accio bow tie

Star Wars: End of Empire: Battle Royale!

The prior session of our Star Wars campaign was the obligatory race sequence that George Lucas baked into the setting's foundations; this chapter of Star Wars: End of Empire flowed right into the equally mandatory coliseum scene, chockfull of creatures & monsters, & ending with a bang. Like my D&D campaign, this episode was mostly in "initiative order," which slows down the pacing but makes for dynamic action sequences. The custom dice of Fantasy Flight serve well, but the actual nuts & bolts of the rules seem, well, confusing & over-wrought. I admit that the homebrew guy in me has been turning over a few house rules for a stripped down version of Genesys, their generic system...but for this session I continued my general agenda of handwaving away too much mechanical granularity & relying on interpreting the symbols on the dice with ad libbing & imagination.

The players are here competing at the whim of Baron Monstro, the fabulously wealthy & erratic noble who trained Eris Berserk, the party's friendly neighborhood Chiss cyborg privateer. Monstro has promised to reward them with the answers they seek about the STARKILLER project as a "favour" for their participation in his little deathrace, & while Eris, the Trandoshan ex-gladiator Sshushath the Zode & the droids look on. The rest of the competitors have their own favours to deal with, but the winners get a "wish," which the Baron has said includes anything up to half his financial holdings, & as he is the controlling shareholder of Kuat Driveyards, that means something quite substantial. "Winners" in this case meaning our protagonists, for winning the race through the Solar Labyrinth against all odds, as well as "whomever brings me the kyber pearl from the heart of the Krayt dragon that I'm about to let loose in the bone-strewn crater where the surviving maze-races have gathered," or such is the jist of it.



Here's the situation: Rao Kast is a retired assassin, a Mandalorian who dual wields two lightsabers: he's no Jedi but the laser sword is a power symbol for his people, as well. Since then, he's become a Black Sun Vigo who still likes to get his hands dirty from time to time, especially over personal grudges...like the one he has for Raj's Jax Cadderly. Somehow the gang boss got the idea that the fast-talking, gun-slinging scoundrel Jax cheated him in a game of chance, & Cadderly has had to look over his shoulder ever since. He's joined the royal rumble with his surviving gangsters, as has Old Zed, the spacetrooper armor-clad man-at-arms who has been sitting at the Baron's right hand through most of the preceding events. Add to that the CEC sponsored team of candy-coloured Duros & Twi'leks & the Tantal Rangers from Nubia that made it in time, & it is quite the full ticket.

"You should have stayed & faced the music, Jax. But instead you made me chase you, so now I'm going to make you watch me kill your friends before I turn you into bantha fodder & take your head home for my collection— I'll put it in a place of honor, right next to the crystal skull of Xim the Despot!"

Rao Kast, in his Rinzler-black armor, descends in a repulsorpod, riling up his troops— the howling, huffing Hopper Rose & the sniveling Skeeter— while failing to intimidate Jax, who knows he's just a middle manager with a sad soul patch at heart, even if he is a Crossfit ripped sociopath who sits on a literal throne of bones. Instead, the Corellian troublemaker runs over to the Sisters Sugar, the pale & pink Duros with their muscular blue Twi'lek sidekicks, & offers them the "wish" if they help the players stay alive. It's a heck of a deal & a great Negotiation check, & so they agree; the bug-eyed alien sisters clicking their heels together to activate jet boots while the tentacle-headed adonises hunker in behind cover, laying down close range cover with long-barreled blasters set on stun. (They are professional competitors on a circuit full of shifting loyalties, & are conspicuously non-fatal but pro-spectacle in their approach.)

While Jax Cadderly is making his play, the force field drops & the vast, slithering monstrosity of the Krayt dragon hoots & howls its way in— only to be captivated by the power of the Force of Others, as the felinoid alien Theynur Kötturinn, Burke's Farghul fringer, opens herself up to the connection between all living things, pacifying the creature in an eternal instant of supernatural emotional vulnerability, a Moment passing between them. While this is going on, the crowd is roaring, struggling to shout in unison. When the chants synch up, the Baron, playing histronic ringleader in his golden power armor, effects change in the coliseum. "DARK! DARK!" they scream, & with an over-dramatic flip of a switch he makes the skydome opaque, shutting out the magnetic aurora caused by the planetary eclipse.

Unable to hold tight to her tranquil center of inner peace, feeling her control of the Force & the Krayt dragon slipping, Theynur taps into her rage & frustration; the snakecharming of the beast becomes a iron fist of oppression & she brands the Black Sun gangsters in it's mind as hated foes as it breaks from her psychic grasp. The blue zaps of the CEC team's stunblasters don't seem to be doing much but keeping the creature berserk, though they do manage to channel it's frenzy of violence away from the themselves & their allies. The crowd's chants change to a call for "FIRE! FIRE!" & the Baron causes the stadium to respond in kind, pressing buttons & spewing gouts of flame from secret nozzles & sprayers.

Cut to space. What looks like a cosmic storm coalescing, complete with eerie blue flashes of lightning & condensing clouds of stellar gas, alerts the orbital watch stations as klaxons blare to life.

Gunners in glossy white backwards-pointed helmets at
Subpalace Esk: “We’ve got an unidentified hyperspace signature coming out too close to the gravity well. It’s big & the transponder says its one of ours, but we’re spooling up the defense grid, just in case.”

Both Para Totool & the human replica droid Jolit are caught in the inferno! Para, Rachel's former Imperial tech officer, makes a run for the hoverpod that Rao Kast came down in, sprinting right through the blaze & making a jump...just barely grabbing on as it resumes its ascent. "Wrench," the ID9 mini-probe droid, is off from his usual perch on Jolit's back, hovering up to go assist Para just as a geyser of napalm forces Jolit back, engulfing him in fire & separating him from the rest of the group. While he's reeling, the Black Sun gangster Skeeter, with a mohawk & a tattooed Mandalorian "T" on his face, keeps pelting him with old skulls & bones from the battleground floor before running over to tackle him, as the spice-huffing, nonsensical obscenity screaming Hopper Rose, high out of his mind & ready-deadly starts peppering them with a hail of two-fisted blaster bolts. Elsewhere, the rangers from the Nubian team have moved in aggressively on the Krayt dragon with armor piercing force pikes: they must have had inside information, because they clearly came prepared for this hunt.

Jolit, played by Joey, is a replicant whose replacement parts have him passing as a cyborg, & luckily he's stuffed into heavy enough armor that the fire safely burns itself out, as they do with Para's heavy-duty armored mechanics coveralls...though she continues to plummet skyward as the autopilot on the pod continues to gain altitude. She clambers inside & rips open the control panel, frantically pulling out components in the hopes of rigging up something, anything...& rolls uh, less than good. So instead she successfully removes...the calibrator on the repulsor drive, causing the pod to, well; drop. Things are going better for the human replica droid; throwing the thug Skeeter off of him, he lifts his vibroaxe & with a vicious roundabout embeds it straight in the punk's skull. I figure this is Star Wars, so the action is on-screen but the point of impact isn't shown: the fatal cut is mostly communicated in foley work, a gruesome sound effect for the wet thunk of finality.



