Navigating Canon as a Game Master

Commi calling in!

So a year ago, I ran a campaign for my friends that took place in the Dark Times. I thought it would be fun to have a crew that could evolve into early rebels during the first 10 years of the Empire’s Reign in which the Empire was transitioning tech and still dealing with Separatist Remnants, etc. We had an ex-Separatist, clone, Padawan, Jedi archive droid, and a Trandoshan.

I found navigating a heavily populated era of content quite clumsy. The history majors in the party and myself enjoyed playing within the realm of a rich period of the galaxy, but also simultaneously found it a bit like walking on eggshells. Existing context like the Moff of Ryloth and the various Separatist commanders that were left as loose ends provided a lot of material to draw from. I did a lot of work to figure out where the Death Star was at a given time and how certain planets were doing at that time based on texts like Lords of the Sith and Tarkin. I would classify the Dark Times as a hard period to work within because of how specific it can get within the realm of canon.

Now, I am not interested in dismissing Canon - but I am interested in working alongside Canon and how folks have done this.

What are some eras that you have found difficult and how have you overcome them? What do you do to address or not need to address Canon? What are some great holes that campaigns can fill? What makes it hard to run with any canon of Star Wars over your shoulder? What is the next Wild West? (I’m thinking Post-Sequels could be an interesting setting!)

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I find dismissing canon happens fairly often. Unless you have memorised every film, every book, every episode, chances are there is a ton of stuff you just don’t know about. There are also times where you have a story you want to tell, and sometimes you have to sacrifice what has previously been established to tell it properly. Writersr do this all the time in the form of retcons.

That being said, I tend to avoid drastically altering the events I’m aware of. For example, no kidnapping or killing Anakin on Tatooine before he becomes a Jedi and eventually Vader. But if a planet has no record of Imperial presence in canon and I need it to for the sake of the story, I’ll ignore what has been established and add Imperials.

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In my experience, there’s always somewhere Canon/Legends hasn’t touched. I keep my players away from the big players and events and just work on the sidelines. Stuff in Canon/Legends that makes it into our Headcanon (the important one) gets mentioned occasionally, but by and large we ignore it.
The only time I have brought any person in from official material was a cameo by Asajj Ventress, as the client for a team of bounty hunters.

There is an exception to that, and that’s Star Wars: Uprising. It’s a mobile game that went offline years ago, but it added worldbuilding to the Anoat Sector. The factions etc. introduced in that I consider fair game since it’s not a story in the same way as a movie or book. I have a campaign based in the Greater Javin Region after the Battle of Hoth, and have drawn heavily on both the old WotC supplement and Uprising, adding plenty of my own material.
I consider the information and characters in non-railroad videogames to be fair game for adjustment, especially because it often needs to be filled out.

And a final point: Add add add. If you subtract or change, it may not be popular and be seen as violating Canon. But what if this is something you just haven’t seen yet…
Evil GM laugh

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Great points! I do like to fill in the cracks of Canon with whatever tame Legends/etc material that is out there. I used material from Star Wars: Uprising myself, though I never played the game. I am a huge fan of the idea to add or stand aside Canon.

To contribute to the discussion of the alternative, as for how to use existing canon within your game, there is no greater pool of NPCs to introduce than the forgotten characters or the “insignificant” characters. Hondo, General Kleeve, the Bounty Hunters of the Clone Wars, the ESB Bounty Hunters, Stinky the Hutt, the Zillo Beast Clones etc are all characters who are loose ends waiting to be tied into your story because their threads were dropped as quickly as they came. Giving them a place in your story shows recognition of favorite underdog characters that your players can go “whaaaaat, cooool!” to as they get their first glimpse of your interpretation of the fate of Cad Bane or Latts Razzi as they escapes with the party’s bounty.

Another thing I’ll offer is that some Legends and Canon can fit together. If I am not mistaken, the events of the New Jedi Order can fit within the timeline between the OT and the Sequels with minor adjustments. With a careful application, you can navigate Canon whilst resurrecting the Legends in tact ways. Though that is a much larger point of conversation than I want to write about this early afternoon!

And then, as I alluded to before and y’all have keenly brought to the foreground is that there are areas you can build onto or even have liberal artistic freedom with because there is not much context. I am trying to develop a hook for a post-Skywalker Saga story where my players might encounter that in a world with no government that has fallen to anarchy, the players discover that “Somehow. Palpatine has returned!” only to find that their short journey reveals something completely different. Meanwhile, the length of time since the Force has been prevalent and the emerging force sensitives puts the wielders of the force into an X-Men style situation where fear of the unknown is bringing about unrest and force-crime families or dark jedi covens start to form in retaliation. The Wild West after the “Happily Ever After” is a ripe fruit to pluck.

