Adventure Log: Living on Borrowed Time Part 1

The galaxy stands at a turning point. The actions of a few may bring a return of freedom, or a victory for the darkness.

Despite having made gains after destroying the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance is now on the defensive, scrambling for any advantage in order to survive.

As part of the effort to stem the tide the crew of the BORROWED TIME, now joined by their fellow rebels, begins their first mission for the Alliance….

A Corellian YT-2400 freighter, the name Borrowed Time stenciled on its hull underneath the cockpit, soars through a clear blue sky after having recently descended into the atmosphere. While it is moving quickly, it is maintaining a steady course. Until one of its turrets spits energy back along its flight path, and a TIE fighter tumbles down in flames while the rest of its squadron tears after the freighter, cannons blazing.

Cole Strutter, Captain, pilot, former smuggler, and current alcoholic takes a swig from a flask and curses under his breath before pulling at the controls, sending the Borrowed Time spinning through the atmosphere in an effort to avoid enemy fire while lining up shots for her gunners. According to the briefing there wasn’t supposed to have been any enemy fire to avoid; their arrival was supposed to have been scheduled so that the ship would slip right through a gap in Imperial patrols. With that idea out the airlock, all Cole can do is keep the ship intact and race for their destination: a mountain range on the planet below, cloaked in mist and notoriously rough on communications and scanners, where local allies supposedly wait.

In the freighter’s ventral turret the Trandoshan known as Nak snarls and fires again, another TIE coming apart in fire and scrap. The only remaining member of the Borrowed Time‘s original crew aside from Cole, she has plenty of experience at this sort of thing; she’s been fighting the Empire since long before she took the offer to join the Alliance, even before she had to live as a hired gun. In the dorsal turret Mandalorian Caleb Marrok answers Nak’s snarl with matching cannon fire; since falling in with the Trandoshan on Corellia almost a year ago, he’s become her partner in making mayhem. While he’s not as accurate as Nak, some of the TIEs are still forced to scatter as he fills the blue sky with red energy.

Up in the cockpit with Cole, Patience Johnson scans the skies and calls out targeting data to Nak and Caleb. Former Imperial Intelligence, although nobody else knows that, Patience usually spends his time talking his way out of problems (Cole once said of the man ‘with every word out of his mouth he breathes sideways’). Since coming to join the Alliance, however, he’s got his eyes set on command. Another crewmember added on Corellia, the others have learned to trust his judgement. Behind Patience, Bothan Verjylla Nova mutters under her breath. She doesn’t want to be here. This is a suicide trip and everyone should know it, with a ramshackle ship and a crew of recently-recruited reprobates whose idea of personal safety probably caps at remembering which airlock door to open first. If only she hadn’t confronted Borsk so openly. Maybe if just once in her life she’d kept silent. Speaking of silence, no need to make this any easier on the Imps: she goes to work jamming their communications, and starts to look at the sensor board. She catches a glimpse of . . . some sort of signal below the freighter, following along, before the ship lurches and goes into a tailspin.

Smoke pours from a hole in the hull, the TIEs having finally landed a solid hit. While Cole struggles to regain control of the ship and Nak and Caleb continue to return fire, Bas Runa slithers through the Borrowed Time‘s corridors. A Sluissi who is as equally comfortable fixing ships as he is organics, with a well-earned reputation in the Alliance for his skills and somewhat unsettling bedside manner, the reptilian fixer tuts over the state of the ship and pulls out his tools, working to undo the damage as best he can. Alongside him the Tusken Raider sharpshooter Shikte Lokt has been deputized to assist. While not a technician by trade, she’s been serving in the Alliance long enough to have picked up a few tricks. There’s also the fact that, looking at the tangle of wires and patch-worked parts, Shikte is almost certain that at some point there was a Jawa mucking about in the ship’s guts. Knowing a few of the species’s tricks, she does what she can to boost the shields and keep them all alive.

