D20 Modern, Epic 1st, and Action Horror

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Ash vs. Evil Dead was a fun little romp of a first season, and got me thinking about different ways to model what it (and a lot of other action horror shows/films) demonstrate: the supernatural threat can mow through cops and soldiers like grass, but comes up short dealing with initially lucky but now badass everymen. One possibility uses the ideas of Epic 6th (E6) to go even further into the realm of grittiness.

First off, make some classes that make sense for your timeframe. If you’re doing a fantasy horror game, the standard D&D/Pathfinder classes are probably fine. If you’re doing something more modern, you might need to work to update D20 Modern’s classes (or just make your own as modern interpretations of existing classes). The important guidelines are:

  • Each class you include should have interesting tradeoffs at 1st level compared to the others (e.g., more class skills vs. more HP vs. +1 BaB).
  • They should probably get some interesting unique ability at first level.
  • It wouldn’t hurt to retain the NPC Class/PC Class split, if you want to model highly-trained characters that flat out have an advantage even at 1st level.

Most people in the world reach 1st level at adulthood, and improve further by gaining more feats. Depending on how egalitarian you feel about human competence, some people may just be born with better ability scores, or ability scores may be something you can improve over time as another way to advance. But almost no one will ever reach 2nd level.

This creates a pretty interestingly constrained system space that models reality (or at least movie reality) much better than standard D20:

  • It’s virtually impossible to get an ability score over 20.
  • The grandmaster in the world of a skill has a +12 bonus before circumstance modifiers (+4 ranks, +3 skill focus, +5 ability score).
  • The toughest character in the world has 20 HP (D12 HD, +5 from Con, +3 from Toughness), so will die to a few hits from a d8 or greater weapon. Most characters have 6-10 HP (d6 or d8 HD and some Con bonus), so will usually get dropped by one, maybe two hits from a deadly weapon.
  • The biggest badass in the world with a weapon can maybe eke out +10 attack bonus in ideal circumstances (+1 BaB, +5 ability score, +1 weapon focus, +1 masterwork weapon, and a couple points of situational feat bonuses like point blank shot).

On its own, this might be a passable way to run an extremely low-powered/realistic/gritty game. If you don’t allow a feat that gives extra skill ranks, you’d probably want to allow respeccing class-granted ranks in some way. You’d probably also want some way to gradually respec ability scores and class. But, particularly if you gave out bonus feats on a regular enough schedule, and the rest of the world was clearly on the same power level, it might hold your players’ interest for a decently long time.

But it’s also a good way to run an action horror game.

Here, the premise is simple: supernatural monsters are the only source of XP that can improve your character level.

Whatever the in-narrative source of these monsters, they’re basically an out-of-context problem for the existing paradigm. They’re going to have supernatural abilities. They’re going to have multiple hit dice. They’re going to have high AC, attack, and damage relative to what’s possible for even the best of the best that are stuck at 1st level.

So surviving an encounter with one is going to be more likely if you’re a cop or a soldier, with good combat stats and feats, but it’s far from guaranteed. Against even a CR3 creature, particularly one that uses surprise attacks so soldiers can’t get organized, it’s going to be almost pure luck who survives out of a random sample of people. When the monsters hit the cross section of humanity in a department store or a diner, the survivors may just be a bunch of everymen that happened to get some lucky hits in and somehow not die.

And then they start to level up.

You’re now telling the story of a bunch of ordinary people that have become extraordinary purely by virtue of the standard D&D advancement mechanic. Who has a greater chance of taking out a nest of monsters: a team of the very best 1st level Fighters in the world, or a lucky bunch of 6th level Commoners? You don’t go to Ash Williams to solve your Deadite problem because he’s easy to work with, forward-thinking, or able to respond to tactical suggestions. You go to him because he’s the highest level character in the world, and monsters that can threaten a whole Seal Team aren’t really that much of a bother to him.

Hail to the king, baby.

