After the theft of a starship last session we come back from the wipe to the classic Star Wars cutaway of howling engines shot from behind as the False Profit punches it out of the bore-hole of the subterranean casino city, followed by the darting shapes of two Cloakshape fighters in close pursuit. Think of them like the Millennium Falcon's cockpit with wings & guns bolted on, rocketing in chase of the stolen getaway ship. You remember our dramatis personae: Rachel's character, the former Imperial mechanic Para Totool, is in the pilot's seat; Jolit the human replica droid infiltrator played by Joey is next to her, trying to figure out how to be helpful; & Raj's scoundrel Jax Cadderly is the group's face, down in the docking port clutching his wounded shoulder. Burke is running a little late, but I actually have a perfect deus ex machina for that: his character the felinoid Force-sensitive Farghul fringer Theynur Kötturinn runs to the back of the ship to find the transponder, seeking to disable it so they can't be tracked...& runs into a hovering black Imperial torture droid that promptly sticks her with a glistening syringe, dropping her to the ground, unconscious!
The dice mechanics of Fantasy Flight's Star Wars games are like reading the oracle bones...& I am finding that I quite like it. Those garlands & radiation symbols, the "interesting results" rather than the straight-forward explosions & triangles as "successes" or "failures," pushes me to evolve the scene organically, forcing me to stretch as a DM when the dice show unexpected results. As a way of resolving narrative scenes it excels, but it can be a little complex for turn-by-turn resolution. Or maybe that's a result of us being novices with the rules, still trying to figure out how piloting works & wait, there is are d% critical tables hidden in here, etc. The moral of the story is I very much like the custom dice, though the granularity of all the tables & weapon qualities is perhaps a little less abstract than I'd prefer. Hopefully familiarity will make winging it second nature.
The rules certainly suited this scene well. Para banked the stolen yacht into the Girders, a vast field of skeletal durasteel beams from a Kuat Shipyards supercarrier that rained skyscraper-sized hull struts— due to build Star Destroyer keels— down on Ord Mantell after a severe suborbital malfunction decades ago. A maze of twists & unpredictable terrain that Para pilots the party's ship into rather than face the rust storm whipped up to the north, full of sharp flakes of metal in a hurricane of razors. Into the massive forrest of i-beams they fly; one of the Cloakshape fighters peels off in panic...but not before firing off a pair of concussion missiles, setting a mass of pillars into blazing domino hell. Inside the ship, Jolit is on top of the floating, spinning interrogation droid, a vibroknife jabbed into it's shell as Theynur drools on the floor below. Jax helps, blasting the thing as he comes up from the loading bay: Raj is pleasantly surprised to realize that Jax's in-game "show don't tell" has revealed that he is the one who shoots first.
Ducking & weaving through the groaning, shifting beams, Para flies the ship & the Force is with her...& it really is, as the players using the Destiny Pool to boost all of her rolls. The other fighter isn't so skilled, or lucky, & busts into a flat explosion against the side of one of the falling supports. Para tries to keep from being crushed beneath the same piece of superstructure, gunning the engine & hitting a hard skid to get the long body of the False Profit out from below, the engines making that distinctive Lucas-y guttural motorcycle growl...& fails. I have Rachel roll on the Critical table, & she gets "Tailspin": just the nose is clipped, spiderwebbing the cockpit window with cracks & sending the ship into a Top Gun spiral, headed downward & towards the brutal rust storm as Para struggles, unable to reach the controls against the g-forces. Jolit finishes off the imperial droid— tougher than he thought!— & it's repulsors die & drop him to the group just in time for the centripetal force of the spin they are in to throw him to the wall. Theynur, coming to & still groggy, nevertheless manages to acrobatically move along the walls against the motion of the ship, slip down into an access pod, & disable the transponder beacon. Jax, gritting his teeth against the pain & vertigo, crawls his way down into the engineering section...& manages to kill the starboard engines, compensating for the spin & rescuing the ship before it can crash.
