Adventure Log: Living on Borrowed Time Part 10

Several days after the near-destruction or capture of the Shadow Raptor and the destruction of the ISD Iceheart, the crew of the Borrowed Time joined General Cracken and much of the Raptor’screw for a funeral service in the forward hangar bay of the frigate. Crewmen killed in the fighting, either by droids or by ion fire from the Iceheart, Intelligence operatives who’d fallen retaking the ship, a pair of Y-Wing pilots who’d been shot down, and an Intelligence Major who had died rather than unlock the datacore, were laid out in coffins. The ship’s cook, an Ithorian, was the closest they had to a spiritual figure, and gave a short speech about consigning their comrades and friends to the cosmos and the cycle of life. Cracken himself then spoke of how their sacrifice would not be in vain, before the coffins were launched towards a star. The crew were dismissed, but the Borrowed Time rebels were quickly pulled aside for a new briefing. It was time to go back to work.

As the crew settled in around a conference table, General Cracken activated the table’s holoprojectors. Moments later Admiral Ackbar and Mon Mothma were before the crew as shimmering blue holograms. The Admiral thanked the operatives for having warned the main fleet; they’d managed to jump to safety just as an Imperial fleet dropped out of hyperspace. Mon Mothma thanked them for saving the Shadow Raptor, her crew, and the General. In a solemn moment, she awarded the entire unit the Mantooine Medallion for having gone above and beyond the call of duty, and awarded Verjylla the Redbird Badge for losing her leg on Toprawa. With praise and awards out of the way, however, it was time to dispatch the Borrowed Time once more, and the crew would have a lot more freedom to operate this time.

Cracken explained that the mission to Toprawa had been a trial run, giving the crew objectives and the means to accomplish them but then letting them decide exactly how they did so. Having proven capable of operating that way, they were confirmed for operating under the aegis of Alliance Special Operations in the curious manner of that branch: they’d be given long-term objectives, but unless something specific came up they were going to be largely free to act as they saw fit, so long as they did not violate the Alliance’s rules of engagement.

The Admiral, pleased with the work they’d done on Toprawa, gave them their first objective: disrupt the Imperial war machine, in any possible way to as extreme a degree as achievable. To that end, Ackbar was able to provide a lead: the Sullustan Resistance, technically not a part of the Alliance, had requested help in striking at corporate targets sympathetic to the Empire. This would hamper the Empire’s ability to acquire resources and finished products from the Sullust system, and have the added bonus of building a stronger bond with the Resistance.

Mon Mothma, fully briefed on the old crew’s Inquisitor troubles during the Grasper job and the most recent encounter with Inquisitor Skirata, explained that the Borrowed Time crew had a unique level of experience and success in dealing with the ‘red blades’. The red blades were a threat to any Alliance personnel who were Force sensitive, and even more of a threat to civilian Force users. As such, they were hereby assigned to interfere with Inquisitor operations, including gathering information on the obscure foe, hampering their attempts to capture Force sensitives, and eliminating Inquisitors outright whenever possible. Cracken added that Intelligence didn’t know much, but that they’d heard rumors of a bounty hunter on The Wheel who had recently claimed to have killed a red blade.

After some discussion, the team decided to prioritize the Inquisitors for now, and chose the space station known as The Wheel as their next destination. After a day to prepare, the Borrowed Time left the Shadow Raptor, making good time along the hyperlanes. The Wheel was technically forbidden territory for the Imperials, thanks to a series of deals the governor had made, but the Rebels would still have to pass through customs. Having changed the ship transponder to read Cunning Alias, Bee’f got arrested using his ‘be as loud and annoying as possible’ routine, distracting the customs officials and allowing the rest to go ahead while he would catch up later.

Falling back on old habits, the crew proceeded to a cantina near their hangar bay to start fishing for information. For the members who had been with the Borrowed Time in the old days it was a return to form: dark, seedy, full of scummy characters who took one look at the group and then decided they weren’t worth the trouble. Cole led the way to the bar and got the attention of the ‘tender. Not immediately recognizing the crew, the bartender asked Cole who he was. Cole, not seeing a reason to lie to someone giving him a drink, answered truthfully. The response was laughter.

Cole’s insistence that he was, in fact, the ‘Captain Cole Strutter who stole an Interdictor cruiser and bragged about it’ was met by further guffaws. “Yeah, sure you are, and the guy in the Mando armor is Caleb Marrok, and she’s . . . Nak . . .” The Trandoshan in question, with her very distinctive facial scarring, scowled at the bartender who was quickly realizing who he actually had in his bar. He immediately turned back to Cole and began begging that his bar not be exploded, burned down, or torn out of the walls and stolen. Apparently he’d heard of them.

With their credentials in the hive of scum and villainy secure, the crew got their drinks and began asking questions; Verjylla, nursing some suspicions about just how she’d ‘seen’ things on the Shadow Raptor, began knocking back booze faster than Cole, so the former smuggler and Patience took point on interrogating the bartender. Supposedly a Trandoshan by the name of Pashk had shown up on the station three weeks before, with a circular guard lightsaber on his hip. He’d been elusive for the first week, but since then he’d been showing up at the bar; when asked, he’d claimed to kill a red blade at the cost of his ship, and had staked out a table to start looking for work. He was due in shortly.

