have some specific rules for what exactly an astromech does (or at least, can do) aboard a starfighter, and it potentially lets another player participate in what might be an otherwise solitary combat for a pilot character. I think it is an overall improvement to space combat in this system, though it probably won’t win over anyone who is dead set on rewriting space combat entirely.
8 – Droid Phalanxes (Rise of the Separatists, 133) – This rule simulates a hoard of enemies that advance relentlessly towards their goal. It is essentially a combat encounter against a regenerating minion group with an interesting timer (the minions aren’t truly regenerating, the group is constantly filling from the back). This allows a combat against a very large group of enemies without having to use the Squad rules or Mass Combat.
While this rule is obviously designed for a phalanx of Battle Droids, it can be used against any relentless swarm like buzz droids, Geonosian zombies, or a stampeding herd of Eopie. I think it also works great for any character or team trying to hold a choke point against an overwhelming advance.
7 – Occupational Hazards (Fly Casual, 74) – This is a great chunk of background on how starships are tracked and overseen. The information on the Imperial Customs Office and the Bureau of Ships and Services (BoSS) is valuable for almost campaign, whether dealing with wanted smugglers, secret Rebel operatives, or Force-users desperate to avoid detection by the Empire. There is also a great set of rules mechanics for masking or modifying transponder codes for starships.
This section is really just two pages long, but I feel like these questions have come up in virtually every Star Wars game I’ve run or played in. It’s just great information to have at your fingertips.
6 – Expanded Force Powers (Unlimited Power, 86) – This section includes advice on how to use the Force in a narrative fashion to influence minor checks that don’t warrant a full Force power check, and also subsections with new rules for Flexible Force Powers, Freeform Force Use, and Force Duels.
There is a lot going on here, but I generally feel like this advice is great for making the Force feel like a real presence in your campaign. It won’t be appropriate for every game but it does provide good mechanical frameworks for things that every player of a Force using PC seems to ask about eventually.
5 – Battle Scars (Forged in Battle, 95) – This rule allows a PC to buy a Talent that isn’t on their Specialization’s tree (or maybe an extra rank of a Talent that is). When a PC receives a dramatically significant Critical Injury, the character and GM can negotiate a thematically appropriate Talent, with XP cost based on the severity of the Critical Injury. For instance, an “Impressive Scar” from the Fearsome Wound Critical might let the PC buy a rank of Intimidating.
This concept can be wonderfully thematic, but it does have potential for abuse if the GM doesn’t keep a tight grip on what the PCs can get away with. If a PC gets a Talent that should be very specific to a single Specialization, that can make that Specialization feel less interesting, and a Talent from deep on tree could be too powerful without the investment in the various Talents above it. However, I love this framework for giving PCs a mechanical effect tied to a particularly significant or memorable battle. When used conservatively and only when dramatically appropriate, I think this has a lot of merit.
4 – Making Technical Encounters Exciting (Special Modifications, 72) – Admittedly, this is in the “Integrating Technicians” section of Special Modifications, but this comes up so often in Star Wars games that I felt it was worth flagging, especially since a it includes a lot of focus on how to include the non-Tech characters in the action.
While there’s nothing revelatory here, it’s a great summation of how to design cool technical encounters that aren’t just based on Computers or Mechanics checks. It’s also a great pile of ideas for ways to use the non-Tech skills if you include Skill Challenges in your games.
3 – Mindful Assessment (Knights of Fate, 84) – This rule allows PCs to assess their opponents and attempt to earn minor combat advantages by foregoing participating in the group Initiative roll. By rolling an appropriate Knowledge or Perception check during Initiative (and taking a slot of 0 success, 0 advantage), the PC can get Boost dice and other bonuses against the opponent or minion type studied.
I like this idea a lot. I love the idea of a highly trained duelist sizing up his enemy, recognizing the particular school of fighting or lightsaber form being utilized, and taking a moment to prepare for that. Similarly, I also like it for PCs who aren’t so great at combat; if the Scholar has a high Knowledge (Xenology), they can put that knowledge to use when a nexu attacks. Overall, it just seems like a good framework for Knowledge checks in combat.
2 – Showdowns and Shoot-Outs (Fly Casual, 85) – This set of mechanics helps to simulate a quick-draw pistol duel, old West-style. It structures a face-off complete with intimidating stares and rapid assessments of the opponent, followed by the actual quick-draw and, of course, shooting. While it is ultimately based on a series of pretty standard skill checks, it forms a nice mini-game.
Personally, I love set-piece battles that players will remember for years to come. This structure is absolutely perfect to simulate the scene we’ve watched play out cinematically for a huge variety of duels, Han and Greedo’s among them. It’s just a nice little package of rules, and the mini-game structure will make it obvious to the PCs that something special is about to happen without adding a bunch of extra complexity.
1 – Campaigns as Seasons (Dawn of Rebellion, 132) – This section, and particularly the Story Arc Design subsection, has a lot of great advice about structure and pacing for a campaign. It provides a framework for intermixing sessions focused on specific PCs with those that are more focused on the over-arching plot. In broad strokes, it helps a GM structure minor themes with broad, over-arching goals in much the way a season of a television show might play out.
Most of the ideas here aren’t new, but they are presented very well. Pacing has been hard for me to master as a GM, and the deliberate structured approach here really speaks to me. Obviously, the structure could become problematic (or at least predictable) if followed too devoutly, but I find this really useful as a framework to keep in mind when planning campaigns. I really like this advice.
If I had stretched to include one more, I probably would have grabbed the Alternative Force Traditions section from Disciples of Harmony, but it’s pretty specific to Force and Destiny games and I’ve got questions about some of the mechanical balance, so it didn’t quite make the list. However, it’s pretty great too.
So that’s my Top Ten. What does everyone else think? Did I leave out any big ones? Does anyone want to share their favorites?