The Borrowed Time levels out and makes a break for the mists, pursued by the much-reduced squadron but taking several more hits along the way. Concerned about what the damage might be doing to its contents, the Chadra-Fan commando known only as The Wookiee rushes to the cargo hold. Upon her arrival she moves among the cargo containers: blaster carbines, light armor, rations and food processors, entire crates of detonite charges. If the Borrowed Time had remained a smuggling vessel it would have been a cargo that would promise months of easy living. Now it promises hard times for the Imperials, provided it can remain intact.

Some of the crew cheer as the Borrowed Time reaches the mountain range and plunges into the mist. External comms dissolve into a haze of static; freed from having to maintain jamming, Verjylla turns her full attention to trying to track the sensor ghost, but the mists begin thwarting her as well. Cole begins to fly along a pre-determined path meant to take the ship along the valley among the mountains to their intended rendezvous. Coordinated by Patience, Nak and Caleb make quick work of the remaining TIEs. Shikte’s boosted shields manage to prevent too much more damage, and Bas quickly has the YT-2400 back in working order. As they soar through the mist, other crewmembers join Verjylla in keeping an eye out for more trouble. It’s Caleb that saves them. Peering out the viewport of his turret, he spots three wakes in the mist with nothing to create them; his shouted warning is all that prevents the Borrowed Time from a surprise attack as three fighters seem to literally phase into existence right behind the freighter.

Even with Cole throwing the ship back into evasive maneuvers, even with Caleb’s warning, it’s bad: green laser fire tears into the Borrowed Time, undoing Bas’s repairs and then some. The strange fighters, obviously of the TIE line but with three wings and oddly Corellian-style cockpits, seem dangerously over-gunned compared to their TIE/ln cousins. Caleb and Nak return fire, but are shocked to see the flare of shields as shots that should have landed are deflected. Patience directs their fire towards a single target; Caleb’s fire misses but puts it out of position, and Nak’s volley shreds it, but the answering barrage punches right back. Despite Shikte’s best efforts, the rear shields begin to fail.

Cole, getting desperate, reaches deep inside himself. Using his gifts back in the smuggling days got an Inquisitor on the crew’s tail, but he doesn’t see any other way out of this. With a great surge of effort, the Force curls around one of the fighters. With a terrible shriek of wrenching metal, one of the three wings is torn from the hull, and the fighter tumbles out of control. Within the Borrowed Time Shikte pauses in her attempts to keep the shields up, senses ringing as she recognizes what has just occurred. Bas, unable to repair the ship any further and data-hungry at the sight of what appears to be new technology, attempts to slice into the remaining fighter’s systems.

He is successful, getting a basic scan and reporting that the ‘TIE/ph Phantom’ appears to be a dedicated stealth fighter that has somehow been equipped with a stygium-crystal-based cloaking generator, but his matter-of-fact relaying of data quickly turns panicked. The ‘Phantom’ is apparently also equipped with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite that manages to piggyback along Bas’s signal, pulling just as much information as Bas had retrieved. Within the Phantom, a very shocked Imperial pilot’s eyes widen as he sees the name Borrowed Time scroll across his screen, along with all the reasons the Empire wants it destroyed.

Nak manages to wing the remaining Phantom with a shot but is unable to bring it down, so Cole once again attempts to use the Force. While he successfully uses his power, he is unable to get a good enough grip on the Phantom; instead of knocking it down or tearing off a piece of it, he merely sends the fighter off-course and out of sight. Determined to let no word of exactly who has been shooting down Imperials get out of the mist, Cole brings the ship around to attempt to let his gunners finish the job. As the Phantom pilot manages to steady his craft, both ships end up going head-to-head.

The Phantom’s five laser cannons pour energy into the hull of the Borrowed Time. Flame jets from the engines, and everyone within begins to feel weightless as Cole yells that they are going down. A horrible bang echoes through the ship as a jolt of impact sends the cargo hold’s contents straining against their moorings; the Phantom, cutting it too close, has struck the Borrowed Time. Pilots fight dying controls while crewmembers rush to strap in as both ships spiral away from one another, dropping into the mist . . .

