Friday, October 21, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 13 [RPG]

[4.7.1 ABY]

The remainder of the trip to Nal Hutta proves uneventful. Zutton lands his vessel near Zorba the Hutt's Winter Palace and the members of Mynock Squadron's Gamma Flight, disguised as smugglers, are permitted entry. Inside, they are met with a scene of debauchery. Zorba is hosting a reception for Moff Rann and his crew, complete with potent intoxicants, live music, and enslaved dancers. The Mynocks decide to split up to gather information. Tazo-Rhi announces to everyone she meets that she is a smuggler, and then lurks conspicuously near a table of Rann's crew to overhear their conversation. She discerns they are grumbling about their current mission "protecting slimeballs" and "dirty aliens." Keth trails an intoxicated officer who is winding his way through the crowd, and when the officer drops a datapad, Keth swoops in and skilfully retrieves it before anyone notices. Kero, meanwhile, really gets into her role by challenging some of Rann's crew to a drinking game; she doesn't get much in the way of useful intelligence, but no one in attendance would ever think she were a New Republic spy!

Zorba the Hutt announces that in the morning, a swoop race will be held in honour of his guests. The winning racer and their crew will have the run of the Winter Palace's Pleasure Dome, a reward that gets everyone's attention. After the announcement, Tazo-Rhi finds herself in conversation with one of the dancers, a woman named M'Ghan. Perhaps sensing that Tazo-Rhi is not really who she says she is, M'Ghan confides that she has long been enslaved by Zorba and wishes to escape; she says there are tunnels under the Palace that lead to nearby swampland. Tazo-Rhi says she might be interested in smuggling M'Ghan to safety in return for the information. Elsewhere, in a darkened corner, Keth examines the datapad he recovered. He finds it full of useful information, including blueprints of the Imperial Wing of the Palace.

The Mynocks assemble in Zutton's room, and after searching for surveillance devices, discuss what to do next. Keth points out that the blueprints of the Imperial Wing point to a hidden room that could be a vault or archive. With the information that M'Ghan gave to Tazo-Rhi, the group work out that one of the exits of the underground tunnels is the trash chute in the kitchen of the Imperial Wing. The group decide on a plan to infiltrate the Imperial Wing, but a crucial first step is gaining access to the Pleasure Dome to fulfil Tazo-Rhi's commitment to M'Ghan. To do that, they'll first need to win the next day's swoop race.

[4.7.2 ABY]

Using a swoop provided by Zorba the Hutt, the Mynocks enter themselves as a team in the race. Keth will serve as pilot, Tazo-Rhi as mechanic, and Kero as spotter. The first loop sees Keth eek out a narrow lead over his closest competitor, a being named Jax. At a pit stop, Kero proclaims that she could do a better job and decides to pilot the swoop herself. Jax closes the lead early in the second loop, and then the two race neck-and-neck through the precarious track. Both racers push their swoops to maximum speed, and end up crossing the finish line at the same time! Zorba the Hutt, feeling generous, allows both teams access to the Pleasure Dome.

The success allows the Mynocks to put their plan into operation. As they head towards the Pleasure Dome, a massive Imperial Star Destroyer looms overhead and suddenly starts to open fire on the Palace! With debris raining down from the sky, the Mynocks rush into the Pleasure Dome, only to witness Imperials fighting Imperials! The Mynocks find M'Ghan and a young girl, her sister, cowering in a corner. M'Ghan leads everyone to a courtyard and into a secret tunnel, as TIEs buzz the palace. As they crawl through the tunnel, they can hear Moff Rann announce on a loudspeaker that all of his personnel should assemble in the courtyard at attention to welcome Grand Moff Artis Kain. The tunnel emerges in a swamp, and Zutton agrees to take M'Ghan and her sister to his ship.

