Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gaming in South Dakota

I am starting to write this as I am sitting in the Denver airport waiting for my flight home- and while the memories are still fresh in my mind (or as fresh as they can be considering my mind). This was the third year I have travelled up to visit my college buddies in South Dakota, and the third big weekend of gaming wherein my original Star Wars adventurers fought against the invasion of their Galaxy by the vicious Nagai. Once again, my players have proven that they are awesome and I enjoyed the heck out of myself.

I'll begin with a brief rundown the characters involved:

Rick Oman (aka "Mandalore"). The ruler of a newly reunited Mandalorian people, Oman began his adventure with a couple 'solo' missions (which I ran on the trip from Denver to South Dakota). In the first, he was mysteriously tipped off to the location of a secret Imperial research base. There he found none other than Bevel Lemelisk (long thought dead) still hard at work 'refining' his superlaser. Seems he had killed the rest of the Imperial crew of the base because they were interfering with that. After dealing with some pesky Dark Trooper droids, Oman did something rather 'grey'- instead of turning in the mad scientist and his superweapon, he 'confiscated' both. The weapon he installed on his flagship for... future use (unknown to the other players in the group). From there, Oman went on to deal with rescuing his wife, who had been kidnapped by a former boyfriend- who happened to be a Sith warrior. There ensued a knock-down-drag-out fight between Heavily Armed Mandalorian and supremely confident Sith. It was a VERY lengthy and very close fight, in which Oman used or lost about half his arsenal of weapons- but managed to 'get the job done'. From there, he would join up with the rest of the group for the 'big show'.

Arianne Volar. The Intel agent had been placed in command of a stealth corvette and tasked with both trying to find a way to foil the alien Nagai invaders AND track down the renegade Republic intelligence cult calling itself "Corewatch" (after its founder, a mysterious agent willing to make the 'hard decisions' that he felt the idealistic New Republic was incapable of). Volar was, at this time, about two months pregnant with her second child and trying desperately to get her newly christened ship up to full running condition.

Horatio Flynn. The Former-Pirate, Former-Scout, Former (?) Naer-do-well had found himself suddenly thrust into a position of command over a good portion of the alien Nagai fleet- by virtue of his evident relationship to a great Nagai leader who had supposedly died centuries ago. He found himself trying to take control of a very difficult situation- a people who have a very self-centered and warlike culture. Through his actions, he was able to sway part of the 'bad' Nagai fleet to his cause- labeling those who would not join him the 'Dissenters'. They in turn labelled him 'the Usurper'. And to make matters worse, the New Republic and its allies didn't necessarily TRUST Horatio's faction of Nagai- seeing them as a very dangerous wildcard in an already charged situation. In fact, many in the New Republic senate were demanding that the Nagai stand trial for war crimes. As if this wasn't enough, Horatio also found himself having to ward off the unwanted (or at least inconvenient?) attentions of one of the Nagai, Morrigan, who was evidently a lover of Horatio's great, great, great (etc.) grandfather. See, Horatio was already engaged to his girlfriend of several years, Reen, a fledgling Jedi and Arianne's Ward. Yeah, Horatio had a lot on his mind going into all of this.

Bob. The Tusken Jedi was busy trying to manage the horde of his people he had raised in the last adventure (who had fought to defend Tatooine from a Nagai invasion). It was his ultimate goal to 'export' the Tusken to other worlds- in effect, to Colonize (at least, eventually). In the short term, Hordes of Tusken were employed in several battles by the Repubic as Cavalry support in operations on Desert worlds. The long-term plan, however, was to have Tusken tribes 'pacify' trouble spots (pirate bases, etc.) on remote worlds (preferably arid worlds) and then 'move in' to settle them. Bob's unprecedented actions were starting to spawn a bit of a cult following for the Jedi/Shaman. Some began to whisper that he was the chosen one, destined to lead the Tusken to a "great victory"... of course, in ancient tusken, the word for "great victory" could also be interpreted as "horrible death". For his part, bob neither confirmed nor denied these musings, rather, he tried to keep his people focused on ACTING rather than on worshipping any one person. He also took it upon himself to find those young Tusken who were willing to 'modernize' and to put them in touch with people who could teach them of the civilized world and its ways. He even began to look for other Force sensitive types among his people to send to the Jedi Academy.

