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View Full Version : West Marches of the Outer Rim: Could a Sandbox work in the Star Wars galaxy?



Yora
2017-06-26, 10:58 AM
I looove Star Wars. I am not too fond of campaigns with scripted plots.

I always wanted to run Star Wars campaigns but never had any good ideas for adventures. Just playing one adventure at a time and then following up with something new just doesn't feel like it would be properly EpicTM to do the setting justice. I think you really need the continuity and long term scale of a main story. You probably need a big villain to be defeated at the end.

As an additional complication, Star Wars heroes are not simply adventurers. You have mercenaries, smugglers, rebells, and quite probably also players who want to play Jedi. Not really people who would usually work together on a day by day basis without a bigger reason why they have to stick together.

So could this even work? Could you have a sandbox campaign in Star Wars? What time periods would work better than others and what restrictions might be needed on PCs to get a working party together?

BRC
2017-06-26, 11:17 AM
Not a Star Wars scholar here, but sure. It's a whole Galaxy to mess with, more than big enough to let the PC's do what they want.

I would look at the eras Official properties have tapped, as far as time periods go.


1) The Clone Wars, a period of wide-scale galactic conflict. More than enough space to work with.

2) The period between episodes 3 and 4, the rising power of the Empire, the growth of the Rebellion.

3) The period between episodes 4 and 5 (Where the Comics are set) . The Death Star is destroy, the Rebels are victorious, but on the run.

There's more than enough setting details to work with to build a sandbox setting.

The big problem is dueling appeals. It's Star Wars, which means people that play it likely want to interact with some of the characters they know and love. They want to go up against Jabba the Hutt, or Darth Vader, or what have you. That's part of the Appeal, and it's a sandbox, so sticking them off in their own corner of the galaxy isn't a guaranteed success.


But, once you DO introduce these characters or events, then you're kind of locked in by the chains of Canon. What if your bounty hunter captures Han Solo? It's cool! you went up against Han Solo! But, now your story has to let Han go in time for him to be in his next movie, unless you're letting your players disrupt canon events. Which is also fine, but also kind of lessens the appeal. You're no longer playing in the Star Wars universe, you're playing in your own version of it.

Mark Hall
2017-06-26, 11:37 AM
I think a Star Wars sandbox works better in the Age of the Empire, when those disparate character types have a reason to hang out. If you set it in the Prequels era, you start wondering why Jedi are palling around with smugglers and such; set it in the Empire era, and you have them as mutually beneficial outlaws. In a sense, the Empire becomes the wilderness against which your characters struggle. They don't have to directly fight the Empire for this to work... the Empire is still the wilderness. The source of natural, insurmountable problems that have to be deal with.

The difficulty I see in a SW sandbox, though, is the vastness of the sandbox. There's not much that prevents the party from leaping to any place in the galaxy with only a little notice, completely reflavoring the game at will... and putting a lot of stress on the GM. In a more technologically limited game, moving from point A to point B requires time and preparation... in d6 Star Wars, it just requires a starship and an astrogation check.

Thrudd
2017-06-26, 11:57 AM
I think a Star Wars sandbox works better in the Age of the Empire, when those disparate character types have a reason to hang out. If you set it in the Prequels era, you start wondering why Jedi are palling around with smugglers and such; set it in the Empire era, and you have them as mutually beneficial outlaws. In a sense, the Empire becomes the wilderness against which your characters struggle. They don't have to directly fight the Empire for this to work... the Empire is still the wilderness. The source of natural, insurmountable problems that have to be deal with.

The difficulty I see in a SW sandbox, though, is the vastness of the sandbox. There's not much that prevents the party from leaping to any place in the galaxy with only a little notice, completely reflavoring the game at will... and putting a lot of stress on the GM. In a more technologically limited game, moving from point A to point B requires time and preparation... in d6 Star Wars, it just requires a starship and an astrogation check.

That's true, but in the EU there are vastly different travel times for different locations, depending on whether one is using well-traveled hyperspace lanes or forging your own path. Any number of things can interrupt your hyperspace journey, which can work similarly to random wilderness encounters - interdictions from pirates along known lanes (which is the nominal reason for the Imperial Fleet), interdictions from Imperial blockades, random space hazards, mechanical malfunctions, etc.

What a sandbox Star Wars galaxy needs is a way to quickly generate random planet encounters, the way you do with random monster lairs and dungeons in a D&D game. You don't need an entire planet's ecosystem and government and detailed cultures, just give it the Star Wars treatment - one basic environment type, some alien race that belongs there or a human colony, and maybe a random plot hook like warring factions or dangerous wildlife or an imperial outpost.

