[SWSE] Tarmadan Sector Session 3

GM Radio Rob

Formerly 'IMAGinES'
Validated User
#21
A quick thought: Some stats for the captain and maybe the crew of the impounded smuggling vessel might come in handy. If things get slow, I imagine they might try and get their ship out of the impound, perhaps even enlisting the help of the PCs.
 

GM Radio Rob

Formerly 'IMAGinES'
Validated User
#22
As well as my usual botherations, a couple of other things have bothered me about what I've got so far. To start at the start, the session doesn't start with a bang. For seconds, I met with most of my players on Saturday gone (it was a general gamers' meetup), and there were a few comments about "getting back onto the main plot", which, I think, is the Imperial biowarfare facility.

Well, a brainwave hit earlier on. I'm turning the "optional" attempt by the smugglers to get the Network node back into the starting fight. It'll make things even more fun when Danta Libar turns up and arrests everybody. On top of that, the other crew needs to get the Network node back so they can get the co-ordinates to the delivery point for the cargot hey were smuggling when they got caught - biological stock and cryo-frozen test subjects for the lab. Even gives me an excuse to send the Stormtroopers in!

(Note: I know this idea is actually dragging the spotlight away from Dr. Basal and back toward A'ayag Koth, but I think the ideas I had for the good doctor are more suited to a spotlight session.)

So let's see what I have.

Opening Encounter:
  • Other smuggling crew tries to break into Princess Dugong.
  • Danta Libar arrives and arrests everyone.

During Session Encounters:
  • Baron Vantai insists on Noonai giving up captaincy of the Dugong and staying with him.
  • Danta Libar grills Noonai about the identity of the mole in the CMA.
  • Danta Libar tries to talk noonai into breaking off the marriage to Pless Vantai.
  • Pelera Zane and her band of mercs show up per contract with General Sarafod to get the Network node back.
  • General Sarafod tries to talk Noonai into acting as bait for the duKeeges.
  • The duKeeges attempt a rescue.
  • A fight in the hangar bay of the duKeeges' Black Fleet flagship.
  • The players attempt to track the history of their Network node by going to the chop-shop gang who installed it - who are in the middle of frantically packing up and leaving.
  • Admiral Dolon sends a squad of Stormtroopers to retrieve the other crew's cargo.

You know, I think I might just have enough there for a decent session - and that's not even covering the possiblility that the players decide to follow the smugglers' cargo to its drop-off. I think there's a strong possibility that Koth might earn a Destiny point there!

Oh, and I finally managed to get my head around Pless Vantai. How're these for Beliefs?

  • The galaxy has suffered the sickness of war for long enough; it is time for us to put aside our differences and heal ourselves. The Houses, however, prefer to continue risking the lives of their citizens over lifting themselves above their petty conflicts. The citizens are long overdue their say; I will tear rule by nobility down and replace it with the democracy I have seen at work in the Imperial Senate.
  • The robber-baron Duke Gartrel fosters infighting amongst the families contracted to his mining operation and supplies them with substandard equipment. I will see to it that his practices are exposed and ended through my newly-inaugurated ambulance service; even he will be unable to deny the sheer volume of casualties generated by his "business".
  • My love Noonai duKeege has lost everything because of her family's betrayal; I refuse to see her harmed further. Although I have granted her captaincy of the first ambulance transport, I will bring her to, and keep her in, safety should her life be threatened.

When I get home tonight I'll stat the smugglers up as CL1 non-heroics (three to four levels, maybe) except the captian, who I'll problably make CL2 with four levels NH and one Scoundrel. I'll also make a Stormtrooper Sergeant with some team-boosting feats and stat the duKeeges out as well.
 

GM Radio Rob

Formerly 'IMAGinES'
Validated User
#23
I’ve statted up pretty much everyone barring the duKeeges. I think I’m going to drop the chop-shop crew; if the PCs don’t work out what’s going on themselves they can get the info from the smugglers. A shame, though; a starship chop-shop would make a great setting for a fight scene. Maybe I’ll stick the smugglers there instead…

I’d like to try and balance the encounters I have in mind using the “Combining Different CLs” guidelines on page 247 of the rulebook. Now, my four-member group’s APL at the moment is 2 (rounded off). I know I want the first fight to be no more than challenging; I don’t want anyone seriously injured before things get rolling. The second fight should be a stretch, and ideally the last one will be very tough. As such, the total CLs for each fight should be around 6, 9 and 12 respectively (I don’t want any PCs dying just yet). I also want to get an idea of the XP reward each fight will award.

