Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Review: Otherspace II: Invasion


This is the only published Star Wars module that is a direct sequel of a previous module, picking up some time (months to years) after the original Otherspace adventure. Contact is lost with a remote Alliance 'Safeworld' and the character's are sent to investigate. Though it is originally surmised that the Empire is at fault for this loss of contact, the character's quickly discover that is not the case. Utilizing knowledge gained from their previous encounter with the character's, the evil arachnoid Charon have managed to cross the barrier from their own dimension into the Star Wars galaxy—and have subsequently crash-landed right on top of an Alliance base. The characters must investigate the overrun facility and make contact with any survivors. Braving zombie-like constructs and other alien horrors, the true mission turns from one of rescue to a full blown battle to keep the Charon from spreading off-world. 

Like its predecessor, Otherspace II combines elements of horror with the typical action-adventure style of Star Wars modules. Once again, I was reminded of the movie Aliens (and very pleasantly so, since it's one of my favorite flicks). For my campaign, it came at a pretty good point, after a slew of regular 'missions'. The sudden jump back to horror was refreshing (at least for me). As with most Star Wars products, I enjoyed this module quite a bit—though I found a few more criticisms in it than I had in previous products. 

Lets start with the positive points. First up is pacing. This is all important in a horror setting. A slow build helps to get everyone in the mood and on edge, building anxiety prior to the bantha pudu really hitting the fan. Otherspace II begins with a classic horror encounter—the 'insane survivor'. When approaching the safeworld, the characters come under attack from an insane pilot, desperate to escape from whatever lurking horror awaits on the planet. He is, of course, incoherent and has not usable information, but he serves his purpose—pointing out that this likely is NOT the Empire. The horror builds as the party begins to investigate the base and its surroundings, finding everything 'too quiet'. Encounters within the base increase in horror as the players realize that captured (and killed) personnel (including women and children) are being used to create zombie-like 'constructs' to serve the Charon in battle. Eventually, the characters will find a band of Rebel survivors, but any relief from this is likely to be tempered with the news that the Charon are seeking to find a way off the planet, to spread their campaign against life itself throughout the galaxy. So from this slow build, you eventually reach the crescendo of a full out battle between the Charon hordes and the pitiful handful of rebels, led by the party. Fun and creepy stuff.

The NPCs are another strong point of the adventure—with two of them recurring from the original Otherspace module. The first, Moff Ravik, has been transformed into a hideous Charon-Human hybrid. His already megalomaniacal personality has been twisted by his ordeal, so much so that he wrested control away from the Charon's former leader and now seeks to conquer the galaxy with his new army. The second NPC is Bane Nothos—a former Imperial starship Captain. But now he is...not what he seems. In the original text of the module, his personality has been taken over by the psyche of the Charon's former leader (the one deposed by Ravik). In this guise, he seeks to ingratiate himself with the Character's and use them to eliminate his rival. Both of these guys are twisted and horrific in their own way, adding something new even as their very existence provides continuity with the original adventure of the series.

And lets talk a little about Continuity. A lot of campaigns are very linear in nature, you defeat one enemy and move on to the next. And while this 'enemy of the week' style is enjoyable, I find that it is nice to mix things up every once in a while—to hearken back to former enemies or the consequences of some former mission. It helps build depth in a campaign, to know that not everything begins and ends right in front of the character's eyes—that some enemies continue to evolve and scheme behind the scenes, waiting for just the right time to strike. A good corollary to this would be in the Star Trek II (yes, I know, another Trek reference on a Star Wars blog. Blasphemy. Get over it.). Would the story have been as interesting if Khan was replaced by some other completely new villain? You could have twisted it so he was just some madman who stumbled upon the Genesis device and wanted to capture it for himself. But it wouldn't have had nearly the depth of emotion. As I've said in previous posts, giving players a recurring 'nemesis' to sink their teeth into is a lot more impactful than always introducing new bad guys.

And finally (for the good points of the adventue), the Charon themselves appeal to me as a wonderful villain species. They are implacably evil, creepy and powerful. Their bio-technology is just unsettling, and I really played that up—with the groups of mutated and patchwork 'construct' zombies providing a lot more horror than your typical adventure cannon-fodder. Imagine how demoralizing that would be for an enemy, to see their own, dead relatives coming after them—wives, husbands, children. Shudder. To me, the Charon are almost like a hybrid between the 'Xenomorphs' of the Alien series and the Borg of Star Trek (stop with the Trek references already!). That is a frightening concept—as if they did manage to cross over into the Star Wars galaxy with enough numbers, they could very well spread like a plague—every defeated enemy or 'captured' prisoner could be turned against their former comrades and allies.

Unfortunately, that is where one of the adventure's negative points come in—it fails to capitalize on the scope of the threat the Charon pose. As written, the adventure states that this one, crashed Charon ship is the ONLY Charon ship, and that its occupants are the only Charon. Even if there were thousands of Charon on the ship (which there weren't), that really wouldn't pose any kind of a galactic-level threat. Sure, they're enough to mess up a remote Rebel outpost, but...if they tried that against the Empire, they'd be snuffed out. This is one of those instances where it helps to think things through as a GM and try to plug glaring plot-holes like this. In my campaign, the Charon ship was just a scout vessel. They were the first to achieve dimensional crossover and were looking to find hyperspace capable ships so they could make the return trip with data to help bring the rest of the Charon Armada over. That, I thought, was a much more threatening plot. Not thousands of Charon, but billions of them, complete with gigantic warships.

Another negative to this adventure was its handling of the final battle between the Charon and the Rebel survivors. The whole thing was intended to be played out using the rules for a boardgame that West End had put out (the Battle for Hoth or something). That just seemed totally out of place to me—a blatant gimmick to cross-sell their other product. It wasn't the first time they'd done so, of course. Nearly every other module had included playing pieces for West End's space-combat simulation game (Star Warriors). But that was always introduced in addition to guidelines for playing out the battle using RPG rules. In this instance, the battle was only sketchily outlined for the RPG, while dozens of pieces were provided for the boardgame. I had no interest in the boardgame, so I had to wing the battle on my own. It went alright, but I wouldn't have minded a few tips and pointers from the adventure itself. In the 2nd Edition, Revised and Expanded rulebook, they had an entire chapter on how to run battles within an RP setting—it was very well done, and I wish I'd had it before running this adventure. I could have done a much better job of it, I think.

When you weigh the good against the bad in Otherspace II, the good wins. It required a lot more GM reworking than other adventures (hence it not making my top 10 list), but that didn't stop me enjoying it. Indeed, Otherspace II sparked a larger idea in me. It occurred to me then that it seemed to be begging a third and 'final' chapter to the saga. But that is a subject for another post...


  1. Was this the adventure where Arianne killed Bane Nothos?

  2. Actually, she 'killed' him in the first Otherspace. A 'lucky' shot to the head (when she wasn't trying to kill him). They met again in this one, though he was possessed—and I believe she killed him again. He may have been grateful for it though, all things considered.