Atop a TIE fighter factory on the planet of Toprawa, a black-armored figure stared up at the sky. Far above, the smoke from an exploding Sentinel-class ship hung in the air like a cloud, even as debris rained down and TIEs circled around in confusion. “He got out. Look for the shimmer of his cloak. It’ll make things easier if we catch him alone.” Behind the Mandalorian Duron Skirata four scout troopers nodded, spreading out. Down in the factory itself an Imperial officer and his two squads of stormtroopers were faced with a group of ‘stormtroopers’, rebels, and Rangers who were clearly infiltrating the factory. His biggest concern, however, was that a Bothan had started smiling at him.
At last Verjylla Nova, Agitator extraordinaire and the voice of the pirate Holonet broadcast Rebel Yell, had found a use for a Diplomatic Solution. Taken aback by her asking whether or not he thought reporting the Rebel infiltration was actually a good idea, the Imperial officer stopped short of turning on his commlink and asked her what she meant. Verjylla simply pointed out that Imperial units had a record of coming out worse off upon encountering the crew of the Borrowed Time, as her recent broadcasts and the events earlier in the day more than proved. The rebels were already inside the factory, which meant that the entire facility was more or less already doomed. Either the officer could take his men and run while they still had their lives, or they could draw their weapons and die right here and now knowing they’d likely accomplished nothing. Verjylla’s coercive talents, backed up by the realization that none of the Rebels were actually in binders, brought the Imperial to agree with her. Without another word the officer and the stormtroopers began carefully rushing towards the nearest exit, leaving the Rebels unmolested.
Proceeding at a somewhat rushed pace just in case, the team soon reached the blast doors to the TIE Phantom section of the facility, underneath the TIE factory proper. Bee’f had been unable to acquire the codes for the door, so Bas pulled out his tools and got to work. Although it took some doing, Bas eventually managed to not only open the door but open it slowly. As a result nobody within the Phantom hangar noticed the incursion. Unfortunately, thanks to a fair bit of Threat the hangar was not only occupied by mechanics and technicians. Several stories below the Rebels were the pilots and gunners of the remaining six Phantoms, currently occupied yelling at a crew chief about the rescheduling that Bee’f had spliced into the system in the last session.
While the others were making their move into the Phantom hangar, Cole Strutter had managed to land safely and moved off of the roof without being seen, thanks to his personal stealth field. However, as he crept through the corridors of the factory, Skirata turned the corner ahead of him and looked right at him. A moment later four scout troopers, carrying the same SE-14rs as Caleb, turned the corner behind him. Skirata remarked that he was genuinely surprised that he had caught Cole so soon after the debacle at the ore processing facility, and that they could do this the easy way or the hard way. Cole’s hands flashed to his blaster pistols and a Verpine shatter pistol practically materialized in Skirata’s hands. Before Cole could even move, he was introduced to the rare (for a Star Wars character) sensation of a solid round being buried in his guts, and was hit with the Hamstrung critical effect. With a well-timed use of a Light Side point from the Destiny Pool, Cole noticed the hatch to a trash compactor chute. Blowing the hatch with his blasters, Cole managed to hurl himself into the chute. Even as he tumbled down he could hear Skirata: “Well, this is going to be a fun one.”
Back in the hangar, the Rebels began sneaking further in and down, trying to get as close as possible to their targets. Patience split off and found a terminal, managing to download the complete schematics for the TIE Phantom, and discovering that the hangar had several tunnels that would allow the stealth fighters to leave discretely. Bas spotted a crane used to move materiel and fighters and slithered his way towards it, while the rest managed to get to the catwalks and stairs just above the arguing mechanics and pilots. Nak and The Wookiee did one better, managing to get on the same level as the pilots and in the machinery beneath respectively. A Phantom pilot suddenly died from a blast knuckler punch delivered by the Trandoshan, and a second pilot lost his legs as The Wookiee’s vibroaxe cut through the catwalk they were all standing on, sending the pilots tumbling down among the maintenance section. The fight was on.
