Campaign Notes: Tarson’s End

By Shamus
on Feb 21, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

I mentioned before that I was planning on running a Star Wars campaign for our gaming group, but backed out when an opportuinity opened up to participate on an indie videogame RPG. I’d already written a good part of the setting, and I thought I’d post some of my notes here for the curious. As always, feel free to borrow any of this for your own games if it suits you. Share and share alike.

Here was the planet where our campaign was going to start. It still has a few rough edges, story-wise. I haven’t checked the names of places to make sure they fit with canon, and I haven’t fleshed out the characters, but this is where it was headed. The point of this planet was to give all the players a common origin. They were going to “grow up” on this planet.

The campaign would begin with a brief session of pure roleplaying and discussion. No dice, no combat. I’d explain the setting, offer them some choices, and ask them some questions about how they wanted to spend their teenage years, which they would discuss and answer as a group. I’d use these answers to determine how the various factions in the gameworld related to them. No matter what choices they made, they would leave the world with their own spaceship, an NPC droid, and at least one major faction pissed off at them. What ship / droid / faction they ended up with would depend on the choices they made. They could end up wanted criminals, or maybe have a bounty on their head. Maybe their choices would benefit their families, or possibly harm them. These choices and outcomes would give the players a coherent backstory and a set of common goals. Once the choices were made they would begin the campaign proper and we’d play normally.

It’s a bit unconventional to begin a game this way, but it sure beats meeting in a tavern and trying to hammer out a sensible backstory from there.

So here is where they are from:

Tarson’s End

Click for gigantic view.  Warning: 2048×2048 – 2.5MB.
Click for gigantic view. Warning: 2048×2048 – 2.5MB.

Overview

The planet itself has no proper, official name. Locals refer to it as “Tarson’s End” in reference to the once-famous capital class starship which now lies in a heap on the surface. The inhabitants take great pride in the fact that a ship known “all over the galaxy” has its final resting place on their small mining outpost.

To outsiders the planet is simply known as MO-CV-2967.2. (Mining outpost, galactic region CV, star #2967, second planet.) It is not a recognized member of the Republic. It pays no taxes and has no seat in the senate. There is nothing of interest outside of the mining outpost, and anyone from the core worlds would regard Tarson’s End as a rock not worth mentioning.

The planet is mostly water, limiting it’s usefulness, with the only notable landmass being right around the equator where it forms a rocky coastal region surrounding a plateau of dull, dry scrublands. The biodiversity and biodensity are both fairly low. For these reasons, the planet long remained uninhabited, unclaimed, and ignored.

Twenty years ago Kuat Materials Corp discovered a concentrated supply of fossil fuels along a (dormant and stable) fault line on the main continent. The planet was claimed and a mining outpost established. The planned lifespan of the outpost was five years, although the surprising depth and richness of the materials made the outpost more successful than originally projected. The facilities were expanded and many workers took up permanent residence. A generation of young people have grown up in the village of Tarson’s End. The outpost – looking more and more like a “colony” each year – now has over one hundred families. (Or however many fit in the given drawning. I can’t be bothered to count them. I imagine one family for each of those nobby little buildings in the village.)

Management Dormitories

The colony has a small staff of KMC management on hand to oversee the mining and salvage operations. They usually live on Tarson’s End along with their families, and are rotated out after a six month stretch. A few are assigned here permanently. (Some players could decide that they were the children of one of these families, allowing them to have an upper-class background if they wanted.)

Tarson’s End is not considered a choice assignment. KMC personnel who end up here are either of low position or being punished in some way. Most are eager to be promoted or transfered to a better better position a little closer to the Galactic Core. Or at least someplace with more entertainment and less smelly miners.

Spaceport

This is the only way off-world. It’s also the location of the trading center. Scavengers can bring their salvage here to sell to traders or they can barter for off-world goods.

The KMC barracks are also located here, as well as the outpost guard station. The dozen or so guards assigned here are charged with keeping the mining operations running smoothly and dealing with crime in and around the trading post. They do not see themselves as “police” and don’t get involved in things going on in the village.

