Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Clone Wars Campaign Recap # 39

This session sees the PCs' first clash with the "new and improved" Purity First. I'd been dropping hints for several sessions that Purity First had been receiving a great deal of funding and training, and were no longer the sloppy xenophobes encountered on Coruscant. Although the PCs never followed the thread through to the end, I always had in mind that after the debacle on Coruscant, the organization's existence had come onto Chancellor Palpatine's radar and served as a useful proxy for his own interests--thus, it was the Supreme Chancellor's Office that funded the organization and turned it into a well-oiled paramilitary group capable of taking over a small planet like Mongui.

This session occurred during a period in the campaign where some of the many flaws in the Saga Edition rules became apparent to me, as I couldn't for the life of me find any foes to really challenge the PCs unless I wanted Level 20 bad guys stumbling around every session. The idea with the Purity First Phalanx was to help solve this problem by taking advantage of the "Aid Another" and "Rapport" rules, which basically allowed a single member of the group to make an attack roll with bonuses gained from every other member. Finally, I had a reasonable chance of hitting and doing damage! After a long and bloody first battle that ended in the PCs fleeing and (only barely escaping), the PCs were smart enough to avoid straight-up slugfests against the Phalanxes in the future.

I've always let the dice fall where they may in the campaign by rolling openly on the table. Sometimes this would result in the PCs getting screwed by a statistically aberrant number of natural 20s, but in this session a natural 1 ended up radically altering the campaign's future. After Stefan Cassadine's frustration with Arresta's lingering ties to Tarn Tamarand grew unbearable to him, he persuaded Jedi Master Creen to try to erase her memory that Tarn ever existed! This was Creen's forte (he had a few special feats in this department), and all he had to do was roll a Use the Force check that overcame Arresta's Will Defense. And he rolled a natural 1, and automatically failed! Suffice it to say that Creen was not Arresta's favorite person after that, and she had some things to stay to Stefan too . . .

This is a fun story-arc, and I'm looking forward to sharing subsequent sessions. I have to admit, this is probably the darkest I managed to lure the PCs into becoming, and you'll see why in future posts.


In his office high above Coruscant, Supreme Chancellor Palpatine peers out over the city. He’s already made plans to send most of the home defence fleet away on a futile mission to the Outer Rim. Within weeks, if all goes as he has planned, crisis will quickly follow upon crisis. Coruscant will come under siege, the Jedi will be exterminated from all but memory and the Republic itself will have reached the end of its days. A new Empire will be born . . . Yet a single stray thought lies uneasy in his mind – a mere shadow, less than nothing—but somewhere in the galaxy, he now knows there are others like himself—far older, and perhaps even more powerful . . .

Having departed from Nal Hutta, Arresta agrees to Doxen’s request that she task her intelligence network to seek information on who knew that he had assassinated Harno. She then contacts Xam back on Etti IV to check in on the baby. She confirms that Stefan has not yet checked in, but leaves him a message via Xam that she will meet him at the scheduled rendezvous coordinates. Arresta then contacts A’tel and tells him that she left some information out the last time they spoke. She explains that if her dreams are a message from Tarn, that it seems he believes that some of the Sith they encountered at the Jedi temple are still loose – and more are looking to break free. A’tel sounds unimpressed and advises her that the Jedi Council can be slow to recognize this type of threat. Still, when Arresta asks, A’tel agrees to try to reach out with the Force to contact Tarn. Leveraging the connection that both he and Tarn have with the strange anomaly lightsaber, A’tel is able to make contact with the confused, heavily clouded mind that he knows belongs to Tarn Tamarand. He gives Tarn a mental signal encouraging him to contact Arresta. A’tel then suggests to Arresta that he might be able to offer help in her endeavours on Mongui. He suggests that he send Array – a clone trooper he worked with on his latest mission – to help her. Arresta accepts his offer with her thanks and provides coordinates to a cantina on Mongui for the clone to meet her party. She also suggests that if he arrives first, then Array should engage in recon activity to better understand the strengths that Purity First possesses.

Meanwhile, on board The Knife’s Edge, Arresta, Doxen and Kevlax enage in a preliminary strategy session on how to re-take Mongui. Arresta is able to share details of the planet’s population and city structure with the others and they agree that guerrilla tactics will likely be necessary. Doxen appears in favour of using Korg’s heavy artillery to take out critical military targets, while Arresta wants to focus on assassinating the leaders of Purity First. Both agree that more information is required.

