Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Fun in Dakota

Well, I'm back. And I had a great trip to South Dakota—and an awesome time gaming. I guess you could officially say that I went to a 'gaming convention', but in all honesty, I was just there to play and hang out with the 'old gang'. And just like last year, it turned into one heck of a gaming experience.

We played again with our original characters in a campaign that is now about 19 years old. And as you'd expect, 19-year old characters are pretty damn experienced by this point. Thus it was a challenge for me to try to come up with challenges that didn't just flex the 'stat muscles' of the characters, but rather got them to do a lot of thinking and decision-making.

In my last post, I threw out a lot of the ideas I had bouncing around for an adventure to run. And miraculously I was able to work in just about all of them. Yeah, I was really pushing to do so, but my players seemed to enjoy it and I had a whole hell of a lot of fun.

Since this is my blog, and thus my place to ramble, I'll give an account now of just what happened, starting with a quick recap of where things left off last year:

It is now roughly 13 years after the battle of Yavin. As far as 'canon' goes, I incorporated the Heir to the Empire Novels, the Dark Empire comic series (but not Dark Empire II) and the Jedi Academy Novels. After that? No. I am not going by any of the written novels, mainly because I feel they are, to put it nicely, rubbish.

The New Republic is approximately 9 years old and has weathered various crises and come out the stronger for it. About 6 months prior to the current timeline, the Galaxy was on the verge of peace, with the Imperial Remnant and the Corporate sector (chief rivals of the NR) both meeting on Coruscant to sign a treaty that would essentially end the civil war. Unfortunately, a new menace chose this moment to strike—attacking the conference itself and sewing chaos and confusion in thousands of other systems around the galaxy via a well-planned undercover destabilization effort. Following close on the heels of this, the enemy made itself known via a full-scale invasion. The Nagai (detailed here and here) swept through Republic, Imperial and Corporate space alike, with advanced technology and numbers that caught the Galaxy by surprise. Through the efforts of a great many heroes (some of whom were my PCs) the onslaught was finally halted when 2/3rds of the Nagai fleet was re-routed to another dimension (Otherspace). Having gained some breathing room, the Republic has recovered and begun to strike back, all the while holding together the fragile Empire/Corporate alliance versus a common foe.

The adventure began with the individual stories of the main PC's involved:

Rick Oman (aka Fenn) is back home with his people, struggling with the various issues of a suddenly reunited Mandalorian 'nation'. There are frictions between the clans, governmental issues, societal issues, political issues. And all of it falls on the shoulders of Oman—who must also deal with the fact that the war against the Nagai is RIGHT on his front doorstep. There was some great RP here (on the car trip from Denver to South Dakota)—from the laying down of new laws and societal restructuring to a very humorous news interview in which Oman tried to describe (without compromising any top secret information) the rumors behind his time-traveling accident. This prelude culminated in a huge battle, with Oman leading his Mandalorians in a boarding action on one of the Nagai 'worldships' that leads to its destruction. It is here he makes an odd discovery as well—a Nagai shipyard 'growing' new ships from a destroyed planet seems to be producing inferior craft.

Bob the Tusken is also home with his people. Having seen the scope of Galactic warfare, he has decided that the Tusken must do their part for the greater good as well (oh, and gain some 'loot' while they're at it). Thus it was that he sought to prove himself as a "Khan" and unite the various tribes in a manner that had not been done in centuries. To do this, he set out to find and defeat a Krayt dragon. And defeat it he did, in single battle. Bringing the bloody head (and some holo-recordings of him fighting it) back to his tribe as proof of his worthiness, he began the process of creating the great horde (and also began talks with the Republic for a way to transport them to where they would be needed).

Arianne is assigned to a desk job with New Republic Intelligence (giving her time to be with her family). But even as she works at this, she finds that not all is right within the NR. There are subtle signs of manipulation from within. Mysterious orders are routing and re-routing personnel and seem to be trying to shift Jedi NRI Agents AWAY from the front. Signs point to a traitor within the ranks, but the lone agent uncovered manages to escape.

Horatio Flynn has returned to his independent roots, hiring out as a scout for the hard-pressed New Republic fleet. He spends his days onboard his ship, deep within Nagai space. While sitting dead and masked in space, his sensors monitor enemy activity—giving Horatio time to work on his memoirs (never mind the fact he's only in his mid-twenties...and is far from famous). But what is otherwise a dull routine is soon interrupted by signs of trouble within the Nagai fleet. First they destroy one of their ships as it begins to behave erratically, and then he sees another fleet completely abandon a planet—mere hours after picking up an odd energy signature in orbit.

It is at this abandoned planet that the four heroes finally cross paths again. Arianne, Bob and Oman are assigned as Intel support for a full-scale assault on the planet, and as the fleet and troops move in, Horatio (having been watching in deep space) joins them. (At this point, the GM breathes a sigh of relief as he finally has all his people in one place). With the Nagai fleet having suddenly abandoned the planet, the assault on the surface goes well—that is, until the NR forces on the ground discover signs of biological warfare. The Nagai and their ground-troops are found to have been almost entirely exterminated by contagion, while a good 10-percent of the population seems likewise infected. After a brief quarantine, however, it is found that the disease must have already run its course, as no NR soldiers come down with it, even though 1 in 10 of the civilians that had been showing signs die from it.