Iconic Character Sketches

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I’ve had some recent discussions with a friend that centered around why I wasn’t as thrilled with his PC regularly using Polymorph effects as he was. I realized that, after a youth spent on comic books, I have a hard time identifying with a character if I can’t easily visualize it. Frequent shapechanging meant not having the iconographic cues that are otherwise so common to fantasy characters. I suspect a lot of others are like me, and would have an easier time playing in general, and caring about particular PCs in specific, if it was easier to insert them into the little mental movie that’s accompanying the tabletop game. So today’s post is a short exercise that players can do for their PCs to make them more iconic: easier to visualize, and with these visual elements tied to important character personality and background the player wants to get across.

Decide on the following elements for your PC:

Feature

Visual

Meaning

Significant Feature: What is the first thing about your personal features that someone would notice? Do you have an interesting hairstyle, uniquely colored eyes, a prominent scar or tattoo, some kind of deformity, etc.? If it’s genetic, what does it mean about your family? If it’s a scar, how did you get it? If it’s hair or tattoo, what personal meaning drove you to choose something so distinctive?
Unique Apparel: What item of clothing, jewelry, etc. do you always have and is rare and unusual, easily remembered? Is it a heavily-customized jacket, a necklace, a hat, a medal, a weapon, etc.? Where did you get the item, and what personal significance does it hold for you? Is it a gift from a lost loved one you’re trying to honor or live up to? A symbol of your accomplishment or birth? A trophy you took from a victory? Or just something that means something personal and speaks to your style?
Sigil/Heraldry/Totem: What specific symbol or class of iconography does your character wear and respond to? Do you wear a rendering of a particular animal or beast, favor a particular abstract symbol/glyph of some kind of group, or write in and adorn yourself with a particular type of runes? What does this mean for your personality? Do you identify with the animal or think it protects you? Does the glyph belong to your culture/order, or a group you aspire to join? If it’s a type of rune, why did you choose those over other writing systems, and why incorporate them into your iconography beyond simply writing with them?
Colors: What one or two colors does your character wear and favor in general use? When picking an outfit, all other considerations aside, what color clothing would you pick? What do the colors say about your life and beliefs? Are they just utilitarian colors to hide and blend in, or do even choices of brown and black say something specific about you? If it’s a brighter color, what emotions and feelings do you associate with the color?

These should be relatively simple questions to answer and immediately give your GM (and the other players) a much easier time figuring out what’s interesting about your character. They should also be a quick way to generate plot hooks, from a simple knowledge of what kinds of iconography and colors your character would gravitate to in order to find Macguffins, to useful insights about your character background.

(Also see this post for ideas on how to quickly give your GM ideas for cool things about your character.)

Alternate Clone Wars, Part 3

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And now that the basic tech and Force theory is out of the way, here’s the meat of the alternate take on the Clone Wars era.

The Trap of the Old Republic

If you are to understand anything about the way things are, you must understand that the Republic is both the greatest achievement of the galaxy, bringing peace to billions, and the worst thing to ever happen to the Jedi.

It began innocently enough. In the dark ages before the Republic, when each planet was often at war with its neighbors, the Jedi were the protectors of the defenseless. When a despot wrung her people dry, or a petty king began to wipe out civilians to ruin the will of his enemies, the Force would see that the Jedi were there to stop them. The civilization of the galaxy from which the Republic grew was largely due to all the work Jedi had done to remove the most terrible and unjust of leaders.

As peace treaties began to proliferate, alliances spread, and the Senate began to form, those in power were those that the Jedi had been without cause to target. Many had been dear friends, assisting lone Jedi or small teams of them in taking down particularly vicious and powerful targets. The political leaders that formed the Senate owed the Jedi. They gave them new rights, built them temples, and sought even deeper alliances.

While the Force is more democratic than other forms of power, able to arise in even the commonest individual, in practice it tends to flow with the blood. The children of powerful Jedi are often strong in the Force themselves. As this tendency became noticed, it became a natural ideal of the planets that passed political power through inheritance. So gradually they barely even noticed, one beautiful and adoring price or princess at a time, the Jedi became deeply ensnared in the royal and noble lines of the galaxy. Without meaning to, they became part of the politics through ties of blood, rather than mere servants of the Force.

