Read the reports for the Pilot.
On Wednesday 4/28 we got together to play the first episode of the regular series of Star Wars: The Sith Triumvirate Primetime Adventures game.The players were actually quite pumped for this, especially given it would be the one opportunity for us to play before my return to Miami later in the week.
Before the game, one of the players in Braulio’s regular Star Wars RPG game showed up to check out the game, urged by Braulio. It gave us a chance to use something I did not remember reading in the book and which I cannot recall ever reading about in any PTA Actual Play: we had an Audience. This player, who at first was like, “PTA sounds kinda dumb,” read the blog post I made on the Pilot and changed to a resounding, “PTA sounds cool.” Later on, another friend of the game group showed up and became part of the Audience as well.
In addition to the Audience, we also added a new protagonist to the group. The player made a Mandalorian Bounty Hunter whose issue deals with his quest to become a new Mandalore. The Bounty Hunter has some connection to House Fett (though he’s not a member of it), quite specifically, a Contact who’s a direct descendant of Boba Fett.
I got some heat from one of my players because (and he’s absolutely right) I forgot to include some other scenes from the Pilot in my report, perhaps undercutting the contribution of the Enforcer and Archivist, so this time I took notes of the scenes we played during each round (having left behind, again, my digital recorder, great podcaster that I am).
I warn you, it is long.
Season 1, Episode 1
I decided to start with a bang to try to force (no pun intended) a conflict early on, so I used one of the Next Time On scenes, the Enforcer’s namely: The Sith Triumvirate return to Coruscant, each going their own way to handle different businesses. The Enforcer walks through the gates of the Imperial Palace and is immediately Force-racked by Lady Vader. She wastes no time in berating her apprentice even as she continues to pull his limbs in all directions for having failed to report his actions at House Calrissian (he reported his findings, but not his actions at the palace). Now, she says, one of the most powerful noble houses of the Republic is on high alert and, insignificant as they are compared to her power, could be a threat to her plans. The Enforcer calls a conflict to assert himself to his mistress and stop being treated like a common lackey. He wins, and proceeds to grudgingly gain Lady Vader’s respect, as well as a warning to better mind his actions next time lest he completely ruin her plans. He is then dismissed, and summoned to her chambers later that night.
In the next scene, the Historian meets with the Mandalorian Bounty Hunter aboard one of the orbiting Death Stars to talk about the information the former had contracted the latter to find out. The Bounty Hunter says he has tracked her and found a small base, in the planet Hoth. The Historian offers greater payment and asks the Mandalorian to go gather reconnaissance and to wait for his arrival there. In the next scene we see that, as the Historian is about the leave, he senses someone nearby; the woman who looks like Jaina Solo steps out from a hiding place and says, “I’m here.” (the Historian’s Next Time On from the Pilot). The scene goes on for a bit, with the Historian accusing “Jaina” of having killed Matron Calrissian, and “Jaina” being shocked to learn that the Matron was dead, denying any involvement in that act, given her operatives all attacked the east wing and the Matron’s quarters reside on the west of the palace. The Historian called a conflict to know how “Jaina” had made it into a Sith Death Star, which he won and narrated, stating simply that “this face opens doors.” (Looking back, I think it was a weak conflict to go into, and the narration didn’t really pop or add anything new, though the concept of “this face” was vague enough to give me some ideas for later on.) The two resume their argument about the Historian not seeing the big picture, eventually entering into another conflict for “Jaina” to speak plainly about who she is and who her people are. I win the conflict, so she remains vague about these points, telling the Historian that they will meet again. As she leaves, she suddenly turns and calls out to the Historian, telling him of the lightsaber he carries (Luke’s) that he must be worthy of it or she’ll take it from him.
The Enforcer goes to his late-night meeting with (a very naked) Lady Vader, only to be contacted by the Historian with coordinates where to meet him at immediately. As the Enforcer, consumed with duty as he is, leaves Lady Vader behind, he sees another man enter the chambers in his stead. He uses the Force to get a hair from this man which he sends off for genetic identification. (In retrospect, there could have been a conflict here of a very personal nature for this character, but I missed it due to a case of shortsightedness with the Enforcer on my part – see the Debriefing for more on this). Meanwhile, the Archivist plays up to his issue and tries to access the files which Lady Vader had ordered him not to meddle with in the Pilot. This was a conflict with a lot of cards on the table; I went in with my full allotment of five budget chips, and the players all piled up their cards in response, ending up a bit over 2-to-1 on their favor. They won, but only by one point and I won narration, so the Archivist found some personal information about the solo operative they met in the Pilot (unnamed as of yet), that his mission involves going undercover into the fledgling rebellion to help form it into a cohesive force, and a reference to “Codename: Starkiller.”