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Oh yes, definitely. My flowchart for adding Legends to my headcanon looks something like this:
Step 1: Do you like it?
Yes: Move to Step 2.
No: Toss it out the window. Then, if necessary, chase after it and stomp on it a couple times for good measure.
Step 2: Does it fit with Canon?
Yes: Add to headcanon.
No: Fix it. If unfixable, toss it out the window with a heartfelt sob.

If it’s a planet, vehicle, species, or piece of tech that isn’t by its nature a story point (Centerpoint station is an example of a “story point”), it will often be accepted by default.

I agree, with some trepidation, as they can still end up being hot-button issues under the right (or “wrong”) circumstances. Hondo is a good example, where he has a timeline and a decently large amount of story. Having to hold up an existing character’s personality is always a challenge, as well.
Name dropping a random clone, or having the Galactic Marines show up on your doorstep, etc. are easier to handle.
There are some characters that are too good to not use, Aphra being a prime example. I’ve got plans to bring her into one of my campaigns, which happens to be just perfect for her.
It also depends on how accommodating your players are, as some might go “Oh, cool! Let’s KILL IT!!” whereas others would be more respectful of the timeline and your intentions.

I usually nod to canon, but do my own thing.

My current campaign is set in a hombrewed sector, far out in the outer rim - I basically placed it in a blank sector on the galaxy map (G-10).

The Empire is the big bad framework, Czerka is an antagonist, and the myteries and history of the are loosely based on Fallen Order, KOTOR, and other tales of the jedi stories, combined that with old WEG and WotC stuff and ‘ancient’ established headcanon home-brew events from other campaigns (I guess all my games take place in more or less the same version of the universe).

I’ve used Luke in a NJO era campaign, some Legends characters, and also some minor characters from the films (particularly Rebellion and Imperial officers).

Generally I tend to avoid using major characters from canon/legends, but events may be witnessed or participated in, but the player-action will take place in different scenes, related indirectly or disconnected from the main events.

In my current campaign, we started the game 8 months after Order 66, we’re now closing in on 1 year in-game time. They recently met and recruited some seperatist fugitives, by assisting them in liberating some old CIS weapons cache - with much needed ordnance and some buzz-droids, that may come in handy. Particularly against some pesky TIE Phantoms they have to deal with in their imminent attack on a secret Imperial installation/prison. That’s messing with Legends, but it is minor, and it ties into my plot and the mystery in this sector nicely. It is also a great challenge for the players.

I’m not sure what my advice is, but perhaps it is go with your gut feeling, in order to feel enough ownership of the story you are telling, and that your players want to tell, while keeping it to the Star Wars-experience you want.

The Dark Times, but fairly close to the Battle of Yavin, has been my typical play area in past campaigns. I never specified the exact year when I started. That way, when/if I chose the campaign to move into the Rebellion era, there wasn’t an issue of “Wait that won’t happen for 2 years yet!” or, “Wait that should have already happened!”. I kept the exact year ambiguous until I wanted to reveal a canon event.

As for canon events, they were typically not occurring where the players were. They may find out a certain even occurred through the Holonet, but only when I wanted to advance the timeline. When I did want players to participate along side a canon event, only then did I spend time researching everything canon to make it go right. Then, I typically set the players up to do something that was just a bit off-screen, not running around beside Luke and Leia during a movie event. That way, win or lose, it didn’t change canon. I never had an issue with it changing canon. I think my players realized what I was doing (close but not too close) and weren’t jerks trying to purposely upset the original story. I still gave them something big to do for the, “Oh, we were the ones who grabbed the plans!!” moments (yep, that one was later spoiled by Rogue One, but not at the time the campaign was run).

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This is how I’ve usually done it, but now I’m tracking time, at least months. It’s an experiment that may not matter in the end, but I do have thoughts on time-jumps (not time travel), and narrative shifts of that type. I mainly use canon stuff in this context as reference points for the players.

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Lately, I have wanted to avoid playing in eras with too much canon. Alternatively, I create a break point and just do my own thing from there on. For example, I have a campaign I’m cooking that starts six months after the Battle of Endor, but the battle went down quite differently in my galaxy. The Emperor was killed, and Vader too, but so was much of the Alliance leadership (the Death Star was headhunting for Rebel flagships) and Luke Skywalker is MIA (and presumed dead in the explosion of the Death Star II). Both the Alliance and the Empire are without key leaders and are fragmenting, making for a galaxy that allows the PCs to take up such roles.

I try not to step on canon’s toes (unless the campaign has specifically been stated to toss canon out the window in practice or potential), because that’s the sandbox we’re playing in. At the same time, since the PCs are the stars of their “movies,” I try to steer clear of specific canon events unless it’s just a touchstone or Easter egg. (For example, in one session, the players were trying to retrieve a McGuffin on Jedha. While they were there, the Empire started to evacuate, and the PCs themselves got off world just as they saw a green beam of energy strike the planet from a gigantic metal sphere…)

Doing so may be easier or harder depending on the type of campaign you’re running, too. At the end of the day, I see canon as a tool, not a hurdle…seasoning, rather than the entree.

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