Pulling a classic Star Wars vertical 180°, they fly the ship back into the Girders, nestling the luxury spaceyacht into the crook of two where they will be hidden away. A sly move; any pursuers will likely assume they died in the conflagration; that's certainly what the surviving Cloakshape fighter pilot reports back to the Black Sun. Inside, the party gets to paranoia. Jolit, all on his lonesome, gets his hands in the guts of the ITO interrogation droid & convinces it to spit out a holorecording: the green-skinned (though how can you tell, on the blue holoprojection?) Faleen Concilliator Kek boarding the False Profit with his entourage of the Contessa, Vice Moff & the arms dealer Crosh. "They left this droid here to make direct contact with the Imperator; make sure it stays on the ship. I don't need it spying on our facilities." & with that it winks off, deleted from the buffer. Jax, searching for a bottle of Corellian brandy, rather easily finds 4-DOX's memory crystal, hidden in a Mon Calamari duo-directional water fountain on the luxurious upper deck, where there is also a long rectangular pool floating in the middle of the room, flanked by two rows of distinguished white holographic busts of a slowly shifting cast historical figures. The others give the rest of the sumptuously appointed ship a thorough ransacking just to be sure, finding some secret compartments but no other hidden foes. After some chatter, they contact Eris Berserk, who arranged this job for the Droid Uprising, & arrange the pick-up, past the blue horizon.
The cerulean sun of Ord Mantell's binary system creates an ionizing field, worse in the atmosphere, that shorts out droids, shields, & electronics. It also gives me an excuse to use my new smartlights for blue mood lightning, a trick that I first used in Out of the Abyss but that I first brainstormed for End of Empire. Flying the ship into blue daylight, they take cover by going down. Kuat Drive Yards had massive mining complex here— that's what all these titanic bore holes are from, as well as the Girders— & they take the False Profit in, idling slowly between rusty AT-CargoTs, six-legged walkers that once traveled single-file like mammoth Indiana Jones mine carts into the striped-out guts of the planet. Eris contacts them to tell the players the coordinates to meet her at: she's going to have them hide the ship down here & pick them up by landspeeder. Oh, & she's got a priority signal for Para: should she patch it through?
"This is Totool."
"Para, am I really the first to get through to you? That's fantastic! It's Ulma! Ulma Verbost, your old Ensign from the Elrood Sector! Listen, you've got to let me be the one who gets your re-enlistment bonus, I can really use the credits! Oh it's so fantastic, I can't wait for you to get back here: did you know the Imperator has your name double flagged on the roster as high value? I mean, they are frankly desperate for any officers, so you could pretty much write yourself a blank check anyhow, but you know how Pryl, sorry, the Imperator has always been about keeping her crew close to her, & besides that I guess your research on that planet you were obsessed with caught her eye as well. I'm so excited I got through to you, boss! Did you know your old middy would make Commander some day? Do you know I report directly to one of the Royal Guards? I've seen his face! Heck, they'll probably let you start a whole dewback program for those stupid monsters you love so much! The ISB say it's 5000 credits now, then ano..."
Click, as the players close the commlink in horror.
The tint of suspicion from earlier, at this point, erupts into full on Tarantino film paranoia. Para's backstory as an errant former Imperial is no secret, but she served with the Imperator? Eris, in a manta-shaped landspeeder with two big cannons & one big rear engine as the "tail," pulls up outside & the comm channel starts chirping again. Jolit & Jax get out of the ship— Jax knows Eris best & Eris, with her sleek black cyborg arm counterpointing his overjacked cyborg arm, just seems to think Jolit is adorable— & Theynur & Para cluster on the bridge, peeking through the crumpled transparent plasteel at the proceedings below. They've already been on the comm with Eris interrogating her about why she patched the call through ("because a call came in to Para's TIE fighter & knew all her code signs, that's why.") & how the Empire knew they would be there ("Why, because they were spying on the Black Sun?") & it ended with Eris calling them amateurs & refusing to talk further unless face-to-face.