Then, of course, you do have the more detailed environment of the planets where you know the game will be engaged - their home base planet, safe zone, whatever, and also places that will be the targets of planned adventures (deliver cargo X to planet Y, sneak past a blockade in X system to rescue a rebel spy on Z planet, etc). If the players show interest in a particular planet that you didn't plan for It totally works, that's basically how I ran my long-running game that was enjoyed for a number of years.

Yora
2017-06-26, 11:57 AM
A mostly Jedi party would probably work best in the KotOR era. Having a small group of Jedi running around in the open going after something they consider worth their attention makes perfect sense in that environment.

I found one good link on running Star Wars games (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vEpv41FQCk) and one of the main points that is being made is that the NPCs are hugely important.

Which I think can be a way to deal with the issue of space as well. You don't go to visit places, you go and visit people. If you go by the movies, hyperspace travel is insanely fast and you can pretty much go from any place in the galaxy to any other almost instantly, as long as you know where it is. But in Star Wars you don't go dungeon crawling to explore or find treasure, but most of the time you are trying to reach people. Be it saving them, questioning them, or killing them.

Instead of a map of planets, a Star Wars sandbox could be centered more around a map of people? Since travel times are almost irrelevant and you can't run into anything in hyperspace, the map might actually be more of an adress book. Luke did not go to Dagobah, he traveled to Yoda. Han wasn't taken to Tatooine, he was taken to Jabba.
Another nice thing is that you can always add new NPCs to the world without having to worry about suddenly adding new cities where none were before. Planets don't exist in a campaign until there is someone on the planet that the players want to meet.

Mark Hall
2017-06-26, 12:44 PM
For a heavily Jedi game out of the Empire era, you might consider using the Jedi Service Corps... that lets you have a variety of force power levels and skill sets, while still keeping the group roughly themed.

Mastikator
2017-06-26, 01:53 PM
Not gonna lie, a Star Wars outer rim empire era sand box game sounds pretty epic indeed. It's the looming shadow of the empire that gives it weight and dramatic tension. It also gives you a reason not to be a Jedi, maybe giving some other roles a chance.

Yora
2017-06-26, 02:03 PM
It's a nice environment, but it's not a campaign yet. Two smugglers, a bounty hunter, and a droid walk into a cantina. Now what?

You don't need plot, but I think you need a story. The old D&D standard of "let's go to a dungeon" doesn't work here. The equally generic "let's free the galaxy from the tyranny of the Empire" is also highly implausible.
I think you need an inciting incident that puts pressure specifically on the PCs. What I think would work quite well, as one example, is being deeply in debt to a crime boss. This gives the players the goal to make a lot of money while at the same time staying ahead of bounty hunters. They are free to look for the kind of jobs they feel would be fun.

To make it a sandbox, the goal would need to be something that could be approached in many different ways and in many different places. Stealing the Death Star plans would not really be suited for that because there's a specific thing they would have to get.

Mark Hall
2017-06-26, 02:11 PM
Mutually in debt to a crime lord is a good option. It lets you give them some nice equipment to start, and can provide a method of getting jobs (i.e. Work for Crime Lord), but also something to get away from (i.e. Working for a Crime Lord). You can also have some of the debts be an inheritance... your dear Aunt was apparently in to the Hutts for 30 large.

Dragonexx
2017-06-26, 02:14 PM
Both star wars games I've run haven't really bothered adhering to any canon, legends or otherwise, but been more original. I had one that was loosely based off the legacy era, and another loosely based off the old republic era, because I don't like being bogged down by canon stuff.

Mastikator
2017-06-26, 02:34 PM
[snip]The equally generic "let's free the galaxy from the tyranny of the Empire" is also highly implausible.[snip]
The empire is brought down when Vader tosses the emperor into a pit and Lando blows up the second death star.

My point is that the players do not overthrow the empire. Only Luke Skywalker is a match for Vader. To the players Vader is the boogey man, you don't win against him, you consider yourself lucky if you get out alive. He can stop blaster shots with hand and read your mind without even knowing where you are. He can sense a jedi being trained from potentially hundreds of lightyears away. He's an epic level wizard in a E6 game.

You can still do wacky adventures in the outer rim and perhaps even in the empire controlled space but this game should take place before the battle of Endor, when the rebellion seems like a lost cause.

And there can still be BBEGs in the outer rim, crime lords like Jabba The Hutt can be very intimidating to some schmuck.

The empire is awesome background music that limits the scope of the game, which is a good thing in a setting as big as Star Wars. Especially if you're playing a sand box.

