Monday, December 21, 2009

Review: Operation: Elrood

Thus far, my reviews have been more or less chronological in order, exploring the modules as they were released. Due to a reader request, however, I am stepping outside of that format to review Operation: Elrood. Though released in 1997, this is a module very much in the style of the early 90's supplements—perfect bound softcover that is a compilation of adventures. However, the three adventures included in this module are all interconnected into something that is either one 'mega-module' or a small campaign. Though released towards the end of West End Game's run with Star Wars, Operation: Elrood feels very old-school to me, making use of the episodic format with a fair number of cinematic cut-away sequences to frame the events of the adventure. It dispenses with the 'Adventure Script' beginning seen in many early Star Wars modules, however—and actually, I'm fine with that. Even in a cinematic game like Star Wars they always seemed 'awkward' to me.

The titular 'Elrood' is both a sector and a planet—part of a setting introduced in the "Planets of the Galaxy, Volume 3" book released in 1993—a book that should have been named "Elrood Sector Sourcebook" since that's what it was. It seems strange to me that this module was released so much later than its source material, as it could have made a great intro adventure to that setting. It is interesting to note that these adventures (more than many previous) were built as much upon the 'expanded' mythology of the RPG as they were on the movies. In fact, the central 'feud' is between an Imperial Captain and group of pirates who's saga was told in the original Star Wars sourcebook (1987), as a sidebar under the Victory-Class star destroyer. It just shows how much depth the game was beginning to build up—and I for one enjoyed what WEG did to expand the universe—unlike much of the crap that followed (oops, I think I just blew my 'objective critic' credentials).

After a brief overview of the Elrood Sector (basically a couple-page summary of the stuff in the Planets of the Galaxy book) the mini-campaign starts off with an adventure entitled "Industrial Espionage". Essentially, the PCs (as rebel agents) are working with a mining corporation to help secure the rights to a mineral rich world before a hostile Imperial-backed corporation can do so. Sounds simple, but the actual plot-line has a lot of twists, turns and side-stories. There is a team of fellow rebel agents that need rescuing from a band of pirates, a lost ship (with hyperspace coordinates) to recover from a Squib 'crime boss', and an aquatic mining outpost to capture (with or without the aid of fierce native eel-man tribes). Oh, and there is also the possibility of a traitorous droid popping up at the worst possible moment and a 'test of manhood' to prove yourselves to the natives and...well, I think you get the point. This adventure is chock full of good stuff. And in the grand tradition of this particular RPG, the author comments throughout that emphasis should be kept on keeping things moving quickly, even at the expense of 'details' like rules.

Another major strong-point of this adventure is the effort put into presenting consequences for alternate outcomes to the different situations—depending upon what the players do. Like all 'story' adventures, there is a definite path from encounter to encounter, but how the players HANDLE those encounters can greatly affect the outcome—or even how subsequent events in the 'chain' play out. To me, this is a MUST in story-based adventures—otherwise, players are simply along for the ride.

The second adventure in the book revolves around the hunt for a fellow Rebel Agent (the Spy). This is facilitated by a cowardly and treacherous underworld informant (the Fixer) and complicated by a vengeful crimelord (the Chud- or rather, Lud Chud is his name. No, he's not a Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller—though he does eat humanoids, interestingly enough). As with the previous 'act', this adventure is action packed—with the characters chased by assassins, aided by secret cults, smuggling themselves onto an imperial held world, delivering vicious zoo creatures and staging a rescue (or full scale battle) in a gigantic gladitorial arena.

Unlike the previous act, however, things felt a bit more 'scripted' in this one. The story felt rather too 'tight' for my tastes, with very little wiggle room presented for alternate paths. I think part of this has to do with the 'maguffin' of the Fixer. This NPC is the primary device used to keep the plot moving. And though he proves himself to be a very 'iffy' ally, the PCs are supposed to just 'accept' this and (according to the story line) put an awful lot of trust in him at times. I'm not sure most gaming groups would be quite so accepting. And if something did happen to the Fixer, there are times where it might mean the adventure would come to a dead end. Of course, all of this can be fixed if the GM plans ahead for possible 'alternate paths' taken by the PCs. But when you compare this adventure to the previous (and its carefully thought-out alternities) the difference seems more glaring than it might otherwise.