It took an embarrassingly long time for the Jedi masters to notice the problem. Jedi temples became finishing schools for the political elite. Jedi knights guarded kings and led armies against those with whom diplomacy had failed (sometimes forgetting to question whether the war was truly just). Apprentices from the highest birth often did not have the necessary humility to serve the will of the Force, and had to be cut down as they fell to the Dark Side.

Those strongest in the Force were either winnowed due to falling to the Dark Side or became sensitive enough to learn that this sedentary life of privilege was not what the Force meant for them. One by one, they left the temples and returned to the old ways. Over generations, the Jedi of the noble classes became more and more ceremonial, weak users of the Force barely trained to use a lightsaber. They were the “Jedi” that most civilians were familiar with, and it was easy to doubt the legends in the face of self-important knights with barely a few tricks over those that didn’t claim the titles. The real Jedi were elsewhere.

Jedi Before the Clone Wars

In the giant galaxy, these scant years before the Clone Wars, there are only a handful of Jedi. Most wander incessantly, though they have their preferred waystations where those in need might find them eventually, and they all try to keep in touch with the few that have become stationary. Their primary mission is to be tossed about by the Force, wave men riding the universe’s currents to where they are needed most. To save lives. To broker peace. To destroy the corrupt. To protect innocents. Very few civilians, in the grand scheme of things, ever meet a real Jedi. Most that do, do in the heat of the most interesting days of their lives, as a lone warrior-priest arrives to try to tilt a situation away from disaster. They don’t stay long, but they usually leave with more friends than enemies.

An exception to the normal mission (or, often, an addition) is to find new Force sensitives and, if they seem strong in the Force and moral enough to follow the code, to train them. Often these powers come with puberty, and it’s helpful to get youths before their teenage nature has set in and made them distrustful of adult authority. Some Jedi masters don’t like to train students close to adulthood, worried that they’re too old to accept training. This is an opinion, not a rule.

Training as a Jedi is often a series of brief bouts of working apprenticeship. Everything your master can tell you, she can tell you in a few days. What she can show you, she can show you in weeks. It’s only when you have to put the lessons into context in a real situation that you truly start to learn. A new apprentice Jedi often spends the longest with the first teacher, learning and adventuring until he or she can feel the call of the Force without aid. The mentor then suggests some other Jedi that the student might seek out that can impart different lessons, and new understanding of the Force. On the way to the next master, the student suffers through a series of interesting events, better putting training to practice. And new teachers demand their own quests before imparting their wisdom. Life as a Jedi is the life of a questing knight, forever in motion. A Jedi does not crave adventure, knowing that adventure will find her, regardless.

Even without the impetus of the Force, though, few Jedi would think to stop moving. There are two types of Force users that stop moving for long: the eldest, who are now more valuable as teachers than warriors, and those that choose temporal power over wisdom. Many powerful individuals would pay gladly for true Jedi to serve them, but those they get will never become more powerful: they will not learn the lessons the Force means to teach, and they will not meet others that can train them in new expressions of the Force.

Each active Force user eventually finds an expression of his or her personality in the Force: a unique power known to no other. In addition to greater wisdom, this is the real prize that others seek to be taught. You can only learn new powers from those that were blessed with them by the Force and their own temperament. A Jedi with only the basics is powerful, but not beyond what a normal individual can do with some cunning tech. But a Jedi well-versed in the arts of many teachers can become unstoppable.

The Rise of the Empire

The patchwork unity of the Republic is delicate, an intricately-woven diplomacy that the Senate maintains at all cost. Brilliant minds are encouraged to join the bureaucracy, putting their talents to the service of the smooth operation of the galaxy. Those that cannot be dissuaded from a love of engineering and science are encouraged to refine existing knowledge and technology, or make new toys and entertainment, rather than inventing or greatly improving what exists. Those that ignore these encouragements and try to invent new things are scrutinized, and often meet with mysterious ends. Improving starships might upset generations-old trade contracts. Improving weapons might encourage the foolish to use this new edge to start a war. And so, under the well-intentioned thumb of the Senate, the technology of the Republic became ever more elegant and ever more stagnant.

