Dungeon Mastering For The First Time

I've started Game Mastering a Star Wars table-top RPG set in the Old Republic/pre-Mandalorian Wars era, and it's one of my favourite things right now.

Dungeon Mastering For The First Time

My small Dungeons and Dragons group has been going pretty strong since around late 2017, I'm happy to say, and so far we've been moderately successful at keeping a handful of campaigns going forward. But, in 2018, our usual DM/GM (Dungeon Master or Game Master) burnt out on running our sessions, and for a little while there we became a board game group. Then, at the end of last year, I was playing Knights of the Old Republic again and thinking about how it brought the d20 system to Star Wars, it occurred to me that I would LOVE to design and run a tabletop Star Wars RPG set in the era of the Old Republic, just before the Mandalorian Wars.

My group is, if I can allow myself to generalise a little, probably more into fantasy than sci-fi, so I expected a tepid response, but in fact everyone was really into it and game to at least try. (Pun intended.) Then came the inevitable anxiety as it occurred to me that, in fact, I had just offered to run our next campaign. Having never run a DnD session before, I was very uncertain how this would work or how I would pull it off or if I would even enjoy or be good at DM-ing. The logistic questions also remained: Would I just take 5th edition DnD and plop it on top of Star Wars? How much, exactly, was I going to have to invent from scratch, during my very first campaign?

Our group gathered in January to discuss what this would look like. Our previous DM took point on figuring out what was already available out there. We looked into Fifth Age, a homebrew adaptation of classic 5e DnD for sci-fi game settings. But it didn't feel enough like Star Wars, and reminded me a lot of the Cyberpunk tabletop game I'd played with a different group a few years ago. We also looked briefly at the existing Star Wars tabletop manuals we'd be able to find near us. The only official Wizards of the Coast book I could find where second-hand copies of the 2009 Knights of the Old Republic Campaign Guide (Star Wars Roleplaying Game), all costing at minimum hundreds of dollars from online resellers. As far as I could tell, all the official Star Wars DnD manuals seem to require specialized Star Wars dice, but I was still thinking about how KOTOR used the d20 system, and wanting something like that.

I eventually found a copy of the old 2002 Star Wars Roleplaying Game Revised Core Rulebook, which while set in the era of the original Lucasfilm trilogy and prequels, still used the d20 system. I decided I would use that manual as the backbone of our game, and cannibalize droids, ships, NPCs, characters, and plot from the Legends and KOTOR Star Wars continuities to make it seem less like Original Trilogy Star Wars and rather more like the era of the Old Republic. Placing the timeline a handful of years before the Mandalorian Wars (in Legends continuity, at least) also allows me to take advantage of a tense political backdrop, but there is also a certain freedom too. I have room to create a campaign and journeys for a group of unlikely heroes who may not want anything to do with the fate of the galaxy. (Or maybe they do! I guess that's the point of DND — the players decide how their characters react to a galaxy in crisis.)

I've just wrapped up my fourth evening dungeon mastering and I have to say all my expectations have been exceeded so far! I'm still a bit nervous before each session, but it's not a bad kind of nervous, and afterwards it's a good rush of bubbling relief and even a bit of extra energy — something I find very precious these days — when the rest of the group thanks me or assures me for the third or fifth time that yes, they had fun.  

Also, you know what's been a really awesome app for holding all my DM notes and scribbles? Scrivener.

A few more observations on the experience:

  • I'm having a tremendous amount of fun shaping the backstory. Because the players are more or less in charge of directing and moving the plot forward (with many helpful suggestions!) I get to really focus on creating a world that feels real and thorough. Whether it's broad political forces moving across the galaxy or the unusual day-to-day workings of Corellian splicer cells, it is tonnes of fun to try to add continuous detail to an already rich galaxy.
  • I love creating NPCs! It might be my favourite part. For example: I have one NPC in particular who started off as a side character I needed for a certain cantina bar fight. I ended up daydreaming a backstory for her even though she wasn't going to appear more than once, and then my players enjoyed interacting with her so much I ended up giving her a much larger role going forward. It was amazing to watch that happen, and reminded me a lot about how certain characters can take over a writing process and end up becoming a much bigger part of a story than the writer originally intended.
  • This would be so much harder in a group I wasn't already friends with and getting along with. Of the entire group, only Leif and I were really invested in Star Wars, and at least one person had never seen the Original Trilogy, so it helped that we had already worked on different campaigns together and played well. When we took a day to figure out the character creation together before the campaign since folks were not super familiar with Legends lore and canon, I am really grateful I had Leif to assist answering questions when I couldn't. Also, having our previous DM present and answering all sorts of other questions (and giving me prompts for some story ideas during the campaign!) was super nifty.
  • One of the things I love especially about KOTOR — and that other Bioware space opera, Mass Effect — is all the time the team spends bonding on their ship. Maybe a dangerous decision, but I decided after just two sessions to give the team access to an old starship — loosely based on the Ebon Hawke — that way the characters could have a ship to work on, repair, customize, and eventually, claim as a home. The Normandy (Mass Effect) and the Ebon Hawke (KOTOR) inspire incredible emotion from me. I still remember the first time the Normandy SR-2 was unveiled in the early hours of Mass Effect 2... chills and goosebumps, because a ship is everything: home, freedom, adventure, potential. The adventure's just started — and I'm especially hoping that as the players learn to bond with the ship, they also bond with their characters!
The Argonaut, a ship loosely based on the design of the Ebon Hawke, which my players' characters have claimed.

Have you ever played a Star Wars table top RPG? Or designed/ran one? Got any advice? Let me know in the comments or come find me on twitter. Thank you for reading!

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