Tabletop Tales: Roleplaying Within Established Canon

Some friends of mine recently got their hands on a copy of Imperial Assault, Fantasy Flight’s board game set in the Star Wars universe.  Along with Imperial Assault” Fantasy Flight also produces the current Star Wars RPGs Edge of the Empire and Age of Rebellion.  This led to a discussion about one of the issues that comes with playing a tabletop RPG set in a canon universe and timeframe.

Point A: You’re Automatically Relegated to Supporting Cast

Think about it.  You’re playing in the Star Wars canon, in the same universe and at the same time and even in the same CONFLICT as the main characters of the story. You’re never going to be the one that brings down the empire, because Luke did that. You’re also not going to be the one that destroyed the death star, because again, the real heroes did that.

So instead you’re playing a supporting character who is ultimately doing the equivalent of side missions.  You are, at best, going to be like poor Manny Both-Hanz, the rebel agent who died to bring the rebels information on the second death star.  This doesn’t mean that what you’re doing is irrelevant or even uninteresting, just that you’ll never actually be the star of the show.  Beyond that, let’s say you wanted to turn traitor and crush the rebellion.  If you’re stuck in canon, then even if you’re goal is to assassinate Luke Skywalker, the hero of the rebellion has plot armor.

So basically, if you’re playing in canon you’re bound by that canon.  If you interact with the important characters, like Jabba or Vader then you’re not going to take them out and if you DON’T interact with them then what’s the point of playing in that universe?

Point B:  The Canon Universe is Bigger than the Main Plot

The counterpoint to point A is that there’s a lot going on in the rebellion besides the main plot.  Heck, according to my friends there’s a whole expanded universe where other characters take the center stage.  The movies are about Luke, and if they made prequels they would probably be about… I don’t know, a young Darth Vader?  And while I don’t know what the upcoming sequel is about, it probably won’t be about any character that I’ve created.   Even still, those aren’t the only stories to tell, even in the context of the rebellion.

Think about the show “Agents of Shield.”  Those characters are the main characters of their own story, and while that story runs parallel to the movies in the same universe there’s no doubt about it that those are the main characters.  Their story is no less compelling and really no less relevant than what happens in the Iron Man or Captain America movies.  Even if you don’t blow up the Death Star or take down lord Vader, the empire is full of high-level baddies who are probably just as dangerous.  After all, let’s not forget that Vader answered to Tarkin in the first movie.

So while you may be bound by canon in the sense that the protagonists of the canon and their exploits are kind of off-limits, you’re still the hero of your own story.  That story may not be blowing up the Death Star or killing the emperor, but it could be anything else in that world.  Hell, now that Disney has gotten rid of the expanded universe, you could still very well end the rebellion after the events of Return of the Jedi by keeping anyone from filling the power vacuum caused by Palpatine’s demise, or by crushing the rebellion now that the empire isn’t bound by some weird cult.

The Conclusion

Well, there’s not really a conclusion.  I won’t say which side of the discussion I was on or where I stand on the issue now, but I will say that it’s something to think about if you play your RPGs in a canon universe.  Think about how involved with the main plot your PCs are going to be and, perhaps more importantly, how tied to the canon you want your game to be.  You may quickly jump into alternate universe territory by taking the characters completely off the rails (which kind of dodges a lot of the issues discussed above) or you may play strictly within the confines of the canon.  In that case you might want the players to be isolated from major events, so they don’t get mad when Boba Fett has Mandalorian plot armor.  The choice is yours, but make it carefully either way.

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