Agent Castor of the Imperial Security Bureau strained against his bonds, but to no avail. His comlink, ID, and the transponder he wouldhave used to call in an airstrike on these damnable rebels had been taken, he’d been knocked out, and now he was tied up in what looked like a cave somewhere. Giving up on the bonds for now, he tried to look around and get a better view of his surroundings, but before he could the lights turned on. Someone had set up some serious light sources, as for a while he was blinded. About the time he could see again, he wished he couldn’t. A scrappy looking Bothan was crouched down next to him, uncomfortably close and muttering all sorts of horrible threats. On his other side was the same Trandoshan who had knocked him out, quiet but looming, flexing her claws. As Castor’s vision continued to return he spotted a second Bothan standing directly in front of the lights. She told him that he was in big trouble; as much as he wanted to, Castor couldn’t quite bring himself to disagree.
Castor began blustering that the rebel scum wouldn’t get anything out of him, but with Bee’f and Nak more-or-less threatening him without pause his act wasn’t very convincing. Once Verjylla began threatening to add The Wookiee to the mix, Castor began to cave pretty quickly. Verjylla’s first line of inquiry had to do with Castor’s purpose in hiding among the Toprawans. Castor eventually told her that Imperial Security Bureau and Imperial Intelligence agents were inserted into the Toprawan population from time to time to keep an eye on things; even unarmed and largely dependent on the Empire for food, there were enough Toprawans that if they got the wrong idea they could make quite a mess, if only by getting themselves wiped out and depriving the Empire of a labor force. Castor himself had been deployed from the Imperial citadel a month ago, but had received an alert two weeks ago to highten his alertness. Disturbingly, this about matched the time shortly after General Cracken had given the crew their briefing for the mission and the Borrowed Time was being loaded with its cargo.
Combined with their arrival having been greeted by TIE Fighters instead of the expected empty skies, this made the rebels nervous about a security leak. Clearly something had gotten to the Empire; while Castor hadn’t been expecting the Borrowed Time specifically, he hadn’t seen anything among the Toprawans to justify an alert. The cause had to have been the Empire reacting to suspected Alliance activity. When pressed, Castor admitted to not knowing any other agents among the natives, nor of any among the Rangers; he professed to not even knowing the Rangers existed. Caleb, observing the interrogation, still suggested that the possibility that there was a traitor Ranger should be investigated.
Caleb strode away from the little interrogation set-up, stopping to talk with some of the Rangers before heading for the Short Trip.Shikte was still out with some of the Rangers, Patience was still talking Captain Solm around, and Bas had traveled back down the mountain range to make some repairs on the Borrowed Time. Cole, however, was spending his time teaching a Ranger how to fly. A young woman by the name of Sacha Swiftbird, the Ranger was actually the youngest of the group by far, and Cole had decided to take her into his dubious tutelage. The pair were running simulations aboard the Short Trip when Caleb arrived, the Mando having learned that Sacha was the only new addition to the Rangers in the past two years.
Cole had found Sacha to be a willing student so far, very eager and excited by the presence of off-world rebels. While the former smuggler had flirted with one of the other female Rangers already (to no result but a scowl) and had already partook of the makeshift still the Rangers kept (seemingly their only luxury; Captain Solm knew what he was about), he was actually being relatively well-behaved around Sacha. When Caleb called him away and began explaining his concerns about a spy among the Rangers, however, Cole agreed that a newcomer made the most likely suspect.
Cole and Caleb returned to the Short Trip and began making small talk with Sacha as she fiddled with the controls, trying to tease out any hint of deception. The young Ranger continued to seem very enthusiastic about taking the fight to the Imperials at last, and when asked about her time with the Rangers she had nothing but good things to say about the Captain. Still, neither Caleb nor Cole were trained in this sort of thing, so Cole attempted to reach out with the Force and get a Sense of Sacha’s emotional state.
The former smuggler ended up having to take a few steps away, trying to rein in his own negative emotions after being exposed to Sacha’s: the young woman had some severe hatred issues that, to a Force-user, were nearly contagious. Trying to parse those feelings had led to Cole tapping into the Dark Side without really meaning to.
Somewhat unnerved but without any more definite proof, Cole remained with Sacha while Caleb went to continue his investigations elsewhere. The Mandalorian stopped again, this time to confer with The Wookiee. Being a Chadra-Fan of few words The Wookiee had been able to get a decent read on the Rangers as she watched them, and was somewhat concerned. While the Rangers all seemed professional and skilled, the entire lot of them seemed tightly wound. They were quieter than they had to be, moved carefully even on familiar ground, and spent even longer obsessing over their gear than Caleb did. This was described to the players as ‘rolling Stealth even when they didn’t have to’, the equivalent of a D&D character checking for traps every five feet in a corridor they’d already been in. In addition, The Wookiee reported several cases of déjà vu related to Captain Solm, swearing that she’d seen him pass by in the same direction twice, with only moments in-between the two sightings.
