It has been a while, but the last episode of my Star Wars campaign left off on an easy note to pick up on. The chase begins! Baron Monstro has press-ganged them into his "Eclipse Day" celebration, some kind of Most Dangerous Race situation to sate the erratic noble's deadly appetites, with the promise of giving the players the intel that they seek on the STARKILLER weapon that they learned about when they sliced into the Rubicon's databanks. Survivors of the convoluted course get "favours," but the winners get a "wish." I do a little mechanical catching up with the players while waiting the crew to fully trickle in: we're getting better at the d6 advantage & obstacle dice, but I'm going to try to start working Strain into things more, because that's something I've been glossing over up till now. We're still in the "learning the new system" mode but the fundamentals of the system, what I call "reading the bones," where successes & failures & pros & cons cancel out & add up are intuitive enough that the nuts & bolts aren't too crucial. I also gave Raj a quick reminder about the Contessa's offer, not to nudge him but just to remind him that it was on the table, since it's been a while since we had the chance to play. The trains were screwed up— what else is new— but once everyone arrived, it was off to the races!
In the tradition of the "tandem win" rules of the swoop dueling league during the days of the Old Republic, racers can go in pairs or ride solo. Jolit the HRD "human replica droid" agent of the Droid Uprising partners with his erstwhile mechanic, Para Totool, the ex-Imperial engineer from "Special Projects." So that takes care of Joey & Rachel; the other team is the Corellian gunslinger Jax Cadderly, played by Raj & the felinoid Force-using Farghul farseeker Theynur Kötturinn played by Burke. Which is where we begin, back from break: a shot on Theynur, spice-addled & muddling her way into wakefulness before it's time to be at the starting line. She's in the sabacc-as-tarot den, last to wake up long after the party has ended, with one card, the Queen— sometimes more elaborately called the Queen of Air & Darkness— laid on the table in front of her. It's a hand-made deck, & highly political; the various cards are painted to match prominent contemporary figures, famous or infamous, & here the Queen is Imperator Pryl. Jax & Jolit, meanwhile, get the lowdown on the course ahead, both intel downloaded from the Corellian team's droids & tips from the Trandoshan ex-gladiator who owes Jax a lifedebt, Sshushath the Zode. Power surges & butcherbug webs, oh my! What's Para up to? Oh, you know. Nothing terrifying. Just decanting a single molecule of coaxium from her TIE fighter, using the pent up energy from the twin engines to make an ion pulse detonator. ...& rolling a critical failure...& a critical success. Do you cut the green cable or blue cable? Blue, no, gre— actually, let's just yank 'em all out! ...&...still alive! In the tradition of the films she stencils a little Aurebesh message: "This Bomb Knows Teräs Käsi."
The Solar Labyrinth
From above, on the surface of the palace-moon of Corellia Prime, the Solar Labyrinth looks like a vast, black, complicated crop circle. The planetary titan whose shadow the moon now begins to fall under is the entire sky: opalescent, coruscating with auroras as the satellite & gas giant's powerful magnetospheres tangle, shimmer, & dance. On the ground, the walls of the Outer Labyrinth are vast, solar panel-tinted octagonal columns ranging in diameter from a meter to a city block, ascending & descending, shuffling monoliths shifting like tumblers in a lock, some rising or falling from the height of skyscrapers. A moving maze of power collectors, crackling with hair-raising energy & the smell of ozone. Sudden flashes of lightning pass between them, as slowly gliding octahedronal droids, reminiscent of the geothermal station bots on Mustafar, dart about on their errands. The speeder bikes are classics, just like the ones we see on Endor...well, a little tweaked, since those are the forest model & you know the toy companies are going to demand a specialized racing version. It's the fins— these run on the ambient energy waves of this city-sized power station. After the baron's speech, they'll have a few moments on the cycles waiting for the start, & Para is already scoping out what adjustments & recalibrations she's going to make.
“Friends & enemies, admirers & subjects..." begins Baron Monstro, encased in his golden power armor on a floating platform, surrounded by guests in their own hoverbox seats, in a set-up not dissimilar to the old Senate. The other teams have representatives next to him: at last the Nubian ranger's sponsor, Negus Zo, a humungous Michael Clarke Duncan's Kingpin-like figure, makes an appearance, & there is an older member of the Corellian Bel Ibis family there as well, a caped man with sweet muttonchops. Some pale, human beancounter in thick, multi-lens glasses represents CEC interests in the race, & then of course Eris Berserk, the blue Chiss privateer the players have been working with who is technically their "coach" for the race, & Rao Kast, the black armored Mandalorian gangster whose goons are in the race mostly to try to kill Jax Cadderly. Gesturing all about him with the monomaniacal self-obsession that seems to be his hallmark, the baron continues: "After last year’s debacle...where no one was willing to transport any Rathtars to me, to my eternal disappointment...Rao Kast—& a whole tribe of Rodian trappers, rest in peace Neetakka Clan— did me the favour of procuring one of the galaxy’s deadliest megapredators to add that certain hint of primal motivation to the race that this celebration deserves...a fully-grown & ravenous Krayt dragon!" His speech his followed by an echoing whippoorwill roaring from a chasm whose octoganal block slowly begins to rise.
