Rebel Insurgency and Resistance Movements
"I'm not a terrorist. I'm a patriot. And resistance is not terrorism." ―Saw GerreraStar Wars drew a great deal of inspiration from the “heroic patriots” who resisted great and powerful enemies, such as the American Revolutionaries vs the British Empire, the French Resistance against Nazi Germany (I have found no references to equally interesting Eastern European resistance movements), or the Viet Cong resisting the “Imperial” Western powers (America in particular). However, the Rebellion of Star Wars doesn’t really depict an actual resistance movement, but rather hard-pressed soldiers of a power fighting a more powerful army. We see well-supplied starfighters, vast warships run professionally, soldiers fighting in formation, and grand and elegant award ceremonies, led a princess!
In reality, insurgencies rely not on soldiers, but on irregulars. They fill their ranks with old veterans, women, even children; anyone who can or will fight. They lack funding, so they must resort to homemade weaponry, whatever citizen-legal weaponry they already had, or hand-me-downs from a stronger power (or even stolen from their enemy). To make ends meet, they often need to resort to criminality, such as bank robberies or kidnapping rackets. Because they fight a superior opponent while they lack the funds, training or firepower to meet them head on, they must resort to the underhanded tactics of asymmetrical warfare, such as hit-and-run tactics, sabotage, assassination and terrorism. In short, they act like nothing in the Rebellion except the rebels as depicted in Rogue One.
By their very nature, this sort of organization represents a challenge, because there is no one rebel resistance movement. While any organization has variation throughout its ranks (not every Imperial Security Bureau is identical, of course), they still have common protocols, ranks, tactics and equipment. With a rebel insurgency, I lump everyone from minutemen-type patriots laying down their lives for their planet to extremist terrorists willing to blow up anyone who disagrees with them to criminal organizations with pretensions at governmental legitimacy. Not only can one resistance movement be completely differnet from another , several of these might operate at the same time on the same planet! The French Resistance was notoriously fractured, with some cells even coming to blows over resources! While nearly anyone, from a band of pirates to mutinous soldiers to secretive assassins could be an insurgency, I want to focus on a very specific subset: the unskilled, untrained and underfunded “citizen soldier” that tend to be the first thing we think of when we discuss such movements. For me, when people wax poetic about “rebellion,” as they do about Star Wars, they have visions of Red Dawn and the Patriot more than Inglorious Basterds or Anthropoid. They mean these sorts of rebels.
I’ve mentioned it before, but I want to mention it again: I take no moral position as I write these organizations. I think my write-up of the Empire tended towards the “villainous,” but I tried to leave room for a heroic interpretation. I want the reverse for the rebellion, and especially resistance movements like these. While I will happily accept that Rebellion of Star Wars clearly drew inspiration from the American Revolution, I cannot help but draw parallels with ISIS, the IRA or FARC, because all represent the same sort of approach to warfare. This is not to say that I believe all are the same, but that all have a lesson to offer us about how these sorts of soldiers fight. Moreover, a heroic Imperial game needs bad guys to fight against, and perhaps some resistance cells really are terrorists! This is especially important for organizations as fractured and divided as resistance cells can be, as even in a Rebel-focused game, a rogue movement might prove to be an interesting and thought-provoking opponent. If you smell moral relativism in this piece, it’s not because I’m trying to “bust the myth” of Rebel heroism or that I’m an Imperial partisan (I mean, I totally am, but that’s not why I’m doing this). Rather it’s to provide the GM with the tools he needs and, often, organizations in an Action game tend to be complex and full of hypocrisy. I want to give you, dear reader, the room to explore whatever it is you might wish to explore.
InsurgenciesOnce the common people of the Galaxy faced the tyranny of the Emperor and the dickering delay tactics of the Houses of the Federation, some realized they have to stand up for themselves. These everyday people raise their fist in defiance of their own oppression. They don’t wait to be rescued; they rescue themselves!
