Okay, one of the interested players mentioned in the previous post has statted up a Sullustan pilot/ranged combatant to join the party. Our next session will be this Saturday, barring any wrenches being thrown in our plans.
Session planning: I'm thinking I'll run the rest of the adventure somewhat as follows.
Recap, reminding them of their mission and the Force-sensitive being they keep encountering, and emphasizing the key cards Darga gave them at the end of the last session.
Have Darga offer them positions in his organization (to give them the hint that it's time to get moving).
I may have totally made this up, but the key cards from Darga give the PCs access to the secret turbolift that leads directly to the dungeons below (or, as old_benn suggested, to Darga's private entertainment suite above). If the PCs don't take the turbolift down, they'll have to fight the guards the Jedi previously tried to mind-trick.
I'll have Warrick Raden down in the dungeons too. When the PCs first arrived in the palace, the noble managed to convince Darga not to kill Raden, and he mentioned that the PCs might try to rescue Raden later if he were worth it. To oblige the noble, Raden knows where Darga might go to ground (as the PCs haven't found that out from any other source), but other than that he can only confirm that Darga's trading with the Empire, though Raden doesn't know exactly what.
Instead of having another fight with lots of Gamorreans, I think I'll change the "breaking-out-of-the-dungeons" encounter to have just the Gamorrean jailers and their...CL 5 pets. These things normally guard Darga while he sleeps, but he's leaving in such a hurry that he doesn't have time to take them along, so he orders his guards, who are also the critters' caretakers, to take his pets down to the dungeons and use them against the PCs instead (which explains why the jailers weren't with all the rest of the Gamorreans in the first fight).
Like others have done, I will keep Master Denia at -10 on the condition track so she doesn't steal the show in the fight with Demos. NPC allies hiding behind packing crates during fights is turning out to be a trope in our group.
I'm going to change Draco's message up a little bit, having him give an ETA and warning Demos that "I want them alive--both of them." This ought to give the Jedi a hint about keeping his powers on the down-low.
The reprogrammed Crash will meet the PCs when they return to the Banshee, and commence bounty hunter fun.
I'm kind of confused about what the PCs are supposed to learn from this adventure. It seems like the gist of it is that Darga's trading lots of tibanna gas to the Empire, and he may be getting "biological resources" as well as money in return. The gas is being used for the Sarlacc Project, so that's Darga's connection, but the PCs don't know why the Empire wants the gas.
By the time the PCs finish Episode III, they should know that in exchange for the gas, Darga's getting used-up slaves (biological resources) from the Empire. But the PCs don't know that these slaves worked on the Sarlacc Project until sometime in Episode V, and they still won't know what the gas is being used for until the end of Episode VI. I wish there was a more solid connection between the slaves and the project than Master Denia "sensing a link between them," but oh well. My players are pretty good at biting plot hooks when they see them.
It seems like there should be a better way to do this, but I really don't want to rewrite a whole module.
Party composition: Jedi, droid, soldier, noble, Sullustan scoundrel
We began with a long recap/explanation, since we hadn't played in a couple of months and the scoundrel's player was new to the game. Darga suggested that the PCs could use their key cards to check out the benefits of being part of his organization, and then dismissed them. The PCs immediately went to try to rescue the Force-user. They took the elevator down and found Raden in the dungeons, but bypassed him to investigate the sounds of machinery coming from deeper in the makeshift cell block. They found Master Denia and revived her, but didn't even ask her name or how she got there. Seeing how weak she was, they rigged her up to look like she was still hooked up to the IV while they cleared the way out of the palace. However, they quickly discovered that the elevator's power had been cut at the source.
