Saturday, November 30, 2013

Team Aurek, Inquisitor Madness (Edge of the Empire, November 21st, 2013)

Team Aurek left on on a bit of a cliffhanger.  The team was battered and badly injured by the Ghest in the swamp, most of them were barely walking, and Katya had just seen an Inquisitor and his Shadowtroopers coming towards the house in the swamp.

Before all of this starts, Cid calls the team and mentions that he could call the mining guild friend that Team Aurek saved a few weeks back, and he might be able to sideline a transport for them to escape with  (for some Obligation).  The team is mostly against this course of action.

I think Prawn is on that one there!

Prawn also gets a call about the same time, this time from the Hutt to whom he owes so many credits.  Prawn was presumed dead for several months, but now that he has show up on the Holonet due to Drifter's video uploads, Prawn needs to make a payment, and soon.  But at least he gets to talk to his old friend, Gand the accountant.

This is where the action starts.

  • The Inquisitor briefly stops to talk to the assassin droid.  He ignites his lightsaber, hits the droid twice, and carves him up badly.  The droid shuts down, but the Inquisitor hits an old piece of Cortosis plating that shuts down his lightsaber.
  • Katya uses the Force to slide the assassin droid into the house, then charges out the door to fight the Inquisitor, sacrificing herself to save everyone else.  The Inquisitor seems to recognize her.
  • Half of the team grabs the assassin droid and the navigator and heads out the back door to the navigator's shed and his speeder.  One of the Shadowtroopers is heading around back.

  • Katya is shot by the Shadowtrooper that stays with the Inquisitor, and drops immediately.
  • Prawn sees the Shadowtrooper circling around the back of the house, runs wildly back through the house, and his grappling hook accidentally snares Katya and he drags her along with him to the damaged rented speeder that the team originally piloted.
  • Both speeders take off into the swamp before the Inquisitor or his troopers can do any further damage to the group.

  • Drifter decodes the datapad that Donra recovered last time, and finds a message from Darth Vader himself to House Mecetti, explaining that the Inquisitor is on Nyriaan investigating a shipwreck and a retired navigator that has a mysterious past.
  • On the Nyriaan Skyhook, Donra gets the ship cleared for takeoff with some flirting, but there are odd moments of dropping TK-655's name.

  • The group heads off into space, but because the Skyhook is suppose to be in lockdown, the local Star Destroyer sends a flight of four TIEs to investigate.  The ship outruns the destroyer, and fights through the TIEs.  
  • The ship is badly damaged.  They jump to Tatooine and then to Nar Shaddaa to throw the Imperials off their trail.
  • On Nar Shaddaa, they purchase a new transponder for the ship, to make them harder to trace, and Katya leaves the team, telling them that she is too much of a liability to Cid now that the Inquisitor has seen her.
  • The ship limps back to Polis Massa, and Cid welcomes them in the "buisiness" landing bay.  He tells them that he is sorry that they lost Katya, but it's time to move on to the next phase of their job, when the space station goes into lockdown, with blast doors separating Cid's business from the rest of the station.
  • Cid indicates that he thinks this is an attack by the mysterious crime lord Fade.

Catching Up With Team Besh (Edge of the Empire, November 14th, 2013)

Team Besh has been getting the short end of the stick, with various holidays falling on their night.  Thankfully (?) I had to cancel a session on Team Aurek as well, when I wasn't feeling well.

Cid's job for Team Besh, after they caught their breath a bit from the last session, was to pick up a computer core, head to the "Gateway to Huttspace," the Outland Transit Station, and use that computer core to download a copy of OB, the Czerka computer system that Team Aurek encountered, and Max later sold out to the Empire.

Phase One of Team Besh's mission is to head to Raxus Prime, talk to Xevin Naxt, and find a salvaged computer core that could be reworked for use in this mission.

  • Upon arriving in orbit around Raxus Prime, Garner contacts a legitimate salvage dealer to make their visit look less suspicious.
  • The group stalls out in their negotiation with Xevin, but when there is conflict between Xevin and his new Jawa partners, they play up this disagreement, and they get access to salvaged computer cores at the expense of Xevin's peaceful relations with his Jawa neighbors.
  • Garner makes an impression on Slim Verblixster, a licensed salvage dealer, and is a point of contact for used starship parts that can be obtained legally.

  • At the Outland Transit Station, Dia, Garner, and Krill conspire to slice slaver transit information and pass it on to Garner's contacts, thus derailing slaving operations going into Hutt Space at least to a small degree.

  • The team runs into Hast Kodam, the notorious pirate that Garner tricked into hesitating back when they completed their mission on Malastare.  He doesn't recognize them because of their new YT-2400.
  • T3 finds out that another version of him has survived and has downloaded itself into a Basilisk War Droid owned by Hast Kodam.
  • The team makes contact with OB, and manages to convince him to aid them in downloading his personality.  Krill begins to do so remotely, but it will take almost two days to completely transfer the operating computer.
  • The team runs into some gladiators that were friends of Tor'Waar, one of which has a bounty on his head.  They are upset with Dia for her role in Tor'Waar's woes.  The group is threatening, but no fight breaks out.