That night, Arresta again finds herself in a strange and frightening dreamscape. She appears to be back in her Coruscanti penthouse, attired in a beautiful gown and tiara as she was the night of the grand Aquaria ball, when her daughter was conceived. Approaching the balcony, she finds Tarn, likewise attired in dress Jedi robes, waiting for her. He approaches and kisses her neck, as rotting creatures, acting as paparazzi swarm around the couple. Tarn suddenly staggers back, with a knife in his back, asking why Arresta would betray him – the Empress Uncanny shouldn’t know he is coming. Frantic, she tries to assure him that she would never do that – she is trying to save him. She tells him that his plan isn’t safe – that he will be attacked by Jocasta and her crew and will be killed. As Tarn backs towards the edge of the balcony, he continues to plead with Arresta that he needed her and she didn’t come…. For her part, Arresta begs him to understand that she wanted to – but she is trapped by obligations she can’t escape from and that if he would only come to Mongui, where Jocasta is also heading, she would do anything to help him. Before she can say anything else, Tarn plummets off of the balcony and Arresta awakens with a gasp….

[A.G. 1008]

The Knife’s Edge drops out of hyperspace at the edge of the Essowyn system, home of the small moon Mongui and the massive gas giant it orbits. Waiting there is the tiny shuttle carrying Stefan Cassadine. Stefan is in a buoyant mood and, after docking, tells Arresta that his business trip was successful. After he and Arresta are reunited, Stefan asks his wife if anyone tried to contact her while he was gone. Arresta declines to mention the connections that Tarn has made with her dreams, and Stefan seems sceptical that Arresta has told him the truth. He is also less than pleased when she tells him that her sister – accompanied by Bel Sekand – should be joining them soon. Arresta however, informs him that she did the best she could – and that she continues to be very unhappy at being separated from her baby and forced to return to her home planet. Stefan has Arresta set up a briefing in a few hours while he settles into the ship. Later, he takes Arresta to a cabin, which had been empty, but which he now tells her houses a guest who she must keep secret – as Jocasta and the Sun Runners might not take kindly to his presence. Inside, surrounded by incense and candlelight, she finds Horellius Creen.

Creen, in his harsh whisper, evades her questions about why he is there. Instead, he asks her if Tarn Tamarand has been in contact with her, which she denies. Creen begins to speak to Arresta in a sonorous voice, talking of Tarn and of her feelings for her ex-lover, repeating over and over that Tarn is nothing more than a distant memory. Arresta feels a sharp pain in her head and a smothering sensation, as though her memories and feelings for Tarn are being leached away. Suddenly though, Arresta breaks free of Creen’s influence and her mind clears. Pretending that Creen has been successful, Arresta agrees to speak to him again in a few days – when, he assures her, they must be completely honest with one another. Outside, Arresta notices Creen and Stefan nod to one another over her shoulder and she realizes that her husband was behind this attempt to alter her memories. Just then, a call comes in that a G.A.R. shuttle is passing through the system. Arresta updates Stefan that Array will be joining them. He expresses concern about Array’s allegiance to the soft-hearted Republic, but agrees to let Doxen speak to the clone when Arresta sings her friend’s praises.

Doxen makes contact with Array and advises him to meet them on the planet and to pay special attention to the way that ships are approached and searched. Array informs him that he will be getting “dropped off” by the shuttle, but will be involved in recon activities. In the middle of the afternoon, Array’s shuttle appears in hyperspace near Mongui. Doxen sees that Array’s shuttle has been destroyed by fighters scrambled from the planet. Unknown to him, Array has survived by completing a high altitude, low open jump from the atmosphere to the planet below.

Doxen updates the Cassadines and pays his respects to Stefan before using the yacht’s pool facilities to refresh himself. Meanwhile, Arresta, continuing to play dumb about what Creen attempted to do to her, probes Stefan on his plans and about why Creen is there. Stating that the Jedi is a great tactician, Stefan shares very little of his plan. Arresta sadly reminds him that he isn’t her teacher anymore – and that a marriage should be between equals, before leaving their quarters.

Shortly before the briefing is to commence, The Rakish Charm, a ship owned by Bel Sekand comes out of hyperspace. After some negotiation regarding shields and weapons status, Sekand and Corinne D’Avilos come aboard the yacht. Bel and Stefan engage in some verbal sparring, before joining the others for the briefing. The strategy session that follows is mainly focused on how to approach the planet. It is agreed that it is unlikely for the non-humans to avoid scrutiny if they land on board the yacht. Surprisingly, Bel volunteers to pilot Stefan’s runabout, containing Krevlax, Doxen and himself to the planet where they will approach a mining facility to obtain ground transport and make their way to the city. With some modification by Miklos, who has the mechanical skills required, the shuttle is made roomy enough that Korkoth is able to join them.