Refinery

Here the raw materials are turned into fuel. Few modern vehicles (maybe none, I haven’t thought about it) use fossil fuel, but several forms of racing have FF powered vehicles as a matter of tradition. To avoid cheating via the fabrication of synthetic fuels, the rules governing the production of racing fuel are tight and strictly enforced. This greatly elevates the value of genuine sources of fossil fuel, which makes places like Tarson’s End possible.

Kuat Speedway

The formulation of fuel produced here is intended for speeder racing. The track was put in for the purposes of testing batches of fuel before bulk sale. The villagers would often gather along the track to watch these test runs, and after a while the practice evolved into full-scale racing. While Kuat Speedway isn’t an officially recognized or licensed speeder track, it now serves as a kind of bush league where scouts gather in search of new pilots or other talent.

Droidworks

The digging is done mostly by droids, and the miners themselves are there to supervise and guide droid behavior. Each miner is usually assigned two droids at the start of their shift: A digger and a hauler. The droids were intended to be assigned at random, but the miners have made a habit of getting the same two droids each day. More often than not miners give “their” droids elaborate paint jobs and amusing nicknames.

Mine Entrance

The vein of material being mined is called “blackchalk”. The seam of blackchalk on Tarson’s End is very long, narrow, and exceptionally deep. It’s trapped between walls of rock on either side, and as it is cleared out a large underground canyon is being formed.

Salvage Yard

As the last war came to an end, the Kuat corporation was faced with what to do with the ruined hulk of the once great starship, the Tarson. The ship was too antiquated to be worth refurbishing yet again, and they were eager to retire the ship and pass the high-profile name of “Tarson” onto one of the new Star Destroyer class ships (or some other kind of ship, depending on what era the game is set in) that were going into production. However, bits of the old Tarson had been modernized. While the ship as a whole was useless, there was a great deal of valuable equipment still on board.

It would cost them a fortune to have the Engineers’ Union recover these useful parts, which would then have to go through the expensive process of re-inspection, after which the company would be liable for taxes and (re)certification fees. They would then have to pay the Salvage and Recycling Union to haul the carcass away. The KMC accountants did the math and realized it would be cheaper to simply launch the ship into the sun instead of paying to recover the valuable parts.

But then someone came up with the idea: Instead of dumping the ship into the sun, why not “throw it away” in a handy location? They could write off the ENTIRE ship as well as avoid the various taxes and fees. If they dumped the ship near a group of low-income workers, the workers would naturally strip the thing themselves. KMC could buy these parts on the open market for a lot less than it would cost to pay the engineers to recover them.

The 2967.2 Blackchalk mining colony was selected as the ideal location. There was lots of room to dump the ship, and everyone who lived on the outpost was a KMC employee or contract worker. The spouses and children didn’t have much to do and it was a safe guess they would naturally loot the Tarson for parts in order to make a few extra credits. Most of them were sufficiently clever to do the job right yet poor enough to do the job for next to nothing.

The program worked so well that over the years KMC has dumped many other craft onto the pile. Nothing as large or as famous as the Tarson, but enough that the inhabitants of Tarson’s End still make decent credits exploring the salvage yard.

Village

There are many types of people living in the village. (The players could pick one of these family types for their background.)

* Some are working off debt to KMC by laboring in the mines. These are often people who have lost a lawsuit against KMC, or have been found guilty of stealing from the company. They will be free to leave once their debt is paid. These people tend to dig very quickly and greedily, as the sooner they harvest the required tonnage, the sooner they can go.

* Some have signed agreements to work for a number of years, after which they will “own” a stake in the mines, their own droids, and their home in the village. They will also be eligible for profit sharing. Their five-year contract is their way of “buying in” to the mine without needing credits up front. There is always the risk that the mine will run dry or become unprofitable before their contract is up. These people tend to dig very slowly.

* Some are people who have discovered that Tarson’s End is a good place to hide out. They may be wanted by the authorities or by bounty hunters, but in either case the mining outpost is an excellent place to earn a living while laying low.

The Red Zone

So named for the fact that the place is lit up with red lighting. This is the “red light district”. It’s mostly gambling and brothels, with a couple of bars and a place for pit fighting.