Another criticism is the fact that the players wind up losing their ship at some point in this adventure (at least, they do if the story line is followed 'as written'). I've spoken about this particular point in many past posts (how's that for alliteration!)—PC ships should not be disposable. And if they are, then a disposable ship should be 'issued' to the PCs at the start of the adventure. Okay, so to be fair the PCs get a chance to regain their ship at the end of the adventure, but knowing my own PCs, the loss of a ship is not to be taken as lightly as it seems to be here (meaning my players would likely get sidetracked on this, adding an unnecessary wrinkle to an already complicated plot).

The culmination of the mini-campaign has the players working directly with a planetary Rebel resistance cell in their efforts to infiltrate several high-security installations and (ultimately) sabotage a crippled Star Destroyer. As it turns out, this is an incredibly dangerous and complicated task—as it should be. In fact, this is probably one of the most difficult Star Wars adventures I've ever seen. There are so many variables—so many times where plans can go awry—that just looking at it, it seems impossible that anyone could succeed. When you throw in the fact that there is a traitor in the midst of the rebels, it seems unwinnable. And isn't.

As with Act One of this mini-campaign, the author provides all KINDS of helpful hints on what to do if this or that plan falls through. What is left is a very challenging adventure that relies more on players' judgement and characters' non-combat abilities than it does skill with a blaster or lightsaber. I feel this is important—because the payoff of the adventure (the Death of the Star Destroyer) really SHOULD be a huge accomplishment. Believe me, by the time the PCs are through with this adventure, they will feel like they have earned it. And importantly—it is possible to fail—something that isn't entirely common in many Star Wars adventures.

While I have pointed out a couple shortcomings in Operation: Elrood, overall I found the adventures to be very well done. I only wish I'd gotten this module earlier on in my gaming career (when our game was a weekly, rather than a yearly, event). I have never run these adventures, and in fact before reading the book thoroughly for this review, I had only ever skimmed over it. I was pleasantly surprised to find something of such high quality—though in retrospect, I shouldn't have been so surprised. Most WEG products were of exceptionally high quality and this one is no... exception.

Though I didn't go into this with each individual adventure, I would like to speak for a moment on the strength of the NPCs in this module. Not only were quite a few of them very well outlined (even the ones the PCs don't interact with directly) many of them were a-stereotypical- like the Gamorrean slicer and technical expert, Ratoog. Definitely not something you see every day. Though I almost ALWAYS find myself modifying stats to suit my own campaign, the inclusion of 'stat blocks' for the more important NPCs was a nice touch- if only as a place to build from.

Along with the people, a great many new (and older) vehicles and pieces of equipment are detailed, adding to the growing amount of 'gadgets' players can come upon in their adventures. I was pleased to see that most of these were very well 'grounded'—utilitarian items rather than 'super-guns' or 'mega-armor'. In fact, through many of these adventures, it is assumed the characters will be mostly unarmored, lightly-armed and undercover.

Another major selling point for me is the sheer number of different challenges faced by the players—not just combat scenarios, but all manner of roleplaying and tech-skill and stealth challenges as well.

One last point that I found interesting was the fact that the use of Force powers was not prominent at all in any of these adventures. While I found that refreshing, I also found it a bit odd. In many situations, it seems as though the author expects there to be no Jedi in the group at all (save for a couple mentions of lightsabers). There are quite a few encounters in the game where Force powers could readily be used to meet challenges—but this is not addressed at all, it seems. It isn't exactly a shortcoming of the adventure, but a GM with Force users may need to (while preparing for this adventure) remind themselves what wrinkles may occur when Force powers are thrown into the mix. It was also interesting to me that one of the NPCs who makes an appearance in the adventures (Imperial Captain Tanda Pryll) actually DOES have minor Force powers—but this seems to have been skimmed over entirely.

All in all, however, I feel that Operation: Elrood upholds the finest traditions of the 'classic' WEG game. And indeed it exceeds them in the complexity and (overall) open-endedness of its story-line. It is also, as I noted above, probably one of the most 'difficult' adventures any group is likely to face. As I also stated, I wish that I had this module much earlier in my campaign. I could totally see my guys going through it (though probably not QUITE according to what the author had in mind- but then, that's part of the fun). Who knows, maybe I can work this into some kind of campaign in the future?

P.S. To Paul Klein who requested this review. Sorry for the delay in getting to it, but I wanted to do it right, and between work and the holidays, that took a while. Hope you enjoy!


  1. The Imperial Star Destroyer: 765,000 design flaws waiting to be exploited!

  2. Fantastic review! Thanks Roland :)