Cole ran for the cockpit, leaping into the pilot chair and desperately trying to get the Borrowed Time up and running even as Bas did the same in the engine room. Nak dropped into the dorsal turret and strapped in, swinging the blaster cannons towards the blown-open hangar doors. Verjylla was on the ship’s comm, reporting what was going on as Bee’f left her in a dash for the boarding ramp. The Wookiee and Shikte rushed into the hangar bay at the head of two squads of Alliance infantry trainees, while in the base’s armory Caleb hurried to don his new armor. In Bolthole Station’s command center, Patience was trying to figure out exactly what was going on, but at least part of it became clear as a full platoon of Stormtroopers – 60 strong – charged through the hangar doors with blaster rifles blazing.
As the fighting began Commander Torval and his navigator had already dashed out of the command center for the hangar bay, while Commander Baask was rattling off orders and the rest of the base staff were a flurry of activity. Patience quickly realized that the personnel of Bolthole Station were acting according to a pre-made plan in case of discovery, to the tune of fleeing the base; there just wasn’t any way to hold the Station in the face of Imperial attacks. Working with the scanning technicians, Patience was able to determine that the passing freighter had been a decoy that had nevertheless launched a trio of missiles to breach the hangar before letting the Sentinel-class following in its shadow make a dive towards the Station. Having dropped off its Stormtroopers the Sentinel-class was now flying out to sea to meet a Dreadnaught descending through the clouds at extreme range.
Down below the hangar bay had exploded into violence, Stormtroopers and Alliance infantry exchanging heavy blaster fire. Nak fired a volley from the Borrowed Time‘s turret that took out an entire fireteam, while Bee’f rushed down the ramp to try Caleb’s latest horrifying creation: the single-shot flame projector the Mando had strapped onto Bee’f’s force pike. Against all odds the contraption worked and another fireteam was wiped out, but the Stormtroopers immediately targeted the Bothan and opened fire; while the infiltrator remained conscious, he was badly wounded and bowled over by the retaliatory shots.
As Bee’f was going down and The Wookiee was (mostly) shrugging off blaster bolts to wade into the breach and start her grim work, Verjylla quickly jammed Imperial communications from the Borrowed Time‘s comm station, preventing any word of what was going on in Bolthole from getting out. Back in the engine room Bas gave a quick boost to the shields just in case, which was well-timed as a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher was then immediately fired at the ship, which set Cole to cursing up a storm. Caleb got his armor sealed and rushed out of the armory, leaving Pendragon behind to pack up the weapons even as the rest of the infantry trainees rushed in to begin arming themselves.
Shikte, presented with a target-rich environment, decided to do something a little bit more interesting than just shoot Stormtroopers. The Dreadnaught was just at extreme range, which she was more than capable of aiming at with her scope, and she was able to see into the ship’s hangar bay. A pair of Sentinels were being loaded up with more Stormtroopers – so Shikte fired a shot and took the head off of one on a boarding ramp. Thanks to her blaster bolts being invisible (Caleb and his modifications again), the Dreadnaught’s hangar bay was thrown into disarray as the Imperials tried to find the shooter. Unfortunately, even without shooting at them the ‘troopers in the Station noticed her, and in a flurry of blaster bolts Shikte went down. She wasn’t the only one; Commander Torval, dashing for the Last Ditch, was critically wounded and had to be dragged the rest of the way by his navigator.
As Nak continued firing the Borrowed Time‘s turret to support the infantry (with Bas helping her via the ship’s targeting systems), Caleb made it in and took stock of the situation. Spotting Bee’f down on the ground the Mando thoroughly ignored the user manual of his newly-acquired ascension gear and fired it at the boarding ramp of the Borrowed Time. As Caleb skidded across the ground Bee’f managed to latch onto him, and the pair managed to make it onto the boarding ramp just as the ship began to hover off of the deck. Bee’f jabbed himself with a stimpack and lobbed a grenade Nak had given him, while Caleb fired his SE-14r on full auto.
Up in the command center Patience continued trying to get a better understanding of what was going on, and made a new discovery. While the Dreadnaught was at extreme range on the personal scale, there was a Star Destroyer at medium range on the planetary scale. That more or less tore it, and Patience left the command center to find Mariana and her parents and get them safely aboard a ship. Aboard the Borrowed Time Verjylla, for probably the first time, deliberately tried to peer into the Force because she had noticed something: the Stormtroopers were acting strangely robotic, some of their shots bizarrely well-timed to catch people out of cover.