Eris Berserk is one of the blue-skinned nearhuman Chiss. None of the party know any others, but while they aren't exactly common they aren't exactly unheard of, either. There are a few colonies of them here & there, like the Pantorans from the moon of Orto Plutonia, & a few famous examples, like the art-loving Grand Admiral Thrawn. They are renown for their cool composure...a trait Eris only occasionally shares. She can be downright coldblooded when the occasion calls for it, but otherwise she vacillates from fond detachment to frustrated rage. She's older, with shorn head except for a white forelock, & she's wearing her heavy black laminate breastplate with flashing lights in the chest & a voluminous if slightly tattered gown from a Chandrilan designer, leaning on her vibro-blaster. Jax & Jolit & her go around in circles for a bit, but eventually they all calm down, Para & Theynur come down, & the crew all head off in Eris' hammerhead landspeeder.
Bust out the death sticks & dive into the pirate booty! Into the creepy Savrip Catacombs they go. Decorated by the endangered Savrip species— you know what they are, they are the holopiece in Dejarik that defeats the Gundark— it is filled with the skulls & bones & droid pieces brought by centuries of elder Savrips in death musth. Now that cooler heads have prevailed, Eris breaks out her humidor & distributes the celebratory thick wraps of spice to the players & let's them comb through her trove of miscellaneous gear. What do you do with all that stormtrooper armor, swoop gang leathers, Gammorean vibroaxes & smuggler's pistols you've collected over your years of privateering? Chuck 'em in the junk room & forget about 'em till an occasion just such as this one! Telling the PCs to mind their Encumbrance ratings, a system that I think is plenty simple in this game, they get to pick out a blaster or vibro weapon of some kind & simple armor of their choice. It's the first costume change of the film & I tell them to think of it as a change to get a default look & visual cues settled.
Jolit puts together a complete set of laminate armor, other than his already well armored battledroid arm, Theynur pulls on a re-breather equipped set of environmental survival gear; Jolit picks up a vibrosword, Theynur a vibroaxe, swing them around experimentally, shrug, & swap. Jax puts on some piecemeal armor, a chestplate, & juices up to a heavy blaster. Rachel asks if there's some kind of mechanic overalls where the tools provide armor, & funnily enough I was just looking up the mechanic's utility suit! Besides that, they also manage to reactive an old astroprobe droid. Arakyd Industries was a droid manufacturer on Ord Mantell who was unable to recapture the success of their probe & scout droids, but never stopped trying, mostly by recycling other droid concepts. 4-DOX is a RA-series protocol droid, a bug-headed knock-off of the popular 3P0 model intended for non-human markets, for instance, & AK-88— Theynur dubs her "Katee"— is a similar attempt to capitalize on Industrial Automaton's popular but feisty astromech droids.
Star Wars movies are not shy about showing you scenes from the villain's point of view, & I wanted to keep that sense of cinematic logic so I reached into my bag of New School gaming tricks & decided that I wanted my PCs to get the chance to play deuteragonists from the other point of view. 4-DOX's bottled memories offer the perfect intro device: Eris plugs the holocrystal into the projecter table she has in a makeshift briefing room, & then I hand out NPC stats to the Players. They are Concilliator Kek's entourage, the fallen nobles, compromised Imperials & war profiteers who trail in his wake, come to bend the knee for the Imperator of the Imperial Praetorians, now that a fleet of Star Destroyers & three Super Star Destroyers have shown up in orbit. "I feel like we're playing the president's stupid, corrupt cabinet," someone says at one point, so mission accomplished. Concilliator Kek, breath mask hissing, orange topknot trailing, dressed in white wampa fur & glittering golden starbird scales, leads them into a long room on board The Eye, protected by a half dozen Crimson Guards & a copy of the Death Star throne. The secondary characters they play are:
- Crosh (Arms Dealer): A warlord who controls the old Old Sienar Fleet Systems orbital shipyards. Mostly fallen to decay, Crosh has scavenged the facility to keep it operational, cannibalizing the failing factories to cobble together some kind of operational assembly line. They now churn out mostly traditional TIEs, sold to corporate guilds, local systems, & criminal enterprises that want to bulk order starfighters. Not the most graceful of leaders, what Crosh lacks in subtlety he makes up for in decisiveness & low-cunning. Joey improved a reference to the arms dealer Crosh in the first session, & I knew then that I was definitely going to give him the NPC role that he'd just spun into existence, since I knew the holo-scene was coming up. He took a gruff tone & a pounding fist to the table.
