Friday, September 23, 2011

Clone Wars Campaign: Session # 48 Recap

This one had it all: the end of a major PC, the salvation of two others, and the introduction of the last batch of major NPCs in the campaign.

Starting with the last bit first: the Accelerated. I wanted the Accelerated to reflect what humanity could be if evolution selected for intellectual development over emotional or physical development. In-game the Accelerated are the product of a process the Altered invented centuries ago to become an even more advanced species. Most of the Steadfasts in Haven chose to undergo the process, which explains why only a few hundred Altered remain in the city, most of which has been lost to the so-called Excess. Acceleration removed every element of human feeling (except for perhaps a delight in cruelty), but brought with it extraordinary technological achievement and such a mastery of the mind and physical forces that they become true reality-shapers. However, the Accelerated are are so removed from humanity that they are barely recognizable, and in imagining them I always think of the strange overseers in the movie Dark City.

I think all of this made it even more surprising when A’tel decided to undergo the Acceleration process! The presence of the Acceleration chamber and the “pact” to make it accessible to those who arrive via the tower was mere backstory in my mind, and I hadn’t the slightest suspicion any of the PCs would actually go for it. It was also a very risky proposition: succeed on a single very high-DC Fortitude defense roll and become Accelerated, or fail and be stone-cold dead. A’tel went for it and survived, however. I’m still not 100% sure of the character’s motivations, but I think his player managed to portray A’tel’s rapidly dwindling humanity after the process fairly well before the character was forced to become an NPC after the session. It also had the unexpected side-effect of solving Arresta’s Rakghoul-disease problem and Daal’s Plaguewomb-cancer problem.

In this session, we discover that the Accelerated have learned of the Anomaly through poring over Tarn and Daal’s memories, and that they manipulated the “escape” of the latter in order to bring Arresta to their presence, so they could learn everything she had seen. The campaign now had three main forces in pursuit of the Anomaly: Master Creen and his loyal apprentice Tarn; Jocasta and the Sun Runners; and the Accelerated. The PCs, of course, were caught ambiguously in the middle, unsure of who, if anyone, to support. Tarn’s last line about the “End of Days” ties into the Oracle’s prophecy made many, many sessions prior.

Tied with A’tel’s acceleration as the most memorable event in this session was Lucef’s punching a rancor to death! The guy who ran Lucef was great at min-maxing characters for maximum effect, and so Lucef was a downright beast when it came to hand-to-hand combat. The rancor did manage to kill A’tel (who was saved through intervention of a once-a-year red chip), but afterwards we often joked that Lucef could punch the Death Star to death if he hit it in the right spot.


As a small band of adventurers continue on a very personal quest through abandoned areas of a lost Arkanian colony, the galaxy remains at war and, for the first time in nearly three years, it seems clear that the Republic will be victorious. Major Separatist strongholds like Cato Neimodia, Felucia, Saleucami, and more are invaded by Clone armies, forcing Separatist leaders like Nute Gunray and Wat Tambor to flee to a hidden sanctuary on Mustafar. In order to seize on this advantage, Chancellor Palpatine further strips Coruscant’s Home Defense Fleet for additional reinforcements on the Outer Rim Sieges. The end of the war is finally within sight, and citizens all across the Republic rejoice in their success.

Having made their way through the desolate region known as the Excess to the base of the tower, Daal, Arresta, A’tel, and Lucef now face another threat: a giant silver-scaled rancor is charging towards them. Lucef rushes forward and places himself in the beast’s path, expertly scaling a building to give him enough height to take the battle to the rancor. While A’tel draws his lightsaber and prepares to join his friend, the rancor has come within striking distance. Lucef leaps atop the head of the beast and slams powerful fists into the creature’s skull. A’tel places himself directly in its path and although he too is able to strike a blow, he becomes the focus for the monster’s rage – and is torn by its great claws and teeth. His body battered, A’tel flies through the air and slams to the ground, with no signs of life. Desparately, Lucef uses his considerable strength to slam a blow directly into the rancor’s jaws, simultaneously killing it and tossing the acidic saliva and blood of the beast directly onto A’tel’s wounds. The shock to his system throws the deathly-still Jedi into a healing trance and A’tel breathes again.