Rao Kast starts off the fight with a flurry of crimson blows & feints; gaining a little space & leaving the felinoid Force user with a notch burnt in her ear, Rao brings both his dual red lightsabers to bear on Theynur...only to be foiled by the imposition of a cortosis riot shield, belonging one Old Zed! The white armored man-at-arms tosses a little cylinder to the cat-like alien, who pulls it to her with a tug of the Force, igniting it with a hissing whoosh: a blue lightsaber? Followed by the ignition of another blade of light in Zed's hand! Jax, seizing the moment, shoots the Black Sun Vigo in the back, & Rao Kast disengages, hitting a button on his suit & initiating optical camouflage, cloaking him in near-invisibility as Hopper Rose takes another hit off his aerosol mask & screams incoherent filth into the mouthpiece. "I'll send you a love letter straight from my heart, you sleemo!" Meanwhile, up in the skies above, Para's sinking hoverpod is saved thanks to the little droid ID9-WR3-H, as Wrench plugs a port in & throws on the emergency inertial dampeners. & then, just as things are getting good...

The ISD Gargoyle is an old, Imperial I-class ship, but storied; the fearsome beast painted on its hull mark it as part of the old Outer Rim fleet that the Thrawn’s Chimera once belonged to. A vicious black wound vents plasma & atmo into space; the wreckage of the Vigil-class Rubicon, flung like an javelin into the hull of the Gargoyle, which now plummets planetward.

The orbital sub-palaces start firing wild, as screams come over the comm channels, & laughter; like a clip from
Event Horizon. "Ytik, what are you doing? Why do you have your sidearm out? Oh N—" The platforms even start catching each other in friendly fire as static sputters. "...Brezel...come out come out..." The Gargoyle takes turbolaser blast after turbolaster blast, guts hollowed out & greebles blown off, but not enough to stop its momentum; the Star Destroyer keeps hull integrity & blows past the blockade, hurtling towards the surface.

Piloted, somehow still, barely holding together though slowly sheering in twain during entry, nose up, eventually crashing, plowing through the Solar Labyrinth like a white knife through black silk…sliding to a stop...right in the middle of the Coliseum, the nose of the triangle shattering ancient archeology & cutting edge technology alike, an arrow cracked in half & pointed at Theynur, as if her song to the Dark Side had beckoned it. A pause, & then the airlocks & hanger bays fall open, as a hoard of slavering, mindless stormtroopers & non-comms, engineers, pilots, officers, even a shaky-legged AT-ST all come pouring out…followed by the spontaneous violent rioting of the people in the stands.


moria mask

Out of the Abyss: Escape from the Black Monolith!



This session followed hot on the heels of last session's big battle, & was in a very real way "round two." The players have been exploring the Whorlstone Tunnels in Gracklstugh, & having captured one of their targets, the White Rabbit-esque derro errand runner Droki, defeated one of their old friends, the divinely deranged derro Buppido, & encountered a myconid twin of Ellen's elf cleric Norin, the party took a much deserved rest. I readjusted the occupants of the dungeon based on what information they had & what their mindsets' were like, & the next morning the freshly rested PCs encountered a bolstered set of enemies, & had quite the fray. All covered in mud & blood & glory, this session started with reinforcements arriving to that battle...with the players spell slots emptied, their hit points low. A radically different context to essentially the same set-up— one big fight, the whole session— that gave it a completely different tone. Suddenly it's not the PCs strategically defeating a well-balanced foe, but the PCs tactically withdrawing from a menacing threat. Same map— a vast cavern, crackling with faerzress & wild magic, littered with ruins & sand the consistency of the foot callous shavings inside of a Ped Egg, marked by a vast, albedo-less monolith, a few rusty circus carts, a set of (now broken) mushroom covered doors & a red dragon egg— but on defense, instead of offense. Golly, running Out of the Abyss is fun.



Serafin, Pritpaul's halfling ranger, ended things on a dramatic note by chewing the nose off of the face of their captive, the psychic derro savant Pliinki. She's plenty cooperative with the players after that, out of a mix of intimidation, demonic dementation...& as it turns out, determination, as she stalls long enough for the cavalry to come charging in, with only Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha on his guard. Quite literally the cavalry: Narrak the screaming, naked derro cultist rides atop a furry arachnid steeder, while his minions cling to the side of a charging pickled punk boar fetus, co-joined at the neck & horrifying, supernaturally all grown up. These pig golems are gross, but the smell from the deformed, mutant kuo-toa is just a hint of what's to come. A living mass of ichthyous overgrowth, pale scabrous scales mottled with toxic tubing, runic scars, & abyssal implants. One of the fishfolk of Sloobludop, transmogrified by rituals & elixirs, hormones & steroids. Pliinki's quasit familiar is back to join the fun as well, & before you know it, they've cut Pliinki free to go full Carrie & wreck her telekinetic revenge. Imica, the drow warlock played by Jim, gently settles the red dragon egg— no small feat, as it is four feet high & weighs as much as a person—into one of the now-fallen pig-creature's carnival wagon & creates an illusory copy of it for Pook'cha. There in a nutshell is our scene: the insectoid bard runs off as a distraction, while the others struggle to push the cart with the dragon egg inside toward the formerly hidden door they broke in through. There's no "muscle" in the group, & they can't quite seem to keep up momentum, until they all decide to eat the magical Wonderland bigwig mushrooms, enlarging to twice their previous sizes, & really get moving.



They come under heavy assault; crossbow bolts, enervating spells & psionic attacks, charging corpsegrown piggies...but the "divide & retreat" tactic seems to be working! At the door's threshold, they struggle to hold off the enormous & malformed fetal boar & its riders while themselves supernaturally embiggened: the party members at the door hack at the frame & lintel in giant form, while Pook'cha uses his magic to turn invisible & make an all out sprint for the gap. In the chaos, Droki starts slamming his skull into the glass jar over & over, trying to break free in a self-destructive frenzy, but Imica doses him with drow sleeping poison, knocking the pygmywort 'shroom-shrunken derro right out. & the plan works! Falling rocks pin the pig— though not quite killing it— as the obfuscated mantis-man leaps through, escaping while the lumbering figure of the piscine leviathan & skittering Narak are too busy looking for him elsewhere, off on a wild bughunt. The battle is touch & go at many points & by the end almost everyone ended up knocked out & failing death saves. The one crucial piece of luck is that the cleric was the last one conscious, hastened by the random metamagic of the faerzress. We end the session with everyone stable, & no one dead. They are back in the fungi-covered nub where the quasit infested passages they'd explored while reduced to miniature-sized let them out, only now their massive forms are entirely brobdingnagian to that warren of sewers, crevices & shafts by orders of magnitude. Where to next? That's what we'll find out next time! Till then, enjoy this rust monster from Adventures Outlined that I coloured in.

breetai

The Sword, the Crown & the Unspeakable Power: the Hunger: Session Zero.