White-armored puppets, dancing on the ends of strings. All of those strings, spiraling up and up into the hands of a dark figure, looming over the stage. A single string attached to the figure, winding up and vanishing into a darkness that no light could pierce. The dark figure’s hands moved, the white-armored puppets danced, and rebels died. And its eyes were on Verjylla. With a start the Bothan agitator cut herself off from the vision, sure of two things. First, another Inquisitor had come calling on the Borrowed Time. Second, dealing with them wasn’t going to be as simple as a blaster fight.
While Cole hovered the Borrowed Time across the hangar bay, effectively creating a mobile weapons platform that began crowding the Stormtroopers, the Imperials were more than willing to fight. Or, rather, whoever was controlling their movements was willing to force them to keep fighting. Blaster fire scorched Caleb and Bee’f, while another missile slammed into the freighter itself. Across the hangar Shikte woke up to a young medic from the infantry jabbing her with a stimpack and applying a bacta patch. The human Tusken tried to take another shot at the Dreadnaught’s hangar, but the shot pinged off of the hull, and the medic began hauling her towards the Last Ditch. The Wookie continued to inflict damage, as did the infantry, but both were taking hits they were having trouble recovering from.
As Patience managed to find the Mirialans and begin to get them to safety, Verjylla got on the ship’s external speakers and began haranguing the Stormtroopers; between that and the casualties they were taking several of the ‘strings’ began snapping. Bas rushed to the boarding ramp with his medical kit, managing to get Caleb and Bee’f back up on their feet. The pair continued pouring fire down onto the ‘troopers, with Bee’f lobbing his last Nak-given grenade into the mix. Unfortunately, the counterattack was even more vicious than the last. What healing Caleb and Bee’f had been given evaporated, and Bas had an arm mangled to the point of uselessness as the boarding ramp became the target of no less than three fireteams.
That’s when Nak appeared at the top of the boarding ramp, tired of chasing the troopers around with the blaster cannons. As Cole menaced the ‘troopers with the ship itself (his habit of trying to land it on people apparently known to them), Nak armed the plasma grenade and flung it towards the Imperials. In a ball of searing flame an entire two fireteams were vaporized, and what control the dark figure had faded. The surviving stormtroopers – a mere five out of sixty – broke and threw down their weapons, surrendering to the Alliance then and there.
The fighting was over for now, but the rebels were still in a dire state. Of the Borrowed Time crew only Nak, Cole, and Patience hadn’t taken at least one critical injury, and several had taken more than one. The Alliance infantry had been reduced to 3/4 strength, Commander Torval was unconscious in a bacta tank, and the Imperials were still out there. While Shikte had bought time by sowing chaos in the Dreadnaught’s hangar bay, a second wave was inevitable. So as rebels (and players) are wont to do, they came up with a crazy plan.
Verjylla made a recording, and then was sedated so that she wouldn’t register as strongly in the Force. Shikte, conveniently, was wounded badly enough that sedating her was practically required. Cole and Bee’f dipped into the infiltrator’s death stick stash, deadening themselves to the Force. Caleb posed in Skirata’s armor. Bee’f provided the DNA authentication and voiceover work, thanks to his flesh camo kit. Bas programmed the flight path with Cole’s help. Nak, Bas, Bee’f, and Caleb all worked together to get the detonite charges set. And so the Star Destroyer high above received an authenticated transmision from Inquisitor Skirata, who reported that he had broken free amidst the chaos and apprehended his targets (showing off images of the sedated Verjylla and Shikte) and was requesting that the Destroyer be ready to receive him when he fled the Station. Sure enough, the Admiral aboard the Destroyer bought it.
The YV-929 armed freighter that had been renamed the Gift Horse blasted out of Bolthole Station’s hangar bay at top speed, chased by blaster fire. Once it had cleared the doors it angled straight up, heading for the Star Destroyer. It was on a perfect trajectory for the hangar bay, if coming in a little fast, until it swerved and crested over the bow. It charged towards the bridge as fast as it could, even as the Admiral began screaming for the ship’s weapons to open fire. Thankfully the Destroyer’s shields stopped the freighter – which was when the fifty blocks of detonite that Skirata had left behind as a booby trap, as well as all the fuel and missiles still aboard, exploded. The entire bridge tower of the Destroyer was swallowed by fire, the bridge itself filled with it as the viewports blew in, and Verjylla’s recording began.