Meanwhile, Arresta darts to the base of the tower and quickly finds the door, but she cannot get it to budge. Daal attempts to assist her by using his makeshift grenades to blow the door open, but he becomes distracted by the battle with the rancor and makes a rare error--the grenades explode in his hands and the Duro is lucky to escape with only minor injuries. Another round of demolitions, however, is sufficient to blast a hole in the base of the tower.

After placing A’tel on the repulsor-stretcher from Arresta’s med-kit, the group (including the medical droid Scraper) slowly makes its way up the stairs inside the tower. The climb is dark and silent and devoid of any signs of life. When they reach the top of the tower, there is nothing there except a trap door. Daal quickly realizes that the door is equipped with motion sensors that will transmit a signal to an unknown place and purpose and thus could be a subtle trap. Although he argues in favour of disabling the device or even destroying it, Arresta worries that doing so may strand them atop the tower if there is nothing else up there. With A’tel unconscious and a reluctant Lucef acceding to the wishes of his employer, the Princess gets her way. Emerging onto the roof, a strange shower of light fills the top of the tower and the group is slowly lifted into the air. Higher and higher they rise, passing though the holographic sky camouflaging the underground ceiling of the Excess, passing over the surface of the planet and their own ship, still lying in the desert. They continue to float upwards until they are pulled into a massive, blackened sphere with strange protuberances and angles that do not even seem possible in three-dimensional reality. This is the domain of the Accelerated.

Having been drawn through an iris into a small room with only one doorway, the group is soon met by two figures – clad in black, hairless and floating above the ground, they communicate mentally to each other but can be “overheard.” Although they never address the group directly, their conversation amongst themselves make it clear that they have been expecting Arresta--in fact, they released Daal on his earlier visit knowing that it was likely he would return with the Princess. With no warning, they attack Arresta’s mind and rip from it every shred of knowledge and emotions she possesses about the anomaly. Despite her best efforts, the Princess is unable to resist. As Arresta screams in pain, Lucef draws a gun and demands that they stop, but there is no need: the process is complete and the figures prepare to leave. However, they acknowledge that despite the “primitive” nature of the adventurers, they must observe the “pact” and show them the acceleration chamber–-even if none of them are likely to survive the procedure.

With little other choice, the group of adventurers follows the two figures through a maze-like sequence of corridors. One grotto that they pass by holds a familiar figure, but one suffering from a grotesque torture. Greesh Leedo, a member of the Sun Runners and a former compatriot of Daal’s, lies atop a table, with every wire and circuit of his cybernetic enhancements unspooled and stretched out. He moans in pain and when Daal investigates, Greesh begs his old friend to put him out of his misery. Daal promises to return.

At last they are shown to a room referred to as the Acceleration chamber. In it are three pods, each able to hold a humanoid body. A’tel, having at last regained consciousness, regards the pods with surprising interest. When he reaches out telepathically to the departing members of the Accelerated, they observe him with mild curiosity: he appears more “evolved” than the others. After a brief telepathic conversation, the former Jedi Knight believes that all of the mysteries of the universe lay ahead of him, but that Acceleration is incredibly risky and likely to result in death. A’tel is torn, even moreso after he tries to sense the will of the Force but is left with more questions than answers. When the Accelerated have left, Arresta asks A’tel if he can sense Tarn’s presence. Using Arresta’s connection to her former lover to anchor him, A’tel reaches out with his mind and pinpoints the location of two force users, in opposite directions and of very different power levels. “The lesser one is Tarn,” Arresta says emphatically, noting that the more powerful one must be Jocasta, which is a surprise to the others who weren’t aware Jocasta was Force-sensitive. Daal decides to take Scraper and head off to see Greesh Leedo.

