Thursday, April 2, 2009

Review: Starfall


Another of the early adventure modules for the game, released in 1989, Starfall is set entirely aboard an Imperial Victory-Class Star Destroyer. The plot begins with the Character's captured, sitting in the Star Destroyer's brig and awaiting their fate. It is explained in the prologue that they had been escorting Wallex Blissex (an Alliance Engineer and designer of the Victory-Class Star Destroyer) to a secret meeting with his daughter, Lira Wessex (an Imperial Engineer and designer of the Imperial-Class Star Destroyer). Something (and it is vague just what) went wrong, however, landing Wallex and the PCs in their current predicament. A chance attack by a Rebel task force damages the Star Destroyer, however, giving the players a chance to escape in the confusion. The remainder of the adventure revolves around the characters making their escape, dodging both Imperial troops and various dangers of a damaged and dying ship.

I enjoyed quite a few things about this adventure. First of all, it had a nice disaster movie feel to it—like a 'Towering Inferno' or 'Poseidon Adventure' set in space. This provides for a nice mix of physical and mental challenges along with combat. Secondly, it had a very tight timeline—the longer the players remain on the ship, the greater the chance they will be killed or captured. This keeps the plot moving rather quickly, and a sense of urgency tends to keep players more involved in what is going on.

The cast of supporting characters in this adventure is simply wonderful—even though the players don't meet several until the very end of the adventure. Wallex Blissex is a helpful guy and a wonderful tool to help keep the plot moving. He designed the ship the players are trapped on so who better to help lead them out of it? The villains are seen mainly through the Cut-Away device. In this case we see the ship's captain, Kolaff and Lira Wessex sniping coldly at each other while they plot ways to re-capture the characters. Lira comes off as a cold-hearted bitch while Kolaff comes off as a cold-hearted (and relatively competent) bastard. The running 'gag' with Kolaff is his intercom broadcasts to the PCs as they toil through the ship—giving them 'Combat Lessons' even as he sends his troops against them. Though a relatively minor encounter in the adventure, Lira's personal droid, T-3PO, became a fixture in the Vermillion campaign—a snide and bitchy female-voiced droid who grudgingly serves Arianne, even though she considers herself superior to...well, everyone. 

The final confrontation in the adventure was well done, too—with the inclusion of a fold-out map of an Imperial hangar and several top-down-view playing pieces of rebels, stormtroopers and AT-ST walkers for use in this battle. The full-color fold-out display of the Star Destroyer was nice, too, along with the various cut-out computer display screens and the like. I always enjoy having visual aides to help me out as a GM.

And finally, the post-adventure wrap-up included a nice little touch. In addition to simply getting an experience-point reward for the adventure, Wallex offers the characters each a specially modified piece of equipment as a personal 'thank you'. Some players took blasters with an extra D to damage, others took spy gear, etc. All in all, it was a unique addition to the standard reward system.

My main criticism of Starfall is the way it begins. To force the players into simply accepting that their characters were captured 'off-camera' is heavy handed—and might even anger some groups. As I recall, I ran a small intro encounter where we actually played out the capture and incarceration. This seemed to ease the players into the situation a bit more, even if they didn't like it very much. But then, capturing characters in an RPG is always a tricky thing. Players NEVER go down easy—and in some instances, I've had characters go all the way to the brink of killing themselves before allowing capture. Thankfully, my group generally accepted those few times I forced capture upon them—but that doesn't mean they liked the feeling (and I can't blame them for that). It is up to the individual GM to determine how to handle the capture, but they should be forewarned about the possible player fallout from it.

My only other real criticism is one of the sub-plots of the adventure—in which Wallex Blissex 'mysteriously' avoids using computers throughout the escape from the ship, preferring instead that the PCs do it for him. It is revealed later that Wallex is computer illiterate and can't actually use them. I find this very difficult to believe. How in the hell could he design something as complex as a Star Destroyer without being able to use a computer. It just seems implausible and doesn't really NEED to be part of the story anyway. This sub-plot might be used as a device to make sure that Blissex doesn't steal the spotlight from any tech-savvy PCs, but this could just as easily be explained away as he only has basic computer operations skills, and isn't particularly good at 'slicing'—or even that he's just a slow typer.

All in all, this is one of the better adventures, but it also requires a bit of finesse when dealing with the final (and only) face-to-face confrontation with Lira Wessex. It is somewhat important that the players not be allowed to kill her—not only because she is Wallex's daughter, but because she actually shows up in a future adventure (Crisis on Cloud City). I'd encourage GMs to think through this encounter before playing it—making sure they've planned for several contingencies based on their players likely actions.

1 comment:

  1. I prefer to start with the PCs already captured- which I only did this last time- as it makes it feel more like an adventure hook (how do we get out of this new scenario) than a punishment (Enjoy this encounter where I clearly railroad your failure, because the adventure requires your capture!)

    More and more, I am finding these openings with backstory (much like Leia getting the plans but being found by a Star Destroyer before ANH even starts) work much better as Star Wars-style pre-written backstory, because it makes them easier to accept as narrative setup, whereas if they are roll-played out, they feel a lot more insulting and unfair to the players, forced to play out a situation where they can't win.