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.
Despite happily labelling the group ‘Rebels’, Dave realises that it has been a while since the group dedicated a session to what it meant to be a Rebel. In the last session, the characters saw the tangible evidence of Imperial response to their actions, and Lothals’ importance to the Empire has been slowly revealed.
The Outer Rim was selected as a the campaign setting because a remote location has story-telling advantages. Dave needed to think about the strategic value of the planet in the grand scale of the Empire, so that there was a reason for Imperial forces to actually want to hold onto Lothal. If it were a backwater planet with no resources or no strategic value then it would be reasonable for the Empire to withdraw from the planet based on simple return on investment – which doesn’t lead to an exciting story.
The characters have learned from Tseebo about the TIE Fighter production increases, they know about the natural resources of Lothal from Lando, they have encountered the Imperial Academy, destroyed a cutting edge new TIE Advanced, and also discovered a Jedi Temple. Simply put, Lothal is a deeply attractive asset for the Empire and a Rebel struggle here makes sense.
In this session, the Rebel cause will be in the foreground, and the depth of the Empire’s treachery revealed. Dave will shift the tone of the story dramatically, but it’s just the sort of displacement the Spectres need – one might even say that this will be a Call to Action (for next session, perhaps).
In a very different training session, Zeb and Chopper are behaving whilst helping Ezra. Dave, Kanan, and Ezra have refreshed their knowledge of the Lighsaber Combat Force Power and want to spend a little time mastering the deflection mechanics. Ezra’s mastered the activation rolls for the Power (he hasn’t been asking rules for a couple of sessions now, and sees this as a major achievement) but this one needs some work.
However, Dave has also been speaking to the group in downtime and has explained that Senator Trayvis is spreading the word. His manipulation of the HoloNet is admirable, and the Spectres can see a potential ally.
As Sabine joins the fray to ‘train’ Ezra, the Force intrudes on the lightsaber practice. The Force has been depicted in this game already as potentially sentient, and as the Vision unfolds Ezra latches onto some of the points, but only ‘from a certain point of view‘.
As the Senators transmission starts, Dave foreshadows the upcoming scenes, and will point this out later. Zeb will try and put him in a headlock, but he’ll point it out anyway. The transmission begins with Minister Tua talking about the impending capture of the Rebels and states ‘I have assurances from’ and is then cut off with the words ‘Senator Gall Trayvis‘ as the rogue transmission begins. If the statements are read as a complete sentence, then the first clue has been revealed.
The mysterious Fulcrum has already provided some intelligence about Trayvis’ standard operating procedure, which is relayed to the group. Hera has come to enjoy having the ‘secret NPC contact’ and Dave is using it (lightly) to steer perception. Even though Hera has stated clearly that she doesn’t want to know who Fulcrum is until everyone else, she still relishes the special access to someone who is obviously better connected than the crew of the Ghost.
Once the clues have been figured out, the Spectres are quick to admit that the riddle was a little easy. Kallus and the Inquisitor have both been portrayed as cunning and resourceful – it’s believable that either Imperial could also solve the puzzle.
Hera’s not the only one with a secret source as a trip to the Imperial Academy and a conversation with Zare proves. Whilst Zare is able to provide some information, Dave reminds the crew that NPCs need their own motivations too – in this case, Zare is leaving Lothal in the service of the Empire to look for his sister (remember that subplot?). In any case, Zare’s off-world transfer to Arkanis opens up storytelling potential, so we might see more of this recruit yet.
The scene ends with a hasty farewell, a chase, and the knowledge that ‘it’s a trap!‘ (as Sabine interjects). A small part of the Vision has come to pass.
The Senate Building
The Rebels realise that their advantage lies in guerilla tactics (this will be a continuing theme for the Rebellion – outgunned, outclassed, low on resources, but running the operation on hope).
Dave’s enjoying the NPC play tonight and Chopper has a distinctly vicious side that the others find mildly disturbing (but funny) as he throws a droid into the pit and then playfully attempts to decapitate Kanan with a sliding door. The odd playfulness in the group continues with banter in the sewers from Sabine (which Ezra turns around on her ‘Wait, you know what I smell like?‘, to general laughter around the table).