First impressions are important across the board, and no less so when you’re running a tabletop RPG game. I’ve seen more than one campaign never get past the first session or adventure because that initial outing failed to properly hook the players. I’ve also seen campaigns run into trouble further down the line because the first few sessions gave the players inaccurate impressions of the tone of the campaign. Wacky hijinks in session one will tell the players that there are going to be lots of wacky hijinks throughout the game; they might react negatively when the murderbots show up and start blasting everyone. So I take two things away from this session, some advice and a trick.

  1. Have the first session’s tone reflect the general feel you want for the campaign.

As I said, a first session of wacky hijinks will lead to a campaign that has wacky hijinks more often than not. When Living on Borrowed Time was an Edge of the Empire campaign it started with the Jawa tech opening all the airlocks on an enemy ship, Nak getting sucked out into space when Cole stole a shuttle without closing the hatch first, and the pirates they were fighting rolling so many Despairs that their ion guns blew up. While there were plenty of serious moments over the course of the game, that flavor persisted, culminating in Patience getting the crew aboard the Grasper by disguising everyone as technicians and telling the Imperials that they were delivering the Star Wars equivalent of espresso machines.

While there will no doubt be wacky hijinks and crazy plans over the course of this campaign because players, the tone is going to be a little more serious than Edge of the Empire was. They’re not scrambling at the fringes of civilized space, avoiding the Empire and other legal forces as best they can. They’re going to be actively going up against a galactic-scale force with numbers and power to match, and the Empire will often have no reason to pull their punches. Which is why I made a solid effort to shoot them down this time.

If they’d managed to avoid that, fine. I just barely tagged the Borrowed Time as is. But even if the ship had flown out of that final engagement under its own power, everyone would still know from the get-go: fighting the Empire is going to be dangerous, and they’ll often have to deal with being outnumbered and with nasty surprises.

2. Skip ‘you all meet in a cantina’ and start in medias res.

This is actually a pretty intuitive trick, particularly for Star Wars. After all, every Star Wars movie (and even the Beginner boxes for Fantasy Flight Games’s Star Wars lines) start with the action already ongoing. A blockade runner fleeing a massive Star Destroyer. Two starfighters plunging into a massive battle over Coruscant. Dropships hurtling out of their mothership towards a planet, intent on raiding a village. Everyone flees into a cantina with Gamorrean thugs hot on their heels.

Story-wise, some of the benefits are obvious. You get to establish at least part of the story right away, without needing to outright explain much, a pretty classic example of show-don’t-tell. The ‘Rebel Alliance’ who apparently own the blockade runner are woefully outgunned. The Clone Wars have clearly escalated, and Anakin and Obi-Wan have become the Order’s go-to-troubleshooters. Even all these years later, the  galaxy is still a place haunted by stormtroopers. The party is running from something they’d rather not deal with. Or, in this case, something has gone horribly wrong on what should have been a stealthy insertion mission.

Starting in the middle of the action also helps to hook the players by getting them to ask questions. With the Star Wars movies you’re immediately asking yourself what is really going on, who are these characters we’re meeting, and so on. I didn’t give a pre-mission briefing before the session. I told them nothing except that they were supposed to go to this mountain range to meet some allies, and that they were supposed to be able to sneak onto the planet until oh no TIE fighters. Roll initiative.

The new characters and old characters got to show off a little of what they could do, getting to know one another without a lengthy introduction. People immediately began wondering what planet they were heading for, what sort of allies they were supposed to meet, and what their exact mission was. I didn’t even tell them what was in the cargo hold until The Wookiee thought to look, and once they saw all the detonite charges the players got really curious. I certainly didn’t tell them the planet was where the TIE/ph Phantom project was being developed and/or tested. Once the existence of fighters that could turn invisible sank in, the players left the table talking about how badly they wanted to find and steal one.

I think I got their attention.

Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all back here when we see exactly where the team has landed in the next installment of Star Wars Age of Rebellion: Living on Borrowed Time.

Star Wars belongs to Disney, while Age of Rebellion and its related products are the property of Fantasy Flight Games. Any other products used or mentioned within the game remain the property of their respective creators, and player character names and concepts remain the intellectual property of their respective players

Originally posted 3/17/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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