Let’s break it down:
  • Captain Rann Nassin of the tramp freighter Broken Sky is CL 2 and each of his crew is CL 1, so I’ll need four of them. That’ll give the players 300 XP each.
  • The stormtroopers operate on a similar scale, as their Sergeant is CL 2. If I send them in I might bring in six regular troopers for a total CL of 8.
  • Pelera Zane is also CL 2 and I just uprated her Mercenaries with a couple of extra Nonheroic levels, which brings them to CL 2 also. Taking three gives me CL 8 and my players 400 XP each – I might see if I can throw in some sort of terrain hazard when the mercs attack to keep things interesting.
  • CMA Agent Danta Libar is CL 5, which in retrospect is a tad powerful. I'll drop a level of Soldier off, bringing her down to CL 4. Each of her Constables is CL 1, so I can scale any encounters with her from CL 6 to CL 8-9 with ease, giving 300-600 XP.
  • Having not done the duKeeges yet, I know I’m looking at a pair of NPCs of around CL 4, plus four nonheroic Black Fleet Guards of CL 1 (the generic Thug stat block will do). That’s 600 XP for each PC.

So, with three to five encounters, we’re looking at around 1,300-1,700 XP per PC by the end of the encounter; maybe not enough to get my level 2 PCs to level 3, but certainly enough to level Noonai.

Now all I need to do is finalise the duKeeges and think about some interesting terrain…
 
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GM Radio Rob

Formerly 'IMAGinES'
Validated User
#25
You know, stress and disappointment aside, I’m actually rather glad of the extra couple of weeks. Wrapping my head around preparing for the sort of character-driven play I’m after has been tricky. It’s probably because I’m trying to take a style of play that I’m familiar with from various indie-RPG texts but have never really experienced in action (much less GMed) and marry it to a set of largely traditional rules; the main conflict is that the first pretty much promises minimal between-session prep, while the latter requires a lot of prep – new NPCs, Challenges and maps of fight locations.

Still, I think I’m getting the hang of it. On the rules-side, that Excel spreadsheet makes the statting-up bit much easier (although it does have its faults – I’ve had to re-enter species and skills for several NPCs whenever I’ve loaded their records back into the spreadsheet) and the Web Enhancement about Encounter Design has been an invaluable aid to understanding and planning fight scenes.

On the character side, I think I finally became satisfied that I had “enough” to keep Noonai and the crew busy this morning. It took one final idea dropping in place to cinch it. To explain: I have Danta Libar as the main pressure on Noonai, and I have two lots of NPCs offering her ways out that she’s not going to like one hundred percent – her fiancée, who, once the shit this the fan, is going to want to keep Noonai safe on Throneworld – in other words, off the Princess Dugong – and her parents, who are going to let her keep the Dugong, but at the expense of working for the Black Fleet and having every legitimate authority in Tarmadan Sector after her. That might seem like enough pressure and options, but I had the nagging feeling that I needed something else as well. As I mentioned before, I also felt that I was ignoring the Empire, which was one of the main elements the players wanted in the game.

Then, this morning, I realised how to solve both problems. Noonai duKeege wants security so bad that she was willing to stand against her parents and support the Empire – not because she thought they were good guys, but because she thought not cosying up with the big dogs was suicidal. So once Noonai is accused of collusion with pirates and the identity of the captains of the Black Fleet is revealed, Admiral Dolon will make Noonai an Offer She Can’t Refuse: The protection of the Empire, including an important position in local operations, in exchange for two things: One, the identity of the mole within the CMA (and if Noonai doesn’t know, she can jolly well go and find out) and two, the luring out of the Black Fleet. The Admiral wants to use the mole to discredit the Baron Vantai and cripple the Caucus, allowing her to “recommend” Duke Gartrel as Lord of the Caucus without any real opposition, and to eliminate the last major block to the proper exploitation of Tarmadan Sector’s resources.