They all start to settle in to the saddles: the players are two for two, Jax & Theynur on one low-slung speeder & Jolit & Para on another— & she's already fiddling with the manifold, over-clocking all the capacitors. Each of the fair-haired & well-coifed Corellian nobles, Freki & Geri, has a smooth, "All is Full of Love"-style prototype droid they ride with, & each of the dark-orbed Jem & the Hologram Duros has a phenomenally attractive cerulean Twi'lek behind them. The Tantel rangers adopt the same strategy, riding in pairs, but the Black Sun gangsters are split up. Hopper Rose is hanging on to the back of Skeeter's speeder, with Bambam & Shank on their own bikes, lined up next to the party. & then, as the totality of the prismatic silhouette swallows the horizon above, the Eclipse is complete & the race begins...& starts with Shank running over, throwing Para off her bike as she bypasses the six-cycle motivator, & trying to take off with it. He almost gets away with it, but a blaster bolt from Jax causes the whole bike to burst into flame! Not an explosion, but the venting exhaust was so volatile from Para's jury-rigging that the speeder is wrecked & Shank left howling & jumping in pain, while the rest of the racers take off, Hopper screaming after him like the drugged up & barely coherent legbreaker he is: "stop, drop & roll, mommy! Baby wants to go for a riiiide!" as the bikes dwindle from sight.
The Outer Labyrinth
The dice determine the course of the race; I hand out charts with a variety of potential uses for rolling successes & advantages just as inspiration, & I'm able to have the "NPC on NPC" interactions predominantly off-camera; I can broadly figure out their "race position" & then deviate from there based on what the PCs do. Jolit & Para can't catch a break; after they jump on another bike, they are off to a rocky start, though Jolit coaxes his little ID droid to grab the control sticks with its calipers to make sure they don't go fireball into a wall while he's distracted by whatever the race throws at them. While Para tinkered with the bike, Jax hyped up the crowd with a little trick shooting, sending a power droid dancing; but nobody quite feels elated. Suga & Shuga, the "Sugar Sisters," & their adonis Twi'lek companions Tek & Pala are also playing to the audience, but Theynur's untrained Force abilities are tinged with darkness: all she can hear from the crowd with her pointed ears is heckling, & she empathically projects her feelings of dismay & despair to her friends. It doesn't matter that Jax is the consummate showman: that's now what she feels. & now everyone's fortune is bent for the worse.
Para tries to manipulate the Krayt dragon by making whooping calls of her own...which, sort of works? She gets the thing's attention, at least: a horned & scaled reptiloid almost fifty meters long that comes scrambling across the black tiles like a primordial crocodilian horror, & ahhh, off they flee with the gigantic creature in pursuit, Jolit taking a few pot shots with the bike's turret blaster at the walls to rain down shards of black glass as a distraction or directly other racers' speeders, even landing a good hit on Bambam's. People are limiting their shots to the vehicles: that's the gentleman's rule, anyhow, but really everything here is at Baron Monstro's whim. Put on a good show & he's fine with whatever. Pulling into a narrow, jet black canyon, Para & Jolit watch as one of the cutting edge droids— Peebee, the one Jolit interfaced with— has their placid blue eyes suddenly flip to red, shouting out an auto-tuned "down with the oppressors: long live the Droid Uprising!" as it begins to rain blows down on the head of the now distracted pilot, Freki, with metal fists.
Jax meanwhile is racing hard; somewhere along the way he realized he actually had a chance at winning this thing. He's keeping them covered with his blaster while Theynur pilots the speeder, & we see her lashing out with the Force, knocking away obstacles & anticipating the lightning-bright power flashes. Their speeder's front tines get entangled with one of the gangster's bikes as they jockey for position, but they each break free at the last possible moment, instants before colliding with a skyrocketing plinth, teamwork keeping them in the running with—
— now only one of the Corellian teams in front of them, as the dragon leaps from a crevice & swallows the spinning, struggling noble Freki & freethinking Peebee with a crunch, whole in one. Pulling ahead, the black columns & thumming buzz of the solar capacitors end, as the Old Labyrinth begins. Ancient honeycomb cliff faces, orange & painted with shapes: the convor, the white wolf, humanoid figures, the white wolf, constellations, but above all the shape of the white wolf, wolves in the walls. Coated over them is a translucent black sheathing of the same substance that formed the octagons. Without the omnipresent charge of the pylons, the bikes sputter out, & the second leg of the race begins.