The others, including Korg, who will be made to appear as though he is a back-up power generator in the engine room, will arrive on The Knife’s Edge, led by Stefan. Corinne updates the group that Purity First has taken all alien species who refused to leave the planet into custody and that non-humans are executed every week. Her resistance cells are scattered, but she does have some ability to have irregular short-burst communications with them. They have advised her that in terms of artillery, Purity First has two refurbished C.I.S. tanks at their disposal. In addition, they have adopted a modified phalanx fighting formation which the resistance has not had success in dealing with. Corinne further suggests using her old scavenger yard as a base. She advises the non-humans in the group that the sewer tunnels running underneath the city may be the only way they can move about undetected by Purity First.

During the briefing, the conversation is lively and comes from all parties – except for Arresta. With the exception of the occasional short comment, she appears disinterested in the discussion. Corinne asks her if she is alright, but Arresta brushes it off, instead asking her sister how she finds it, having both Miklos and Bel Sekand competing for her attention. Corinne smiles and says that is enjoying it – “You cannot have too many men.” Arresta politely disagrees.

Krevlax visits with Miklos who is unsure of what Sekand has in mind for him and confused about what Corinne’s intentions towards him are after these years of separation. He tells Krevlax that he does wish he could be free to pursue his own life. Later, Bel pulls Corinne and Miklos aside and grants the slave his freedom, telling them that he only wishes Corinne’s happiness and that he hopes that he is the man she ultimately chooses. Later on, Bel Sekand pulls Doxen aside and offers to double any offer that Cassadine makes for Doxen to assassinate him.

Late that evening, Doxen, Bel Sekand, Krevlax, and Korkoth take the runabout towards Mongui. The voyage takes about three hours from where The Knife’s Edge is stationed at the edge of the system. Although Doxen is only an average pilot, he knows how to avoid detection even when piloting a starship and the runabout makes a safe and undetected descent at a point 180 degrees around Mongui from where the capital city is located. As they skim over the ground at low altitude, they see on the horizon the distinctive black clouds of dust and smoke representing one of the moon’s mineral excavation sites. On the far side of the huge pit, several small buildings are barely visible. A few guards in silver and white armor holding maces can be seen patrolling both the perimeter and the massive cargo-sleds. The group decides this is a perfect opportunity to steal ground transportation and, if possible, see if the reputation of Purity First soldiers matches reality.

Leaving Korkoth to guard the runabout, Krevlax and Doxen approach the mineral quarry stealthily while Bel Sekand is charged with the task of seeing if the quarry guards are susceptible to deception. Bel approaches the two guards and he is immediately asked for his papers. The guards are immediately suspicious of his story of having been in an accident, and scrutinize him carefully as they report in on their comlinks. Shortly thereafter, a group of soldiers emerges from the buildings on the far side of the pit and begin to approach at a steady march—the newcomers are armoured from head to toe, and carry a mix of riot shields and large blaster rifles. Although Doxen is able to remain hidden behind a rock, Krevlax is not so lucky. Without saying a word, the disciplined phalanx of Purity First soldiers halts. The first rank kneels and activates the energy fields of their riot shields, while the soldiers in the back take careful aim and open fire.

Krevlax is initially caught in the open, but he soon rushes in to fight the conscript guards (now numbering four) who have tried to take Bel into custody. Working together, Krevlax and Bel quickly dispatch three of the conscripts. Confident that Bel can handle the fourth alone, Krevlax charges the phalanx which has been pouring blaster fire in his direction. He hits them like a tornado, but they swarm over him and the Anx is suddenly in a melee with ten opponents at the same time. Meanwhile, Doxen (having taken up a sniping position behind a rock) begins to fire at one of the gunners in the phalanx. The riot shields of the first rank of soldiers is little obstacle to the Ewok’s incredible aim, but the heavy armour and sheer stamina of the guards allows them to brush off several blaster shots. Even when Doxen emerges from cover and runs to help Krevlax, the phalanx ignores him in order to focus their attention on the massive, ferocious street-fighter who is able to strangle two full-grown men simultaneously. As Doxen and Krevlax begin to get worn down, Bel is left alone to fight a single conscript. His duel seems to be going well, especially when he unveils a strange whip-like weapon recovered from the edge of the galaxy. However, a sudden turn of luck leaves the crimelord suddenly blinded and forced to guess where his opponent will land the next blow.

