Thursday, October 15, 2015

"A Storm is Coming" - Star Wars: Riptide, Episode 2

The crew gets harassed by some of Rakai's thugs while trying to smuggle contraband. Later, Balin studies under his mentor while Evo and Emily arrange a new cargo. The crew take a little detour to Bakki Station on a courier mission for the Shadow and meet Narru the Bloodless, Hutt crime lord of the sector. They finally arrive at their destination and get involved in some local trouble.

Episode 2 

Having retrieved their stolen cargo
from Vangar the Space Pirate, 
The Riptide crew return home to 
the ocean planet Auilai to deliver
their cargo of precious medicine
to the plague-stricken world.

The Crew of the Riptide
Evo Shandor - nautolan transport captain
Balin Lee - young human Jedi-in-training
Emily Wonder - human mercenary
Eggs Ledscramb - quarren bounty hunter (not present this week)

Jedi Mind Tricks
Evo, Balin, and Emily return to the Riptide to check on the repairs to the outer airlock door. A small unit of Imperial Seatroopers and imperial customs inspectors manned a checkpoint at the entrance to the docking zone. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the far edge of the docking zone. Water rushed in and began filling docking bays and interior force field membranes were having difficulty containing the extra water. There was panic and confusion and the Imperials manning the checkpoint rushed to provide assistance and secure the area. The crew used the confusion as cover to move their six contraband crates past the checkpoint without notice.

The smooth organic looking corridors of the underwater city of Panui were shaped out of living coral by advanced Auilaini force field technology and were illuminated by bioluminescent tubes. The crew followed the corridors down into the flooded roots of the tree-like city. Balin and Emily donned wetsuits and activated transparent bubble fields around their heads.

As they rounded a corridor, their way was blocked by three of Overlord Rakai's thugs. One of the thugs was riding a massive cyborg predatory fish known as a Xok. The cyborg xok was covered in articulated armor plates and its eyes were replaced with menacing blasters. The color-changing chromatophores in the xok's skin pulsed and flashed in hypnotic patterns. Each of the thugs were wearing armor and carrying undersea blasters. The mounted thug carried a shock-lance.

In a gruff voice distorted by the water, the leader shouted, "Hey! You! Stop! What's in the crates?"

Evo's chemo-receptive head tendrils twitched with information about the brutish Auilaini's emotional state and intentions. He used that information to his advantage. "These are just my personal belongings. I'm moving into a new domicile and my crew is helping me move."

The leader looked convinced and was about to dismiss them, but one of his subordinates moved to one of the boxes. "Stinking offworlders, ruining our city. How about I just confiscate one of these boxes." He put his hands on one of the boxes and started to open it.

Evo became annoyed, "No! Those are my belongings! You have no right to take them."

The subordinate glared back, "I am one of Rakai's men! I have EVERY right to take what I want from whoever I want! If I want this, I will take it!"

Evo, desperate for time, replied, "Hey, aren't you guys supposed to be responding to that explosion at the docks?"

The subordinate paused, "Leave that for the Imperials. We do what we want. And what I want is to see whats in these boxes and take what I like." He turned to open the box full of heavy repeating blasters.

Balin cleared his throat to get the thug's attention. With a wave of his hand, he explained, "It was Rakai himself that assigned us to these new quarters. You don't want to interfere with Rakai's command."

The thug looked back at the others, "You know, Rakai himself assigned them to these new quarters, we better not interfere."

The mounted thug, already convinced and ready to let them pass, moved his Xok aside and with a wave of his shock lance bade them to move along.

The crew moved along quickly and eventually arrived at "drop point two", an dark abandoned chamber in the foundations of the city. Evo moved aside the discarded shell of a giant mollusk to reveal a hidden comparment. Inside the compartment was a thick black puck attached to a wall. Evo took the puck. The crew left the weapons in the hidden compartment and returned to Myr's compound with the crates containing contraband medicine.

A Message in a Bottle
Back at the secret compound, Balin joined Myr for study and practice. Myr had been training him in the ways of the Force, and although she could no longer channel the mystic energy herself, she was able to instruct the teenage boy in how to harness his own ability.