I combined a slightly modified "Out of Captivity" encounter with the "Into the Dungeons" encounter; this seemed logical since there was only a blast door between the dungeons and the anteroom full of guards that the Jedi had tried to mind-trick. The jailers burst out of the secret passage with Darga's pet vornskrs--I used massif stats and pretended they were vornskyrs to keep things from being too hard, though the players never learned that they were anything but big dogs. The PCs got bottled up in the long hallway between the cell block and the anteroom for the entire fight, but as the weakest party members were in the middle of the pack, they were able to slowly whittle down their opponents using area fire, Force powers, and a few lucky shots without taking too much damage, although the Jedi took a few critical hits and came pretty close to dropping.
When the shooting stopped, the PCs healed up, retrieved Master Denia, and reluctantly released Raden and gave him a blaster, threatening to kill him where he stood if he tried to rejoin his friends. After a lengthy discussion about the best way to get out of the palace, the PCs decided to take the secret passage (whose direction they were able to trace from the datacards taken off the fallen guards). The noble took charge of Denia while the party beatsticks took point, with Raden squeezed into the middle of the pack.
Upon reaching the throne room, the scoundrel quietly opened the door and snuck inside. Demos was talking to Draco, who announced that he'd arrive in one standard hour and sternly warned Demos that he wanted "both of them alive." Demos didn't notice the scoundrel's presence, so I allowed him a coup de grace with his weapon set on stun. Demos went down, but his bodyguard (who the PCs hadn't noticed because he'd hidden in the shadows) came charging at them. I cut the Gamorrean guards from the encounter because I figured we'd had plenty of fighting Gamorreans already and I wanted to move along. Raden, Denia and about half the party spent most of the fight in the tunnel--the noble didn't want to put Denia in harm's way. The bodyguard proved almost entirely unable to hit anyone, and the PCs chased and move-object-ed him around the throne room for a few rounds. Amusingly, at one point the Trando provoked an attack of opportunity that the Jedi had perfectly set him up for...and the Jedi's lightsaber shorted out due to a natural 1 on the attack roll.
Finally the bodyguard went down, and we got into a discussion about how it would probably be DSP-worthy to coup de grace him. We retroactively decided that the noble had taken some of the sedatives from Denia's cell, and he injected some into the bodyguard to keep him from following the PCs, which was why the scoundrel had wanted to coup de grace him in the first place. They trussed up Demos with mesh tape, slung him over the droid's shoulder, and followed Raden's directions to the hangar, where they took a couple of speeder bikes and a larger speeder to return to the Banshee with Demos, Denia, and Raden. I'm not sure whether they ever got their original bike back, though I reminded them to do so.
As I mentioned before, I wanted to emphasize to the PCs that they needed to keep a lower profile, especially the Jedi. Thus began what, for me, was the best part of the adventure.
When the PCs reached the Banshee's docking bay, the Vipers were retreating, some of them looking slightly scorched. Crash came to the PCs and told them that Captain Okeefe was hurt, he'd tried to hook her up to the life support equipment but thought he'd broken it, and generally sounded a bit frantic. Surprisingly, all the PCs bought it, but the scoundrel and droid decided to go up to the cockpit so they could take off, as they didn't want to be around when Draco arrived. By the time the PCs thought about Raden again, he was already sprinting out of the docking bay. The noble thought he might be a recurring villain of sorts and didn't seem adverse to a future opportunity for revenge.
Once the PCs were aboard the Banshee, Mac the MagnaGuard droid locked the ship down, sealing some of the PCs in the lounge and some in the area between the lounge and the passenger cabins; the emergency lighting kicked in and the Banshee took off. Captain Okeefe wasn't in the lounge, but Crash insisted that they needed to find her, as if he honestly didn't know where she was. The PCs were worried about what he might do, but once the noble (after several attempts) was able to overcome Mac's override and open the door to the lounge, they left Crash, Denia, Demos, and the bikes in the room. The noble kept opening doors, and the PCs investigated the pool and almost every room on the ship, minus a few the noble couldn't open, but couldn't find Okeefe, though they did find a messed-up bed with scorched blankets in one of the cabins.