In the middle of the melee, Doxen spots a shuttle starting to land near the excavation pit and decides to retreat back in the direction of his own ship. Krevlax begins to follow a few moments later, but the silent and implacable Purity First soldiers drag him to the ground through sheer numbers and pummel him into unconsciousness. As Doxen sprints towards the runabout, he manages to call out to Bel (who is fortunately facing the right direction) to run straight ahead. The two adventurers reach the runabout just seconds before their enemies. After Korkoth buys them some time by swatting one of the conscripts like a fly, Doxen begins the take-off sequence and the runabout lifts off. Doxen heroically takes the runabout straight toward the fallen Krevlax. Although Doxen and Korkoth manage to drag Krevlax on board and take off, two members of Purity First manage to jump aboard as well. Unable to take the weight, the runabout lurches and Doxen, back in the pilot seat, uses the opportunity to execute a half roll, unbalancing the two boarders, who slip out the open door and hit the ground hard. Using all of his ample strength, Korkoth manages to hold on to prevent the unconscious Krevlax from falling out as well.

The runabout takes several hits from Purity First blaster rifles as it speeds away toward the capital city, trailing black smoke. Doxen keeps it low to the ground in an attempt to elude pursuit, but no one on board has the mechanical know-how to fix the sputtering engine. Still, at least with the naked eye and the runabout’s primitive sensors, it doesn’t look like they are followed.

Meanwhile, back on board the yacht, Stefan finally returns to his suite to find his unhappy wife waiting for him. Arresta probes him on why he sent her friends down to the planet with so little strategy and he responds that she was the one who advised him to trust that Doxen could handle himself. Besides, he adds, any scenario that places Bel Sekand at risk is an acceptable scenario to him. He questions his wife on her behaviour during the meeting and reassures her that this ordeal is almost over. He appears shocked and appalled when Arresta reveals that the mind control attempt by Creen didn’t work – and that she knows exactly what he was trying to do. As she angrily confronts him about the fact that Creen attempted to violate her mind, Stefan claims that he had no involvement in this. He ridicules the idea that a Jedi could alter someone’s mind in the manner she suggests, encouraging her to contact A’tel to validate that for herself. Arresta calmly tells him that she does not believe his plea of innocence. When Arresta tells him that he isn’t the only one she has obligations to – that other people need her, Stefan tells her that if any of her friends – A’tel or perhaps Daal, require assistance, that he would be glad to help her – and that in future, if she wants to have adventures, she certainly can, as long as he approves them as “safe” for her. He’ll even go with her.

Arresta tells her husband that she only came to Mongui out of loyalty to him – and now, she doesn’t understand why she bothered. He reminds her that he suffered while she was missing for a year and a half – but she tells him that he should have trusted her to come home on her own. Stefan continues to promise her that they can have the life they want together, with Allegra, and that they will be completely free when this mission is over, but Arresta obviously feels betrayed. She tells him that cannot understand why he would ask Creen to do this – to change her into someone else. He attempts to stop her leaving the room by grabbing her arms, and though Arresta angrily shakes him off, Stefan won’t be ignored. “I am still your husband and Allegra needs us both. Don’t forget that she is ours – and she needs both of her parents.” Arresta echoes his statement that yes; Allegra certainly does need both of her parents as she glares at him. Stefan suggests that they take a step back, so neither of them will say anything that they will regret. Observing her husband through newly opened eyes, Arresta crosses her arms and coldly agrees. Stefan leaves to take a shower, and when he returns he finds that Arresta intends to sleep on a spare bed in the nursery.

[A.G. 1009]

After just over nine hours in flight, Doxen sets the heavily damaged runabout down in a rocky canyon about 60 kilometers from Mongui City, landing just as the sun is rising. After a difficult battle and narrow escape, it seems clear that breaking Purity First’s hold on Mongui may be more difficult than initially thought.

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Bal said...

Sounds like exciting times ... and great use of the rules (aid another and so on) to challenge the PCs without making artificially powerful NPCs or using sheer numbers.

Looking forward to the next entry...

The Wife said...

I had forgotten how much happened in this session. I ended up sitting out the big combat (since my character remained on the ship), but got to do lots of roleplaying to make up for it.

This was a huge deal for Arresta - not because it showed Stefan was jealous - that was already obvious - but that it called his feelings for her into question. It made her wonder if, by altering her memories, he was trying to change her into somebody else.

This incident will allow her to rationalize a big decision in a few sessions...These were fun scenes to play, since she is in love with both of them...

This was also the session where we started tipping Corinne over into becoming a woman with a stable full of men. Not sure quite how that happened.

Finally, it marked the beginning of the "beautiful friendship" between Doxen and Stefan. Those two got along remarkably well. Doxen was the only one of Arresta's companions that made any sense to her husband...