The Imperials could try putting fear into the hearts of the Alliance, she said. But they’d done their worst. The rebels they faced now had grown up under the yoke of the Empire, and now found it all too easy to shrug off the best the Empire could throw at them and keep on fighting. Now, it was the Empire’s turn to be afraid. As the bridge of a Star Destroyer burned and the ship’s auxiliary bridge sent the ship climbing for altitude, the crew of the Dreadnaught down below were stunned. Which was the perfect opportunity for the Borrowed Time, the Last Ditch, and Bolt Squadron to rush to safety.
Patience, having taken command of the Ditch with Torval out of action, coordinated the fire of the makeshift force as they rushed towards the Dreadnaught. The starfighters spat what lasers and missiles they could, the Ditch struck the engine block with her turbolasers, Nak and Bee’f fired the Borrowed Time‘s turrets, and Cole launched one of the concussion missiles Bas had installed. While far from destroyed or even crippled, the Dreadnaught’s speed dropped, preventing it from pursuing effectively. While it fired a single volley that badly damaged the Borrowed Time, the rebels made their escape to orbit while Bolthole Station self-destructed behind them. After a quick jump to hyperspace, the Empire was going to have to hope for better luck some other day . . .
Don’t forget to use the little guys now and again. Sure, for any Age of Rebellion party that’s got a nice pile of XP and some shiny toys, Stormtroopers are sort of bread and butter. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous if used well. Catch the players in a bad situation, say, in a base with one way out. Outnumber them. Have an evil space wizard use Battle Meditation to make them just a teensy bit more effective. Suddenly you’ve got the nastiest fight the party has seen yet; not even the Inquisitors had managed to mangle the rebels so badly.
This is a very old lesson – Tucker’s Kobolds may have taught it best – so I won’t spend much time on it, but it bears repeating now and again. Even the lowest of the enemies in your GMing arsenal can be a fun challenge given the right context.
Sometimes players have to leave your table, maybe for good, and that can provide some challenges in and out of the game. This was, as of this writing and for the foreseeable future, the last session that Verjylla and The Wookiee were able to act as player characters. Their players, you see, had an absolutely adorable pair of twins. But that did bring the total kid count up to 4. Way too many to travel with, and too many to be the hosts. And this family had been our hosts for gaming for . . . man, years and years at this point. Not playing at their place was the end of an era in some ways.
So, there was the question of whether or not to continue. I’d gotten the timing down pretty good and managed to make their last session before the twins arrived a pretty epic one, and in a way it could’ve acted as a ‘season finale’ of sorts. That’s something you should aim for if you’re lucky enough to know a player’s departure is coming ahead of time, but even if not you should try and give them a good send-off, an end to their time in the game that is a bang instead of a whimper. But what about everyone else? Well, luckily in this case Verjylla and The Wookiee’s exit still left seven perfectly viable player characters. While changing location was going to cause a few logistical issues for people, for the most part people wanted to keep going.
Alright, so the show is still on, and let’s say you’ve managed any logistical issues that may spring up because of someone(s) leaving the game (both of these problems can be dealt with by talking to your players). Next, ask yourself: how is the party/group dynamic going to change? For example, The Wookiee was far and away the toughest fighter and deadliest melee combatant, and Verjylla was a Coercion expert who was the only one with the Foresee power. Consider what your party will be losing as you move forward and continue designing challenges for them. Don’t build an encounter or opponent only to realize that the character you were depending on to help the party prevail isn’t around anymore.
Okay, so the players have left, but what about the characters? There might be times when there’s no good way to write the characters out. They might have to vanish into the background or fall down a suddenly-appearing spiked pit, but that can be a little unsatisfactory if the characters had a lot of relationships or narrative weight. In this case The Wookiee is going to be hanging out with the Alliance infantry for a bit to give them a much-needed boost, and Verjylla will be enjoying the Last Ditch‘s communication suite. A more professional example could be found in Critical Role, which has plenty of guest star player characters who have hung around and still interact with the party as NPCs, and a few examples of full-time player characters who step off-screen now and again to take care of personal business when their players can’t attend. Try and deal with a former PC’s new NPC status in a way that fits with and helps your story. After all, your player was kind enough to make a character for you. Don’t let them go to waste!
Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all then as our ad hoc Rebel squadron figures out where they stand, choose their next step, and return to some old haunts 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 11/25/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!