Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Review: Black Ice


Coming in at No. 4 on my Top Ten Star Wars RPG Modules, Black Ice was a very memorable adventure in my Vermillion campaign. It was one of the first modules to my recollection that had a truly epic-scale feel to it, combining action on various worlds and within the scope of larger military actions.

The adventure began simply enough—the party is sent by the Rebel Alliance to infiltrate an Imperial research facility and raid their files. What they uncover is the planned convoy route of a massive Imperial cargo ship—the Black Ice. The Alliance sets in motion a plan to raid the convoy and capture the ship—and the party 'volunteers' to lead one of the boarding parties. In the midst of a massive fleet battle, the characters storm the ship and steal it. Unfortunately, the Rebel's hyperspace journey is plagued by a die-hard Imperial crewman who begins to use the ship against them. This obstacle overcome, the Rebels return to base and celebrate their victory. Adventure over.

Wait. No...actually, it continues from there. The Imperials manage to track the Rebels down and begin an all out assault on the base. Trapped, the party must help lead the defense—both in space and on the ground, versus the fleet and squads of deadly power-armored Zero-Gee stormtroopers. Holding out against all odds, the Rebels soon find themselves facing the inevitable: An Imperial Torpedo Sphere (essentially a mini-Death Star) takes position in orbit. From there, the group must make a desperate last attempt to save the day, using the only real asset they have left: The captured 'Black Ice' itself.

From the above, you can see what I mean about an epic scale—and even this synopsis skips over the details. It is really quite remarkable, especially because it was all contained within a relatively short Module format. But then, when you spend your time providing plot, events and encounters instead of pages of NPC an get a lot done in a short amount of space. So this stands as the first real selling point of the module. It's epic scale.

The second selling point is variety. The mission begins with an undercover infiltration of an Imperial base—which is unique in that (if done correctly) it doesn't turn into a gunfight right away. You have time for some close-up roleplay with the enemy. And a lot comes out of that. This was the adventure where Bob the Tusken had his awesome 'Interrogation' scene with the base commander (detailed here). It is also where the characters encounter an Imperial scientist who brags about his part in designing the Death Star's Thermal Exhaust Port. That got a lot of laughs from the players.

Continuing with variety, the next phase of the adventure is an all out combat—a boarding action on a hostile ship, filled with lots of point-blank gunfights and explosions (and for once, the Rebels are on the offensive). As soon as the ship is 'secured', the adventure switches gears AGAIN as it turns into a game of cat-and-mouse, pitting the Rebels against an Imperial Engineer—kind of a reverse variant of the movie Die Hard, only this time, MacLane is the bad guy. In my campaign, this hunt culminated with a duel between Bob, wielding his Gaffi Stick, and the Engineer, wielding his club-like hydrospanner. You see, Bob actually began to respect the guy for his ingenuity and tenacity, and felt it was only fair to face him on even terms instead of just whipping out his lightsaber. As I recall. Bob got beat up pretty badly.

And then? Still MORE variety as the players suddenly find themselves trapped in a shielded Rebel base, holding off an entire Imperial assault. When the torpedo sphere shows up, it really puts the characters in the middle of what seems like a hopeless situation—which makes the last episode of the adventure all the more memorable as they embark on a wild and seemingly suicidal scheme to save the base. By this time in the campaign, my players probably knew that I wasn't going to kill them off. Especially not arbitrarily. But to their credit, most of them reacted in-character to this suicide mission—with grim, steely resolve to give their lives for the cause. It was one of the more dramatic moments in the campaign as I remember it.

So, wow. Yeah. Epic and diverse. Great selling points. And if you need more, there are all kinds of little details that really help make this adventure unique. For example, the Imperial Research base is full of all kinds of oddities if the players investigate it thoroughly enough—I recall them even finding a lightsaber there in the weapons research wing. In the boarding action, we're introduced to a specialized kind of assault shuttle (I think its called the 'Needle' or something like that. Basically, it has an ablative 'warhead' on it, that allows it to blast through an enemy ship's shields and drill right into the side to disgorge its team of troops. Very cool stuff. 

Now, on to the know, I can't really think of any. I guess the only thing this adventure lacks is a direct reference back to the movies. But then, it really doesn't need one. In this case, the Players were truly the heroes of an epic story. I guess in retrospect, the only thing that keeps this adventure from being higher on my top ten is the sentimental attachment I have to the modules above it.

On a final SPOILER sidenote, my players came up with a novel modification to the final suicide mission. The Black Ice essentially consisted of two gigantic engine pods on either side of a string of massive cargo spheres- like a train with an engine on either end. As written in the module, the plan is to ram the entire ship into the torpedo sphere to destroy it. This saves the day, but at the cost of a valuable ship and all its cargo. My players were like: "Umm. No. We're going to unhitch one end of this thing, along with a good portion of the cargo spheres". They left THAT behind and used the rest of the ship to ram the Sphere. Thus, the Rebellion didn't lose out entirely.

1 comment:

  1. Oops, I spoke too soon! I can't wait to read this. Really makes me want to run this awesome story again.