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"!

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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."