Alas, the common man lacks combat training or access to military equipment. So, he or she must fight asymmetric warfare. A freedom fighter might harry the enemy as a sniper or a poor man’s commando, fighting behind enemy lines. Just as often, though, they act as saboteurs, using their intimate knowledge of the Empire to undermine it directly. They hack media data-nets to plaster anti-imperial propaganda, or they break into factories to destroy the robotic machinery. They remind their fellow citizens that they needn’t suffer, that they can fight, rather than endure slavery.
Once you’ve infected a man, woman or alien with the ideals of freedom, though, they become a stubborn lot. Resistance movements, by their very nature, defy authority, and thus struggle to organize. No single resistance movement dominates the rebellion of the Galaxy, as much as the Alliance would like to pretend otherwise. Instead, a vast patchwork of rebel cells each fight for their own grievance, united by only one thing: mutual hatred of the Empire. Thus, the resistance movements here must be described in broad, generic detail. Actual, concrete examples of a resistance movement must necessarily differ!
A rebel movement could be anything from a mutinous unit of former imperial soldiers, to roving criminal gangs with anti-imperial tendencies to pro-Communion religious fanatics. The resistance movements discussed here are explicitly those of the “everyman,” the workaday civilian and the social misfit who band together on the edges of society and civilization to fight the good fight. Other examples may well follow similar lines, but typically have slightly different objectives, equipment and tactics.
Resistance movements come in a bewildering variety of philosophies, ideologies and approaches. A few examples might include:
rebel for the sake of rebellion. They
tend to be the most visible of the resistance movements, as they
love to humiliate the authorities, foment chaos, incite dramatic
riots and set the world on fire. They might offer lip service to an
ideology, but at their heart, they tend to believe that chaos is
better than order, and thus their presence threatens any regime,
whether Imperial or Alliance, and so the Alliance fully intends to
wipe their hands of them once they stop being useful.
Freedom Fighters: For
some, injustice and oppression itself must be wiped from the world.
They care little about what comes after, and often have an
ultimately conservative or reactionary ideology, in that the only
end game they see is “to restore what
They tend to be the most easy going of rebel movements, but they
also tend to be the least well-equipped, emotionally or
strategically, to handle the rigors of a long conflict.
called patriots, fundamentalists
and die-hards, ideologues believe fanatically
in an ideal and are willing to do anything to fulfill that ideal.
Their unwillingness to deviate from their strict code endears
them to those who believe in that ideal, alienates them from those
who oppose it, and makes them predictable.
the Empire calls
all insurgencies “terrorists,” some actually deserve the label.
are willing to whatever it takes to win. They aren’t constrained
by an anarchist’s childishness or a freedom fighter’s
principles. If mass murder, terror and atrocity will win the day,
then that’s what the terrorist will use.
Most other resistance movements
decry the Terrorists extreme acts, but Terrorists scoff that other
don’t have what it takes to win this war. Terrorists without a
core ideology act out of self-interest. They push less for major
social change, and more to put themselves in a position of power.
might harm their image, but terrorists use the stick of terror with
the carrot of ambition to draw in recruits and to finance their
Agendas of InsurgenciesA resistance movement exists to fight the Empire (or whatever power it rebels against). But before it can do this, it needs weapons and manpower, and to get those, it needs money. Furthermore, if the Empire uncovered its activity, they would crush the resistance movement, therefore they must execute all of their plans as discretely as possible. Finally, no resistance movement has sufficient firepower to make a serious difference on its own, but if it works in conjunction with better armed, better equipped allies, their effect can be devastating, and to do this, the resistance movement must organize its attacks with other (sometimes rival!) cells or with the greater rebel Alliance.
Money frequently proves a major sticking point for any resistance movement. Some movements rely on the generosity of their community or wealthy donors, but this tends to dry up quickly. Instead, resistance cells often have to take more proactive measures to secure capital. Some raid the Empire itself, hitting imperial payrolls or robbing imperial banks. Some of the more professional resistance movements offer their temporary services as mercenaries for other factions. Finally, some turn to outright racketeering, kidnapping rings or support of illegal activities like smuggling, drug-trade, slavery or arms dealing to make ends meet. Other resistance cells often accuse these sorts of resistance movements of being little more than criminals who wrap themselves in the flag of patriotic resistance, but every resistance movement who has felt a financial pinch has been tempted to take a quick step over that line “for the greater good.”
