If you're like me – an avid Firefly, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and basically every (subjectively) good sci-fi and fantasy saga out there fan – this is a pretty good time to be alive.
If you're also running a Star Wars campaign at the moment, even better.
I am and – fresh off the adrenaline resulted from having seen Rogue One twice, and gearing up for a third – I thought I'd dig into what you can get out of the movie. not only as a GM, but also as a player (i.e. understanding more of what goes into putting one of these things together).
And trust me, there's plenty!
Ensemble RPG parties (what I see as 5 or more people) can sometimes be hard to tackle - with multiple personalities clashing, people tugging wildly at the strings of your carefully tuned plot, several characters vying for the spotlight at the same time, and even inter-player struggles, there are plenty of chances for things to go Force up really bad, really fast. Like... 0.75x Hyperdrive fast.
Rogue One balances a diverse and numerous cast of characters, and actually manages to make them all gel; to get the viewer invested in each and every one in various ways.
From spaceballs to the walls moments, to one-liners or pure, unadulterated badassdom, to me writing this piece in order to geek out over the Star Wars movie we deserve and the one we need right now, here are the Rogue One standout items that we can bring to our tables.
Mild spoilers ahoy. Ye be warned.
1. The Context
Whenever starting a campaign out, and this includes one-shots, I find background – no matter how small – can greatly help with the events that will follow. Rogue One has a motley first half an hour with multiple characters being thrown at the viewer rapidly during several timelines in order to build somewhat of a basis for the movie to benefit from later on. However quickfire and fragmented this might seem, this is exactly how a campaign should start out – a minimum of 2 question need answering: 'Who are you?' and 'Where do you come from?' That should have you up and running quickly with not a lot of effort, and maybe give you a goal to aim for.
Maybe even shoot first.
2. The References
It helps to keep a campaign, in a pre-existing setting, grounded if you sprinkle places/scenes with known elements from said setting. They don't have to always be front and centre, and they definitely don't need to be something that everybody is 100% familiar with; that's half the fun of pushing and prodding your players, getting to know them even if for the short time that the one-shot lasts. These references will also give you a better sense of who and what makes them tick, something that you can use/exploit later on.
Be it secondary characters that are instantly recognisable, extras that are instantly recognisable, or even drinks that are borderline iconic, if you know your setting you're bound to be able to throw some nods around and have those that know the universe snicker and the newbies scratch their heads.
Either way, you'll know.
3. The Moment
Role-playing game characters are like good one-liners: they're a part of a greater story, but it's them and their smash-hit moments that you'll be left with after all's said and done. It's up to the characters to pick their moment, but it's up to you as a GM to offer them the chance to pick the one they like best, the one they feel they have to step up at. Be it conflict, dialogue, or just looking like a badass soldier born and bred in blaster fire having to always look after his overly-mystically-inclined monk of a friend, diversity is what you should go for here.
Every character sees 'the moment' in their own way. Their background along with their actions during the session/campaign should set you up rather nicely in allowing them that shot at greatness.
If you manage to give each and every one of your characters a stand-out scene, you're one step closer to pulling off the perfect one-shot. This will also make everyone feel like they're an important cog in the greater machine you've put together, and that's really what role-playing parties are all about, right?
That and chucking dice around, really.
And Monty Python references. In space.
4. The Pretty Pictures
The hardest part of tabletop role-playing is bringing incredible vistas, breathtaking locales, and outrageous landscapes to mind. And that's even before you have to deal with the scum and villainy.
The more vibrant you are in your descriptions, the more senses the players use in imagining what lies before their characters, and the more successful you'll be in summoning that oh-so-important feeling of the session leaning more towards reality than make-believe.
This is a general piece of advice for any and all RPG sessions really, but one-shots will benefit from this even more in the long run because you'll be giving the players yet another layer of detail to keep in mind once it's all done and dusted, which is pretty quick in this case.
5. The Memorable Baddies
Villains are always hard to tackle, and come in a variety of shapes, tropes, and sizes throughout role-playing. Be it the tortured, somewhat redeemable soul, the vicious, power-hungry overlord that will stop at nothing to ensure their domination, or just the classic two-faced friend who's biding their time until the backstab deals as much damage as possible and gets that surprised target bonus, we've pretty much heard of/experienced all there is to see in this department.
So how can you make your villain memorable? Look outside of their motivation.
Give them a recognisable personality trait, a speech quirk, one of the aforementioned moments (why not have them execute some innocents, and subsequently have a don't-mess-with-me-here's-a-countdown-of-things-I've-already-destroyed moment that the characters may somehow be privy to). Give them an intra-faction baddie-on-baddie power struggle to deal with, that always seems to make these buggers seem more humane... ish.
If all else fails, you can always reference a greater villain from within the universe, inserting them in just a couple vignettes within the session, and having the final scene of the one-shot overshadow everything that's come before and leave everyone wishing it wasn't over...
6. The... Bothans?
Whichever way you choose to go with a one-shot, if you're stepping into a greater universe just for this occasion, there's one other very important thing you need to figure out/remember: your players might know the Universe inside and out, maybe even better than you!
GMs should always be prepared, over-prepared, and still expect the unexpected, especially when a solitary session is concerned, otherwise you may end up on an entirely different note than originally intended. If you can swing that around and make it meaningful, all the better, but remember that 4-5 other minds put together will somehow figure out a way to swing things back around in such a way that you'll probably be faced with a possibility you never even fathomed.
Know your setting, know your timeline, and then be prepared for your players to do anything and everything in their power to really make the one-shot theirs.
And also know that the Bothans died when getting the information regarding the second Death Star...
So that's most of what I think you should learn from Rogue One as a GM. The rest (i.e. the characters feeling like a part of the setting, having great chemistry, and generally being more than memorable) lies with the characters and how they manage to use everything you've thrown at them.
Players – do your best to help everyone get a better experience out of this all.
And if you've somehow forgotten (thought I don't see how you could), if in doubt, remember the mantra: You're one with the Force, the Force is with you!
Writer, gamer, and - provided he's got the time for it - loving husband, Costin does not rule out sacrifices to the Great Old Ones in order to get into the gaming industry. He's been role-playing for the better part of 6 years, but has been a joker, gamer and storyteller for as long as he can remember.
His greatest pride is once improvising a 4-way argument between a grave digger, a dyslexic man, an adopted child and a sheep, all by himself. That moment is also the closest he's ever come to giving himself a role-playing aneurysm... thus far.
He's been dabbling in plenty of writing ventures lately, and you can find him hanging his words around the OhBe Wandering hangout page on Facebook - https://goo.gl/4be3Bj
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.