Starting a Star Wars: Dark Empire roleplaying campaign

Dark Empire trade cover

After spending most of the spring playing D&D, and most of the summer not roleplaying, London and I have been grooving more on Star Wars lately, and specifically on Dark Empire. I read all the DE comics to London a few years ago, but it’s been long enough that he has only vague memories of the storyline. He suggested that we start a new Star Wars campaign, I suggested Dark Empire, he started rereading the comics, and we’re off and running.

Dark Empire has always been my favorite Expanded Universe story. I like all of Timothy Zahn’s books but they’re basically technothrillers set in the Star Wars universe. They just don’t buckle as many swashes as the films, and they’re fairly tame in how much they change the universe (admittedly, that may reflect the constraints that Lucasfilm imposed on Zahn, rather than any lack of imagination on his part). Not so for DE – it’s filled with adventure, mystery, and wonder. The introduction of elements like the Jedi holocron and the Jedi ruins on Ossus give DE the feeling of a time abyss – there is deep history here, and unraveling it is as important to the characters in the story as it is to us reading it. The unified visual aesthetic of the comic really works for me, especially in the new vehicles it introduces, from TIE/Ds and E-Wing starfighters up to World Devastators and Eclipse-class Super Star Destroyers.

E-wing fighter

I ran a Dark Empire campaign for Star Wars: The RPG back in college, with Jarrod Davis – the guy who put our ship in Firefly and Serenity – Jarrod’s brother, Tyson, and Tobe Yocham, who had grown up in the same town as the Davis boys and whom I met in high school. London asked me today if I’d ever run a Dark Empire campaign before and as I answered him, I realized with a start that I ran that other DE campaign when I was 20 – fully half my life ago. Time to give it another shot, I reckon.

London said he wanted to play a straight Fringe campaign – our characters might take on cargoes for the New Republic or the resurgent Empire, but we’d be free agents, not beholden to any government or creed beyond the terms of our contracts. That worked for me – smugglers play big roles in both DE and DE 2, so having our characters start out with no formal affiliation suited the themes of the story just fine.

unloading on Byss

As usual, we’re each playing two characters to make a decent-sized party. London is playing an Ewok smuggler named Tyber and a Jawa tech named Deena. I have a Sullustan Outer Rim pilot named Valerra, and Dal Ravos, a Boltrunian outlaw tech. So not one human in the bunch – we’ll see how that plays out. Normally Imperials are xenophobic but the DE comics show Imperial factions buying up cargo space on anything that flies. Still, I’m looking forward to hamming it up when I describe Imperial customs officials and port authorities sneering down their noses at our rag-tag band of aliens.

We decided to start with medium cargo haulers. To my immense satisfaction, London put Tyber and Deena in a Mobquet Medium Cargo Hauler, which he christened the Condor. I had always though this ship from one of the DE backgrounds looked cool, so I called it a Snivvian Jump Hauler, named it the Rusty Bantha, and made up some starting stats:

Snivvian Jump Hauler

According to the SW:RPG 1E rulebook, characters that start with ships also start with debt, and I’ve always run my campaigns accordingly. Medium cargo haulers are a lot bigger than stock light frieghters, so the characters would have to start with more debt. I offered London a choice: his characters could owe 300,000 credits to a bank, 200,000 credits to a crime boss, or 100,000 credits to an Imperial warlord. He went with the crime boss and so did I. Haven’t decided yet who or what that being is, but I’m sure we’ll get to it in due time. Anyway, our characters have solid motivations to find paying jobs.

I don’t have a specific plot planned for the campaign – I believe in sandbox play and emergent storylines too much for that. But I did write out a timeline of external events from the comics, onto which I am grafting some schemes by various factions that will be grinding away in the background and occasionally influencing what happens to the characters, whether they decide to push back or not.

Dark Empire Fleet

My last step before we started was to write up a list of potential cargo runs that the PCs would hear about, and a secret complication that would arise with each one (or multiple complications, in some cases). More about the path that London chose, and the hijinks that ensued, next time.

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2 Responses to Starting a Star Wars: Dark Empire roleplaying campaign

  1. Pingback: Comparing Original Trilogy and Force Awakens X-Wings and TIEs | Echo Station 5-7

  2. Pingback: What I thought about The Force Awakens | Echo Station 5-7

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