While the plague is being studied, the team is sent on another mission—a Nagai has asked to be 'taken in' and try to work out some kind of peace treaty. She says she represents a 'fifth column' among the Nagai and could help in stopping the war. Her retrieval on Ord Mantel is a bit bumpy, with the Empire attempting to butt in and a Nagai assassin attempting to silence the traitor. As the team prepares to leave with its 'guest', however, a new wrinkle is thrown into the works. Evidently, the Nagai recognizes Horatio—he bears an uncanny resemblance to one of the greatest Nagai leaders of all time. And what's more, the Nagai traitor insinuates that she was, in fact, the lover of this great leader and she believes Horatio to be a great ancestor of the man she knew, who was lost thousands of years ago while attempting to cross the galactic barrier. Horatio responds with a combination of abject terror (at the thought that he may soon have a lot of unwanted responsibility) and his usual self-centeredness (he always knew he was great, now its official).

Even as they turn the Nagai over to NRI for debriefing, the team is put back on the case of the biological warfare incident—discovering that the disease in question bears the trademarks of an Imperial Scientist who had been imprisoned for years prior. This prompts a visit to the prison, only to find that the Scientist in question is missing—having been 'transferred' in response to a mysterious order. The group also finds that another dangerous prisoner (Rina Nothos) is also in the process of being transferred. This leads to a battle with an imposter team of NR soldiers in the hangar bay. They are defeated and Rina is put back into prison. Questioning shows that the soldiers are actually ex-rebel agents—highly experienced and loyal to the Republic, but unwilling to talk about their mission here.

Seizing the opportunity, the team board's the shuttle that the fake guards were going to move the prisoner in. They rendezvous in deep space with another Republic vessel and discover that it's captain, too, is in cahoots with the conspirators. The team takes control of THAT ship (after a tense stand-off with its captain) and continues down the trail of clues, trying to follow them deeper into what is becoming a very large problem. It is as this point that a high-tech Stealth corvette disables the PCs new ship and invites the team onboard to 'talk'. Though allowed to keep their weapons, the team is very tense as they meet with the captain of the Stealth ship—a highly decorated Republic officer by the name of Kerri Lessev (an NPC I stole from Cracken's Rebel Operatives).

The group travels onboard this ship to a secret base where they meet a shadowy figure who identifies himself as Corewatch—the name of a highly skilled operative who worked for the Rebellion throughout the war, but was presumed dead around the time of Endor. Through his holographic proxy, Corewatch informs the PCs of his plan. He intends to resurrect the philosophy of the mythical 'Genoharadan' organization—a shadowy group of bounty-hunters and assassins who claimed to once 'control the course of galactic history', from behind the scenes. In this case, Corewatch's goals are noble—to stop the Nagai threat and finally return the Galaxy to peace after so many years of conflict. To do this, however, he feels that he cannot operate within the ideological restraints of the New Republic he claims to love. In short, he is going to save and maintain the Republic by doing the things it will not officially allow. All he wants is for the PCs to step aside, or better yet join him—but he knows from their records that this is unlikely. He gives the players a tour of his facility, revealing to them that this new Genoharadan have access to many of the Galaxy's most lethal superweapons—the anti-Nagai biological agent being just one of many.

The ideological debate this sparked between Corewatch and the players—and indeed between the characters themselves—was at the heart of the situation. How far would they be willing to go to stop this. What are acceptable losses? Ultimately, the PCs decide to take Corewatch down, and even manage to plant a seed of doubt in another of his top agents (the former-Imperial Noghri assassin, Ruhk). Through the Force, the Jedi of the group manage to contact the outside world—summoning help in the form of Luke Skywalker and a squadron of Jedi Knights. But corewatch strikes first, attacking them in their 'guest chambers'. Someone mysterious aids the PCs, though, allowing them to escape the Asteroid even as Luke and the NR hit it from outside. Utilizing a teleportation device, the group makes it back to coruscant and files a full report.

In the absence of the PCs, the Nagai traitor has given some very useful information that backs up things that Oman had seen much earlier in his battle with the Nagai. The ores found in this galaxy are evidently not of the right composition to build their starships. The ships growing now are much less effective than the originals—which have actually been taking heavy losses in the war thus far. The Nagai further intimates that her people are searching the galaxy now for planets with the right elemental makeup. And now they have set their sights on the seemingly unstrategic world of Tatooine. Though the ore on this world has proven sub-standard for use in Galactic technology, its unstable nature is evidently just what the Nagai need.

Realizing that Horatio could be a great asset when dealing with the Nagai, it is decided to allow him to undergo a Nagai ritual that will 'activate' the dormant genes of his body—or kill him if it proves he is NOT an ancestor of their great leader. Horatio survives. And as such, finds himself suddenly in the position to being the long lost heir to the Nagai throne—sort of. To make matters more complicated, Horatio finds himself torn between his love of his Jedi girlfriend, Reen, and the jealous attentions of his new Nagai friend, who wishes to rekindle a romance with her 'reborn' lover.

