Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Review: Graveyard of Alderaan

This is another of the book-format adventures that came out during the early 90's—and as with its contemporaries (Isis Coordinates, Domain of Evil, Death in the Undercity) it has some interesting new ideas, but also some flaws. I will explore both in this review.

In Graveyard of Alderaan, the characters (while taking some R&R) stumble upon a startling news (delivered by a dying messenger) that a miraculous discovery has been in the asteroid ruins of the planet Alderaan: the Royal Palace has been found—and with it survivors. The characters head to Alderaan to investigate—only to run afoul of an unscrupulous band of salvagers. Eventually, the remains of the palace are found. The rumors are true—but unfortunately (as Admiral Akbar would say) "It's a trap!" From there, the heroes have to brave both the dangers of the palace and relentless Imperial pursuit in order to find out just what secrets the palace holds...

As you see, this is a pretty straight-up plot line and the adventure actually does a great job of providing a lot of different RP opportunities, combats and problem solving scenarios. But then, these are the kinds of things I expect from a Star Wars adventure, so it isn't really extraordinary. One of the first things that DOES stand out is (oddly enough) rather tangental to the plot. The character's begin the game on an Ithorian 'Herd Ship' (a spaceborne city/starport). Full maps and short but colorful location descriptions are provided for the ship—presenting a setting that can be re-used throughout the campaign. Though it plays only a small part in this adventure, it is a great 'mini-sandbox' (much like the Kuari princess in Riders of the Maelstrom), filled with shopping and entertainment diversions that help players develop character.

Another stand-out feature of Graveyard of Alderaan is the 'Cut Away' device. Used in practically all Star Wars adventures, these are essentially paragraph-or-two 'scenes' (read by the GM at appropriate moments throughout the adventure) that show what is happening elsewhere in an adventure, outside of the characters' direct knowledge. What makes Graveyard's use of this device unique is the fact that many of the Cut Aways deal with the main Heroes of the Star Wars Saga. We learn that Leia, Luke, Han and Chewie have ALSO learned of the possibility of survivors in the Alderaanian palace—and are actually on their way. So essentially, by 'springing the trap' first, the character's have a chance to save the the feature characters! To make matters more interesting, it is even possible for the Empire to mistake the PCs as the 'Heroes of Yavin" themselves. This worked great in my campaign, as we had a female, a smuggler, a Wookiee, and even a starship similar to the Falcon—close enough to cause some confusion.

This Feature Character angle is played up through the whole adventure. Culminating in the final scene when "Lord Vader" arrives on the scene at the same time as Leia, Luke and the others. Everyone (hopefully) escapes, however—and back at base, the characters get a chance to share dinner and conversation with Princess Leia (who is sadly curious about what the PCs found in Alderaan). I've said it before, and I'll say it again I LOVE it when adventures tie back in to the movies and include brushes with the FCs. In fact, this is one of those scenes that directly backs up my own 'policy' on using FCs. It was hilarious in my own campaign when the players realized they were suddenly face to face with Vader's flagship. As the group escaped, Arianne was leaning in to the comm to speak her usual 'ego signature' taunt ("Love and kisses!") when most of the table (and their characters) leaped forward to stop her—"We do NOT taunt the dark lord of the Sith!"

Another great hook of this adventure is the surprise 'prize' the Character's can rescue at the end—in the form of an ancient Alderaanian War  Frigate—packed with military equipment. The story is that this ship was sent into hiding years ago, when Alderaan adopted its pacifistic stance—on the off chance that such weaponry would ever be needed again. Though it is only one ship, the equipment would still be a great help to the Rebellion. At the time I ran this adventure (in the early 90's), there was little information on the 'pre-history' of the Star Wars Galaxy, so I was kind of vague as to what 'ancient' military equipment looked like. If I ever ran this adventure again, I could think of all kinds of neat 'artifacts' for folks to find. From 'KotOR' era stuff to Clone Wars gear. Could be darn fun—even if the players themselves didn't end up with the gear, it would be cool to have a team of rebels armed with 'ancient' stuff show up later to help the PCs out of a tight spot (a squadron of KotOR era 'swoops' or the like). In fact, I kind of expanded on this very idea in my recent session with Steve2 (Rick Oman). He managed to find an ancient warship and weapons cache hidden by Canderous Ordo of KotOR fame.

