For the second time in a week the Borrowed Time dropped out of hyperspace for a rendezvous with the Alliance Intelligence frigate Shadow Raptor. Cole had, of course, piloted the vessel on its short trip to transport the Antarian Rangers and drop off the stolen TIE Phantoms. Nak and Shikte had been sent along to act as gunners, and Patience had come along for the ride as the liaison with the Rangers themselves. For once a trip had gone off without a hitch, and the Borrowed Time crew were eager to re-unite with the rest of their number. They initially had some trouble spotting the Raptor: like last time the ship’s dark coloration and limited running lights made it difficult to spot. Eventually, however, Cole picked it out of the void and immediately asked over the ship’s comms why it might be tumbling end over end towards the event horizon of a black hole.
Patience immediately joined Cole in the cockpit, while Nak and Shikte rushed to man their weapons. Cole and Patience’s attempts to open a communications channel to the frigate were initially fruitless, but as they drew close they were contacted by a Raptor Five. One of the frigate’s Y-Wing pilots, Raptor Five informed the crew that the ship had been overrun and disabled by its own droid complement, and that among other problems the life support was turned off. Apparently the crewmembers of the Borrowed Time who had remained behind had liberated the forward hangar bay where Raptor Five was just a short while ago, and had pushed ahead to Life Support. Before signing off, Raptor Five warned the crew that there was a distinct possibility that the droids had control over the Raptor‘s weapons.
Unwilling to abandon their comrades, the Borrowed Time dove towards the frigate, with Cole moving as fast as he could while trying to maintain evasive maneuvers. Unfortunately Raptor Five’s warning proved true, and several of the weapon batteries opened fire on the freighter as it closed. Despite Cole’s best efforts the Borrowed Time took a hit that managed to weaken her forward shields, but with a tricky bit of flying the former smuggler managed to get too close for the droids to land any more hits. After a particularly harrowing approach that involved matching speed with the frigate while avoiding getting hit by it as it spun, Cole managed to secure the Borrowed Time to a hatch relatively near Life Support. The crewmembers headed that way, while their passengers (Y-Wing pilots who had flown the Phantoms to their destination) went for the forward hangar to prepare their fighters.
Cole, Nak, Shikte, and Patience reunited with their fellows shortly after Life Support had been secured and the air turned back on. Mindful of the time limit involved, the conversation catching the new arrivals up was a quick one, and the team quickly decided that they would have to split up in order to cover more ground. Bas would remain in Life Support to secure it against any attempts to retake it, while Patience would take Bee’f and The Wookiee to the Bridge. Cole, Verjylla, Caleb, Shikte, and Nak would return to the Borrowed Time and use her to head for the stern of the Raptor; between locked doors and droid patrols, traveling along the spar between the halves of the ship would simply take too long.
Thanks to the earlier slicing and map acquiring, Patience’s team were able to reach the Bridge without any trouble, and Bee’f was able to open the bridge doors. The droids had apparently only left a token guard of armed protocol droids and astromechs to watch a few crewmen and a single Ensign; The Wookiee’s vibroaxe and Patience’s disruptor pistol made short work of the protocol droids, while Bee’f’s force pike did for the astromechs before the diminutive droids could do anything nefarious. Patience quickly took charge of the bridge and the freed crewmembers, figuring out what the crew knew of the situation: Captain Sortuli and the ship’s navigator had been taken away after the Bridge was stormed, but there was still no sign of General Cracken. While Engineering had to be brought back online in order to avoid the event horizon, Patience instructed the crew to get the Bridge up and running so that the Raptor could move as soon as possible. He also got the crew to start activating the frigate’s internal security cameras to help give the Borrowed Timerebels better information.
At about that time Cole’s team were crawling through the vents of the stern half of the frigate, having successfully reached a hatch near Engineering after a corkscrew flight along the length of the ship. Along the way Nak had managed to put a few cannon shots along the doors of the rear hangar bay, disabling its magnetic field and forcing the doors to shut, sealing the spy and any commandeered craft within for now. That problem temporarily taken care of, the team had resolved to retake Engineering so that everyone aboard the frigate could avoid a horrible crushing death in the black hole. Just before reaching Engineering, they received a feed from Patience, giving them a look into the area: roughly forty crewmembers and engineers, guarded by about a squad’s worth of protocol droids with some astromechs fiddling with the engines.
