Monday, October 14, 2013

What does your Star Wars look like?


I've always been intrigued with alternate history and historical fiction in its various forms. Arthur C. Clarke did it on every sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey. His introductory notes explaining the changes were always fascinating, as each change was done to match something new learned in astronomy or new technologies since the last book came out. Patrick O'Brien's Jack Aubrey novels are a go-to comfort food read, as are Steven Pressfield's books.

A while back, I talked to my group about running a Star Wars game focused on the criminal underworld. I wanted to tell stories based on films like The Third Man and Miller's Crossing, and the crime novels of Elmore Leonard. As is just so happened, Fantasy Flight Games had just released the Edge of the Empire Beta! With a ruleset designed for this model in place, I needed a Star Wars Galaxy to match. There are many reasons for this, and I won't go into those here, as I'm sure most of you are well-versed in those arguments.


Before Phantom Menace, I read that Lucas envisioned the fall of the Rebublic as an analogue to the fall of the Roman Empire. Palpatine, then, becomes the returning hero with his own personal army, veterans of many conflicts. He did this to some degree in the prequels, but not enough for my tastes, so that had to go in!

Dooku is a boring character as a mustache-twirling villain, and the banking clan felt the same way. I always loved the idea of Dooku as depicted in the great Jon Ostrander Clone Wars comics. Instead, why not model the Seperatists on the Confederate States of America? Dooku then is less a Snidley Whiplash character and more of a man with a different view of how things should work.

As the Empire functions so well as a re-skinned Third Reich*, I felt I was ready to present what, to me, is just the right version Star Wars setting for my game. As a bonus, it allows me to surprise my players with well-known characters turned on their heads.

Here's the backstory I gave my players:

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For as long as most can remember, the Jedi Knights controlled the Republic. Their representatives were elected to most system, planet and local offices, and the halls of the senate chamber were filled with their ranks. Eventually inefficiency, nepotism, and an adherence to long outdated policies led to the party’s downfall. Several notable Jedi, such as Qui-Gon Jinn, Sora Bulq and Quinlan Vos began to publicly push for reform but were overruled by the council. About 30 years ago, after a long, steep decline, the galaxy suffered near economic collapse. The citizens of the republic had long viewed the ruling Jedi as elitist and insulated from the troubles of the populace, and when the collapse finally came, the galaxy fell apart. Food shortages and resource scarcity fueled outrage and riots.

From the chaos, many systems, trade organizations and disgruntled Jedi broke from the republic to form the Confederacy of Independent Systems. The Confederacy clothed itself in traditional moral values and advocated a local, decentralized economic model. Almost immediately, the Republic declared war on the new political state. This move served to fuel Count Dooku’s fledgling cause further; in a very short time, many systems allied themselves to the Separatists. Led by the Jedi Knights, the republican forces were spread thin. By the end of the first year of the conflict, both sides suffered horrendous losses and the war was locked in a stalemate.

Seeing an opportunity, legendary republic general Palpatine, commanding his Clone Army** and a force of Mandalorian mercenaries in the Unknown Regions beyond the Outer Rim, decided to return to the core systems to enter the war. The combined might of the Jedi Republican Army and Palpatine’s loyal, highly trained Clone Army defeated Dooku (who went into hiding) and brought the Separatists under control. Two assassination attempts on Palpatine, one led by Jedi Master Mace Windu and the other led by Jedi Master Yoda, cemented the populace’s rejection of the Jedi. Shortly thereafter, Palpatine’s general, Darth Vader, brought evidence before the senate of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by the Jedi Knights, an angry galaxy made them the scapegoat for their woes. The Jedi were outlawed, hunted and imprisoned. The public trials lasted for years, with most of those convicted put to death.

Palpatine, backed by an adoring populace, accepted the title of Emperor, and promised to bring order to the galaxy and restore it to its former glory. After assuming control of the government, he initiated many reforms to restore the Republic Credit, forgive debt, and rapidly correct the economic depression. He employed millions through public works projects, most notably Tarkin’s Death Star and Vader’s flagship, the Executor. Palpatine nationalized many private businesses to control production and then sold them at a fraction of the cost to a small subset of devoted individuals.

The Senate became largely symbolic as he ceded control over to sector governors. Hand-picked and loyal, these former military and political leaders (some former Separatists) became the real power-brokers in the galaxy. All facets of government were, for the first time, in the control of one political party headed by Palpatine and the hero of the public, Darth Vader.

During the economic collapse preceding the Clone Wars, the black market thrived, generating very wealthy crime syndicates. Rather than cracking down on them, the local governors used them to their advantage to manipulate prices and increase their power during the immediate post-war period. A few governors, such as Grand Moff Tarkin, got their start as black market criminals. Tarkin’s underworld influence through his control of Black Sun proved invaluable to the new Empire.

In a few short years, the new Galactic Empire has the galaxy largely at peace with a recovering economy. The working class is back to making a stable living, though the hours are now longer and the pay less. Beneath the shining facade of propaganda, the Empire rules with a despotic hand, crushing resistance wherever it emerges. Admiral Thrawn, a Chiss hero of the Clone Wars and a popular writer and orator, heads the Empire’s public face as the Minister of the Interior***. Under his control, arts and centralized news organizations have become a focus of Imperial propaganda. The new face of the Empire is a human-centric one, advocating loyalty and public service. The populace has learned to fear the Empire’s Stormtroopers; particularly the famous 501st Legion (known as Vader’s Fist) and Thrawn’s Inquisitors.

Despite consolidated control, the Galactic Empire still faces a number of threats. The remnants of the Separatists keep the Imperial Navy busy in isolated pockets of the Outer Rim systems, but whether Dooku still leads them is unknown. The assassin driod IG-88 has consolidated the remainder of the Separatist driod army as a kind of holy war against the ‘inferior biologicals’ that run the galaxy. Recently, a mysterious group calling themselves the Rebel Alliance has emerged. They’ve adopted the banner of the old Jedi-led republic and launched a guerrilla war against the infrastructure of the Empire.

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How have you changed history to suit your Star Wars game?

* See this article.

** The Clone Troopers are not clones as described in canon, but are referred to as such because their white armor makes them anonymous. I also use the Imperial Army/Navy Trooper for most imperial minions instead of Stromtroopers. That way, when the more competent Stromtroopers show up, the PCs quake in their boots.

*** I like having an alien as the head of the racial purity division as a mirror to the idea that Hitler, certainly not the model of the Aryan Race, espoused this idea.