Evo examined the puck and found that it was a container that carried three holodisks. A message written on the outside of one of the disks said "Message will play once then self-destruct." The other two were identical save one was red and the other blue. Evo inserted the first disk into his datapad and played the message.

There was no image, only a voice, masked to conceal its speaker, "This is Shadow. If you are hearing this, then you have delivered the package. You have our thanks. We need you for another mission - a courier mission. Take these disks to Bakki Station. There you will find a bar named the Space Oasis. Seek out a being named Mokko. Say to him 'There's a Storm Coming.' Our mutual contact will tell you the proper response. If Mokko tells you the proper response, give Mokko the blue disk. For any other response, give Mokko the red disk. It is a decoy. All the disks will self-destruct after being played, so do not play them! Arrange a legal shipment as a cover. Good luck and may the blessings of the Aqua Vitae be with you!"

With that the message erased itself and the disk melted into gas.

Evo told his mother about the message, she informed him that the correct response was "Then we better batten down the hatches."

Evo and Emily went down to the docking port and arranged a cargo of fresh fish packed in barrels to be transported to the planet Trondar. Evo was paied 1000 credits to load up and would receive a voucher upon delivery which entitled him to an additional payment of another 1000 credits on his return.

He took the cargo and called Balin, interrupting his practice and angering his mother, and said to pack up and grab Eggs. As soon as Parts finished fixing the airlock, they would go.

Bakki Station
Leaving Auilai was uneventful. The blockade of the planet was to prevent medicine from reaching the world, not the other way around. The Riptide entered hyperspace without incident.

The Riptide was not going directly to Trondar, however. First it would stop at Bakki station to deliver the message. Then it would continue on to Trondar.

The freighter emerged from hyperspace near Bakki station. The Hutt cartel built Bakki station in deep space, nowhere near a star or planet, along a long stretch of the Corellian Trade spine where there were few spaceports. Many spacers making the long-haul would schedule a short stop at Bakki station to refresh themselves during their long journey. It became a place for passengers to transfer from one ship to another, a place to gamble or drink or spend the night, a place to make a deal free from Imperial interference. Evo, being a short-haul transport operating within the sector, had never had much reason to go there. Only Emily had been there when she was a mercenary, though she never stayed long.

Bakki station was huge. A city in space the size of an asteroid. The station was surrounded by thousands of ships, small and large. The ship was barraged by advertising holograms as they approached. The ship docked in a caverous bay and the crew disembarked.

They passed through a short airlock tunnel and entered into a large indoor street, five stories tall, filled with beings from every species, blaring advertisements, shops and markets, and the smell of thousands of food vendors. The street branched off in all directions like any metropolis. A network of tube transports passed overhead carrying wealthy travellers above the rabble in personal tube cars.  The crew was immediately swarmed by dozens of children, none older than twelve, all offering to serve as guides to the station or to carry their belongings.

Evo shooed the children away and consulted a local information kiosk, asking for the Space Oasis. The kiosk gave them directions, which they followed to the letter. However, when they reached their destination, they could find no such establishment. They asked the kiosk again which directed them to a completely different destination, with equally frustrating results.

Emily eventually called over one of the urchins, a young human boy named Andre, and paid him to act as guide. Andre explained that he knew where the Space Oasis was and that the owner didn't want most people to find it. For a five credits, he led them directly to an unmarked door in a side alley. A sentry scanner emerged from the door on the end of an articulated stalk. After Andre introduced the crew, the door opened, and they went in.

The Space Oasis was a dingy establishment with a round bar in the center of the room. An old Mon Calamari tended bar. A fat Herglic door guard reclaimed his seat by the entrance. The room was sparsely occupied, a few people meeting in private, a few individuals drinking alone. The walls of the bar were composed of video screens showing underwater scenes. A video display in one corner showed swoop races with the sound off, a similar display in the other corner featured some kind of robotic sporting event. A droid buzzed around serving drinks.

The old Mon Calimari looked  at Balin and said, "We don't serve his kind here. The boy. He's too young."

Emily stepped up to the bar, "He's with us. He'll have something non-intoxicating. What you do have that's non-intoxicating?"

"I've got Blue Harvest, it's a kind of blue milk."

Emily nodded and said, "He'll have that. We'll all have that."

