Cole Strutter coughed and spit, grimacing. Almost miracle-grade healing aside, the taste of bacta in the back of one’s throat after needing to heal internal injuries was nastier than the worst rotgut he’d ever had, and that said something. Plus, he still had one less leg than he remembered. But the real reason for the grimace was that Verjylla, Nak, and Caleb had been there to greet him when he got out of the tank in the Rabblerouser One‘s infirmary, and the Bothan had handed him a bottle of the finest Whyren’s Reserve the second he’d been sat down by the medical droids. He eyed the bottle and his comrades suspiciously before taking a swig, and then asked the obvious question. What had gone wrong while he was out?
Now, on the whole the Rabblerouser Fleet was in better shape that it had been before Cole took a dive on Thyferra and ended up floating in bacta for a while. They’d not only managed to gather up the missile frigate Kath Hound and one of her support vessels, they’d managed to steal (and escape with) their second Interdictor cruiser ever, now the flagship of the fleet and renamed the Time Sink. They’d killed another Inquisitor in the bargain, and thanks to databanks on the cruiser they’d learned the coordinates for Inquisitorius HQ and the files its agents used to hunt Force sensitives across the galaxy.
The dianoga in the soup was that Bee’f had gotten captured in the bargain, and was presumably being tortured on Mustafar at that very moment. The droids that had done the capturing had even made off with the Borrowed Time; while not a crippling loss by any means, it was a personal one. The ship had often been more hole than hull, and not every memory from its hold was a happy one, but it had been home for the entire team, and that went double for the old hands. So, now that the Fleet was gathered back together and undergoing repairs, it was time for everyone to put their heads together and decide what to do next.
Sure enough, in the depths of a dark fortress surrounded by liquid fire and blackened rock, a certain somewhat-addled Bothan was being subjected to more than one horror. The electrocutions he could probably deal with in good spirit, he’d had worse, but the withdrawal Bee’f was going through thanks to being cut off from his Death Sticks was immeasurably more painful. Every so often, in his more lucid moments, Bee’f would find a cloaked figure waiting to speak with him. The creature in black didn’t have much success in these early days, however: one of Bee’f’s stated goals in life was to outright spite the Empire in whatever way possible, and the Bothan spent the moments of lucidity either howling obscenities at his captor or making increasingly disturbing offers in exchange for a Death Stick before the electricity would return.
In a makeshift conference room aboard the Rabblerouser One, the (former?) crew of the Borrowed Time (including Cole, now with cybernetic peg leg) and the various officers, captains, and authority figures (including a few newly-recruited former Imperials from the Time Sink‘s original crew) gathered together to mull over their options. They were still cut off from Alliance High Command, but now had the information necessary to take a shot at completing one of their original objectives in totality: the elimination of the Inquisitors as a threat to the Alliance. The real question was whether or not they could risk an attack on Mustafar by themselves. Adding some time stress to the problem, it was known that the enemy would be trying to turn Bee’f against them. While there had been some jokes, once Verjylla pointed out that they might be facing ‘Darth Angus’ one day if they didn’t rescue their comrade the crew became committed to a rescue, but that just brought them back to the same question of capability.
While everyone was debating options R2-KB, who had survived the starfighter fight around the Time Sink‘s capture, trundled into the conference room. Bas translated the droid’s binary as he tossed a strange looking cube onto the table; good news was that AL was going to make it once he’d gone through some repairs, bad news was that he’d kept the cube to himself while waiting for Cole to heal. The snarky old droid had taken the cube from AL’s wreckage, and now told the Force sensitive members of the team directly to open it up if they wanted to have an edge. Shikte and Verjylla were both skeptical, but Cole was surprisingly open-minded, and after Verjylla received a Force vision (thanks to Foresee) that showed her a path where they didn’t open the cube and failed on Mustafar the ladies relented. While the former smuggler’s ‘guidance’ was hardly conventional the trio managed to have a momentary joining of the minds.
The cube was revealed as a Jedi holocron, home to a secretive personality imprint that seemed custom-made for helping sensitives in an era where the Order was no longer capable of doing so. A certain amount of skepticism and uncertainty was still present in Shikte and Verjylla. The human Tusken had been friends with an old human shaman back on Tatooine, but her own powers were passive in nature, and Verjylla chalked up her visions to . . . well she didn’t know what to chalk them up to, but she was certainly no Jedi. When the holocron remarked ‘Well you might not be a Jedi, but is that a lightsaber on your waist or are you happy to see me?” the Bothan agitator held up the old hydrospanner she’d inherited from her father after his death and only got more skeptical. When R2-KB asked her if she’d pushed all the buttons, and she said no because she’s no mechanic, Cole became two parts shocked and one part horrified. Granted Cole’s habit of pushing every button in sight hadn’t always ended well (the Borrowed Time had accidentally lost more than one escape pod during the crime days), but still. Verjylla hesitated for a moment, pushed a button, and promptly ran from the room in a panic when a blue shaft of energy burst from one end.