Following M'Ghan's directions, the Mynocks then return to the tunnels and take another branch. The tunnels wind for hundreds of meters, and the pilots have to tread carefully to avoid some of the savage animals who live within. In time, they reach the mound of garbage that lays at the bottom of a shaft ascending elsewhere: the bottom of the Imperial's trash chute. A wounded nashtah with a broken collar growls at the pilots as they approach, but Tazo-Rhi orders it to stand down and it obeys. Ascension guns allows the group to ascend the narrow shaft and emerge in the kitchens. Using access codes earlier gained from the Imperial datapad, Kero is able to slice into the area's security systems to show looped activity in the corridors. With Keth taking the lead, the group carefully time the duration between patrols to navigate the corridors and gain entry to the hidden room. 

Inside, they see shelves of flimsies, data crystals, and even oddly-shaped objects that turn out to be ancient holocrons. Keth takes the holocrons while Tazo-Rhi shovels everything else into her satchel. Kero slices into the firewalled computer terminal and discovers the disposition of the Pentastar Alignment's fleet. She also discovers the reason for the earlier bombardment: a disagreement between Rann and Kain! Rann wanted to maintain an alliance with the Hutts, but has obviously had to give in to Kain's superior firepower. Having obtained everything they came for, the Mynocks carefully return to the kitchens, again bypassing patrols, and slide down the trash chute. The nashtah is still there, and, seeing Tazo-Rhi as its master, follows the group out of the tunnels.

When they reach Zutton, they find him at the mercy of a Mandalorian! The Mandalorian lets him go, however, saying he owed a debt to his ancestor. With everyone on board, the freighter lifts off and heads towards orbit. An uncoded, wide-spectrum broadcast comes through the comm: Moff Rann has been "stood down", and in his role is the newly-made Moff Bellis. The Mynocks are relieved to reach the safety of hyperspace and escape the reach of Grand Moff Kain, at least for now.

When they rendezvous with Waric, he tells them that the imprisoned space pirates tried to escape, and that he had no choice but to vent atmosphere and have them sucked out into space. Tazo-Rhi does not doubt him.

Having successfully obtained key information on the Pentastar Allignment, Gamma Flight heads back to base having had its first unqualified success.
Director's Commentary (October 21, 2016)

This was the conclusion of the guest adventure run by the player who normally operates Waric.  There was a lot happening in this session, so much so that, as a player, I mainly had to just focus on the task at hand and review my notes later to understand the full context.  I enjoyed playing Tazo-Rhi because her limitations as an undercover operative were so obvious.  Sometimes gamers try to make "perfect" characters that are good at everything, but it's a lot more fun to consciously play characters with obvious weaknesses and even emphasize those weaknesses to help with the story-telling.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Video Jack (Epic [Marvel] 1987) [COMICS]

Video Jack was an interesting, short-lived series written created by Cary Bates and Keith Giffen for Marvel's Epic Comics imprint in 1987.  The general concept of the series is that the titular hero has to escape from a variety of alternate universes based on different TV show genres in order to get back to his own reality.  Keith Giffen's artwork follows a strict 12-panel grid layout gives the series an interesting aesthetic but that, to my untrained eye, is frankly ugly.  The series has never been collected in trade paperback format, so you'll have to collect it the hard way if you're interested.  Here's an issue-by-issue recap:

In Issue # 1, we're introduced to the series' two main characters: a slacker named Jack and his best friend, who has a dark side, named Damon.  Essentially what happens is that Damon has an Uncle Zach who plans to cast a spell to transform reality into something out of It's a Wonderful Life; but the uncle gets murdered and Jack is watching TV in the conjuring room when the spell takes effect, meaning that every time someone switches the channel on a certain remote control, reality shifts!  The story is a bit hard to follow in this first issue, but it is nice to read a real story that's not an excuse for fistfights.

In Issue # 2, Jack steps out of the uncle's house to realize that his clothes have instantly changed into a costume, his hometown is surrounded by a wall of static, his dog (Kojak) can talk, and he's trapped in a weird punk rock music video!  A girl Jack has a crush on, Doreen, is the leader of a resistance group against an oppressive dictatorship, and she wants Jack to help her group overthrow the dictator; but the dictator is Damon!  The way Giffen draws Damon, with his face always in total shadow except for his bright white teeth, is a fantastic way to convey malevolence.