So Noonai stands to lose something major no matter which option she takes, which is just how I want it, and it sure as hell doesn’t restrict T from having Noonai attempt to clear her name by herself or coming up with something absolutely off the wall; in fact, it’ll help me figure out how the major players will react if she does. I’ll have to juggle the list of possible encounters, though, especially the ones I had planned for General Sarafod, which I thought were a bit weak; I’ll let him react until a better idea comes along during play.

So, let’s see:

  • Baron Vantai insists on Noonai giving up captaincy of the Dugong and staying with him.
  • Baron Vantai orders General Sarafod to send a unit of CMA operatives to find Noonai and bring her back to Throneworld (the General probably orders them to secure the Network node, if the players still have it).
  • Danta Libar grills Noonai about the identity of the mole in the CMA.
  • Danta Libar tries to talk Noonai into breaking off the marriage to Pless Vantai.
  • Admiral Dolon offers Noonai protection of the Empire for handing over the CMA mole and baiting the duKeeges out of hiding.
  • The duKeeges attempt a rescue.
  • The duKeeges offer Noonai and crew positions within the Black Fleet.
  • Jast Bolarsk sends a squad of Stormtroopers to retrieve the other crew's cargo.

Fight Locations:
  • The hangar bay of the duKeeges' Black Fleet flagship.
  • General Sarafod’s offices at CMA Headquarters (either someone's going to go for the Network node or try and bring Sarafod in once his identity as the mole comes out).

So from the looks of things, all I need now are a few encounter maps and some basic stats for hazards - and then, I think, that's it! I'll actually be good to go for next session! My God, it's an odd feeling, this "readiness" thing - kinda tingly!
 
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GM Radio Rob

Formerly 'IMAGinES'
Validated User
#30
Well, Mr. Teufel, you can be taken off the tented (tentered? tenderised?) hooks, because we finally got together and did it. And you know what? My players finally got to shoot them some Stormtroopers!

I think I mentioned previously that I came across some RPG conventional wisdom that states that it takes until the third session before things start to cook consistently. This was definitely true here. I won’t say we hit unfettered awesome, but we definitely got a yardstick of “fun and pretty good” to work from. I almost wish I’d recorded the session somehow. Things didn’t go according to plan, but as there was no plan, that was just fine.

We did have one slight problem before we started: Nobody had a complete character sheet with them. Neither P nor T could find theirs, although T had a backup in the form of a basic Word document on her laptop (which had to be put on another table for some reason) and Si had somehow lost the back half of his (the one with the skills on it). The crib sheet I’d made with everyone’s top Skills, Feats and Talents helped the players to put things back together, but the first half an hour was a little slow while rulebooks were thumbed through. I’d shake my head, except I’m the guy who put his rulebook on the top of his car and forgot about it. I guess the humidity got to all of us lately!

Finally, we opened with the players heading to the P-christened planet of Platooine (hey, every sector’s gotta have a “-tooine” in it somewhere), a planet of cities built into plateaux, protecting them from the winds that howl through the canyons between the mighty mesas. They went to set up an interview with Irinia, A’ayag Koth’s colleague from their days in the “engineering department” (read: sewage and IT) of Admiral Dolon’s ship, the IAS Pride (which also didn’t have a name until P came up with it) and now investigative reporter for the local news. P and T discussed who’d make the initial contact and chose Noonai, as Koth had neither the rep nor the Gather Info skill. He instead waited across the road; in the end, Koth’s paranoia made them organise a meting back at the Princess Dugong.

Speaking of the Dugong, Tajo was left on board – which seemed like the perfect opportunity to throw Rann Nassin and his crew at him. He managed some very surprising quick thinking, sprinting from the kitchen to the bridge and locking the ship down, and although Rann and one of his crew got on board (failed Use Computer check) some fast talking and a couple of nicely high Deception rolls saw Tajo not only get them off the ship again, but also convince them that the Network Node they were looking for was not on board. Still, Tajo made sure they parted on semi-amicable terms and covered for their exit by calling the local constabulary and telling them that Nassin and his crew had gone the other way. I gave Si 300 XP for that (100 shy of the full CL 2 award as I figured Nassin would be back after he checked in with his people and realised Tajo was bluffing).

