Star Wars: The Twilight Path begins

Star Wars: The Twilight PathLast Saturday my gaming group began our latest campaign – Star Wars: The Twilight Path using the SWd20 system. The gamemaster has set up a wiki for the campaign on his personal web site. We players were given less information about this campaign than we did the previous one. The game is set in the old republic, centered around a Jedi training facility, or Praxeum, on the planet Terol where we were all to be students. Before the first session we were told that the game would begin with us playing youngling versions of our characters and we’d later pick up with our actual characters as adults and go from there.

With any luck I’ll be able to follow each session with a blargpost discussing an aspect of the game – either setting, system, or meta – that came up in that session. At some point I’d like to take some time to discuss the d20 system and it’s fit for the game as a whole, but for my first topic I’ve chosen to talk about the variation of the flashback technique with which we started the campaign.

After we had given our characters to the gamemaster, he took our character sheets and applied a template to convert the characters into 0-level younglings. We were handed these characters as soon as the game stared and were thrown into a situation where we had to deal with a fire that had broken out in our dormitory in the Praxeum. Throughout the first session we switched back and forth between the two timelines for a total of three youngling phases and two adult phases.

I liked this setup for the game for a number of reasons. The first is how it helped character development. I’ll be honest – making a character for this game was unexpectedly difficult for me this time around. I’m not sure why it was so difficult for this campaign in particular, but since musing on possible answers would fill up a blarg of its own I’m not going to do so here. But what I had when I had finished character creation was an idea of the primary events in his background that shaped his perspective and his general personality.

By going back and starting the game playing as a younger version of the character, I was able to explore additional childhood events that foreshadow or lead to the adult character’s personality without having to adjust for years of having the Jedi Code embedded within his moral fiber. In particular, I had envisioned my character to be one that was somewhat less than brave. Playing the child version of my character allowed me to play up on his cowardice before the “fear leads to anger…” Jedi mantra was deeply ingrained in him. I really got to get into head of a child who at first wakes up to find his home is on fire, and then a child that barely made it out and had time to reflect on just what happened.

The fire wasn’t the only youngling scene we played through, though. And each scene let us build upon our younger selves’ personalities. There were acts of rebellion against our teachers where we misbehaved to satisfy our curiosity. There were acts of delusion where one could cling to a donned training blast helmet as if it would provide protection from the roaring flames. There were acts of fear where a child character could be consumed with the horrors of just how close to death he had come. There were acts of quixotism where a thankful smile from “the cute girl”  could embolden a character more than any amount of hit points and saving throw bonuses could.

It was definitely a rewarding experience, and let me set up further character development down the road. We now know that the fire had terrified and really affected my character, and that wasn’t something I had added to his backstory before hand.

Unfortunately there were a few pitfalls to this technique, most notably the blurring of the line between the youngling and the adult characters. It was important to keep in mind that the youngling characters couldn’t draw any conclusions based on information that would later be gained as adults. So if the adults were to uncover a possible clue as to what was going on when they were younglings, the players had to remember not to use this knowledge when they were playing their youngling characters.

Obviously the reverse of this isn’t as obvious but also holds just as true. It was important to remember that the adult scenes didn’t take place directly following the youngling scenes from the characters’ perspective. So anything that was experienced, conclusions that were drawn, or opinions that were formed during the youngling timeline had to be tempered by the roughly eighteen years of experience that happened between the two.

Some of you may be saying that this is all a given and should be assumed, but sometimes it’s easy for someone to get too into the story and forget to separate the two. In reality this is just another example of metagaming – letting out-of-game knowledge affect in-game play. And metagaming can have a negative impact on the game.

I should note here that I’m a firm believer that metagaming isn’t always evil. Certainly if you take advantage of knowledge your character wouldn’t have to solve a puzzle he normally wouldn’t be able to solve then there is a problem. But take for example my character. I knew the adult version would wind up spending years training as a negotiator and diplomat, so when the opportunity presented itself I tried to foreshadow this development. In this campaign the foreshadowing occurred by trying to negotiate (and ultimately try to bluff) an instructor who had caught us out after curfew. As a 0-level character with no skills, my failure to smooth-talk the instructor was never really in doubt. But I was able to display my character’s preference for negotiating even when other options – such as running and hiding – may have had more success.

In all likelihood we won’t be returning to our youngling characters in The Twilight Path campaign – the story proper is set to take place in the adult timeline. Still, I was glad I had the opportunity to try this method for starting a campaign out. I’ll definitely have to keep how much I enjoyed it in mind when planning how to start my own campaigns in the future.


  1. Grats to the GM. Doing flashbacks is a tough thing to do in the middle of play. (Not as hard during off-play.)

    The technique of using momentous prior events to further define a character is a good one. One game, Dogs in the Vineyard, starts gameplay that way, and rewards the player by giving them a stat that reflects how that event turned out (always beneficial, more or less). I know that Fireborn uses the technique throughout gameplay, but I am not familiar with how it is done.

    I like that way much more than say “write me a character history page.” Although there are benefits to both ways, and the flashbacks definitely take more doing on both the GM and player’s part.

    How did the other players handle it? Was the separation as clear to them as it seemed to be to you?

  2. I’ll let Saultydog field the gamemaster question since he’s running this campaign.

    *poke poke*

    As far as my perspective as a player, I think that all in all the entire group did pretty well. I can’t think of any instances in using knowledge gained as adults to influence actions taken as a child, so in that regards things went off without a hitch. The other direction there was a few issues at times, but nothing major. Honestly I’d be willing to blame that on the fact that we started with the younglings.

    Because our very first interactions were as children instead of adult, first impressions of the characters was formed based on that instead of based on the adult. After that it was just a case of the strength of the first impression in a person’s mind. So yeah, there were probably a couple of times where it seemed at least to me that characters were reacting to the other adults as if the characters were the younglings. It wasn’t anything major, though, and I can’t really think of more than one instance off hand anyway so it obviously didn’t detract from the game in any significant way. It was a good learning experience for all of us.

  3. The other players handled it OK, although I don’t think they took advantage of the youngling scenes to further define their characters as much as they could have. My guess is that the idea of playing a kid just wasn’t that interesting to them. The youngling PCs won’t show up again in the game, anyway, except maybe at the very end of the campaign. I have an idea for a final scene that could work as a good frame device for the campaign. It was really just an exercise in trying something new to me and new to the players and I think everyone enjoyed it overall.

    The cutting between adult and youngling scenes wasn’t too big of a deal with that particular adventure, although I still managed to screw it up at one point. The players were forgiving enough when we had to rewind time for a few minutes, thankfully. I definately learned a lesson or two about flashbacks in that session.

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