An interstellar empire controls the galaxy with fear, propaganda, and alienation. Only constant aggression, weapons development, and violence keep it propped up, but even with its brittle foundations it can cause untold death and destruction before it could ever collapse on its own. However, heroes both plucky and jaded are building a community beyond the empire’s reach and fighting for the liberation of the galaxy. We’re telling a galactic story of rebellion, relationships, and war among the stars before going rogue and putting it all on the line to pass the torch of hope onwards!
This is a different one for us, in terms of reading and writing a review. going rogue 2e from Jess Levine (recently seen around here declaring “I Have The High Ground”) is what actually landed on our desk, but while it teeters on the edge of being standalone it’s actually an expansion for galactic 2e from Riley Rethal (who has popped up on our radar a couple of times). We’re not often in the business of reviewing an expansion for a game we haven’t reviewed in its own right – even if we’d played it, how would you the reader know what we were going on about? Well, as it so happens, a copy of galactic was in the same digital envelope as our review copy of going rogue, so we’ve got a 2-for-1 review deal! Strap on a blaster, call up your trusty droid, and let’s save the galaxy – and meet our fate.
galactic (the lower case is a stylistic choice) is based on Avery Alder’s Belonging Outside Belonging system, used for her Dream Askew and Benjamin Rosenbaum’s Dream Apart as well as many other games like Dreampunk, Marvelous, and Wanderhome. Here’s the brief on galactic’s spin on the system. For player characters you have character roles, and for everything else you have setting elements (here referred to as pillars) that serve as umbrellas for all of the NPCs and organizations involved. By default such a game is GMless, with each player having a character (role) and the pillars being traded between players as needed (although galactic also suggests alternatives ranging from a GM’d game with one person having all the pillars to everyone but one player playing a pillar and the last person playing the sole hero of the tale).
Characters and pillars both function off of completely narrative moves and tokens. Vulnerable moves let you gain a token, generally by opening yourself up to some trouble – or diving straight into it. Lateral moves let you give a token to another character, typically by connecting with or helping the character in question. Strong moves let you spend a token to do something particularly impressive, letting your character grab the spotlight for a bit (perhaps unsurprisingly, this is the only move type unavailable to pillars).
What does galactic do with this? Save the galaxy, of course.
The Ace is a skilled pilot who can take the lead in a moment of confusion or despair (strong), ask the right person for help or guidance (lateral), or say “we’ve got company” (vulnerable). The Nova is attuned to the space between, what you might call a force, and can say “there is something here that we are missing” (strong), ask “why are you pursuing the goal that you are?” (lateral), and lose control of themself or the space between and put someone they care about in danger (vulnerable). The Defector used to work for the bad guy, and can quickly pick up a new skill (strong), find an ally in an unlikely place (lateral), and reveal a harmful belief they have not yet unlearned (vulnerable). The Diplomat has a position of power or influence in the galaxy, and could de-escalate conflict between parties with a common goal (strong), give someone a new responsibility (lateral), and get captured (vulnerable). The Scoundrel is from the underbelly of the galaxy, and can reveal that they stole something earlier (strong), call in a favor from someone they know (lateral), and start a fight they can’t win (vulnerable). The Mechanic is the rebellion’s fixer, and can jury-ring a temporary solution under duress (strong), ask “will you help me with this?” (lateral), and uncover an unexpected power or secret in something they’re working on (vulnerable).
By no means are these the only moves available to these character roles, but hopefully they’re enough to give you the right idea. Characters also consist of looks, wardrobe styles, relationships, and questions they have for the players to their right and left during character creation and game setup. Each also has two unique categories of traits. For instance the Diplomat chooses two beliefs such as ‘reduction of harm always comes first’ or ‘violence is necessary for creating a peaceful future’, as well as two things they engender in others such as respect, righteous anger, or focus. By comparison the Scoundrel chooses two that they’ve lost and two that they have from among a list that includes such options as a trusty ship they stole, a sense of belonging, and a high-grade blaster, as well as two jobs they tend to do such as bounty hunting or acting as a getaway ship.
