Funny thing. I started reading through this to review it back in December. I was going to try and get this and maybe one more Star Wars RPG review out to commemorate Rogue One being released. I forgot one small detail, that being that the holidays were going to cause chaos and unpredictability, and then January showed up, I started a new job, and, well . . . but, hey, February is here, and the reviews must flow!
Mask of the Pirate Queen is an Edge of the Empire scenario that revolves around taking a contract for a bounty, so each Edge of the Empire adventure so far, while having roles for multiple characters, has featured broad themes that appeal to explorers (Beyond the Rim), thieves (The Jewel of Yavin), and now bounty hunters.
Mask of the Pirate Queen came out in November of 2015, just squeaking into game stores ahead of The Force Awakens. That means most of the quirks of the Disney buyout and the Legends shift had already been hammered out. Despite this being written after the Legends designation, however, this book continues the Fantasy Flight tradition of pulling from Legends for elements in the adventure. There isn't much in the way of discussing the canon status of any of these elements, the way earlier adventures did.
While I'm sure I'm going to miss some things here or there, this adventure pulls from Ord Mantell lore in video games like The Old Republic and Shadows of the Empire. The Zann Consortium is a major element, and they first showed up in the Forces of Corruption expansion for the RTS game Empire at War. The Star Viper fighters used by the Consortium came from Shadows of the Empire as well, and the Cutlass-9 fighters used by the Sorority first appeared in Jedi Starfighter. Lots of, well--Legendary--video games inspired the content in this adventure.
What's The Package Look Like?
First off, the short hand--if you've seen my comments about other Fantasy Flight hardcover books, this one isn't the one that breaks the mold. To go into more detail, compared to earlier adventures and sourcebooks, a lot of the art is either directly tied to the adventure, or at least Fantasy Flight has had enough reason to get art that touches on the organizations and elements used in this adventure. In particular, there are pieces that appear to depict specific scenes from the adventure, as well as the titular Pirate Queen. The book is a 96 page hardcover, as is standard for Fantasy Flight's adventures in the Star Wars RPG lines.
The book opens up with the one page fiction piece that ties into the events of the adventures, which has become standard of the adventures in this line. The introduction has sections detailing the important NPCs, the general thrust of the adventure, game preparation, and replacement characters. Much of this is similar to previous offerings, and compared to some adventures, this introduction is a bit shorter, but it also contains knowledge check results for the Zann Consortium and the Veiled Sorority.
Search on Saleucami
The PCs get hired to take on a bounty, in this case the head of a group of female led pirates that have crossed the Zann Consortium one too many times. The NPC that hires the group can act as a nudge to push the PCs in the right direction, but essentially she is giving them multiple leads that they can check out and interact with as they see fit. One of those leads moves them towards the secret base in the next section of the adventure.
There is a little bit of leeway in how the PCs might approach entering the compound, but it's fairly straightforward. Once inside, they fight someone that looks like the Pirate Queen and her guards, and they can attempt to collect their bounty. Fairly quickly they find out that this was a double wearing the same mask as the real Pirate Queen, and their job isn't done yet.
At this point, I don't mind that the opening act is a bit straightforward and that the Pirate Queen is already a step ahead of the PCs. That's fine for an opening act. And linear adventure design is different than railroads, so I'm not nearly as frustrated at this point as I was with Onslaught at Arda I, where it wasn't just a linear plot, but one where noting but the absolute final encounter mattered.
Going to Ground
This chapter has quite a bit of information on Ord Mantell, gazetteer style, so if you are interested in using a fairly well known "named" place in the Star Wars galaxy, this adventure is going to provide some extra value on that front.
This section also has some of the most open decision making in the adventure. The group needs to get some help from a local crime boss, but he will only help if they do a job for him. There are multiple options for the jobs, and as presented, there are decisions about how hard or easy the PCs want to make it, and whether they want to try and stay on relatively high moral ground. These jobs also lead them into various locations on Ord Mantell where they might pick up a side quest or two.
Once one of the jobs is completed, the PCs can find someone close to the Pirate Queen, and leverage him to find yet another secret hideout. While that is a fairly straightforward mission, I do like that, as presented, the PCs could go in guns blazing and dangle the guy off the roof, or they could just lay their cards on the table with the guy.