Corsair14
2017-06-26, 03:02 PM
We played the old D6 version for most of our high school years and some in college. I have heard one guy still plays with his wife and family(oh and our characters are SW canon now :P too). I usually GMed but occasionally played when one of the other players had an idea to run with. We really didn't have an overarcing story leading to a new story type of campaign. Basically we would finish an adventure for good or bad(they didn't always end well) and the next story would start however the GM wanted to start it. With time in between doing whatever they do. The point of the campaign was about character development. Each character had goals in life and wanted to achieve them and found some way to turn most of the adventures into something that helped in that. I couldn't tell you how many ships we had and lost. At one point the Fallen jedi character even impersonated a Grand Admiral and took command of a Super Star Destroyer and its escorts(that didn't last long). That was one thing we learned, don't get attached to the ship.

CharonsHelper
2017-06-26, 03:21 PM
(oh and our characters are SW canon now :P too)

Wait - what now? Did you or one of your players write a Star Wars novel or some such?

Yora
2017-06-26, 03:39 PM
You can still do wacky adventures in the outer ri and perhaps even in the empire controlled space but this game should take place before the battle of Endor, when the rebellion seems like a lost cause.

And there can still be BBEGs in the outer rim, crime lords like Jabba The Hutt can be very intimidating to some schmuck.

The empire is awesome background music that limits the scope of the game, which is a good thing in a setting as big as Star Wars. Especially if you're playing a sand box.

Something that a sandbox campaign usually needs is a default goal. When everything is said and done for a particular adventure and the players ask what now, there needs to be a default answer that they can always pick without much thinking.
For the smugglers it can be "Get money for Jabba", for a band of bounty hunters it's "find a new contract".
If the party is rebells or jedi, it gets more challenging. Start looking if there is any sith activity anywhere in the galaxy is pretty hopeless until the sith do something to get their attention. Jedi might actually be the most difficult characters in that regard. As keepers of the peace their function is to respond to events and restore the status quo.
Rebells could always try to sabotage the empire, but randomly blowing things up is not very heroic. They need specific targets whose destruction will benefit the rebellion. This requires a big picture perspective that players on the ground can't really have. And if they get an objective from above you lose considerable parts of the sandbox aspect. They are limited to the choice of how, but no longer have the choice of why. Playing Republic or Imperial Soldiers would be right out for that very reason.

Underworld campaigns seem to be the most suited for sandboxes. Military and Jedi campaigns not so much.

Thrudd
2017-06-26, 03:40 PM
Mutually in debt to a crime lord is a good option. It lets you give them some nice equipment to start, and can provide a method of getting jobs (i.e. Work for Crime Lord), but also something to get away from (i.e. Working for a Crime Lord). You can also have some of the debts be an inheritance... your dear Aunt was apparently in to the Hutts for 30 large.
That's exactly where mine started
Trying to make loan payments on the ship, needing to take work wherever they can find it, making money trying to upgrade/modify the ship. Doing shady stuff that could cross paths with both empire and rebels.

Mechalich
2017-06-26, 05:25 PM
There's actually a really notable recent Star Wars sandbox scenario: The Outlander builds the Alliance against the Eternal Empire of Zakuul, also known as the two most recent expansions to TOR.

Another notable sandbox: Grand Admiral Thrawn explores the Unknown Regions. Also: Kerra Holt - who's comic run is titled Knight Errant for a reason - and the KOTOR comics run (the one with Zane Karric and Jaeral) are both incredbly sandbox-y.

If I were going to build a sandbox I'd use the TOR era. It's strongly supported (and TOR is free to play, so easy to experience), has a lot of characters who can be re-purposed (like pretty much all quest-givers in the game) a huge database of potential enemies, and yet only outlines a handful of planets in the galaxy, leaving tons of room for all kinds of adventures. Several of the extant class stories are fairly sandbox-like already (bounty hunter and trooper in particular) and the Outlander's story is absolutely a sandbox scenario, especially the Knights of the Fallen Empire half. You're well positioned to have BBEG's of your own like Sith Lords, crime bosses, and Knights of Zakuul while still not hob-knobbing with the true power players like the Dark Council or Valkorion.

Dragonexx
2017-06-26, 07:12 PM
Honestly, I've never gotten why adhering to canon was such a big deal (and people insisting on it is why i can't understand the appeal of playing in the movie era's).

Corsair14
2017-06-27, 07:40 AM
If doing a themed campaign, privateering is pretty good. You start with your basic pirating, make fencing contacts, get screwed over at some point, bounty hunters and crime lords start hunting them, not to mention either the rebellion or the empire(depending on who they are working for). Again I am going from a D6 background which lets you play either or neither side very easily unlike the restrictive the FF system which just assumes you are a rebel or hero type.

