Getting From Here to Oomph in the City in Ice

In a recent couple of posts, I wrote about how I want a little more drama and excitement – a little more oomph, if you will – in my RPG sessions, particularly in The Saga of the Bin Chicken, the Star Wars: Force and Destiny campaign I am game master for.

In the post before last, I discussed some ways that I could help and encourage my players to bring the potential oomph in their characters out via their chosen Emotional Strengths, Emotional Weaknesses and Motivations. This time, I want to move the spotlight back to me in my role as game master.

I believe it’s the GM’s job to set and encourage the tone of the game by demonstrating it to the players, not telling them. But it’s more than just that; it’s down to me to pick up on what gets my players excited, and develop that out; that way, I cue off the things they’re already excited about and improve the likelihood of an immediate emotional response to what I introduce.

As I wrote earlier, the thing that my players have responded to the most so far is The City in Ice, which I detail more below. They loved the place, especially its mystery, and were only trying to get out because they knew I had something else planned and not done any development of what was in the City.

In that vein, I aim to chuck my plans out the window and develop some cool hot compelling goings on in the City; present something to my players right off the bat next session that will excite them, hopefully compel them to leap in with both boots. I do not want to create the opening such that there’s an obvious “side” that I Mean For Them To Choose; whatever they come up with in response is cool great, as long as they choose to respond.

The Story So Far

The Force-sensitive crew of the Bin Chicken, a Corellian YT-1300 series freighter, took a detour during the Mezzren Thread, a space race with a nice cash prize and potential for work as smugglers on offer, to try and access a hyperspace corridor they thought would lead to Ossus, fabled birthplace of the Jedi Order (Terraj was keen to raid it for holocrons). Instead, it led to a planet in the outskirts of an unknown system.

They followed a freighter in distress that had gone through the corridor ahead of them to a crevasse in the planet’s glacier-locked surface, where they discovered a massive doorway that responded to using the Force. Beyond it was a huge cavern within the glacier, one that appeared artificial, filled with towering stalagmites, looming stalactites and natural columns with openings that suggested windows – this place almost seemed a naturally formed city.

“Big 4 Ice Caves Explorer” by Michael Matti is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

A platform on the other side of the entryway housed what seemed to be a control building and also a sheet of ice containing a mural of a battle between two groups; some members of one group appeared to wield lightsabres, while the other group appeared to be defending a strange shape that looked like a combination of a thorn bush and a tornado.

A little playing around in the control building by Nerdra resulted in a couple of squads of ice droids being deployed from hatches in the platform’s floor. Attempts to access their systems were met with a negative response, but the droids – who appeared to be equipped for security purposes – remained at ready.

In the meantime, the rest of the players discovered that the crashed freighter’s pilot was Santara Loscar, one of the missing crew of the Arc. She identified the shape in the mural as one that a consortium within Tarmadan Sector commissioned Henday Anorr to research, but after investigating it, Henday became very scared.

The consortium found them and demanded Henday’s research; instead, she took her crew, fled to an out of the way spot and told them all to take parts of the research and go into hiding. Whilst on the run, Santara had got tangled up with some local resistance that had broken some slaves out of an Imperial work facility (hence being on the run in the damaged freighter).

Unbeknownst to Santara and the players, one of those slaves managed to access the freighter’s comm system and summon the Empire in exchange for freeing the rest of his family, and an Imperial shuttle soon arrived, disgorging a unit of Stormtroopers and Captain Juclan Dracyp, an NPC we came up with during the Decuma session.

In a prior escapade, the Bin Chicken crew had ran afoul of Dracyp, who uncovered their ship’s history and held it over them in return for their acting as his agents should he have need. Dracyp offered them a deal; they depart, but leave the slaves behind.

Thanks to some negotiation, the players managed to take the wounded of the slaves away, but as soon as they were in an advantageous position, they went back on their word and opened fire (as it’s been a couple of months since the session, I’m debating whether to give them any Conflict for that). Thanks to Nerdra’s use of the console, the players were able to send the deployed ice droids against the stormtroopers, keeping all but a couple of squads busy.

At least one of their number, Ghronna, has been badly wounded, enough to put her above her wound threshold, during the fight, and Santara’s co-pilot is also still seriously injured from their crash; nonetheless, they were still able to drive Dracyp off and get themselves and all the slaves out to the Bin Chicken (except for the turncoat, whom Captain Dracyp had already escorted away).

Kicking the next session off with an oomph

WARNING TO MY PLAYERS: The following plans for the next session are spoiler content; reading on may damage your spontaneous enjoyment of this session. I strongly recommend you browse elsewhere.

