Over the past few weeks I’ve been discussing Star Wars: Age of Rebellion, including how the game works, character creation, and the adventure I ran. Now I want to give a few tips to new GMs who want to run this exciting game. The GM experience is distinct from D&D, so you want to make sure you’re prepared.
- Make reference sheets for players: There are a lot of potential actions players can take in structured time. Each player gets one maneuver and one action, and can take an extra maneuver at the cost of strain. These actions and maneuvers vary according to whether the players are on foot or in a starship. It can be a lot to remember for new players, especially on top of their career-specific “talents.” So I made a reference sheet for my players with each of the possible actions and maneuvers and basic description, to facilitate gameplay.
- Never say no: This is standard advice to GM any TTRPG, but it’s especially important for Star Wars. The Star Wars universe involves some fantastical and convenient mechanics, like firing a proton torpedo into a vent to destroy the Death Star or shooting a control panel to block a door. Players will come up with incredibly creative solutions to problems, and the narrative-based dice rolling can produce interesting and unexpected outcomes. Leverage that; never say “no” when players ask if they can try something. Let them roll for it.
- Don’t forget (how) to use minions: Combat in Star Wars is unique, involving minions, rivals and nemeses (in ascending order of difficulty). Minions fight as a group, with each additional minion increasing their abilities rather than adding extra attacks; likewise, players attack the entire minion group, not each separate minion. This can make chaotic battles more manageable, as the GM doesn’t need to roll attacks for 15 different enemies. It also allows the GM to adjust the difficult of battles, as it is easy to add or subtract minions without adding a whole new initiative slot. Using minions judiciously and properly can make adventures both more fun and easier to handle.
- Use skill checks for even routine activities: When I’m running D&D and players are climbing up a gently-sloping cliff or making their way through a crowd I don’t have them roll. The implications of failure are either trivial–“ok, try climbing again”–or the difficulty of the check is so low success is assured. It’s different in Star Wars. Players can succeed with both advantages (good extras they decide on) or threats (bad extra the GM decides). This means that even if they are certain to navigate the crowd, the result of their skill check could lead them to overhearing crucial information, or stepping on the toes of an angry Gomorrian. Have players roll for every activity to take full advantage of the game’s mechanics.
- Think through multiple outcomes for every encounter: As I’ve said, Star Wars RPGs seem to lend themselves to mini-sandboxes rather than carefully scripted adventures. This allow for more player agency but also makes it hard to predict what will happen. One way I deal with this is think through a few possible outcomes for encounters–if players decide to sneak in through air vents, what happens? If players decide to bluff their way in, what happens? I can’t think of every possible decision, of course, but this can help me be prepared if one comes up and also to provide enough details in the encounters to allow for diverse player choices.
- Try to have non-combat solutions to every problem: Finally, non-combat in Star Wars is just as fun–if not more–than combat encounters. As a result, having an adventure in which the players attack and kill series of Stormtroopers is kind of wasting the game’s potential. That’s why I always come up with potential non-combat solutions to problems. In the adventure I’ve been discussing, players could have assaulted the Imperial facility. They could also try and sneak in. In the adventure I recently ran (which I’ll post about soon), players could make extensive use of computer or mechanics skills to obtain the item they sought, or just break into the warehouse and steal it. I actually try to make most adventures work without combat, and fighting only breaks out if players want it to or things go badly (which they often do…). This allows for more varied characters–as they don’t all need combat skills–and more diverse gameplay.
So there are my thoughts on how to GM Star Wars: Age of Rebellion. Have you had any good or bad experiences? Is there anything you would add?