Vice Moff Pandar Solt (Corrupt Bureaucrat): Vice Moff Solt is absolutely terrible at his job; that's why he has it. Never good enough to be quickly promoted through the ranks, never ambitious enough to have a position worthy of being thrust from by rivals or Force-choked by Lord Vader, Solt's studious mediocrity & lack of imagination presented an opportunity for Concilliator Kek, as Solt's imperial betters abandoned the proverbial ship. He sponsored Pandar's rise to command, making sure to keep a long holotrail of incriminating evidence & blackmail material along the way, though the pompous Vice Moff is utterly a creature of the Black Sun, & doesn't require much pushing. Played by Burke with a genteel obliviousness of ego.
Contessa Wilva Misaani (Arrogant Heir): The young, spoiled heir of Ord Mantell technically owns the whole planet. Probably a few others? But Concilliator Kek controls Wilva's funds entirely. All of her credits are funneled through an anonymous banking clan account, to which only he has access, & Kek is not shy about making sure the Contessa knows that she is on a short leash. She may want to govern, but she has never been taught the skills needed to do so. She is a figurehead, trained to spend her allowance fashionably, & she knows it. The Contessa lives the life of an epicurean, hedonistically flirting & fencing her way petulantly across the scarred face of Ord Mantell. Raj relished the chance to play an opportunistic Paris Hilton.
Commander Ulma Verbost (Naval Officer): Once upon a time Ulma Verbost was an ensign serving under Imperator Pryl, back when the Imperator was just a captain...but Verbost's mentor as a midshipman & direct report was Lieutenant Para Totool. When Para went AWOL, Ulma stayed, & in the power vacuum left after the Battle of Endor, her experience became a valuable commodity in the Empire's leftovers...& other than success, the only thing Pryl has always rewarded is loyalty, whether captain, admiral & Imperator. Now Ulma Verbost is a Commander, & her superior officer is a Royal freaking Guard. She's in charge of the TIE interceptors & other elite starcraft aboard the Super Star Destroyer The Eye. Rachel summoned her up with an Obligation check, & imbued her with a prideful stoicism.
To solve the Contessa's little droid problem, she will grant all sentients "the right of indenture," replacing droid workers with slave labour of another kind. The Praetorians also occupy the Spice Mines of Kessel, giving her control over the sole source of glitterstim in the galaxy...which the Black Sun can distribute. In fact, if Kek will swear allegiance to the Empire & stabilize the Imperial credit market through money laundering, she will back him with force as Underlord of all the Black Sun. After conferring amongst themselves, the anti-party of course agrees to her terms, & the Imperator says she will begin sending down ISB agents for the re-enlistment & conscription drive immediately. She sends an ITO droid from the intelligence bureau with them as a rely so that she & Kek can be in direct contact, & dismisses them, adding one more thing: find Eris Berserk!
The scene ends with Kek telling Crosh to leave the torture droid on the spaceyacht, not wanting to take it into his lair: the scene Jolit first triggered, & with that they eject from the flashback & back into the pirate den. What to do, what to do! "Why do they have my name in their mouths?" wonders Eris, & while Jax tries to flatter her about her fame as a privateer, it falls short. Para doesn't exactly have a lot of chill for things as they stand, either, & so they all concoct a rather harebrained scheme. Based on some intel from Navigator Marid, the Mon Calamari running the Rebellion out here on this sector of the Outer Rim, one of the small, Vigil-class Star Destroyers is caught in a stormfront in the Bright Jewel nebula, one of the gravitic cyclones condensing into a nascent star. On the edges of this stellar whirlpool circles a seemingly abandoned Imperial capital ship. In order to find out why the Praetorians are searching for Eris, & what exactly is going on, they concoct a scheme to break in, raid the data banks &...steal a Star Destroyer.