Cole staggered towards the door of the trash compactor, two used stim packs tumbling to join the rest of the junk. The former smuggler pondered the magnetized (and thus blaster-proof) door for a moment before he heard noise coming from the same chute he’d used to escape. Acting as quickly as he could he set up the last of his burning gel to melt through the door’s lock. Just as he stumbled out into a new corridor Cole tossed a pair of plasma grenades behind him, managing to catch the first scout trooper in the blasts. Aware that the rest (and possibly Skirata) were right behind the luckless trooper, Cole continued to run as fast he could.
In the hangar the Rangers and militia focused their fire on the mechanics and technicians, while Caleb and Shikte rained blaster fire down on the pilots. Nak and The Wookiee continued their pursuit of the pilots, who were all attempting to get aboard one Phantom or another. Without warning the grasping mechanism of the hangar’s crane plummeted down and smashed a Phantom into wreckage; Bas, knowing that the Rebels didn’t have enough pilots to steal all six fighters, had decided it would be a good idea to destroy the ones they couldn’t take. That done, he began slithering towards what Bee’f’s maps identified as a reactor room. At about the same time as The Wookiee caught up to the pilots who had just been trying to board the destroyed Phantom, everyone looked up at the sound of a scream as Cole leaped over the railing of the uppermost catwalk.
Even as he activated his grav chute to slow his descent, the reason for Cole’s dynamic entry became apparent to the rest of the team: three scout troopers appeared at the railing, now wielding E-11s sniper rifles. They opened fire on Cole, one of them managing to wing him. Cursing up a storm, Cole reached deep inside himself and called upon the Force. With much Wilhelm-screaming the three troopers were yanked over the railing, plummeting several stories head first. The sniper problem dealt with Cole continued his descent, landing atop a TIE Phantom that Verjylla was currently opening the hatch to. At the other end of the hangar Nak lobbed an incendiary grenade at two pilots, only to miss – with a Triumph sending the explosive past them and into the cockpit of their chosen vehicle, which was now full of fire.
With the scout troopers dead and the pilots joining them in larger numbers with each shot fired, and Cole reunited with the team, things seemed to be going well until Skirata appeared on the uppermost catwalk carrying a massive Verpine shatter rifle. Yelling about how “This is why my Emperor doesn’t just make redblades Inquisitors. You want a job done right, send a Mando,” Skirata took aim at Cole and fired. To the surprise of everyone, perhaps even herself, Verjylla moved to shove Cole out of the way of the shot. Cole stumbled to the side, and Verjylla fell to the ground – her left leg went in the other direction. Even as Skirata cursed and tried to target Cole again the former smuggler reached out for the Phantom that Nak had set aflame. With a colossal effort, Cole lifted the Phantom from its moorings and hurled it up at the Mando.
The resulting explosion sent Skirata flying, badly wounded but still mobile and alive. With Cole dragging Verjylla inside the Phantom she’d unlocked the Inquisitor fired a parting shot that badly wounded The Wookiee and then beat a hasty retreat out of the team’s view. Nak caught up to the last of the pilots, and Bas slithered out of the reactor room to report that he’d put together a contraption that would blow the reactor and bring the entire facility down. Jilam immediately took his Rangers and the militia running full-tilt through one of the launch tunnels, while comming Sacha at the Long Haul to let her know it was time to leave. The Borrowed Timecrew split themselves among the Phantoms and made their own escape, although not before Verjylla (brought back to consciousness by Bas) left her camera droid behind to record the destruction.
A short time later the entire crew, hidden in a small forest in the lowlands, gathered around a screen as they watched Imperial technicians struggling and failing to understand what Bas had done to their reactor. Just as the Imperials started to flee, the screen went dark. Looking up, the Rebels could see the ground underneath the factory suddenly heave, and then begin to collapse into itself – taking the garrison from the ore processing facility, which had just arrived thanks to a Triumph from Bas, down with it. Returning to the mountains, Verjylla put together one last broadcast concerning the situation on Toprawa, striking quite the image as she recorded even while Bas worked on what was left of her leg. Their mission to Toprawa accomplished, the Rebels prepared the Borrowed Time and the stolen Phantoms to leave, getting the Rangers who were coming along stowed away and bidding farewell to the rest.
Although, as it turned out, they didn’t quite have enough pilots for the Borrowed Time and all four stolen Phantoms. Taking the initiative, the crew gave one last gift to the Toprawans before they left – a TIE Phantom they named A Fighting Chance.
Meanwhile . . .
