By Christopher Robin Negelein
My favorite comics for a long time where the Elseworld line from DC, a project to recast our favorite heroes into different circumstances and see what new stories could be told. What if Gotham was a corrupt theocracy that had assassinated the Waynes, or if Kal-El had landed in a winter wheat field near Moscow?
So the moment I saw this pic, I was hooked.
Star Wars as a fantasy RPG. How would that even work? How would the story be changed, what sort of fantasy world could that inspire?
My gamer ADHD was totally engaged and within 24 hours I came up with a (actually more than one) fantasy world. A place where a Death Star looms over the horizon and plucky rebels aim to take it down using swords and spells instead of blasters and starships.
When I opted to do this, I set up some ground rules:
- My focus would be a home game style setting. Commercial style settings have different requirements and, in this case, legal loopholes.
- Try to think of lower level play. This increases the likelihood the whole story would get played out and it fits my motto, High adventure, Low levels.
- Design the setting as I tick off the story beats; enjoy the worldbuilding as it happens organically.
- Keep it generic so all wonderful flavors of D&D, Savage Worlds, Basic Role Play and the Cypher System and jump into the fun.
- Have fun doing and hope everyone else has fun reading it (and maybe pick up a new trick or two.)
So let’s hit the hyperdrive button!
Star Wars’ Story Beats … as a fantasy RPG.
The kids all come from the same farming village … and maybe the same family.
The main structural difference between fiction and RPGs is that a reader can only take in one POV at a time and it’s mostly third person limited when it comes to genre fiction. Even most ensemble shows focus on one or two characters and other ensembles stories end up “splitting up” the party to give the characters mini-story arcs. The actual Dirty Dozen storylines you can lift for RPGs as is are a much more rare thing.
Having your players make PCs that come from the same town or even family give everyone a solid answer to why they are together and what bonds they have as a group. It’s not the only way to do it, but it does keep things on track and in the same vein as the original story.
The droids are farming golems … or talking animals.
If you want to wear you influences on your sleeves, then our first bit of real world building is simply reskinning droids into something fantasy-ish. The advantage of that is you can scale up whatever “forge” that makes these servant golems into the same thing that makes magic items or even the Death Star itself. The disadvantage, for my games, is that my players love to give swords and axes to anything that has opposable thumbs and push them up the front of the column in a dungeon.
If you don’t want to make it completely obvious where your inspiration comes from then you can consider a more fantastical alternative, talking animals. Thinking on the snobbish/always asking for it personality of C3-PO, and it occurred to me that maybe such talking animals could be cursed humans serving out a sentence. This clicks on a few different levels, it gives a valid reason for bars to not want to serve proven criminals alcohol, CP-30’s miserable nature and it even adds extra depth to droid characters. What sin our favorite golden Ewok god. For now, we’ll leave the issue of R2-D2’s data storage of the Death Star’s plans for later.
The village elders put them on shepherding duty when one of the speaking animals that’s supposed to help with the herding goes AWOL. A trail of tracks goes to a local hermit. Said hermit talks about an old, extinct Order of Jedi knights (like the Templar?) or a Jedi (Guild) of Adventurers and he needs volunteers after getting an important message from the AWOL critter.
This is a time to introduce what the Jedi are in this fantasy iteration. They could simply be an order of knighthood, or something else. They could also be a special class or just a promise to invest in both magical and martial might.
I’m voting for a civilian squad of trouble shooters that used to help the crown in matters that went beyond the state and the military. If you uphold the Jedi code, you can come from any walk of life, from fighter to magi and anything inbetween.
The PCs go back to find their ranch/village burnt to the ground.
This is pitch perfect for RPG motivations, especially since motivator numero uno, gold pieces, hasn’t entered the equation … yet. But revenge can do in a pinch. Especially if they don’t want to help the old man, but are more than willing to follow tracks back to —
Mos Eisley: Where the heroes go to find a quick way out of town on the Millennium Falcon with the pilot/co-pilot combo named Han Solo and Chewbacca.
Now here is where the world building blooms. As I see it, we have six options here if we want to be able to get our heroes up to the floating castle named Death Star.
The Millennium Falcon is literally a giant falcon! Following our animal theme, we could introduce large mythical flying creatures, falcons, griffins and more. Our great space battles are now awesome dogfights with arrows and spells replacing ion charges and lasers. But what could we use for the giant capital ships?
Dragons! These beasts could make great captial ships with entire crews strapped to their backs. If you design a huge back brace/reverse gondola contraption, you could even pull off a bridge scene like the movies. Depending your love for dragons and the game system you are using, it might even be easier to just different ages of dragons/wyverns as your smaller “vessels” and go total draco on your air force. It doesn’t hurt that several game systems have flying mount combat rules in their back pocket.
Airships, sailing or otherwise! If you like a more swashbuckler or steampunk feel, you could use sailing vessels that take to the air or dirigibles. Your choice, but not for me this time.
Teleport Circles! You cut out the awesome dog fights, but such circles could be the key to even getting up to the floating Death Star castle, becoming a subplot of their own.