As the PCs prepared to open the final door to get into the cockpit, a voice came over the intercom: "I wouldn't try that." The noble worried that the door might be booby-trapped, so he hacked into the cameras to see what was in the cockpit. There the PCs spotted Mac, Crem Vri'bek (who I regrettably soon came to refer to as "the bounty hunter"--I should've tried harder to keep them in the dark), and Okeefe, who was taped to one of the chairs and gagged. The Banshee had already cleared the planet's surface and would soon be making the jump to hyperspace. Vri'bek advised the PCs to back away and not try anything.
The players then began a lengthy debate about strategy. The noble adamantly opposed negotiating with a terrorist, and no one seemed inclined to lay down their arms. In the middle of their discussion, the Banshee jumped to hyperspace and knocked everyone over.
The PCs finally decided to ready actions for when the noble opened the door, including chucking stun grenades and move-object-ing Okeefe out of harm's way. Unfortunately, Vri'bek and Mac had readied actions too, so after much confusion about initiative order and readying, the battle began. The noble opened the door, and the Jedi changed his mind and move-object-ed Vri'bek into Mac, knocking them both down. Many stun grenades were tossed, but Vri'bek proved exceedingly hard to hit, which amazed and frustrated the players (he was Level 7 with Improved Armored Defense and medium battle armor). Vri'bek quickly put his flamethrower gauntlet (whose use he'd already demonstrated) to Okeefe's head and advised the PCs of how bad their idea was. He and Mac actually got the Jedi and the scoundrel to put down their weapons (the noble was staying back and the soldier had already thrown his stun grenade).
The noble decided to try to force the Banshee to exit hyperspace, though I'd told him this was not the best idea. After a few rounds, he amazingly succeeded, severely damaging the ship and knocking everyone to the floor once again. The droid got up and ran to engage Vri'bek before he could get up. This time, Vri'bek attacked the droid from the floor instead of getting up and provoking an attack of opportunity. This meant that he no longer had a readied action to attack Okeefe (which, as the players pointed out, wasn't getting them to cooperate anyway), and that turned the tide of the battle. Everyone besides the droid either took on Mac in melee or attempted to help whittle down Vri'bek with more stun grenades. Vri'bek was hampered by not really being able to use his flamethrower effectively--he ran the risk of burning himself with the droid at such close range. The Jedi finally Force grip-ped Vri'bek, which did some serious damage and took him down after a couple of rounds. Mac fought on until the rest of the PCs finally disabled him. The PCs released Okeefe and began healing each other, though they had lost surprisingly few hit points for the amount of time they'd been fighting. And they were determined to make absolutely sure that Vri'bek couldn't cause them any more trouble.
The PCs stripped Vri'bek of all equipment and securely tied him up with mesh tape; the scoundrel completely disassembled Mac. Upon interrogating Vri'bek, the PCs learned that they were all over the HoloNet, fetching a price of 5,000 credits each (10,000 for the Jedi, but the players seemed to think this was quite low) for sedition, murder of at least a dozen Imperial stormtroopers, illegal transport of a convicted criminal (Varth), theft of several Imperial speeder bikes and a walker, and destruction of an Imperial prison. Darga had not sent Vri'bek; Vri'bek implied the Empire had, but the PCs concluded that he'd simply seen their wanted posters. They asked how he'd found them, but we had to let that slide because I didn't know the answer myself. His datapad told them the same story. The PCs disabled the computer terminal in one of the cabins, stuck Vri'bek inside, and locked the door.
The PCs then interrogated Demos, who recounted how Raden had found Denia for Darga and explained just about everything that Gome knew in the module (the PCs never even attempted to talk to him anyway--too annoyed with his opera music and singing, I guess ), including the fact that Darga had gone to Bespin (the PCs never broached that subject with Raden, but they didn't know at the time that Darga had already fled). Though it seems likely that Demos would know this (and after looking at the module, he does), I played him as not knowing what Darga was getting in exchange for the gas, as I didn't want to ruin The Queen of Air and Darkness, or at least Darga's big reveal at the end of his last fight. I made sure to emphasize to the PCs that they knew Darga was trading lots of tibanna gas to the Empire, but they didn't know why. The PCs left Demos tied up and locked him in another cabin; they didn't disable his control panel, I suppose because they didn't see him as nearly as big a threat as Vri'bek.
