Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Knights in Star Wars m20

So... when not listening to my recently compiled b-sides, non-album tracks and remixes collection of Depeche Mode of the 80s (and Violator era, which technically is 1990 and maybe 91) I've been listening to my complete Star Wars music collection.  I've got the Special Edition soundtracks to the original trilogy, which are two discs and include the entire score plus extra music of the first three movies (although I had to do a little bit of digging to get the original "Yub Nub" Ewok celebration song, as well as the original "Lapti Nek" Max Reebo band song in order to really call it "complete.)  I've also got the regular (albeit incomplete) 1-disc soundtracks for the three prequel movies.  I've got the Old Republic soundtrack, including the massive amount of "extra" tracks released for download by BioWare, and I've got the Knights of the Old Republic soundtrack as well. 

When not listening to Star Wars, I've been reading Star Wars: Legacy in trade paperback format (vol 11 is the only one left to go) and re-watching the Clone Wars on DVD (just finished Season 1 and watched the first few episodes of Season 2 last night.)  On the first disc of Season 2 is also the cinematic trailer for Force Unleashed II, which is really cool.  I actually didn't much like the game, although the first Force Unleashed was a lot of fun (I have the Wii version which is extra cool because you swing your wii-mote around like a lightsaber, which is excellent.)

It occured to me after turning the disc off and getting ready for bed that knights have been depicted with varying degrees of "over-the-topness."  In the season finale commentary by Dave Filoni at the end of Season 1, he makes the remark that George Lucas was adamant that the Jedi are not superheroes, and when Annakin is left without his lightsaber, he struggles to be as effective against Cad Bane and his highly professional team of bounty hunters.

This assertion is, of course, completely nonsensical, and almost embarrasing for Filoni to say.  What?  Of course they're superheroes.  They may be a bit low-key as superheroes when compared to really big guns like Superman, but they're still extremely over-the-top, and have an impressive suite of superpowers.  Even within the medium of mainstream comic books, you have quite a spectrum--street level superheroes like Daredevil or Green Arrow, compared to universe-shattering heroes and villains like Thor, Superman, Thanos, Darkseid, Galactus, etc.  Even on a single team you can see that--Black Widow, Hawkeye and Captain America really aren't in the same league as Iron Man, Thor, and Hulk in last year's Avengers, for instance.

That said, the depiction of Jedi has been highly variable in various media and various outlets for a long time.  In the original trilogy, we probably have them at their least over-the-top, as well as their most iconic, of course.  The prequel trilogy ramps up the superhero-ness of the Jedi considerably, but it's still the next step up.  The Clone Wars cartoon, which I like and campaign for as highly canonical to my own view of what Star Wars should be like does bring the Jedi up even more than the prequels in terms of over-the-topness.  And finally, the old "Sanurai Jack" style Clone Wars cartoon and games like Force Unleashed take them into completely uncharted territory.  In the former, there's an episode where Mace Mindu, without his lightsaber, still manages to defeat an entire army of supe rbattle droids using his fists and the Force.  In the latter, main character Galen Starkiller pulls a gigantic Star Destroyer out of space and crashes it on the planet with the Force.  There's no other way to put it, but those episodes have Jedi running around in the Big Leagues when it comes to superheroes.  They'd be the Big Guns on a team like the Avengers or the Justice League, not "street level" crimefighters.  These jedi would be a threat to Green Lantern, Superman or even Galactus.

Given this huge inconsistency in how Jedi and Sith are portrayed, one may be given to throw up one's hands in terms of reconciling that with rules for a roleplaying game.  Rather, I think you simply need to pick one of the tones and run with it.  My conception of knights is somewhere between the original and prequel trilogies, I think.  As much as I think the crazy superheroics of Galen Starkiller and the Clone Wars jedi in general is pretty cool, it really doesn't have much place in my iteration of Star Wars, and I also am extremely leery of creating a situation in which the jedi are so good compared to alternatives that who in the world would not want to play a knight?

But there's a trap there too--in my current d20 Star Wars game, in which I'm a player, that was accomplished by making jedi develop slowly via leveling up.  At 6th or 7th level, we're still not anywhere near capable of doing stuff that apparently all jedi in every show, movie or video game ever produced for Star Wars think is routine.  That can't be the right solution either.

