Friday, August 28, 2009

REVIEW: Planet of the Mists

Another of the 'second generation' of Star Wars adventure modules (perfect/spine-bound booklets, as opposed to the saddle-stitched originals), Planet of the Mists is just a bit different than many of its predecessors or even contemporaries—though not necessarily in it's story line. In fact, the plot is actually rather 'stock': Sent to investigate Imperial activities in a remote system, the character's stumble upon a mining operation. Not only is it of strategic importance to the Empire, but the processing plant is seriously damaging the environment of the planet. And so the players must team up with the local natives and come up with a plan to take out the installation with only limited resources. Standing in their way are teams of elite swamp-troopers, mercenaries and killer droids—all commanded by a ruthless overseer who is also a darkside Force user.

What sets Planet of the Mists apart is it's relatively non-linear progression (or at least that's how it went down in my campaign). Yes, there are set-piece events and the like, but after the initial set-up, things are pretty much wide open. After the initial crash landing and encounters with the Imperials and natives, it is entirely up to the party as to how to proceed. There is the 'suggested' plot line of sneaking into the base, stealing weapons to arm the natives, then launching an all-out attack. But there are dozens of different ways the players could approach the situation. For the most part, it seemed to me that the Imperial installation (the complete floor plans of which are included in the adventure), was a giant sandbox just waiting for the character's to wreak havoc within it. I know my character's certainly did.

All that having been said, a lot of this was really my 'perception'. By this time in my game-mastering career, I was learning to take a lot more ownership of modules than I had in the past, and I remember doing so with this one. There was a whole sub-plot written into the adventure about the character's getting captured and interrogated—and then hopefully turning some of the mine-guards against the Imperial overseer. But in my running of the adventure, this just seemed 'forced'—so I followed the instructions written right into the adventure: If the characters go off the 'path', then figure something else out. By this time in their playing careers, most of my PCs were very creative, so they certainly DID go off the path. Looking back on it, there were things I would have done differently, but for the most part, it was a nice change of pace in what could have been a cookie-cutter adventure.

Another stand-out in this adventure were the Non-Player Characters. They were interesting and original, starting with the introduction of Imperial Swamp-Troopers. These were Imperial Army guys (as opposed to Stormtroopers) and were thus a bit more crafty than their white-armored opponents. They also had some really cool gear. I know that MANY of my players stole and used the Swamp trooper blasters (which were a combination heavy-blaster pistol and grappling gun—which could also be used to entangle(!)). Then there were the Twin 'Bad-Girl' sisters, Darci and Marci Sertim. They were mercs in charge of the 'civilian' half of base security. Okay, so maybe I just have a thing for 'bad girls' (I loved Zardra the bounty-huntress, for instance), but I found these two interesting. I also liked the fact that the players could possibly sway them to their side (this didn't quite happen in my campaign, as you'll see below). Vost Tyne, the Imperial Overseer was an interesting bad guy, too. Kind of a Grand Moff Tarkin, but with some minor force powers. This makes him different from your typical 'bad guy' officer or your typical 'big bad sith guy'. He was a little of both. Plus, he had this backstory with the Sertim sisters. Something like he'd tricked them into serving him by saying that the Rebels had killed their older sister, when he had actually done the deed. This information (should the PC's find it) is what could turn the Sisters to the character's side.

But Planet of the Mists wasn't all sunshine. I can trace most of my frustrations back to what I consider 'cliches' of Star Wars adventures. I can appreciate these events as staples of Star Wars adventuring, but when they're used in every other adventure, they start to get real old. The first of these was (surprise, surprise), the CRASH LANDING that starts off the adventure. My GOD this is used a lot in the game, in fact, it was used in almost all the adventures leading up to this one chronologically: The Isis Coordinates, Domain of Evil, Graveyard of Alderaan. ALL of those either began with or contained a scene where the character's ship is crashed and all but destroyed. In my mind, this is just wrong. In Star Wars, ships gain a kind of character in and of themselves (i.e. the Millenium Falcon). And to destroy them so casually and regularly is a pain in the butt. I had to come up with all these convoluted ways in which the ship could survive. Sometimes I would ignore the crash entirely (as I did in the Isis Coordinates). In the case of Planet of the Mists, I simply had the player's ship disabled. They landed in pretty good order, but were still somewhat 'trapped' by the ring of Ion mines above. I had to trust in the player's sense of duty for them to want to take out the Imperial base, rather than in 'forcing' them to do so by giving them no other way out.

The other cliche that this adventure suggests is the old 'players get captured and interrogated' spiel (which was also used in The Isis Coordinates). This kind of thing is ALWAYS a pain to deal with, as players do NOT like being captured. In fact, they'll go to great and sometimes desperate lengths to avoid it. Being relatively fresh from the near party kill that happened in the Isis Coordinates, I resolved quickly not to include a 'mandatory' capture scene in this adventure. But as I pointed out above, the author of the adventure was flexible about this, too. So Kudos to him. 