Marko. Making his return to the group (and his player to the gaming table), the smuggler-turned-commando had since turned smuggler once more, after having become disillusioned with the Republic during a mission gone bad. Arianne, in command of evacuating Marko's squad, had to give the order to go in order to keep the entire group from getting wiped out. In the turmoil of the evac, Marko's girlfriend was mortally wounded- and had to be left behind. Though Arianne had no choice, Marko was crushed. He turned back to his previous life of crime and began working out of Hutt Space. He remained neutral in the war against the Nagai, but had a lot of contacts on the street, and became aware of their influence over certain sympathetic Hutt's. It was while he was still brooding in a Cantina that he was approached by agents of Corewatch and asked to rejoin his previous team- and send regular reports on their activities. Marko, in his current mood, agreed.

After covering all the players' intro stories, I began the adventure with an old Star Wars tradition: The intro crawl.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away...

The war against the Nagai invasion grinds on. Forces of the New Republic and its allies fight alongside their previous enemies in the Galactic Republic. In a series of grueling battles, these combined forces have managed to recover nearly all of the Nagai-occupied worlds-but at great cost.

These losses are all the more keenly felt with the knowledge that the bulk of the Nagai fleet-marooned in another dimension-could return at any time.

Even as the battles rage, shadowy forces on all sides of the conflict maneuver in secret to try and tip the balance of power in their favor. All signs point to a final conflict soon, but just who will prevail is not yet decided-and the price of victory has yet to be determined.


From here, I began with another Star Wars favorite: the 'in medias res'. The group (Arianne, Bob, Oman and Horatio) were already on a secret mission to Hutt Space to find a suspected Nagai secret base. Here they were supposed to contact an estranged former colleague of theirs: Marko, who had been operating as a smuggler and was supposedly a 'trustworthy' contact for information. There is a brief vocal confrontation between Arianne and Marko as they make contact in a seedy cantina on Nar Shaddaa. After some negotiations, Marko agrees to help-for pay, of course.

This leads to a trip to Zurga the Hutt, and up-and-coming young entrepreneur who has made the most of his Nagai contacts to help his own standing. After some bribes to his security folk (and an introduction by Marko), the team is taken via elevator to the upper floor of a skyscraper office building- and the opulent lair of the Hutt.

Zurga is, of course, reluctant to confirm anything to a bunch of Republic agents and very quickly dismisses the group, expressing his disappointment with Marko for even bringing them. By this time, however, Arianne has already read the surface thoughts of one of Zurga's slave girls and discovered that the slug indeed DOES work with the Nagai. Surprisingly enough (to me) the group leaves peacefully (evidently intending to pursue other avenues of information gathering). That's when Zurga overconfidently attacks them- pumping knockout gas into the turbolift car.

At this point, one of the coolest action scenes in the adventure breaks out. The Jedi detoxify poison to resist the gas, the rest are equipped (due to multiple such misfortunes) with breathmasks that aid them. Bob cuts a hole in the top of the elevator, but only half the group makes it up before the doors open and the shock troops outside try to get in. Oman guns most of these down and Bob assists by using TK to flush the remaining gas out the door. This flows /past/ the prepared guards and hits the next wave (who didn't have breathmasks), knocking them out.

The group could have easily escaped at this point, but instead of going down, Bob then uses his TK to life the turbolift car up the shaft, heading back up to the penthouse. Inside, the group gears up, bringing weapons to bear at the door when it reaches the top. A gunfight ensues in the 'lobby' of the Hutt's lair, with the group remaining under cover in the elevator, even as Bob (still crouched on the top of the car and out of the line of fire) continues using his TK to rip out a section of the wall.

Most of the lobby guards have already been eliminated when Bob finally succeeds in freeing the turbolift car and then TK's it forward, out of the shaft and towards the door of the Throne room. The door proves to be a bit too tough for his 'ramming' the lift into it, however, so he and Arianne combine to wrench one of the doors off its hinges before they can continue.

Once inside the Throne room, the group quickly brings Zurga to heel with a combination of force powers and precision shooting. They get all the information they need out of him and- in a suitably PC way- proceed to loot his private safe before ejecting from the building in the Hutt's personal escape pod- landing in the city below.

Marko agrees to accompany the group from this point out (secretly sending updates to Corewatch throughout the mission). They travel to where Zurga surmised that the Nagai base was and find not only a fleet of ships, but another inter-galactic 'gateway' that is sending out a beacon like 'pulse'- which they surmise must be to help the Nagai fleet trapped in otherspace find their way back.