If there’s one thing I’ve discovered about my GM style, it’s that I can’t stand flavourless encounters with a solution that the players have to roll dice for until they get a success and non-player characters whose only directive is “fight until they are destroyed.” I found myself wanting to get the fights over and done with as soon as possible.

So I want to make sure that whatever they encounter in the City isn’t a what – we’ve already had that with the ice droids – so much as a whom. I want some NPCs with conflicting motives, who have to be bargained with and who will fall back and flee if things don’t go their way (and may the need to be pursued in order to stop a contingency plan).

When we last left our heroes…

Right. First problem: The players are now all crowded aboard the Bin Chicken with all the folks they’ve rescued, some needing medical aid. The original plan was, one of their rescuees and/or player character Max Stormflight (if Shane can make it this session) has the coordinates for another hyperspace corridor, one that will spit them out near the finish line of the Mezzren Thread race.

However, to give them an excuse to stay, I think that some sort of tractor beam or other fancy gravity effect locks the Bin Chicken in place on the landing platform outside the cavern; she can’t leave. However, the Imperial shuttle can, lifting off and heading out the way it came in.

I’d introduced earlier that the corridors only stay open for a limited time every year due to a specific celestial confluence; soon, the planets and stars in question will move out of alignment and the at hyperspace corridors seal themselves off. At the least, it will happen before Captain Dracyp can return in force, but it may still serve to put some time pressure on the players, especially those who want the cash for completing the race.

There’s also the pressure to find medical aid for Ghronna, who is the team’s healer, and the co-pilot of the crashed freighter.

Deeper into the cavern

If the players return to the security bunker in the main entrance and check the console, they will be able to identify that the lockdown was commenced from some sort of master override from a main console further within the cavern and can’t be overridden from where they are.

That’s when they start hearing noises from further within the cavern. The echo makes it hard to determine, but Perception checks may indicate that it sounds like a series of electrical shorts, like several main power conduits have come loose and are shorting on another surface.

If Amnen and Ghronna happen to make the Perception checks, though, and roll particularly well, they realise the noises are something else, something familiar from two decades ago…

Lightsabre combat.

I’m thinking that, as the City in Ice has come alive for the players, it’s also awoken a bunch of folks who went into cryogenic freeze hundreds if not thousands of years ago, including a contingent of Jedi. They are continuing a combat that started just before they went into the freezers about a desperate action that was about to be taken. Maybe they’re arguing over moving the planet back into a closer orbit to thaw it out.

Another of the thawed contingent (perhaps even a different model of the ice droids they encountered earlier, an ancient protocol droid) accessed the security system and watched as the Bin Chicken crew ambushed the Imperials. They recognised the occasional use of the Force by the players (I think some of them used the Force in the fight) and realised they would be able to help stop the fight between the two sides; in return, the may be able to get access to medical equipment and supplies.

My aim here is not to have any obvious “bad” option for the players; i.e. no matter which way the players jump (assuming they even choose a side) I will have some interesting NPCs for them to interact with and some further challenges going on.

I also want each side in the combat to have enough NPCs to put an entertaining fight up and an option to break off and flee if the fight doesn’t go their way (as well as an idea for what they may do next once they get to a safe place and rally themselves, and how that could come back to the players).

A thought was to ensure each side had decent motives behind their actions; one serves the Wild Shape but out of genuine motives; the other knows the evil at the heart of the Shape and can’t let it gain any advantage. It may be tricky to show that off, though.

I also want to put some pressure on the players to take some sort of immediate action. Maybe there’s something on the other side of the fight that the players need right now. Medical supplies? Is the fight at the entrance to an infirmary?

Might there be holocrons that Amnen and particularly Terraj and may want, or some other item of significance that Hilsepu might want to check out? If so, what’s about to happen to them? Are the combatants doing a lot of collateral damage with their blasters and lightsabres? Is there some sort of countdown to an event where the needed thing is at, i.e. a furnace starting or an explosive counting down? Is one of the combatants trying to destroy something that the other needs? A beacon that would otherwise summon aid, perhaps?

And maybe someone becomes desperate when the players intervene. It’s a desperate moment for all involved; had to take hard actions at the end of the conflict with the Wild Shape and someone may be at risk of falling to the dark side.

Maybe the Wild Shape itself even starts reaching out to the players, making offers…

Getting specific

Okay, I think I’ve got enough general ideas to work with, and enough writing for one post. So, what the check; I’m going to try for two posts in one week and come abck in a few days (the day of the next session, actually) with my notes on the NPCs I’m now calling – the Thawed…