Friday, November 22, 2013

Making Star Wars feel like Star Wars

After thinking about how some science fiction novels differ from my sf gaming, and how a simple western can be told very differently, my attention turns to Star Wars.

If you've read what I've posted here lately, you might recall that I was thinking of running a session of D6 Star Wars for the kids. I've taken out my rulebook, and read the basic mechancs, the combat and now also the GM advice chapter.

In the latter, the text tries to tell you how to transfer the experience of watching the Star Wars movies (back then there was only three) from the medium of film, into the medium of a rpg. That is, just the migration I was struggling with before. Some things have struck me as interesting in this part of the book. I'll summarize some of the advice in the GM chapter, and write some of my impressions from those. I'd say there are two big things they concentrate on. The first one is mood, tone and feel in general and the second one is rules. There are also some advice on presentation, which I found extra interesting.

In order to make the game feel like a SW movie, they suggest you make sure to do like in the movies. There are droids in the movies, make sure there are droids in your game. There are aliens in the movies, so make sure there are aliens in your game. They even cite some scenes that showcase some of those things, and urge the reader to try to capture that same "wow" feeling you got when you saw it in the films. These are the trappings, and tropes, which makes it "it". I totally see how that can work. Imagine a game about Middle Earth without hobbits, and you miss out on some of the most iconic things about Middle Earth. So, bring lots.

How all those are used is also mentioned. There is a specific way to tell a story in Star Wars. Scenes are introduced in the middle of the action, the pace is quick and the canvas is broad and the scope is epic. Also, there is a story. I'd say that the wandering murder hobo is far removed from the feel of Star Wars. While the idea of tropes makes sense, I think this is quite key in order to make a property that is not originally made for rpgs work. In a film there is a structure to the telling of the tale, and you probably need to at least simulate that or give the feel of it to make if feel right. Maybe here is where my sf stories in games and the ones I read about differ.

Then there are the presentation. I found it quite interesting to read that they suggested the introduction to an adventure be a short script the players read out/act out before they jump feet first into the first scene. I wonder, did anyone take that and ran with it? I've never heard of it, but it's an intriguing idea. The idea to use establishing shots and cut scenes, where the GM basically presents the narrative like a film does it, is cool and quite different from most rpgs. In the book they even suggest you narrate things the PCs can't see or know, to build tension and structure to the narrative. This I have actually tried myself in a Star Wars game me and a few friends did at a convention many years ago. It worked nicely, I think. Maybe this is what's needed to make it feel cinematic, in the truest sense of the word.

Lastly then, the rules. Most of us who have been around are aware of the idea of utilizing the rules to support or hinder a style of play. Three things I found interesting is this section. First off the book emphasize the need to avoid anti-climax. This is paired with the suggestion that failure is good. I think this is probably a good way to get that free flowing feeling of "keep the action fast" they advocate. Sure, you might have failed your roll, but that just mean we have some new dramatic tension for the next wild stunt coming up. But, of course, this is where rpgs in general differ from other media. It almost never happen in a book or a film that a protagonist fails. If they fail they often get another chance or the next scene adds something that changes the conditions. Still, it pays to remember it. Then there's the last thing, mentioned more than once. Fudge the rules. This is not a game where they suggest that "the dice fall as they may", and I think that in order to make it feel like Star Wars, they are right.

Compare this to how things work in Dramasystem, or Gumshoe where Robin D Laws has designed systems according to resource management for the player to get "screen time" and be able to shine. In WEG Star Wars they go so far as to mention the "illusion of free will", and I think it ties in with the suggestion to fudge the dice rolls. I have fairly limited experience with both Robin's designs and the D6 system, even though I have played them. But, I to the feeling of being, "in there" and participating far more when I rolled dice. Rolling dice and the GM fudging things so they do not contradict the dice, but also don't follow it slavishly, made for a fun game. Actually I think it makes for a funnier game than the two systems mentioned above by Robin D Laws. I think I will get back to this. It might only be me.

I think here are some really core points for translating the narrative from one medium like film to a rpg. Many times I've heard that this GM advice chapter is one of the best written, and I think it is indeed really good. I'm not sure all of them can be used to make True Grit into and awesome rpg session, but some might do.

I really need to make this Star Wars game for the kids happen, because now I'm really pumped up about this game!

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