Mythology
In the beginning there was only hunger. Then the hunger bore fruit, that it might eat. This resulted in the rise of civilization, humans who picked, & harvested, & ate their fill. & because of this the hunger grew until it took root in the guts of men. & now there is never, ever enough.

Relationships
The Raven (Renata, The Spur) thinks me useful & powerful.
We (Christine, The Beloved) wants something from me.
I've seen Bear (Ruoxi, The Gauntlet) carry through on a well-deserved threat.
The Seventh saw Bear eat somebody.
I need Luv (Esther, The Bloodletter) to keep someone I care about alive.
The Ninth needs insulin.
Gold Ribbon is a royal courtesan NPC (Carl, Master of Ceremonies).
The Seventh is in love with her...as, apparently, is Aunt-Regent Virtue.

The Few
Order; Honored; Magic & Rumors.
The Resurrectionists (Luv): Allied
The Ten Thousand (Bear): Allied
The Street Youths (We): Rivals
The Steppe People (The Raven): Indiffrent

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call of mordicai

Out of the Abyss: Battle of the Black Monolith.



I'm feeling pretty good about the challenge level of my game! Out of the Abyss is my first Fifth Edition campaign & uh, honestly I don't really believe in "balanced encounters" except for in the broad sense that I don't want to accidentally "one hit kill" somebody. Which, ha, funny story about that...but I'm getting ahead of myself. After last session, the party was in a cul-de-sac of the Whorlstone Tunnels, looking to try to rest. I made some appropriately maniacal cackling, but I knew what I had to do. The perks of running in a real "dungeon" environment like this is that it's a closed system. For once, the Player Characters can't just go anywhere, because they are trapped in a dungeon, & the same is true for the Non-Player Characters. I run very active NPCs, both reactive & proactive; heck, my NPCs have always been notorious for doing things when the PCs aren't around. The world gets up to stuff, even when you aren't there to see it: I know, because I'm the Dungeon Master! So all I had to do was think about what information the creatures, critters & cultists in the Tunnels have about the adventurers, & then figure out what those subterranean creeps are going to do about it. Then from there it is blind watchmaker time; just let the characters loose & see how their choices & the dice rolls turn out. Well, alright, there's a little more finessing than that; as the DM I want the monsters to make in-character decisions without metagame knowledge, but I want those decisions to be narratively interesting, as well. So it is a triangle, balanced between Optimal, Plausible & Interesting. & I balanced it all while almost but not quite killing them, mostly thanks to their own pluck & ultraviolence; the spice of life!

We're still in "Dungeon Time," which means the plot doesn't crawl by quite as quickly, but on the flipside of that, the "game" aspect of it is exercised a lot more. D&D 5e has pretty fun combat mechanics, & I want to give the players a chance to try out all of their character's quirky powers or mix & match their new spells from time to time. It's the old GNS tension between "narrative & game" that I think teases out into a good story. As they make camp, Droki stays in the jar & the party sets up a few trip wires, with the elves splitting watches, as their otherworldly minds don't sleep, but just slip into trances. Overnight, the sounds of great, squeaky wheels & the horrid, wafting stench of some kind of over-ripe piscine stinker are sensed by Ellen's character Norin— the wood elf cleric who has had her fundamental sense of self questioned, grown a beard, & now wears a hat made out of a dead displacer beast— along with the rattle of chains & the occasional bestial grunt, but they all remain hidden, & the night passes...uneventfully! Well. Well, other than the drow warlock Imica, played by Jim, whose pactblade shines with the silvery words of his faerie paetron, the outcast daughter of Lolth. She warns of "Powers on the loose," written in starlight letters & strange cadences, an immortal casually lost in the eons, delicate script fading from his sword. All in all, a successful long rest! Healing commences, prayers are replenished, spells re-memorized, &c. Thus emboldened by fresh faces, the combined strength of the surprisingly robust halfling ranger Pritpaul plays, Serafin & the multiple limbs of Sam's polymath insectoid thri-kreen bard Pook'cha is able to force open the forgotten, mushroom-covered "secret" door that lay hidden behind their resting spot, shattering the crossbeam with a loud "crack!"



The ground they have been trudging across & through in these lower tunnels is extra soft, extra fine, almost grit-less, like a sand of exfoliated skin; here, beyond the door, it gets dirty, littered with sea shells, spark plugs, bigs of rock or bone— all kinds of junk. Also ruins: long, fallen walls funneling up to a tall, tall ceiling...where sparkling, flickering faerzress coruscates & crackles as random meta-elemental forces twist the very weave of the universe. That's right: it is a wild surge zone! These ruins— with a plinth of albedo-less black sticking up from the middle, in mimicry of the oddly dense black chunk of "metal" they found in Droki's possession— are twisted by the paradoxically chthonic & supernal magical chaos. They are attacked quickly, the sound of the breaking crossbar having given their entry away: a horrifying, multi-eyed thing, perhaps some winged & deformed beholderkin judging by the unhappy assortment of eyebeams it begins shooting, & a deranged derro savant who begins to blink about, raining psychic lightning bolts & miniature prismatic orbs down upon them. They are reinforced shortly thereafter by giant cannibal pigs, their heads having been surgically swapped: crude stitches & all made possible by the infinitive improbabilities faerzress. To use a little Fourth Edition parlance, the combination of a controller, a striker & a couple of tanks is nothing to sneeze at. The pigs are let loose from the rusted, blood-spattered circus cages they'd been penned in by a pair of hardscrabble derro who then flee; must be the same wheeled contraptions Norin heard passing by in the night. One of the diminutive, capering demons from the drainage tunnels is there as well, but it promptly turns invisible & isn't seen from again. I'm really rather proud of the way the fight turned out, from there.

Like I was saying, I'm not a big believer in "game balance." I'm not here to do slow math or run a craps table. Sometimes you just shouldn't fight the proverbial red dragon...but I'm not looking to TPK the group on accident, either. For this encounter, I just cleaved to the internal logic of the dungeon & hoped that things wouldn't end up too lopsided...& between a rested party & a bolstered enemy, it was pretty perfect. Almost all of the PCs dropped at some point, & there was all the fun of counting through death saves & everything. We even had a comical "dice on the loose!" moment with a d20 in a teacup, which I declared a legal roll for fitting the Alice in Wonderland theme. Several unexpected side-effects from the wild magic, too, including Norin turning permanently blue, & another fireball; we're not sure what the "massive damage" rules are in this edition, but there is a suspicion Pook'cha might have technically died if we did. (There's always going to be a part of me who is just the magic-user who fills up all of their first level slots with Nahal's reckless dweomer, you know?) Victorious, they manage to capture the derro savant, & in the course of interrogating her...Serafin bites off her nose.