The PCs asked Denia about her history, finally learning her name and how she got into Darga's palace. Okeefe suggested sending a transmission telling the Resurgence to come pick them up so they didn't have to spend the next three days there, but the PCs hesitated for fear of having the signal intercepted by someone unfriendly. After the scoundrel pointed out that they could probably have a weapon functional by the time any enemies would arrive anyway, they contacted the Resurgence and spent the next eighteen hours repairing the much-banged-up Banshee while the navicomputer figured out where they were. Captain Okeefe had to chase down Crash and shut him down in order to fix his reprogramming.
The Resurgence arrived and once on board, the PCs explained to Varth and Verana what they had learned and what'd happened. Denia was taken down to medical and Vri'bek and Demos to lockup. Varth and Verana told the PCs they needed to leave for Bespin within twenty-four hours--fortunately for me, the PCs had already decided that this was their best bet anyway, since they only had about half the information that Varth had originally asked them to obtain (what Darga was trading with the Empire, but not how it relates to the Sarlacc Project). Verana warned the PCs, especially the Jedi, to be more careful, as they were too valuable to spend all their time being chased by bounty hunters. We ended the session with leveling up.
Comments: The players seemed to catch right back on to what they were supposed to do, which was nice since we haven't played in a while. The combined dungeon battle could be called epic by the sheer number of enemies involved, and fortunately none of the PCs died. I hadn't expected Demos to get captured, but he was much more useful than Raden, and I was thankful I was able to get rid of Raden so easily so that the PCs didn't wind up with three prisoners/rescuees. I'll probably have to bring him back at some point.
I was surprised how easily the PCs bought the bit about Captain Okeefe being injured, and I was thrilled about the way the hijacking played out. I tried to play Vri'bek like Cad Bane, and to my surprise, the players were quite impressed with Vri'bek's efficiency, methods and downright toughness (they had a horrendous time hitting him). Mac was very much a disappointment--though the PCs had trouble taking him down, he didn't do a lot of damage in the process. I was definitely surprised at how quickly the PCs got through the lockdown, so I changed my plans for Okeefe to avoid them finding her right away (since the Banshee doesn't actually have cargo space) and to make the encounter more dramatic. The noble's player was slightly concerned that they were throwing curveballs in my plans again, and at times the players seemed to think I was using GM power to keep them from doing so, but that most definitely wasn't the case. The hostage situation worked really well until Vri'bek ran out of readied actions and the players knew it.
I don't know that I've impressed the PCs enough with how precarious their situation really is. I shall have to remedy that situation in the near future; I'll probably triple or quadruple the prices on the PCs' heads by the end of Episode III, and I'll have to bump the Jedi's bounty up significantly. After seeing how much the players liked the encounter with Vri'bek, I definitely want a chance to bring him back; he'll have to escape between adventures, I suppose. He'll definitely have a reason to be mad at the soldier for taking his armor!
As of right now, this campaign has several candidates for recurring villains:
-Draco. Self-explanatory! -Warrick Raden (from Episode II). At least one player expects him to return, though I wasn't planning on it. -Crem Vri'bek. Bounty hunter introduced in Episode II who gave the PCs a rough few minutes. I thought he was going to be a one-shot villain, but the players were so impressed with him that I really want to bring him back. -Ban Froth. Party Jedi's former master who's fallen to the dark side and is trying to prove his worthiness to join the Inquisitorius. Right now, I'm planning to introduce him in Episode V in place of Vril Vrakth. He'll turn up again in Episode VIII as one half of a pair of villains replacing the merc captain, and then he'll be imprisoned in the Citadel in Episode IX. -Koorst (from Episode V). A character who was already in the module, so I kept him working with Vril Vrakth's replacement. He'll pick up Froth at the end of the Episode V fight, and then show up again as the other half of the merc-captain-replacement duo in Episode VIII, at which time the players will probably kill or capture him.