Nobody knows, for sure, the origins of the Emperor, for propaganda was a strength of his from very early, and each story of his rise seems more of a lie than the last. The Jedi suspect that he was a throwback from a noble family, much stronger in the Force than other “Jedi” in their line. There is much doubt whether he was ever formally trained; at least, none admit to having taught him, and his corruption by the Dark Side is so thorough it has ravaged his body, such that it should have been obvious even at a young age that he should not be trained. And yet, even the gifts of the Force available to the self-taught can be powerful, correctly applied: prescience to see the path to power, the ability to command weak minds, and terrifying “magic” to cow those that cannot be controlled.

The first thing he did, upon gaining a foothold of power, was to offer sanctuary to inventors that hated the rules of the Republic. Before anyone could have noticed, he already had a substantial technological edge. And he had humanity behind him.

Though the Republic never officially instituted any kind of racism against non-humans, a peculiarity of the race was its adaptability and will to power. Humans would have spread all over the galaxy regardless, and Republic representation based on planetary leadership only encouraged them. They already held almost a majority of Senate seats, and a majority of Jedi (both real and political). And the Emperor exploited this mercilessly.

Starting on the fringes, he recruited groups of humans that felt trapped against entrenched non-human habitations with no room to expand. He wove a tale of human excellence and superiority, and convinced them to conquer the lands of disagreeable neighbors. It took too long for the Senate to respond, as he had foreseen, paralyzed by old rivalries, recriminations, and a near-majority human representation that didn’t feel threatened. By the time the galaxy realized it was at war, being consumed by the Empire, the Emperor’s power base was already substantial.

If he had just had superior weapons and ships, there might have still been a hope of defeating him. But the greatest technology of the Empire is cloning. The Republic’s soldiers vary in combat ability and most would rather not be fighting. The Emperor can find soldiers with the greatest predilection for warfare, replicate them indefinitely, and train them so they know nothing but battle. Win a decisive and bloody skirmish against a battalion of stormtroopers, and an identically trained one will be right behind them. The Clone Wars have begun.

The greatest masters seem resigned. They are already the greatest threats the Emperor faces, and he is mercilessly hunting them down even as he pursues his greater agenda. Some counsel patience, waiting for the Force to show them the way through, while others feel that the only answer is to hide. But some still have hope and an impulse to act now. They take their long-abandoned positions as knights and generals for the Republic and strike back. The Empire’s growth seems inevitable, but it moves slowly, and there are still many opportunities before it fully engulfs the Republic. The Jedi were weary of the well-meaning mistakes of the Republic, but the Empire is far, far worse. The time to act is now, even though it may already be too late.

And I’ve been going on about Star Wars for the better part of two months. So next week, something completely different.

Alternate Clone Wars, Part 2

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This week features a slight digression to propose an alternate interpretation of the mechanics of Force use than what I see in most tabletop implementations. It’s presented now because I’m assuming it for the writeup of Jedi next week, and if you use a more standard model, next week’s post may be less useful to you.

Force Powers

One of the classic problems with implementing Jedi in a tabletop game is that the giant raft of powers required to make them feel minimally competent makes them way more powerful than other PCs and/or pre-spends most of their traits making it hard to differentiate them. A pile of powers is certainly in line with the prequels, but not necessarily with the original trilogy or even with The Force Awakens (slightly more mild spoilers than usual for episode 7 in this post, if you’re still worried about that).

The interesting thing about Force use by the classic five (Luke, Vader, Kenobi, Yoda, and the Emperor) and even the two in the new episode is that it’s extremely common to see a power used only by one or two characters. A lot of this is probably meant to be intent and/or screen time: Vader doesn’t really get into a situation where a mind trick is more useful than a force choke, and Kenobi wouldn’t electrocute anyone even presented the opportunity. So we mostly see the tricks that Luke learns, plus a handful of other interesting things that the others do with their limited screen time and that Luke might just not know yet.

