Way back in the ’80s and ’90s we used to use music to set the mood. Sometimes it was just something in keeping with the mood — a soundtrack from a movie, usually. For a while there, I was creating mix tapes to be used at key moments because Miami Vice had made pop music mood-setting a thing. It’s funny that now that I can easily mix and match music and key it at the appropriate time with my laptop, I don’t.

I have occasionally queued up the 1920/30s channel on the internet radio for the Hollow Earth Expedition game, but generally, I’ve stopped using music. Maybe i should try it again.



I’ve gotten complemented on running a good game, here and there, but i can’t think of anything that stands out that is for public consumption.

I’ve got to be careful as the players might see this.

Technically, I think the next game is a continuation of our Hollow Earth Expedtion, but I figured I’d focus on the next new game we’re going to play. In that instance, it’ll be Star Wars.

Firstly, it won’t be using the Fantasy Flight system because 1) I find the multiple core books based on a theme to be wasteful and money-grubbing, and 2) this carries into the proprietary dice — something that appears to be a big thing, right now, in gaming. Yes, I know you can use a normal die and pretend the [number here] is the special symbol, but that that’s not the point. Specifically designing your game to suck more money out of your customer is. So we’re going with the West End Games’ d6 system, which I did buy from Fantasy Flight, who reprinted it as a special edition. And I do mean reprinted. It’s still got references to photocopying things.

So we’re playing like it’s 1987 all over again.

Right off the bat, I wanted to contain the “canon” to what we knew from the original trilogy, but add elements from SoloRogue One (the best of the films, in my opinion), and bits of The Clone Wars series. The prequels? NO.

The basic premise wasn’t pitched by me, but by one of the players in our group who wanted to see what I’d do with the setting. He had suggested that an imperial campaign that used my distrust and disdain for big government would be interesting, a sort of The Wire meets Rogue One. Originally, I was skeptical of the idea, but after floating it about a while in my head, I decided that there was something I could do with an entire galaxy.

The campaign is set only a few years after the Clone Wars and the declaration of the Galactic Empire. The Empire didn’t seize power; it was voted into existence and for good reason: the chaos on the edges of the Old Republic led to widespread slavery, oppression, crime, and violence. The Jedi Council, now discredited as a bunch of religious fanatics who had acted as a kind of “shadow government” and which had attempted to seize control from the Grand Chancellor under the color of trying to stop “the Sith”, a Force order to which they were opposed, has been either destroyed or dispersed. The Jedi are extinguished, the people have been promised, but this isn’t the case. Jedi continue to hide and plot.

The characters are all Imperials or civilians with ties to the same. These are not cardboard cut-out villains, but people who experienced the failures of the Republic personally and are looking to spread law and order throughout the galaxy. We have a political officer who has been displaced from Coruscant and is now in command of enforcement efforts in an important sector; an intelligence officer who specialty is locating Jedi conspirators and their supporters, and who suffered some humiliation under these self-appointed “generals”; a surveillance and law enforcement droid; a former clone trooper who has been “decommissioned” into the local enforcement community and who secretly allowed his Jedi general to escape General Order 66; and a “death trooper”. There’s one more player who needs to build a character — probably a pilot of some kind. It is Star Wars, after all.

The setting will be an industrial planet, probably Kuat, the world where most of the drive engines for the new Imperial Fleet are built. I’m going for a cyberpunk/political thriller/ police procedural combo that will stay focused on a world or two for a few episodes, before expanding out into the galaxy.

One goal is to break the Jedi/Sith duality. That was an aspect I liked of The Last Jedi was that not everything needs to be about the Skywalkers, andthe Jedi aren’t necessarily the guardians of the “One True Way.” The Force tries to find balance and when it tips to far toward light or dark, the Force tries to rebalance. I want to have other Force traditions that are light and dark, but also neutral. That don’t use one aspect of the Force or the other.

I wanted to show an Empire that isn’t just posturing evil baddies like Tarkin and Krennick, but that include people who are trying to do the right thing, and think a large bureaucracy and military can fix things — do-gooders who think you have to break some eggs to make an omelet, but mean well. Like many ideologues.

Should be interesting.

Okay — someone didn’t hit the “be more specific” button when writing this prompt. What do you mean “tricky RPG experience” — what, like playing while riding in a car? A situation thrown at you by the GM? The players F’ing up a finely honed plot you were GMing, and that you had to tap dance around to get them on track or get a satisfactory resolution? That time in Vegas where I paid extra for the “green Orion girl” experience? (No, not really. But I’m sure it exists.)

I’m finding I’m drawing a blank on this one, but perhaps after reading a few others’ posts, I might do another post, if I’m inspired.

As you can see, the prompt is a bit vague and awful. What kind of failure? A character’s failure that became amazing? A campaign that went awry and was repaired or resurrected? A terrible player that was replaced by a much better one? (Got a couple of those vignettes…) A character who was a failure but would be amazing?

Let’s do all of these!

The  failure I’ve ever seen in a game that most amazed everyone there was during our Stargate campaign (using the old James Bond rules). One of the characters was a fighter pilot and in the climactic battle over Antarctica from season whateverthehell, he’s kicking some butt. Then he biffs a roll — 00, a fail no matter what. He’s halfway to space, so I figure he’s got a few tests to pull out of this. On his safety test, 00. Balls. His F-302 is headed for the ice. He’s got time — no worries! Rolls the next pilot test.


