This is part of an ongoing series that examines each episode of Star Wars: Rebels as though it were a session of the West End Games D6 Star Wars: the Role-Playing Game. The game mechanics referenced in this series are drawn from the Second Edition of that game.
Concerning Jedi (with apologies to Tolkien)
It’s been a long break between games and the crew are ready to come back after the New Year to continue with Dave’s game. Over the break, Kanan and Dave have been talking a lot about the nature of the Force and also about the role of the Jedi during this period.
Both of them agree that the Force is understood a little differently during this time. It is in the background in the wake of Order 66, and most of the Jedi lore has been lost. Dave has deliberately kept the contents of the holocron vague so that he can use the information (or lack thereof) in dramatically appropriate ways to illustrate this point. Kanan has also been considering the role of the Force in the Star Wars timeline. In the prequel movies, the Force manifested as all-pervasive and the Jedi listened to its’ will – in D&D terms, the Force was almost deified with the Jedi as an active priesthood. In the classic era, the Force is more of a tool – something that is used to achieve a goal. It isn’t well-understood, and Luke hardly wields it with subtlety and finesse. GM and player both muse over the ramifications of the title for Episode VII: The Force Awakens – is the Force sentient and sapient? If it is, then the Jedi of this post-classic era will work with it very differently to their predecessors.
Given the rather Dark ending of their pre-Christmas session, Kanan and Dave both want to focus a session on Ezra’s Trial. Whilst Dave has read through Fragments from the Rim over the break and spent a lot of time on Wookieepedia, he’s not found definitive information on the Trials. He has run both Mage: the Ascension and Wraith: the Oblivion in the past and decides on a session that will look like a cross between a Seeking and a Harrowing [for those not familiar with these terms, it’s a cross between seeking enlightenment and understanding of your path and facing the deepest fears hidden in your psyche]. He’s used a few techniques in the past quite successfully and ports these over.
The Trial, he decides, requires a theme. The working themes are inclusion, family, and a link to the local setting. No trips to Dagobah for Ezra – Dave wants something closer to home. His last bit of preparation is to re-watch the Clone Wars episode The Gathering. This episode focuses on Clone Wars-era trials, and he wants to build from this but still create something unique to the era.
The game opens with the crew going about their own business, a gentle introduction back into the game after the break. Dave wants this session to be a little more contemplative, so his usual flair for in media res is shelved. Ezra’s mindset is challenged from the outset when his status as a Jedi is in doubt (‘But you said I was a Jedi‘ he claims. ‘No, I said that you had the potential to become one‘ clarifies Kanan). The crew are all mindful that the scenes will be powerful with the self-doubt, but also remember that this is Ezra’s first role-playing experience. Whilst the rest of the players are comfortable with the odd mind game and trick, Ezra hasn’t been exposed to the hobby for that long so his expectations might be different. Keeping this in mind, Dave is walking a fine line between challenging Ezra and completely disheartening him.
Kanan’s admonition that Ezra has a ‘lack of discipline, and focus‘ is reminiscent of the Inquisitor’s statements during their first duel; and Ezra is quick to defend his position by drawing on his background. ‘I’m not used to all these rules‘ he rationalises, and the rest of the party nods in agreement. Hera, however, steps into the scene to remind Kanan that this is important and that Ezra has the ability to pass – which reinforces the idea that not only is she in charge, but she is a good judge of character too.
Journey to the Temple
The auto-pilot test also shakes Ezra’s faith as he realises that his actions didn’t really contribute to the scene and doubt creeps in a little more. It began well though with his interchange with Kanan, the latter remarking ‘huh, he can be taught’ and smiles around the table.
The vision that Ezra receives is of the Temple ‘with a bright star inside it‘ (nice foreshadowing, Dave) and the journey gives the duo a chance to talk. Kanan reflects on his own trial noting ‘it was different for me, Ezra, everything was different back then‘. The sombre tone is perpetuated when they reach the Temple (which surprises Kanan because Dave hasn’t made him privy to the details of the adventure). He’s as shocked as Ezra that Lothal housed a Temple, especially given the strong Imperial presence on the planet (or was that the reason the Empire moved in and built a garrison? The crew note down to check on local history when they get the chance). It’s also timely to remind the would-be Rebels what the sacking of the Temples actually meant – the Empire has all the Jedi Archives. If the Imperials know of the Lothal Temple then this could be a trap.