Issue # 3 starts with a funny, and very snarky, editorial by Archie Goodwin about Bates & Giffen's lateness.  One can see from the cover dates that a book that was supposed to be bimonthly had a five month gap between Issues # 2 and # 3.  Not healthy for sales for a weird book just trying to get off the ground!  There's a really funny (and cogent) recap of Issues # 1 and 2 featuring Archie Goodwin as Mr. Rogers and Jack and Damon as muppets.  The storyline progresses with Jack at first disbelieving that Damon could be an evil dictator, but then changing his mind when he sees his "friend" murder two of Doreen's fellow rebels.  Fortunately, Kojak sneaks into Damon's HQ and presses the "off" button on the magical remote control, returning everyone to reality.  The murdered rebels are still dead, however; they've just died of different causes, thus making the point that what happens in the alternate video reality has very real implications.  Damon has had enough of the whole business, but Jack is intensely curious about how the remote works and starts pushing buttons; first he gets a cartoon land, then a 1950s B&W TV show where's he thrown in jail!

We find out in Issue # 4 that Jack has unwittingly fallen into a version of the town of Mayberry from The Andy Griffith Show, but one in which everyone's dark sides are at the forefront: Otis the Drunk, for example, is an evil serial killer!  Otis kills Barney and Andy, but Jack and Damon manage to escape.  Poor Floyd the Barber gets chainsawed (hilarious, admit it!).  Fortunately, Jack, Damon, and Kojak escape Evil Mayberry and into another TV-genre reality: Alien!  There's a fun fight against the alien queen, before another shift to a sit-com.  Kojak theorizes (he's a smart dog!) that Damon's evil is bleeding into and infecting every world they enter.  The issue ends with a surprise twist: Damon's evil Uncle Zach is somehow still around and has the remote control back!

Jack awakens to find himself a captive aboard a pirate ship in an old swashbuckling movie in Issue # 5; and Damon is the pirate captain!  But Doreen is the pirate queen of her own ship, and leads a boarding party to rescue Jack!  Jack and Damon spar with cutlasses, until Uncle Zach (whom I think is a zombie or something) arrives on his own ship and changes the channel on the remote, sending everyone to a Dallas-style evening soap opera.  In this reality, Damon has done a hostile takeover of Jack's company, and kidnapped him to boot.  But then there's another weird shift into something involving artificial intelligence and clone henchmen.  Frankly confusing, but you've just got to go along for the ride.  Damon wrestles the remote control back from (un)dead Uncle Zach; Damon has a doomsday device, but then he's interrupted by a new player in the game:  "Pop" Culture!(?).  Are you lost yet?

The series comes to a satisfying conclusion in Issue # 6. "Pop" Culture is something akin to an evil game show host, and he forces Jack to compete with Damon in order to save Doreen's life.  What follows is a series of two-page long encounters, each drawn by a different artist and taking place in a different TV show genre: there's everything from Star Trek to I Love Lucy, and guest artists include Walt Simonson, Jim Starlin, and Bill Wray.  Suffice it to say, Jack wins the contest and uses the remote to restore reality back to normal (mostly).

All in all, I can appreciate what Bates & Giffen were trying to do with Video Jack; they had a fun concept that allowed them to tell stories that varied dramatically depending on what genre the remote control sent the characters to.  At the same time, six issues was probably a good duration for the series, and much longer would have gotten repetitive.  The characters and setting didn't have enough depth to force the reader to demand more.  I imagine sales on this weren't particularly high, given its somewhat opaque nature and delays in coming out, but it was an interesting experiment that at least told a complete story.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Dawn and Hoopy the Bear"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 55

(Dark Horse, Volume 1, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Paul Lee (story & art)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Dawn, Joyce, Hank

Major Original Characters:  Matthew (demon summoner); Hoopy the Bear (demon bear)