Problem: that's a lot of recurring villains, and using them all multiple times will seem really artificial. Here's how I think I'll handle this. What do you think?
1. Cut Koorst and Raden. Of all these villains, they're probably the ones the players will least want to see again. 2. This begs the question, how does Froth escape from the PCs in Episode V without Koorst to pick him up? I think I'll put his starfighter on the landing platform, right next to a large fuel tank (the only place on the platform with enough room for it; may need to rework the map a bit). If the PCs blow the starfighter up, they'll set off a chain reaction that'll blow up the fuel tank, the entire platform, and quite possibly the PCs themselves, not to mention start a massive landslide. 3. Otherwise, Froth's role will generally be the same. 4. Vri'bek is the tough one. I imagine Varth might be interested in working with someone who can give the PCs a hard time, so bringing him back is easy enough; Varth can arrange for his "escape" from the Resurgence. It's just where to bring him back. I think I'll have Vri'bek escape just before the PCs return from Nizon, maybe even wounding Varth as Varth "tries" to stop him. Varth sends Vri'bek to Nizon to monitor the PCs, but the PCs return sooner than Varth was expecting, so Vri'bek completely misses them. 6. Seeing that his targets have vanished, Vri'bek contacts Varth for new instructions, and Varth instructs him to follow the PCs to Coruscant and make sure they find the information about the Sarlacc Project that Varth wants them to get. Furthermore, Vri'bek is not to contact Varth again because he nearly blew Varth's cover. Vri'bek, remembering how the PCs took him down last time, picks up an ysalimir before he goes after them again. Varth warns him not to confront the PCs until he receives Varth's transmission. 7. Varth sends this transmission to Vri'bek at the beginning of Episode VII, revealing the location of the safehouse and ordering Vri'bek to take it while the PCs are out, and then capture them when they come back, with the promise of the Imperial bounty if he is successful. Thus, Vri'bek is present for the "Safehouse of the Dead" encounter, but he retreats if the fight turns against the ISB agents. He tries to invoke Varth's name to get Imperial help in capturing the PCs, but as Draco (acting on Varth's information) has already left orders to prevent the PCs from escaping, things understandably get muddled badly enough to explain the PCs' relatively easy escape from Coruscant. 8. Somehow, Vri'bek convinces Varth to give him another chance, and Varth assigns him to hunt down the PCs. Vri'bek tracks the PCs to Alderaan in Episode VIII and infiltrates the crew of the Gem of Alderaan. When the mercs attack, Vri'bek heads for the fighting, figuring that's where the PCs will be, but doesn't catch up to them until they reach Froth, leading into a three-way fight at the end of the module.
Session planning: I've been reading up on the Enhancing DoD 3 thread, and I shall be stealing liberally from said thread (and similar threads) to make the adventure better.
1. Mission objectives. I've made it clear to my players that they know half of what Varth asked them to find out at the beginning of Episode II: they now know what Darga's trading with the Empire (Tibanna gas), but they don't know how it relates to the Sarlacc Project. Of course, it's because the gas is being used in the Sarlacc Project, but the PCs can't find out exactly how until later. I guess what they're really supposed to find out is that the slaves Darga gets in exchange for the gas are somehow related to the Sarlacc Project (in fact, as we GMs know, they worked on it). Since Darga and the gas have turned into a dead end by the end of QoAD, they're supposed to track down the slaves.
Problem: why would the Empire be trading the used-up Sarlacc Project slaves to Darga, if they're so afraid of the slaves spilling the beans? After thinking about it, I realized that the Empire probably uses these slaves for a few reasons: they still get their slave labor, they get something in exchange for some of these used-up slaves rather than having to kill all of them, and fewer people are in the know. Darga doesn't care what the Empire's using the gas or the slaves for as long as he profits from it somehow, and anyone who's callous enough to buy the slaves from Darga isn't going to care to hear any stories the slaves might tell, if the slaves even live long enough to tell them.