I kid you not. Safety test: 00. Next pilot test: 00. Next safety test: 00. He’s getting perilously low now. He decides to ditch, and punches out. Pilot test to bail out.


The tail of his plane, which is in a flat spin hits him and kills him instantaneously, because we all agreed six consecutive 00s in the universe telling you to sit this one out. SIX. It’s statistically almost impossible for this to happen, and the mathematician in our group still says it didn’t happen, but there were seven of us who witnessed it. Could the dice have been strangely weighted? Almost certainly, in this case.

But it happened.

How about the failed campaign that was fixed: We had a “pilot” of a Hollow Earth Expedition game that used several of the same characters that would show up in a following iteration. In the first, however, they just didn’t work for some reason. It was fixing one character, by taking the big game hunter who had been super-competent and heroic, but without any real engaging flaws, and making him scrupulously honest and earnest that changed the tenor of the game and made it fly.

Player fail who was replaced with a better player: We had a guy who gamed with us for about six months, but who had such social anxieties he was shy and retiring and barely engaged, and who couldn’t eat with the rest of the group. He eventually bowed out, but recommended a school mate who turned out to be one of the better players I’ve had in a group in four decades — funny, smart, savvy to plot and genre conventions, and just a delight to be around. He eventually moved to Texas. Drat!

The last, is the character who was a failure but became amazing was out “Failed Jedi” in our ’90s Star Wars game. With the destruction of the Jedi, he had hidden in a bottle on a small world on the Outer Rim, drowning himself in booze and meaningless sex (which he got by using his Jedi mind tricks to make the women believe he was the greatest lover ever. Because messing with people’s minds with the Force — that’s apparently okay, but choking them? Bad. With the destruction of the Emperor, he climbed out of the bottle and eventually helped the New Republic destroy the last remnant of the empire.

He also had one of the best lines in a game: “[Character name] sends his love…and I’m here to deliver it.”

In the Beginning, there was the Dungeons & Dragons boxed set and almost no one to play with. You would find a gamer or two and play was what you would expect from teenagers — loaded with overly-serious characters roaming through underground mazes killing creatures and nicking their stuff. The DM was the players’ adversary, in many way, in these early days, and the goal was to outthink the DM to “win.”

My group at the time enjoyed this, but I wanted to concentrate on character and story over money grabs. We shifted to espionage and science fiction games, and at that time we were emulating the James Bond movies, so an adventure was a few sessions that culminated in a finale. The next story was the next movie. There might be some carry-over from the last story, but it was also episodic. Other games I ran had a similar feel.

After college, I went on a superhero bender in my role playing games, and during the campaign that underpinned my time living in Philadelphia, we moved away from episodic but connected stories to emulate the comic books of the late ’80s. Angsty characters, long arcs that weren’t planned, nor had any particular direction other than  to have overly dramatic emotional stakes. (So, Marvel…)

Through the ’90s, we had a nice stable group of players and the main games were Space:1889 and James Bond. I returned to episodic adventures, but they were much more interconnected for character growth. We started focusing on personal drama and issues in this period — most of the players were female, so I shifted to fit the “romance novel” interests of one, and the more theatrical interests of another. There was a lot more role playing in this period. Story took more of a back seat to the character development and relationships.

A big change for how we played came with my The Babylon Project game which survived several deployments in the military and changes of characters. I had a “side story” of the main Babylon 5 story arc about a small colony world on the edge of known space that was involved in the Shadow War. It was the first time I played with a central story arc that I had some idea of what I wanted to happen. For the most part, over the course of two years, it did. This would be replicated on a much larger and more ambitious scale with the Battlestar Galactica campaign, which lasted about five years and while we lost and gained players, and I had to tap dance a few times to get things to work, came to a very satisfying conclusion. It’s the only game campaign I miss.

The current crop of players we have are a little less serious and less immersive than the group I had in the past, but they all have an understanding of genre themes and story eats, as well as plot devices. We tend to click pretty well on creating a story that still has character development, but which has stepped away from the drama-heavy theatrical approach that we had in the ’90s.


I added the “you’ve had” because the question would suggest any character concept you’ve encountered. (In which cause it’s Gaea, the living planet from John Varley’s Titan series.) So what is the wildest character concept in one of our games?

For characters I’ve created, I’ll say it’s a tie between our take on Athena in our last Battlestar Galactica campaign, in which one of the Lords of Kobol essentially resurrected in a host NPC from their ship and who was a cybernetically-enhanced biologically-engineered “god” created by ancient sentient machines at Earth who had destroyed all life on Earth, then had an “oops!” moment and used old DNA to rebirth the human race on Kobol, setting these new Olympians over them to aid in recreating civilization. Her memories were stored in DNA that she could save to bring herself back if killed.

She’s a tie for Constitution, the first sentient starship serving with Starfleet in our Star Trek game. She became sentient over time and finally sued Starfleet for her rights under the Data v Starfleet decision. Connie tended to view her crew as family (but really more like pets) and would get frustrated from time to time  as her FTL switching in her computer cores (look it up) allowed her to “know: what was going to happen before it did, but due to causality, she could not act on an event or answer a question until reality caught up to her computation. Eventually, during a massive Borg invasion, she “woke” the fleet she was with, seeding her mind into the other vessels so they could beat the Borg. They wound up winning the battle with a highly logical and persuasive argument for allowing biological intelligence to choose if they wanted to join with the Borg, thus not only gaining the strength of their cultures and distinctiveness, but that they would be more adaptive by having a free and willing symbiotic relationship. She was considered by the other sentient starships to be their “mother”.