It's not the first time we've seen Serafin eating someone; he even had some of Buppido's cannibal chili. So it's like that. Just chews it up & swallows & hey, will you look at that— with these psychopathic zealots, you never know what is going to work, & anthropophaginian brutality at least gets her talking to them like peers, instead of prey. Up close, they observe that the ultra-black menhir that Droki called The Thing is actually flawed: chipped & cracked. It sizzles with power, & anyone with the vaguest connection to the arcane can feel lacunae within it, a vacuum eager to be fed spell slots.  The savant, Pliinki, is carrying a journal with a list of random objects in it, along with an ancient elven coin...that's listed as the last item in the book. In a massive brazier of coals, three feet tall & hundreds of pounds, is a literal red dragon egg, ritual sigils & circles tying it to the fuliginous monolith. Mysterious! Pliinki bloodily tells them there's...a dumping ground, for the bodies that get...re-animated by the faerzress? That doesn't sound good. Noseless, she makes a few rhetorical flourishes about the oppression of the duergar, as well, but mostly she almost seems to be stalling for time...as the re-reinforcements her quasit familiar went to summon arrive!

thousand yard drink

Out of the Abyss: the Pearl of Overconfidence.



Wow. Hard to believe it has been almost a year since the last session of my Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Babies & traveling & softball & steam pipe explosions: there's been a whole life saga between then & now, but the good news is that we're ready to jump back into Out of the Abyss! We are at peak Alice in Wonderland, as the party searches through the Whorlstone Tunnels for a tatterdemalion derro named Droki who keeps evadeing them by eating special mushrooms to shrink down & escape via the drainage pipes & crevices inundating these winding supernatural caverns. We do a little recapping to start off: Droki is a very, very (un)popular fellow it seems! The party are in the grey dwarf city of Gracklstugh...& most of the side-quests point to him. The Stoneguard, in the person of Errde Blackskull, have sent them to discover the source of the "corruption" in the city, enfranchising Ellen's elven cleric Norin as her proxy with a belt of dwarvenkind. One of the Merchant Lairds, Ylsa Henstak, has given the party a variety of odd treasures & coins, tasking the players with discovering how these economy destabilizing baubles are falling into derro's undercaste hands. The Firekeepers, psychic aides to the red dragon who lights the adamantine- & mithril-melting forges of the City of Blades, have asked the players to find a missing red dragon egg...& the corpulent dragon himself, Themberchaud, has declared Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha the "Master" & the rest of the party "Thralls," loaning the bug-person a suit of red dragonscale armor & telling them quite simply that whatever anyone else asked for...they will bring it to him first. Ellen is the party quartermaster, but it turns out Sam is the party notetaker, because he nails most of details.



A lot to remember! But like the return to my Star Wars game, we jump right in with a chase sequence! They've killed their friend Buppido, ranting about his imminent apotheosis; they've met the madly waltzing myconids & confronted the mushroom-Norin. A paranoia inducing puzzle of identity for elf-Norin, solved for the moment by a faerzress-awry spell spontaneously combusting into a fireball & halfway frying half the party, including all of their new fungal clone companion. (Let's not dwell too long on it, but Pritpaul's halfling ranger Serafin paused & took a bite of the crispy critter when no one was looking.) Through winding tunnels, past the water weird, until: madcap Droki, dead ahead! Dressed in a hat halfway between a pilgrim hat a sombrero, with long dangling tentacle earmuffs, in a dirty svirfneblin silk vest, stolen duergar britches, mis-matched shoes, & two or three different capes & cloaks. He spots them too: it's a dead-out sprint...& Droki almost makes it, as all of the party's attacks frustratingly seem to just barely miss him, as he seems to be seen tilted as if through water, reflected to the side, even on their best blows. Just as he's about gulp down a miniaturizing mushroom in order to scamper down a small tunnel in the wall, Jim's drow warlock Imica hits him with the old sleep spell. Blammo! Just like that, they've captured him, & between their looted ropes & general knowhow they've got him trussed up with his legs— & mouth— free. Interrogating any of the unilaterally insane derro is of dubious value, & for Droki that goes double. He's clearly lying, but can they second guess & glean breadcrumbs from his wiles & deviltry? Sure he's crazy, but which Droki is the most sincere: the helpful one, the conniving one, or the sporadically violent one?



It is Norin who claims the twitching violet hat, part ten-gallon & part deerstalker. Once they figure out that it is made of "gen-u-wine" displacer beast leather— a notorious monster: six-legged, two-tentacled & mostly a purple panther, hard to hit because it's never quite where you expect to see it— they easily deduce why he was so hard to grab or strike. It's a hat of displacement! He's a living hoarder otherwise as well, carrying with him: a gold piece, two potions of healing, ten silver pieces, a worthless collection of dead centipedes & a worthless collection of live spiders, pages of lizard-skin parchment between covers from two different books, a strange domino-sized ingot of supernaturally dense black metal, a spell scroll of see invisibility, a scroll in a copper tube & four small pouches. The pouches contain enormous toenail clippings, colourless lockets of hair and skin flecks, which are labeled with the names of the giants of Clan Cairngorm, including the two-headed giant who was rampaging in the city, which the players helped defeat & showed mercy to. Droki, muttering to himself & periodically shouting, offers to take them wherever they want, all too eagerly. Oh, he'll "take them to Narak" alright! Who is Narak? "Oh you know who I mean" with lots of sly winks & nudges at Pook'cha. "Two heads" are involved: that's who is putting the curses on the stone giants! Hm, does anyone else important have a two-headed thing? They decide the clearest answers are when they ask him about the heavy black sliver of slightly tingly metal & the mysterious jewels & coins they've brought. "Oh you wanna see The Thing? I can take you to The Thing!" & so to The Thing they elect to go.



There are two paths to The Thing, says Droki: back the way they came, past the water elemental they previously fled from, or for everyone to eat a stalk of pygmywort, the magic shrinking EAT ME toadstool, & for the shrunken party to follow him into the crack he was about to scamper down. A shortcut from mushrooms! That's the path they choose & down they go, into the square, manufactured drains & ducts. Droki leads them around a few bends then falls to his knees screaming— & they are attacked! Pook'cha casts silence to cut Droki's cries short, which almost worked but for the random chance of bad stealth checks & good perception rolls, & they are ambushed by gigantic demons, perhaps nine-feet tall...no, wait. A tiny demon, but enormous at this scale: quasits! Rather than penalize the players with the reduce spell's side effects, I just gave the abyssal gremlins the benefits of the enlarge spell. Close enough for my purposes, folks! The PCs fight back & strike hard; one quasit fights with a giant gleaming trident— translation: a sharpened silver table fork— & Norin summons a spiritual weapon in mockery of it, striking it dead in a single blow! So used to being on the run in the survival-horror of the Underdark, they've forgotten that they are still adventurers— AKA dangerous murderers— at the end of the day. Or as I put it, "this moment is the grain of sand in the oyster that creates the pearl of overconfidence." Which, apparently, is a funny thing to say. With the tanar'ri obviously on the ropes, they turn invisible, but even that isn't enough to save another, the one they hated most, with the roly-poly belly full of all the extra belly buttons, from the warlock's blade & cleric's...well, spiritual fork. The others hide & escape, & the victorious players leave the cramped gutters & eat the bigwig fungi that return them to regular size.