Needless to say, they are concerned. Upon feeding this information back to headquarters, they are told to remain on station. Admiral Ackbar himself will be leading a fleet to attack the gate at once.

It is here I use my first "Cut Away" to describe the actions of Corewatch, evidently using the cover of the NR attack on the Nagai to carry out some secret mission elsewhere in the galaxy- to recover a 'superweapon' that will allow them to proceed with the rest of their plans. Even the hardened members of corewatch seem nervous about this.


The action picks back up with the party as they rendezvous with the fleet for the main attack. Using a stolen Nagai shuttle (acquired from Horatio's own fleet), they are going to try and sneak onto the gateway itself to try and get information on it as well as gum-up the works and hopefully aid in its destruction.

As the fleet battle rages, the players battle their way through hordes of the Nagai's underlings (making copious use of grenades, light-repeaters and force points). They manage to tap into the Nagai system and disrupt the 'beacon' even as they set explosive charges. The gateway starts to break up under the fleet's attack and the PCs flee back to their shuttle, just in time to see the whole thing go up.

It is a victory! Or so it seems, until a tear opens in space and the marooned Nagai fleet begins to pour out. Many are missing or damaged from their trips through the dimensional barrier. Many more are damaged from the bad angle they have been vectored onto (thanks to the efforts of the PCs) and the collapse of the gate itself. Even so, they greatly outnumber and outgun the battered New Republic fleet. Worse still, the Jedi in the group sense that there are Charon onboard the Nagai ships. They fear these extra-dimensional arachnids could make the Nagai situation worse, even if the Nagai are (for the time being) ‘in control of’ the Charon.

Ackbar orders a retreat and brings his flagship into line to cover it, valiantly holding off the brunt of the Nagai attack so that his ships might escape. The players linger to jump along with the Admiral, only to see his ship hit just as it jumps. On the other side, the fleet regroups. Only pieces of Ackbar's flagship make it through. The hero is soon listed as missing, presumed dead.

The episode ends with another "cut-away": This time showing Corewatch activating the new superweapon they have evidently successfully acquired. It turns out to be a man, seething with Force energies. This person, corewatch greets as "Mr. Marek" before the scene fades to black.


The shattered Republic fleet regroups at Corellia, Kuat and Fondor, struggling to get their ships repaired to try and meet the inevitable Nagai attack. Admiral Drayson takes command and orders Arianne's stealth frigate to remain on-station to observe the movements of the Nagai (along with a cordon of remote probe droids). The alien fleet is very battered, it seems, and is actually taking time to make repairs of its own- cannibalizing its own ships to do so. Even so, they still represent a deadly threat to the Republic.

Once the probe droid cordon is fully in place, the party's ship is withdrawn to restock. It is here that Tallon Karrde contacts them and offers information they might want regarding Corewatch. Seems he's heard that Corewatch is looking for some place called "Korriban". There is also mention of something called a "Starkiller". The group assumes this is yet another superweapon- and are leery about allowing Corewatch to gain control over it. At this point, the heroes are also considering the possibility that they may HAVE to use the superweapon themselves in order to save the New Republic. They just don't trust Corewatch to do so in a way that will minimize friendly casualties.

After reporting all this to Admiral Drayson, the group is ordered to try and head off Corewatch and ‘secure’ the superweapon, whatever that might be. And so they spend the next few days finding their way to Korriban- using info gathered from Karrde as well as Jedi senses. Upon arrival, they find the Sith world unsettling in the extreme. Bob and Arianne are so freaked out about it that they both refrain heavily from using any Force powers at all (save for defensive powers like ‘Force of Will’). Following Force-induced ‘hunches’ and sensor readings, the group finally lands in a series of ruins and finds a passageway leading beneath them. There in the labyrinth below they find signs of great destruction- of huge vault doors blown open, of the bodies of various sith smashed, broken and cut apart by lightsabers. It looks like a wrecking ball has preceeded them.

They eventually follow this trail to its end- a huge vault deep, deep underground that contains within it a speeder-sized device of some sort- as well as Corewatch and his team- which includes a cloaked but evidently powerful Force user. A standoff ensues, in which the morality of what is going on comes to the forefront once more. What it comes down to, however, is mistrust. What they are dealing with here is a Sith recreation of the Mass Shadow Device that destroyed the Mandalorian fleet in an ancient battle some 4,000 years ago. Corewatch does not think that the party has the ‘guts’ to use the device effectively. The party believes Corewatch’s concept of ‘acceptable losses’ is out of line.