When it comes to actually hitting the Empire, resistance cells generally focus on propaganda, sabotage and violence. A “resistance cell” might be nothing more than underground agitators, quietly protesting the Empire anyway they can. They might whisper to others, or find ways to counter propaganda feeds by revealing events censored by the media, or they might plaster their city with cheap posters. Those more inclined to action might damage the Empire’s logistics. They might disrupt factory lines, spike transport systems, blow-up data-net stations, or damage naval shipyards. But, eventually, if any resistance movement means business, it must take human lives. The most devoted resistance cells ambush and kill soldiers, assassinate officials and may even engage in terrorism against civilians that they see as “collaborators.”
Insurgency movements tend to have their own unique agendas and concerns. These serve as the ultimate purpose for the organization and most only fight the Empire because it represents the greatest obstacles to the things the movement wants. Examples might include the restoration of the Oracular philosophy or the faith of True Communion as the “one true governing principle,” or a fair redistribution of wealth, or independence for an oppressed alien race, or the total abolition of slavery (possibly including the “enslavement” of robots!) or the restoration of the “rule and order” of the previous golden age of the Federation. Often, they use the local popular support for these agendas to drive recruitment and donations, and they further integrate themselves into the community by acting as a vigilante force that deals with the problems that the Empire won’t.
A single insurgency movement is nothing before the might of the Empire. Those factions able to set aside their differences long enough to see the advantages of working together need some means of coordinating their actions with the firepower of the larger Alliance. This means maintaining lines of communication. Communication is complicated by the secretive, cell-like structure of most cells, but also by differing ideologies and approaches. A terroristic, criminal cell on the same planet as an idealistic and noble cell will almost certainly come to blows, each believing the other undermines the overall rebellion.
As the war wears on, food and power cells both grow scarce. Fortunately, the resistance cell has learned of a mysterious imperial shipment, one that is “off the books” and surely full of lucrative loot, if the resistance cell can locate them, ambush them and take their supplies. The resistance cell must do these three things in order and, once they’ve done that, figure out what to do with their ill-gotten gains!
A major imperial VIP is scheduled to arrive on the planet within the next week, and the resistance cells has received his itinerary. This represents an unparalleled chance to strike a blow for the rebellion! The cell is divided, though, on what to do with him. Some want to approach him and try to convert (or blackmail!) him to the cause, while others want to use the chance to embarrass him and the Empire, while, of course, the most bloodthirsty want to wait until he gives his grand speech, and then kill him. Nothing, they say, sends a message like blood.
The resistance cell’s exploits have reached the ears of those who run the Rebel Alliance, and they seek to ally with the resistance cell. Through middle men, they have arranged a meeting in a well-populated part of the local starport. The resistance cell needs to ensure that it isn’t a trap by Imperial Security, and then figure out a way to get in, negotiate a proper means of communication with the rebel agent, and then get out again without being detected.
A rival cell has really
gone off the deep-end. They’ve begun murdering civilians and
engaging in blatant crimes. The Galaxy in the hands of men like
this would be worse
than the Galaxy in the hands of the Emperor! The resistance cell
needs to convince the rebellion to cut off all financial and
logistical support to this rival cell, and then move against them
or, of course, snitch on them to the Empire and let the Empire kill
Someone snitched! The
Empire draws a noose around the resistance cell! The cell must
break down all operations, pick up and move. That requires them to
burn contacts, ditch old equipment and find new matériel at their
new base of operations. And, of course, they need to figure out who
told, and silence him,
one way or another.
Resistance Movements as oppositionThe people who make up resistance cells make up their lack of military training with enthusiasm, but this is a poor substitute. Most resistance cells are BAD -0. Some survive long enough to learn enough espionage tricks to become real thorns in the side of the Empire, but even these lack the equipment and high level training to rise above BAD -2.