Sabine and Zeb take the high ground. As Zeb provides a boost, Sabine cracks open the rulebook to the Equipment chapter to source the price on a jet pack (‘yeah‘, says Zeb ‘you have Mandolorian armour and no jetpack. What were you thinking?‘). Sabine makes a note to talk to Dave afterwards about the jetpack and then gets on with the scene.
What follows is the meeting everyone wanted, and the trap everyone expected. Dice hit the table in a flurry and everyone gets a piece of the action. Dave rolls out the battle map and miniatures (including one Lamba-class shuttle from Dave’s Fantasy Flight X-Wing collection) are hastily arranged.
Dave keeps the tension high with the ageing Trayvis proving a burden, the advancing stormtroopers keep up the pressure, and a cut scene with stormtroopers welding the escape hatches shut all adds to the desperation.
The Senator keeps up a banter about the Lothal cell, and Dave scribbles down notes for later.
For now, though, it’s time for the reveal.
Hera passes her blaster to Trayvis and a note to Dave. The GM is about to open it when Hera tells him ‘Wait. I trusted you last week in the scene with Azmorigan. Time for you to trust me.‘ Intrigued, Dave files the note and continues the scene.
When Trayvis turns on the Rebels, Hera nods to the GM to open the note and a smile and salute passes between them. ‘Fair play‘ says Dave, grinning, and weaves the lack of power cell into the scene with good grace. The rest of the party cheers Hera for the move (and another Character Point chip goes her way). As a side note, this is the second session in a row that Hera gets to punch out a major NPC – it’s becoming a habit.
The Empire’s plan is revealed and it is a cunning plan indeed. A public figure that rallies the Rebellion and allows the Empire to ‘tag and release’ Rebel cells across the galaxy. the crew does question why the Empire doesn’t simply kill all the cells, but this is a long-term strategy. If Palpatine could create a plan to kill all of the Jedi in a single moment, perhaps there is an ‘Order 66‘ protocol for the Rebellion too. It’s just the Sword of Damocles approach one would expect from the Empire.
The fighting retreat is the back drop to a major blow to the Rebels – the loss of a possible ally, the loss of the battle, and the potential loss of hope.
Ezra reflects on his trust of the Force – it seems that in this session there are precious few things that can be trusted at face value. Whilst the session looks as though it will end on a low note, Hera reminds them all why they are Rebels – ‘we have hope; hope that things can get better – and they will‘.
Dave can think of no better way to end the session so he lets the words hang in the air.
What did we learn?
Tonight’s session gives GMs in any game some solid tips on location and NPC design.
- Location matters. If you think about early D&D then White Plume Mountain, The Temple of Elemental Evil, and the Free City of Greyhawk are iconic locations. Star Wars has Coruscant, Hoth, Dagobah, Cloud City, and a host of other distinct locations that are used to effect. Dave has thought about Lothal’s place in the universe and very slowly revealed to the crew why this is an important asset for the Empire – in essence proving why it is worth fighting for. The trick here is not to tell the players all this information in a single piece of exposition but rather show the players actual examples of the worth and let them piece the puzzle together slowly. It’s far more rewarding, and the players might put forward ideas that aren’t in your GM notes (so steal with impunity).
- The recurring NPCs all have subplots and motivations that continue even when the players aren’t there. The temptation is to portray NPCs as only active when they are ‘on stage’ – as unchanging adversaries waiting to be thwarted or killed. Even Zare has the subplot of his missing sister and now his transfer offworld – these two events make it believable that Zare is off having his own adventures whilst Ezra is adventuring.
Dave also used a cut-scene after the chase – a conversation between Minister Tua and Kallus. The Empire is usually depicted as a single homogenous mass, so it makes for good story-telling to make the relationships of the major NPCs more nuanced. Tua has political apsirations, The Inquisitor has directions from Vader and a focus on Jedi, but Kallus (who has military command) believes that focusing on the Jedi alone is narrow-minded – the Rebels are the real threat. In some ways this is a microcosm of what we see in the movies, especially A New Hope, when Tarkin is focused on the Rebel Bases, whilst Vader is pre-occupied with hunting down Kenobi. The Force User/Military Command tension makes for interesting stories and Dave enjoys giving the group a small window into the believable operations of the Empire. These are good points to consider when designing (or using) a large scale organisation in any RPG.
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.