Sunday, July 2, 2017

What Do I Know About Reviews? Friends Like These (Age of Rebellion)

I think it’s about time for me to wander back to a galaxy far, far away. Specifically, I finally got my copy of Friends Like These, the most recent adventure released for the Age of Rebellion RPG. Let’s form a battle plan, shall we?

Canon Notes
For the more recent Star Wars products, this hasn’t come up nearly as often, with most of the more recent products either lightly referencing Legends material, or being almost entirely new material, flavored with “new canon” facts.

I’m only going to make a couple notes here, because they jumped out at me. First, if you haven’t seen the Clone Wars episodes with the Zygerrians, and only know them from the Dark Horse comics, or their appearance in the Saga edition rulebooks, these are Zygerrians as they were redesigned for the television series. Second, if you haven’t seen season three of Rebels, I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but there is a line about “no known Mandalorian Force users” in the species write up. Just watch season three.

A Body For War
Like all of the Fantasy Flight Star Wars adventure books, this one is 96 pages long. Same high quality art and formatting as previous products in the line. As far as artwork goes, there is a mix of repurposed Mandalorian artwork from Fantasy Flight’s other games, and some portraits of NPCs from the adventure itself. All and all, attractive, but maybe not the most striking in the line.

The introduction section continues the Fantasy Flight tradition of a one page piece of fiction that specifically deals with the adventure and the situations in that adventure, then moves on to an adventure overview, game prep suggestions, ways to personalize the adventure to the PCs, and adds in some special rules pertinent to the adventure.

In this case, the pertinent extras include the species write up for Mandalorian humans, and another recap of the mass combat rules. Mandalorians are a little tougher than regular humans, but I’m not sure they come out ahead when for skill options—however, they don’t end up obviously better than other humans at their specialties (damn you Corellian pilots!). Given that both adventures so far for Age of Rebellion have featured the mass combat rules, I’m wondering if they really shouldn’t have made this part of the core rules, to save those pages in the future. Too late for that, I guess.

Because this adventure is time sensitive, there are travel times listed to the nearest systems that will be relevant to the plot. This is one of those cases where navigation checks and the hyperdrive rating of a ship isn’t just an element you can handwave going from one place to another.

Trouble on Xorrn
This section opens with a planetary overview of Xorrn, and the PCs being sent here to respond to a distress call by the Rebel Alliance. Bless you Age of Rebellion for making it easier to frame the beginning of an adventure. “You’ve got your orders, get going.”

While there might be some fancy piloting needed to get to the planet safely, the opening chapter has very little in the way of combat, so the more combat oriented PCs may not have as much to do in this section. The situation that the group finds is a planet that knows they are about to get hammered by an Imperial force, and they need to hold out until Rebel reinforcements can arrive. That means that the GM needs to keep close track of time, and failures and decisions about what things to attempt, and what preparations to skip, can become very important.

The planet refits starships for both the Alliance and various underworld types, meaning that the PCs may have to deal with less savory characters. Immediately, there are some political problems between a member of the leading family on the planet and an ex-Imperial engineer that is a large part of why the place is profitable.

Beyond the political situation, there are plenty of places on planet that could be fixed, reinforced, or modified to help it to better withstand an attack by Imperial forces. If the PCs tour the facilities, they can find various places where they can use technical skills to make the checks in the mass combat phases at the end of the adventure easier, but those modifications and upgrades all take time.

PCs can smooth over the political situation the hard way, by getting everyone to see eye to eye, or they can pick one side or the other to throw under the bus, so that at least the locals aren’t arguing with one another during the fight. I like the flexibility of doing the right thing versus doing the expedient thing.

The PCs can also find out about potential nearby allies. They can do this on their own, but if they talk to the right NPCs (giving them incentive to walk the facilities and also spot places to upgrade the defenses), they will have a better chance to get the information in one shot.

Courting Mandalorians
The nearby Mandalorians are mercenaries, which means they aren’t going to lend their help for free. The PCs will need to negotiate with them to get them on board, but there are things they can do in this chapter to make that negotiation easier.

The chapter opens with a planetary summary of Vlemoth Port, and possibly to make up for the previous chapter, a scuffle ensues right off the bat. PCs will have to wait to get an audience with the leader of the local Mandalorians, and they can choose to use that time to do various things, which might help in the negotiations.

PCs can drink with a local Mando telling war stories, and the amount of time spend drinking reveals more information. They can volunteer to go on a rescue mission. If they don’t want to really do much other than wait, some local young Mandalorians will get into a non-lethal fight with them, just to see how tough they are. Based on previous decisions, they will negotiate with the local Mando leader, and she will tell them if they can help, and how many troops she can spare.