Once he has left, A’tel suddenly declares that he is going to attempt to undergo the Acceleration process, despite the inherent risks. Arresta vehemently protests, citing the fact that A’tel could die, that his friends need him, and that the Accelerated were not to be trusted. The former Jedi will not be swayed, going so far as to use the Force to push his friends away when they try to physically restrain him. Finally, seeing that A’tel is not going to change his mind, Arresta and Lucef stand back and watch as the pod closes and strange lights begin to flash. Inside the pod, clinging to his desire to help his friends and to find enlightenment, A’tel undergoes extreme pain and sensations such as he has never felt before. It is painful and exhilarating , uplifting and destructive. In the end, the being that emerges from the pod moments later resembles A’tel Porten physically but the man’s personality and soul are rapidly dwindling into nothingness. Arresta and Lucef are shocked at the change. A’tel has lost his hair and his eyes are cold. He now floats above the floor and shares the ability of the Accelerated to read the thoughts of others and predict their actions. “I am Jedi”. He says with no trace of emotion. Yet, some tiny sliver of what drove A’tel to attempt this change holds true: the new being is willing to assist them, at least for the moment.

In the grotto with Greesh, Daal is trying to get information. Despite the Rodian’s on-going requests for death, Daal presses for answers. He learns that upon arriving at this planet, Jocasta and Tarn fought over the strange lightsaber and drew the attention of the Accelerated. Since the two did not arrive via the tower, the Accelerated were not required to observe the “pact” and they have been torturing and experimenting on the crew of the Sun Runner II. Jocasta, however, is not among them--she alone appeared immune to their mental powers and must have escaped. At that moment, A’tel arrives with Arresta and Lucef in his wake. They fill in Daal, but then watch in horror as A’tel painfully extracts Greesh’s memories and then “extinguishes” him. With a disdainful voice, A’tel announces he will escort them to Tarn and will “lay claim to him” so that the man can be reunited with Arresta. Then, as easily as batting an eye, he uses his new powers to leach the Rakghoul toxin from her system, freeing her of the affliction which threatened to turn her into a ravening beast. He dismisses her gratitude and leads them on. With great apprehension, they follow.

As they close the distance to where A’tel promises that Tarn is waiting, another familiar face is found in a side grotto. Rycard Ryjerd, the Sun Runner II’s pilot has been psychically forced to shock himself over and over again on a live wire, all the while staring longingly at, but unable to touch, a nearby blaster pistol that would let him escape death. A’tel is unmoved but does allow the others to retrieve Rycard. As a precaution, they tie his hands to prevent the unconscious man from injuring himself when he wakes up.

Finally, the moment that Arresta has longed for and dreaded has arrived. Around the corner, she can hear Tarn’s voice. Entering the room, she sees her former lover, the father of her daughter and the man whose urgent calls for help led her on this dangerous quest manacled to a wall and speaking words of love: to someone else. While the Princess attempts to mask her pain, Tarn pledges that he had utter faith that “his Princess” would find him-- heartfelt words he pours out to Sunset Cassandra who, believing that she is Arresta, moves in for a passionate kiss. Suddenly, laughter erupts from an unseen crowd. This is the female’s deepest desire – but with herself in the role of rescuer. Fascinating how such a minor change in circumstance leads elation to turn into the most exquisite agony. This is another playground and the Accelerated are watching.

A’tel comes forward and is welcomed as a “brother”. He lays claim to Tarn and the other Sun Runners and is granted permission to take them. Freeing the former Padawan from his manacles, he places Tamarand into a state of unconscious. Arresta, repeating to herself that it was her that Tarn thought he was seeing (and kissing), asks A’tel to remove the haze from the minds of both Tarn and Sunset Cassandra so that everyone knows exactly who they really are. He acquiesces, telling her that now, Tarn will remember the reality of what has happened. Sunset Cassandra, realizing where she is, begs not to be left behind and in a moment of panic swears to pay them with “every credit she has.” In a surprising show of mercenary exploitation, Lucef states he will hold the tortured girl to that promise.

All that is now left is to follow A’tel as he seeks out the other Force user he sensed. After another following another long and circuitous route, the group encounters another Accelerated—at least, that is what it appears at first. When confronted, however, the figure dissolves in an oily black puddle before reforming into the familiar face of Jocasta. Although Arresta has long suspected that Jocasta might be a shape-shifter from her scouring of Jedi Temple files, the others are quite surprised. Jocasta reveals that, although the Accelerated have been unable to control her because her mind is constantly shifting, she has been unable to rescue her crew.