It is at this point that Marko reveals himself as a turncoat- demanding that the party allow Corewatch and his people by. His own sense of loss plus the overwhelming oppression of the darkside on Korriban pushes him to stand against his companions- though he has his doubts…

Arguments are thrown back and forth as combatants square off- until finally the Force user with Corewatch has had enough talking.

A battle ensues, but it is remarkably short and ends in a very odd way. Oman opens up the battle by plastering Corewatch’s team with a tangler rocket fired from his launcher. Due to some bad rolls on my part, this winds up seriously impeding several of Corewatch’s main team, who are subsequently injured by fire from the rest of the group- including Oman’s basilisk war droid and Marko- who has finally cast off his anger at Arianne and sided again with his comrades.

As the gun battle rages Bob does something totally unexpected- and refuses to fight. Though he is thrown about like a ragdoll by the mysterious Force user “Marek”, he refuses to counterattack. Instead he uses his power to remain in Marek’s face- talking calmly to him despite provocations. At one point, Corewatch shoots Bob, trying to get Marek undistracted and back into the fight. Bob absorbs the brunt of the attack, but is wounded. Even nursing a smoking hole in his arm, the Tusken refuses to counterattack and continues his philosophical debate with Marek.

Both teams begin to take damage- forcing the Basilisk to reteat. But with Marek beginning to doubt which side he’s chosen, Corewatch is getting the worst of it. This prompts Horatio to shout for their surrender. Surprisingly enough, two of the group do so. Corewatch does not, however, and again takes aim at Bob. Marek intervenes this time, yanking the blaster from the rogue agent’s hands and crushing it.

At this point, the battle stops. Corewatch and his people surrender, but even as they do Corewatch himself does not give up- urging the players to make use of the bomb to stop the slaughter. This sets up one of the crucial debates of the game. Oddly enough, the group is reluctantly in agreement with Corewatch, but IF they are FORCED to use the device, they wish to do so on their terms- and as safely as possible. Of the whole group, Horatio is the only one who argues vehemently against using the bomb at all- partly because it is ‘his people’ who will suffer its effects, but also because it seems ‘unfair’ to him. To this, Corewatch brings up the argument: “Is it better to fight a war of attrition, losing millions slowly, or to use a device which will kill millions, but do it instantly?” Horatio still doesn’t like it, but he does mull over that argument.
Ultimately, as mission commander, the decision of what to do with the Mass Shadow Device is up to Arianne. She could destroy it now, counter to her orders to ‘secure’ it, but she decides not to. They may very well need it.

As the device is examined by technical experts from Arianne’s crew and Corewatch’s team is secured, Arianne takes her ship out of the Korriban system to contact the New Republic with her report. She receives word then that Coruscant is under siege. The Nagai have made their move. It is only a matter of time before they break through the planetary defenses. The fleet is preparing a counter attack, but they do not expect to be able to (in their current condition) repulse the Nagai. The time for a decision has come.


The group convenes to discuss what to do next and quickly formulate a plan. They surmise that Horatio, as leader of the splinter faction of Nagai, would make good bait for a trap. They intend to try and lure the evil Nagai fleet to Korriban, supposedly for a climactic last stand- and destroy them with the Mass Shadow device.

In order to sweeten the pot (and to make things look kosher), the group wants the surviving NR fleet- plus Horatio’s own Nagai fleet- to make their ‘stand’ at Korriban. The plan is to jump out just before the device detonates, leaving the Nagai to their fate. They outline their plan and send it to Republic Command. Somehow, it makes its way through to Chancellor Leia Organa-Solo. Seeing no other choice, she gives the plan her reluctant go-ahead.

Horatio opposes slaughtering his own people without giving them one more chance to reconsider. And so, as the Republic and allied Nagai fleet gather, he sends a message once more, asking the ‘Dissenters’ to surrender to his rule now or be destroyed. Some few among the Nagai actually do desert, but most do not. The rest of the message was written- and ‘performed’ by Horatio in a manner specifically designed to insult the current commanders of the Nagai fleet. It was a masterpiece of egotistical bombast and dismissal, delivered effectively by a ‘halfbreed’ upstart. The bait was swallowed. The Nagai broke off their attack on Coruscant and made best speed towards Korriban.