  • Doctor Smith attempts to take out the hostile gladiators by volunteering his skills to give the Borhek gladitorial beasts a checkup.  He "boosts" them with his medical expertise, but they still fail to finish off the gladiators.
  • The Basilisk War Droid loses his match, much to T3's delight, and Garner's chagrin, since he bet on the droid.
  • Hast offers to buy the team dinner, and is especially interested in Dia.  While the group talking with the pirate, two figures, the Gungan bounty hunter Deadeye Bodad and the Herglic mercenary Monstro Ybom mention that they are working for the mysterious crime lord Fade and they are here to take Team Besh in, dead or alive.

Playing Catch Up With Team Aurek (Edge of the Empire, November 7th, 2013)

It's a four day weekend, so I can relax by getting caught up on my game summaries from my campaign(s), while hoping that work is a little bit less stressful going into the holiday season!

Team Aurek lost a Wookiee, gained a pre-Rusaan assassin droid, and Cid has a new job for them, one that revolves around heading into the Unknown Regions to pick up a cache of pre-Republic war droids for which he has a buyer.

The coordinates are sketchy, and the Unknown Regions are tricky to navigate to begin with, so Phase One of the job is to pick up a particularly skilled navigator that Cid knows who happens to have retired on the planet Nyriaan.

In addition to the usual crew, Cid is a bit concerned about the team's escapades, and may have a secondary reason for sending the team to Nyriaan, so his personal assistant, Donra Myr, is going along as well.  (Meta explanation:  we were short two people and Dia's player is often in attendance this night as well)

  • Upon arriving at Nyriaan, Prawn is almost certain he can navigate through the storms that continually cover the planet's surface.  Katya isn't nearly as confident of Prawn's abilities, and she manages to influence the Rodian's mind, causing him to land on the Nyriaan skyhook in low orbit instead of flying directly down to the planet.
  • The party is a bit shaken by the huge lift platform that conveys them at high speed and partially without power down to the planet surface, since no one wished to pay a navigator or look for black market navigation gear.
  • Donra informs the group that she may need to keep an eye on House Mecetti interests before they round up their navigator.
  • The group has a very harrowing experience when they attempt to spy on House Mecetti, steal a datapad from a courier of the house, get caught red handed, and barely manage to talk their way out of the situation.
  • The group fails to decode the information on the datapad, and heads into the Nyriaan wilds, into the swamplands where the retired navigator lives.
  • A Ghest, a creature known on Rodia as a Swamp Demon, leaps out at the team's speeder.  Prawn knows exactly what the creature is, and the speeder slams into a tree, but takes minimal damage.
  • The team manages to dispatch the Ghest, but most of the team members are unconscious or badly injured by the creature.
  • The team arrives at the navigator's house in the swamp, and Katya has a strong compulsion to get him to leave with them.  He is resistant to her job offer, but proves relatively adept at medical treatment for the team.

  • The assassin droid is standing on the front porch, holding Donra's gear.  He doesn't notice anything, but Katya glances out the window and notices two black armored Stormtroopers and what appears to be an Imperial Inquisitor emerging from the swamp.

Friday, November 29, 2013

I'm Not Afraid--Fear Checks in Edge of the Empire

Given the four day weekend I've got going on, last night I started something that I have wanted to do for a while.  My idea was to watch all six of the Star Wars movies, taking notes just on the general "Star Wars" things in the movie, as well as the fringe/edge material, but not particularly noting anything that had to do with large scale armies, galactic politics, or the Jedi/Sith aspects of the setting.

While doing this, however, something occurred to me.

Edge of the Empire introduces a fear check into the game, which is presented as "the players see this scary thing, and if they don't make their check, they take stress or end up with setback dice."  Because Star Wars is a very bright, colorful, grandly heroic setting, these don't seem to come up very often.  Heck, the examples use Vader a lot.

Unfortunately, it's really easy to fall into the idea that fear checks should come up with PCs run into Vader or when you have a side tangent about zombies or Rakgouls, or some other horror element that isn't usually present in Star Wars, and maybe again when you Jedi characters go through some kind of trial like the cave on Dagobah, but other than that, it's not a mechanic that comes up much.

But what I noticed watching Episode I  (keep in mind, this is a structural analysis, not content--not too worried about the quality of the story so much as the structure) is that there are several scenes that seem to call out for Fear checks, but using the term "fear" colors the use of the check.

In fact, there seem to be many situations where "fear" checks would be appropriate, but should probably be called something more like "intimidation" checks.