The jedi are by far the easiest to manipulate in a sandbox campaign. Strong sense of the force here, sith inquisitor there, something bad going on over on that planet that needs help. You can screw with jedi realistically all day. To do a continuing campaign that isn't just a bunch of individual episodes though, it cant just be checking the Bounty Hunter forum and finding a job every time even if they are all bounty hunters. At some point the characters will have to think outside of themselves and a greater picture or the campaign will get boring after a few sessions of "Retrieve Bob for X credits." Forcing them to pick a side in the conflict or playing both sides is going to be needed after a session or two just for them to get a sense of belonging to the galaxy and the game isn't about just going from A to B, kill C and go back to A.

Yora
2017-06-29, 03:10 AM
I think that a Jedi campaign might still work pretty well as an open world but also a specific goal. When you play a party of Jedi and their allies, it is pretty much a given that everyone wants to fight a Sith threat. So I think there wouldn't be any complains from players that they can not do everything they can think of and take the campaign in any direction they could imagine. Not a sandbox in the strictest sense, but you can still have a very large amount of the great elements that come with any open world.

Once you have established that the players will be fighting a group of Sith and aim to destroy them, preparing the setting becomes much easier. First you have the Sith themselves, followed by their allies and pawns as well as other groups who are opposing them. Then add some NPCs who the players might recruit to their cause or who could provide valuable resources and you have a pretty solid social landscape for the campaign. Then you "simply" have to create bases for all these factions and NPCs and perhaps a few "dungeons" were special items are being hidden that could be used by or against the Sith if discovered.
And then you simply have the give the players some starting leads how they could begin their search for the Sith and set them loose on the galaxy.

However, I would say that depending on the rules system, the PCs probably would have to start at an already considerable power level. If they set out to go fight Sith, they need to be able to actually fight them. Not travelling around the galaxy grinding up enough XP to eventually become powerful enough to face their targets.:smallamused:

goto124
2017-06-29, 03:17 AM
the PCs probably would have to start at an already considerable power level. If they set out to go fight Sith, they need to be able to actually fight them. Not travelling around the galaxy grinding up enough XP to eventually become powerful enough to face their targets.:smallamused:

Or, since this is a sandbox, let them face the consequences of facing Sith far beyond their power level.

Who knows, they might win due to a little bit of creative thinking...

Yora
2017-06-29, 03:33 AM
The cheap solution would be to not stat the enemies until the players are about to face them. Which kind of defeats the purpose of PCs getting stronger... :smallannoyed:

Lvl 2 Expert
2017-06-29, 05:35 AM
But, once you DO introduce these characters or events, then you're kind of locked in by the chains of Canon. What if your bounty hunter captures Han Solo? It's cool! you went up against Han Solo! But, now your story has to let Han go in time for him to be in his next movie, unless you're letting your players disrupt canon events. Which is also fine, but also kind of lessens the appeal. You're no longer playing in the Star Wars universe, you're playing in your own version of it.

Honestly, that sounds like the best part. A resistance without Han or Luke or Leia or Ackbar or whoever might place an emergency call to the PC's at some point, maybe even be defeated by the first death star. Or maybe Lando gets involved earlier filling the Han spot, or Chewbacca goes on a revenge mission, or... The galaxy is your playground!


However, I would say that depending on the rules system, the PCs probably would have to start at an already considerable power level. If they set out to go fight Sith, they need to be able to actually fight them. Not travelling around the galaxy grinding up enough XP to eventually become powerful enough to face their targets.:smallamused:

Maybe there is a way to configure the sandbox a bit more? The players could be padawan in the jedi academy, they could be a team of investigators from some federal police force, a special forces team in the imperial military, or a small rebel crew with a ship that serves a submarine like role, flying around undetected, making contact for orders and disappearing again to execute them. They get an unrealistic amount of freedom in picking their own missions, just shopping around to see if maybe the division for money laundering and financial crimes has some nice missions standing out. The team is a little strapped for cash after all, and Ben does have that corruption skill he's been itching to use. This gives them a large amount of freedom to choose missions at their current power level. But the only way they're getting a shot at immediately going after Vader is by ignoring every order, going rogue, or well, roguer... and just trying to stumble into his base at some random moment which stacks the odds against them. "But if you stay with the rebellion, I promise you, we will be able to create an opening, and when we go in, every last volunteer will be needed."

Real sandboxes have borders, why not figurative ones?