I switched back to Noonai and Koth, and decided to spring Libar on them while they were on their way back to the Dugong. Koth got away, mainly as Libar wasn’t really interested in him in the first place, and Noonai was taken to the nearest CMA facility for interview. Now, things definitely didn’t go as planned here; T played Noonai as cool as a cucumber, except when she discovered that her parents weren’t dead as she thought. I asked for a Persuasion roll to see whether she had convinced Libar of the truth (I figured it’d move Libar’s Attitude up from Hostile to Unfriendly) and T handily beat Libar’s Will defence. Noonai counter-accused Libar of false arrest, mentioning her position as the affianced of the Baron Vantai, and I figured Libar would react explosively, accusing her of using the Baron. “We are very much in love,” Noonai responded, and I asked T to make a straight Deception roll.

Success.

Now we have a CMA agent questioning everything she believed about not just Noonai’s involvement with the Black Fleet but also Noonai’s relationship with the man Libar carries a torch for – and half of that crisis of faith is due to Noonai handing Libar a pile of bantha poodoo with a straight face. I cannot wait to see what happens if Libar ever realises. Again, I gave T 300 XP for that – as Libar was CL 4, though, I’m thinking I should have given her double.

In the meantime, Irinia arrives at the Dugong’s landing pad and speaks with Koth. She’d been keeping her own list of the people from her old unit who’d been dying, and Koth explained what had been going on. He also asked her to start looking into the limited information he’d uncovered when he hacked into the Pride’s databases - which, from his comments, was in response to the harsh treatment he and the rest of the non-humans in his department were getting from Admiral Dolon and the rest of the senior crew. That gives me a bit more of a cue into Koth’s motivations; P plays him as the one most insistent on stopping what the Empire’s up to. Again, the group came up with a code name for the bio-warfare research the Empire’s doing: Project Jerakko (bringing the walls of Tarmadan Sector tumbling down, you see). As I didn’t have any stats for Irinia yet, and as I didn’t really feel like saying no, I had Irinia agree to help Koth out. Although I don’t give an XP award, I figured it was a concrete step toward achievement of Koth’s Destiny, so I award P the Destruction Destiny bonus of +2 to damage rolls made by Koth and everyone within 10 squares of him.

Switching back to Noonai, Pless Vantai marches into the office and bails Noonai out, whisking her off to the spaceport – but not to the Dugong. He has a shuttle waiting at a diplomatic docking bay, and he plans on taking Noonai straight back to Throneworld. No more captaincy of the Dugong, no more distance from the Baron; the mean Sector is too dangerous for Noonai, and Pless will keep her safe, even if it means locking her in a gilded cage. He hands her a commlink and tells her he’ll allow her to say goodbye to her crew. She calls them – and Tajo gives her the rounds of the cargo bay for some private letters to Pless that she wrote while in a blind panic after blowing her hack into the Shinging Hope Medical Centre mainframe, blaming the rest of her crew for everything. It was hilarious, and I will give Si full credit for mining Tajo-as-self-absorbed doctor for comedy gold.

Still, it’s around about now that I feel like I’m about to hit a brick wall. I want the players to spring into action somehow, but they feel there’s nothing they can really do. It’s also almost halfway through the session and the players haven’t had the chance to shoot anyone yet. I can’t remember the circumstances – I think Si gets up to check on something – but we wound up with a ten-minute break on our hands. I consider my options – I’m thinking of having either the Black Fleet or the Imperials set up a hyperspace interdiction field of some sort, so either Admiral Dolon or the duKeeges can make their respective offers. At the same time, T and P chat a bit about the session and the campaign so far, and Rann Nassin and the smugglers come up. That’s when I figure out what I’ll do next. I think I’ll make sure to have a halfway-point break in future sessions; it really helped kick-start my brain here.