On the bridge of a Star Destroyer, the crew moved about performing their duties as they would on any such Imperial ship . . . but much more quietly, and with many more nervous glances towards a figure standing at the forward viewport. The blast doors to the bridge hissed open, and a Mandalorian wearing black armor – one side scorched and scratched, clearly having taken quite the blow – forced himself to stroll calmly towards the bow.
“Didn’t get him. Threw a fighter at me, and the others went through the locals like a saber through flimsy,” Inquisitor Duron Skirata reported, struggling to keep his voice level. “That’s the other thing, though. I don’t think Strutter is the only one on that crew.”
There was a moment of silence, punctuated by the hiss of a respirator before Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith, turned to look at Skirata.
“Then you will require help.”
Sometimes it takes a shatter pistol round to the gut to finally get your message across. You can try and set the tone early on so that everyone knows more or less what they’re going to be dealing with. You can foreshadow that bad things are coming their way. You can even outright have the bad guy tell a player he’s coming for him. Yet despite all of that, it’s a common enough thing that a player character will keep doing whatever it is they’re doing that’s making all that doom and gloom circle both themselves and the party. Now, to a certain extent that’s more than fine. Players naturally attract doom to themselves over the course of a campaign, especially when they’re Rebels facing off against a Galactic Empire. If the characters really played it safe and stayed home all day you wouldn’t have a game. But sometimes bad habits can cause bigger problems.
You may have noticed that Cole had developed the habit of going off on his own, and that gradually became a bit of a issue. He did it when he stole the Short Trip, he did it at the processing facility to steal that AT-ST, and he did it again with his plan to get everyone into the TIE factory. Splitting the party is all well and good, but the buddy system should probably be kept in mind as well, not just for safety but for group cohesion. In that last instance I saw the other players more or less . . . well, resign Cole to dealing with the consequences on his own. That’s not a good thing! Abandoning another character to their doom if they keep chasing it might be a smart enough decision, but other than games that practically demand that sort of behavior (in Call of Cthulhu it’s every man for himself) it’s not exactly good for the vibe of the group around the table. At the same time, I had tried setting the tone and foreshadowing and outright putting a death mark on Cole’s head: Inquisitors and the like are meant to be faced with an entire party, yet off Cole went nearly every time. So there had to be consequences, or else I’d be playing softball.
I told Cole’s player before the session that he was probably in big trouble. When Skirata and the troopers caught him, every bit of Skirata’s dialogue and description oozed confidence that Cole was utterly doomed. Finally, the light bulb went on and the Light Side Point was spent to give Cole an exit, pretty much the only kind of decision that could’ve saved him, and even then it was a near thing. Then, after the session was finished and everyone was talking about what they’d be doing next, I took the player aside and had a talk with him.
You can drop all the rocks and kill all the characters you want to try and curb a player habit that you think is hurting the game at large, but more often than not all you’ll get is a combative player who views you as the enemy. And why shouldn’t they see you that way, when you’re not explaining why it’s raining dragons? Talk to your players! Use your words! I explained that going off on his own all the time was starting to distance Cole from the rest of the characters – and their players, who hadn’t raised a finger to help Cole or even find out where he was until he’d found his way back to them and Verjylla took the bullet. I explained that, yes, I happen to enjoy making delightfully dangerous Mandalorians and the like to go after the characters, but that I couldn’t really pull my punches any more if a single character kept on putting his head in the meat grinder on his own. If I kill Cole or anyone else, I said, I want it to happen in an appropriate way – not to be insta-gibbbing him when he gets caught on his own by two Inquisitors and a platoon of stormtroopers, which nobody will enjoy.
Thankfully, I am largely blessed with good players. This sort of thing can turn into an argument (and if it does there’s probably some more problems than you thought), but by and large the talk seemed to go well. The player agreed that his encounter with Skirata was likely a wake-up call for Cole, and while the smuggler would probably still be on the crazy side, he would at least be a bit more cautious.
And, so far, it worked! As of this writing Cole’s still around, still coming up with crazy plans, and is by and large still the drunken pilot who can move things with his mind that we’ve all become familiar with. But he sticks with his crew, now, and they stick with him. Mission accomplished.
Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all back here when the Borrowed Time crew report back to the Alliance and find themselves Dead in the Water 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 7/29/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!