Balin and Evo nodded. The mon calamari shrugged and went into the back to get a jug of Blue Harvest from the refrigeration unit.

When he returned, Evo asked for Mokko. The Mon Calamari narrowed his large eyes and replied, "I am he."

Evo said, "There's a storm coming."

To which the lobster-like alien replied, "Then we better batten down the hatches."

With that, much of the tension in the old Mon Calamari faded. He came out from behind the bar and directed the crew to a private table. He ordered the droid to watch the bar.

Mokko apologized for the security. He explained that this bar is a refuge for members of the resistance against the Empire, so he tried to keep it secret and a safe place for like-minded individuals.

Mokko asked Evo if he had anything to deliver. Evo gave the Mon Calamari the blue disk. Mokko said, "Better give me the red disk too, just in case I need it."

After completing their exchange, they left the bar.

Narru the Bloodless
When they emerged into the alley, their way back onto the street was blocked by three burly but well-dressed trandoshans.  The three thugs were polite but terse, "Evo Shandor. You and your crew have been summoned for an audience with our employer, the proprietor of this station. Plesae come with us." The confused crew went along.

The trandoshans led the crew to a lift that elevated them to the tube network. The reptilian humanoid then summoned a luxurious tube car that carried them to a much cleaner, much swankier part of the station.

They were led into an grand audience hall the size of an auditorium. The hall descended to a circle, brightly illuminated from a massive spotlight in the ceiling, that stood before a round speaker grilled set in a massive armored cylinder where a stage might normally be located. The walls and decor were of a style reminiscent of old Coruscant: rounded geometic forms like stylized wings, radiating rays, and concentric circles, all painted gold with chrome trim. They were ordered to stand in the circle.

When they did so, the metal cylinder split in two as armored plates recessed to either side, revealing a large tank filled with bacta. Inside the tank was what appeared to be the floating corpulent body of a dead hutt, its form like a slug with arms the size of a whale, hanging lifelessly, supported by wires. Life support tubes and cables ran from the top of the tank into attachments on the hutt's body. Two glowing orbs floated around, moving of their own accord.

The large round speaker grille was still attached to the front of the tank. It crackled to life. The booming electronic voice was intimidating but not threatening.
An Audience with Narru the Bloodless

"Welcome. I am Narru, the owner of this station. I have heard of your recent incident with Vangar. Vangar hs plagued this sector and is a nusiance to me. I wished to compliment you on your tenacity in retrieving your stolen goods. That kind of dedication to the mission is a strong qualification for a transport crew. If you are amenable, I would like to hire your services."

Evo looked at his crew then replied that he was interested.

"Good. Good. I have some sensitive product that I need to have moved onto the planet Chador, and I wish to avoid Imperial interference. I am willing to pay you handsomely for your work and will arrange a legitimate cargo to provide cover for my product. For your services, I offer payment of four thousand credits. My majordomo, Major Domo, will fill you in on the particulars."

Major Domo
The crew was led out of the auditorium and into a side room where they met an older man of ubese descent. His skin was ash grey. His long straight white hair was swept back. His eyes were white orbs with black pin-pricks for pupils set in dark wrinkled bloodshot sockets. A mask covered the lower half of his face, long tubes were connected from the sides of the mask to a slowly pumping air filter on his back. When he spoke, an electronic synthesizer translated his voice into an eerie computer voice like an insect.
Major Domo
He stood at a table, crouched over a large computer display like a monk or scholar would stand over an ancient manuscript, his stylus constantly scribbling and tapping. He looked up, his face underlit by the screen. His eyes registered surprise when he saw Emily.

"You wear the armor of an ubese warrior. What is your name?"

Emily replied.

"I know of you. My son Faranko has spoken of you. He served with you on previous campaigns in your previous platoon."

Emily inquired about Faranko. "He is well and here on the station. He is assembling a new unit now to fulfill a contract on a planet in this sector. You may contact him at this address if you wish. He is looking to hire able mercenaries for this contract." Emily took the information.