Droki goes in the jar! They could gag him, but that defeats the purpose of trying to trick him into giving them clues, so they take his biggest jar, give him a pygmywort, & put him in, remembering to give him extra to stay small so he doesn't get crushed, & to poke holes in the lid. For a second they were all "wait, is there a jar big enough?" & I was like, "if you think for a second that I would sabotage you putting Droki in a jar, you've got another thought coming!" That sorted, they take stock of their surroundings; they've come out into a patch of dense fungal "forest" like the one infested with vermin from earlier, but as they rummage around & explore, looking for more embiggening & beshrinkening 'shrooms, no creepy-crawlies come skittering out. They turn up rhizomes & rhizomes of the magical things, spores & spores, actually, & more: a door, long overgrown, down a little nook of the twisting caverns. Here, they think, might be a good place to spend the night...& so we leave it there, as they begin to make camp, of a sort. Are they one step closer to "The Thing," whatever it is? Back in the mundane world, plans are already afoot to play again...but in the meantime, you can check out this sweet drider page from the new Adventures Outlined colouring book that I did.

goblinization

Dread: Outpost 37



We skipped Tom's usual Halloween game of Dread last year, which are the contemporary incarnation of his old Dead World one-shots, so it was a treat to crash one in to a weekend afternoon! Nicole (The Doctor) & Luke (The Captain) have played in one before, & we're joined by Carl (The Navigator) & Ruoxi (The Engineer), who are editor friends I work with. I played The Geologist, & my obvious cyborg enhancement was in being purposefully subdivided across the corpus callosum, with neuro-accelerants & glial boosters keeping us in a state of amicable cooperation, able to do two things at a time. The problem was, I didn't have any military training, & when the Big Lebowski pacifist captain lied to us about how the grenades worked, I didn't know any better. Shame about those horrifying headcrab zombies killing all of the men, but a nice horror movie "moral" with a modern twist. Also, secret laboratories? We got pretty Resident Evil on this one. A million miles of fun, & next time, I'm totally going to have an accent. Here's Tom's prologue:
    It is the year 2070 and you are all crew members aboard the Nautilus Explorer - an Extreme Depth Exploratory Craft (EDEC) on a standard mission to survey possible ocean floor mining sites. Working for the Tri-Oceanic Corporation, you are returning from your 90-day surveying trip to mining outpost 17 (sometimes just called #17). This has been your home for the past two years. Located 6 miles below the Pacific Ocean, it is one of forty ocean-floor mining plants owned by Tri-Oceanic. During the return trip you receive a transmission from the communications base that four days ago Tri-Oceanic lost contact with another of its mining operations, outpost 37. Your orders are to attempt contact and report your findings back to base. You can’t help but feel a little apprehensive. Four days is a long time for com’s to be down, even for the notoriously unreliable deep-water radio system. Turn's out your gut was right.

    As you approach outpost 37 it appears eerily quiet. Closer inspection only increases your unease. Normally a hub of bustling activity it now sits silent. Illuminated only by the gliding beam of your searchlight, the ghostly gray structure looms in front of you fading in and out of the abyssal blackness. Repeated attempts to make radio contact have been met with silence, although cursory inspection of the structure does not reveal any obvious damage. As you are finishing your survey something catches your eye. As you get closer, a debris field of escape pods, all of which appear to have sustained severe implosion damage, come into view. Caught within the twisted metal and glass, are the pale and indiscernible parts of what were once people. It is only more shocking because these are C-76 emergency transporters, large ships designed to carry up to 50 crew members. You have counted at least four of them on the ocean floor, possibly five. The thought of them all being full is too awful to think about.

    The stunned silence that fills the bridge of the Nautilus is suddenly broken by a crackle on the radio. It’s base #17 asking for an update. As you begin to report your findings, a powerful explosion rips through the outpost. You watch as an entire section blows outward, then violently collapses in on itself as it rapidly depressurizes. A shock wave of twisted metal and debris smashes into the Nautilus’ side, peppering it with fist-sized holes. A steel girder the size of a small tree pierces the hull, rupturing the pressure control valve and bursting the ballast. With the sudden loss of buoyancy the Nautilus plummets to the ocean floor, smashing nose first into the sandy bottom before settling on its side. The lights go out, alarms begin to ring, and the sudden sound of groaning metal echoes throughout the ship as its pressure system begins to catastrophically fail...
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sith lord cometh

Star Wars: End of Empire: The Solar Labyrinth!



Eclipse Day
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—

WHAM!

— 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—

BRANG!

—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"!

Coliseum Crater
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.
ringwraith

Star Wars: End of Empire: Eclipse Day!

Preparations
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!



Libations
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.

Revelations
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.



Celebration
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."

    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.
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.

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.

Interrogations
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.
sith lord cometh

Star Wars: End of Empire: Witch-Queen of the Empire.



Recapping Last Session
I've been keeping fairly detailed summaries of my Star Wars: End of Empire RPG sessions, & we're all fresh off the high of arguing about a new movie, so it wasn't difficult to get back into the spirit of Star Wars. Where were we again? That's a little trickier. What is the whole convoluted plot, er, plan? The fractured Imperial forces known as The Praetorians are looking for the party's ally, Eris Berserk, & now them. Why? Because they want to find her brother, Cadecus Dee, who stole a prototype ship called The Insidious along with a superweapon called STARKILLER. Finding out all this put them on this new Empire's hit list, & so they've fled the system, intent on finding Eris' old mentor, Baron Monstro. He'll help identify just what this top secret project actually is, & they intend on using that intel to convince the fledgling galactic Republic to aid the cause of the Droid Uprising. I handed out experience, with a special story bonus for concluding the "Tatooine" or "Jakku" podunk planet portion of our saga as they escape Praetorian controlled Ord Mantell & finally leave the gravity shadow of the Bright Jewel Nebula. I gave them a chance to spend it, save it, or to talk to me about substitutions on their class Talent trees. After reading the new Genesys rules, I'm going to keep the character class mechanics mostly untouched, & just allow people to broadly substitute a Talent for any other lateral Talent. I'm not going to sweat the small stuff; it doesn't seem like it is going to break the game. Ships are all fixed up, gear is all stowed, pencils ready, Rogue One soundtrack playing & the trumpets blast.

Repressed Memories: Man & Machine
We return to the story with a shot of the interior of a Lamda-class shuttle, a variant model with a surgical bed built in the middle of it. Joey's character Jolit, the rebuilt Human Replica Droid is standing there, along with a completely human-looking version of himself strapped to the bed in a loose white sickbay robe. At the front console piloting the ship is a scorched metal skeleton, a Terminator-eque droid duplicate of himself. We've been doing a lot of temporary character swapping & deuteragonists in this campaign so far, from games of sabacc & the villains' POV to the supporting ensemble of NPCs, & this session was no exception: Raj played the restrained organic subject & Rachel played the burnt, robotic helmsman. Their remit was simple, & Jolit, in the haze of "dream" logic— or whatever you call it when androids shutdown & imagine electric sheep— played along. The patient eagerly exclaimed, "cut off my arm!" & Jolit went for it, spending the experience to gain a point of Medicine before touching the dice, in a synergy of role & roll. A smell like drilling teeth & bloody iron, & a feeling of incredible pain as it paradoxically bit into he, himself. The creepy deathbot demanded: "this unit will navigate the ship to vector 0.0.1" straight into a black hole, & Joey's HRD unit complied, buying a rank of Astrogation & stealing his will to follow through on such a nihilistic course. The stars drew back into the signature lines of a hyperspace jump...& just stopped, still, like Kylo Ren freezing a blaster bolt.

