Star Wars RPGs: A GM Interview

Elena takes us inside RPG’s with Game Master Bernetta!

When I was introduced to RPGs (or role-playing games), I was initially quite skeptical. I had heard the stories and was all too aware of the toxicity in the gaming world. For the most part, I stayed away from it for most of my life. Then, just several years ago, a work friend mentioned a Star Wars game that was being run at the new gaming store in town by someone he knew. I cannot tell you why I decided to try the game, since I had never even played a D & D game– like, ever. I went and played that game, with players I had never met (again, something I had never done). However, I am most certainly glad that I did, because three hours went by before I knew it, leaving me a bit mournful when the game was over. Did I understand ALL the rules? No. Did I enjoy becoming a character and engaging in that role and telling the story? Absolutely.

Thus began my journey in to the world of RPGs, all thanks to this surprise positive experience that I had. There is a particular reason it was a great game and a great experience. While the player participation was a big part of it, the Game Master (GM) was the main reason that game was so engaging. That particular GM was Bernetta McFerguson, and her knowledge of the world of Star Wars was and has continued to be incredibly impressive. Not only is she a great storyteller but she is quick thinking and has a great proficiency with the mechanics of RPGs.

I count myself lucky with having had this positive experience, which is why I wanted to ask Bernetta some in-depth questions about Star Wars and her involvement with RPGs.

EN: How and when did you first get introduced to Star Wars?

Bernetta: One of my earliest memories is seeing ROTJ in theatres as a very young kid. I loved it. Especially the murder teddy bears and Princess Leia. I was lucky that my mom is a huge science fiction fan and my dad is a fantasy fan, so I got to see a lot of classics in theatres when I was young.

EN: Who is your favorite Star Wars Character?

Bernetta: That’s difficult. I have a top 3 in no order. But the one who had the most influence on my life is Leia. She was all the things I still hope to be: intelligent, strong, brave, and committed to making the universe a better place. Also, Ahsoka and Ventress. Their parallel arcs in The Clone Wars are an interesting exploration of the exploitation and abandonment of women by those in power. 

EN: When did you first start playing RPGs?

Bernetta: I started playing RPGs when I was a teen in the 90’s, and played off and on again through my 20’s. It was difficult to find a group that wasn’t either grotesquely sexist, homophobic, or completely railroading. Usually all of the above. So I gave up on finding a group and made my own. I founded an RPG group where the standard was no sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia. No rape jokes, etc. I ended up with a lot of dudes angry at me when I enforced the rules, but in the end also found a lot of like-minded gamers who wanted safe spaces to game.

EN: How and when did you get in to Star Wars RPGs?

Bernetta: I had played a few of the older editions of Star Wars RPGs, but I didn’t start hosting games until about 8 or 9 years ago. Unfortunately, while I had remained a huge fan, most of my experiences with other Star Wars fans had been full of gatekeeping. However, when I finally had built a small community of like-minded RPG players, I started running the Fantasy Flight Star Wars system.

EN: What made you start DM/GM’ing games? (Dungeon Master/Game Master)

Bernetta: Mainly it was the lack of inclusiveness of many of the games I had been in, but also I was tired of the same formulaic GM style. I wanted more dynamic storytelling where it felt like an adventure the whole time, and less like waiting around to roll dice in the GM’s monologue.

EN: Do you enjoy playing the game more or being the GM?

Bernetta: I definitely like being the GM, especially if I have players who keep me on my toes and enjoy being kept on their toes. Improvisation is one of the most enjoyable aspects of RPGs.

EN: What is your favorite type of character to play in an RPG?

Bernetta: That’s rough, because I love any character I make. I like to take archetypes and twist them 45-90 degrees to one side or another. But thanks to Star Wars, my characters always believe they’re doing the right thing. It all comes down to a certain point of view.

EN: What is your favorite type of player?

Bernetta: I like players who are creative collaborators. They’re excited about the universe we’re in and excited to tell a story as a group in that universe. Also they are in the game for the story and not an unending line of battles and rules-lawyering. 

EN: When you ran the first campaign I played in; can you explain to me why you were vetting players?

Bernetta: One thing I have learned being a GM for so long is that different people enjoy different aspects of role-playing games. Some people enjoy creating a character that stretches the rules to their limits, giving them the ability to play powerful, god-like beings. Some people enjoy stretching the world to its limits, creating characters that shine like neon lights in the middle of an abandoned highway. Some like combat, some like grim dark, etc. When I ran my first pay to play campaign, I knew the style of my players had to be similar to the style of game I wanted to run. I wouldn’t feel right charging folks for a game they weren’t able to love. In that case I was running a Star Warscampaign set in the aftermath of Return of the Jedi. So I looked for people who loved Star Wars for similar reasons to why I love Star Wars. Character growth, a rich world, and the struggle of good versus evil. I wanted to be sure that the story I had planned was something the players would find immersive. And that the players would have similar ideas as to what makes a good group. Things like inclusivity, respect and sharing the spotlight in service of the story of their heroes.

EN: What are your rules for players in your games, and when you are playing in someone else’s game, do you seek out a GM with rules or does the type of game it is help you decide if you will play it?

Bernetta:  I have 2 sets of rules for every campaign: table rules and campaign rules.

Table rules are immutable and apply to every game I ever run.

Table Rules:

1. No discriminatory language or actions, including sexist, homophobic, racist or transphobic slurs, tolerated.

2. Arrive on time and ready to play.

3. Respect other players.

4. No electronic devices at the table that aren’t being used for the game.

Campaign rules vary based on the story I’m telling. Usually they include things about character creation like your character must work well in a group, they must be good at heart, they must fit the world, etc. When I play in another person’s game, they have to have something similar to my table rules and enforce them. I’m too old to put up with bigotry, an unsafe gaming experience, or to waste my time. But I’m completely open to most campaigns.

EN: Is there anything you would say to someone who would like to try an RPG that would be timid about playing?

Bernetta: Try to find a GM who runs inclusive groups and sets boundaries to make you feel safe at the table. If there isn’t one locally, look online somewhere like Roll 20. Neither gaming nor Star Wars are the cis, white, straight boys’ club some dinosaurs try to portray it as. There is a place for you even if you have to strangle a few Hutts to get there. (Metaphorically of course). 

EN: What are your thoughts about the RPG world today as opposed to what is portrayed as the stereotypical gaming world and the players that play them?

Bernetta: I think the future of RPGs is the same as the future of Star Wars and the future of the world. Despite gatekeeping and prejudice, everything is becoming more diverse and inclusive, because we demand it. But we have to keep expecting and creating change and inclusion, because the same old tune of exclusion and reversion will be played until it’s no longer socially acceptable to do so. 

EN: Has the current pandemic changed the way you GM or play?

Bernetta: Like most GMs, my groups have gone online, which presents new opportunities to grow as a GM. There are new ways to keep games exciting and engaging, but new pitfalls as well. For example, I can’t read my players’ facial expressions on Discord, which can make it difficult to gauge engagement, so it’s harder to know when to change the tempo. However, macros make it so much easier to run a session without looking at a book, because all of a player’s abilities and rolls can be done by clicking a button.

Online playing happens to be where the RPGs have all gone at the moment, to keep players and GMs safe during the current pandemic. I will be playing with Bernetta in a continued Star Wars RPG that we are picking up from the very first campaign I played with her, continuing the great story that can only be told through collaborative, creative RPG storytelling.