This is part of an ongoing series that examines each episode of Star Wars: Rebels as though it were a session of the West End Games D6 Star Wars: the Role-Playing Game. The game mechanics referenced in this series are drawn from the Second Edition of that game.
The last session established Lothal’s importance to the Empire and the depth of tactical planning the Imperials have put in place to ensure the survival of the New Order. The characters watched as key figure of the Rebellion turned against them, and they were literally chased from the field of battle. Outmatched and outmanoeuvred, the players now plan how the Rebellion Strikes Back.
The players use the first few moments around the table to finalise Character Point expenditure. Kanan in particular has been saving up his points to spend on Force Powers. His rationale for the expenditure is that he remembers forgotten skills as he trains Ezra, and Dave is happy with that.
However, Dave has not yet built the air of desperation and oppression to the required peak – enter Grand Moff Tarkin. The presence of Tarkin, like Vader on the second Death Star is corrective action designed to create results based on fear. Dave models the cut-scene on the opening sequence in Return of the Jedi, from the music, to the parade formations and a conversation reminiscent of ‘you may dispense with the pleasantries, Commander‘. If Tarkin is on Lothal, and if Dave plays him effectively, then the players have every reason to be nervous.
The session opens with a chase led by Aresko and Grint. The group chuckles as they realise the identity of their pursuers (Sabine has taken to calling them Abbott and Costello) and there is a good-natured rivalry in the scene that belies the seriousness of the combat. The players are forced to think quickly in a close environment to defeat the speeder bike troopers, but the scene is wrapped up quickly so that the main focus of tonight can begin.
The currency of the realm is still consequence and the decisions from last session are turned into propaganda for the Empire. The transmission showing Trayvis returning to the fold and offering a bounty on the Lothal Rebels draws mixed reactions from the group. Sabine flips open the Star Wars core rulebook to the splash page with the bounties for Luke, Han, and Chewbacca. ‘Do we rate the same yet?‘ she asks. ‘Probably not, but Dave keeps telling us we need character goals‘ replies Zeb, grinning.
During the week, the crew has been emailing constantly trying to think of a plan for this session. they have already let Dave know that they intend to direct some of the action and the GM is really pleased to let them do so.
The players have realised that they need to get people on their side (Hera points out that if Robin Hood could get the local people to help him, they should do the same for Lothal. After all, a sympathetic local populace might give them just the right edge in the coming battle). All of the key elements are already in place – a communications tower, broadcasting equipment (care of the Bridger Transmissions), and the gear on the Ghost. It’s a crazy plan, but this is the group that played Shadowrun right before this campaign – they’ve survived crazier plans in the past. The players, buoyed by confidence, aren’t ready for the next cut-scene.
Aresko and Grint
Tarkin has established dominance over the regular Imperial NPCs and now his particular brand of order needs to be demonstrated. Dave runs a scene that allows Tarkin to examine the evidence of the Rebel cell, and then (without a word) orders the deaths of Aresko and Grint – NPCs who the players were only joking about half an hour before.
This is the first major NPC death of the campaign – even Trayvis was allowed to walk away. The players are a little shocked and saddened, but this speaks to the emotional connection that has been forged. Even Zeb admits he’d feel some sense of loss of Kallus was to perish. Tarkin throws down the gauntlet to the characters by vowing ‘we will make examples of them‘. Dave’s done well to portray the Imperials as an organised, thinking, and credible threat, but the threat level has been truly raised now.
The Communications Tower
The team gathers intelligence about the site (just like the Legwork in Shadowrun, old lessons are at work here), but even that move is used against them. All that is needed is to work out the finer details.
Ezra is starting to get second thoughts about running with the plan. This is his first game and he’s become very attached to the character – the thought that he could lose his character – and by extension all of the back story and shared experience with the other players – has him worried. He’s already mentioned to Dave how hard it would be to roll up a new character and integrate it into the game. Kanan take shim aside and explains that risk and reward are what role-playing games are all about. The Star Wars RPG is all about heroics and fighting a battle that might easily be lost. It’s about having the courage to do what is right, and sacrifice if necessary. That’s what makes a role-playing game memorable. He points to the stories that Ezra’s heard about their previous games and that those stories wouldn’t be retold if they were about safety and security. Instead they’re about insane plans, great heroics, and a lot of luck. If you lose a character along the way, then make sure it’s doing something truly heroic.
To underscore his point, Sabine offers to lead the frontal assault on the Communications Tower on a speeder towing a fuel cell. When the laughter dies down, the crew realises that’s she’s serious and the assault begins. Zeb finds his true love ‘but I like this gun‘ and mentions how this is ‘just like on Battle Front!’ as he powers it up and shoots down anything that moves.
Everyone has a chance to shine as the Imperials arrive and the plan changes. Even Zeb changes his mind ‘yeah, I can get another gun‘.
Kanan has mentioned to Dave that playing a Jedi is like playing a Knight in Dragonlance – at character creation you have an idea how you want your death scene to look. As he tells Ezra that he’ll ‘be right behind you‘, and ignites his lighsaber, Kanan visualises Obi-Wan’s death in A New Hope. It’s not a bad way to go out, he decides.
As the threat raises beyond what Kanan can deal with, he protects the party by destroying the turbolift controls and prepares to face the Inquisitor.
The table goes silent. No-one has a single joke to make, nor Star Wars quote to offer. Whether Kanan survives hinges on the next scene.
The earlier Character Point spend is working in Kanan’s favour as he holds a combat encounter against the Inquisitor, but then realises that the scene will not end with combat. Hera blasts her way into the scene, destroys an Imperial ship and rescues the crew. Kanan is clearly in trouble, but right now there is a tough choice to make – Kanan orders the Phantom to leave and Hera agrees, despite Ezra’s protests.
As the message of the Rebellion is broadcast the crew feels a certain sense of accomplishment which is crushed when Tarkin orders the destruction of the Communications Tower. As the gravity of the destruction sinks in, Tarkin tells Kanan ‘you do not know what it takes to win a war, but I do.‘
The session ends on a cliff-hanger with a defiant Kanan in restraining cuffs and the question remains: was it worth it?
What did we learn?
- The last session left an impression on the players and when they saw that Trayvis walked unscathed from their encounter (and offered a bounty for their capture) this made the players want to strike back. It was a catalyst (a call) for action and a clear indication that the stakes would be raised for future sessions. Dave wanted to use the first arc of the campaign to establish the status quo and make the players comfortable with the locations and NPCs. He also wanted to slowly allow them to take more responsibility for the overall direction of every session, but that required a foundation. The gaming group all agrees that the foundation has been well-set and everyone know where they fit in the game.
- Previous sessions had a distinct theme, and Dave returns to this idea. The theme is one of sacrifice and threat. Both sides made sacrifices to progress their agenda in this session and the final outcome still hangs in the balance. Kanan’s discussion with Ezra was timely, but in many ways the entire group needed a reminder of why they played. When Ezra noticed that everyone agreed, he understood a little more about the hobby – something that isn’t covered in the rulebooks.
- Dave chose to make use of the infamous ‘To be continued’ approach to closing off the session. He did this a little while back when the group was consistently missing sessions or showing up late. Even though this hasn’t been a problem recently, the group is clamouring for the next session.
Sabine’s forgotten her note (yet again) to ask Dave about the jet pack, but we’ll see what happens next time.
Image Credits: All images have been sourced from Wookiepedia and remain the exclusive intellectual property of Disney. Their use as part of this series should not be construed as endorsement of this blog, or a challenge to their ownership of copyright for Star Wars Rebels.