Summary:  A demon summoner named Matthew makes a pact with a mysterious monstrous figure: Matthew will receive great power if he arranges for the Slayer to be destroyed by delivering her a stuffed bear that is actually a d'jinn that will fulfill her unconscious desires before turning on her.  Matthew gets instructions on where the Slayer lives but, never having seen Buffy, is confused and gives the bear to her little sister instead!  Dawn, who is chafing at home because Joyce and Hank keep a close eye on her since Buffy ran away, is quite pleased with the gift.  She takes the bear, which she names Hoopy, with her to school.  A bully picks on Dawn, and (unbeknownst to her) Hoopy transforms into a real bear and attacks the boy after school!  That night, Hoopy transforms into a bear again and sneaks out of the house to retrieve a new doll that Dawn wants.  When Matthew learns of his mistake in giving the djinn bear to the wrong Summers daughter, he wrenches it out of Dawn's hands and runs off.  But as he rests in an alleyway, Hoopy transforms again and attacks him!  Dawn finds Hoopy in stuffed animal form only to be attacked by a gang of vampires before being rescued by Hoopy.  When Dawn returns home, she gets in trouble for being out and is grounded.  Since she's mad at her parents, Hoopy transforms again and attacks them!  But Dawn doesn't really want them to be hurt, so Hoopy starts fighting himself and then runs away.  Hank and Joyce think a bear attacked them, but only Dawn knows the truth.


This was a fantastic issue, and kudos have to go out to writer/artist Paul Lee.  The story is short, simple, and sweet, and far better than  one might expect of a tale featuring a pre-teen Dawn of all characters.  The background context (Joyce and Hank being overprotective and tense because of Buffy running away) is perfect for a story about Dawn and the power of wish-fulfillment.  The artwork is uniformly excellent.  The ending is bittersweet.  Just an excellent all-around comic, and probably one of the most memorable of the run.


* The usual interior front-cover design is replaced by the title written in crayon; a nice way to set the tone for the story.

* There's an ad for a video game called Freelancer; it sounds awesome, but Wikipedia indicates it didn't live up to the promises.

* The reason Dawn gets mistaken for the Slayer is quite clever; she's amped up after defeating a video game monster and is blabbing about it to the demon-summoning "delivery man."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 12 [RPG]

[4.6.28 ABY]

Having recovered from their intense grilling, the squadron settled in to a routine of boredom and training waiting for their next assignment. Unexpectedly Lieutenant Tuvalo directs them to C deck to receive a briefing he doesn't appear too comfortable with. Upon arriving they appear to walk into a heated discussion between Major Dei and a senior officer who is introduced as Deputy Director Graydon Thrice, a handsome human male who looks like he can handle his own in a fight but with a distinctly official air. He is accompanied by a Bothan and a Protocol droid who sweep the wing and the room with what members identify as detectors for listening devices.

Unlike their last mission they are greeted with what could almost be considered an overly detailed briefing breaking out an assignment quite unlike what they've experienced to date. Thrice explains that a former Imperial Grand Moff Ardus Kaine was regaining his assets from his time as Grand Moff under the Empire and aligning them under his personal banner as the Pentastar Alignment. During the post collapse confusion many Moffs took their wings and sought refuge with criminal elements or setting themselves up as warlords. One such Moff was Ardus Kaine who escaped with his standard compliment of two Victory Class Star Destroyers and his Imperial Class Star Destroyer and his entire Executive Staff and their related units.

Thrice explained that Imperial Intelligence operates a division that functions under the auspices of reconciliation and reparations from former Imperial overlords but is in fact a covert information gathering force. Gamma Wing has been identified as high power assets that can be utilized to infiltrate a situation in which currently no New Republic assets are available to attend. Zorba the Hutt was able to convince Rann to join his operation and now that Kaine has "politely" asked Rann to rejoin his forces he has invited Rann and his men to the Winter Palace on Nal Hutta in a final attempt to convince him to stay a part of his organization. A wing in the Winter Palace has been converted by the Imperials as a makeshift headquarters, and Gamma Wing are expected to conduct a "black bag" operation (break and enter) with minimal violence to retrieve (but not destroy as that would tip the hand of Imperials) all information possible and exit.