Praetorian Interlude
I thought it might be nice to have a few scenes re-introducing the villains & the stakes, & time to up the ante on a few plot lines, so we took an abrupt cinematic cut from Jolit's face in his hallucinatory hypnogogic malfunction to the Praetorian Commander Ulma Verbost, Rachel's character's former subordinate from back in the bad old Imperial days. She comes across the footage of the infiltration droid escaping a AT-ST led ISB patrol, & soon, followed by a scarlet-robed Royal Guard, & played by Rachel, she is led into one of the private chambers used by Imperator Tanda Pryl on this Super Star Destroyer. In the center of the massive black data-table, something spherical lies covered with a white silk sheet. The Imperator is "dressed down," in Princess Leia casual, with her signature white cape, Sith clasp & a lightsaber at her stormtrooper's belt. Her long blonde hair is braided & coiled around her neck. Commander Verbost, accompanied by her silent, crimson overseer, salutes the Imperator, while the she is inspecting a hologram being projected by a black astromech droid, ST-R5: a Savirip being tortured, spread crucifex in electrofied repulsor shackles.

The Imperator says that she remembers Ulma & then-Lieutenant Totool working in the "Special Projects" Division when the she commanded them as a humble captain back in the Elrood Sector. They were trying to adapt ancient Arkanian technology as members of the Exogorth Control Program, if memory serves, & so the Imperator tells her she would welcome any insights into the Savrip Re-education Program, gesturing at the wavering hologram. Ulma is...distracted, her gaze returning to the alien, but snaps to, remembering that she has something to report to the supreme commander of the Imperial Remnant. Ulma is in charge of the elite mechanized vehicles on The Eye & came across something recently stuck in one of the memory banks of a black ISB AT-ST scanner unit. She recognized someone in a recording of an escaped fugitive on Ord Mantell. A face somehow familiar to the Imperials, though he was wearing a helmet in the Rubicon holotapes: Jolit. The cybernetically enhanced Rebel's armor, however, does match that recording, & Verbost concludes that Rachel's character Para Totool & this mysterious cyborg are working together.

The Imperator off-handedly orders a nearby stormtrooper to summon the TIE fighter ace Jeran Gaulth immediately, played by Raj. Some believe the Imperator's plans rely on too many leaps of faith & spurious links but that has always been the way she operates. Imperator Pryl had presumed after discovering that Totool with Eris Berserk— who the Empire is furiously searching for to use as leverage in order to locate her brother Cadecus Dee & his stolen Star Destroyer prototype, you'll recall— were working together during the blockade runner's escape from the Bright Jewel Nebula that the former Imperial was a Rebel traitor now. When Commander Verbost shows the Imperator the face on the holochip, however, the ice queen grimaces oddly & asks if the new hyperspace communicator is functional. As a disheveled Jeran Gauth arrives, she uses it to contact Director Tol Daala at the Maw Installation...who looks just like a twenty-years older Jolit, & is played in this scene by Joey.
    Director Tol Daala is in charge of The Maw Installation, the top secret facility in the heart of a black hole cluster that developed the second Death Star, among other Imperial innovations. He didn't have the aristocratic sophistication of Tarkin or the scientific background of Krennic; rather, Director Daala is the head of the Imperial secret police, the ISB. He answers to the Imperator, for she has the loyalty of the remaining fleet & the blessing of the Royal Guard, but he has surrounded himself with the creepy Sith cultists— who fled the Emperor's death to the Spice Mines of Kessel— as a hedge against her dark arts.

    It is his black-clad faction the supplied the designs for the next-generation TIE fighters currently under construction at Crosh's facilities in orbit around Ord Mantell, among other experimental weapons, & he is the one who knows the locations of other secret Imperial bases. Director Daala looks like an aged version of the Human Replica Droid Jolit, dressed in a stark white ISB uniform with a white cape with red lining, carrying a disruptor pistol at his side. Besides the purple-clad Imperial "advisors," the Director is typically accompanied by deathtroopers armed with flamers as protection.
In the exchange that follows, the Imperator cautions the Director about staying well away from the old clone programs. He cracks wise, & she inquires further, pressing the subject. There's an odd vibe in the air, but the dice aren't with the players; all they can tell is that while the Director seems to be the closest thing to a rival for control of the Praetorian faction that the Imperator has, ultimately she's willing & capable to punish insubordination with a little telekinetic asphyxiate. That's right: the old Vader strangle, & for all that the Imperator obviously strives to purposefully evoke his aura of horrible gravitas, it works. I was impressed; Force Choke scared the bejeezus out of my players. There is a reason it is a classic, I guess! Bantering violently concluded, she releases him so that he can inform her that the the schematics for Improved Restraining Bolts are being transmitted now, & work on the Droid Master Control Signal is nearing completion.

Daala is also pleased to be able to report that the Devastator Swarm on Ithor is reaching critical mass & is ready to divide: where should it be sent to next? The Praetorians control a wedge of the galaxy with hyperspace routes from Ord Mantell, Dathomir, & the Kessel Run, & prompted by the Imperator, Ulma racks her brain. Jeran is a fighter pilot, not a navigator, & he comes up empty, but after rattling through nearby worlds like Mandelore, Korriban, or independent systems like Hutt Space or the Hapes Consortium she suggests...Dathomir? Earning the Imperator's eerily arched eyebrow, which lingers overlong on the Commander as the she instead orders the second swarm to Dantooine. Terminating the connection with the Director, she orders the rest of the attending stormtroopers to leave the room, & unveils a sickly green orb set into the table, swirling with toxic emerald light. She has the ace & the commander come over closer, & kneel before her, telling them, in a voice taking on a sinister air, that she will form a "triumvirate" with Ulma, who knew Para Totool, & Jeran, who just saw her on the Rubicon. Forcing them to kneel, there is a brief feeling nightmarish pain, & then.

My question for the players who filled the roles of the NPCs: are you a true believer?