Meanwhile (time was passing a little faster on Mustafar, narratively speaking, but they eventually evened out) Bee’f was finally clean of Death Sticks. The itch was still there, but it was now joined by an awkward awareness of his surroundings and the darkness therein, an awareness that had long been dulled by the drugs. The cloaked figure was there again, asking Bee’f how he was doing. The infiltrator responded with the usual barrage of nonsense, but quieted momentarily when the figure pulled back its hood, revealing its features: the Puppeteer was a Gungan, whose eye stalks had been removed. The Emperor clearly liked his Inquisitors weakened in some way. Still, the Puppeteer offered Bee’f power, influence, and even a degree of freedom. When the Bothan just kept niggling ‘Jar Jar Blinks’ for a Death Stick, the Gungan ordered that some of Bee’f’s stash (confiscated along with everything else aboard the Borrowed Time when it was stolen) be destroyed. Then, to show Bee’f how much worse he could get, he revealed that Bee’f had a roommate: Bublé Halffin, the Mon Cal sensitive from Kwenn Space Station that the team had never gotten around to recruiting, and he made Bee’f look like he’d been enjoying a picnic.
Back with the Fleet, the holocron offered to give the remaining trio of sensitives a crash course in what Force powers he could as well as how to use all the lightsabers they’d snatched up over the course of their misadventures (fulfilling the last of the requested Contribution rewards from Rank 4). While that was a nice addition to the arsenal, the Fleet still concluded that they couldn’t take Mustafar alone; Agent Castor reported that Darth Vader was supposedly elsewhere for the moment, but there was still at least one or more Star Destroyers to deal with. They had to have more help from the Alliance. Fortunately, having calmed down and flipped a Destiny Point, Verjylla had an idea; she’d interviewed Princess Leia Organa at one point, long before she’d run afoul of politics and ended up on the Borrowed Time, and proposed that she make a Rebel Yell broadcast with a hidden message for the Princess.
Several days after the broadcast went out, the Rabblerouser Fleet went to high alert as an Interdictor cruiser and two Nebulon-B frigates with Imperial transponders dropped out of hyperspace practically on top of them. Once the new ships had seen the Fleet, however, their codes changed to reveal their true names and allegiance: the Alliance cruiser Debt Collector and the frigates Idiot’s Array and Pure Sabaac. A Bothan in a Commander’s uniform was soon on the Time Sink‘s visual comms; Thriask Fey’lya (no relation) had finally gotten the chance to reunite with the crew who’d helped steal him the Debt Collector in the first place. It wasn’t the only reunion of the day: only an hour later the Shadow Raptor and the Remember Alderaan dropped out of hyperspace as well, their crews eager to repay the Borrowed Time‘s efforts against Imperial droids months ago.
Patience joined in the reunion with Thriask, who was eager to see the old hands and pleased to be introduced to the new ones, but quickly stepped aside to consider all the implications. The Fleet was back in touch with the Alliance now, and a lot of the news was good: for starters, the team’s efforts on Sullust had been compounded when an Alliance infantry unit, just as lost as they, had ended up on the planet as well about a month later. Sullust was now, thanks to the unwittingly combined efforts, a free planet and the new massing point for the Alliance Fleet. That gave Patience an idea, and after running it past the group the Contribution Rank 5 reward that had been earned for stealing the Time Sink was used.
About a day after Thriask and the others had arrived Home One, Admiral Gial Ackbar commanding, dropped out of hyperspace and rendezvoused with the Rabblerouser Fleet and its reinforcements. The Admiral, as one of the members of High Command who had effectively taken the leash off of the team after the Shadow Raptor incident, was quite pleased to see how far the team had gotten on their own. While he promised to advise and intervene where necessary, he did not take over operational command of the Fleet; this was the Borrowed Time team’s show, and he’d let them call the shots. They had the resources, now they just needed a plan.
At about the time that Home One was arriving at the Fleet Bee’f was trying to raise the spirits of Halffin. The Mon Cal had not had a good time of it, and the mechanical savant was practically at the breaking point. He didn’t see the point of resisting any longer; he’d tried and failed at every turn. Bee’f refused to give up, however. When asked what the point was the Bothan basically responded that the point was the thumb in the eye of the Empire. Anything and everything that could make the Empire’s day even slightly more irritating was worth the effort, and with two of them they might just stand a chance to be more than irritating. Bolstered, Halffin reached into the Force and was able to disable the bindings holding him to the wall. As he worked to do the same to Bee’f’s the Bothan asked him why he hadn’t done that before; Halffin responded that he had, and that it hadn’t ended well, and now what was Bee’f going to do to change that outcome? Now free, Bee’f knew one thing: his gear had to be somewhere around here, and where his gear was there would be Death Sticks. With a masterful Stealth check, the pair of escapees vanished into the vents to find what they needed to get up to mischief.