Some examples that came up while watching the movie:

  • Encountering giant creatures that you transport has no real means of fighting.  (Underwater scenes on Naboo)
  • Fleeing from multiple capital ships that you know overmatch your ship.  (Trade Federation blockade)
  • A reminder about a dangerous situation that is a long term problem you can't immediately overcome.  (The message from Sio Bibble about conditions on Naboo)
  • Someone reminding you about the enormity of a given task, especially in light of past performance.  (Anakin's friends talking to him before the podrace, also a good time to upgrade a check given the reminder that the race won't just be hard, but that he's lost every other one and never finished)
  • Restating the importance of a given encounter working out before the group is committed to that course of action.  (Padme's plan to capture the Trade Federation Viceroy and how important that is)

The point is, while these are all situations where a fear check would be perfectly logical, they don't all follow the pattern of "look, there is a thing that is very scary and I have just realized it is here."  Some of them hinge on past performance.  Some of them hinge on "not only is this dangerous, but if we fail there will be long term massive repercussions."

Watching this, with an eye towards game mechanics, and how the game mechanics actually model the storytelling, is in interesting reminder to look for these situations, and even more importantly, to look for opportunities to create situations like this in the game.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Skirting the Edge: Starting Campaign Ideas for Edge of the Empire

I've read a few comments in a few places that sometimes players and GMs don't know exactly what to do with an Edge of the Empire campaign.  An Age of Rebellion game clearly has some assumptions firmly in place.  The players are working for the Rebel Alliance, they are primarily working to oppose the Empire, and if player ideas stall out, the GM can have a mission come down from on high and give the campaign a push.

Edge of the Empire, however, is a bit more wide open.  While all of the players are fringers that have some kind of Obligation, this is a bit less structured than the core assumption of Age of Rebellion.  I think there is also an assumption that with a wide open range of opportunities that the game should be more "sandbox," with the players flying around the galaxy doing what they will, and dealing with Obligations when they come up.

There is nothing wrong with that setup, but it has the same inherit pitfalls of any sandbox campaign, primarily that players can either have no idea what to do next, thus causing the campaign to stall out, or multiple players have ideas on what to do next, and the party is having a hard time choosing between options, thus causing the campaign to stall out.  It also assumes that the GM is going to be able to roll with the player decisions and either have appropriate set pieces that can slot into the player's designs, or will be able to do a lot of entertaining ad libbing in their campaign.

But just because the campaign options are wide open, that doesn't mean that the game doesn't support a strong central concept that might narrow down some of the work the GM has to do to run the game, and to create a bit more texture for the PCs to hang their character concepts on.

When looking at Edge of the Empire ideas, I think it helps to look to the Star Wars material for inspiration for starting campaign structures.  Without further ado, let's take a look at the question, "where do I start?" when running an Edge of the Empire campaign.

The Bounty Hunter and His Support Team

This idea is central to the Bounty Hunter class in The Old Republic game, but it's actually appeared a few other places across Star Wars media.  The basic concept is that you have a bounty hunter, he's got friends that do the things he isn't quite as good at, and he gets steady work from someone that may or may not be his boss, but is clearly the primary source of jobs that the hunter follows up on.

Having a boss or a business manager lets the player relax a bit when it comes to options.  The GM can come up with two or three promising bounties, and the players still get to have some agency on how the campaign moves forward, even as the GM has less than an infinite number of options to develop for future adventures.

Having medics, researchers, and tech support on call all make sense for a bounty hunter that is traveling around the galaxy, because they have to be less of a "jack of all trades" and can focus on being able just bring in the bounties.

The "Bounty Hunter and Support Team" campaign also has a built in campaign twist in the form of rival hunters.  In fact, the rival hunter is almost always built into the campaign concept when it has appear in Star Wars media.

Examples of the the "Bounty Hunter and Support Team" can be found in The Old Republic  (a bounty hunter, his slicer, and some other underworld pickups working for the Mandalorians and participating in the Great Hunt), the old Playstation game Bounty Hunter  (Jango Fett and Zam Wesell working for a Toydarian business manager with a rival Mandalorian on his heels), and the Clone Wars television series  (both Cad Bane and Boba Fett have a cadre of hunters, slicers, and specialists that work with them, in addition to other hunters).

A Team of Fixers

This is a setup that I'm currently using for my Edge of the Empire game.  You have a small time player on the galactic stage that wants to have some fixers, people with a wide range of skills that he can use to do things he needs done to keep his place in the scheme of things.

In this situation, you can reinforce why the players are working for their new employer by having that employer pick them up from a bad situation and/or being the one that provides their starting ship.  This provides a tie to the boss for at least a good number of starting sessions, and can give you a automatic character upon which to hitch their Obligations.

In this setup, the player agency is probably going to come from having more open ended resolutions to the jobs they are handed.  Unlike the hunter option above, the team of fixers may not get multiple job options, but they may have a lot of room to figure out exactly how to do the job they are given.