Dark Side Dream
Para Totool is asleep on the False Profit, having left the up-gunned corvette Old Daughter at the system's edge in order to avoid any political entanglements. She has the extremely unfortunate sensation of falling lucidly into sleep paralysis, as the diabolical weight of the Imperator's will settles down oppressively around her. With the sickly sweet power of the Dark Side of the Force, the Imperator projects herself into the thoughts of her erst-while officer. The sensation is not pleasant, numbness & vertigo, but it's like the Imperial witch is there in the flesh. (I planned this scene in August, just for the record; The Last Jedi & I are putting down a lot of the same vibe.) Idly, Tanda Pryl muses about how now she remembers meeting Para: she gave her a commendation for putting down the Verpine Insurgency in the Shroud Cluster "decisively." Why doesn't she want to come back home, re-enlist? Para, when pushed into a corner with nothing left to lose, has a lot of bite to her, & the dice rolls to back it up: she refuses, & when the Imperator questions her about her loyalties, wondering whether she's part of some elaborate scheme of Director Daala's or just another traitor after all, she's got sass of her own. She even insults the Imperator's hair; it was very Jyn Erso. Never one to use a scalpel when a hammer will do, the Imperator modulates her Voice, contorting it hypnotically to compel Para to tell her where she is. She is able to resist, grinding her teeth, but as the dreadful sorceress stretches forth her talons, the psychic puppetry of the Imperator cannot be denied. If she cannot break Para Totool's mind, she will simply seize control of her slumbering body...as she sleepwalks her towards the navicomputer in the engineering section. (Asking "did you hear that?" as if someone was eavesdropping). If only our crew of heroes had a Force-user amongst them! But wait!



Planning things out with Eris & 4-Dox
Behind the scenes, Burke had known he was going to be arriving a little bit later than everyone else, so the prelude stacking worked in our favour. As the Dark Side powers of the Imperator bring them ever closer to discovery, Rachel rightly guesses that this chapter has been timed for the arrival of his character, so we take a beat, letting the camera shift to Raj's character, Jax Cadderly, planning things out with the RA-espionage droid 4-DOX & Chiss privateer Eris Berserk, while the Trandoshan Sshushath the Zode & astroprobe AK-88 hangout nearby. It's a regular NPC troupe, a whole chorus of voices for the PCs to play when their main characters are out of the scene; we're all prepared for half the party to go to Bespin & the other half to traipse off to Dagobah, so to speak. 4-DOX is here as the direct liaison between the players & the Droid Uprising...& hopefully the New Republic. Ideally, she wants an Independent Droid Space, but she'd settled for a world, or even better, citizenship. Jax, who secretly has been asked by the Contessa who owns Ord Mantell to find a wealthy noble to buy the planet off of her, wants to know about the man there's going to meet, Baron Monstro.
    Baron Monstro is...incredibly rich. The hereditary owner of the majority share in Kuat Drive Yards, he has the unspeakable wealth of centuries of warprorfiteering...but he is a noble from a culture that prizes glory, & Monstro loves danger the way some Corellians love speed. A thrillseeker, he has been a bounty hunter, a gladiator, a gambler, a big game stalker...always chasing the next adrenaline rush with the most expensive toys, like a golden Corellian powersuit & an overclocked VT-49 Decimator, The White Plume (which comes equipped with a carbonite cell, with a suite of riding animals kept "on ice" to be suitable to the occasion). He collects trophies from his victories, like fighting with a Wookiee bowcaster & carrying a Tusken gaffi stick. It's not that he's unscrupulous, or immoral but sort of...amoral. He's not above hunting "the most dangerous prey," though he restricts his appetites to the Most Wanted & the often lethal races & fighting matches he hosts. Larger than life, it is all a game to Monstro.
Dark Side Dream
Theynur Kötturinn is a Farghul, Star Wars' answer to the Khajiit. She's also a junkie on the run from a power within her that she doesn't understand & can't control. & she's in Para Totool's dream. Or in the corridor with her. It's not important where she is: what's important is that she's there. ("Did you hear that?") Burke has shown up, hackles raised & ready to role, pun intended. The poise of the Imperator doesn't ripple when suddenly confronted with a feral Force user, but her curiosity is certainly piqued. Theynur, reaching deep into her connection to the Force, touches her mind to Para's mind, buying a new Force power & managing to sever the connection between the witch-empress & Para Totool, just before she's about to walk into the astrogation room. In fact, the door hisses open right as she blinks her eyes awake...& there they see the sub-conscious Jolit, a host of wires plugged into him Matrix style. Cords running from his eyes, throat & veins into the navicomputer, data flashing up & down the datalinks. So that's all very reassuring. it seems that Jolit was just randomly referencing starcharts & hyperspace coordinates, pulling up systems & clusters with no discernible pattern & making no changes to them, not even copying them; just pointlessly scanning though them.

Race Through the Rings of Drall
All the excitement is great timing, because we are starting to draw to a close on the session...but not before introducing Baron Monstro! The reckless fool has his shiny white VT-49 Decimator The White Plume, engine pushed to critical & running out to meet them venting plasma...& he wants to race them through the Rings of Drall. He's excited to hear Eris on the commlink & to know the old champ Ssushath is there— "the Zode!"— & asks about the reptiloid's old friend Wuukar...who was recently executed by the Praetorians as a Rebel. From there it's the opening shots of Rogue One as their SoroSuub 3000 staryacht The False Profit (which Joey 3D-printed a model of; see below) & The White Plume skip across the densely packed stellar rings from a distance like streaks of light, then cutting to the Empire Strikes Back's asteroid chase, ships dodging through a tight chaos of rock & ice. After a session of rather flat results from the dice, successes & failures canceling out, the crew is in their element. Well, Jax feels a bit out of it, but our band of scoundrels manage to plot an impossible course, thread the needle of actually flying the route, & eke every last ounce of power for the sublight drive. Even though they mostly assume they are just going to get Most Dangerous Prey'd by this lunatic when they get to his planetoid, their plan is to impress the Baron by putting on a show, & they succeed. Breaking into sight around the cosmic horizon: the palace moon of Corellia Prime! "Can we see the planet it is in orbit around?" my sweet summer children ask me. No, you cannot. This is a "forest moon of Endor" situation. Just hush now.
    Corellia Prime is the palace-moon of Baron Monstro. It's visual design is Death Star-esque in Star Destroyer off-white, a world built over with solar panel "crop circles" & luxurious greebles. Urbane settings & decadent sprawls combine, with a variety of humans, Duros & other aliens thrown together in a jumble, ready to cater to any whim, no matter how carnal or legal. A bubble of consequence-free fun for the powerful, built on the purchased talent's quite literal blood, sweat & tears. A playground of delights with no safety railings, where the only real freedom or security is power, or the Baron's favour. It is a world of rhomboid towers, pleasure mazes, gladiator pits, & race tracks.
ringwraith

Out of the Abyss: Alas, Poor Norin.

IN THIS EPISODE OF OUT OF THE ABYSS: THE DEATH OF NORIN!



