|Star Wars: End of Empire: Eclipse Day!
||[Feb. 20th, 2018|11:17 am]
A lavish party scene is a classic load-bearing trope in my campaigns. Masquerade balls, royal weddings, holiday rituals: I think a big fête is a great set piece. I was telling Terra that I think it stretches all the way back to my junior high days of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle: After the Bomb: Mutants Down Under. I ran a session set at a county fair in a post-apocalyptic Australia populated by mutant animals, full of betting on giant racing snails, feats of anthropomorphic strength & outlandish critters as fried food, & it was a big success. On the ride home after this game, Raj & I were discussing our structural techniques as storytellers; I'm bending more cinematic than usual for that "Star Wars" feel but my core methodology is still to construct potential vignettes & Schrödinger outlines & let the chips fall where they may. A big social scene lends itself naturally to that style; you can build "clumps" of people either directly through drawing rooms & architecture, or organically by parlor game or activity, & that provides easy scene shifts if the party of characters fragments to pursue their own interests, as well as making a large group of NPCs more accessible. It was long past time to have one in my End of Empire game.
As usual, I'm getting ahead of myself. We start the evening with a little basic book-keeping, like spending Experience points & talking about the rules. I don't think I've been using the Disadvantage d6s enough, & I don't think the players have been using the Advantage d6s enough, so I encourage them to chisel a little. If you've got the tools in your belt, if your droid sidekick can lend a hydrospanner, ask for a bonus die! I also talk about Obligations a bit. While I feel completely free to weave them into the story as natural consequences of the game or just to kick the plot into high gear, I do still use the random system. That is, there's a d% chance one will come up each session, per the amount they took at character creation, as standard per the Edge of the Empire rules. Besides that, Obligations are resolvable by story action. If Han had abandoned Luke at Yavin & mollified Jabba with Alderaanian blood credits, the bountyhunters would have stopped coming. They are also modifiable; a sketchy Imperial can become an Alliance recruit pretty easily by enlisting & just changing the name on the Obligation. If you really want to, you can take on more, as well, if there are "big ticket" items otherwise out of reach: join the Empire as a pilot & I'll give your character a TIE interceptor, sure!
The last session of the campaign ended with the players making contact with the madcap Baron Monstro over comms in the Corellian Sector, & racing him in his VT-49 Decimator across the Rings of Drall. The screen wipes from the ships approaching the off-white planetoid down to them crossing the atmosphere: the palace moon of Corellia Prime is covered in repulsor-lifted buildings, mostly spherical or teardrop-shaped, with maze-like patterns on the ground far beneath & game preserves teaming with nerfs, the stampeding herd below just little dots below when seen from this height. They are preyed upon by velkers, dangerous skymantas the size of small starfighters, & approaching the hovering globe arcology of Sub-Palace Besh, a flock of roosting rawwks— feathered & wolf-faced batbirds— add a touch of gothic flare to the moon. The many, many levels of the spherical castle are open to the air, & the one the Baron's wedge-winged White Plume warship pulls up to is littered with piles of swoop bikes, a shining J-type diplomatic chromeship, a CEC luxury sail barge, an exquisitely trained velker with palaquin on it's back & an assortment of space oddities.
Getting out, the party sees that the Baron has waiting for him a vintage Super Tactical Droid butler, Oh-One, a relic of the droid armies of the Separatists in brass, with polished filagree & patina'd depths. The droid holds on a magna-leash a snarling, prowling Nexu, one of the two-tailed, four-eyed feline monsters from the Geonosis arena in Attack of the Clones, its shoulders as high as a human tall: Malice. All in gleaming gold, with a fluttering blue & red cape, they finally lay eyes on the Baron for the first time as he exits his ship. His armor is clearly customized to fit & strength-enhancing, & with the face plate open he's got an Idris Elba-esque twinkle in his eye. That Corellian charm! The droid releases the beast, which bounds up to slobber mightily all over Baron Monstro...but as the players come down their own staryacht's gangplank, it's ears flatten & it suddenly spins & charges them. Para Totool the ex-Imperial mechanic that Rachel plays, has quite a great deal of experience with ferocious creatures, & Raj's character the human scoundrel Jax Cadderly has got a cargo hold's worth of chill. Pouncing, the ferocious Nexu...ends up entwined with the two of them, purring gutturally. With a power-assisted moon-leap of his own, Monstro lands next to all of them, laughing, pleased, impressed that no one lost a hand...until he pauses, stunned for a moment, noticing the stoic replicant droid Jolit, played by Joey. Burke had to miss out on this session, & so Theynur Kötturinn's X-wing docks separately from the False Profit, & the Farghul spice junkie remains off-camera for the majority of this scene. She lingers in the background with the Trandoshan Sshushath the Zode, a long ago veteran of this world, while the other droids, 4-DOX & AK-88, stay back on the ship.