Suspicion further peaked, Caleb returned to wandering the caves, eventually settling down with what seemed the most stoic member of the Rangers, a human sniper named Jilam who was keeping watch at the entrance of the caves. The two settled down to amiable enough conversation, with Jilam (who hadn’t spoken a word to the Borrowed Time crew up until this point) apparently more than willing to discuss the state of the Rangers. Two years in hiding, Jilam explained, had made the Rangers by and large a sneaky bunch by necessity. The arrival of the Borrowed Time meant an end to hiding in the mountains and the sensor-jamming mists without firing a shot, and Jilam admitted that even he was on edge about it.
Jilam stressed this nervousness even more when Caleb raised the question of the Captain. According to the sniper Solm had ‘power in his blood’, and when pressed admitted that the Captain was Force-sensitive. Apparently the Rangers and the old Jedi Order had worked along-side one another and had intermarried from time to time. Jilam told Caleb that a human Ranger, Tyria, also had the Force, along with a Gotal named Kaskutal who was spending most of his time helping Shikte with the supply caches. Most of the Antarian Rangers in the galaxy had been hunted down because of this relation to the Jedi; the Toprawan chapter had only survived via Solm’s leadership, siding with the Rebels, and then vanishing into the mountains after the Battle of Toprawa and their presumed deaths.
As to the potential for spies within the Rangers? Jilam refuted the possibility strongly. Nearly every Ranger still alive had been at the fight that led to the Death Star plans being transmitted to the Alliance, and had been steadfast ever since. None had any illusions about the Empire’s mercy or trustworthiness. As for Sacha, she was the only member who hadn’t been a Ranger of the Old Republic or born to Ranger parents during the Empire’s rise; a native Toprawan, she’d been living in the ruins of Passage with all the rest until the Captain intervened and saved her from the Imperials. While she was as green as a Ranger could get, her hatred of the Empire and loyalty to the Captain was without question.
More or less satisfied, Caleb and Cole spent some time coming and going from the interrogation area to confer with Verjylla, who gave them advice on these matters, and talking to the rank-and-file Rangers. At the end of the day they were confident that no Imperial spies lurked among their allies, and the Toprawans from Passage had already been vetted. Still, while they could at least feel safe among their allies here, that meant that the leak that led to the Borrowed Time being intercepted could only have been on the Alliance’s side of things. Worrisome, but for now added to a list of problems for the future.
While all of that was going on, Verjylla and the others turned towards Imperial activity on Toprawa. Normally, the Imperial Army guarded the ore processing facility and the Stormtrooper Corp watched over the TIE Factory. They managed to get Castor to tell them that, now that Rebel activity on Toprawa was confirmed, the local commandant would begin deploying more forces from the local citadel. Stormtroopers and some of their armor would be dispatched to the processing facility, while the Imperial Army would reinforce the TIE factory with several platoons and some of their hovercraft. It would be a gradual reinforcement, but the longer the Rebels waited the harder each target would begin.
With Castor’s information having been more or less exhausted, Verjylla waved Bee’f and Nak off and went in for the kill. She explained, in terrifying detail, what the Empire would likely do to an ISB agent who had given up so much information rather than dying in silence. Verjylla laid out a perfectly rational argument, that the only safe thing for Castor to do would be to defect to the Alliance; otherwise, the Borrowed Time crew weren’t even going to bother killing Castor. They’d simply release him, and then broadcast the recording Verjylla had been making of the interrogation after they’d put his intel to good use but before Castor could make it home and try to spin things in his favor. Beaten, Castor agreed to defect; while they would trust him with nothing but menial duties for now and have him under guard at all times, the Borrowed Time crew could now return him to Alliance Intelligence as a somewhat willing intelligence asset to be properly debriefed.
Over the next few days Bas returned from the valley with good news: while the Borrowed Time was still in rough shape, he had managed to effect enough repairs that she would fly again. Even if something happened to the Long Haul, the rebels would be able to get off-world. Nak and Caleb, meanwhile, returned from sojourns of their own, having picked out a few Toprawans that stood out to them. Caleb had set about instructing his recruits in close-quarters fighting in one of the caves, since much of expected fighting would be happening inside Imperial facilities. Nak, meanwhile, had spent no small portion of her credits from the Grasper job on grenades; she donated several bandoleers of these to the Toprawan cause and began to teach her recruits that once the detonation switch is triggered Mr. Frag Grenade is no longer your friend.