On the planet Hoth, the Mandalorian meets his squad of soldiers and together they enter a conflict to scout the ruins of the ancient Shield Generators for information and lace it up with hidden thermal detonators. He loses the conflict and I win narration, so the reconnaissance seems to go off without any problems, though the only data he can gather is that there only seems to be a few people here and that it seems to be a secondary waystation rather than a main base (Listen to the original Star Wars PTA game to know the real deal going on in Hoth). As the Mandalorian’s about to leave, he sees a figure he somewhat recognizes working on an ancient A-Wing starship, a man from House Fett, he is sure… Chodox Fett (again, listen to the original Star Wars PTA game). The Bounty Hunter decides to go talk to Chodox, and he tells him that, though Chodox doesn’t know him yet, he has heard of him and his starfighter exploits. The Bounty Hunter asks Chodox whose side is he on, the rebellion or the Mandalorians, to which Chodox replies that it could be both, perhaps. They agree to speak at a later time, and the Bounty Hunter tells Chodox that Lady Fett is coming to Hoth. Chodox tells him to not allow that, and to give his regards to Lady Fett, that he still remembers. As a Jedi enters the hangar (a cameo appearance by my own character, Obi-Wan Skywalker, in a scene which we actually played through in the Star Wars PTA game), we enter a conflict to see if the Bounty Hunter is detected as he engages his personal cloaking device or not. He wins, so he seemingly gets to walk out undetected.
The Enforcer then frames a short scene wherein we learn the identity of the other man walking into Lady Vader’s chambers when he left, a General Hope. The Enforcer orders a token number of ships to be sent to Hoth to deal with the amassing rebel fleet there, specifically at the command of this general, and orders updates once those ships have engaged the enemy.
In the next scene, the Historian and Archivist arrive at a dead world, flying their ship into a tunnel leading down into the dead core, eventually finding a cutting-edge technological complex. As they get out to investigate, they realize it’s an abandoned cloning facility, yet one far from deserted. From cloning tubes all around, clones of a handful of different subjects activate, each pulling out a lightsaber and rushing the intruders, including three clones of each of the Sith player characters. The Sith enter a conflict to get to the bottom of the mystery of this cloning facility. The Enforcer paid a fan mail chip to be a part of the scene, and between the three of them, plus fan mail from the Bounty Hunter, and the cards from the Audience, they win the conflict and narration, and we have an all-out battle with tons of Lucasfilm eye-candy: the Enforcer arrives in his starfighter in time to blast a bunch of clones away; the Historian battles the sabrak from his Next Time On and wins; the Archivist plays around with Force push; all three put the Emperor to shame with liberal use of combined Force lightning; the Sith Lords battle their clones, which have been trained to counter the known styles of the Triumvirate, yet fall short in mastery of the Force and are cut down into mincemeat. In short, a fight scene worthy of the Star Wars name.
The sequence continued with the Triumvirate racing deep into the facility, looking for the mainframe. Once there they find the computer has engaged the Auto Destruct sequence, so we enter another conflict (a conflict within a conflict?!) for the Archivist to stop the countdown. He wins, so he’s able to dig into the data and learn that the cloning facility is working on creating Force-using clones (with the sole success being the clones of the Triumvirate members), that it was established by the fledgling rebellion, and that the facility schematics and genetic material of the Triumvirate was provided by Lady Vader.
It’s my turn to frame the scene, so I use the Archivist’s Next Time On, and we see an orange lightsaber–the Historian’s–light up, as he jumps at the Enforcer. Finally we have a inter-party conflict! The Historian calls for a conflict to subdue the Enforcer and make him admit what he knows of this scheme. The Enforcer enters the conflict to beat the Historian into a pulp and cut his arm off (a strong Star Wars trope finally makes an appearance); he hasn’t liked the Historian since the start of the show, so I’m looking forward to exploring what’s the history between these two in a future episode. The Audience, excited and hollering, cast their support. The Archivist vacillates for a (long) while between supporting one side with his fan mail, or entering the conflict personally and putting himself in harm’s way, eventually choosing to enter personally to try to stop the duel. Budget’s paid (5, all I had left!), Edges are invoked, fan mail is spent, boastful challenges are issued, insults are spitted back; cards are flipped, points are counted…
The Historian wins both conflict and narration. The Enforcer is not a happy camper.