The Baron leads the group through to a pristine white feasthall; a vast, round table set with transparent Bespin porcelain, ringed by doors that speedily hiss open & clang shut as they pass through. The walls are three arches, & above the table is a three-dimensional version of an orbital clock in stark CGI outlines that suggest the Death Star's approach on the Rebel's base...only in this hologram, the big object is the one projecting the umbra of an imminent eclipse. I remain cagey about the planetary mechanics of the palace-moon; I'm teasing about the logistics of Endor but really the situation is more like Yavin IV, with a smattering of technobabble about Centerpoint Station mixed in, but Jolit fails his Astrogation check so I don't bother expounding. Space opera: pew pew! One thing we do figure out: a "zode" seems to be a unit of time, or at least some astrological measure. As the group settles in, there are a rainbow of liquids in shot glasses presented to them. Gamorean opera plays in the background, & to represent it I throw on Godspeed You! Black Emperor's F♯ A♯ ∞. It's a little bit abstract, a little bit experimental, a little bit Vogon poetry. Baron Monstro begins with a toast to the fallen Wookiee hero, Wuukar, executed by the Imperial remnant, telling the story of how Sshushath & Wuukar planned a final, no weapons, no holds barred, till death or submission grudge match to settle their career long rivalry. The Baron promised them a cage battle, & he delivered, but he never promised them the cage would be empty: Monstro put a gundark in there with them, too! Rather than quarrel, the Wookiee & the Trandoshan teamed up & went King Kong & Godzilla on the four-armed xenoterror.
The Baron lives to play both sides against the other, according to his own arbitrary sense of fun & personal honor; Eris has warned them as much & he's quite frank about it. He's worked with the Republic & he's worked with the Empire; in fact, he's old enough, thanks to longevity drugs & life-extension treatments, to have directly profited from both the Clone Wars & the Civil War, though that's not something anyone openly talks about much these days, besides him.
What he wants to know, however, is just who the hell Jolit is. Who is his father? Ever been to Kamino, wink wink, nudge nudge? When Jolit reveals that he's a synthetic humanoid droid, not a cyborg, the Baron laughs & laughs. Oh, ah ha! He see's how it is: it is not accidental that Jolit has slowly found his way to Eris since crawling out of the junkyard. The Force? Destiny? No; her brother Cadecus Dee is Jolit's Maker. There must be something in the back of the droid's databanks, whether just a ghost in the machine or some more sinister backdoor in his programing, that led him to her.
When Jolit mentions that he thinks he has been to The Maw, that infamous cluster of black holes, or at least he's dreamed that he's been, Monstro says that makes a certain kind of sense: Cadecus was working with the Bothans to break into the Maw Installation. How does he know that? & does Monstro know where they can find Dee now? Well, the answer to both those two questions is kind of the same: the last time the Baron saw Cadecus Dee is when he captured him & turned him over to the Empire for the bounty. Before anyone gets a chance to get heated, the Baron admits that it was all part of the plan to have him infiltrate the secret Imperial R&D facility, since the droids weren't working. (Jolit: "wait, droids?") Monstro had been working with the SpyNet ever since realizing that Tol Daala, then just the base's spymaster, was kidnapping “his” engineers & scientists: industrial espionage!
How did Cadecus end up working with the Bothan SpyNet? It was Monstro who helped rescue Cadecus Dee & Eris Berserk from their stolen Imperial shuttle in the first place, decades ago, along with his Bothan partner, Bri Gwin, now a Strategos in the New Republic. The Chiss Ascendency treats undesirables as chattel, purging them in genocides or selling them off to people like corrupt Old Republic politicians or nihilistic CIS droids— that's why there are whole populations of exiles in diaspora, like the Pantorans. Eris & Cadecus were part of one of these round-ups, a batch sold as Near-Human lab rats, tested on by heartless robots & mad scientists. Yes, that's where she got her robotic arm, & the painful, blinking box in her chest plugged into all her organs. Eventually, Cadecus became a trustee; he was removed from the program & worked as a nurse to the cybernetists & as their pilot when successful discoveries were duplicated & transported to the archives at the Maw laboratories. He rescued Eris when he left, & didn't have to: there was no reason for it other than he could. That's why she'll always owe him everything. Dee, seeking revenge, ultimately chose to go with Gwin to the Rebellion but Eris chose to go with Monstro, to freedom. She was his apprentice for many years, until she won her name as a Champion & chose to strike out on her own.
