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Something I've long wanted to do is write a blow by blow of my time GMing a good adventure path. Both for my addled mind, so that I can look back upon my words and see what cool stuff happened during those games, but also to perhaps help new GMs and add to the ever expanding amount of excellent prep material available out there for would-be game masters. And with Starfinder freshly released, and their first AP - Dead Suns - also newly minted, I decided to start here. So, without further ado:
Book 1 - Incident on Absalom Station
Just in reading the adventure background, I'm in love with the plot of this book. It's simple, decently full of tropes I can draw on, and unique enough that my players shouldn't guess all the twists when I'm running it. We (the GM that is) also have a great hook for the rest of Dead Suns and a well needed primer on Absalom Station. Between the shiny newness of Starfinder and the extra spice we can now deliver to our players with that primer, running the first chapter of this AP should be a snap.
A fun fact to note about Absalom Station is that it was originally founded by gangs. Post Gap, the Station had little need for a government and "Anarchy reigned." (pg. 40). It was only when a near catastrophe vented the residents into space, did the gang leaders get together to form the first form of government, and elected the first Prime Executive. After reading this, I need to get that info to my players as quickly as possible. I'd like to give a kind of Shadowrun vibe to Absalom Station, which should be helped by their future encounters with Astral Excavations.
Part 1 - Absalom Gang War
Transmission Begins... Session 1, 8/28/17
I give them the platform of travelling on a shuttle together for the past few weeks, making stops at major locations across the Pact Worlds with the Station as their final destination, and the players intro themselves in the usual fashion. There are four: a gnome operative, an android envoy, a halfling mystic, and a kasatha solarian After the last drop at Akiton, the PCs are the only passengers remaining on the shuttle, and naturally get to talking. They discover they share a further similarity: a meeting with a Starfinder contact named Kreel.
The shuttle lands, and before most can get their wits about them, combat ensues. It's surprising brutal, with a couple of lucky 20's from my side (I imagine this will become a reoccuring theme, if my previous tables are of any indication), I almost kill their solarian with a laz pistol. Before I end combat prematurely with a security claxon sounding off, scattering the gangs, the operative has words with a member of the Level 21 Crew, and learns that the PCs and that gang aren't necessarily foes. As the dust settles, the party discovers the real purpose of the gang shootout--Kreel has been killed, a classic block text fatality.
Reminders for future combats: criticals are very deadly in this game compared to Pathfinder. Basically the way it works now is that a 20 = an auto hit, but if that 20 + attack modifiers would hit anyway, it's a crit. Which means, at lower levels at least, that a natural 20 is an auto confirming crit. Add to that the burn effect of laz weapons, and players can drop out of nowhere. Had I continued the combat until the AP suggested morale points, I would have certainly killed a player.
The cops arrive late, as they often do in these parts my players learn, and question everyone. I rip a page from the Automata series from Penny Arcade and make the lead detective a brooding hard-boiled 1930's noir type with a sterile, android sidekick and the pair liven up an other rather bland plot transition.
This is the first addition of something relevant to this AP, and it seems to have worked really well. My players later spent actions to investigate the brooding detective, so now I have to develop the character past his 2 dimensional personality
The players follow the (hidden) rails to the Starfinder Society and meet up with Chiskisk. I do my best telepathic bug man impersonation and give them their first quest: find out if Kreel's death was an accident and if it wasn't, find out who killed him and why! They get lodgings and begin research. After a series of skill checks and some info dumps, they head off to locate the level 21 crew.
Brilliant addition to allow the PCs to use "space Google" to research topics in Starfinder. It makes all the "who has this check, roll it up!" more or less a thing of the past, and helps everyone get involved at the table researching. And whenever someone whiffs it Google searching, I just end up describing them lost in space Reddit, looking at pictures of space cats.
They enter the Spike, and again I am glad to have the primer in the back of the book. I draw inspiration from dystopian space-fiction and paint a grim, hodge-podge existence of survivors crushed under a system designed to oppress them. Mama Fats is their contact for the L21 Crew and I play her as the halfling version of Annie from Cowboy Bebop--supporting of the Crew for the good they do, but not willing to get involved in any turf business. They leave word and before long have a sit down with Jabaxa.
I got some good roleplay from my table by talking up the drop off with Mama Fats. "You should buy a post card if you want to send a message to any old friends; I can make sure it gets delivered, of course." It fit well with the bodega theme of her shop and again gave life to the few lines allotted this NPC in the book.
For the scene with Jabaxa, I gave the ysoki an Italian accent and drew on the classic mafioso tropes associated with meetings in back rooms of restaurants. As the PCs learn that the Downside Kings are responsible for Kreels death, I add some spice by indicating that it was their vesk soldier, Hatchbuster, that also took Jabaxa's eye. My players latch on to this, and as good players often do, and are able to wrangle it into a bounty to personally ensure Hatchbuster was taken out. What could I do but accept, and promise them 200 credits for the job.
The party heads to the Fusion Queen for the first major battle of the AP. They spend a great deal hemming and hawing about how to enter the back room, where they know guards to be, and ultimately just go in, guns blazing. Another series of unlucky crits has the players looking at the shortest AP run in history, but their envoy thinks quickly and cuts some enemies out of the combat by closing and barricading a door. I'm glad because it means the difficult is just right for my players--they being forced to think creatively and are rewarded for doing so. Combat ends in their favor and their quite the richer for it.
Good golly Ms. Molly, the crits in this game are unreal. Hatchbuster opened with a crit from his gun that 2d10+2 and set the solarion on fire (again!) for 1d6. Thank god my players are working as a team or I might have to start rolling these combats back.
