PTA – Star Wars A Galaxy DividedMay 23, 2010
I’ve started a Primetime Adventures season with my friends Jono & Sushu with the idea, “What if Star Wars only had the original trilogy & they made a prequel tv series?” We’re only getting together once a month, but it’ll be fun to see how this turns out.
Star Wars Alternate Universe
Wherein we spend most of the pitch session doing worldbuilding
The series is following two Jedi, as they fight in an alternate idea of the Clone Wars- where civil war has broken out after it was discovered the Galactic Republic had been using clones to manipulate politics of certain systems…”For the greater good”, of course.
The war is broadly painted as 3 sides:
1) The Loyalists who simply want to reunite the Republic, and consider the clones to be tools
2) The Separatists, a variety of systems who feel the entire contract of the Republic has been violated and desire for there to be no clones whatsoever.
3) The Peacekeepers, a coalition of systems who have decided the Republic needs to be replaced altogether, that clones should get full rights, and are aggressively expansionist.
Instead of a big Jedi Council, Jedi are a loose, non-organized religion – much like how we see Yoda, Vader, or Obi Wan in the movies – which means the protagonists don’t have an order to fall back on, or even an exact set of teachings to guide them in this.
Yeah, all that was fucking setup to build what kind of protagonists we’d have and conflicts we’d have. Star Wars as an idea crosses the line of usefulness from being a setting that helps people get on the same page, to something that requires work to get there.
That said, our alternate universe choices were deliberate- Clones are an ethical issue. None of the 3 sides are entirely clean or good. Jedi can’t just fall back onto the Jedi Order for ethics answers. The Peacekeepers seem likely candidates to form into the Empire later, but the Republic Loyalists are also a strong possibility- we’re leaving this open for play.
We had some discussion to make sure we weren’t going too far into “What is a clone to society?” that we would be leaving Star Wars for Philip K. Dick territory. We talked a bit about Dark Side of the Force, but we pretty much put it aside as a “maybe later, but not really focal now” kind of thing.
Our two Jedi – Wookie Gruchakla & Rihanna Lance are both Jedi who once studied under the same master.
Gruchakla serves his homeworld in it’s bid for independence as a Jedi warrior & as a skilled engineer – all the while, his Issue is “Is war even justifiable? What is the price to pay? Who will I become?” These are damn good questions for a mystic order about balance and least harm that also carries laserswords that cut people in half.
Additional drama is that his father, a senate representative, was cloned as part of the Republic’s maneuvers, and the Clone is still running around putting up the front that the wookie independence movement is “a minority of insurgents” and not a planet-wide struggle for freedom.
Rihanna serves as a tactical advisor for the Peacekeepers. She’s idealistic, and deeply in love with her assistant, who is a clone. Her Issue is whether she can maintain her ideals in the face of war, and in the face of the Peacekeepers as an organization, which aren’t all “yay! freedom and rights!” as they proclaim.
Having a full session for a Pitch session was really useful. Granted, it’s a month between sessions for us, but it gave us time to mull over Issues and hash them out a bit better.
Playing the Game
PTA forces your hand to action.
I’m the GM, I know we’re doing a 5 session game, and this is all the time I got to introduce what I want and stir it into a boil with the players. And they’ve given me meaty and hard questions. This means I’ve got to bring it and bring it FAST.
I decided to start with a focus on a battle between Loyalists and Separtists around the Wookie homeworld, as well as Clone refugees- clones looking to get away from the Republic. I prepped 6 NPCs as figureheads. I stole the principle from Apocalypse World: “Barf Apocalyptica” and swapped it to, “Use the Force of Star Wars-ica” and tried to keep a focus on pouring Star Wars-y color on things.
Spaceships, Hostages, Sabotage, Oh My
For this session, Gruchakla was mostly embroiled in super jedi action- trying to get a half-built ship up and running before it was boarded, then trying to prevent the Loyalists from hijacking it and crashing it into the planet, sabotaging a flagship of dropships before it could launch troops, etc.
His character development was a fun conflict where he was holding a Republic officer hostage in order to get the Loyalists to cancel their ship-to-planet crashing plan – the stakes were, “Can you get them to back down without having to kill the hostage?” This echoed again later with him trying to stop a giant ship from dropping pods upon pods of soldiers planetside – “Can you stop the invasion without wholesale slaughter?”
Half the action was my GM pushes, and half was Jono’s interjecting interpretations on the action tying it straight into his character’s Issue and moral questions.
Clones, Refugees, Racism
Rhianna’s involvement was very CIA and undercover-like- her ship and crew were sent to monitor this battle and report back to the Peacekeepers. She gets involved by rescuing a ship of clone refugees and faking their deaths.
By Sushu’s scene request, this leads to an intense argument with her boyfriend/assistant Kenji… He wants to put them to work on the ship, as many have valuable skills- while the Peacekeepers in general, despite their rhetoric of full amnesty and rights to clones, basically give them second-rate jobs and positions…
It’s not her sense of issues about the clones as much as her fastidiousness to protocol which makes Rihanna reluctant to employ them. Which, was an awesome statement on “well-intentioned people” can uphold racism when they’re working with institutionalized racism in the system.
Kenji laid it on the line – “This war isn’t the same war for you and me. For you, it’s an ideal, an abstract. For me, for us, this is our freedom, this is our lives.”
The conflict was, “Will Rihanna get past her sense of propriety to buck the system for her ideals?”… which she made… but geez, this hit me as THE most intense character conflict of the session. Part of it is Kenji’s role as a primary relationship meant a LOT was at stake, but I think there’s more reasons it was charged, but it’s going to take some time to unpack.
PTA is such a good game for breaking bad habits. As a GM, you are forced to push, push, push action, not waste time. The “let’s make good tv” mindset also helps shift focus onto what would be entertaining and way from any form of worries about realism or simulating a setting. I’d like to try playing a series of PTA through a couple of consecutive seasons, just to see how a group syncs up on the pacing of play and communication.
“Next time…” makes my job as a GM a lot easier. It’s a good check in/request system from the players to the GM and gives me direction.
Budget, Fanmail, oops
While seasons force your hand to make each session count, Budget forces your hand to make each SCENE count. I futzed up and forget to DOUBLE the screen presence of the players and so, shortchanged my Budget. Which is too bad, because I could have pushed some more conflicts or pushed a little harder. Only a couple of points of Fanmail got handed around this session, which meant there wasn’t really a lot of Budget coming back. This worked out fine, though, because we got a lot of major conflict, both plot-ty and character in place, and ended at a good spot.
Thought about Fanmail economy- since Fanmail has to be earned, then spent, and some of that comes back as additional Budget, this means that a game where no Fanmail flows (because people just aren’t clicking) and where Fanmail isn’t spent (because the GM isn’t offering the right conflicts OR challenging the right ones), are games that end sooner. And games where everyone is having fun, last longer. Still, since it’s a feedback mechanism, it adjusts and meets either way.
I was working on a similar feedback system for Emperor’s Heart, and shit, here it was right in front of me.
(Comments open, I especially want to hear from Jono, Sushu, or Matt Wilson. Other folks with comments about PTA play, yes. Star Wars minutiae, no.)