In one of the vast hangar bays of the space station known as The Wheel a grate covering a ventilation shaft shuddered once, twice, and then fell to the deck unnoticed among the bay’s hustle and bustle. A moment later a particularly dusty Bothan slid out before reaching back in and hauling his gear out; as promised, Bee’f had managed to slip free from the Customs officials and made his own way to the station. Sure enough the Borrowed Time was right there, but she was locked up tight. Clearly the others had gone ahead. Bee’f pulled out a comlink and tried to get in touch, but the immediate response was a lot of yelling about lightsabers, Mandalorians, and security forces.
Sure enough The Wheel’s security forces had intercepted the rest of the crew and their Mirialan charges in their mad dash to the bay, and things almost immediately descended into violence before the rebels remembered that they were not, strictly speaking, dealing with Imperials here. With that in mind Verjylla stepped up to try a diplomatic solution, if a diplomatic solution is really the phrase for identifying yourselves and implying just how bad things will get if they don’t stay diplomatic. The security officers were rattled, recognizing the crew from Verjylla’s Rebel Yell broadcasts, and their sergeant waved the rebels on to the hangar bay. As the others hustled along, Verjylla pointed out that the cause of the earlier blast had been a Mandalorian in black armor, and maybe the security forces should go find him?
The crew made it to the hangar bay without further incident, seeing Bee’f already lowering the ramp of the Borrowed Time for everyone to rush up. Patience, Verjylla, Pashk, and the Mirialans rushed for it first, with the rest bringing up the rear. They were halfway there when there was a spray of blood and Cole went sprawling, limp, with the sonic boom of a Verpine shatter rifle following like an exclamation point. The Mirialans and their escort rushed aboard; the rest of the crew skidded to a stop and turned, and managed to spot one Mandalorian Inquisitor Duron Skirata at long range in the bay, hunkered down behind some crates.
The Wookiee and Nak immediately began charging forward, with Nak firing a few blaster bolts to at least keep Skirata’s head down. Shikte, however, took a knee and aimed her new Caleb Marrok Special, a blaster rifle Caleb had put together for her. Skirata knew that the Tusken Raider was a Sharpshooter and no doubt expected to take fire from her. What he probably didn’t expect was Caleb managing to put a stygium crystal from Toprawa in the Special, thus rendering the blaster bolts invisible (two Triumphs on the crafting check). The result was Skirata taking a hammer blow to the helmet that he didn’t see coming. He figured the Raider had to have been responsible somehow, and aimed a shot, but not only did he miss but a Despair broke his rifle!
Skirata ducked down out of sight, and Caleb started to follow Nak and The Wookiee on their charge. Bas, meanwhile, slithered to Cole and pull out his medic equipment and a handful of stimpacks to start putting the pilot back together. Bee’f, having managed to snag a hair from the young Mariana as she rushed aboard, tried to use his flesh camouflage kit to make Skirata target him. This never quite worked, for a number of biological reasons on top of Skirata having people shooting at him, but it did serve to distract the Mandalorian when he couldnt really afford it. In any case, Skirata popped back up in a different spot with his Verpine shatter pistols instead, managing to badly wound Caleb.
Cole staggered to his feet and began following the others while The Wookiee managed to charge in and swing her vibroaxe, but she was unable to land a blow. With the whirring of servomotors concealed within his armor, Skirata lashed out with a fist and caught The Wookiee in the throat. Between a special Talent, the increased strength from the armor, and a few ranks of Medicine, The Wookiee surpassed her Strain Threshold and toppled to the deck, out cold for the first time in the campaign. Needless to say this gave everyone pause, but Nak recovered first and charged in, managing to land a hit of her own that unfortunately didn’t seem to pierce the armor as well as it should have.
Bas reached the wounded Caleb and jabbed him with a stimpack to help with the damage, but then jabbed Caleb with a Stim Application as well to boost the Mando’s Agility. Skirata flung more of those knockout punches at Nak, but unlike The Wookiee Nak was able to fend them off. Skirata did generate enough advantage to break contact, however, engaging his jetpack to reach a catwalk overhead. Shikte’s next shot missed, but then it was Caleb’s turn. Yelling in Mando’a the stimmed-up Rebel cut loose with his SE-14r, managing to not only wound Skirata but generate enough Advantage to drive him back over the railing of the catwalk, proving that even with railings Star Wars catwalks are not quite OSHA compliant.
Shikte fired off another shot that unfortunately missed and hit a ship further down the bay, sending mist or smoke spewing into the air. That’s when Nak decided she’d had enough. Getting a running start that involved using some crates as a vaulting step, Nak hurled her vibroaxe at the falling Inquisitor. Amazingly enough, not only did she hit, but she generated a Critical Hit that crippled one of Skirata’s arms. As the vibroaxe tumbled to the ground, it stopped and reversed course; Cole, having finally reached the fight, had his hands outstretched and was using the Force to hurl the axe at Skirata again. Not only did he manage a hit, but a Triumph saw Skirata’s jetpack break!
The Inquisitor slammed into the deck, but managed to land on his feet and come up shooting and running. He put a shot into Nak that wounded but didn’t maim her, and then dashed into the expanding cloud caused by Shikte’s missed shot. Cole rushed after him in pursuit. Visibility was poor, and Cole lost sight of the Mando, but the Force gave him the warning he needed. He turned and fired just as Skirata came for him, having apparently been unable to resist the opportunity. With that the black-clad Inquisitor fell to the deck, finally downed.
Skirata was alive when Cole dragged him out of the cloud, fully intent on taking the Inquisitor alive. A significant portion of the rest of the crew were immediately and vehemently against this, however, not trusting their ability to keep the man locked up. Caleb outright stated there was no way Skirata wouldn’t somehow get loose and kill everyone in their sleep. Cole balked a little at executing him (while not particularly concerned with Morality the pilot was still wary of the Dark Side), but the others insisted, and Nak took it out of his hands anyway.
