Well, the final installment of the Dawn of Defiance campaign is out now. It's finally done. You can now download a complete campaign from levels 1-20 for Star Wars Saga Edition, 100% free. It's available here, for those of you who don' t have it already: www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=starwars/a...
While I'm proud of the campaign we've produced, it's not been easy, and we've learned a lot. First of all, I'd like to both thank and apologize to our loyal players who have stuck with DoD from beginning to end. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I really underestimated the amount of time and effort it would take to produce the DoD campaign. As a result, some of the adventures took a while to come out, and what was intended to take 10 months to release truthfully took almost two years from beginning to end. So, for that, I apologize, and I hope it's been worth the wait.
As I said, I learned a lot from the Dawn of Defiance campaign, and I'd like to share some of the things I learned with you. Note that these are all just my personal feelings based on the way things have gone in the DoD campaign, so take them for what they're worth.
You can't write six adventures in a 10-adventure campaign alone. This is one I had to learn the hard way. The original plan called for me to write six of the ten adventures, because I thought that I would have the time for that. As it turns out, running an entire product line takes a lot more work than I thought, so I had to farm a few of those adventures that I expected to write out to other people. I'd like to thank the other authors for helping me out in a pinch, but one of the big reasons that the delays occurred was due to the fact that I, personally, didn't have time to write a 32-page adventure on my own.
If you don't have staff to lean on, don't try and do a 32-page adventure a month. There's a lot more that goes into an adventure than just writing it. There's editing, layout, approvals, art, maps...the list goes on. The guys on D&D Insider can do adventure paths because they have multiple editors, artists, and contractors working all the time to make sure that the adventures get done. There's a big advantage in being able to farm out simple things, like contracts and organizational issues, to other people when you're trying to work on the big picture. One person can't do it; heck, two people can't do it, not without significant delays.
Corey Macourek and Ray Vallese are the unsung heroes of the campaign. You see their names in every episode of the Dawn of Defiance campaign, but without them the adventures literally could not happen. Corey's maps were integral in getting across the adventures and their encounters, and Ray's editing not only highlighted problems in the stats but also helped illuminate flaws in the adventure. A big thanks to both of them for their hard work.
High level adventures are still too hard to design. Now we're getting into some of the nuts and bolts of Saga Edition. Over the course of the last few adventures, it became obvious that it's still too tough to design adventures for heroes above 15th level. There just aren't good guidelines for creating challenging encounters at that level, and you end up having to really stretch to create encounters that are both challenging AND feel like Star Wars. Stormtroopers are...insignificant at that level, unless you dress them up with add-ons and squads (which we did, I think to great effect). There's no good, clear progression of antagonists laid out from the start in Saga Edition. One of the major goals of this adventure path was to show what a Star Wars campaign SHOULD look like from first to 20th level, and I think designing the last few adventures really reinforces the need to think about the way you want the game to play at high levels when designing the game. I'm also starting to reevaluate what our 1-20 level scale actually, practically means. We put Han Solo at something like 13th level, which I think is a mistake. I'm starting to think that, if the Star Wars films are our iconic vision of what a Star Wars campaign should feel like, then Luke, Han, Leia, and Chewie should all be 20th level characters at the end of Return of the Jedi. Their further adventures in the EU? I'm wondering if those just aren't, effectively, wholly different campaign...or if the idea of an ever-continuing story just isn't something the RPG should support.
NPCs and opponents are still too hard to design. We did a good job with Saga Edition of making NPC creation faster, but it's still too slow. If we assume that the kind of prep work I went through in trying to design the bad guys for the high-level adventures is the same kind of prep work that the average Gamemaster has to go through in designing their own campaigns, I think that there is a very obvious reason why campaigns start to break down at a certain point. We need better NPC creation rules; building from the ground-up with the same rules that players use may satisfy your rainy-day fun needs, but if a GM has to spend several hours making custom enemies then it becomes a huge barrier to Gamemastering. The number one thing I think we need to do better in Saga Edition is to make things easier on the GM side of the screen. Without Gamemasters, there can be no game. Plus, I kind of feel like we've (mostly) done things right on the player's side of things, so while we've made it fun, flexible, and easy for players, we've still got a long way to go to make the game fun, flexible, and easy for the GM.
It is still too hard for the GM to accurately judge the effectiveness of players. Because of the way the game was built, we don't have solid endpoints for player abilities at any given level. What I mean by that is that we can't really know how high an enemy's defenses SHOULD be to make a good challenge for any given party of adventurers. I've been able to guess a few things based on extrapolating what we get from adding in talents, feats, etc. but there are too many X-factors. This makes designing adventures increasingly difficult as the party gains levels, because the GM has to pay more and more attention to the numbers in order to provide an adequate but not insurmountable challenge to the heroes. More time spent working on the math means less time spent working on the story, and frankly creating an exciting story is what Star Wars is all about. I have a sneaking suspicion that some of our Dawn of Defiance #10 encounters might be TPKs in disguise, because I had to build the encounters to be tough for Jedi heroes. However, if you have a party of scoundrels, scouts, and nobles...well, let's just say I'm not going to count on you making it to the climax of the adventure.
Starship combat needs work. There are too few choices to be made right now during a starship combat encounter. There are too many chances for players to sit and do nothing. In a ground-based encounter, the player always has a chance to do at least two things: move, and attack/use a skill/etc. In starship combat, when you have multiple players on the same ship, they pretty much don't get to move around that much. Starship maneuvers help this somewhat, but it's tough to guarantee that everyone has some. I wonder if there's not an argument to be made for having starship/vehicle action progressions (i.e. gaining maneuvers/special attacks) running in parallel to your hero's normal progression. That way, you don't have to choose between being good with a lightsaber and having interesting choices while in the cockpit; you get to do both. I also wonder if there's not some way to do a system where everyone chooses a role on the ship, and then gets special actions based on that role that they get. We already have that in the "Actions you take when you're performing this role" but, well, let's face it: if you're the systems operator, right now, you're doing one thing every. single. round.
I'm glad that the campaign is complete and out there for people to play. I'm thankful for the lessons it has taught me. I hope people enjoy the campaign, and that some of the lessons it teaches both Gamemasters running it, as well as those of us designing the game, continue to help us shape a better game experience.