I’ve had a bunch of half-developed ideas for posts, involving social contracts, factions in roleplaying groups, story share vs. mechanical balance, etc. But I haven’t finished any of those posts. And this one isn’t one of those. I’m mainly posting this because I don’t have time to finish the others and this is more of a question than a commentary.
Playing Star Wars and reading Declare got me thinking about Delta Green/Unknown Armies style Star Wars games, where the players are on missions investigating the “supernatural” and perhaps going mad encountering it. So I was noodling around the idea of a secret faction of the Imperial Security Bureau tasked with investigating and neutralizing threats that are outside the scope of what the average Imperial citizen can comprehend. I was having fun pondering how to adapt the Madness Meters of Unknown Armies to the Star Wars universe.
I mentioned this idea to the wife, assuring her in the process that I was not going to try and run any more games, and asked her if she’d be willing to play even if it had a mission style format. (She hates mission-style games more than I do.) I tried to play up the possibility of it being more roleplaying intensive than the last Star Wars game of mine she played in. She enjoyed my D&DPD game, so why not this?
She said that she would be much more interested in an Unknown Armies type game that was more like Tim Powers’ Last Call or the Ascendants from the Malazan books. (I haven’t gotten past the first book in the Malazan series, so I can only guess what she means by that. And no I don’t want spoilers.) She said she didn’t care if it was set in space so long as it continued to have that same sort of non-linear mythic feel to it.
Trying to imagine such a Star Wars along those lines kinda broke my head. Considering the topic a bit further, it seems like you could roughly divide stories with supernatural elements to them into two brought groups. I don’t know if it’s best to call them linear and non-linear, rational and non-rational, yin and yang or what. But there are the tales of the fantastic where supernatural abilities are logical and quantifiable. And there are tales of the fantastic where supernatural abilities are defined more by intuition, symbolism and metaphor.
Because it’s hard to quantify, it seems like most roleplaying games don’t use the latter. You can’t reliably assign a point value to the abstract and the weird. Some games have come close (or at least had the potential to do so), but it seems the exception rather than the rule. I think Rebecca Borgstrom’s creations, primarily Nobilis and Exalted: Fair Folk come the closest, largely because the mechanics seem so loose and abstract that you can put in weird to the extent that seems appropriate. The others that come to mind are Changeling: The Dreaming and Mage: The Ascension. It was quite possible to run either of those games without the weird and the insane, but there was room in there for it.
Star Wars is definitely closer to the more linear of the supernatural abilities. While it’s easy to imagine it as being horrible and frightening in a Lovecraftian sense, the abilities manifested are very linear. It’s usually little more than telekinesis and ESP. It’s very rarely about symbolic cutting off of heads and hiding them in lakes or embodying mythic archetypes to provide certain magical effects. And the rules certainly don’t support that sort of weirdness. The closest they come is a talent that allows you to perform certain Force abilities as though they are spells.
So, the question that comes out of this long ramble is: How would you work to make Star Wars more like The Invisibles or Last Call without losing the feel of Star Wars?