A quick search located the YV-929 armed freighter that Skirata had been using. Bee’f, Caleb, and Bas put together their Skullduggery and Computers checks to break into the ship, disarm its defenses, and take it for themselves. Fortunately they were successful, because the first thing they found was roughly fifty charges of detonite rigged to explode if anyone tried to break in and botched it. No comm codes or information on more Inquisitors were found, but in Skirata’s quarters there were dossiers on all sorts of Force sensitives the Inquisitors were after . . . including detailed files on Cole, Verjylla, Shikte, and Bee’f. This confirmed Verjylla’s suspicions about herself and surprised Bee’f, who had no idea he had the Force. Then again, it would explain some of his successes . . .
The Wookiee, fully recovered now, suggested sending copies of the files to the Alliance Intelligence agents assigned to assist the Borrowed Time, with instructions to find, warn, and protect the Inquisitors’ targets. With that the crew split up between the Borrowed Time and the newly named Gift Horse and left the station before any more Inquisitors could show up. Fighting two and killing one in a single day was more than enough by anyone’s standard.
Players are the natural predators of the creature known as a Recurring Villain. Especially players who have been around the block a few times. Clever players recognize that every bad guy they allow to get away remains within the GM’s arsenal, and may well come back later stronger and smarter. As a result, if at all possible they’ll do everything they can, use any resource and take almost any risk, so long as it means the bad guy dies.
This session is a perfect example of this, because honestly I half expected the crew to drag Cole into the Borrowed Time and run for it, since they had a family of civilians along and all. There was a space scene outlined and everything. But the second they saw that they had another crack at Skirata after letting him get away on Toprawa, there was really no stopping them. I suppose that’s the second lesson: once the party lets a Villain become Recurring, they quickly come to regret it and become even more eager to tie up the loose end.
But Recurring Villains can be so useful to a GM, can’t they? Just by virtue of encountering the party more than once, they let the GM play a much smarter villain; they’ve seen at least some of the party’s tricks and can be reasonably expected to be prepared to deal with them. They’re also more interesting than waves of endless mooks or Monsters of the Week, as you and the players can get to know them a little better. So how can you keep using the idea of Recurring Villains even when your players are relentless in hunting them down?
You could simply make your Recurring Villain too powerful to be defeated right away, and in some settings and systems this is fine.D&D 5th Edition’s Curse of Strahd encourages the GM to have Strahd show up now and again to harass the party, and for no small amount of time the party will be too weak to truly threaten Strahd while he does this. This isn’t foolproof, however, for players are crafty and can come up with ways to kill their prey that you haven’t thought of. There’s also the fact that if said Invincible Recurring Villain is showing up all the time the players may start to resent their inability to harm them, especially if there isn’t a way to at least thwart them in the moment.
You could always make sure that your Recurring Villain has an escape plan. This is probably one of my favorite methods, largely because it works. The multi-story hangar bay on Toprawa, with its TIE Phantoms on the lowest floor to draw the players, provided an easy out for Skirata to use his jet pack to escape, and it worked. When it came to the lightsaber wielding Inquisitor (The Beast), I knew Skirata was always a Dark Side point away from lobbing an explosive to end the fight. This time Skirata didn’t really have an escape plan other than running for his ship, because I didn’t think he’d be needing one, and in the end he tried to get away too late. Again, though, there are no promises with this one; even Skirata was one Wound away from ending on Toprawa in the first place, and if your ‘escape plan’ is just ‘and then he got away’ it’s not going to go over well.
You could keep your Recurring Villain off of the front lines and/or make them particularly crafty. If your villain isn’t within blaster range, then your players can’t shoot them in the face. They also can’t shoot your villain in the face if doing so will utterly doom them (or, at least, they’ll be severely discouraged from doing so). This isn’t the type of villain who’s a problem because they fight the party, although they might be good at that too if the situation calls for it. These types of Recurring Villains are a problem because they’re planners that don’t willingly expose themselves to the threat the party presents. This past year I was in an Interface Zero 2.0 game, and the eventual big bad lasted from Session One to the grand finale by either being out of our reach or in a such a position where killing him would get half the megacorporations in the world after us. By the time we were willing to risk the latter, he’d become too powerful for us to reach, and we had to chip away at his power base to bring him back down to our level. The challenge with this method is making it believable and interesting, which can be a bit more work.
You could also not put put all your eggs in one basket. Why have one potential Recurring Villain when you could have several? A session or so after Skirata’s demise we were all discussing it, and Verjylla’s player said something. He said that there were two types of GMs when it came to Recurring Villains: that there were those who would do anything to railroad their precious Villain into surviving and damn the party, and those who would accept the Villain’s death and plan for the next one. Was I bummed that Skirata died? Yeah, a little. But The Beast is still out there, and he’s not the only arrow in the quiver. If your party is opposing an Evil Overlord type or an entire organization, make sure there’s not just one minion or one member that the party will have to deal with. Just make sure that they’re unique. If I sent another Mando Inquisitor with Verpine shatter weapons after the Borrowed Time crew they’d rightly call foul.
With all this effort to keep a Villain alive and make them Recurring in the first place, you might be wondering: what’s the point? Why bother going through all that effort in the first place? Sure, they can be smarter, and more interesting, but is it worth the effort? I’d say yes.
Because the payoff from finally nailing a Recurring Villain is so, so much more rewarding than if they go down in one session.
Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all back here as the crew finally get off of the Empire’s radar for a bit and take a break, on 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 10/14/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!