Monday, April 20, 2009

REVIEW: Crisis on Cloud City


Crisis on Cloud City is a sequel (of sorts) to the Starfall adventure—teaming the characters once again with legendary Alliance Engineer Wallex Blissex. Once again, they're bound for trouble as they escort him on a secret mission to Bespin—to meet with a robotics researcher there who has an invention that must might change the course of the war. But things never go as planned. The Alliance isn't the only party interested in this mysterious technology—Wallex's daughter, the Imperial Lady Lira Wessex (also a character from Starfall) is on Cloud City, too. Unfortunately for both groups, the 'technology' has a mind and agenda of its own. Before long, the Characters are embroiled in a race against time to save the entire city.

Crisis combines some of the elements I love most in a good Star Wars adventure. First of all, there's the setting—A pre-Empire Strike's Back Cloud city run by its new Baron-Administrator, Lando Calrissian. So not only do you get to kick around in the 'back yard' of the movies, you also get to rub elbows with a major Feature Character. As I've stated (many times) before in this blog, forming a connection to the movies really helps immerse the players in the setting. At least it did for mine. And the writer's of the adventure do a great job in making sure that Lando doesn't steal the show. There is interaction, sure, but the players are there to do the legwork.

The inclusion of Wallex and Lira from Starfall is another great idea. It helps to create a sense of continuity in a campaign where the GM runs both of these adventures. I know that these modules really helped me with my game-mastering skills—they got my brain working on how I could weave my own non-player character in and out of the lives of the heroes. I know I've spoken of this many times before in this blog, but it always bears re-iteration— recurring characters build depth in a campaign by giving the impression of a 'larger galaxy' full of people who are all leading their own lives. It can make even a fantastical galaxy like Star Wars seem more 'real' and relatable— and interesting.

The villain of Crisis in Cloud City is one of the most unique in any Star Wars adventure. It isn't an Imperial or a Sith or a Space Pirate or a Bounty Hunter or any of the more cliche' types. Its a droid brain, an artificial intelligence that is slowly assuming control over Cloud City with the nefarious purpose of 'infecting' all of its inhabitants with a nano-virus that will turn them into mechanical beings—under its command, of course. In its most limited scope, the Villain poses a threat to millions of living beings—the entire city.  But there are hints of this threat going further. Afterall, if the Droid Brain succeeds here, wouldn't it be able to spread, like a virus, across the Galaxy? The stakes are very high and the player characters are the only ones who are in a position to save the day. This dovetails beautifully with one of my core gaming mantras—let the PCs be the big heroes. Doesn't get larger than saving the entire Galaxy.

As if all of these things weren't enough to recommend this adventure, Crisis on Cloud City puts a cherry on top of itself by adding a novel little game—Sabbacc. The original module came with an entire deck of Sabbacc cards as well as the rules for playing the game. One of the central scenes of the adventure has the characters sitting down to play opposite Lira Wessex and a disguised Lando Calrissian. GMs were encouraged to actually play out the hands of cards in real life while roleplaying out the scene. For players and GMs alike, being able to sit down in a 'social' setting with an enemy like Lira is always awesome—and very cinematic. You get a chance to exchange barbs with your enemies and really give each other reasons to be enemies. It is one thing to hate someone because of idealistic differences. It is quite another to dislike them on personal terms.

And now I finally get to the real (and very personal) reason I love this adventure so much. I have alluded to it many times in the past (and probably will again), but this was the place where, during the aforementioned "Live Action" Sabbacc game, Rick (the player of Harold Hugganut) cheated. We were several hands into the game. Lira and Arianne were exchanging insults. Hugganut was participating in the roleplay, but he was also in the game to win. And so it was when he was suddenly dealt a very bad hand. I made the mistake of taking my eyes off him for a brief second. And in that second, he palmed one of the bad cards he'd been dealt and slyly let it fall to the floor- where he put his foot over it to conceal it from sight. A couple of the other players noticed, and even giggled a little, but as I looked back to Harr- err.. Rick, his 'Sabbacc' face was perfectly intact. He won the hand.  And it was a big pot, too, as I recall. At the time, I remember marveling at his luck. A rogue droid broke up the scene shortly thereafter, and it was about this time that Rick let me know he cheated (as I recall, he calmly reached down and handed me the card he'd 'accidently' dropped). I laughed a lot. I even gave him an extra experience point. But, as all hell broke loose in the Casino, I was able to (In Character at least) one up him. As everyone else dove for cover, Harry dove for the loose credits. Unfortunately for him, Lando (still in disguise) had already scooped them up.

With such memories its little wonder that I can't really find any negative criticisms of the adventure. Yeah, maybe I'm a bit blinded by my own great experience with the module, but oh well. About the only thing I remember changing in the adventure is omitting a few of the smaller combat encounters. Like many of its contemporary modules, Crisis on Cloud city could have used a little streamlining in that department, but not much. All in all? Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. I wish that the Sabbacc deck wasn't the hardest thing in the world to find these days.