Anyway, I cut back to Noonai in the shuttle, where Rann appears from behind Pless’ chair and stuns the Baron of House Vantai and Lord of the Sector Caucus with his blaster (again, no stats for Pless, so I just went with it). He tells Noonai he owes Tajo a favour, so he’s busting his captain out. Rann still wants that Network node, though, so he gives Noonai a set of coordinates to meet him and his crew (who were breaking their vessel, the Broken Sky, out of the impound at the time) in eighteen hours. Noonai makes tracks back to the Dugong – I think of having Libar burst into the docking bay with a pack of constables for the sake of getting a fight scene in, but as Koth’s at the controls of the ship’s cannons any fight would be short and brutal and there doesn’t seem much point wasting an NPC with heaps of potential – and they lift for space.

Eighteen hours gives the crew the chance to try and remove the Network node, but P rolls just shy of what I reckon is a DC 25 Mechanics check; the work needed to make sure the Node goes undetected on scans prevents Koth from getting it out in a hurry without damaging the main communication antenna. Noonai performs a Use Computer check to milk the Node of its information, and she discovers another voice on one of the encrypted communication files, one that seems familiar but she can’t quite place (General Sarafod). She also discovers that the last messages to the Node contain the coordinates they’re at and a complex ID code.

The Broken Sky, a Ghtroc 720-class transport, arrives and hails the Dugong – and in a matter of seconds, a second transport ship, one I describe at the time as a Gallofree Yards GR-75 medium transport, arrives and transmits its own ID code. As the players are still in possession of the Node, Rann offers to split the takings from the job if the characters will play along; he’ll be just glad to have his good name with the Network restored (a couple of recent jobs have gone sour with him). So the players respond with the ID from the Node and are ordered to dock.

Now, here’s where I could use a little help from SW encyclopaediacs – is there a heavy freighter or transport ship with a cargo bay big enough to fit two tramp freighters? Looking at Wookieepedia tells me the GR-75 sure as heck isn’t big enough.

Anyway, the Broken Sky offloads its cargo – a pair of cryo-tubes with live subjects asleep inside. Dr. Basal immediately steps forward, wanting to check on the condition of the people inside, but one of the freighter crew brushes him off, saying they have their own doctor – in fact, here he is now. Yep, guess who? Head Researcher Jast Bolarsk, a CR 4 NPC whom I figure ought to be a challenge for the players. He immediately spots Dr. Basal, shouts that Project Jerakko has been compromised and calls out for a squad of Stormtroopers to execute everyone. I was not about to let the session end without a fight!

Figuring on a hard fight with a low lethality potential, I consulted a pre-prepared chart and went with a CL 12 – Bolarsk, the Stormtrooper Sergeant and six regular Stormtroopers. The players rolled fantastically well for initiative and all my NPCs rolled poorly. Before the players finished their turns, Bolarsk was already HP 0 and one of the stormtroopers had dropped several hit points. Then things began to turn around a bit. I broke my stormtroopers up into two groups, using Coordinated Attack to boost the hit rolls of the Stormtroopers. By the end of the fight, Noonai had been taken to HP 0 with a hit that also beat her Damage Threshold, so she spent a Force Point to stop from dying, and both Basal and Koth had used their second winds to bump their own HP totals back up (I stretched the rules a bit and allowed Koth to take a swift action out of turn). The +2 to damage from Koth's Destiny bonus was a handy help on several occasions, but any enemy armed with a 3d8 weapon is definitely a tough enemy. Next time I think I'll err on the side of caution; it was those last minute fudges that saved the players' arses.

Near the end, I also narrated that one of the pieces of cover that the Sergeant and his last remaining trooper were hiding behind was actually a container of Tibanna gas, which Basal ignited with a well-placed blaster shot. The players also managed to recover one of the two cryo-capsules, while the other was retrieved by one of the Stormtroopers; the Sergeant and another trooper pulled Dr. Bolarsk to safety.

So at the end of the session, the characters are on the run from both the CMA (although there’s a change of heart by Libar in the offing, I think) and the Empire (although they can’t admit to it publicly; still, any offers of leniency from the Admiral will now have a little extra oomph); Pless Vantai still doesn’t know what’s become of his love. On the upside, though, the players now have a shaky alliance with another smuggling crew and a reporter; they also know that Noonai’s folks are out there.

What next? More on that when I start the Session 4 thread. Right now it’s past midnight and I have a busy day tomorrow, so I’m gonna catch some kip!
 
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