The last session concluded with our protagonists, still trapped deep in the Underdark, entering the Whorlstone Tunnels within the demented derro neighborhoods of Gracklstugh, The City of Blades. As for goals? They have a few. Uncover evidence of "corruption" in the city for Errde Blackskull of the Stone Guard. Find the stolen red dragon egg for Firekeeper Gartokkar, but at the same time report on the Firekeepers' plots to the adult red dragon Themerchaud first. Discover where the economy destabilizing foreign currency & treasure the derro are using are coming from for Ylsa Henstak of the merchant clans. All the clues have come together around one figure, & now they are in pursuit of a pale & tatterdemalion derro, one "Droki," on behalf of a significant number of parties, & in the midst of "Dungeon Time." That means pacing has slowed to a crawl, though we did an impressive job with staying on track & switching in & out of initiative order as needed. Now into the tunnels in earnest, the players have killed their one-time companion Buppido, whose lair they found within the twisting labyrinth & who attacked them while necromancing a handful of skeletons & ranting that he was the god Diirinka incarnate. Afterward, a ghost in that room asked them to find his corpse's animated severed hand to allow him his final rest. He was a gnome called Pelek in life, & his hand should bear a ring with an onyx stone. Before giving them a moment to compose themselves or regain their wits, our heroes are: Pritpaul's increasingly cannibalistic halfling ranger, Serafin; Jim's drow warlock, bound to the drow hero-goddess Eilistraee, Imica; Sam's thri-kreen bard Pook'cha who proved extraordinarily competent this session & Ellen's character, a wood elf cleric of the Red Knight who calls herself "Norin."

Beyond the haunted boneyard that Buppido claimed as his home, the PCs spot an odd scene; a ring of giant mushrooms around the wall, with moldy, overgrown kuo-toa standing perfectly still in the room, surrounded by broken bones. Then one of the giant toadstools shuffles nervously side to side, & our players realize: myconids! They retreat back to the skeleton strewn room from their scouting expedition, bandaging up their wounds & getting reading in case things take a turn for the violent. The Underdark's Darwinian intensity has taught them to be cautious of even the lowliest...but when they stealthily re-approach, they see now that the almost-humanoid fungal almost-people have begun to sway & dance around the room, all but one, while the two fuzzy fish-folk remain eerily still. Braving the spores, Pook'cha makes contact, inhaling the cloud of "rapport spores" that they exhale. Introducing himself as Voosbur, the "speaking" myconid adult keeps singing & vapidly saying that the Good Lady wants them to have a Good Time, because a Good Time is a Good Thing. When the skeletons came rushing out of the other room (having been turned by the cleric), the myconid troupe's Friends protected them, but that's why they were hiding...though now they are Dancing! The outcast myconid sprout over in the corner sulking-- gestured at with an appendage-like rhizome-- is "Norin," who doesn't seem to like to have a Good Time.



Oh great! Another "Norin!" The PCs knew this was coming; as their companion "Derendil," ostensibly an elf prince cursed to wear the form of a quaggoth, had his backstory muddled by the apparent existence of multiple creatures claiming to be polymorphed "Derendils." The stinger on that revelation was that there is apparently a similar situation of multiple "Norins," a category that includes Ellen's character. With no one else having inhaled the telepathic spores of the myconids, Pook'cha keeps the knowledge of another "Norin" to himself for the moment, & coaching the other adventures to follow his lead, the insectoid thri-kreen begins to dance alongside the fungal procession, keeping to their patterns but moving steadily through the room. The group dervishes across, some deciding to take a surreptitious gulp of the germinating spores to get a listen, as the myconids sing-songedly offer them the Gift of the Lady. Readers, they declined, & realizing the dance was coming to the end, the myconids used the blessing of the Gift of the Lady to psychedelically conga line into some of the mushroom patches in the room, a wriggling teleport that takes them far, far away in a single step. The mushroom "Norin" remains, however, & asks the group-- in a clear & lucid mental voice-- if she can accompany them, offering to help heal them if they can help her get out alive. One of her parents, Pylo & Basidia, wants to murder her, but she doesn't know which & so she fled, only to then narrowly escape being kidnapped by drow slavers. Sound familiar? It does to the PC "Norin," who elects to go by "Kris" in order to avoid a lengthy conversation about identity.

The Whorlstone Tunnel entrance was hidden by an illusion of faerzress, the fraying dimensional energy that suffuses the Underdark with differing intensities in different places. Here, it's a raw, primal force, eroding the very stone into the looping caves that comprise the complex. It is what the giant fungal gardens are feeding on, the decay of reality, & in the next room that is made extremely manifest. It is a vast thicket of fungus, cut back & trimmed in places but regrowing quickly, dense enough that only a Tiny creature could sneak through with any ease. Small creatures could try...& the players recall the Alice in Wonderland toadstools they saw Droki eating, "bigwigs" & "pygmywort" that cause those that eat them to enlarge or shrink, respectively, & decide to try them out. The elf "Norin"-- who was patched up by the myconid "Norin" but relieved to see that she didn't use any cleric spells, just first aid-- picks a few over-ripe torchstalks, & the whole mass quivers, one continuous & sensitive communal organism. A delicate business! "EAT ME" the toadstools metaphorically demand, &...you ever like, look at your hands man? They seem so small, man, oh woah man! My hands are small! I'm small dude! Thus reduced in size, our merry band of friends moves stealthily through the thicket...until they don't. Hideous swarms of giant centipedes erupt from the nooks & crannies of the mushrooms as they stumble, extra menacing to the shrunken heroes, & the cleric "Norin" goes to fire off a spell...before the Wild Magic of the faerzress takes hold of it, creating a secondary effect centered on her: fireball.



Fwoosh! Well, the first good news is that the first wave of creepy crawlies are neatly incinerated, along with creating a pretty strong deterrent to any further immediate attacks. The second is that since the exploding torchstalks were already picked, there isn't a chain reaction of any more explosions. The final piece of gospel is that Jesus saves, for half damage, as do most of the PCs. The bad news is that Imica gets badly burned by the sudden inferno, though the quick application of a healing potion by his old tutor Pook'cha helps mitigate the worst of his injuries. Myconid "Norin" is not so lucky. Ground zero for the blast, she is a charred mess of burnt flora & fauna. Searching her, they discover that her "holy symbol" was a gold coin with a hole through it, hung on a string: Waukeen, goddess of trade. Well, at least it resolves that tricky plotline for the moment, & "Norin" can go back to being Norin again. The party moves on, with Serafin pausing in the shadows, lagging a little behind everyone...to sneak a mouthful of the dead mushroom person's corpse, chewing on the fleshy matter left behind. Okay...

Beyond are branching pathways, leaving them to decide which to head towards: the sounds of echoing Dwarven, the sounds of choked screams or the rank smell of beasts. Electing to follow the spoken fragments, they find a stout, locked door, now silent...& another side passage, which they decide to follow along down. They can tell that Droki has been using the omnipresent network of cracks, sewers & chimneys (widened by a pack of demonic quasits, according to the fungi) to sneak around & miraculously, rounding into a corkscrewing cavern with a rushing water & narrow ledges, they manage to catch sight of him! & the weird, lurking water elemental, conjured to life by Whorlstone's faerzress, spots them! Ambushing them from the depths & sparkling with the luminescence of cave fishes, it almost drags Pook'cha to a watery grave. Three clicks of his heels & Droki's off at a dead sprint, & the players engage in a running battle with the liquid horror, which appears able to move about from eddy to eddy with impunity. Norin is slammed against the stone wall by it, but she clings on tight & keeps from being drowned, as the party successfully flees from the water's edges, hot on the heels of the elusive Droki. Which is where we will begin next time, with pursuit under way...which reminds me, I gotta brush up on the chase rules.