Closing out the briefing, Major Dei appears unsettled but wishes them luck and that the Force be with them before the doors close on the briefing. Irys Bey'lar, the female Bothan aide to Thrice, explains that they are to submit their requisition requests which will be dispensed at 0400 hours prior to departure.

Making preparations each crew member go about their activities with Tazo-Rhi seeking out one of the more colouful Mynock team members. A former smuggler who decided he had enough of the criminal life and joined Mynock to put his pilot skills to good use. This smuggler instructed Tazo-Rhi on how to play the part of a smuggler, mainly by indicating that she needed to loosen up. Tazo-Rhi set immediately to studying how best to play at being relaxed. Kero checked in on their stricken colleagues paying particular attention to Stavros. Keth readied fall back gear for the mission, and they all hit the sack early for their early morning roll call.

[4.6.29 ABY]

Meeting the Bothan aide Irys Bey'lar, she reiterates they will be taking a tramp shuttle which will make rendezvous with the New Republic mole Zutton Mygraph, a Snivian "smuggler" who is in fact deep cover for NRIS and will be their handler and assist them on this mission and will provide them with cover identities and documentation.

Given a sign/countersign phrase they are dispatched in a tramp shuttle piloted by Warik who will remain with the craft to ensure it remains safe and maintain their cover as spice runners returning from a particularly good run being rewarded by their boss.

Stowing their gear they settle in. Tazo-Rhi tries (awkwardly) to impress her commanding officer with her assumption of a "smuggler" role. Kero quickly adjusts the tactic explaining that she should play to her talents. Meanwhile Keth explored the tramp shuttle and found several smuggler's compartments. All were empty save one which was loaded with Death Sticks. Loading his pockets he figured it never hurt to have some extra "Currency" with which to barter dirt side. The initial several hours were fairly uneventful, but a half dozen hyperspace jumps took the wing to the fringe of Hutt space. After a series of very turbulent jumps they were dumped to Normal Space in the middle of a nebula, with ion storms raging around them cutting this pocket off from regular communication. Very dangerous, because if they strayed in to the storms the ship could be torn apart. However, their target was there, a YT 1300 freighter welcoming like a home cooked meal. Unfortunately when communicating with the sign Zutton replies with something other than the countersign. This triggers the crew to prepare for battle. 

Warik pulls alongside the freighter attaching docking clamps, and as the airlock cycles they are greeted with an empty hallway. Quick thinking and quicker wits spot the pending trap. Rolling in the crew make short work of the pirates holding the entrance, killing several of them but taking one prisoner to intimidate him in to disclosing the location of the rest of his crew, his captain and her first mate (as well as intimidating him in to relieving his bowels and bladder). Leaving Warik to bind and lock the pirate in one of the smuggler holes back on the shuttle, they move in to free their contact.

On reaching the stretch of hallway Kero adeptly slices in to the ship's computers and then proceeds scanning the rest of the ship checking for any traps. Girding themselves, the crew begin to move in to the hallway where they see Zutton and try and talk the pirates into handing him over, but this does not go well when suddenly what can only be described as a rat/lizard/man pops out of an air vent and drops a jerry-rigged flashbang in the middle of the room. After a frantic several minutes, the wing pull back with Zutton and Ricca (Zutton's compatriot who apparently keeps him out of trouble). Ricca takes a blaster and zips up into the vents and they launch a coordinated attack to clear the hall and reach the bridge (which lies on the far side of the trapped pirates). Eventually they over-power and take prisoner the pirate crew, but not before making enemies of the pirate captain.