The Red Zone is mostly run by Noll Bandos, the so-called “mayor” of Tarson’s End. He was never elected, he just had the cash and the men and the nerve to start calling himself mayor. His goons act as the ersatz police of the village. The corporation leaves him alone because he saves them from having to govern miners directly. They don’t care what he does as long as he doesn’t impede mining operations or hurt indebted laborers. He’s dirty and crooked in a bunch of harmless, petty ways. He fancies himself a Crime Boss of sorts, and likes to make big, magnanimous gestures towards “his people” from time to time, mostly as a way of inflating his own importance.

Off-World Info

The players wouldn’t know this starting out, but Goga the Hutt has taken an interest in “Mayor” Bandos. Tarson’s End is in Goga’s territory, and technically he should demand a cut of any illicit business going on there. Goga ignored the place because it was small-time and short-term, but as the place has grown there have been rumbles from other people under Goga’s thumb asking why Bandos doesn’t have to pay. Is Goga going soft, or what?

So, Goga is now obliged to muscle in and demand a cut. This will be messy and not worth the return it will yield, but it’s necessary to prevent a revolt among the enterprises currently paying him tribute. It’s this sort of thing that can take all the fun out of being a crime boss.

Player Options

At the start of the game I was going to offer the players some choices for what they wanted to be doing while growing up on Tarson’s End. Regardless of whether their individual parents were corporate nobles or miners or lowlifes who worked in the Red Zone, the group was going to begin with the assumption that the characters were about the same age and hung out together. They could choose from these three paths:

* Working for KMC (the mining corporation) doing odd jobs and fetching special salvage. This would gradually lead to coming into to contact with Goga and working for him. (KMC would back Goga in his efforts to seize the Red Zone. They don’t really care WHO runs the place, but they are worried that if Goga doesn’t get his way their fuel shipments will be hounded by pirates.)

* Working for Bandos doing petty jobs. This would, after some choices, turn into protecting his interests from Goga as the powerful Hutt organization moved in.

* Assuming one of them was a Tech Specialist and one of them put some points into piloting, they could salvage some parts to build a speeder and form their own racing team. They would do well, but the fight between Bandos and Goga would spill over into the raceway. The team would find itself under pressure from both sides to win or lose certain races. Goga would tempt them with money. Bandos would bully them with threats.

In any case, they would make a number of predefined choices that would set up their relationships to the various factions in the game. I’d have made sure that once they left the planet they had a ship, a humorous and semi-useful droid, and at least one faction after them. That faction wouldn’t be the main campaign, but would be a source of plot hooks and plot devices down the road. It would be up to them if they wanted to keep running or if they wanted to lay aside the central plot to settle things with this antagonist.

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201030 comments. (A twenty-sided die has 30 edges.)

From the Archives:

  1. NICE! OK what map creation software do you use???

  2. Shamus says:

    Map designed in Photoshop.

  3. Snook says:

    Wow. I wish I could game with your group, sounds like you guys actually *role play*.

    Also, what happened to the spam filter thingy?

  4. Last time I was doing a standard Fantasy campaign startup and wanted to dodge the cliches, I took advantage of the fact that the place they were in had fairly stringent rules (at least in theory) about who was allowed to carry around what weapons.
    Being PCs, everyone was in violation of the weapon laws. So I had them all brought in on a sweep of the streets for just their sort. Once arrested, a corrupt magistrate offered to get them permits if they would help him out with a little . . . problem.
    Voila! Team.

  5. Davesnot says:

    You’ve done a ton of work!! .. If you were a “wing it” type of GM you’d be done.. 98% of the work for a “wing it” GM is what you’ve done.. the other 2% is remembering what happens.. ..but a player could be assigned to that… Hopefully someone in your group will pick it up so you can play in it..

    One minor nit-pick… “The planet is mostly water, limiting it’s usefulness” .. water will be the most valuable resource in the galaxy.. someday we humans may figure that out.

  6. Shamus says:

    Davesnot: The “limiting its usefulness” was an explantion of why nobody lived there. Water is useful, but it’s a rotten building surface. :)

    Although, now that we’re talking about it, a floating city made from roped-together parts would be a pretty interesting location to visit.

  7. The DM says:

    Awesome starting plan. I’ve actually decided that my next campaign will start this way:

    Weeks 1-2: Role-play session (encounter-less or encounter-lite) in which players play significant NPCs (guild leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, or whatever) provided by me. This introduces them to the world.