Again, Dave shows a flair for locations. Modelling the Temple on one of the distinctive rock formations that have featured in his Lothal-based sessions, the first test is one of teamwork and cooperation (following his basic themes for the Trial).
The corpses of the Jedi Masters serve as the price of failure, and Dave sets the stakes very clearly. The crew is reminded of how little Kanan actually knows of the more advanced training when yet again he has to parrot his Masters words. When Ezra asks ‘what am I looking for?‘ and is told ‘everything… and nothing‘, Kanan defends his words with ‘that’s what my Master told me‘. What started with the ‘do or do not‘ discussion on the hull of the Ghost is continued here.
The test begins with false hope. Dave has Kanan play his character with a few broad guidelines, but the scene will be a surprise for all involved. By running the Force-vision version of Kanan through a player, Dave adds a level of believability. He also keeps Kanan involved in the story. When the Inquisitor arrives and kills Kanan (in a manner reminiscent of Qui-Gon Jinn’s passing in Episode I), Ezra doesn’t know what to believe. [as a side note the Qui-Gon Jinn reference isn’t lost on the crew. Zeb mentions that Qui-Gon also took on an apprentice outside of the normal methods and that apprentice had great power, a need to be included, and a dalliance with the Dark Side too].
As Kanan slumps to the ground, Ezra confronts the Inquisitor. ‘I’ll make you pay!’ he yells as Kanan picks up the blue rulebook and starts building a new character in front of the rest of the party. When the lightsaber fails to ignite in the light of Ezra’s anger, Yoda’s teachings to use the Force ‘for knowledge and defence, never for attack‘ are completely lost on him. The Inquisitor’s final mocking words ‘someone’s not ready to become a Jedi… and never will be‘ close out the scene. As everyone breaks for coffee, Dave is happy with the scenes, and Ezra isn’t so sure that he’ll succeed.
Back to reality?
After coffee, it’s time to increase the doubt and confusion. When Ezra reawakens on his bunk in the Ghost, he wonders if the who last scene was a Force vision. Did it really happen? Has he failed? When Dave remains tight-lipped, he gets up to meet the rest of the crew and walks into a very strange scene. Dave has prepared the other players and they play their roles well. Like all good lies, the scene is built on believability. Zeb wants his room back, Hera is using Ezra for his skills, and Sabine pities him as a ‘little kid‘. Doubt is a powerful tool of the Dark Side and it’s taking a hold of Ezra. The arrival of the Inquisitor onboard and the subsequent combat continues to challenge Ezra’s perceptions of reality – especially when the scene switches back to the Temple.
In the final part of the test, Dave challenges Ezra further. Ezra faces the Inquisitor, unafraid, and banishes the vision. Dave added tension to the scene by describing the fall of the lightsaber, let a handful of dice fall behind the screen , winced when he pretended to read the results, and asked a final ‘are you sure about this? You don’t want a Dodge roll?‘ After a moment of indecision, Ezra decides – and the blade passes harmlessly through him.
Dave has played risky moves with established NPCs before, but this will be a lot more. The risk is that this will have little impact, but given that he plans to confront both Ezra and Kanan (the latter has no idea what’s about to happen) he thinks that this particular NPC is right for the scene.
What’s interesting here is that Dave never gives the name of the guide in the Temple. The session now turns into a simultaneous Trial for both Master and Padawan (echoing the earlier statement about entering the Temple together).
Ezra’s final test is about intent and this is mirrored in the questions that Kanan must answer. As Ezra echoes Luke (‘I don’t even know what I’m doing here‘) and complains that he hasn’t been given the answers, the guide admonishes him ‘and your Master; tell you everything must he?‘ Ezra works as his own character, but as with all mentor/student relationships in an RPG there is the temptation to simply rely on the master for everything, whether it’s portrayed by a character or an NPC. In this scene, Dave is reminding Ezra that he needs to think for himself – it’s his character after all, not Kanan’s.