Figuring that the crew were probably unaware of the black hole situation, Verjylla managed to slice into the frigate’s system and put a display of the Raptor’s trajectory on the screens for them to see. Alerted to the fact that they were in danger of suffering one of the more dire fates possible for a spacer, the crew began to ready themselves to move, droids with blaster be damned. Just before they could Nak, Caleb, Shikte, and Cole stormed the area, bursting through the vents with blasters blazing. Rather than turn to face the team the protocol droids turned on the crew, opening fire and killing several. Before any more damage could be done, however, the rest of the droids were destroyed, aside from a single astromech.
While the surviving crew, including the head engineer, set about getting the ship up and running again, Verjylla decided to see if the astromech had pain circuits. She also decided she’d try and find out if the rest of the droids on the frigate could experience fear by broadcasting the results across the ship’s internal speakers. While fear might not exactly have been the result, a Triumph meant that Verjylla’s Coercion check fully distracted some of the droids into focusing on defense. This gave the Intelligence operatives trapped in the forward barracks enough of a chance to break out, reclaiming another section of the ship for the rebels. The bad news was that a Despair meant that the Bridge reported seeing General Cracken and former ISB Agent Castor being hauled into the rear hangar by droids, and the number of droids there was increasing.
While Cole’s team started to make their way towards the rear hangar, Bee’f was ducking back through the door of Primary Communications. He was ducking back because, after opening it with slicing, a rogue medical droid had tried to jab him in the face with a syringe. When the droid didn’t follow him out the Bothan, The Wookiee, and Patience stormed in. Bee’f and The Wookiee hit a group of protocol droids like a Hutt hitting a buffet, with the amount of scraps flying around being about the same. The medical droid, having hidden, burst out to jab The Wookiee but somehow ended up with the diminutive commando on its shoulders instead, with that ending about as well as the droid could expect. As Bee’f smashed an astromech droid apart he took fire from a second group of protocol droids that Patience was shooting at. Somewhat badly wounded, Bee’f charged in and speared one droid with his pike before drawing his blaster pistol and destroying the last one.
As The Wookiee and Bee’f cleaned up, Patience fired up the communications equipment. He managed to raise the main Rebel fleet, and his transmission was received by an older Mon Cal. Patience quickly explained that the Shadow Raptor had been overrun, that they were working to retake it, and that assistance would likely be needed. Finally, he mentioned that the Rebel fleet’s location might have been leaked to the Empire. The Mon Cal immediately looked away from his holocomm’s camera, yelling about ’emergency jump protocol’, before addressing Patience again and promising to send a nearby ship to help. “Ackbar, out.”
At the rear hangar bay, three different sets of blast doors started to open, and a vent cover dropped from the ceiling. Nak, Shikte, and Caleb each tossed grenades in through the opening blast doors, while Cole dropped grenades of his own through the vent. The three squads of protocol droids covering the doors were blasted to pieces in a storm of frag and ion grenades. The spy, who turned out to be the mousy-looking aide the team had met their first day back on the Raptor, raced up the ramp of a shuttle and closed it behind him. A pair of astromech droids abandoned their efforts to open the hangar doors keeping the shuttle trapped and raced behind a control panel. Caleb attempted to shoot at a group of load lifter droids who were carrying crates around, but was unable to land a hit, with enough threat to give the droids a free maneuver to start charging him.
Cole dropped from the ceiling to the floor thanks to his grav chute, while Verjylla’s attempt to drop to a second story catwalk was decidedly less graceful (the placeholder prosthetic didn’t really hold up to the stress). However, no sooner had he made his landing than Cole was slammed to the ground by a flying crate; the astromechs had gained control of the hangar’s internal tractor beam and were using it as an improvised weapon. Shikte, up on the catwalk, was able to pick one of the droid’s off with a well-placed blaster shot. Nak, eye on the prize, lobbed an ion grenade at the shuttle: a Triumph saw the ramp short out and fall open, with the spy’s sulfurous cursing plain to hear even over blaster fire. Cole looked up from his new position on the floor to see another crate hovering over him, and managed to roll to the side just in time. Verjylla managed to take out the final astromech controlling the tractor beam by strapping a grenade to her camera drone and sending it in.