    Week 3: Casual-style session/party. I’ll provide chips, movies, beverages, and other distractions. Througout the evening, I’ll take each player aside and spend an hour or so working on character design and background.

    Weeks 4-5: Characters begin to meet. It should take a couple of sessions before the party is complete.

    Week 6 and beyond:The campaign commences.

    Excessive? Probably, but I’ve got player approval, so we’re going to try it.

  8. Alexis says:

    There’s a little bit of JavaScript now that appends an extra field to each form on the page. I imagine very few spamspiders interpret JS, so the field will be missing. Smart.

    Also smart: PurpleLibraryGuy.

  9. Sarah says:

    “water will be the most useful resource in the galaxy”

    …well, yes, but in Lucas-land, planets can be nothing /but/ water-filled-sponges of core-less watery doom, sooooo….

    logic not withstanding, in star wars, water is useless.

  10. Dev Null says:

    I like the idea of working _with_ the players to build a coherent background. I’ve played both other extremes – everyone makes up a story and we meet in a tavern / jail cell / etc and try to make them fit, and characters pre-made by the GM – and had brilliant games both ways, but this sounds like a nice middle ground. You do get a little tired of sitting around the table at the tavern, and the first guys says “Hi; I’m the orphan son of an alien princess on the run from her usurpers and a mysterious hooded elf who left me only this sword of power.” And everyone else says: “Me too.” “Yep.” and “Jinx! Hey, lets kill stuff together!”

    (Not that I’ve ever seen it _that_ bad, but you know what I mean; everyone wants to be special, so they all make up these convoluted backstories, and you start to wonder if anyone on the planet grew up a pig farmer who knew who his parents were.)

  11. Thad says:

    Since it isn’t that “Star Wars” heavy, could easily interpret this in other settings, eg. Serenity.

  12. Deoxy says:

    water will be the most useful resource in the galaxy

    Water IN USEFUL PLACES will be the most useful resource in the galaxy. We’ve got LOTS of water on Earth, but getting it where we want it (in space) makes it expensive.

    Water is reasonably plentiful (at least in our solar system, and likely in other places as well, as it’s just H2O, which are both quite common), it’s just that it’s only in certain PLACES. Hauling it is what makes it expensive, so simply knowing where a lot of water is is not incredibly useful, unless it’s already where you want it to be (or in a place you can easily relocate to).

  13. Phlux says:

    Did you group have an understanding that this was going to be a non-jedi party, or were you going to allow one or more of them to be force sensitive if they had wanted?

    Star Wars is an interesting setting regardless of whether there are force users present, but it seems that’s what captures most peoples’ interest.

    I like your setting. It feels very much like KOTOR. Was your plan to set this in the old republic era?

  14. krellen says:

    100-110 families, depending on whether the larger “nobby” buildings in the Red Zone are family homes or not.

    I had a minute to kill waiting for a backup process to finish.

  15. Darkheart says:

    pillage pillage pillage the ideas.

    :)

  16. Tacoman says:

    Your original campaign story is actually what brought me to your website. Your writing skills are what kept me here. I liked DMotR, but I really liked the campaign story. Since you’re starting a new game, have you got any desire to chronicle the new story here as well?

  17. Shamus says:

    Phlux: There was going to be one Jedi in the party. (Guess who.) I tried to talk him out of it, but it was clear he wasn’t going to have fun if he wasn’t a Jedi. I was going to put him in a situation where he needed to hire a ship as part of an investigation for the Jedi council. I’d make sure the other PC’s were the best choice for the job. That was going to be the main campaign.

    I hadn’t thought about how they would remain together after that.

  18. Phlux says:

    I can see why you tried to talk him out of it. If there’s only one room for a Jedi in the story, I’d probably get jealous, even if I really didn’t want to be a Jedi in the first place. It’s no fun having one character that is way more powerful than the others.

    I’m sure the Star Wars RPG system tries to balance this out…but come on…is a level 1 jedi really going to be equal to a level 1 mechanic?

  19. Derek K. says:

    “I hadn’t thought about how they would remain together after that.”

    Super glue.