I think the knights, as I've called all force-users of any tradition, of the m20 document, which although I've reflavored slightly, I haven't really done any design work that wasn't already done, manage to find that sweet spot.  They feel like the jedi do--even at lower levels--but they're not unbalanced vs. the other classes.  But I admit that I'm only able to accomplish that by assuming a much more low-key iteration of the jedi than has sometimes been presented--something more in line with what Luke, Vader and old Obiwan are doing in the original trilogy rather than the often ridiculous exploits of some other media.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Star Wars m20 Setting, Part II: Power Groups

The Bern Monarchy: Following the Battle of Endor, the Empire was dealt what appeared to a be a mortal blow, but things are never, of course, so simple.  Much of the Imperial citizenry--especially the military--saw themselves as the heirs of a glorious tradition stretching back thousands of years into the age of the Old Republic. If Palpatine was a bad seed, well that didn't invalidate generation after generation of tradition, and Palpatine was ancient when he died anyway. Surrendering to barbarians, anarchists and malcontents--as they saw the Rebel Alliance--or the traitors who colluded with them in the old Senate and elsewhere, was never going to happen.  Seeing themselves as the heir to the Old Republic through the unfortunate hiccup of the Empire, this ancient tradition evolved into the Monarchy. While not nearly as vast as during the heyday of the Old Republic, the Monarchy is still one of the largest and strongest of the superpowers in the galaxy. Protected by the Gray Marshals, paramilitary agents capable of standing toe to toe with Sith or Jedi when they were founded, the Monarchy is well-provided for with it's own Force and lightsaber wielding Knightly tradition.

The Revanchist Republic: The direct heir of the New Republic established by Mon Mothma, Leia Organa, and the rest of the architects of the Rebel Alliance, the Republic had many generations of hardship. While many of the Rebels were well-meaning idealists who wanted nothing more than a restoration to the way things were before Palpatine, it was clear that too many in the Rebel Alliance were little more than scoundrels, pirates, and other opportunists who took advantage of the chaos of the Galactic Civil War to line their pockets with what plunder and pillage they could.  Following short periods of relative peace, the Republic was plagued by periods of violence and anarchy, not unlike an extended comparison with France following the overthrow of the Bourbon monarchs.  After being reduced to a mere handful of Core worlds, the Republic finally got its act together and started aggressively retaking former territory, "liberating it" from whatever "tyranny" might have been occupying it. This revanchist policy has been adopted officially as its new name, the Revanchist Republic, an emerging, feisty superpower--not really a rival yet to the Monarchy or the Empire, but a growing power nonetheless.

The Sith Empire: Centered on the ancient capital of Dromund Kaas, the Sith Empire may be the most powerful polity in the galaxy--although that often works to its disadvantage when no other group trusts them, ad they are often "ganged up on" both diplomatically and militarily by wary other governments who find tenuous alliance in restraining the ambition of the Sith. But the Sith are patient in their ambition to rule the entire galaxy, and are seemingly content to hold strongly to their existing territory and advance slowly over their opponents over the course of generations. Black-garbed Sith soldiers bring a measure of order to the galaxy, or at least so say the Empire's apologists. And drawing from the ranks of both Sith acolytes as well as their allies the Nightsisters and Nightbrothers, the ranks of Force-using knights who serve the Empire's interests is considerable.

The Corporate Sector: In the chaos of the Dark Age, many large corporations were more stable and less corrupt than most governments. And in a large reach of the Inner Realm worlds, the corporations essentially became the government. Providing a high quality of life to those citizens willing to, in a way, combine civil service and their careers together, the Corporate Sector has beat back all attempts by traditional governments to integrate them fully.  Protected by vast droid armies and loosely allied with the many knights of the Cyborg Order, the Corporate Sector may indeed be mercenary--by definition even--but that doesn't mean that they're more corrupt or heavy-handed than any other government. The watchword of the Corporate citizens is professionalism in all aspects of life.

Hutt Cartel:  Infamous as making up the dark tentacles of a seedy underworld throughout much of the rest of the galaxy, there also is a patch of the galaxy where the Hutt's rule as undisputed masters continues as it has, indeed, without change for millenia. Rather than strong traditional military, the Hutt's have relied on each Hutt master's private militia, often consisting of eclectic and unusual companies of mercenaries. While this disunity might be seen as weakness, and certainly the Hutt's engaged in few overt acts of conquest or military adventurism, in reality the Hutt's maintain a strong enough presence that their place has not been seriously threatened in generations.

The Mandalorian Arm: Following the disastrous collapse of Duchess Satine's well-meaning but foolishly naive pacifist regime, the Mandalorians looked more to their glorious and storied warrior past on which to model their society. Death Watch themselves were still seen as an equally dangerous extreme as Satine's pacifism, yet the evolving Mandalorian society grew to resemble Death Watch more than many realized.  Initially allied strongly with the Hutts, the Mandalorian Arm--so known because its territory is centered on one of the spiral arms of the galaxy--has grown in power and prestige so that it can treat with the other Great Powers as an equal. Although some Mandalorians are born with the genetic predisposition to be Knights (as are most groups in the galaxy), there is no  real tradition of force-user training amongst them.  Rather, a fully trained and equipped Mandalorian supercommando can fairly be considered the equal of any Knight in combat without using the Force--a point of pride for Mandalorian soldiers.