By the time a Trandoshan with a blaster pistol on one hip, a lightsaber on the other, and a thermal axe on his back arrived and claimed his seat, Verjylla was well and truly in her cups. Caleb volunteered to keep an eye on her, so the others went over to make their introductions. Pashk was polite to Patience and Cole, but after a few minutes expressed a desire to speak with ‘those truly in charge’. He gestured to The Wookiee, Caleb, and particularly Nak, who he addressed as ‘blessed by the Scorekeeper’.

Somewhat baffled, Nak listened as Pashk praised her and ‘her pack’ for having earned so many points in the criminal underworld and fighting the Imperials. The bounty hunter was greatly impressed by what he had heard of the group’s reputation and was curious as to why they had sought him out. Nak explained that they had heard of his supposed kill of a red blade, and asked Pashk to relate how he had come by his trophy. Pashk explained that he had been hired by a family whose child was being hunted; the Trandoshan had been paid to keep them on the move, defend them from all-comers, and find them somewhere to hide. Just short of The Wheel a red blade had gotten aboard Pashk’s ship: the Trandoshan had loaded the family and himself on an escape pod and blown his ship with the Inquisitor still on it.

The team, having developed a healthy level of paranoia related to Inquisitors, expressed doubt about the Inquisitor’s death. Pashk admitted that the child was ‘touched’, and had used her powers to hurl the red blade away from the escape pod; Pashk had grabbed the dropped weapon and dove inside. Unfortunately, he told them, the family had run out of enough money to pay for his services a week after arriving on The Wheel, so he’d gotten them someplace relatively secure and then left their service. The team took this less than well, although Pashk pointed out that he was out a ship, which good intentions weren’t going to help him purchase. Nak seized upon Pashk’s faith in the Scorekeeper goddess to tell him that many points could be gained with the Alliance, with Patience and Cole regaling him with various tales of their exploits, particularly the ones where they stole ships.

Back at the bar, Verjylla fell into the throes of a Foresee check, seeing a Mirialan man and woman cowering in darkness, their arms around their young daughter. A massive beast, black of skin and red of eye, stalked towards them, opening its maw with the snap-hiss sound of a lightsaber activating as it leaped towards them. Verjylla jerked out of the vision, rapidly sobering up and babbling to Caleb about what she’d seen. The Mando took her over to the others, but they didn’t quite know what to make of it until Cole reached out with a Sense check. He had a nasty brush with the Dark Side as he accidently tapped into the fear the vision had carried with it, but he was able to confirm that Verjylla was definitely Force sensitive, and that what she had seen might actually be happening in some way.

Pashk led the crew into a residential area of The Wheel, only to find that his code to the apartment had been rendered invalid. Bas managed to slice the door controls and open it, allowing Cole to step through – and immediately take a stun bolt to the face. Several such incidents occurred as the group attempted to talk the panicking Mirialans down, with Pashk taking a stun bolt himself and Cole taking a second one. Finally Nak rushed inside, tanking a stun bolt to no apparent effect, and snatched the blaster out of the hands of the mother. Nak told them that they from the Rebel Alliance, and that that she and her comrades were here to help. The father asked how they (father Kale, mother Kyra, and young daughter Mariana) could trust her; Nak responded that she herself had lost a child to the Empire. In the name of her own child, Kyra and Kale’s would come to no harm. Mollified, the Mirialans agreed to accompany the Rebels.

It was about this time that there was a snap-hiss, a whirring noise, and a security droid that Cole had acquired as part of his last Contribution reward announcing that he had been “bisected, sir!” The rebels looked down the corridor to see a humanoid figure, clad in black armor, catch its thrown lightsaber as it returned to him. The Inquisitor laughed about having found extra prey; Verjylla snarled, drew a blaster pistol that Cole had given her from his own collection, and yelled about ‘getting her father back’ as old memories resurfaced. With the sound of a blaster bolt being deflected into the deck, the fight was on.

Patience, Bas, and Pashk rushed to herd the Mirialans back towards the hangar bays while Nak rushed towards the Inquisitor with her vibroaxe. Her overhead blow was parried, however, and the Trandoshan received a vicious slash across her chest in repayment. Caleb opened fire with his SE-14r but was unable to get a shot past the whirling double-bladed saber; instead, he turned a Triumph into bringing down a light fixture, getting the Inquisitor to back away from Nak. Cole’s blaster pistols sent a hailstorm of blaster bolts down the corridor after the man, but aside from a shot that didn’t seem to pierce armor all Cole got out of it was one of his own bolts reflected back into his shoulder. That’s when The Wookiee waded in.