Just to make sure the Imperials on Toprawa knew how bad things were about to get for them, Verjylla edited together a new broadcast of Rebel Yell, figuring that thanks to the escaped Phantom pilot and Castor the Imperials already had more than enough proff of the Borrowed Time‘s presence. She collected footage from the engagements on Toprawa so far and recordings of the Borrowed Time‘s older. Coordinating with Captain Solm, Verjylla was escorted out of the mountains with the Rangers’ holocomm unit, and managed to make a transmission promising the Imperials on Toprawa that the Alliance was coming for them. Anyone within several systems who happened to be viewing the Holonet would now know that the Imperials were losing control of the Toprawa situation.
To accelerate the loss of that control a plan for assaulting the processing facility started to come together using the intelligence gathered from Castor. The Borrowed Time rebels, the Rangers, and the Toprawans had enough stolen Imperial equipment and vehicles for a bit of a surprise, but that would require some truly gutsy deception. It looked like Patience would have to do what he did best: lie his face off and make the other guy look like an idiot while he did it.
Meanwhile . . .
The silence in the cockpit of the small ship, vaguely Imperial in make, was broken by the insistent beeping of an incoming transmission. For a moment the beeping was allowed to persist, before the black-armored figure sitting in the pilot’s seat took their feet off of the console and leaned to tap several buttons with a gauntlet-covered hand. Information began to scroll across the screen in the console – coordinates, names, objectives.
“Toprawa . . . confirmed rebel activity . . . Borrowed Time . . . heh,” the figure muttered to itself as it read. “Alright, this one should be fun.”
Coordinates were punched in and the hyperdrive warmed up, and soon the stars outside the viewport streaked into lines as the ship began the journey towards its owner’s latest target . . .
It’s okay to let your players chase false leads sometimes. At the end of the day, the crew of the Borrowed Time didn’t find any spies within the Rangers or their new Toprawan recruits, despite all their paranoia on the subject. On the face of things, aside from information gained from Castor, they didn’t accomplish too much. But not every session needs to be about steadily marching towards your goal. Sometimes everyone needs a break from the blaster bolts and the chaos, a chance to cover your bases and set your house in order before diving back into the fray. Trying to catch a red herring or two is as good a reason as any.
Over the course of their investigations the crew got to know their allies better even as they tried to grill them about their backgrounds and intentions. Habits, personalities, and abilities began to be put to names and faces, and two of our more combat-centered characters got to socialize as they took Toprawans under their respective wings; granted, said socializing involved teaching their new pupils methods of destruction and mayhem, but what else do you expect from the Mandalorian and the Trandoshan?
At the end of it all, they could at least relax in the presence of their current allies, safe in the knowledge that no spies lurked among them. They also knew they would probably have to go on a spy hunt after leaving Toprawa, and Verjylla got a few extra points for her Internal Security Duty, not the easiest of goals to achieve so far.
On the other side of the die, don’t be afraid to let the party’s paranoia or ‘eureka’ moments create some aspect of the story that you didn’t plan on! I hadn’t placed any spies within the Rangers because I’d already put Castor among the Toprawans, and I didn’t want to hound the players too badly this early in the game (as, if Castor had slipped past them, the consequences would have been dire enough on their own). I decided to stick to my guns this time. Cole’s player rightfully pointed out after the session that I had created threats where there had previously been none before, however, because the players had thought there might be a threat.
Not only does letting the players create their own problems now and again let you take inspiration from them, it gives the players a bit of a hand in creating the story. Some very memorable bad guys, side quests, and story twists can come out of this if done correctly.
Plus, knowing that their GM is willing to create problems on the fly for them can keep players on their toes!
Show the bad guys’ point of view now and again! Your heroes (if they can be called that) aren’t operating in a vacuum. Somewhere out there is the Big Bad of your game, with all of his or her evil lieutenants and hapless minions. Don’t just have them pulling an Orcus, sitting on their throne and twiddling their thumbs until your players kick in the door. Have them react to what the players are doing, and have them continuing to push their own agenda in addition. They’re just more interesting being active participants in the campaign, rather than static obstacles to be overcome. Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, as Star Wars examples, both start off focused on the bad guys, showing us what they’re up to and what they’re planning. They don’t give away everything, and neither should you, but try throwing in a scene now and again that’s just the players’ opponents. It can give the players a sense of what they’re up against, the effect they’re having on the enemy’s efforts, and even create a bit of foreboding foreshadowing. A dark-armored figure heading your way is rarely a good thing, after all, but your players can’t feel the suspense if they don’t know they’re coming.
Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all back here when the Borrowed Time crew and their allies engage in some cunning deception, daring raids, and explosive sabotage 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 5/20/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!
When my players read this one they actually disagreed quite a bit with the red herring advice. There are two lessons, there. One, player feedback is important. Two, writing about your game online is a great way to trick your players into giving you feedback. All according to plan.