Caleb, meanwhile, had little choice but to retreat up his chosen corridor away from the load lifter droids, fired an ion grenade that damaged but didn’t destroy one of them. Even the Mandolarian’s heavy armor wasn’t quite enough protection when the droids pursued and smacked him in the chest with a crate, sending him to the deck and his weapon skittering away. Caleb crawled away and drew his SE-14r, firing on full auto and managing to down the damaged droid. The others continued to pursue, however, and while their next attack missed Caleb himself a backhand blow sent the SE-14r bouncing away. “Stop doing that!” Caleb yelled, clearly fed up.
Hearing Caleb’s yelling, Nak drew her vibroaxe and rushed down the corridor after the droids. Cole, meanwhile, activated his stealth field and snuck onto the shuttle, finding Sortuli, her navigator, and Castor tied up. The General and the spy were apparently in the locked cockpit. As Shikte maneuvered to get a clear shot and Verjylla managed to reach the deck, Cole stood to the side and used the Force to open the door. A grenade was tossed out, and the resulting blast overloaded Cole’s stealth field, but thankfully Cole and the rest of the hostages were otherwise unharmed. Verjylla, seeing the spy holding up General Cracken as a human shield, stood in the open and openly taunted the spy, deriding his accomplishments and promising that the rebellion would never give in to the likes of him. Thoroughly intimidated by her Coercion check, the spy took his blaster pistol away from Cracken’s head and pointed it at Verjylla; this gave the General, who had been faking unconsciousness, the chance to disarm and disable the spy.
By the time they’d untied the rest of the hostages and remembered about the load lifter droids, the others raced down the corridor to find Nak and Caleb sharing a smoke on top of a pile of destroyed droids.
With the droids either destroyed or shut down, the ship was liberated. Several minutes after the end of the fight in the rear hangar, Engineering came fully back online, and the Shadow Raptor was able to fire up her thrusters ten minutes ahead of the black hole’s even horizon. The Borrowed Time crew and their fellow rebels began to celebrate, which was about when the ISD Iceheart dropped out of hyperspace at extreme range on the Raptor‘s starboard and began dropping TIE fighters. At the same time the CR90 corvette Remember Alderaan and a squadron of X-Wings dropped out of hyperspace at extreme range on the port side.
By the time the Iceheart had closed to long range the Borrowed Time and two flights of Y-Wings had left the Raptor, flying out to conduct a fighting retreat against the TIEs; Cole was piloting, while Shikte and Bee’f manned the guns. Nak, Caleb, and The Wookiee had manned guns on the Raptor herself, while Patience and Verjylla had joined the General on the bridge. Even as Cole began buzzing the TIEs, struggling to keep his weakened front shields away from their blaster cannons, Nak took a long-range shot with a turbolaser . . . and managed to score a critical hit that weakened the Star Destroyer’s shields.
That sort of crazy luck defined the entire fight; the Iceheart began hitting the Shadow Raptor with ion fire, but wasn’t quite able to land a critical hit along the way. While Nak never landed an actual hit again, she kept setting up devastating one-two punches for Caleb and The Wookiee, spending advantage to pass on boost dice. Multiple hits resulted, and with Triumphs showing up the critical hits began to build on one another. Still, it wasn’t going all the rebels’s way; while Bee’f and Shikte were making a good showing shooting down TIEs, and Cole was managing to avoid taking any more critical hits, the Borrowed Time was getting worn away. The sight of at least one Y-Wing exploding didn’t boost the crew’s confidence any.
