Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Review: The Abduction of Crying Dawn Singer

In a way, this module marked the end of an era in the Star Wars RPG. It was the last of the Stand-alone adventure modules produced for the game. From that point out, all gaming supplements would be collections of shorter adventures and/or sourcebooks for specific settings. Being a huge fan of modules in general (a hold-over from my D&D days), this development would eventually (when I realized it) sadden me. That isn't to say that there weren't any good adventures produced afterwards, but rather that the new works never had the kind of in depth attention that I felt these singular modules had.

The plot for The Abduction is pretty straightforward: The PCs must thwart an Imperial plot to discredit the Rebellion by framing them for the kidnapping of a famous entertainer (the titular 'Crying Dawn Singer'). The players follow a string of clues in pursuit of the kidnappers, eventually uncovering a power struggle between the Moff of the sector and a powerful corporate executive.

In many ways, this is a 'classic' Star Wars adventure—filled with all kinds of combat, and chases and monsters and interesting settings. And one of the strength of the module is in providing outlines of different outcomes based upon the character's successes or failures. In essence, it provides multiple paths to similar destinations—which is one of my main rules for running a good story-based adventure. At one point, for instance, the player's failure can mean the evacuation/destruction of the main Rebel base in the sector.

But on the flip side of that coin, there are several moments in the adventure that seem to require some major finagling by the GM in order to get the players to discover a vitally important clue. For instance, they PCs are supposed to locate and board an imperial broadcasting vessel which contains those aforementioned vital clues. Without knowing that, however, it is just as likely that the players could ignore or destroy the ship instead of boarding it. This probably explains why the adventure includes an NPC ship crewman and contact—to try and steer the adventure in the desired direction. Still, such machinations can seem forced if not handled correctly—and the last thing any PC wants is to be led around by the nose by an NPC.

Another strength of the adventure is the multiple layers of its plot. At first, this may seem like a simple plot by the empire to create public ill-will towards the Rebellion. But in truth, the instigators of this abduction are actually planning to discredit the Imperial Moff as well—so that they can remove him from power and step into his role. This kind of complexity adds a further layer of drama to the proceedings and helps to enhance the cinematic flavor of the adventure as a whole. As with all 'classic' modules, the cut-scenes serve well in this regard, showing you the behind the scene machinations of the villains.

Another criticism I had for this adventure is the setup—Whereby the players are supposed to be assigned to a specific starship (in this case the 'Worthless Fool'), manned by an NPC captain type. I don't really have a problem with this clunky old tugboat, but I don't see why the author felt it was important to include it. It has been my experience that Star Wars groups will generally develop one main ship as their transport of choice (akin to the Millennium Falcon). Unless there is some really good reason for them NOT to have it for a specific mission (like perhaps they're going undercover as Imperials), I don't see any reason why you would arbitrarily stick them onto an 'NPC' ship. In this case, I think it was because the author set up a scene where the tugboat's tractor beams would come into play, but even then, it wasn't a pivotal moment—and could have been overcome by most other ships. When I first ran this module, I used it as written—including using the Worthless fool. But in retrospect it was unnecessary and didn't really add anything to the adventure. In fact, it kind of felt forced and awkward. Overall, this isn't a big thing, it was just something...odd.

One other thing that I felt needed a bit more 'selling' was the popularity of the abductee himself. In order to make the impact that his kidnappers felt he would, Crying Dawn would have to be an INCREDIBLY popular entertainer. Not just a talented performer. Thus, it may be wise (and fun) to include mention of Crying Dawn several adventures prior to this. Or perhaps several times over several months. Thus, the players may be more inclined to realize just how famous this person is. Then again, it may be fun to replace the bird-like alien described in the text with a more humanoid person—perhaps even a 'diva' (like Plavalaguna from The Fifth Element). If you wanted, you could make this character into a possible romantic interest for one of your characters? Hmm, that does sound fun.

On a more personal note, while I remember running this adventure, and some details from the session, overall I don't have a strong positive (or negative) impression of it. I'm not sure why that is, exactly. It was well written. It had all the Star Wars action and plot elements. It even had some interesting plot and location twists. But all that being said, I still remember it as being somewhat 'meh'. This could be due to a lot of outside factors—I was having issues with my major in college at the time. It could also be that this book was still rather 'hot off the presses' when I ran it. Maybe I just didn't have enough time to live with it before jumping in. With other gaming books, I know I am prone to like the older ones—the ones I've had with me for a long time—more than ones I've just purchased. In this case, many of the early Star Wars modules (1988-1990) I purchased long before I began my actual Star Wars campaign (around 1991). Thus, they had time to become a part of what I considered the game to be. In any case, re-examining this module has reminded me once more that it IS a good one, I just have to overcome my jaded first impression of it.

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