Preparations are made. Arianne, onboard her stealth ship, will trigger the device. Oman takes command of his flagship, the Maelstrom- secretly preparing a surprise for the Nagai. Marko will fly his ship, the Lightblade, into battle once more, flying alongside the rag-tag group of fighters scraped up for this mission. Horatio and Bob take positions onboard one of the allied Nagai flagships- but trickily enough, NOT his known and usual command ship. THAT ship is to be sacrificed in this battle- even when the rest of the fleet has jumped, Horatio intends to trick the Nagai into thinking HE has remained. All he needs is to buy a few seconds- just a few seconds AFTER the friendly fleet has jumped and BEFORE the evil Nagai can follow.

Praying that the ‘Device’ (moved to a secure site on Korriban) works, the fleet makes its final preparations. The Nagai fleet arrives and battle ensues. The clash is ferocious, but from the start, the New Republic is outgunned. Horatio struggles to keep his ‘false’ flagship safe, keeping up the ruse that he is aboard it. The Nagai blast their way towards it. The device is triggered, starting the countdown. The fleets continue to battle as the time ticks away. Thousands more lives are lost. Horatio looses another speech, relayed to seem as though it came from his flagship. His dismissive tone again enrages the Nagai, who plow headlong into the thick of battle, committing themselves entirely.

It is then that the Republic and Allied Nagai ships jump out, in twos and threes, then by the hundreds. Too late, the Nagai attempt to activate their gravity well projectors. For a few heart-rending seconds, they seem to be holding the core of Horatio’s fleet right where they are. That is when Oman uses the Superlaser he had previously secured- having since positioned his ship for an optimum angle to fire directly through the heart of the evil Nagai fleet. Suddenly freed, Horatio’s ships leap out- pausing only to pick up the last crewman of his sacrificial flagship as she teleports to safety.

The Mass Shadow Device detonates.

Korriban implodes, sending shockwaves throughout the system- utterly shattering the evil Nagai fleet, save for the very few who managed to jump wildly just before. The lives of thousands of Nagai and millions of their genetically engineered troops is snuffed out. Even on the distant retreating Republic fleet, the Force sensitive people feel the effects. It is horrific. But it is…over. The Nagai fleet ceases to exist.


What is left of the fleet limps back to Coruscant. The Nagai invasion is over, save for a few remaining holdouts who now find themselves outnumbered and on the run. In the following weeks and months, losses are mourned and honored. The heroes are rewarded for their actions- along with thousands of others who served. By years end, armistice talks with the Empire are resumed and Admiral Pellaeon, with his signature, finally and formally ends the Galactic Civil War. For the time being at least- and however fragile- there is peace in the Galaxy.

Corewatch’s team is turned over to the New Republic, tried and imprisoned, but Corewatch himself is found- still in Arianne’s brig- to be in a coma. It is later discovered that he was a Human Replica droid- and it is suspected that his consciousness ‘escaped’- possibly to a remote computer somewhere- or even another droid body.

Oman returns to Mandalore and his growing family (his wife now being pregnant with their second child, another daughter). He will no doubt have an interesting time trying to maintain a balance within his warlike people. It is his plan to employ them as peacekeepers alongside Republic forces throughout the Galaxy.

Arianne is asked to accept a position as the Chief of Naval Intelligence- owing to her experience as a Pilot, a Capital Ship commander AND an Intelligence operative. She has doubts about taking his position, owing to her sense of failure in Corewatch’s ‘escape’. In the end, however, she takes the job, and the promotion to Admiral.

Bob decides to set off on a pilgrimage with his wife. His intention is to discover other Force using traditions and make friendly contact with them. Marek, the Jedi used by Corewatch, decides to accompany the duo and work with Bob to overcome the many issues stemming from his troubled past. Bob also discovers that he is about to become a father- twins in fact.

Marko takes up his commission again with the Special Operations branch of New Republic Intelligence, looking to make up for years of brooding introspection.

And Horatio finally sets a date to marry his long-time girlfriend Reen. A ‘state’ wedding ceremony is thrown for them on Coruscant. Arianne (Reen’s guardian for years) is Matron of honor. Bob gives away the bride. But even as the newlyweds depart on a honeymoon, Horatio knows he has a great task ahead of him. The surviving Nagai people look to him for leadership- and to help them create a culture of their own. His plans in this regard center around much the same actions as Oman’s Mandalorians: the need to ‘keep them busy’ and out of trouble.

The End… for now.

p.s. I may have started this in Colorado, but I didn't finish it until today, back in Florida. Hey, a lot happened. What can I say?

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