Dave has a knack for twisting words and he uses it to effect. When Ezra answers that he wants to be a Jedi to defeat the Empire, he is countered with ‘Jedi way is revenge. Teach you this your Master did?‘ Furthermore the guide accuses Ezra of harbouring ‘much fear‘ and ‘much anger‘ [Zeb makes gestures to reinforce his earlier correlation between the boy and a certain Dark Lord]. Finally, Ezra distils his reasoning and it is about protection and selflessness. He realises that the crew of the Ghost are motivated by selflessness and he enjoys the stories that centre on this the most. However, when the guide finalises the Trial, Ezra is not fully accepted and left only with the statement ‘a Jedi you may yet be‘. Despite having the Khyber crystal (the star in his vision), he’s not yet a Jedi.
Kanan is also challenged. When the guide mentions ‘see you I can. Before I could not. Changed something has‘, Kanan realises that his denial of his power (and responsibility) put him outside of the light. During the time leading up to this session, he was living in the shadows – not a place for a Jedi at all. The guide forces him to confront his actions – turning his back on his teaching, walking away from the Path, denying his true self. The guide is fairly strict with Kanan, forces him to admit his shortcomings and points out the gravity of his decision to ‘train the boy‘.
The scene is closed out with both Master and Apprentice realising that they emerge from the Temple ‘different, yet the same‘. Despite the inherent ‘cool factor’ of the idea to use the Temple as a recurring location (specifically as a base of operations), the crew reject the idea. Maybe they’ll need it later (like a certain stolen TIE fighter) so the crew will keep this as a story element for later.
The Trial is finished as Ezra outlines his idea for a lightsaber (sketched out over the break), and he has noticed that the core theme of the Trial (and the game) is family, so he asks if anyone wants to donate pieces to the construction. The suggestion is met with an enthusiastic response (except for Chopper, but the party cajoles him), and Dave – impressed – will hand out a couple of extra character points. Despite Zeb’s assertion that the lightsaber looks ‘like a staple gun – are you constructing a weapon or office supplies?‘ Ezra closes the session by igniting the blade.
A great way to start the years’ gaming, it is.
What did we learn?
- This session worked because everyone was invested. Kanan gave Dave advance warning of the need to run this game. Dave invited everyone over (except Ezra) an hour earlier than usual and outlined the plan. He kept the details light so that they could all enjoy the story (and so he could confront Kanan) and it helped that the group had worked together like this before.
- Believability is the key. By investing the players with some of the story-telling responsibility, Dave kept Ezra guessing for the whole session. In an RPG, it can be difficult to layer realities simply because the GM sometimes needs to take on roles he or she normally wouldn’t. By keeping all of the discussion out in the open and asking people to play their own characters he successfully kept the scenes tense (although Kanan’s touch of starting to roll up a new character was nicely done).
- Respect is both in- and out-of-game. Dave has run a lot of games that include emotional subjects. He has built a reputation of approachability and mindfulness with his players and considers the out-of-game impact of his stories. He wants the players to feel challenged, but not unduly uncomfortable at the table. As such, he did ask the others to keep an eye on Ezra. As a new player, Ezra isn’t accustomed to the nuances of RPGs and he was mindful that this sort of a game might not be for him. It involved a deep exploration of motive, constant confrontation, and the belief that (at least at one point) a Total Party Kill was a reality. As it turned out, the entire crew loved the session, so it was a win for everyone.
Dave will retreat for a bit of weekend reading. He received a copy of Timothy Zahn’s Scoundrels for Christmas and is already thinking of a session based on a con (and maybe another NPC appearance). Let’s see what he writes for the next game.
Image Credits: All images have been sourced from Wookiepedia and remain the exclusive intellectual property of Disney. Their use as part of this series should not be construed as endorsement of this blog, or a challenge to their ownership of copyright for Star Wars Rebels.