Last night saw the end of the first big story arc in the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire campaign I’ve been running since October. Having thrown my players into the midst of an underground droid fighting ring in the bowels of Cloud City, they successfully rescued the adorable little precognitive Twi’lek girl they’d been tricked into delivering to a gambler baron. In the process, they inadvertently made contact with an agent of the fledgling Rebel Alliance, encountered — and annoyed — Lando Calrissian, fought a motley assortment of droids, had a showdown with an angry Wookiee bodyguard, and had a brush with a devotee of a certain ancient religion. By all indications, everyone had a great time, and my first sustained foray into game mastering was a success.
I have to admit to no small amount of trepidation as I started this whole thing. But once I stopped worrying so much about the “master” part and put more focus on the “game” part, everything clicked into place. I didn’t have to have every contingency accounted for, because it wasn’t possible; my players consistently surprised me with the directions they took and the decisions they made. So, instead of trying to think up ways to keep them on the path I wanted, I just helped them down the path they wanted. I had certain big plot points I wanted to hit each session, but I just hung back with them, like a pitcher holding onto his fastball until the right moment. And I was usually able to drop those plot points into whatever my players were doing instead of forcing them to find them.
And while I had no doubt I could sort of GM on the fly, I was worried it wouldn’t “click.” That I’d have a collection of moments rather than a cohesive story. I sort of knew the ultimate conclusion: the outcome of the big fight would anger the gambler baron, he’d order the little girl disposed of, and a frantic chase would ensure. Getting to that point was another thing entirely, and by the time I had to prepare for the final session, I had a tangle of disparate strands I had to somehow weave together and make seem like they were part of some master plan. It took a few hours of mental gymnastics, but I came up with a good old-fashioned Bond villain monologue that actually made sense, yet still left a way out for my players. One they didn’t expect, but which I think worked not only as a story device, but as a nice bit of character for my villain. Whom the party now hates all good and proper, as it should be.
Speaking of my party, none of this happens without them. They got into — and stayed in — character, played their roles to the hilt, kept themselves engaged, and gave me as much enjoyment trying to keep up with them as I seemed to give them. They surprised me, and in turn allowed me to surprise myself. Spend that XP well, folks. You earned it.
As satisfying as this has been though, I’m looking forward to getting back on the other side of the GM screen. So I’m taking a break, partly to recharge my batteries, partly to have some time to start working on the next big arc, but mostly to scratch my player itch for a while. It looks like we’ll be doing some shorter adventures in a variety of games, like Mouse Guard and Shadowrun and Fiasco and Deadlands Noir. If anything, it’ll give my larynx a break from voicing Hutts and Toydarians for a while.