The Old Labyrinth
Great Ibbots are Archeopteryx writ large, a flying Allosaurus; fell beasts, but full fed, as trunk-sized sharpened spits with nerf haunches skewered upon them are all over, rendering the avians a little more docile than usual, & a little too heavy to fly high enough to get above the puzzle-paths. Here in the inner Labyrinth, everybody but the droids have a little "luck," & I've got them rolling the Force die just to add a little spice to the mix. Theynur & Jax stay together, hopping on a bird & taking a few shots at the Black Sun gangsters while Para & Jolit have managed to agitate theirs; almost like fate is working against them. The Tantel rangers, Naod, Mako, Giger & Oko, each move with a hunter's grace onto their own birds, & the foursome start to catch up behind the remaining Corellian racing pair who have hoped astride their fierce Ibbot like a noble skysteed. Hot on their talons are the Sugar Sisters, each Duros & Twi'lek couple still riding tandem, Lisa Frank riding pleathers now stained here & there with carbon & green blood. Theynur & Jax stay above the rest of the pack, where the butcherbug webs are thick...but the Farghul just bats them aside with the Force, letting her frustration & despair fill her up, a frenzied vortex of negative energy. Para throws her ion bomb into the quickly gaining wedge of the Nubian's terrorbirds with a mighty heave & a—
—of blue Kirby krackle, the ion wave throwing the magnetic senses of the Ibbots completely out of alignment, causing them to collide with each other in a cherubic flurry of feathers & scales. Out alone in second place with only the New Republic aristocrat & droid ahead of them, Theynur's heart is full of malicious glee. She lets go of her conscious self, rage growing, filling up the primitive mind of the Ibbot, & true to its predatory instincts it falls like a hammer upon the lead team, slamming them to the ground, impaling their mount fatally on the sharp stakes with a dying Rancor-like whimper & scattering the riders Peetoo & Geri to who-knows-what fate. Which means— & no one is more surprised than Jax, too overwhelmed by success to marvel much at the cruelty & power that helped get him there— that they've won! Jax & Theynur— riding ahead of the haunting, echoing call of a feasting Krayt dragon that must have found some of the stragglers in the maze— representing Eris Berserk & the "home team," have the victory, winning the baron's favour & a "wish"!
It seems the team that played it safe, the CEC sponsored team, have all made it through the race alive, thick in the middle of things but short of winning, each taking home "favours" from the baron. Of the teams that played a riskier game, well; the Corellian nobility have clearly lost, only two of the Tantel rangers recovered their poise in the aftermath of the ion bomb's chaos enough to make it to the ring in time before the energy field went up & of the Black S...er, swoop gang members that are left there are only Hopper Rose & Skeeter, jeered by the player characters. The race ends at Coliseum Crater, a vast & ancient impact zone at the heart of the Solar Labyrinth full of loose moon dust. Above, one of the baron's sub-palace's hovers— we'll say it's Besh, for sake of continuity, but really it could be any one of dozens— & all around in floating palanquins & in old fashioned stadium seating are a cross section of galactic spectators, humans & aliens from every planet & every slice of interstellar life. One last trick up his sleeve, Baron Monstro announces a Battle Royale, with the victor to win a "grand wish" up to & including half of his holdings in Kuat Drive Yards.
No-holds barred, with the victor being...whomever brings the baron the nearly priceless kyber "pearl" from the heart of the Krayt dragon, suddenly & loudly clawing & hooting at the forcefield blocking the entrance of the stadium, just behind the remaining contestants, as if the monster had a sense of melodrama, as well. Rao Kast, upset to say the least to see the target of his ire not only live but win, says he's calling in his aforementioned favour for catching the dragon: he wants to jump in to the melee. Monstro, laughing & clapping delightedly, agrees that that's fine, wondering aloud if any other former champions— with an exaggerated wink to Eris— would call in a favour to enter as a dark horse as well. (Jax, before Sshushath the Zode can do anything stupid like enter with one claw just a barely regenerating stump, gives him a curt signal not to). Instead, before the Chiss cyborg can say anything, the spacetrooper called "Old Zed" puts a hand on her shoulder to stop her & says he will, hefting up his huge riot shield as their soaring hoverpods begin to descend to the chalky floor.