Basing a source book on a video game can be a risky business, particularly when that game is an uneven, occasionally gimmicky shooter like The Force Unleashed video game. You run the risk of alienating diehard Star Wars fans who scoff at the idea of Vader having a hidden student, while at the same time running out of content because of the game’s lack of depth. Fortunately The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide avoids all of this by pulling together information from the game, the movies, and the Star Wars extended universe to create a robust campaign guide for an era that’s prime for exploration.
Written by Sterling Hershey, Peter Schweighofer, Owen K.C. Stephens, and Rodney Thompson, The Force Unleashed was Wizards first campaign guide for its new Saga Edition of the Star Wars Role-Playing Game. As such, it introduced the formula for future campaign guides with its mix of new species, skill uses, feats, talents, prestige classes, equipment, vehicles and an infodump’s worth of campaign background.
Among the 10 species that The Force Unleashed introduces are the plant-like Felcians, the diminutive reptilian Aleena, the white-furred, sloth-like Talz, and the three-eyed Gran. It’s an obscure mix, most of whom are either allied with or oppressed by the Empire, but it fits the setting. The Force Unleashed campaign is all about experiencing the dark edges of galactic society, and its not surprising that there would be a number of new aliens (or obscure) lurking there.
The book introduces an above average number of prestige classes, including the Enforcer (useful for higher-level law enforcement and Imperial enemies), the Independent Droid (which provides a much-needed advanced class options for droid characters), the Infiltrator (perfect for soon-to-be-Rebel spies) and the Medic (whose healing talents could come in handy for player characters on the run, and unable to use Imperial medical facilities).
In many ways, a Dark Times campaign is about the subtle exercise of power. While the Emperor and his legions are becoming ever openly oppressive, those who oppose them must move in the shadows. Heroes can’t hope to go up against the Empire and win; instead they have to rely on friends and connections to survive.
The Force Unleashed encourages this by providing a framework for organizations that characters can join, rewarding them with in-game benefits as they rise through the ranks. Among those organizations detailed are the Antarian Rangers (former field support troops for the Jedi), the infamous Black Sun criminal syndicate, the Bothan Spynet, the Bounty Hunters Guild and House Organa.
Each entry spells out the group’s galactic reach, it’s type (business, military, criminal, etc.) as well as enemies and allies. There’s also an “organization score criteria” which is used to rank an individual’s standing within the group; the higher the score, the greater the influence. For example, Dark Sun operatives get a bonus based on their darkside score, having a level in the scoundrel class, recruiting new members to Black Sun, and killing an enemy of the group. Players can found their own organizations by taking the Natural Leader feat.
It’s a crunchy mechanic, complete with rules for resolving conflicts between organizations, but I can see it appealing to players who’ve always wanted to rise through the ranks of an organization or command one of their own. It fits the setting, and it’s a concept that’s easily portable to other Star Wars eras; it would be particularly good for the corporation-intensive Knights of the Old Republic timeline.
Other new mechanics, which are possibly the most disruptive to an ongoing campaign, are the Unleashed abilities. These take the form of feats and force powers that typically require a character to spend a destiny point to unlock some exceptional, one-time combat effect.
Destiny points are a rarity in the game – players only get one per level, and even then only if they have picked a “destiny” to guide their characters’ future – and the unleashed abilities are correspondingly powerful. For example, the “Unleashed Move Object” force power gives characters the ability to destroy vehicles and possibly even starships as it adds a 2x multiplier to the damage done by thrown objects.
“Unleashed Dark Rage” grants dark siders a +10 bonus to attacks and damage for an encounter, “Unleashed Cleave” allows characters to attack every opponent within range when they drop one with a single attack, while “Unleashed Penetrating Attack” ignores all damage reduction for a round.
The Unleashed powers are the one area of the book that doesn’t jive with the Dark Times tone; everywhere else characters and GMs are consoled in the disciplined, cautious exercise of power (particularly Jedi, who are all but hunted to extinction during this time). Yet here we have abilities and powers that are exceptional in every way, and can’t help but draw the attention of the Empire. It fits the video game, but little else. This isn’t to say the powers themselves are a bad thing; in fact I find myself liking the mechanic, but I would never release them unchecked into my campaign. Instead, I see them as seasoning, keystone abilities for exceptional heroes and villains.
About half of the book is given over running a Dark Times campaign, introducing era-specific vehicles and starships, an updated galactic gazetteer looking at new and existing worlds, and an extensive chapter chronicling the major branches of the Imperial government. This isn’t a re-hash of Rebellion era facts; instead the book looks at how Clone Wars-era institutions evolved as their Imperial counterparts, how tthe Empire replaced the Jedi order with its own military units, and what happened to all of that Separatist and Republic military hardware in the intervening years.
There are write-ups on future Rebellion leaders Bail Organa and Mon Mothma as well as Correllian senator Garm Bel Islis, while the Imperials have write-ups on such signature characters as Admiral Thrawn, Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin, the eventual traitor Crix Madine and – of course — Darth Vader’s Secret Apprentice.
The Force Unleashed is a solid source book for anyone running a campaign in which the Galactic Empire is the major antagonist. It’s content can easily be plugged into a Dark Times or Rebellion era game, and those running New Jedi Order games will find plenty of material with which to garrison their Imperial remnants.
- Star Wars: The Force Unleashed Campaign Guide
- by Sterling Hershey, Owen K.C. Stephens, Rodney Thompson, and Peter Schweighofer
- 224 pages
- Wizards of the Coast
- This article originally appeared on GameCryer.com and is reprinted with permission