As the giant orrery at the center of the table ticks over to the very edge of the penumbra, the magnetic auroras between the two planets begin to flicker in the heavens outside & above. Now, it's a charming patterning of dancing lights, a glittering, opalescent edge; a shimmering sky pattern. The tock of the stellar clock is the signal for the Baron to switch from confessional to big top, as he announces the beginning of the Eclipse Day Celebrations. He's been mentioning a race from time to time all evening, the "main event" in which some kind of maze will be involved...& clearly, now he's emceeing the introduction of the competitors. The Baron puts on that Michael Buffer inflection, the airlocks hiss open & he introduces the teams as they march in.
Representing the Noble Families of Corellia: House Bel Iblis!, as a pair of spoiled nobles in capes & pseudo-uniforms come in with a set of fancy black & white droids designed in the smooth neo-classical motiff of Bjork's "All is Full of Love."This is my chance to do a bit of a Canto Bight sequence, & so you'll forgive me if I've over-stuffed it with visual references. The cotton candy aliens of the CEC-sponsored gang are wearing Captain Eo pleathers, Lisa Franked in zippers & hologram panels. Rather than Lando's shabby look in Return of the Jedi; the Tantel rangers of Numbia don't mess around: dark skinned humans in earth tones & armor made from natural materials, dotted & slashed with splashes of vibrant color. Wakanda forever! The Corellian nobles have the clearest lineage, with Han's bulky belt & blood-striped pants paired with Lando's shiny shoes & flowing cape. There's some OG BSG in there, too, from the braids on their capes to their big blonde hair. Rao Kast is a black & red Tron: Legacy Mandalorian, but underneath that iconic helm he's a weasel of a man with a soul patch, like a mid-level bureaucrat who is obsessed with the gym. Rachel calls out the swoop gangers as "Tarantino's Star Wars," & I laugh sadly because that's totally what I was going for with them, & also, fuck that guy.
Representing the Bitwoded of Nubia: Negus Zo!, a foursome of Tantel rangers, faces obscured by the curling tusks of their masks. A unified look, but each hunter is personalized with trophies: a feather cape, carapace pauldrons, etc.
Representing the Corellian Engineering Corporation of Duros: the Sisters Sugar!, a pale albino Duro & a pastel pink Duro in synthetic motorcycle leathers, accompanied by a scantily clad pair of beautiful, muscular blue Twi'lek adonises.
& representing the Swoop Gangs of Centerpoint Station: Rao Kast! The Mandalorian assassin's armor is SR-71 black, limned with glowing crimson, & he is accompanied by his drug-huffing lieutenant, Hopper Rose, & the 80s cartoon gangsters Jax calls "Tee-boys," since they ape the Mandalorian helm with T-shaped tattoos on their faces. That's not good, him being here: Rao Kast is a lightsaber-wielding Black Sun Vigo who somehow got it in his head that Jax cheated him in a game of cards, & he has wanted violent payback ever since. Hopper & the Mando-wannabes just ran the scoundrel off Ord Mantell, & it's not great seeing them here, now, with their boss.
...but Baron Monstro is not finished. Representing the home team, the freebooters & privateers: Eris Berserk!. By which, he means of course, the player characters; while some of the team leaders are the racers themselves, mostly they are just coaches or sponsors; Negus Zo isn't even here. The group takes the news gracefully; coming here was a roll of the dice in the first place, & a dangerous chase is about par for what they were expecting based on Eris' descriptions of the Baron.
With that, the walls of the three archways start evaporating, revealing them to be separate, themed sub-chambers where the party is already under way! The Baron's honor guard, marching out, is a trio of cetaceanoid Herglics; part Krogan, part Scarran, all orcan. (Turk, Gogo & Lulu, or rather eQe-turk, eQe-gogo & eQe-lulu, since we are at a fancy occasion; though their pod name "eQe" is a bit of a high frequency squeak, so on second thought perhaps no need to be quite so dignified.) If they are the bouncers, their boss, the cooler, is the Baron's master-of-arms, an old spacetrooper named Zed, carrying a massive riot shield. Para recognizes the armor; it was a prototype batch, cortosis-laced, designed for the 501st for space assault but never actually deployed; just developed as proof of concept. Whoever is inside talks just like an old clone trooper, when the players get a chance to talk to him; Baron Monstro just seems to like collecting antique odds & ends.
The racers split off into the separate room, enjoying their last supper before the race. Para drifts off after the aliens into the Ryllian Spice Den & the Nubian rangers— Naod, Giger, Mako, Oko— go to the living dejarik game run by the Circus Horrificus in the third arch; they even have a Savrip! Unexpectedly, Jax marches right up to Rao Kast, backed up by Jolit. Jax Cadderly is through running, but he does decide to keep the acrid wit to a low sneer; no point in giving the assassin the pretext for a duel. Jolit is tempted to push for just that— he has some kind of deep desire to get red lightsabers shoved through him— though that's a joke about Joey's apparent deathwish, from the Rubicon to now, not a clue about his memory wipe. Instead, the replicant asks Hopper Rose for a hit of the blue drug the crook is always inhaling & well, if you haven't guessed that he's Frank Booth from Blue Velvet crossed with Saw Gerrera yet, as he takes a hit of aerosol Booster Blue from his spice rig & starts spewing vulgarities, it's pretty clear & awful. They hate these guys; it's great. They should. They are the worst, & Jax Cadderly has had enough; if they are going to try to kill him during this race, then he is going to try to kill them right back.