Insurgency Physical SecurityInsurgents lack the resources to really put together truly secure sites, and even if they could, the Empire has more than enough firepower to destroy them. An insurgent base’s best defense is secrecy. If the Empire cannot find it, they cannot destroy it. The second key ingredient to a good insurgent base is mobility. If the base has been uncovered, the insurgents need to be able to scramble, leave and quickly build a new facility once they’re safe. All the mobility in the world won’t help you if you’re not aware of a sudden imperial raid. Thus, insurgents needs some form of security system, usually improvised! Finally, sometimes insurgents do need to fight when their bases come under attack, sometimes to give their allies the chance to escape, and sometimes to fend off minor attacks (such as attacks from local law enforcement, criminals or rival insurgencies)
Most urban insurgents prefer to hide in plain sight. They’ll build installations in a cell-member’s house, if he has space, or find some abandoned facility on the edge of a colony or deep in the bowels of some forgotten part of the colony’s infrastructure, or possibly lurking in some unused part of a sympathizer’s establishment, such as hiding out in the back of a night-club, or an unused floor of a corporate skyscraper. The poorest rely on off-the-shelf security measures like locked doors and look-outs who keep an eye on the installation (usually “playing children,” or shop-keepers across the street who can tap their wrist-comms and alert the base if necessary). The better funded insurgencies might build secret bases, disguising doors as walls, festooning the place with secret passageways and cunning security systems. This latter works best when the insurgency is an open secret among society, as the insurgents can then openly ask contractors to help them construct their base.
Rural insurgents tend to build far away from urban areas, favoring “shatter zones”, terrain that one cannot easily access via a spaceship landing or a hovercar, such as mountains, islands, swamps and jungles. There, the insurgents build fortification, both in the form of scattered “ambush” bunkers that surround a larger “fortress” where a commander or the insurgent leader makes camp. Security here tends to come in the form of patrols of roving, paramilitary insurgents, or in trip-wire traps that either set off plasma charges, or alert the wrist-communicator of all insurgents.
In both cases, insurgents always maintain close access to vehicles. An urban base will house a garage full of vehicles that always stay in a state of half-loaded readiness, and secret escape routes. Rural bases have large gates that can be opened quickly, or launchpads with dropships ready to take-off and transport insurgents elsewhere. Some rural insurgent bases will be little more than a temporary camp filled with vehicles and quick-fab fortifications. The insurgents will pick up and move week to week or day to day, to prevent their destruction from orbital fire.
All insurgent bases come with self-destruct features. They rig their equipment, hidey-holes and base exits with explosives. If they do get raided, once they have the all-clear, they’ll blow everything, destroying any evidence that the Empire might have used against them.
Insurgency Organizational SecurityMost insurgencies protect themselves by forming clandestine cell structures. Each group of 5-8 insurgents work together as a squad or a cell, and answer to a single cell leader. This cell leader, and only the cell leader communicates with a higher-level officer, who only knows the identities of his cell-leaders and his direct team-members. This means that if the Empire uncovers the identity of a cell member, the worst he can do is betray the rest of his cell. Only the cell leader can betray someone higher up in the organization.
Insurgent cells compartmentalize more than just their organization structure, but also their information. Each cell knows what it needs to do in a particular operation and nothing else. A cell leader gets his orders from his officer, and transmits those to the cell. To get a total overview of what an insurgency movement intends, one must capture high-level officers, and low-level insurgents usually have no idea who those people are, much less their location.
How cautiously insurgencies operate varies from group to group. The weakest end don’t bother to use a clandestine cell structure at all, but behave more like a club or an army. They meet at some central, agreed-upon location and swap stories, relying on standard alliance procedures of introductions and the security of their buildings to keep them safe. Such insurgencies rarely last long against the heat of a determined Imperial special agent.