After the confusion dies down Zutton explains the pirates boarded and took his vessel after coming to the aid of their damaged ship. Providing their cover identities for the operation he lets them settle in (but only after snorting in disgust at Kero's outfit, tearing a sleeve and smearing some coolant on it to make it look like something other than a fancy dress party costume).
Director's Commentary (September 17, 2016)

I wasn't actually the director of this session, nor did I write the recap.  The player who normally ran Warik was kind enough to take over as guest director for a short adventure, which gave me a much-needed break at a busy time.  I ran Tazo-Rhi, who was normally an NPC; I liked her character so much and her personality/accent was easy to get a handle on so it made a natural choice. I've always appreciated it when players are willing to fill in to help their director out, as it's good for long-time directors to refresh their batteries (so to speak) by getting a chance to just have fun and relax. I first used the technique in running seasons of Watcher (a Buffy the Vampire Slayer campaign) and it worked perfectly, as, just like the show, every writer/director has a different approach even though playing in the same universe.  The technique can have drawbacks in campaigns that are less episodic, as the "main" director has to be wary of not allowing "guest" directors to introduce elements that can get in the way of the main plot.  But that wasn't a problem here.

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Monday, September 12, 2016

The Buffy Comic Project: "Viva Las Buffy!, Act 4: The Big Fold"

Buffy the Vampire Slayer # 54
(Dark Horse, 1998-2003)

Creators:  Fabian Niceza & Scott Lobdell (story), Cliff Richards (pencils), Will Conrad (inks)

Setting:  Between Movie & Season 1

T.V./Movie Character Appearances:  Buffy, Pike, Angel, Giles, Quentin Travers

Major Original Characters:  Mary-Lou Sidle & Marcus Sidle (conjoined twins); Garner Sidle (casino owner); Willem Bryardale (evil Watcher); The Manager (casino operator)

Summary:  On the roof of the Golden Touch casino, Buffy is enraged when she believes that Pike has hurtled to his death.  She attacks the vampires that surround her and kills all of them except the conjoined twins, who flee below.  Buffy reaches the edge of the roof and looks down, relieved but still angry at seeing that Pike has fallen on top of something soft and is perfectly fine.  Meanwhile, trapped in a time-loop, Angel is told by Garner Sidle, the casino owner, that Garner's the subject of a Navajo curse that feeds on souls; and everyone will remain there unless Angel turns him into a soulless vampire!  At first, Angel refuses since he has stopped turning humans since he regained a soul; but at last, knowing it's the only way he'll see Buffy again, he complies.  Over in London, evil Watcher Bryardale wreaks havoc on the headquarters of the Watcher's Council until Rupert utters a black magic incantation to defeat him.  Quentin Travers says that Rupert will have to atone for his wrong in a place called the Black Shed.  Back at the Golden Touch, Buffy grabs a priest from a nearby chapel, takes him to the roof of the casino, has him bless the water in the large holding tank, and then turns on the sprinklers, spraying the interior of the casino with holy water!  All the vampires inside are dusted, as is Marcus Sidle.  Freed from her conjoined twin, Mary-Lou is ecstatic.  Angel and Garner Sidle (now a vampire) escape the time-loop, and Garner attacks The Manager as Angel manages to barely escape the holy water downpour.  When all the drama is over, Pike and Buffy have a heart-to-heart.  He explains that Buffy can't have friends if she's going to be the Slayer, because it leaves her vulnerable.  He says goodbye and drives off on his motorcycle.


Great artwork again: the flow of the story is easy to follow, the action scenes are exciting, the colours really pop, and the characters are easily recognizable.  The idea of Buffy having an entire tank of water blessed and then spraying holy water through the casino's sprinkler system was ridiculous but inspired; I've seen vampires destroyed in a lot of ways over the years, and that was a first!  The storyline with Giles was pretty strong, and I'm dreadfully curious to find out about the "Black Shed."  On the other hand, the Angel storyline was a bit "meh," and most importantly I just don't think I buy Pike's characterisation.  I know they have to come up with a reason for him to leave at some point, but the whole thing makes him into a bit of a wiener and I'm not sure how it fits into the show's through-line that the reason Buffy is a Slayer unlike any other is because she has friends.