Then, of course, there are the Pillars. Each pillar has two desires, chosen from a list during setup, along with their own lateral and vulnerable moves. The space between could desire balance or intense bonds and uncontainable emotions, invoke awe (vulnerable), and reveal an old secret or a new truth (lateral). The mandate which rules over and oppresses the galaxy may desire untold destruction and restoration of an old order, foreshadow a larger threat (vulnerable), and put someone in immediate danger (lateral). The liberation which has launched the revolution against the mandate could be seeking retaliatory violence and imagination of a better world, could complicate someone’s vision of freedom (vulnerable), or might introduce dangerous plans and ask others to participate (lateral). Scum & villainy (ya know, criminals) might be after the jackpot or an escape from this livelihood, can introduce or invite a betrayal (vulnerable), and get someone involved in a dangerous scheme (lateral).
Pillars can act as abstract entities and faceless characters, but can also serve as umbrellas for story-important and named NPCs. Such NPCs have access to all the moves of their associated pillar (and either gain for or give away tokens from that pillar instead of themselves), but are also assigned two moves taken from descriptive Traits. There are 36 traits in all, each under an umbrella of their own (social, intellectual, watchful, authoritative, ideological, and personal), each offering three moves to choose from. The connected can point someone towards who or what they’re looking for (lateral). The wise gives genuine consideration to something unexpected (vulnerable). The anxious often give into pressure from someone who wants something from them (lateral). The dramatic often can’t help but react in an over-the-top manner (vulnerable). The maverick could present someone with an enticing option they hadn’t considered (lateral).The ethereal, rather than being present, may watch from somewhere else entirely (vulnerable). NPCs might receive their chosen traits and associated moves as a result of what the players already know of them (if they’ve made some appearances already as a minor NPC or are part of a role’s relationships), or they can be determined randomly with some d6 rolls.
I mean, come on, it’s belonging outside belonging Star Wars. It’s Star Wars to such an obvious degree that even the game’s list of inspirational material puts Star Wars last with an offhand “of course.” “Star Wars with the serial numbers filed off” would be a technically accurate statement that nevertheless completely misses what the game mechanics and the writing bring to the table. By their very nature belonging outside belonging games are about conversations, give and take, coming up with the scenes and stories together and as you go. galactic lets you tell your own stories of rebellion across the stars together and by consensus, what the original games refer to as ‘idle dreaming’ with a focus on “curiosity, asking questions, following tangents, brainstorming together, [and] talking about the setting you’re building and the things that you find interesting, confusing, or important.” You have an immense amount of freedom here, guided by an equally immense number of questions being asked across the roles and pillars and several pages of places with aesthetic elements and rumors to further spark the imagination
It’s also… I want to say a little more grounded, a little more real, than Star Wars itself. The focus on relationships between characters make it feel more personal. It’s also not as simple or straightforward. The mandate pillar comes with a tip to show the humanity of individuals within its system even while they’re being subsumed, the liberation has a move for complicating someone’s view of freedom, and the scum & villainy has one for complicating someone’s worldview. There’s every chance that the fight to free this galaxy won’t end as neatly as a dark sorcerer getting tossed down a reactor shaft or blown apart by his own lightning.
While belonging outside belonging has popped up on CHG a number of times, I personally don’t have an abundance of experience with it. I got a little taste at Yazeba’s Bed and Breakfast and that’s about it. I bring that up because I think galactic would be an excellent gateway into the system. By the time I got to page 10, the end of the ‘this is what you do with this game and how you play it” and the start of the character roles and such, I had zero confusion and a fair bit of confidence that I could hit the ground running with this or any other belonging outside belonging game, provided I took a little extra time to acquaint myself with any unique twists.
Speaking of which…
going rogue is the Rogue One to galactic’s original trilogy, serving as the more cynical expansion. Sure, the liberation is still fighting to free the galaxy from the mandate and follow the will of the space between, but the cast of characters we have to work with are mostly loners before play starts. They’re more likely to work at cross purposes, and even the liberation itself isn’t as unified.