    Can you convince him to play a Force Adept instead?

    Or at the very least, a rogue Jedi, or at least one that’s in a deep funk, and taking a sabbatical from the council?

    It would have the benefit of letting him play with Darkside powers, and also break the stupid code from time to time….

    Also:

    “I’m sure the Star Wars RPG system tries to balance this out…but come on…is a level 1 jedi really going to be equal to a level 1 mechanic?”

    Yeah.

    Not in terms of “I stab him in the head until he dies” but overall, SWRPG did a pretty good job of setting them up.

    If you want to play pure melee DPS, sure, Jedi. But if you have other ideas, you can be just as effective as any other class.

  20. Patriarch917 says:

    I need to run a Star Munchkin one-shot for my group. Would you mind if I pillaged the work you’ve done? (Giving credit where credit is due, of course.)

  21. Ryan says:

    I liked this. I wish I played Star Wars to use it.

  22. Taellosse says:

    This is really great. I love the concept of the group growing up together to establish their connection. Much better than trying to find a way to force a group of disparate characters with unrelated backgrounds together. I half did that with my group–I had 5 players and planned to have a 6-person party (I was including an NPC) and had 2 of them know each other for years prior to the campaign and one of them a long-term friend of the NPC. That made it a bit easier to throw them together, but this is better still. Though I’m not likely to run a sci-fi or Star Wars campaign in the near future (I like playing in them, but understanding all the tech would give me a headache, and I’d need to in order to GM one), I might grab this base concept, if nothing else, for my next campaign.

  23. Davesnot says:

    A floating city linked with ropes… just don’t film a movie about it.. and don’t use Kevin Costner.. it’ll bomb. :D

    The beauty of not fleshing _everything_ out is that the players will mention stuff that is easily worked in without them ever being the wiser..

  24. guy says:

    you could have had the jedi be a childhoodo friend of the other characters, thus simplifiying matters

  25. Just Mike says:

    Shamus, I love your work on this campaign so far… Very well thought out and it matches what I try to do when i plan a campaign. ;-) Star Wars (WEG D6 – accept no alternatives) was one of my old gaming group’s main games we played (along with MSH and Nightlife)…

    Phlux: In WEG Star Wars rules (I dunno about the D20 version now) all “level 1” starting characters were pretty evenly matched, Jedi or not. Using the Force started out very weak and “iffy” with limited results. As one gained experience and skills, being a Jedi could really be useful, but the same held for other characters in their chosen profession… After all, when you are in your ship and it falls out of Hyperspace in the middle of nowhere, a Jedi isn’t much use, but your Mechanic with 8D+2 of “Starship Repair” will kick some serious butt ;-)

    I used to play a starship co-pilot of a freighter who had pretty high starship gunnery – not for fights, but because they would be sent to backwater planets and such and be told to clear landing areas… blast the heck outta the place and create a landing strip ;-) It was always a joke later on how when we ever ended up in space-combat, he would always try to make the pilot fly in on the target from “above” so it would be easier to hit. ;-)

  26. “but come on…is a level 1 jedi really going to be equal to a level 1 mechanic?”

    Not even close. Given any reasonable supply of toys, the mechanic should wipe the floor with the Jedi.
    Mechanics don’t need to do their own fighting. You want fighting done, you design yourself some not-quite-AI droids.

  27. Jackv says:

    That sounds very cool, I can’t believe I read it all. So, what did they all decide to be in the end?

  28. "Just" John says:

    Floating platforms etc. etc. – that was in the old Star Wars comics (Marvel, I think? – had that porcupine-feller in it); long sequence with a “raft city” and something to do with aquatic dragonlike critters and their armored, humanoid riders. Ah, Wookieepedia has it; Drexel II and the “city ship”.

  29. Baruch says:

    Star Wars has some pretty famous water cities and ship-cities. It may be interesting to include some sort of underwater industry there or an as of yet uncovered species.

    And being a force-user is much more realistic in the RPG than in the movies, because you see less uber-jedi and more normal jedi. Just because a character has a lightsaber does not make him tougher than a normal character, it only seems that way because the majority of the jedi seen in movies or in books are master jedi and therefore capable of kicking more ass than the majority of other creatures in the galaxy.

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