The mechanic, Para, followed the Duros & Twi'leks into the room done up in the style of a spice parlor. There, the floor is made of octagonal slabs, raising & lowering to create chairs, tables, raised podiums...whatever the situation demands. Protruding from an opaque white lace covering that stretches the length & breadth of the room is a crowned humanoid figure. Just the silhouette, in veiled blanc relief, asking the former Imperial officer whether she'd like her fortune read now, or after she had a chance to speak with the other contestants. "After," says Para, & drifts over to the CEC team. Their outlook is professional, if bleak; indentured servants, if they put on a good show their "favours" will be recouped by the corporation...if they win though, & get a wish, then all bets are off. Literally. Playing it cool, Para figures out that she won't get a chance to chopshop the speeder bikes they will apparently be racing on before hand, but they are the old Imperial standard 74-Z, so Para knows a few tricks to hotwire them on the fly. The Duros, Shuga & Suga, want to know if the players are planning on racing "two & two" or "all four," so Para figures out that they can double up...& that the aliens appear to be a double celebrity couple, paired with the hunky Tek & Pala. Sensing the conversation has come to an end, Para relents & has her future told, by hands projecting from the shrouded flood like poltergeists from the television. It's a sabacc deck, which between suits of flasks, sabers, staves & coins, face cards like commander, mistress, master & ace & about half the major arcana as trumps makes a perfect little tarot deck. I flipped a lot of potential questions, but Para went in with a tabula rasa...which were the first kind of readings I did, starting with a blank slate for each of the player characters. For her, the first card is the Evil One. The Past. Where you are From. What you are. Then, crossing it, Endurance. The Present. Where you are At. Who you are. & last, transfixing those: the Star. The Future. Where you are Going. What you Want.
Jolit, seeing that Eris & Sshushath have Jax's back in staring down the mobsters from the Black Sun, wanders into the Mynock Fancier's Society, following the Corellian boys, Geri & Freki Bel Iblis...or more correctly, their fresh off the assembly line droids. Within, exquisitely bred mynocks, with none of the muddy colours of the vermin in a space slug's stomach but rather a mother of pearl biodiversity of plumage, engage in a feeding frenzy, an eating contest to see whose pet will breach the hypermatter core first. Scoring a handful of Successes & Advantages on his social check, Joli gets P-X2, Peetew, separate from the humans & Peebee, P-X2b. "Hello! Thank you for agreeing to troubleshoot this prototype model!" Peetew is the epitome of the naive wunderkid; it has data banks full of racing protocols, predictive course modeling, optimal route pathing, adaptive puzzle solving...but not much about the hard knock realities of life. The "bee" in "P-X2b" stands for "beta patch," as it turns out; the patch Peetwo didn't get. Jolit convinces it to jack in to him, the test-model droid data spiking his arm like K2-SO does in Rogue One, which the other players find creepier than intended...but was certainly meant to be a little unsettling. He learns that there are two sections of the race, the Solar Labyrinth & the Old Labyrinth, before the Crater Colosseum, & while you race on repulsor bikes for the first half, it's some kind of terror-bird for the second part. By this point, the two Corellian aristocrats notice Jolit messing with P-X2, & he is chased out of the Society, followed by shouts of "hey, get away from our droid!" & the angry quivering shrieks of pedigree mynocks.
Meeting up back in the banquet hall, the gang goes over what they've learned, & start hatching plans; nobody is all that great a driver, but that's alright. They intend to focus on lateral thinking— what might be called cheating, in a less chaotic setting, but well within the scope of Monstro's sense of "fair play"— & being entertaining for the Baron. Jax, at least, intends to take out of few Black Sun stooges before any of them can do the same to him. The group reassures each other that they can always jump between the speeder bikes midway through to swap gunslingers & gearheads, or so they convince themselves. Music to my ears. Some days it is just great to be a Dungeon Master: you just sit back & let the players come up with the gonzo ideas. Which is when Rachel mentions that Para will be packing a thermal detonator. "Wait, what!?" Well, she has a Talent that gives her a chance of jury-rigging a plot device, & she figures she'll just siphon off fuel cells from her TIE interceptor & whip up something nasty. Which is a heck of a piece of punctuation to put on the session; with Burke out & at a natural breakpoint, we call it there for the night.