Other movements eschew centralization entirely. The “leader” creates a training bible and then distributes it to key allies. These agents diffuse themselves throughout the populace and recruit and train cell-members and then perform basic acts of terrorism, sabotage or propaganda without any orders from on high. These sorts of cells tend to frustrate the Empire the most, as the Empire keeps hunting for a larger organization when none exists. Some insurgencies like to use these as a “fifth column,” sowing the knowledge for rebellion into the Empire’s disgruntled populace, and once chaos has erupted, they move in with a paramilitary wing that is organized! Anarchists love to use this trick, as do agents working for the Houses of the Old Federation.
Serving Resistance Movements
6: General or “the Leader”
4: Agent or Team Leader or Captain
3: Officer or Lieutenant
2: Cell Leader or Sergeant
1: Fighter or Corporal
0: Volunteer or Sympathizer
Resistance movements lack the formal ranks of the military or intelligence organizations (though they will often ape those ranks) and have a form of Criminal Rank called “Rebel Rank”, worth 5 points per level. Despite their variety, most organized resistance movement that survives Imperial investigation has some form of cell structure, and cells tend to be consistent in form.
At the lowest level are “Volunteers,” civilians who have joined the resistance movement, but who have not yet fought for it. While many civilians are sympathetic, in broad terms, with the cause of a rebel cell, they might not know any details of actual rebel activity. A “Volunteer” does. They may be the kid sister or the best friend of a rebel fighter, or a wannabe who’s looking for his chance to really join the rebellion. These typically answer to a fighter within the cell, who give them small tasks they can do, and who will, in turn, act to help them if they find themselves in danger. These tend to blur the line between those who belong and those who merely sympathize.
Fighters are those who well and truly belong in a resistance cell. They dedicate themselves wholly to the cause, acting as front-line soldiers for the battles and attending meetings with a cell of 5-8 other members. Their cell leader will encourage them to cultivate contacts in the civilian world, “Volunteers,” who can be inducted more completely later, after they have proven themselves.
Each cell has a leader, to whom all members of the cell answers. Some resistance organizations get no larger than a single cell, but most belong to a larger organization, represented by an officer. The cell leader, and no on else in the cell, knows who this officer is, and thus only he knows what the cell orders are.
Resistance officers represent trained partisan leaders. They generally recruit cell leaders and help them organize their cells, or they handle other logistical or bureaucratic concerns (including quartermasters who ensure cells receive supplies, combat instructors who might teach cell members the basics of combat if necessary, and so on). For those who command cells, they maintain strict discipline to stay in touch with their cell leaders only, to protect their identity
A team leader commands a team of resistance officers. This gives him total operational control over an entire area; he can decide where supplies go, what each cell’s mission is (which he then gives to his officers); and so on. If an officer or cell leader dies, all cells have a “drop point” they can check to get additional information about their officer or their new cell leader, and the team leader usually decides what to do in such cases. Some resistance movements get no larger than this, but for those that have cells across an entire planet (or even a few planets!), Rank 4 can also represent free roaming rebel agents. Not every insurgency uses someone like this, as they represent a risk to the movement, but they act as elite, expert trouble shooter who can inspect resistance teams, send additional resources, train new recruits or provide his own high-level expertise to solve problems. They represent serious targets of opportunity for the Empire, but they tend to be deeply devoted and highly resourceful, making them very difficult men to track down.
At the highest levels, agents and team leaders answer to Commanders, who run and coordinate the rebellion at the behest of its ultimate leader. If a resistance movement needs to be mobilized into a rag-tag army, commanders march his new soldiers into battle. Resistance movements never gain the legitimacy or scope necessary for more than 6 ranks
Some insurgencies act more like irregular military organizations. Such insurgencies tend not to break down into cell structures like those described above, but rather classical military lines, having multiple rank 0 fighters in squads, three to five of which make up a platoon, and three to five of which make up a company, which is often lead by a Rank 5 “Commander.” Paramilitary organizations like this tend to exist far outside of the reach of the Empire, usually far from urban city centers.
Yet other organizations will blur the lines between these two. Resistance cells lurk in the city, acting as intelligence, recruiting assets, sabotaging infrastructure, and distracting the Empire while the remote, paramilitary arm takes advantage of their momentary weakness to strike in force.
