Using Thrawn in a Campaign

'A long time ago in a galaxy far far away..." Discuss the Star Wars campaign setting, as it relates to pen & paper RPGs, here.
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enderxenocide0
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Using Thrawn in a Campaign

Post by enderxenocide0 » Tue Jan 26, 2016 2:36 pm

I've always wanted to use Thrawn in my campaigns, but never had the right group until now. I'm always leery of using a highly intelligent and tactical character as an opponent, because my players are rarely up to the challenge. That is to say, I can be a little too clever and competitive, which isn't always the best trait for a GM. The goal is typically for the players to be victorious and someone like Thrawn can be a very difficult obstacle to overcome. Luckily, my current players have shown themselves to be resourceful, creative, and innovative in how they deal with bad guys, so I thought Thrawn was a manageable challenge this time. I'm planning on using him in my campaign as an antagonist that may become an ally... if the party plays its cards right.

What about you guys? Have you used Thrawn in any of your campaigns? How did you use him? Was he the main villain? A minor challenge? An ally? Were there any techniques you used to characterize/portray him?

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Re: Using Thrawn in a Campaign

Post by agathokles » Tue Jan 26, 2016 2:58 pm

I never played in the New Republic era, so I don't have first-hand advice/experience to share. My consideration is that Thrawn is definitely a type of "villain" that should mostly work from a distance -- through henchmen, agents, and troops. He will not directly confront the PCs, unless they prove a real threat to his plans.

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Re: Using Thrawn in a Campaign

Post by willpell » Tue Jan 26, 2016 3:01 pm

My theory on how to play highly intelligent villains is to have the players come up with whatever plan (or plans) they're going to pursue, based on the information they have in-game, and then call for an opposed Intelligence roll, secretly rolling for the villain's straight-up INT while the party's smartest member rolls with Aid Another from each of the other players. (You could also invoke NPC advisors on both sides.) If the villain wins or ties the opposed roll, he's anticipated their strategy, and you should sabotage their efforts by having him be properly prepared. If they manage to beat it, they've actually exploited a blind spot and they get away with it this time - but maybe the next time he gets a circumstance bonus to his roll because they've already dealt his pride a blow once, and he's really taking them seriously now.

Basically, it's an in-game legitimate excuse to cheat. As long as the players know there's a chance you'll cheat in their favor, when they actually manage to get the upper hand, this should work.
agathokles wrote:I never played in the New Republic era, so I don't have first-hand advice/experience to share. My consideration is that Thrawn is definitely a type of "villain" that should mostly work from a distance -- through henchmen, agents, and troops. He will not directly confront the PCs, unless they prove a real threat to his plans.
My problem with villains like that has always been that it feels like they don't exist if the players don't meet them. Fortunately, Star Wars's cutting-edge technology gives us the solution - a grainy monochrome hologram of the villain showing up to taunt the characters at no actual risk to himself.

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enderxenocide0
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Re: Using Thrawn in a Campaign

Post by enderxenocide0 » Tue Jan 26, 2016 3:45 pm

agathokles wrote:I never played in the New Republic era, so I don't have first-hand advice/experience to share. My consideration is that Thrawn is definitely a type of "villain" that should mostly work from a distance -- through henchmen, agents, and troops. He will not directly confront the PCs, unless they prove a real threat to his plans.
willpell wrote:My problem with villains like that has always been that it feels like they don't exist if the players don't meet them. Fortunately, Star Wars's cutting-edge technology gives us the solution - a grainy monochrome hologram of the villain showing up to taunt the characters at no actual risk to himself.
I actually do "cutscenes" with my group that they've been enjoying. I show them what's going on with the villains from time to time (without necessarily giving away any big secrets) but intentionally providing them with metagame knowledge. This campaign is experimenting with allowing the players to metagame a bit, with the hopes that they metagame to create a more interesting story. They have surprised me in that they've often used their knowledge of what the bad guys are doing to actually get their party into trouble at dramatically appropriate moments. But I digress. I have introduced Thrawn in a cutsene, so they know he's an antagonist they'll have to deal with. Only one player knows of Thrawn out of game, so he's both excited and scared. The others seem to have picked up from the cutscene that he's an intelligent villain, so hopefully I can plant more seeds as we go. I don't expect him to meet the PCs face-to-face for some time. They have a more direct threat in the form of an Inquisitor and special-ops unit that's after them that will serve as the recurring face of their troubles while Thrawn works a larger plan in the background.
willpell wrote:My theory on how to play highly intelligent villains is to have the players come up with whatever plan (or plans) they're going to pursue, based on the information they have in-game, and then call for an opposed Intelligence roll, secretly rolling for the villain's straight-up INT while the party's smartest member rolls with Aid Another from each of the other players. (You could also invoke NPC advisors on both sides.) If the villain wins or ties the opposed roll, he's anticipated their strategy, and you should sabotage their efforts by having him be properly prepared. If they manage to beat it, they've actually exploited a blind spot and they get away with it this time - but maybe the next time he gets a circumstance bonus to his roll because they've already dealt his pride a blow once, and he's really taking them seriously now.
This is definitely one way to handle it, and it's mechanically pretty elegant. I'm not sure it's something I would do, but I'm a bit torn. I prefer to avoid opposed INT or Knowledge (Tactics) checks when it comes to the BBEG. It feels cheap. Minions or lower-level commanders? Sure, I'd do an opposed check. But for the big guys, I want to challenge my players more than mechanically. I want them to think their actions through and actually plan something. At the same time... not every player is going to be up for that. They might want to play an intelligent character, but not actually be able to back that up in real life. In which case, that opposed roll is perfect for them. However, this is why I've avoided running Thrawn until I had a group that I felt could handle him without resorting to straight mechanics.

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