Major Domo took a deep mechanical breath and then got down to business, addressing Evo and Balin, "Please state the name of your ship, your own names, and your positions aboard the ship for the record." After the crew supplied the information, he continued, "You are to transport a cargo of Ryll spice to a buyer on the planet Chador. The Ryll spice will be masked by a cargo of ten tons of frozen fish from Nesia to be loaded here at the station. You will be paid 2000 credits upon taking receipt of this cargo. You are to deliver the cargo to Tarak Dur who will provide you with a receipt as well as payment for the delivery hidden inside a shipment of power crystals. You will return to Bakki station to deliver Dur's payment, at which time you will be paid the remaining 2000 credits. I need not remind you that Ryll spice is a controlled substance and is illegal to transport within the Empire. Should your cargo be discovered by Imperial customs, you will be imprisoned. Are my instructions clear? Good.  Your ship is to be loaded in four hours. In the meantime, you are free to explore the station. "

The crew spent the next four hours hleping load the new crates of fish, packed in refrigerated shipping containers, and preparing their ship for take-off. Emily never contacted Faranko.

The Riptide approaches Trondar
The Rip Tide emerged from its fourty hour hyperspace journey near a grey and white planet known as Trondar. There was little subspace traffic and no other starships, only the beacon of the planetary landing facility. Evo scanned the planet. Trondar was a cold mountainous world in the midst of an ice age. Half of the world was covered in glacial ice sheets. The equatorial region boasted primitive conifer forests, cool seas, rushing rivers, and plains of loose gravel left by retreating glaciers. There was no visible technology other than a small settlement on a plain near one of the alpine mountain ranges. The landing facility traffic control was automated and they soon landed near another starship, an old nu-class attack shuttle.

The settlement was little more than a landing pad, communications tower, power generator, and a customs office. The structure that housed the customs office was ugly and utilitarian, resembling several concrete domes growing out of a long concrete mound. A few other pre-fab concrete domes were erected in a walled compound nearby. The outer city was primitive and consisted of dozens of wooden structures covered in hide and mud. A large wooden long-house dominated the center of town. The entire settlement was surrounded by a gated wooden palisade. The natives appeared to be humans who had returned to primitivism after hundreds of thousands of years of isolation. They were hairy brutes who wore skins, hides, and furs mixed with technologically advanced helmets, bits of armor, and trinkets, bits, and bobs.

The crew entered the customs office which was packed with over two dozen mercenaries. An ubese captain, his helmet off revealing the ash-grey skin of a man in his thirties, a breath mask covering his mouth and nose, was arguing with the customs officer, a fat Imperial bureaucrat. Evo stepped forward to try to diffuse the argument. The ubese captain turned and started to shout at Evo when he saw Emily.

The electronically modulated voice from the breath mask shouted, "Emily! Emily Wonder! It is great to see you! My father said he saw you at the station. What are you doing here?"

Emily grabbed the ubese captain's forearm in a friendly grip, "Faranko! What are you doing here?"

"We're on a mission. We've been hired by a local warlord to take out another warlord. You know how it is. Except that this pig here is trying to charge us 1000 credits for a landing fee! I wouldn't pay ten credits to park in this dung heap! What about you?"

"We're delivering fish to the locals. As soon as we get our delivery voucher, we're leaving."

"That's too bad," Faranko replied, "You're good. We could use someone like you. You wouldn't care to join us on a mission? We can cut your crew in too."

"No. Thanks."

Meanwhile, Evo was talking with the custom's officer.

"Hi Ensign... Frick. What's the problem here? Why the hold-up?"

Ensign Frick rubbed his chin then rubbed his forehead. "The landing fee here is 1000 credits. This man won't pay."

Evo was taken aback. "A thousand...! How can it be a thousand credits?"

Ensign Frick looked surreptitiously to his left and right, "Look, we don't get a lot of opportunities out here. He's a mercenary! He's got the credits! He can afford it!"

Evo took Ensign Frick into his confidence, putting a conspiratorial arm about the officer's shoulder, "Yeah, I get it. Look. You're aiming too high. You've got to lower the bar a little. Yes, they're mercenaries. But look at these guys. They're young, they're desperate. And look who they're coming to work for! You think those guys out there are going to be paying these guys a lot of money? Maybe you should reconsider the docking fee. How about a hundred?"

Ensign Frick considered the idea and nodded. He broke free of Evo and spoke up to Faranko, "I have just re-checked the regulations and I was mistaken. The docking fee is 100 credits for armed mercenary transports," He shot a nasty look at Evo, "200 credits for cargo transports!"