On the bridge Patience got on the coms, saying what he could to inspire the crew and pilots. Verjylla, meanwhile, suddenly swore she could ‘see’ the Remember Alderaan taking deadly fire to the engine block, and desperately tried to warn General Cracken. She didn’t quite make a convincing enough case, but the general did warn the incoming CR90 to be careful. Sure enough the ship swung in alongside the Raptor to protect the frigate, and was barely able to avoid a turbolaser strike from Iceheart. That failed attempt was Iceheart’s last effort, because Caleb was able to score yet another critical hit that sent the Star Destroyer off course. Finally, just as they were about to leave weapons range, The Wookiee fired off one last shot.
With a Triumph and a very lucky roll, the Star Destroyer’s engines were knocked out – and its now uncontrolled and uncontrollable course was taking it right towards the black hole.
As Iceheart began to spew escape pods and escape shuttles the X-Wings finally reached the Borrowed Time and the Y-Wings, driving off the TIEs. With a Star Destroyer doomed and the Shadow Raptorsaved once and for all, the rebels began to cheer even as they jumped to hyperspace. Being Dead in the Water hadn’t been the best experience, but they’d certainly turned it into a victory.
Player characters are often pretty hard targets; rather than trying to crack them, consider going an easier route. Now initially this advice might seem like the same as in Part 5, but back then I was commenting on the potential emotional punch you could get by going after a beloved NPC or ally instead of a player character. What I’m on about here is more to the tune of: directly threatening the well-being of a character in combat isn’t always the most interesting way to challenge them.
Let’s be honest, looking back over the adventure on the Shadow Raptor, there was very little threat to the actual party. Yes, there were some close individual calls, but none of them really had the potential to be fatal, and the party was never really in danger of getting more than one or two members knocked out. The crew of the Borrowed Time were actually in less danger than Dead in the Water accounts for, because the freighter was conveniently absent from the frigate during the initial takeover and couldn’t be disabled. The party always had an out and could have run for it at any time . . . except for the fact of Cracken, Sortuli, and the rest of their allies being trapped on board, along with the potential loss of Intelligence assets.
So one version of the ‘easy’ route to challenging a party can be to go after things that are important to them or their allies or the organizations they belong to. Defeating a bad guy is secondary in these cases. Instead the players get more focused on protecting something, acquiring an item of interest, saving someone, etc. Maybe defeating a bad guy is one of the best ways to go about achieving those others goals, sure, but the players end up keeping their minds on the real prize, which makes things more interesting than a straight up fight. It also provides a better challenge for characters who are really good at fighting. I’m sure you’ve noticed, for example, that The Wookiee is basically death on short Chadra Fan legs in most fights. But even having the nastiest vibroaxe swing in the galaxy won’t help if what really matters gets lost in the process, so having something else to fight for aside from the defeat of an enemy or sheer survival ups the stakes.
Another ‘easy’ route is the deadliest enemy of all: time. While Dead in the Water fit with the ongoing story of Living on Borrowed Time pretty well what first drew my eye to it was the immense amount of pressure put on the players thanks to the limited amount of time. How fast the air would run out, how soon the frigate would pass the point of no return, and when the Iceheart would show up loom over the entire adventure. Protocol droids with light blaster pistols? Not much of a threat to a hardened team of rebels, but they’re everywhere and the team has better things to be doing than fighting every single one of them, because by the time the last droid goes down everyone has either suffocated or gotten sucked into a black hole or gotten tractor beamed by the Star Destroyer.
In general, use time to your advantage as a GM. Don’t give your players too much time to plan in general, because 1) players will plan forever if you let them, 2) your bad guys shouldn’t be sitting around twiddling their thumbs and giving the characters that much time in the first place, and 3) it ratchets up the tension and raises the stakes. In addition, consider putting the players on a timer like Dead in the Water (whether that involves a literal clock is down to taste, of course). The artifact is only at the museum for three nights. The army will reach the oasis village in two weeks. You can’t spend too long planning or the corporation you’re planning to rob will find out and Take Measures. You have thirty minutes until your ship runs out of air.
With something other than their own lives on the line, and the clock ticking, your players will feel challenged even if all they face are protocol droids.
Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! I’ll see you all back here as our SpecOps team gets their next mission straight from Alliance High Command 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 9/9/16 on the Mad Adventurers Society!