But what if it’s not a big list of powers that new Jedi need to check off? What if it’s exactly what it looks like in the films: force lightning isn’t a dark side expression that any skilled force user could use if angry enough, but the Emperor’s unique power. What if the vast majority of force powers are new developments: you can only learn them if you track down their creator and get training.

We now have a solved problem and a new opportunity: starting PCs no longer need a ton of Force powers to feel “correct” and Jedi PCs now have a deep motivation to go adventuring to meet other Jedi and get trained in their powers.

Now we can break the powers expressed in the films into general powers and individual characters’ unique powers.

For general abilities, assume an overall ability to feel and push/pull on connections between the Jedi and other matter/minds:

  • Prescience: It seems to be pretty common to have some level of premonition/sense of destiny.
  • Telekinesis: All Force users seem to be able to shove, yank, and whip small objects, and can sometimes manage bigger objects.
  • Mental Sensitivity: Jedi can often, but not always, sense other individuals to whom they are emotionally tied; particularly if they are nearby and/or Force sensitive.
  • Telepathy: It seems to be pretty common to speak into the mind, at least to call for help, and pull out information (particularly things at the surface of the mind).
  • Mind Control: We don’t see every Force user manage the mind trick, but it certainly seems common enough that Jabba is aware of what Luke’s doing and that he’s immune.

There are also several abilities that are demonstrated by only one Force user, or by only a couple that have a clear training relationship:

  • Leap: In the original trilogy, Luke is the only character that manages a mighty leap. Importantly, Vader seems surprised by it when he escapes from the carbonite bath.
  • Ghost: It’s plausible that the only thing this did for living Kenobi was give him a heightened ability to notice deaths, and Yoda and Vader were really happy to see that he actually came back after dying since they’d spent time learning the trick from him.
  • Size Matters Not: Don’t you think that if Vader could figure out how to lift something bigger than boxes he’d make use of it? It’s less a philosophical revelation and more Yoda’s special power.
  • Choke/Crush: Crushing things is actually harder to do than just pulling them or shoving them; Vader could probably use this for things other than crushing windpipes, and probably did before he fell to the Dark Side.
  • Lightning: The Emperor’s special gift is extremely flashy and terrifying. You’d put a man that could electrocute you with his hands in charge if he asked.
  • Freeze: Kylo Ren’s power seems to be an interesting combo of physical/mental: it pauses inanimate objects/energy and restores their motion when cancelled, but paralyzes people.

Most of these are essentially modifiers on the base powers, and there’s no reason they shouldn’t stack. Kylo Ren can only freeze things he could normally use his powers on (small objects/blasts or sentient minds), but if Luke learned his power he could combine it with Yoda’s to freeze much bigger objects. In a perfect world, each of the powers has a name more like “Size Matters Not” that shows how it reflects the philosophy/psychology of the originating character and explains why that character got that power.

So I’d suggest a fairly simple way to stat Force users (particularly in a low-granularity system like Fate or Savage Worlds):

  • Force Sensitivity is a 0 point character option. If you choose to take it, you can buy more powers and you have the very basics of prescience and mental sensitivity that Leia displays, but you’re also far more vulnerable to the prescience and mental sensitivity of other, possibly more powerful, Force users. That is, it’s free, but if you’re never going to buy more powers you might just give it a pass so the Dark Side users have a harder time getting a bead on you.
  • Any sensitive character can buy the Force skill. This unlocks all the general abilities listed above (roll the skill to use them successfully, with results mapped to the range of effects demonstrated by the movies; e.g., if you have the first rank of the skill, you should have a problem yanking a lightsaber out of a snow drift just outside of arm’s reach). You also get to develop a special ability (possibly only once you’ve bought several ranks in the skill, at the GM’s option; Luke doesn’t Force Leap until most of the way through Empire after a fair bit of training).
  • Jedi training might be its own feat/stunt/edge (or series of them) at the GM’s option. They should focus on being able to use a lightsaber to do cool tricks like deflect blasters, possibly some mental discipline, and/or some social advantages. The trait or trait sequence should be pretty well balanced with equally expensive traits; make it a trait series if you want to give Jedi a lot of other mechanical advantages in addition to the Force skill.
  • Finally, you can buy the special abilities of other Force users if they devote time to showing you how to do it and you spend a feat/stunt/edge. Having a cool power to train is the biggest piece of currency of a Jedi master, so you’ll probably expect to have to do some questing to get most to agree to teach you (plot hooks!). Each of these has its own one-off rules as the GM devises. You can probably only learn it directly from the character that originated it (until episode 8 blows this whole theory to smithereens, anyway); once a Jedi dies, his special power is no longer something new Jedi can aspire to learn.