Yora
2017-06-29, 06:00 AM
The biggest challenge I see is information management. To do a proper investigation or complex military opperation, you need to have a lot of fine details established in advance, which makes it difficult to offer the players a wide range of options they can freely chose from. At the same time, players need to have a considerable amount of information to come up with plans of their own and I find this to be really difficult in practice.

Unscripted investigation and mystery works reasonably well on a small scale where you only have a very limited number of NPCs and locations. If you have say ten possible situations to investigate that are scattered over a huge region and frequently overlap with each other it adds up to a very big pile of information that the players will need to know before they can even make a choice which "adventure" to go on.

With scoundrels it's a lot easier in practice because their adventures are actually very simple afairs. You start with a contract for a bounty or to pick up and deliver a shipment and then the players simply head to their next destination and deal with whatever they come across when they run into it. It's really a lot like a basic dungeon crawl where the journey is the main part of the adventure and you run into a lot of exciting obstacles along the way.

lt_murgen
2017-06-30, 09:30 AM
We played the old D6 version for most of our high school years and some in college. .....


Unscripted investigation and mystery works reasonably well on a small scale where you only have a very limited number of NPCs and locations. If you have say ten possible situations to investigate that are scattered over a huge region and frequently overlap with each other it adds up to a very big pile of information that the players will need to know before they can even make a choice which "adventure" to go on..

I ran a D6 campaign that stretched across almost a decade, with over a dozen players coming and going. I had two characters with over-arching plot threads- a revenge plot and a failed Jedi rediscovering the force plot. But, for the most part, they did whatever they wanted. I set up two or three locations (Bespin Cloud City, The Wheel, and a certain Jawa Juice Cafe on Coruscant) where they could go and check on bounties, take missions for rebels (and others), rest, refit and recruit others. Of course, I used the tired plot trick of one of them "owning" their own ship. Their debt on it, and the continual maintenance and docking fees, kept them from going too far off the rails.

What that allowed me to do is have 2-3 adventures ready, and then tailor the background of the adventure to meet what they wanted to do. For example, Game Chambers of Questal was rebels searching for a missing agent. A simple rewrite turned it into a major turning point in one character's revenge plot. One character was an obsessed audiophile, and when she found out Crying Dawn Singer was abducted, she forced them into finding him. Which led to the introduction of a new player's character. And so on.

Corsair14
2017-06-30, 09:48 AM
After the freedom and ease of GMing the d6 game, I have never been able to get into the newer versions, too complicated and far to restrictive on classes and such. I have a different group now but we still play the d6 version, especially since all the books and new movie conversions are free online. Our original campaign lasted about a decade as well since all three of us went to college relatively close(2 hours) to each other. Same main characters for the other two, I had several characters I played off and on when someone else wanted to GM a session. Never had a stable ship that was ours. We changed ships more than my favorite character Vrad changed hats. Only ever ran into an actual movie character once and that was in the intro game freshman year to see if we liked the system and they ran like bats out of hell from Vader.

Yora
2017-06-30, 02:40 PM
d6 would also be my game of choice. I think for a sandbox you really need the flexibility that comes with relatively lightweight games. d20 and the currently licensed game both aren't.

Anonymouswizard
2017-07-02, 09:29 AM
In my mind, the simplest way to get players searching out plot threads in a science fiction RPG (even Star Wars) is to hike costs up. It's easiest if they have a ship, repair costs and fuel costs can be punched up enough to keep them close to the line after upgrades, always looking for a new job or planning one themselves. Make sure they know that they need money to survive, and ideally make is so they need their ship (or potentially organisation) to make money. Or go the Traveller route and have them start off in debt in exchange for the ship, making runs to scrape up enough money for the banks not to repossess the Overly Modified (which is in theory a banged up transport, and in practice a frontline warship*). Then just make sure that the jobs they can get are profitable enough but not too profitable.

You could always do similar things with an organisation having taxes and admin fees drive Player Character Odd Job Agency close to closing whenever the game starts to run down.

* Because isn't it always, especially with those space pirates around.

JAL_1138
2017-07-02, 10:17 AM
Another thing D6 did extremely well was the splatbooks. There's a ton of setting info for it, much of which was later used to create the Expanded Universe novels. The various books are well-written enough to be fun reads in addition to useful supplements, and even item or ship descriptions sometimes come with quest hooks that would be useful in a sandboxy game baked right in. You might inadvertently buy a ship at a used-ship yard that was once used to transport slaves and had a bit of a history, for instance, and decide to go after its former owners (or decide you want nothing to do with that, change the ship's registry, and repaint the hull so it's not so readily identifiable, of course). They're full of things like that.

Perch
2017-07-02, 10:20 AM
This (http://starwars.wikia.com/wiki/The_galaxy) may help.