Finally, they head to another hidden fortress, and the Pirate Queen is one step ahead of them, again, and springs a trap on them. They have the opportunity to take a member of the organization captive, and get information from her, so there is some social interaction with her. There is also the question of what to do with her after they have her in custody.
This part of the adventure is both the strongest and the weakest. The free roaming on Ord Mantell and the decisions about the job and the side quests are great. I don't even mind the Pirate Queen being ahead of the PCs yet again, because we want to build the tension. However, it feels as if the PCs should at the very least be able to see the trap ahead of time, so they could avoid it. There may have been less combat, but I'm sure an alternate, action oriented encounter could have been inserted.
Prepare for Boarders
I don't really have a problem with how the chapter starts, because there are a least slightly different things that will happen depending on the precautions that the PCs have taken with their ship. I just laughed to myself knowing I could never run this adventure as is, given that I have, in more than one campaign, blown up or stolen an unattended ship, and my players would never believe that it was actually written into the adventure this time.
The very simple set up for the final showdown with the Pirate Queen is that the PCs jump to the proper location, the Zann Consortium ships blockade the Sorority ships, the PCs have to blow through a few fighters to dock with the flagship, and then board the ship looking for the Pirate Queen.
What they really needed to detail was the fighters and the encounters in the Pirate Queen's flagship. Instead, all of the ships on both sides get detailed. I realize I shouldn't complain, because this gives the GM more tools in case the PCs do something unexpected, but at the same time, there are a few things I would have rather seen detailed in this chapter than ship stats that most likely won't come into play.
There are multiple encounters between the PCs and the bridge of the ship and the confrontation with the Pirate Queen. As written, none to all of them might happen, and I like the variety of encounters and the flexibility of this design choice. While some of the encounters are combat oriented, some involve compartments that are in breach and need to be avoided or sealed before the PCs can proceed.
The Pirate Queen gives the PCs a chance to join her organization and help her break the blockade, and given this is near the end of the adventure, that's not really going to ruin anything. There is also a brief mention of the PCs taking the Pirate Queen's mask and attempting to take over the Sorority. This is where I have an issue with using so many pages for ships that may never need stats in the encounter. PCs attempting to take over the Sorority is a great option to leave open, but the adventure basically just says "it could be done, but it would be really hard." I would have rather had a few more guidelines, maybe the kinds of checks the PCs might need to make, in order to flesh this option out.
The final encounter at first just appears to be the PCs getting paid, but essentially they have to figure out which of the two intermediaries of the organization is actually disloyal. They get paid either way, but if they back the wrong one, they end up with the Zann Consortium as an enemy. I like this twist, but as written, this comes down to one roll at the end of the adventure. It would have been nice to have seeded clues earlier in the adventure to build up to this.
The Big Score
A Pirate Queen is not only a great bounty to go after, but the costume and general atmosphere make it a perfect Star Wars feeling adventure element. The Ord Mantell information is useful in a wide variety of campaigns. The second and third act allow for some meaningful decisions that speak to how the characters view their characters and their place among the less-than-reputable people they are working with.
The Double Cross
The second act ending is a bit too scripted, and a bit too much like a repetition of the first act. Page count is spent on things that aren't likely to come up in the adventure, while a really tantalizing option is left without any advice on how to resolve it. The final, important decision hinges on one check, in the moment, instead of any clues that were seeded in other parts of the adventure.
Its Only Business, Nothing Personal
I'm probably being a bit harder on this adventure than it deserves. It has a great theme, very Star Wars feeling characters, and should be a great adventure for PCs wanting to get their bounty hunter cred moving upwards. I think that may be why I'm being hard on it, however. There is a ton of potential in this adventure, and it would have only taken a few tweaks to move this from good to great.
As it stands, I have no problem recommending it, but I just can't help but feel it needed a little bit more fine tuning. Despite having a similar score, I do feel that this adventure is better than Enter the Unknown, and it's way, way better than Onslaught at Arda I, but it doesn't quite hit the high notes that The Jewel of Yavin or Chronicles of the Gatekeeper did.
*** (out of 5)