The group, along with the freed Sun Runners, return to the surface of the planet with A’tel’s assistance. Arriving on the surface, they set about preparing for departure. While A’tel and Daal travel down to Haven, Arresta arranges for quarters for Tarn. Lucef and Jocasta use slugthrowers to remove the orbs from their ships, slowly destroying both the organic and inorganic components.

Down below, A’tel creates panic in the streets of Haven when he warns them that their way of life is at an end. Leisha Camdeni protests and he scorns her. He indicates he has come to honour the promise he made to offer safe passage off of this planet to any who wish to accept it. No one--not even the leaders of the Third Steadfast--are willing to accept this offer from a being that fills them with dread and revulsion. Returning to the surface, A’tel turns to Daal and, as easily as he cured Arresta earlier, now removes the illness which had threatened the life of the Duro since his encounter in the City Under the Sand.
After extracting a further promise from Sunset Cassandra that he will receive his credits (and after Arresta makes the hacker promise that the funds will not come from any Cassadine accounts), Lucef allows the girl to leave with Jocasta aboard the Sun Runner II. The Flaming Halo also lifts off, and with A’tel on-board providing co-ordinates to escape the Nebula and keep the strange orbs at bay, the ship enters hyperspace safely.
Arresta and Daal have Scraper confirm that Tarn is physically unharmed, but that he is recuperating and will likely remain unconscious for several days, recovering from the ordeal of his captivity. Arresta nervously realizes that she has no idea how to tell him that much has changed: that he has an infant daughter he has never met, that they are both wanted by the Republic, and, most of all, that she is now married to another man – one who quite likely wants Tarn dead. “What do I say to him?” She nervously asks her old friend, Daal. The Duro shakes his head. “I can’t tell you that, Princess.”

[A.G. 1054]

Several days into the expected six-day hyperspace journey to Arkania, the ship suddenly drops out of hyperspace, snared in a gravity well projector set by pirates. The freighter is immediately attacked by starfighters built of a strange array of spare parts (called Uglies), which plan to disable The Flaming Halo so that a stolen Droch-class boarding ship can take over the prize. The Flaming Halo, unable to flee due to the gravity well, prepares for battle. Daal squeezes off several expert shots, damaging one of the Uglies, but they fire back. Realizing that time is of the essence, Lucef aims directly for one of the fighters and prepares to ram it. Arresta panics and tries to stop him, but the Captain knows his ship and smashes full speed into the makeshift starfighter, destroying it completely while taking relatively minor damage in return. The other fighter and the boarding ship decide that discretion is the better part of valour and flee. After destroying the gravity well projector, The Flaming Halo re-enters hyperspace with two days of travel left.

The fight did have one unexpected effect: the jolt of the collision has brought Tarn Tamarand back to consciousness. While Arresta nervously hides in the cockpit, Daal goes to speak to his old friend. Although there is some confusion at first, Daal is able to convince Tarn that he is, in fact, his old friend Marpa. The Duro explains that he was forced to change his identity during the trial on Coruscant but that he is grateful to Tarn for everything the former Padawan did to help clear the Duro’s name.

Tarn though, is focused on something else. “Where is the Princess? Is she here – is she alright?” Daal tries to distract Tarn, but to no avail. Tamarand forces himself to his feet and begins to lurch throughout the ship, calling for Arresta. The Princess hesitates, but when Lucef offers to lock the cockpit door or to knock Tarn out again, she gathers her courage.

Finding him staggering down a corridor shouting her name, Arresta rushes forward to catch Tarn before he can fall. Finally, she finds herself face to face with her former lover – a man she has twice chased across the galaxy and someone she hasn’t spoken to in person since he abandoned her in the wake of their trial on Coruscant. Tarn though, seems to have no hesitation about their reunion. He kisses her passionately, pausing only to tell her that the adventure isn’t over: “We have to stop them Princess – I know their plan – they’re going to destroy everything – the End of Days is coming.”

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