Pirates! This is an option that would pretty much sews up the whole deal for some GMs. Everything translates into an ocean going adventure, with the planets are now islands in a fantasy world that has no continents (or maybe the Empire’s homeland, Coruscant, is the only mainland.) Beyond just large galleons filling in for capital ships, we could have cutlass wielding windsurfers represent the fighter craft.
Retroactively, though, the Death Star is now a massive battle barge with Greek Fire or something suitably horrible that takes out whole port towns (or even islands!) With one of the biggest tactical races in Star Wars coming from a water planet, you could even introduce the Mon Calamari wholesale. And several games have introduced naval battle rules and undead pirates over the years (D&D and Savage Worlds). Like I said, this wraps up the whole concept in a tidy bow but I think there is one more option with some surprising promise.
More floating siege fortifications! We already have a floating fortress, why not smaller floating keeps and outposts? These could, again, represent our huge capital ships. Our fighter craft are now, again, wyvern, or even enchanted brooms for a fantasy feel. A ramming action between two “keeps” would be indeed dramatic, but better yet, comes the question of “how.”
It’s a fantasy world, so the answer is dwarves of course. They hustle to maintain these huge floating stone structures by constantly scribbling runes in the “engine room” and one of the most legendary of such rune smiths is Chews Rocka on the Millennium Falcon.
Hear me out.
Despite the silly name, this spin ties a famous character’s actions straight into the how the world works and makes the NPC’s behavior more faithful to the original. As for no one understanding Dwarven, there’s two spins on that. He has odd dialect, that only Solo understands (because he’s also a dwarf) or dwarves aren’t an allowable PC race. The original film had humans in the spotlight, no reason not to enforce the same in a game to make dwarves — and elves– feel more alien. This is the one I’d go for.
Escort hermit to a doomed Alderaan.
I touched on this in the Pirates! is defining what does the Death Star do? Does it take out nations? Islands? Cities? City-states For me with our dwarven-driven world of floating keeps, I opt for cities. Either way Alderaan is gone or will be zapped out of existence just moments before the PCs find their safe haven.
From Alderaan’s ruin, they try to escape the Death Star’s shadow.
This, plotwise, is the one of the trickiest parts. While it works great as a narrative turn, there’s the danger of railroading and getting characters that go off said rails if the player isn’t into the unspoken rules of this particular story. Or players who do purposeful sabotage because they know where the story goes and want to yank the GMs chain out of asshattery.
That doesn’t mean you can’t play along if a player says they’ll try for a Magic Knowledge roll and pray for a nat 20 to know how to bring the whole thing down. “Forget the princess, we are flying out of here as heroes with the Death Star self-destructing behind us!” Just prepared for that as a possibility. Some GMs will do that with a simple “no,” and others will start looking up story beats for Empire.
A climatic fight which introduces Darth Vader.
As some point, we have to figure out what to do with Darth Vader. I’d still like to keep him undead like in the poster. Some games have lower level baddies that can do the trick, other games don’t have officially smart undead until later in the game. But this guy is your villain, it doesn’t hurt to make a custom foe. Maybe a tougher skeleton with reason and some kick-butt fighting ability and we’re done. Same for the Emperor, though in some game systems where a Liche is a mid-level baddie, that sort of creature will do fine.
And of course if our villain became undead only 10 years or so ago, there just might be a personal connection with all of the PCs who belong to the same family.
And I guess for my particular world, the Dark Side is just straight up necrotic magic and Light Side is the good guy magic schools. In your game it could be Arcane vs Divine or Runes vs Spells or Magic vs Science. You choose.
Escape to Rebel Camp, Yavin, to have many more adventures for a while.
Star Wars is a two hour movie. This is going to be a game that lasts for several months. Even if you aim for make for a short campaign, there’s going to have to be some grinding of levels to make the eventual climax feel worth the effort. Working for the rebels gives a perfect setup for a mission based game; get a briefing, find that there’s a complication to the mission, get mission done, get XP.
If you haven’t given the PC access to something that gets them to a floating castle, this is where it starts. Now they have to make a true alliance with the Millennial Falcon and her flying vassels. Or find more dwarves for the cause! Another reason for the extra missions is related to the Death Star plans.
Finally figuring out the Death Star weakness.
Where are those plans? In our particular spin, they aren’t necessary as they once were. But they could be magically tattooed on Ram Tu’ Da’Tu’s skin under all the wool. Or the “plans” are actually an anti-magic spell that needs several items to work.
Or the castle was never built by the Empire, only confiscated. To take control back, you need the five lost Jedi swords. One of which the party has kept from day one, passing it on from fighter to fighter as they’ve retired or were KIA. Oh, the irony.
Either way, I’ll keep mine under wraps.
Different GMs have different styles of planning their macguffins. Pick your favorite, I don’t judge.
Climax: The race to destroy the Death Star as it advances upon the Yavin camp.
One more detail to figure out before getting to this story point. How fast does your version of the Death Star go? If you are GM who like to figure out traveling distances, you want to suss this out before this scene. Personally, I go with the speed of plot.
I had a blast playing around with twisting Star Wars into a several different fantasy worlds and I hope that this little essay slid a springboard under your own world building efforts. Maybe we’ll take a look at the Empire Strikes back next.
‘Til next time.