* The first several times I saw the artwork cover I assumed that was Buffy and Faith fighting a vampire, until I realized it was the conjoined-twins.  In the interior artwork, Mary-Lou Sidle looks nothing like she does on the cover.

* Very curious to see what happens in the next issue, one handled by artist Paul Lee solo and featuring Dawn and "Hoopy the Bear"!

Next Issue

Friday, September 9, 2016

Mynock Squadron Recap # 11 [RPG]

[4.6.11 ABY]

While maintaining position outside the asteroid field, Kero begins transmitting a situation report. She's interrupted in the middle of the transmission by the arrival of a New Republic fleet. Mynock Squadron is immediately ordered to slave their ships to that of the fleet, and when this is done, the ships together jump into hyperspace. During the jump, the pilots talk about what they did before joining the military. Waric divulges that he was an Imperial TIE pilot of some renown before learning the hard way that life under the Empire wasn't what the vids claimed it would be. Kero says all she ever wanted to be was a doctor. Keth says his life prior to service was rather mundane. Torga talks a little bit about the great hunt, but it's clear she's not feeling well. Stavros remains quiet the whole time, and when the concerned pilots contact his vessel's R2 unit, they discover he hasn't input any manual controls for some hours.

[4.6.12 ABY]

When the slaved vessels finally emerge from hyperspace, they see a large New Republic medical frigate nearby. They're ordered to land in a cleared hangar bay, where special quarantine measures have been taken. With Stavros still unresponsive, his astromech unit is ordered to land his Y-Wing alongside the others. When everyone exits their cockpits, they realize Stavros is unconscious and suffering from the delayed effects of the injuries he suffered at the hands of the NIF pirates aboard their freighter. Before exiting the hangar, each pilot is required to pass through a full body digital tomography scan to search for the presence of the nanovirus. Torga fails the test and is taken away for treatment. Stavros is free of the virus, but is taken to a medical ward for treatment of his wounds. The Nishrian taken into custody as a protective measure also proves to be free of the virus, and arrangements are made to return him home.

The others pass through without incident and are taken to a secure room to write full reports on the mission. Kero writes a particularly persuasive justification for her actions, and then makes small talk with Waric. She asks him about his prosthetic parts, noting that she's taken up studying cybernetic surgery in her spare time. Waric says the prosthetics were implanted by a trauma team, using a droid's neural net, after an explosion.

A few hours later, Lt. Tuvolo appears. He says that the pilots made the most out of a bad situation, as no one expected them to be pressed into a full field operation on their own. He says that Torga has been put into cryosleep for the time being, as the rapidly advancing disease cannot be halted by any known means and only cold seems to slow the nanovirus from spreading. Waric tells Tuvolo about the "Second Empire Protocol" uttered by the Nanoformed, and Tuvolo says he hopes that the encrypted files found on the freighter can be sliced for more information. He warns the group that, given the serious nature of the nanovirus and the competing orders given, a formal inquiry has been called by the Provisional Council and that the pilots should expect a visit from an investigator shortly.

Soon after Tuvolo leaves, Szo-Dano arrives to greet her squad mates. Waric speculates that the Second Empire Protocol may be a way for Imperial remnants to mobilize a massive army by infecting a population and transforming them into super-soldiers. Kero does some research and realizes that a prominent scientist of nanobiotics named Jindd Rheim was kidnapped last year on Ithor by a crack Imperial commando team. She suspects Rheim may have been forced to put the finishing touches on the nanovirus, but his present whereabouts are unknown. The pilots share this information with Tuvolo, who promises to look into it.