Using any kind of power may cost Force points (see below).

The Dark and Light Sides

Less essential to the topic next week, I also have a slightly unusual concept of how to model the sides of the Force. As I’ve mentioned before, I find that players hate to make suboptimal choices, and that makes them basically immune to temptation when giving into it means taking on a long-term character flaw. That is, modeling the Dark Side as something where you have to write something on your character sheet the first time you use it means that players will never use it, even when their characters would be really, really tempted.

Sure, Yoda had a whole spiel about “forever will it dominate your destiny,” but was he being honest or is he basically saying “one drink is too many” to the son of an alcoholic? Is it really impossible to flirt with the Dark Side and then come back, or is Yoda just worried that, for Skywalkers, it’s harder to stop than others and he doesn’t want Luke to risk it? I’d argue that the end of Return of the Jedi is very much Luke tapping the Dark Side, using it to win the fight with Vader, and then renouncing it.

So I’d suggest that Force users have a reserve of Force points to activate powers. This is possibly some kind of granular reservoir that you have to spend one or more of to use any powers. Or you may just treat it like ammunition in a pulp action game: you’re either fully charged or empty, and certain actions, compels, maneuvers, or critical failures can run you out at an unpredictable time.

Importantly, there are two ways to refill your Force points:

  • The Light Side way is to meditate, or at least experience a protracted period of calm.
  • The Dark Side way is to experience strong emotions/pain.

The Dark Side is quicker, easier, more seductive, but not more powerful because it’s all about your battery: Dark Side users don’t have better powers, but they can refill their reserves very quickly, even in combat, and that’s much more rare for Jedi (though we may have seen a moment of utter calm at the end of The Force Awakens that was an in-combat Light Side recharge). Dark Siders can do things like punch themselves in their terrifying abdominal wounds to recharge in the middle of a lightsaber battle.

And here’s where you get to be all tricksy as a GM: there’s no immediate and obvious penalty for indulging in Dark Side use. Sometimes you’re out of Force Points in the middle of a dangerous fight, the GM asks if you’re going to get angry and go all out, and if you say yes, you get a refill with no immediate consequences. Do it sparingly enough, and it’s probably fine.

What’s going on in the background? Indulging in the Dark Side and strong emotions is making it harder to quiet your mind and feel the living force. Where it once took you an hour or two to meditate and get your Force points back the Light Side way, now it takes a little longer. Not too much longer. Maybe not even noticeable the first few times. But it’s cumulative, and if you do it too much, it may start to take so long to recharge via meditation that it’s no longer practical in the middle of an adventure.

That’s the point you need to worry about. Because now you have to call on the Dark Side to get recharged. And any time you’re out of Force points, the GM might start demanding that your shows of emotion aren’t just “I get angry during this fight” but are things like “I didn’t get what I wanted so I’m going to kill this useful officer/wreck this expensive technology suite.” That is, getting back your Force points means accepting Fate-style compels to ruin your own resources or overextend yourself into a bad position. Because you can no longer control your own emotions.

It might be possible to come back, even then. It’s probably much easier before you get to that point. At the GM’s option, the longer you go without drawing on the Dark Side, the more time gets shaved off of meditation times until they’re back to where they were to start with… or almost there.

