The weekend rolls on, and I roll out another review as my backlog grows ever smaller. This time, I gave the cover to cover treatment to the first stand alone published Force and Destiny adventure, Chronicles of the Gatekeeper.
This was interesting for me, because to the best of my knowledge, there haven't been many published Star Wars that focused almost entirely on a party of Force users. While there have been adventures in the past that could be seen as similar to Edge of the Empire style adventures or Age of Rebellion style adventures, I think having an all Force user party is something that most Star Wars RPGs didn't assume in the past. If I'm wrong, let me know! I'd be happy to look into whatever Force centered adventures may have come out in the past.
Chronicles of the Gatekeeper came out towards the end of last year (2015), just a bit ahead of the release of The Force Awakens in theaters, so this adventure was most likely largely developed with the idea of the EU being Legends. The Lucasfilm policy that games (video, RPG, or otherwise) aren't meant so much to be canon, as they are to represent "authentic Star Wars experiences," was already coming into play. The Fantasy Flight products now tend to intersperse some old EU material that has yet to be either entered into canon or contradicted, although really ancient stories, like information from The Old Republic, tends to get disclaimed as unverified ancient history and folklore in the modern Star Wars era.
Physically, the book is an attractive hardcover that meets all previous expectations for Fantasy Flight products. There is quite a bit of artwork that was clearly designed specifically for this adventure, and depicts many of the unique NPCs, new locations, and species that show up in the book. The page count for the adventure, as is standard for the Star Wars Fantasy Flight RPGs, is 96 pages.
At this point, the pattern has pretty well been established that the Star Wars adventures from Fantasy Flight will have one page introductory fiction that introduces NPCs from the adventure, doing something that leads directly to some aspect of the adventure. This one is no different, and it does a good job of setting things up and getting out of the way.
The introduction includes a plot synopsis, major NPCs, and a section on how to use this particular adventure if your players are running characters from Age of Rebellion or Edge of the Empire and include only one or two Force sensitive characters. Essentially that guide points out a few encounters that you may want to weigh a little more heavily to play up the other themes of that particular RPG.
Since Morality doesn't work exactly like Obligation or Duty in the other two RPGs, there is just a mention that there will be sidebars calling out particularly important scenes in each episode where Morality might come into play and characters might be more likely to generate Conflict.
The introduction ends with a new Force power tree that is essentially a specialized version of the Foresee ability that revolves around individuals instead of events. It's an interesting power, but aside from the range or the speed the ability can be triggered, only the initial tier of the power involves seeing the future in "plot" terms, and the other upgrades have to do with the mechanics of combat. This ability appears here because one of the reasons that the plot moves forward is to give PCs access to this particular Force power by tracking down crystals that will unlock information from a Holocron.
Episode one includes an optional encounter where the PCs can acquire the Holocron to begin with. For brand new groups, you can assume that if they start with a Holocron, that the device is the device from this adventure. The Holocron then leads the PCs to a planet to start hunting down crystals that will complete it's knowledge of the Force power introduced at the beginning of the book, by retracing the steeps of a Jedi active during the Clone Wars.
The device leads them to a planet where they can either go in guns (or swords) blazing and take the item they are looking for, or they can attempt to be sneaky, or they can resolve a community crisis and overthrow a bad leader, and finally get the crystal. It's a pretty wide open approach, with details of the town and some key encounters that could happen, but with the PCs determining how they want to proceed. Part of this is to make sure they they have the chance to make moral decisions along the way.
There are mounted beasts they can rent and ride, a new alien species that is detailed as a PC species, if one of the players wants to make a new character from this planet, and an optional encounter with Imperials that might make things more complicated. Essentially, there are several encounters listed, with some listed as optional. If the PCs either are anxious to move forward or do really well in whatever plan they come up with, you can just circumvent the extra material.
The biggest quibble with this episode is that a few of the characters in the optional encounters are listed as "use statblock from page X of the core rules, but replace Y and Z," which makes for more work for the GM.
There is a bit more investigation in this leg of the adventure, as the PCs can basically be jerks and bulldoze their way through, or they can spend time helping out the locals on Cato Nemoidia, gain their trust, and get pointed in the right direction. Depending on how helpful they are, they may not even need to make checks to get the information they are looking for.
This section of the adventure deals with the Jedi that recorded the Holocron, and his actions during the Clone Wars, which lead to his fall to the Dark Side. Ironically, if the PCs give in to the Dark Side and power through this section to get the information they need to find the crystal, they don't get the backstory that explains to them that they may be doing exactly what that Jedi did before his fall.