[4.6.13 ABY]

The next day, Waric, Keth, and Kero are summoned to a meeting with the investigator sent by the Provisional Council. He seems quite skeptical about the pilots' story, and implies that they lacked sound judgment in the making the decisions they did. Kero explains that boarding the research station was justified as an attempt to track down the source of the virus, but they had no choice but to withdraw against a superior force of unknown origin when the Nanoformed appeared. The investigator criticizes Waric for handing an innocent Nishrian a blaster pistol potentially laced with the nanovirus, but Kero defends him, stating that he had no way of knowing the virus might be transmitted that way. Both Keth and Waric are the subject of repeated questioning about the state of their ship, which was heavily damaged in attempts to traverse an asteroid field that seemed to pose no problems for Stavros and Kero. Keth says he was just following orders, and Waric says the ever-changing nature of an asteroid field means that they are unpredictable and always dangerous. The investigator doesn't seem satisfied by the group's responses to the various questions, but eventually dismisses them.

Some hours later, the three pilots are summoned to a ready room near the bow of the ship. When the doors open, they see Tuvolo, Major Dei, and (for the first time) the rest of Mynock Squadron. Those assembled applaud, and Tuvolo explains that apart from some flack for poor care of requisitioned equipment, the inquiry cleared Gamma Flight of any wrongdoing. Holding up a glass of synthale, he toasts the group: "To Gamma Flight: the greenest bunch of nerfherders ever to save the galaxy."
Director's Commentary (September 9, 2016)
The conversation about the beginning about what the PCs did before they joined Mynock Squadron was one of my occasional attempts to get some RP going about a topic that might not naturally arise during an adventure but that helps flesh out the characters.  I usually do this by saying something like "While you're travelling, the conversation turns to [subject]" and having each person go in turn.  Sometimes this works out better than other times, but I still like the idea.
Alas, no Stavros.  His player was a mainstay in my previous Clone Wars campaign so I assumed he would be quite reliable, but he dropped out rather unceremoniously from this one which was disappointing.  I'm not sure if it was the campaign, the growing demands of family life, or the early wake up calls (I ran the game from Australia, online, so it was really late at night for me but really early in the morning for the North American contingent).
There wasn't any combat this session, but I remember being pretty pleased with it as a pure RP epilogue to the group's first "real" mission.  Everyone did a really nice job with their interrogation by the investigator, and the research and speculation about the "Second Empire" was spot on.
This campaign often took a backseat in my mind to the Forgotten Realms campaign that I was running simultaneously, because it was biweekly instead of weekly and online instead of in-person, but looking back on it there's a lot I'm proud of.

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Thursday, September 8, 2016

Gamma World: "Menace of the Usqivites"

The third of my "genre switch" adventures finished a couple of weeks ago, and was fantastic fun.  I ran the introductory adventure for WOTC's Gamma World game ("Steading of the Iron King"), but re-skinned it to take place in post-apocalyptic Toowoomba as "Menace of the Usqivites."  At it's core, the adventure is a very basic dungeon crawl, as the PCs are sent to investigate why robots keep attacking a nearby settlement; the answer lays within an ancient robotics factory that has been re-started by a hoop (sentient humanoid rabbit) who calls himself the Iron King.  The PCs for the adventure included a Giant Mindbreaker ("Captain Ultra-Plasma", a self-styled super hero), a Radioactive Telekinetic ("Ray") who was the player's second character after his Seismic Cockroach got killed), and an Electrokinetic Doppelganger.  The game was very light-hearted and intentionally over-the-top, and I felt a great deal of freedom and flexibility in running it because, bottom line, it's Gamma World, a ridiculous premise to begin with.  The PCs were quite creative, which crazy plans like luring a monster into a pile of fetish-clothing (long story) because smashing it with two pick-up trucks, or sending a motorcycle+sidecar loaded with explosives to take out a fortified enemy position.  A couple of PCs died during the four-session adventure, but in hilarious ways, and they emerged triumphant from the big boss battle at the end and thus earned the right to join the safest and most advanced tribe of Gard Encity, the Basers.  I've enjoyed all three of the genre-switch adventures I've run so far (previously a western and a 1930s pulp), but this was the most entertaining by far (copious amounts of rum may have helped).  In fact, it was so good that I'm already planning to run the adventure from the first expansion box next year.  But next up: super-heros using "Silver Age Sentinels."