Talon Karrde's "A List" team of operatives  (Mara Jade, Aves, Ghent, etc.) is an example of this kind of setup, with characters with some disparate backgrounds and skills working for a strong central figure that still lets them go about their missions with a degree of freedom and trust.

Private Survey Team

Another "fringe" campaign that is can bring together a wide range of characters is that of a team working for a small survey company that goes out into Wild Space and the Unknown Regions to survey planets and bring back information to the "civilized" galaxy.

Characters working for a survey company aren't likely to have a lot of say in just randomly wandering the galaxy, but once they get to an individual planet, they can wander to their heart's content on the planet itself.  The prime driver of this sort of campaign will to make sure that the planets are varied, with lots of challenges and sub plots that develop on the planets themselves.

Not only is there likely to be dangerous terrain, animals, a natives on a given planet, but there are smugglers that might wish to do business, or even to hide their location from the greater galaxy.  There might be stowaways that are attempting to get lost on unknown worlds that cause their own complications.  And it's entirely possible that the players might "moonlight" as smugglers in addition to their respectable surveying job.

The Empire cut funding to exploration projects, but individual Moffs are always looking to extend their influence, so taking on Imperial contracts isn't out of the question as well, meaning that the poor, innocent surveyors might run into Rebel opposition as well.

A survey team is going to need navigators, survivalists, and pilots, but once on planet, having some muscle to protect the rest of the team is likely just as important.  Slicers may not be in as much demand on frontier worlds, but you never know when you might run into alien technology and computer systems that predate the Empire or even the Old Republic.

Surveyors are mentioned a lot in Star Wars material, but there aren't many well known characters that have followed this career path.  Gav and Jori Daragon are examples of explorers in this mold, but considering they got their patron Hutt killed and started the Great Hyperspace War  (on accident), maybe your PCs shouldn't use them as examples.

Private Security Firm Employees

Sometimes there seems to be a fine line between bounty hunters and mercenaries, but in general, mercenaries are hired for much more open ended jobs than bounty hunters.  Mercs are usually hired to perform an objective  (guard this building, retake this city, etc.) rather than being given individual targets to neutralize.

This campaign set up is going to have a lot less player input on individual adventures, but that doesn't mean it has to be a railroad.  Characters will still be able to ask around to get information on their opposition.  They might push the boundaries of their own contract to be more pro-active and finish a job before it gets really bad.

Twists in this campaign are going to stem from creating threats that are unexpected.  Other employees turning traitor, weird local creatures, and unexpected opposition are all ways to keep the campaign fresh.  The team may think they are hired to guard a warehouse from thieves, but those thieves end up being members of the Rebel Alliance, for example.

Planets on these campaigns should be varied and provide a lot of flavor.  Not only should the opposition be a bit surprising, but it's important for the player's Obligations to make a simple job much more complicated.  If the players are guarding something, maybe they lose that "thing," and then need to track it down to salvage their jobs.  Maybe the group is hired to take a bandit fortification, and the team has to determine what to do with the slaves taken by the bandits after the fighting is over.

Soldier types are going to get a lot of millage from this kind of campaign, and pilots might be at home if the group has access to vehicles as part of their job.  The group's ship is likely to get less of a workout in this type of campaign, but they may be hired to escort VIPs from place to place, and in this case, gunners and mechanics are going to have a lot more to do.

Mandalorians show up a lot in bounty hunter-centric stories, but there are also a lot of mercenary level stories that feature Mandalorians.  The Star Wars universe has other mercenary groups, like the Echani, which are "culture base" mercenary groups, but groups like the Aurodium Swords specialized in doing things like guarding VIPs across the galaxy.

In the books there is also a bit of an example of mercenary guard action when it comes to books that have featured Dash Rendar, as he was contracted to head a VIP's security in Shadow Games as was also hired to guard Luke Skywalker for a while in Shadows of the Empire.

Travelling Competitors

This one is a a bit of a wild card, but could be fun.  The group in this case is a traveling band of competitors of some sort.  They might be racers, gladiators, shockboxers, or whatever else the players might come up with.  The GMs can design adventures based on where the next competition is scheduled to take place.

In this kind of campaign, again, the Obligations should really complicate a relatively straightforward competition, and there should be all sorts of strange side jobs that come up, from smugglers to murder mysteries.  Just watch Speed Racer sometime.

When it comes to this kind of campaign, a racer or tech dependent competitor will need tech support to keep their equipment in top shape, which allows for a wider range of characters, and medics and bodyguards are never a bad idea for someone that might make his rivals a bit upset with him.

For inspiration from the Star Wars universe, this is actually the setup of the opening story arc of the Droids cartoon.  Not only does Boba Fett make an appearance in this storyline, but his involvement is the result of Obligation!