Favors of Resistance MovementsEntry Clearance (Pulling Rank p 13): If a resistance movement has a secret base, it obviously refuses entry from just anyone. Convincing the resistance to let you visit, or to let you bring in a guest, could require Pulling Rank.
Bribe or Hush Money (Pulling Rank p 14): Rebel movements tend to be Poor, and so have 1/5th as much money as most organizations would. Nonetheless, if a resistance movement needs to scrape up money to pay off a crook, they can usually find the funds somewhere.
Cover-Up (Pulling Rank p 14): Resistance movements know how to hide, and that means they know how to hide bodies. They usually have the assets necessary to break into wherever evidence is held and spirit it away. They also have the propaganda skills to imply to everyone that the Empire is trumping up charges against someone, which means the populace can be convinced that a guilty man is, in fact, innocent.
False ID (Pulling Rank p 14): Resistance cells regularly need to ferry questionable people in and out of planets, and so excel at putting together whatever credentials someone needs. How long those credentials last is another matter.
Insertion/Extraction (Pulling Rank p 14): Resistance agents can bring you whatever you need (provided it isn’t expensive), or can even transport you via their more secretive routes, to get you to where you need to go!
Safe House (Pulling Rank 15): Every resistance movement worth discussing has secret strongholds, fall-back points and a sprinkling of safe-houses full of fake credentials, a little bit of cash and some stashed weapons, in case their agents need them.
Consultation and Specialists (Pulling Rank 15): The sort of people who make up an insurgency varies substantially from group to group. All Insurgencies can offer contacts with Skill 15-18 of Area Knowledge and Streetwise; depending on the organization, some can offer contacts with skill 15-18 in a few of Armoury, Chemistry, Computer Hacking, Electrician, Engineering (Combat), First Aid, Intelligence Analysis, Mechanic, Survival (Any), Tactics, Tracking or Urban Survival.
Cash (Pulling Rank 16): Rebel movements do have some money, if not much. They offer 1/5th of the typical values listed here (thus, for rank 0, they can afford $50)
Gear (Pulling Rank 16): Resistance movements also typically have blasters, explosives and hover cars, they just won’t be the best you’ve ever seen. Their equipment tends to be a rag-tag collection of stolen vehicles or patchwork weapons, but they’ll offer them up, if you ask.
Introduction (Pulling Rank 18): A resistance movement is exceptionally picky about who meets who. Pulling Rank might allow you to meet someone higher up, or even to get in touch with other resistance movements or the rebellion itself!
Muscle (Pulling Rank 19): Resistance movements can usually drum up some local strong-arms, often unarmed or armed with nothing heavier than blaster pistols, who can nonetheless help intimidate some locals.
The Cavalry (Pulling Rank 19): Some of the more military resistance movements have reasonably well-trained fighters at their disposal. After Pulling Rank, you can call upon a squad of 5 blaster-armed veteran fighters
Propaganda: Given sufficient time (say, a week ahead of time, but it's ultimately up to the GM), a local insurgency can spread a rumor campaign or illicit posters. Treat this as Compliments of the Boss: A successful request applies +1, a critical success applies +2, a failure applies -1 and a critical failure applies -2. This applies to appropriate influence rolls and to Communion reactions for path-based miracles for the appropriate path. This effect is temporary: usually no more than one adventure (usually lasting no longer than a week: for more permanent effects, buy some manner of Reputation), and only to a single world. The player needs to define the nature of the propaganda up front and it only applies as appropriate (for example, if you spread the idea that you are the reincarnation of a world's savior, you cannot use it to impress off-worlders or the non-religious, or when you behave "out of character").
Character ConsiderationsRequirements: Characters serving a Resistance Movement must have a minimum of Wealth (Poor) [-15], Rebel Rank 0  and Secret (Rebel, Imprisonment) [-20]. Characters with Rebel Rank 1+ must have and Duty (12 or less or 15 or less, Extremely Hazardous) [-15 to -20].
An entire resistance movement as your enemy is worth -20 points, while having them as a Patron is worth 15 points.