The Historian and Enforcer fight with the ferocity and anger that only two Siths can have for each other. The Archivist does his best to stop them, succeeding only in blocking their most lethal swings. The Audience is loving every single moment of the duel. But it ends when the Historian pulls Luke’s lightsaber and pins the Enforcer against a wall, two lightsaber blades crossed against his neck. The Historian demands to know what the other knows of this plan; one false move, one false word, and he promises death.
If the scene described above was the hardest to frame, this conflict was the hardest to narrate. Since it involved a player character, there was a 10-minute back and forth between the players determining what the Enforcer’s response would be. It seemed that the Enforcer’s player was very reticent to any dialogue that didn’t quite jive with the trajectory he had more or less laid out for the character, though he did have some valid points on why some of the suggestions of the Historian’s player (the Enforcer knew of Lady Vader’s plan and was willingly helping her) would not be feasible story-wise, since he would have acted differently (the Enforcer would have killed everyone and sacrificed himself if needed to protect Lady Vader’s secrets). I completely let the players solve this out, intervening only when things were in danger of devolving into nonsensical chatter, bringing them back to the scene and the characters’ reaction to the newly-found knowledge. In the end the Enforcer did not know of Lady Vader’s plan and felt betrayed, though he did not give out any indication to his fellow Sith. The Historian grew frustrated with the Enforcer, calling him a lackey of “esa perra” (that bitch) as he stormed off. The Archivist followed after the Historian and Enforcer, perhaps a bit too passive for a Sith Lord and a protagonist, something I’d like to address in later episodes.
Outside the facility they meet the Bounty Hunter who comes to report on what he found at Hoth. The Historian orders him to detonate the charges laid in the base, but when the Bounty Hunter tries to contact his other Mandalorians, he meets only static. Immediately a holo-communication arrives for the Enforcer from his contact inside General Hope’s ship, telling him that a Death Star has just emerged from hyperspace, if that was also part of his pla… The holocomm goes dead, the image vanishing. The Sith depart to meet onboard their starship, the Bounty Hunter following, destroying the facility by firing a massive amount of torpedoes into the cave that hid it. As they arrive at the command center of their main starship and enter hyperspace, the Enforcer receives a message from a fellow member of the Sith Council, Lady Valmiria: “You are pariah. Do not come back.”
Next Time On…
- The Archivist, standing in an observation lounge inside his Death Star, Force-chokes a Sith Republic officer while several dead Stormtroopers lie about, as he says, “I said I did not wan to be disturbed.”
- The Enforcer meets with Lady Valmiria in what seems to be a cave. She says, “You’ve been betrayed by Lord Vader, and Lady Vader is missing.”
- The Mandalorian Bounty Hunter walks up to a table at the Mos Eisley Cantina where Chodox Fett sits waiting and tells him, “Lady Fett is looking for you.”
- In a forest somewhere, the Historian looks at the woman who looks like Jaina Solo as she turns around, holding Luke’s lightsaber, and says, “I told you I would take this from you.”
- In a dark room, a door is outlined in red neon. In the crimson twilight, Darth Vader comes into view, the telltale respirator the only sound there is.
Even though we had some bumps and missed opportunities, things certainly improved since the Pilot session and I was incredibly pleased with that. Each of the original three players embodied much better their characters, which in turn made the roleplaying go a lot smoother. The conflicts, for the most part, drove the story forward and there were a few surprises borne out of a particular winning split combination that made for edge-of-your-seat excitement. On my end, I continued to weave bits of scenes we had already played through in the original Star Wars PTA game from Gen Con, even bringing in a second cameo by one of the characters from that group with Chodox Fett. In short, a fulfilling and entertaining session all around.
For this episode, we added a new player. The idea was not mine and I was surprised to be notified of it (Braulio said he mentioned something at the end of the previous game, which may be true and I simply did not catch it). That said, I pondered it for a moment and acceded to the addition of a fourth player, knowing from experience that this is still a good-sized group for PTA. Plus, the addition of a non-Sith brought the potential for different kinds of conflicts, as well as a way to break the “balance” of the Triumvirate and to show more parts of this particular Star Wars universe.