Evo rolled his eyes and sighed. Faranko looked up from his conversation with Emily, "Fine! But we're never coming back to this frozen dump!"

GM Note - Warning. At this point, I was no longer really prepared and really struggled with what happened next. I tried to make up some conflict on the spot and wound up creating a really weak scenario that I had to un-do and one point and wish I could un-do again. Pretty much everything after this point doesn't make any real sense, and only the outstanding role-playing of Evo's player keeps me from wiping it out this next session. 

Loki, leader of the Trond

The crew inquired with the locals about the delivery and were directed to the long house at the center of the settlement. There they were given an audience with Loki, leader of the Trond. Loki was a thin wiry fellow with dark scraggly hair and a bushy goatee. He wore skins and furs mixed with ancient armor once common with galactic soldiers.

The crew announched that they were here to make a delivery of 30 tons of fish from Auilai. All they needed was Loki's voucher verifying delivery of the goods and they would leave. Loki informed them that he would need to inspect the cargo before taking delivery of them, and asked that they wait in a nearby tavern. The crew agreed.

About an hour later, they were summoned back to the long house. Loki was now surrounded by many of Faranko's mercenaries. He had obviously armed up for some kind of confrontation. Loki informed Evo that he would be taking the fish, as well as confiscating Evo's transport. Loki explained that his people were at war with the Dero, a dwarf-like species native to Trondar, and that the Trond were in need of armed spacecraft to help win this war. He hired Faranko's mercenaries to storm the Dero fortress in the mountains and he wanted Evo's spacecraft to transport his own troops.  Loki then ordered Faranko's men to capture Evo and his crew.

Evo replied with incredulity, "Wait! Wait! Wait!" Faranko's men paused. Evo informed Loki that this tactic was pointless and unnecessary. He explained that the ship's security prevented him from taking the ship and even if he could take it, there's no way Loki would be able to operate the ship.

Loki argued that Faranko's men would operate the ship. Faranko, looking embarrased to be associated with this plan, shrugged as if to apologize.

Evo then switched to another strategy. He offered to help Loki in exchange for payment. Loki replied that he was unable to pay for the ship because the treasury had been paid to Faranko. However, he did acknowledge that payment would be assured if they took the Dero fortress. The Dero were miners and had vast stores of metals and gold.

Evo began pressing Loki for tactical details. When was the assault planned? How many Dero were there? What defenses did the Dero have? What was the terrain like? What was the approach like? Loki said that the assault was planned for tomorrow morning, that the Dero fortress was built deep into a mountainside and was protected by heavy steel gates and two turbolasers, and that there were hundreds of Dero warriors supported by two large dragon-creatures.

Evo made a new offer: Evo's crew would transport Loki's men to help take the fortress if Loki paid Evo's crew what he was paying Faranko's entire unit. Faranko balked, "There's no way they're being paid as much as us!"

Loki made a counter offer, "I'll pay you HALF of what I'm paying Faranko's unit."

Evo agreed.


GM Notes
I kind of cleaned up the ending from what really happened in the game so that it was more logical and flowed better. In reality, Evo's player really DID do a great job roleplaying and arguing with Loki and pressing him for details and a better offer. But I was not prepared with a lot of the answers yet, so it wound up making Loki look unprepared and gave the impression that Loki was an idiot. That was not my intention, it was simply a result of me not being prepared and trying to force a battle because the players looked like they were starting to get bored of all the role-playing.

Instead, Evo's player kicked the role-playing up a notch and made a great Evo-centric scene, at the cost of Loki (and maybe me a little) looking foolish.

The whole point of this week's session was to establish a sense of place. What's it like on Auilai. What's going on with some of the nearby worlds? Who's doing what in the sector? It was all about exploration and introductions and giving the players a sense of what "everyday" life is like for their characters, as well as allowing the players some narrative freedom and agency in their own story and where it goes. I wanted to make it clear that this was not going to be a railroad and that they were in control of the narrative.

We're not playing this week so the next session will be next week. At that point I'll try to have a quick battle, some fun with Imperials, and steer the overall story back to being about Rebel saboteurs.