The Zygerrian Paradox
In this chapter, the PCs can recruit Zygerrian slavers to help them defend Xorrn, which is obviously a morally challenging decision. The chapter starts with a planetary brief of Kowak (yes, the home of Kowakian Monkey-Lizards!), and then moves on to multiple choices the PCs can make.

The PCs can just try to deal with the Zygerrian prince, in which case they get to deal with some other slavers to get his prize back. They can get blackmail information on the prince, in which case, they have his help, but he’s still using slaves to help them. Or, the PCs can go the dangerous, time consuming route, and lead a slave uprising.

The up side is, while dangerous and time consuming, it might backdoor the Mandalorians into the fight. The down side is, if they show up, you might lose a considerable number of Mandalorians that you want on your side when you get back to Xorrn.

Depending on how you recruited the Zygerrians, you may have to renegotiate your deal with the Mandalorians, since there are reasons these two factions don’t get along, and even if you do, some extra effort may be warranted to manage how you use these allies to keep them apart.

The Battle of Xorrn
Eventually, the timer for the Imperial attack with reach an end, and then it’s just time to keep track of how long until the Rebel Alliance can show up. The mass battle is played out in nine phases. Depending on how the previous phase went, the next phase may be easier, or harder, and each phase will take more time if the defending forces are successful, which is the point—running out the clock until the Rebels show up.

The first few phases take place in space, so a character that is inclined to Starfighter combat can chose to play an optional scene where they take on some fighters, and this will positively impact the difficulty of the roll for mass combat in that phase. In addition, there is a side mission to sneak on board the Imperial command ship to extract a Rebel spy.

The next few phases take place planet side, and PCs can choose to do things like take on scouts on speeder bikes or an AT-ST to help on the difficulty of the mass combat check. Additionally, there is an Imperial Floating Fortress coordinating the ground forces that can be directly attacked.

Eventually, the battle falls back to the halls of the main building on the planet, and PCs will be slugging it out with Stormtroopers. Phase 9 is designed to be repeatable, until the defending forces no longer meet the criteria for defending themselves, at which point the base is overrun. Each time it’s successfully completed, more time comes off the clock, and the Rebels get closer to saving the day.
In the middle of all of this, a mystery concerning why the Imperial commander is so set on destroying this outpost can be revealed, depending on the PCs actions. What’s interesting about this reveal is that, it may not happen, or may happen differently based on the PCs actions, but they are never really directly involved in finding out this secret. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just an interesting twist to see a mystery in an adventure that isn’t revealed to be a mystery until the end.

As I mentioned in my Jewel of Yavin review, this is the kind of open ended scenario that could really use a tracking tool to make life easier for the GM. Something that shows what options could have been triggered for each phase, so that they can mark what is in play, and where the clock stands. This would provide a quick reference to what is going on at each step.

Additionally, I think I would make sure to do two things that aren’t directly stated in the text with each phase of the mass combat. First, the Imperial commander should be calling up the group, taunting them, and demanding surrender, possibly hiding his face the whole time, depending on the disposition of a given NPC. Second, at each phase, there should be a command briefing, to summarize what just happened, and to lay out the assumed plan for the next phase (possibly nudging the PCs towards some of the optional things they can do to help the checks). This also allows from some roleplaying between the different force commanders at each phase.

Finally, while there are “faces” for the Xygerrian forces and the Mandalorians, the potential droid allies don’t have a representative. Because this adventure really seems to want to hammer that balance between morality and expediency, I’d almost rather the droids have a tactical droid commander to be the “face” of that faction as well.

Stay on Target
So much stuff to do, and so much of it is player driven. The PCs get their mission, and then they have a whole range of options for completing it. There are lots of interesting NPCs to interact with, and the actions of the PCs have a direct impact on both the negotiations, and the mass combat rolls in the final act.

Impacted on the Surface
Complex time tracking and options available for each phase of mass combat could have been made easier with a tracking tool of some kind. The first chapter is going to leave characters without social or technical skills (i.e. all combat types) out in the cold. While the final battle has things for almost every specialty to do, some of those specialties are not as useful within a given phase.

Many Bothans Should Buy This Book
Moving the mass combat resolution to the final chapter makes it feel much more important than having it up front in (such as it was in Onslaught at Arda I). Additionally, player actions have a much more direct impact on the resolution of the adventure than they did in the previously released Age of Rebellion adventure.

I’m biased, but this is the kind of published adventure that I really enjoy. It provides a framework and lots of options, but the way that the players engage those options is largely left to them and their preferences. I fully recommend this to any Age of Rebellion GM looking for an adventure to run, or even just a book to show how to structure a good Age of Rebellion adventure.

**** (out of five)

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