Cato Nemoidia is a planet with some interesting visuals and structures that has appeared a few places over the years, so it may be recognizable to the players. Depending on how much they want to help out and how much they play through the encounters in this section, this episode could resolve rather quickly. The amount that the players get out of this episode is going to depend a lot on how much they want to put in, and how much they are interested in the Clone Wars era of Star Wars. While there are some optional encounters that might lead to confrontations, depending on how they proceed, these may not happen, so unlike Episode I, there is no set climax to the episode, which may also be a negative for some players and GMs.
To find the final crystal, the group is going to have to head to Moraband (sigh, yes, that's the same planet as Korriban). However, in the modern era, there aren't really any records of where Moraband is located, which means the PCs may need to make a side trek to find some pre-Clone Wars era navigation charts.
The GM is instructed to let the PCs try anything they want to find these charts, but if the situation is presented to the Holocron's Gatekeeper, it suggests a Jedi retreat on an aquatic planet. There are some rules for using a non-submersible ship to go underwater, and a big sea creatures that's too big to really fight, so the PCs will poke around trying to find something useful.
Interlude: Nerd Moment of Varying Importance
The key to finding the navigation data for Moraband is to find a ship in the retreat and get the old data from it's nav computer. The problem is, the ship in question is an Delta-7 Aethersprite interceptor. Those don't have hyperdrives, and thus, they don't have nav computers. They are only hyperspace capable if they are docked with a hyperspace ring, and their R2 unit will then serve as the nav computer. Thankfully, if this bothers you because you are as big a nerd as I am, the encounter actually also has the R2 unit that was with the ship in the same bay, needing repairs, so the encounter still works almost as written.
On Moraband, either a vengeful crime lord from Episode II, or a group of bounty hunters will follow you and confront you before you can look for the tomb of the fallen Jedi and claim his final crystal to allow your group full access to the Force power tree that he developed. One odd note about this is that the bounty hunters you may run into in this encounter are noted as being the same bounty hunters that were in the optional opening encounter, rather than the bounty hunter in Episode II that is specifically mentioned as existing so he can show up later in the campaign. Easy enough to switch the bounty hunters around, but it was odd, especially since the first group of bounty hunters will have no tie to the party if they didn't play the optional first scene.
The adventure mentions multiple ways that the PCs can zero in on the location they are looking for, either by using sensors or Force powers, or even having the Holocron try to reason out the most likely place for the Jedi to have gone. Like the previous two episodes, there is essentially a toolbox of encounters, several of which are marked as optional, that you can trigger as they march across Moraband.
The flavor of the planet is heavily influenced by the "Mission to Morriband" episode of the Clone Wars animated series, using the Dark Side Phantoms as the PCs' greatest fear come to life to attack them. There is an interesting mechanic for resolving attacks against them that I kind of like, involving their Willpower stat.
The final confrontation with a Dark Side Force user is described in a fairly epic manner, and also contains the ability to bring that character back to the Light, if the characters wish to make the attempt, even during the fight. If they go that route, some of the Dark Side Phantoms actually show up to remind him of all the evil he has done, so that there is a physically manifest battle for the character's soul that I really like.
At the end of Episode III, there is a section about the long term ramifications of the adventure, but instead of adventure hooks and contacts, it revolves around remembering to throw out some nasty nightmares and reminders of how psychologically grueling Moraband was, and how some of the locations the PCs visited previously could turn into hellholes or get better depending on how they blew through those sections of the adventure.
The Dark Side
There are a few places where it felt like things were thrown together in the adventure and a few details were missed, like the starfighter and the nav computer, the stat blocks, and the bounty hunter encounter towards the end. There is a large amount of information in this adventure that deals with the Clone Wars, so if players aren't so into the prequel era, that may not appeal to them as much. Episode II isn't a bad act at all, but how well it works is really going to depend on how much the PCs engage the plot and the NPCs, which means it could just shoot by unnoticed.
The Light Side
While the goal of the adventure is straight forward, the first two episodes are wide open with how the PCs want to approach their goal, which means they have lots of opportunities to engage in plans and moral choices. Episode I and III have very clear climaxes, and III especially is pretty epic in how it feels. The sections detailing Moraband can definitely be re-purposed to good use in other Force and Destiny adventures.
This is a good, solid adventure to kick off the Force and Destiny line. There should be a lot of interesting choices to make, and it has a suitably epic conclusion. The only thing that detracts from the overall picture is that the reliance on Clone Wars era imagery and story elements, and the potential to leave a lot of good roleplaying material in the dust in Episode II. That means that it may not be as universally loved for the epic ending presented.
*** (out of 5)