So, with all this goodness, you may be wondering what my negative criticisms are. I'll start with one that is more annoying than anything else—the 'Players Lose their Ship' cliche. So many adventures have the PC's ship crashing or getting captured or being otherwise lost. Ugh. I wanted my players to get attached to their ship, not have to get a new one every time they get out. In this case, played according to 'plot' the players would likely have to abandon their ship once they become trapped in the Alderaanian Palace. Sure, they may be able to come back for it later, but its an annoying little side note that I dislike. I can't remember how I got around this one in my campaign, actually. Drawing a blank. If I had to do it again, though, I'd likely have the players get assigned a 'disposable' for some reason prior to going on this adventure.

But this criticism pales in comparison to my main problem with the adventure—namely the holographic 'ghosts' the Empire planted in the palace to 'break the will' of Princess Leia. In essence, part of the Imperial plan was to have these 'ghosts' appear and lament the fact that Leia was the reason they all died. While I see what the author was going for, it just doesn't work. My players instantly smelled a rat the first time they saw these 'ghosts' and began looking for holo-projectors. Once they found them, the impact of 'mental torture' was defused. Sure, it may have hurt Leia to see these things (if she had fallen into the trap first), but I'm pretty sure she woul d have figured it out, too. Having Force sensitive people in the party only hastened the exposure of this trick, since they couldn't pick up any 'life sense' information on the spirits at all. I remember trying to help the illusion a bit by having the palace still be tinged with ACTUAL spiritual energy—afterall, billions of people were killed on Alderaan. The whole place was like a 'scar' in the Force. In retrospect, it may have been more interesting to actually include a few REAL ghosts just to mix things up. Perhaps even have them intervene against the Empire.

Another area where the adventure may be lacking is its lack of any really memorable NPCs—though this may just be in my own mind—since the inclusion of the Feature Characters kind of makes everyone else fade in significance.

In looking back at the adventure as a whole, I find that I like it quite a bit—despite its faults. In fact, this one helped make up for the shakiness of 'The Isis Coordinates' (which was the first adventure to make me question just how good Star Wars adventure modules really were...)


  1. Hi!

    I'm currently running this module right now! It's my first time GMing. There was quite some setup I had to write to get my heroes aboard the Bazaar in 0 ABY, because when we started playing Star Wars months ago, we were starting up 6 weeks after the events of Return of the Jedi. So we had to somehow time travel. I won't get too specific just in case someone in my group reads this. But after one session, they arrived on Bazaar.

    Here are some of my thoughts.

    Just like the module says, they know they have to meet Poliss, so in the cantina they immediately asked about him. This made it so they really had no reason to get any of the other rumors.

    There's also no reason for them to go into the bank, so I had the robbery happen as they were passing it.

    I don't know what the author had in mind when he was thinking they'd want to talk to all the people in the Cantina. The players don't seem to think that they have to ask anything about Kamiroz, and just went for Poliss immediately.

    I am wondering how things worked on the mining station when you ran it. Did they get to do all the encounters or immediately search for information about the asteroid?

    How did the asteroid game work out? I have 7 players, so I am thinking that I'll have 2 on piloting, 2 on the guns, and the other three trying to repair damage... but that might be boring for them.

    Next, I agree with you that the stuff in the palace seems dumb. To counteract this I'm going to have this thing where each player individually has to redo a scene from past gameplay where they made the wrong call. It won't right the wrong in the storyline, but I think it has a better effect than the ghost holograms meant to torment Leia, especially if none of the players are Leia.

    Overall everything else in the game seems like it will work just fine.

    Is there anything else that you think I should be aware of when running this game?

  2. Good review! I never run pre-written adventures as-is; I tend to customize them for my group's playstyle. I plan on running this adventure for the first time in the near future here, but after reading your review, I will definitely consider changing some things.

    The party losing their ship really is a lame cliché that I will not be having. In fact, I may completely rewrite the last third of the adventure. Knowing my players, they will not hand over an ancient weapons cache to the Alliance -- they'll totally keep it for themselves! I think I'll leave the palace empty, and just say it was an Imperial trap and there's nothing there at all. While that may seem anticlimactic, I think having an epic gunfight and a spaceship chase scene getting out of there will be climactic enough.

  3. I'm just about to gm for my son and his friends, all first timeers to RPGs. Its this graveyard of Alderaan adventure that I decided to run for them. Its my first time gaming in the star wars universe..wish me luck!