The Spy is a highly committed but ruthless operative who can vanish without anyone noticing (strong), persuade a hesitant individual that an action is worth the consequences (lateral), and cause collateral damage to someone who didn’t have it coming (vulnerable). The Leveraged is a nonbeliever compelled by circumstance who can defy an order to succeed against long odds (strong), remind someone of a perspective they’ve forgotten (lateral), and scoff at someone’s commitment to their principles (vulnerable). The Knight Errant once served a cause and now searches for a new one, and in doing so can recommit to a long-lost principle (strong), ask a player or pillar “what can your character share that would make me feel sympathy?” (lateral), and tell someone they remind them of a person you used to be or care about (vulnerable).
The Convert recently joined the liberation and truly believes it can make a difference – they might find confidence when those around you are discouraged (strong), remind someone of why the principles of the liberation matter (lateral), or say “I thought we were better than that” (vulnerable)! The Loyal is a stalwart friend, bonded to another character, who can smash every barrier stopping you from reuniting with someone (strong), ask “why do you care about my opinion of you?” (lateral), and put themselves in danger so that others don’t have to (vulnerable).
So: Cassian, Jyn, Chirrut/Baze, Bodhi, and K2. No coincidence that rogue 2e released the day after Andor started streaming.
There are also three new pillars. The first is a peculiar one, as the Bond is the literal bond and trust between the Loyal character and their chosen bonded character. Like any other Pillar the Bond has desires, although in this case you are choosing two you already have, one you don’t, and one you wish you had from a list (intimacy, shared goals, honesty, mutual understanding, balance, etc.). It also has its own moves that any player can use, such as introducing a threat to a bonded character (vulnerable) and separating a bonded character from the others (lateral). However, the Bond also has an entire suite of character moves that only the two bonded characters can use, such as revealing that you know how to find another bonded character (strong), asking another player “how does it feel that I trust my bond more than you?” (lateral), and saying “I thought I could count on you” (vulnerable).
This is why the Loyal is not recommended for a first-time game, as it adds a whole new narrative angle on top of everything else, and if the Loyal doesn’t see use then the Bond doesn’t make an appearance either.
The next two pillars are different factions of the liberation itself, and they don’t particularly play nice with one another. The Parliament is the democratic institution of the liberation, with everything that entails. It could value guaranteed victories, strength in numbers, peace through compromise, lengthy deliberation, or a dream that never dies. It might summon one or more people before a council (vulnerable), or offer help and solidarity, but only with time (lateral). The Intelligence is the liberation’s clandestine network of spies and burdened people doing whatever it takes to rid the galaxy of the mandate. It could be after a chance to turn the tide of the war, leverage over liberation members, the heads of mandate officials, reduced oversight, or to bear the heaviest burdens so others don’t have to. Its agents might take someone aside for a secret meeting (vulnerable), or offer help and solidarity, but only if a task is completed (lateral).
going rogue also adds another six traits that you can throw into the mix. The cautious might encourage deliberation about a decision (vulnerable). The desperate could betray someone out of necessity (lateral). You might hear the independent say “I’ll do it myself” (vulnerable). It won’t be much of a surprise when the petulant narcs on someone (lateral). To their likely detriment, the trusting can choose to ignore a warning signing (vulnerable). Finally (perhaps terminally), the vengeful can arrive at the worst time for someone (lateral).
The final design flourish that going rogue adds to the galactic framework is the concept of a group fate. A fate is “a series of events which the space between has destined your character to reach”. When it’s treated as a group fate, multiple characters are going to experience the events together. It’s definitely a mechanic of dramatic irony; while all of the players involved will know their characters’ destiny, the characters themselves will not. In order for characters to choose a fate (or, rather, for a fate to choose them) they need to activate a trigger. That could happen deliberately, or it may happen semi-retroactively as the group realizes that they’ve activated the trigger as they’ve told their story. Once triggered, every character who shares that fate (doing so is not mandatory, and characters may choose to join it later on if that fits them better) gain access to fate moves, none of which interacts with or costs tokens to use. Rather, they must be performed in a specific order, and each one advances a clock that draws the characters closer to their fate. The last move that completes the clock grants every character who shares the fate a final special move that, when used, will see them meet their destiny.