At the Fleet, a plan had solidified. Once again Captain Pontay and the Sleight of Hand would provide a ride; the stealth freighter would get the Borrowed Time team, including a few squads of volunteers and/or the crazier allies the team had, down to Inquisitorius HQ. Once they were in, the combined Fleet would jump in to hit whatever Imperial Navy elements were in system, with the two Interdictors preventing any escape. The sensitives spent what time they had going through their crash course with the holocron, the rest delighted in being given access to Thriask’s personal armory one last time, and the Fleet finished repairs and prepared their order of battle. As a last hyperspace jump was programmed, everyone knew that this was probably going to be one their most dangerous fight yet . . .
First lesson: how to deal with player characters who have been isolated from the rest of the party by being captured, imprisoned, or otherwise indisposed. Managing to throw the entire party in a cage is a separate challenge/problem to deal with, but this one is a little more difficult. By the same token, the GM splitting the party is one thing, but doing so by putting only part of the party in dire straights is a completely different one. I’ve seen people struggle with this, and have struggled with it in the past myself. The big pitfall is to leave either the imprisoned player(s) with nothing to do or to keep the spotlight on them for too long until they escape, at the expense of the other players at the table
So, standard shifting of spotlight deals with the latter problem well enough, like in any situation where the party is split up. You just need to make sure you’re checking in with both sides of the bars. But what about the player behind them?
Well, first, you shouldn’t have your bad guys forget that they have a captive. Surely there was a reason the bad guys went for the capture option instead of kill in the first place: they probably want something from the player character, whether it’s information or to turn them or something along those lines. It can be a great opportunity for a social encounter; obviously things didn’t go the way the Puppeteer wanted them to go, but for Star Wars movie examples you’ve got Leia on the first Death Star, Obi Wan on Geonosis, and (for the one most like a party-splitting scenario) Rey on Starkiller Base. The bad guys interacting with their prisoner lets the player exchange some words, maybe learn a few things, and perhaps even find an opportunity to escape themselves.
For a second option, also exercised here, try having someone else be imprisoned with them. The party probably aren’t the only people picking a fight with the Big Bad Evil Guy, after all, or at least probably aren’t the only people the BBEG is messing with. Stands to reason that some of them got snatched off-screen and land in the dungeon with the captured player character. This can replace or enhance interactions with the player’s capturers, providing a social encounter, opportunities for knowledge, etc. Think Bodhi Rook from Rogue One, who provides the ‘party’ with Galen Erso’s location, allowing their mission to continue.
A fellow prisoner becomes particularly useful when it comes to the prisoner PC making an escape, as their fellow NPC prisoners can provide skills that they’d usually depend on other party members for.
Also, while not being used here because we’re near the end of the line, the NPC prisoners can provide hooks for future adventures. What were they in the BBEG’s dungeon for? Do they need help finishing their goals? How can they help the party with their own goals? Is there another organization or group they are a part of? The NPC, once freed and released back into the world, might very well be the contact and source for all sorts of new opportunities or plot points.
Or, for a nastier spin on it, maybe they were working for the bad guys all along . . .
Second lesson: how to deal with NPCs who technically outrank, overpower, or are otherwise ‘superior’ to the PCs. This is particularly a problem in existing settings like Star Wars, but it can pop up in any setting: your player characters are the main characters of the story, so what happens when they have powerful allies or outright superiors? While it’s all well-and-good to have the PCs outmatched and overwhelmed now and again, preferably by their opponents, you never want them to be overshadowed.
There can be plot-McGuffin-related reasons for keeping the spotlight on the players (only Frodo can carry the Ring to Morder), but what Akbar did in this session is the way I’ve personally found to work best: let those powerful allies/superiors trust the local experts/boots on the ground, in the form of the party.
Akbar is quite the tactician and leader, but he and the crew of Home One haven’t been dealing with the Inquisitorius, and they’re coming into a situation where they haven’t themselves gathered any intel or experience. The Special Operations team formerly aboard the Borrowed Time have, and they’ve gathered a force of their own that has experience dealing with Inquisitors and Puppeteer-controlled Stormtroopers. So, while Akbar would interject with ideas if planning starts to go awry, he cedes control of the situation to the player characters, trusting that their experience is what is needed.
Until next time, go play some games and have a good time! We’ll rejoin our heroes when they come together on Mustafar and (hopefully) bring an end to the Inquisitors in the next installment of Star Wars Age of Rebellion: Living on Borrowed Time!
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