More significant (and this is no slight whatsoever to the new player) was the addition of the Audience. I had missed that one page at the end when I read the book, and to my recollection, I have never heard/read a PTA Actual Play report that featured an Audience, so I knew this would be, if nothing else, an interesting experiment. I was pleased as punch when it turns out it added a whole new dimension to the game dynamic of the game. We had two people as Audience, and they did what any Star Wars fanboy watching this series would do: they cheered the protagonists, they cheered the antagonists, they whooped and hollered during the fight scenes, talked smack about the characters in the show, armchair-quarterbacked the action, identified with particular characters, and boasted of what they would do if they were the narrators. This, rather than distract the “main” players, actually pumped them up; as characters they had immediate feedback on their actions, and as players they had a bigger pool of people to discuss where to take things when they were stuck. When it came to conflicts, the free card each Audience member receives actually made a difference at times, pushing the winning side over by a point, or even winning narration from any of the protagonists. The Audience mechanic, we all agreed, was great, because it allowed people to watch the game but yet be a part of it in some way, to share in the investment. I have heard it said that roleplaying is not a spectator sport, but the PTA Audience mechanic takes care of that quite well.
The conflicts in this session rocked my socks off with very few exceptions. The players were more willing to get in too deep and we were all rewarded for it. We even had inter-player conflict, which I had been craving from the start, and it did not disappoint, even if resolving the results of that conflict took great effort, as I described above. I was particularly pleased with the very first conflict of the night between the Enforcer and Lady Vader, first because the players understood from the previous session the value of having an early conflict to make some fan mail available as soon as possible (and they used fan mail quite well during the episode), and second because I totally goaded the player into it in the hopes of seeing some character development and he did not disappoint me in the least. Yes, there were some conflicts that, in retrospect, could have been better, but they seemed to have worked during the game so it’s hard to know if they were bad or just lacking.
As I wrote the report, though, I realized that at one point we did have a conflict happen before a previous conflict’s results had resolved. Looking back I see it was bad GM-ing on my part: they won a conflict to learn some critical info, and rather than just giving it to them, subconsciously I guess I felt it was too easy and threw another conflict in their way. I need to be more aware of slip-ups like that in the future, though to our credit, that second conflict-within-the-conflict is what drove the story to the emotional gut-punching episode climax at the end.
There were some things that I feel were just not great. The Bounty Hunter and the Archivist remained marginal characters at most, especially the new character. Actually, the character, with a Screen Presence of 1 for this episode, was fine; it was the player that was left on the margins. I need to be more aware of this so I can bring the player into the collaborative exercise, even if his in-game avatar is not present at any particular scene (though to be fair to the new player, he took to off-the-cuff narration and fact declaration like a fish to water). The Archivist, as a character, suffers from this as well, and I need to keep an eye out and find ways to bring him more into the forefront; he is a full one-third of the Triumvirate, a Sith Lord, and should behave accordingly.
The scene with the Archivist and the Historian at the cloning faciltity was one the hardest one to frame the entire night. The Historian’s player knew what he wanted but we kept floundering with framing that went on and on with exposition and story-telling as opposed to story-doing. As Producer, I tried to help him a couple of times, asking question to help focus the meandering exposition, even getting obnoxious, I admit, in my attempts to actually get to a scene where there would be game, not just more talk. The Historian used his Next Time On and that was the clue to the actual scene to be played. It took a lot out of us to get this scene ready for play, and in retrospect (and only in retrospect), I still don’t think it was the best we could have done, though we were all pleased with where it took us.
A few days later I read in a post over at the Dog Eared Designs’ forums that each player is supposed to say what they would want a scene to be about, with whom, what they want to explore, etc. but that it is the Producer’s responsibility to actually frame the scene based on what the player requested for it. Thinking about it, though we did not play the Gen Con Star Wars PTA game like this, it makes sense, if not as a global rule, then certainly as a help that can be invoked if a player is having problems framing a scene. I need to go back and listen to the recordings of the Star Wars PTA game to see how we handled this in practice during those sessions.
We finished the game around midnight, and everyone was up for a second episode, trying to make the most of my time left in Puerto Rico, so we took a short break and went back into the breach. It didn’t turn out to be a full episode – more of a webisode, if anything – but I’ll talk about that in a later report.