With all the ships at the front, the Republic is left to scramble to scrape up enough ships and men to respond to the threat to Tatooine. The PCs are sent ahead to the system to help prepare and assemble the piecemeal fleet and army responding to the call. Bob the Tusken returns to his gathering horde—who's mettle will have to be tested not abroad, but right here on their own world. Meanwhile, Arianne and Oman strategize and organize the fleet, preparing this time to Capture it's flag 'worldship'. Central to this plan is the attempt to smuggle Horatio onboard the Worldship to link up with Nagai trators already onboard—and hopefully turn others to his cause.

The Nagai fleet arrives and attacks Tatooine, seemingly without resistance—striking just where the Traitor said they would. A giant crystalline drill is fired into the planet, striking part of the mostly deserted city of Mos Espa. Thousands of ground troops are sent in to make a perimeter around it to defend from ground attack. The fleet in orbit spreads out to defend itself as the NR fleet emerges from behind the planet's moon to engage them. The battle is soon joined on both fronts as the Tusken horde emerges from hiding in the wastes outside of Mos Espa and charges in to do battle (flanked and supported by NR troops). The battle is costly on all sides, with the second-like Republic vessels taking the brunt of the damage. Oman, Arianne, Horatio and the Nagai trator fly through the chaos of battle and onto the world-ship, making their way towards it's control node while the main boarding force battles its way via another route.

On the ground, the unexpected Bantha cavalry charge proves devastating to the Nagai ground troops, breaking their ranks. Bob leads a republic demolitions team into the drill to shut it down. Above, Horatio and the team link up with more of the fifth column and battle their way to the control node to confront the commander of this task force. There, Horatio does the unexpected, heroically (using a force point and some great RP) commanding the Nagai to lay down his arms and swear loyalty to his true ruler. Surprisingly, the Nagai does just that. Now in control of the World ship, Horatio uses its firepower to get the attention of the rest of the alien fleet. He gives them the ultimatum of joining him—or dying. Some join. Some flee. Some die. In the end, the Republic wins the day—though once again at great cost.

And so, the Galaxy continues to balance on the brink. The outcome of the war is still in question—especially considering the possibility that the Nagai fleet may yet find a way to return from their extra-dimensional prison and rejoin the battle. And the matter of Corewatch has yet to be resolved. Though the New Republic believes it has severely hampered his operations, he is still out there. And what of the Horatio's precarious position as 'true leader' of the Nagai? Will he live up to the responsibility? Or is he merely a tool for his supposed allies. We'll have to see what happens... next year.

So, as you can tell, we had a VERY busy 2-3 days of playing to cover all that ground. At times, I felt like I was rushing (and I was), but overall I am very pleased—especially with the roleplay of my players. They were all very much 'on' and my summary of the adventure truly does them little justice. What stood out for me with this adventure were the following:

Epic Scale
More than ever before, the PCs were operating at a very 'strategic' level. They were in the thick of things, but they were also responsible for very large operations and quite a few troops. The stakes were likewise very high—entire fleets, planets and even races were affected by their actions and decisions.

Roleplay Heavy
Hand-in-hand with the epic scale of the adventure came the fact that role play and decision making was a LOT more important than combat in this adventure. Indeed, apart from a few sharp, short encounters, much of the game involved strategy, ideology and social interaction. Bargain, Con, Command, Persuasion, Tactics and even Philosophy skills actually got used—a lot. And everyone really had their moments to shine. Arianne had some great ideological debates with both Corewatch and one of his underlings (Ruhk). Bob had a very poignant and meaningful conversation with the Nagai traitor about how to find an 'identity' as a people. Oman had a truly awesome interview with Galactic news in which he came off as a rather good statesmen on the one hand an a kook on the other. And Horatio? Well, the smart-ass was a smart ass. The running joke after he found out about his Nagai heritage was the chapter titles in his memoirs: "Chapter 25: Still Awesome." etc. But more than this, he really stepped up to the plate when it came to his new position as 'heir to the throne'. Its really funny to see how he reacts—and will react—to this kind of responsibility and pressure.

Once again, it was a truly awesome time. I will probably have a ton of posts about it in the future. But for now, I'll stop rambling. Hope you enjoy.


  1. For posterity's sake, (because we probably won't remember it next year), I thought I would just make a note about the 'tag line' we were using all weekend. Rolo flew up here to Denver on Wednesday and we happened to be watching Man vs. Wild that night. Bear Gryls got himself into a bit of a situation, having spent some amount of time climbing down this cliff to a river bed, only to discover later that the river went underground and that he was surrounded by high cliffs. He takes a moment to look around at the cliffs, then looks to the camera and in his British accent, he says very matter-of-factly, "This is not ideal..." It was perfect for adventuring, so that became our tag line for the weekend.

  2. It was great having the old gang back together once again. The gaming session was simply awesome and the interaction between the characters was lively. It made the whole weekend special.