This being a very 'sandboxy' adventure in my campaign, it played out a lot differently than many previous ones. In fact, it turned out to be a somewhat 'dark' adventure. Two of my characters actually gained dark side points from this one—and not through any plot contrivance, but rather through their own actions. In that way, the adventure was a lot more moralistic than it might have been otherwise. In one instance, Harry Hugganut was shooting at the villain, Vost Tyne, among a crowd of innocent mine workers (these guys were basically slave labor) in the midst of a chaotic battle and evacuation. Harry, one of the best shots in the group, was supremely confident in his skills, and so he took the shot, even after I warned him that a miss could easily hit an innocent. He missed. He took down one of the mine workers and Tyne got away. He got a dark side point for that. I remember that his player was a bit shocked (both at the miss and the point). But he also seemed just a bit remorseful (at least IC)—quickly using his medical skills to try and patch up the guy (as I recall, he stabilized him). 

The other 'dark' instance was again at the climax of the adventure. During the infiltration of the base, the Character's managed to parlay with the Sertim sisters, and actually talked one of them (Darci) over to their side. Marci, however, was having none of it. This created an interesting schism between the two sisters that came to a head during the final dogfight in space. The PCs were chasing a fleeing Vost Tyne. They disabled his ship and he ejected in an escape pod, along with Marci Sertim (who was half-hostage, half-ally at this point). I don't remember exactly what happened, but in the heat of battle, Rick Oman fired on and destroyed the escape pod, killing Tyne and Marci. I believe his reasoning was that he didn't want them to escape to plague the group another day. But even so, it was a pretty cold-blooded act, and it earned him a Dark Side point as well. It also cast a bit of a pall on the end of the adventure that I found kind of interesting. It was also kind of dramatically appropriate. At this point, the PCs had been fighting the Empire for years and were perhaps getting a little jaded and cold-hearted. 

In any case, despite the cliches, I thought Planet of the Mists was a good, solid adventure. And the way I ran it, it was a nice change from the 'usual'. It reinforced to me, however, the unpredictability of a sandbox style game—and the dramatic results it can bring. In this case, I liked it, it brought just a bit of 'grit' to my usually squeaky-clean Star Wars campaign. And I think it was something of an eye-opener for the players as well—to realize that not everything they do is automatically 'good'. Well, I hope it was, at least.

1 comment:

  1. i ran this adventure and yes i agree the "oh look your ship takes kaboomD20 points of damage" to be unacceptable.

    i felt that was rather poor grade on the part of the writer. i detest writers that include arbitrary things like "oh your ships goes boom", or in starfall "oh the selfdistruct is unstoppable" or "your captured no ?s asked"
    blah blah,.. that makes for a poor story line,...

    in my campaign i ignored the "godmode-ship-death" and had the ship take lots of damage to minor components. IE; the flux coils on the ion engines were fried, the power regulator tips got burnt on the hyperdrive, nav & gunnery computers got scrambles and so on.
    in the end the ship landed mostly unscathed save for a hole in the port-side docking ring, &
    port-side main rail wall. fortunately for the heros these were all rather minor (moderate in the cast of the port-side holes) repairs, unfortunatelty for them, repair services on a swamp planet that doesnt exists are "lacking" and thus for this mission those minor repairs were enough to down the ship until such time as they found a way to get the needed parts. (from like , say a hyperbarium factory.)

    in starfall i found it cheesy that just because Blissex couldnt stop the self-destruct that is was unstoppable, (BOooo) ok hes the foremost knowledgeable on that ship design but guess what.
    my hero's group was 15 members strong AND had both a mechanic and engineer in the party. both of wich were far higher skilled that blissex in their fields. so maybe their not familiar with the ship but they were very skilled. so i felt it was warranted to give the heros rolls to try to find a way to stop Blissex's "unstoppable self-destruct". They did.
    in the end events got well off track from the story in the book as a reult, the team RE-WIRED the self-destruct t0 continue counting down but not actually function. (& declare a "self-destruct error" This ship will self destruct in 5 mins" well this of course caused all manner of panic on the ship and imperials were running allover the place looking for a way off the ship (& most of them completely ignoring the rebels in their efforts).
    In the end, the team managed to 1> get the tracking systems offline & 2>get the Hyperdrive up for a "1 jump to meltdown" kinda working condition and jumped the ship to a rebel "safe world".
    (they also had them a bit-o-fun with the rebels and their new prize, as a victory star destroyer is far from the norm when it comes to "rebel aquisitions") but after their fun time with the alliance they got a VERY nice payday off their catch (the team were mercs though VERY rebel friendly, just cant fight for the alliance w/o a payday), the ship would never be a warship again but it made one fine source of salvage for the alliance. who promptly set to picking it's bones clean.