Because you can’t get your players to hang themselves unless you give them enough rope.

Alternate Clone Wars, Part 1

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If you haven’t read the last few posts, start here to get a more thorough explanation of the goals of this series. But, in short, I’m not a huge fan of the prequels in general, and, in specific, think they made worldbuilding choices that contradicted the much more interesting implications of the original trilogy. So I’ve long wanted to run a tabletop game set in a reimagining of the prequel-era more in line with the references I found interesting from episodes 4-6. For the purpose of this exercise, nothing is canon except the original three movies (and likely The Force Awakens, as it’s much more in line with 4-6), and I’ll pretend that episodes 1-3 and ancillary materials don’t exist.

The Technology of the Clone Wars

In line with last week’s post, I’m assuming that the technology of the Star Wars galaxy works well as analogue to a similar year in Earth’s history. Which is to say, if the original trilogy has technology that works as an analogue to the tech of the very early 1900s, the technology of the Clone Wars is an equivalent of the mid-late 1800s. Unlike the existing prequels (and very unlike the worldbuilding of The Old Republic), the galaxy is in the middle of a sustained technological revolution, and every generation has technology that’s mindblowing to the one before. However, unlike the last few decades on Earth, this progress still takes decades and is unevenly distributed; poorer and less connected locations still make due with tech that hasn’t been cutting edge for quite some time.

Ships

Perhaps the biggest difference in the era of the Clone Wars is in starship capabilities. The ships of the era are to the ships of the original trilogy as boats powered by sail and steam are to those powered by combustion engines. They can still get you where you’re going in a reasonable amount of time, but they are limited in different ways.

Let’s assume that the navicomputer-calculated hyperspace jumps of the original trilogy were a recent refinement of a long-proven technology equivalent to wind-power: well-established hyperspace lanes. The vast majority of the era’s ships get places by intersecting hyperspace in a known location and “settling into” the hyperspace channel to accelerate gradually up to speed. Unlike the original trilogy ships, they don’t jump to lightspeed in a frenetic burst as soon as the navicomputer is finished, but gradually get up to speed (and perform a similar slowing maneuver at their destination). We might as well also state that this is more or less what the “sub-light” engines of the original trilogy do: the Falcon can quickly go from Hoth, to Anoat, to Bespin with a busted hyperspace drive because even the basic propulsion of the ship allows it to dip into hyperspace and benefit from its violation of relativity.

The practical differences between these hyperspace “sailing” ships and the later versions are threefold:

  • They take time to get up to speed (less than if they had to deal with g-force and relativity, but still meaningful amounts), thus it’s much harder to escape an encounter by jumping away. It takes a few moments to exceed the range of the big guns of non-accelerating ships, and a faster ship might catch you up and continue the fight as you get deeper into hyperspace. Mass of the ship is a still a component in acceleration, so smaller, lighter ships can often get up to speed much more quickly than larger, heavier ones.
  • They are limited in the paths they can take to make the best speed. Moving within a system often involves “tacking against” the hyperspace channels, for reasonably quick travel to nearby planets, but, even then, ships with a more favorable vector might go further in the same amount of time. For long trips (such as those between systems), it’s almost unheard of to try going any way but via an established and well-recorded lane; it may well be faster to travel through multiple other systems to go to one that’s closer to your starting position. These lanes are all loaded into your ship’s computer, and there’s a lot of value for captains in having secret connecting routes that others don’t know about. Finally, it’s rare but a ship might suffer being the equivalent of becalmed: sometimes the boundaries between space and hyperspace mysterious thicken, and ships must use drastically slower engines that accelerate using normal physics to move until the problem ends.
  • They are extremely fuel-efficient, and probably get almost all they need from solar power and other space-renewable sources; the engines have been in use for hundreds of years, and have been all but perfected in their elegance. A ship that isn’t damaged by an enemy or accident can stay in space as long as its food and life support holds out for the crew, though regular drydock maintenance is advised.