Sprinting past Nak and the burning wreckage of a light fixture the diminutive Chadra-Fan swung her vibroaxe with all of her might, and despite the red blade’s parry was able to land a hit. Triggering the Sunder ability, the Inquisitor’s Cortosis-enhanced armor was damaged beyond repair, just in time for Verjylla and Shikte to land a one-two hammer blow that sent the Inquisitor staggering back, literally Staggered and with his helmet cracked to show one glowing yellow eye. Clutching at her own wound Nak drew an armor-piercing grenade and lobbed it at the Inquisitor; with a flash of light and a crack like thunder the creature went down on one knee. It was just as the party was deciding who should attack next that a certain black-armored Mandalorian Inquisitor turned the corner.

Skirata took one look at the situation that his ‘partner’ had gotten himself into and judged it as non-salvageable. With a flick of his wrist (and a flip of a Dark Side point in the destiny pool) he lobbed an explosive device in between the party and the red blade. Nak and The Wookiee were hurled backwards by the explosion, and when the picked themselves up they found the corridor collapsed between them and the Inquisitors. Judging the risks of trying to get to the Imperial agents, the rebels decided that protecting the family the Inquisitors were after was more important, and began dashing towards the hangar bays . . .

You can get some pretty interesting results when you force player characters out of their ‘role’. It’s not an ironclad rule of RPGs, because quite a few avoid the need for roles in the first place, but for many a party of adventurers it’s the truth that they’ll settle into their little niche and prosper there. You’ll have a Face, a Healer, a Melee fighter, a Ranged fighter, a Smart Guy, and so on. Often times players will pick a roll because that’s the type of character they want to play, and sometimes the events of the story or sheer luck land them in it (I had a goliath barbarian in 4e D&D who became The Face by dint of ridiculously lucky diplomacy checks). Taking up one of these roles is by no means a bad thing, and for many games it’s actually necessary for balance. But what you might want to avoid is pigeonholing your players. Don’t let them become awesome at one thing, without ever making them do something else that’ll actually be challenging for them.

This is actually a pretty universal bit of advice, and it can be applied to many aspects of the game. In combat, have an enemy get in a ranged PC’s face, or force a melee character to work to bring their target within range. Put a social character in a combat situation where they can’t (or won’t want to) simply duck and cover. Put a combat character in a social situation where they can’t just shoot their way out, or where the consequences for resorting to violence will be immediate. Asking for rolls using skills that aren’t very common can also change things up, and even reward the PC’s who took some ranks in the oddball skills.

I more or less wrote this session with the goal of getting some of the combat-focused characters to come out of their shell. Pashk, due to his beliefs and experiences and not-quite-accurate knowledge, would assume that the ‘warriors’ of the group were really the ones he’d want to talk to. Looking back, my success was mixed. The Wookiee’s player was out of the room with the kids for most of the conversation, and Caleb decided to keep Verjylla out of trouble. I got Nak to sit down and talk, though, so over all I’d still call that a win. And I certainly put Verjylla in a situation where she broke out of her role; I’m pretty sure her shots at the Inquisitor were the first time she’d fired a blaster all campaign! There was no small amount of trepidation from either player, but in the end both got really strong (and fun to watch) moments out of it, which is the point of changing things up a bit in the first place.

Stand up to the dice gods, and don’t let their fickle whims keep something awesome from happening. This is a tricky one, because we roll dice in the first place to keep things interesting, randomize results, and give long-shot occurrences (unlikely success or unlikely failure) a chance of coming to pass. But I’m willing to bet everyone reading this has had a player come up with an idea that sounds really cool and you really want it to happen, and then the dice muck it all up. The player’s disappointed, you’re disappointed, and everyone else at the table who wanted to see the Cool Thing are let down. So why did you roll the dice in the first place?

Nak stepped into the line of fire this session to confront Mariana’s parents and get them to back down and listen, and she brought up a new facet of her backstory in the process. Her points were well-made, and would definitely resonate with a pair of scared parents doing anything and everything they could to protect their child. But even with a really low difficulty, Nak just doesn’t have the Presence score or the skills to promise success on a roll, despite really good roleplaying and clever thinking. I really wanted to reward Nak for bringing her backstory into things and making a good argument . . . so I judged that she’d succeeded, without needing to roll for it.

Now, I can’t emphasize this enough: do this sort of thing sparingly, if at all. Too many ‘hand-outs’ can very quickly cheapen the party’s victories and successes, with the players feeling that there’s little to no risk if they can ‘convince’ the GM that what they’re doing is too cool to fail. How much glory can be garnered if you didn’t risk failure along the way? There’s also the concern that if you allow success without a roll too often, you risk seeming biased if some members of your group are better at getting those kinds of successes than others.

Warnings aside, however, keep an eye out for moments where 1) A player is being thoughtful, creative, and in-character, 2) almost everyone, including you the GM, are looking forward to something succeeding, while failure won’t have any interesting results, and 3) what’s being proposed matches the story well. If the player is putting in the effort, it’ll make things more fun and interesting for everyone, and it fits within the narrative, maybe consider letting them talk their way past the dice.

After all, you’re the GM, and what you says goes. Don’t let random chance tell you otherwise.

Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all back here as the Rebels escort their new charges and fight their way off of The Wheel 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 9/30/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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