Just in case you forgot we were dealing with Rogue One: A Belonging Outside Belonging Story, the group fate provided as an example is Sacrifice. It’s triggered by asking characters along on an impossible mission. Its moves introduce threats, provide a chance to escape that can be ignored or taken (leaving those characters to live on to tell the tale), put the objective in sight but on the other side of a grave obstacle, and give characters a chance to sacrifice themselves and move the party closer to their final goal.
Using a group fate does quite a lot for a game of going rogue. It tells you what kind of story you’re in and gives you a narrative point to build towards, which can be quite helpful given the otherwise very freeform nature of belonging outside belonging games. It also provides structure over the course of the story with the fate moves and the clock, so that the final fate isn’t the only guidepost you have to work with. I’d say that while you could certainly still manage a limited campaign of going rogue, a fate helps it lean towards a one shot. I think I’d like to have seen more than one fate provided as an example – Sacrifice is certainly thematically appropriate given… everything else we have going on here, obviously, but I think it’s incorrect to assume that’s the only kind of story you could tell even with going rogue on its own. Granted, there’s already been a galactic game jam (which is where going rogue actually got its 1e start), so it’s quite likely we haven’t seen the last of the game and can look forward to some more fates down the road.
Overall, going rogue is a more narratively fraught game than its galactic base. There’s tension simmering under everything from each character role’s internal drives (the strings being pulled against the leveraged versus their organic desire, the spy’s mission versus the ideals of the liberation), the relationships between the character roles, the parliament against the intelligence, and the characters’ goals and desires versus the players’ knowledge of their final fate. Nobody, character or player, will really be resting on their laurels during the stories this game helps you tell. That will, however, certainly help it land an emotionally heavy and narratively compelling punch.
In what I’m starting to think is Levine’s calling card, going rogue is also chock full of advice and tips for running the game, quite a bit of which is probably good stuff for any belonging outside belonging game, including galactic. Not that Rethal left us hanging, that would be an outright lie given the quality of galactic’s own writing and explanations, but Levine’s style of tips, ‘for examples’, and designer notes make it feel much less like I’m reading how-to-play-this-game advice and more like someone is explaining the game to me at a live Games on Demand pickup game.
going rogue also bills itself as an anti-fascist RPG, but it’s a little but more active than, say, simply adding the Olivia Hill Rule from iHunt (although that’s still a perfectly good rule, and let me take the opportunity to tell any fascists who somehow managed to find their way here to go pound sand up their exhaust ports). Levine talks on the final page of going rogue about the philosophy behind the game, including how watering down the term ‘anti-fascist’ can be a problem and why she put it on the cover anyway. Obviously anything Star Wars flavored is going to have a strong taste of fighting space-nazis, but more importantly going rogue is informed by Levine’s experience as an anti-fascist organizer. It mirrors the tension between security and safety and transparency and democracy, the resulting social conflicts, the balance between trying to be effective and avoiding becoming what you fight. It manages to avoid giving into the potential for despair, in part with the developments that make it a 2e – originally only the spy, leveraged, and knight errant existed, and the addition of the convert helped bring hope among the hopeless.
going rogue ends with this: “I hope that when you play this game, you are not discouraged by the weight of its realities, but are instead reminded of the possibilities present in its dreams.” It sends me back to a part from galactic’s own safety section: “you can let yourself brood in darkness for a bit if it feels right, but… hope is never completely lost – there’s always a spark of rebellion if you know where to find it.” If those two bits don’t make it clear that Rethal and Levine understood the assignment and nailed it, I’m not sure what will. Except maybe everything else they put into these two works.
You can get a copy of galactic 2e for $15, and you can start going rogue (2e) for $8. There are also community copies, although as of this writing the pool for both has dried up; galactic will generate a new one for every copy purchased and for every extra $12 spent, while going rogue will do so if you buy it for $13 or more instead of $8. Those who generate a going rogue community copy will also get a bunch of material related to the game’s development, which could prove quite interesting for those interested in game design.
Whether you’re the heroes who get the medals, or the ones who get a squadron named for you after you perish giving the liberation hope, galactic and going rogue will help you build a community outside of the mandate’s grasp and tell the story of rebellion among the stars that you want to tell.
Thanks to Jess Levine for sending us review materials!