Meanwhile, the equivalent of steamships have been in use for over two generations. They follow a revolutionary new technology that allows the ship to enter hyperspace quickly and gain equal speed in virtually any direction. While superficially a huge advance over the existing technology, they have their drawbacks:

  • The engines required are generally massive and require copious amounts of planet-mined fuel.
  • They all have some chance of catastrophic overload when used too much, too quickly. Making them smaller and more fuel-efficient tends to increase this risk dramatically.
  • The mechanism for ignoring the normal hyperspace routes is much faster “against the wind” but relatively slow compared to the fastest old-model ships on charted voyages.
  • Thus, they tend to only be used for larger vessels (which would be slow to accelerate under the older tech regardless) and for large-scale hauling (where the advantage of taking a shorter route can make enough money to pay for the cost of fuel) or military uses (where full-axis maneuverability on a large vessel can be a huge advantage in warfare).

The development of the technology of the original trilogy-era ships occurs several years after the Clone Wars are decided, and is such an advantage over both previous technologies that it quickly begins to supplant it: it takes less fuel than the steamship equivalents and has much less danger of failing catastrophically, and moves faster than the sailboat equivalents in most situations, even in a favorable hyperspace lane.

Weapons

Similar to the Edo period of Earth, prior to the Clone Wars the politics of the galaxy had not prioritized development of blaster technology (it was still considered a more civilized age, where the lightsaber saw use even by non-Jedi; see part 3 for that analogy). Much as Japan was still using matchlock muskets, then rapidly scaled up to flintlock and then cartridge-based guns, the era of the Clone Wars sees a massive arms race in the capabilities of blasters.

If the blasters of the original trilogy are equivalent to guns after magazines and rifling were worked out, the blasters immediately prior to the Clone Wars are single-shot, unrifled muskets. Their power consumption is high and their accuracy is low. Ammunition cells can only hold enough power for a shot or two before being swapped out (and the technology is so inelegant that detaching and reattaching a cell is a time-consuming process). The beam coherency is abysmal, particularly for blaster pistols, deforming as it flies and sometimes deflecting off of atmosphere. Combatants can often only get off a few shots a minute, and are easy prey for a melee combatant that can get into range. Lightsabers are, in fact, the apex of technology designed to try to ignore the blaster’s limitations: a constantly-regenerating wand of energy that can be more efficient in its power consumption and not have to worry about flight through the air.

But the Clone Wars will see the battlefield change drastically, as the newly risen Empire scoffs at the old politics and sees great advantage in rapidly improving the state of the art in blasters.

Other Tech

Other technology doesn’t see quite the same level of change between the Clone Wars and the original trilogy, but there are notable differences:

  • Comlinks weren’t developed until after the Clone Wars, as they utilize some of the same new awareness of hyperspace needed for the upgraded ships after the era. Planetary communications use radio waves (much less efficient than broadcasting through hyperspace), which means they’re all but useless for inter-system communication. Some systems have managed highly expensive fixed-point hyperspace broadcasting channels (equivalent to the telegraph), but many cultures still rely on uploading communications to a ship heading in the right direction to be transmitted to the recipient on exiting hyperspace.
  • Screens and holograms are slightly less refined, but are still very similar to their depictions in the original trilogy (just as popular entertainment didn’t have any massive technological shifts in the late 1800s… though one might expect a revolution in entertainment uses after the original trilogy to parallel the rise of film).
  • Droids are equivalent to people, not technology, in the analogy, so are unlikely to see any major changes in their capabilities except where they incorporate other technologies.
  • Speeders are equivalent to automobiles, so are probably completely nonexistent in the era of the Clone Wars. Planetary ground transportation probably involves much slower wheeled conveyances (along with the omnipresent beast mounts, which are often far superior to mechanized transport).

Anything not listed probably works more or less the same as in the original trilogy, unless you want to dive deeper into the non-warfare technological progress in the late 1800s and its equivalents than I want to in this format.

Next week, a slight digression into a different conception of using the Force, before part 3 starts the political worldbuilding in earnest.