To make the connection stronger and clearer, I'd like to drop some hints that the slaves that aren't worked out, injured, or ill from some other cause have contracted a GM-invented skin and lung disease known as malaray (from the French mal aérée, meaning "badly aired") from working too closely with the Tibanna gas without proper protective gear. Malaray germs spread by linking with Tibanna molecules, meaning that if there's any Tibanna in the air, a healthy being could catch malaray unless they've taken proper precautions. The initial symptoms of malaray are similar to those from simply being overworked, so Darga probably doesn't realize that he's getting damaged goods, but by the time the slaves get to Darga's buyers, the Iron Ring slavers would certainly have reason to be upset.
So, the Empire has rigged the Shackles to, if anyone gets too close, broadcast a signal indicating it has malaray on board and has already contacted the authorities, thus deterring any curious passersby. When the PCs keep the Shackles from being destroyed, I'll add some lines to the slaves' message: "Do not attempt to board. Too many are diseased." Both those things will certainly pique the interest of our party doctor. I'll allow the PCs a Knowledge (galactic lore) or (life sciences) check or something similar to recognize what malaray is, most importantly that it comes from unsafe exposure to Tibanna gas. Ah-ha! Darga sells the Imperials a ton of Tibanna, he gets Imperial slaves that've been working extensively with Tibanna--maybe they know what it's being used for. Bingo.
2. Why should the PCs attack Baron Kithriss? As others have done, I'm going to have some of his bodyguards recognize the PCs from Darga's palace. In addition, Baron Kithriss is the boyfriend of Victra Sinde, the double agent from Bail Organa's staff who my PCs recognized in the last adventure. (The doctor thought she wasn't going to be a problem, since Organa hasn't started the Rebellion in earnest yet. Guess again. ) Sinde told Kithriss about her assignment, and being the obsessive and paranoid young man that he is, he reads way more into the situation than it deserves and impetuously goes after those who pose a threat to his girl. I will also use old_benn's suggestion and modify the argument between Kithress and the desk clerk at the Yerith Bespin: the staff is moving Kithriss to a larger room in a newly refurbished wing because he brought a larger entourage than they expected, but Kithriss thinks this new room isn't up to the same standard as the original room.
3. Where are the Assiduous and the Shackles during all this? Like others have suggested, I'll have the Assiduous drop the Shackles and leave it to drift into Bespin on its own, then jump into the system and hover around during the tournament.
4. I will also utilize Nefandus's suggestions about Lt. Arandis and Darga’s agent using the code phrase/exchange: "It’s an excellent day for a game of sabacc."/"I never did mind about the little things," and how meticulous Arandis is.
5. Lastly, I will adjust the "On the Heights" encounter as per old_benn's recommendations. Darga sends an agent to set up the PCs and tips off a couple of bounty hunters, rather than the Wing Guard. The Empire is now offering 15,000 credits for each PC; Darga's offering 20,000 each, and he'll throw in an extra 5,000 if the bounty hunters bring him all the PCs. The bounty hunters, however, know that the Imperial bounty on the Jedi is now half a million credits, which will make things interesting. (Hopefully this accomplishes a couple of things. First, the players and the Jedi's player in particular should get the point that they need to be more careful, since both Darga and the Empire are really taking them seriously now. Second, if the PCs manage to crack open Kithriss and learn who Darga's agent is, Darga can simply send that one to take the fall, effectively sidestepping the problem. Either way, the PCs should learn that Darga's even more ruthless than he previously revealed himself to be.)
Now to come up with some good bounty hunters...I'd like to use different tactics than I did with my last bounty hunter. I'd love to use the different levels, but I've forbidden my players to have jetpacks because I didn't want to deal with them. Maybe I'll break my own rule and allow the PCs to get jetpacks if they can get them from the bounty hunters.