Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monty Haul vs. Mr. Scrooge: Challenges and Rewards in Star Wars

Dungeon Magazine may have warned us against the Monty Haul style of GMing, which has influenced countless games of D&D (no doubt for the better.) But keep in mind this thought...

At no point in Star Wars do I recall a character ever really needing some piece of equipment and not having it. When Luke and Ben need to fly to Alderaan, they divest themselves of their old landspeeder, and it's enough to get them there on the Millenium Falcon. When Luke suddenly finds himself on the wrong side of a chasm in the Death Star, well, voila!, he's got a rope to swing on in his belt (this isn't quite as cheesy as having bat-shark repellent handy just when you find yourself being attacked by a shark, but nearly so). When Luke needs to attack the Death Star, there's an X-wing there for him to fly. And apparently the Rebel Alliance just gives those things away to people that they like, since he continues to use it throughout the series.

The landspeeder is also an interesting case in point. At no point do the characters bog themselves down with equipment either. In a game like D&D, resource management and logistics is part of the fun (for some players. Not me, actually.) Worrying about actually having all the right equipment is important. Worrying about how much you can carry so you can make sure that you actually have what you need when you need it is important. Making the hard decisions on what to carry to keep your weight at a point where it doesn't bog you down is important.

I can't ever remember anything like this ever being a consideration in any Star Wars movie or Clone Wars episode that I've ever seen. It is a concern sometimes in The Old Republic or Knights of the Old Republic because those are games that are, to some degree or another, based on the D&D paradigm. And it is in many of the Star Wars campaigns in various RPG settings that I've played in the past. Although, again, this is mostly because the D&D paradigm is hard to shake for folks who've grown up on it. But in my Star Wars d20 game, worrying excessively about equipment and money has clearly been one of those things, when we've allowed it to take over our game, has significantly hurt its ability to feel like Star Wars.

Although at times characters have been on the lookout for a ship, they never had to do anything too extraordinary to eventually procure one, or at least the services of one. This is the biggest single expense item that a character can have, but a character really needs to have a ship. Going from planet to planet, and engaging in space combat is part and parcel of playing Star Wars.

That said, you don't need a bunch of individual ships for your entire group. For most of the movies, the Millenium Falcon plus Luke's X-wing (so he can split up from the group and do his own stuff) are sufficient, with only the occasional other ship (shuttle Tyderium). Characters shouldn't be carrying around backpacks full of stuff, or have a pack mule or porter to bring all of the things that they might have in their ship. They don't need swoops or speeder-bikes or land-speeders or anything else on a regular basis. Let them have some money to spend on stuff from time to time, and make sure that stuff is available for them to purchase. And then don't worry too much about it. The equipment list isn't extensive enough that having nearly everything on it buried in the cargo hold somewhere would be a problem even, and realistically, characters can't use everything all at once either.

Some classes, such as fighters, also benefit from having tricked out equipment. Especially at higher level, it's assumed that they'll have it. The Mandalorians wouldn't be nearly as cool without their armor, for instance. How would they stand up to the typical Jedi without their jetpacks, missiles, and whatever else? What's Cad Bane without all his gear?

Encourage your players not to get into gear-hoarding mode. That's not Star Wars. And then err on the side of gratuitousness with equipment. If it ends up being a problem, there are ways to bleed that off as needed. Equipment can get stolen, or broken or whatever. It's usually considered "cheap" to do this, so don't do it unless you really need to bleed off an excess of equipment. But honestly, given the list here, that's not likely to be an issue. You can also bleed off excess money or loot by having players need to repair battle damage to their vehicles or droids, by wastage caused by using disposible items (like thermal detonators) or allowing them to pick up a droid cohort (start at 3-4,000 credits for a base level 1 droid, let them spend more to equip him with more stuff, and force the cohort to level up by gaining levels the same as any other player character.) Let your players have the equipment that they want, for the most part. That's part of the setting's conceit. While characters aren't rich, challenging them with resource management isn't very heroic, swashbucklery, or Star Wars like.

And the characters may need to come into money fairly quickly. If it's the character's conceit that he's got armor equivalent to a Mandalorian battle-suit, well that thing costs out to over 18,000 credits. If he can't get it until near the end of his career, that kind of sucks for him as a player too. He can't wait to afford a starship and an astromech at 7-8th level in a 10 level game. That doesn't mean that your fighter needs a full-fledged Mandalorian battle-suit at 1st level either.

As a rough guideline, I think characters should get between 5-10,000 credits worth of money (or stuff of equivalent value) per level, mostly. And they should spend 20-30% of that on maintenance of stuff. The fighter that wants the equivalent of a Mandalorian battle-suit should have to piece it together bit by bit over the course of a few levels, getting stuff and then upgrading it as time goes on. By 3-4th level, he should have most of what he wants.

And at some point, characters should get out of the game of worrying much about equipment or money at all. There is no wealth/level guideline. Once the characters have what they want, you should focus on maintenance with your money rewards. As always, keep in mind that logistics, accounting, and shopping are not at the heart of any Star Wars game. Use scarcity (especially at lower levels) to be a bit of a motivator, but don't be a Mr. Scrooge GM. But if your players are concerned about getting monetary rewards for their characters (unless it's in character--i.e., Han Solo) then they're missing the point and you need to recalibrate your game somewhat.

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