Changes made during Session 1
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Part 2 - Ghost Ship
Transmission Begins... Session 2, 9/4/17
With the Downside Kings gangland queen out of the picture, the rest of the gang scatters and the PCs are left to loot the gang's crib. They get some credits and a datapad, which the operative easily breaks into, confirming their suspicions--the Kings were hired by Astral Extractions to both put the squeeze on the Hardscrabble Collective and keep the Starfinders from getting to interested in this mysterious "Drift Rock" that's the talk of Absalom Station. My players report back to Chiskisk, who makes them all Starfinders and adds a 5th to their company, a new recruit (and player #5): a ysoki mechanic.
This is just a bit of plot exposition, and nothing too much to liven up. I am able to pull from SFS Scenario: The Commencement, and get my new players introduced to Guidance, the Lorespire Complex, and the Society in general. They all leave with official "Society Subdermal Grafts," which allows them to show off their Starfinder Society membership through a neat glowing palm tattoo. I also get to detail the Station's rumors surrounding the Arceon and the Drift Rock, which helps with the rest of this session.
The party relaxes, enjoying their well earned downtime. The operative hacks further into the datapad, and I find this to be a good opportunity to hook in Ms. Joss from Astral Excavations. The datapad screen flickers, and a vid-screen appears where Joss sits behinds a desk, and address the operative by name. She candidly invites him to join her for a meeting at Bluerise Tower next evening. Given that I want them to meet with the Eoxian ambassador first, I have Nor's invitation be for the same day, forcing my players to meet people in the order they should probably be met in.
I mentally scolded myself for having Joss contact the party before the party knew why Astral Extractions would be interested, but then decided that they're a megacorp, and likely know of the meeting with the ambassador and a great many things not detailed in this book. Also the computer being hacked by the megacorp to send a threatening message was too juicy an opportunity to pass up.
At the meeting with Gevalarsk Nor, I have him speak in a manner both sinister and intelligent. Like your standard Machiavellian British villain. I include a painting of the corpse fleet behind Nor, to give my players a bit of a hint as to what is in Nor's mysterious cargo. Post meeting, the party is stopped by a hover-cycle ridden by Captain Serissi, who invites them to exchange words at his ship in the Armada. With the pieces in place, the party is fairly sure they'll have to decide which faction to support.
I really liked RPing Nor. I did my best inflections to make even his nicest statements seem sinister. The addition of the painting of the corpse fleet also seemed fitting, drawing on some Dark Heresy themes of some actual physical art, to contrast with the digital landscape of Starfinder.
With some research the party learns about the Bluerise Tower (pg. 47) and gets rightly anxious for their meeting with Ms. Joss. I present the Tower as a massive imposing structure, like the Robot Arms Apts. from Futurama. The party heads inside, past security, up an elevator that only goes to the floor they're permitted to be on, and into a room where Ms. Joss is waiting. She offers them fine food and drink, jams their electronic equipment (naturally), and informs them that, although she is certainly not employed at Astral Excavations, they'd be eternally grateful and probably generous should the players indicate to Nor that the Drift Rock should remain their property. The meeting ends and the players are divided on which side they'd rather support.
I gave Joss a pair of android bodyguards wearing suits, with unique head modifications that restricted their memory and personality--basically a restraining bolt from Star Wars. The players asked about them, and I had Joss explain that these androids agreed to such terms in their contract for confidentiality reasons, and the bolts are removed when they rotate off shift. The mechanic and mystic are sure she's evil; but strangely the party's own android had no problem with it!
The meet with Serissi is much less formal, and I rip the framing and the personality of the captain from Liam Nesson's character in K-19, the Widowmaker. Captain Serissi is an officer of his crew, which he considers first and foremost his family, and his ship, The Dust Runner, is their home. They interrupt him in the middle of repairing a part of the engine with his staff, and join him for a cup of black Akitonian coffee. The captain has no fancy gimmicks, and tugs on the party's heartstrings before returning to work--and asks for their fair consideration in deciding who the Acreon and it's cargo belong to: the megacorp or the families of the lost miners.
I really liked the characterization I was able to give to Serissi here. The trope of the high ranking officer that still gets his hands dirty to help his men was well received by my players. I also described the Dust Runner as a spaceship submarine, so full of scrabbled together parts of other ships that navigating it's corridors is something of a challenge.
The party discusses more before leaning towards helping the Collective, which is what the AP assumes. This means that upon taking Nor's shuttle out to the Acreon, the party encounters their first spaceship combat as expected. We start with a lot of excitement, a lot of rules mistakes, and a lot of enjoyment, but run into a mechanical glitch. The NPC ship is twice as fast as theirs, meaning that if they lose their piloting initiative check, it makes zero sense for them to really move about the board, given that the NPC can always position herself to shoot up their aft. After a couple good hits by the party, I have the NPC ship spiral out of control and they shoot it down.
This first starship combat was rough. I had handouts for each position, for ship movement, and for myself and even with that it was still difficult to parse through. We only needed about three rounds of combat before we realized this issue with the enemy ship's speed and maneuverability, and after that some wind visibly left our sails. I think I was right to end the combat prematurely, as PC victory was all but assured anyway, so we could proceed into the real meat of the session.
The Arceon. The party enters the open aft airlock and I draw hard from every derelict-ship-horror-trope I can imagine as they begin to explore. Combats with the akatas are brutal slugfests that test the players to their limits. I hold off on leveling them up until after the ship is cleared out, given that they have 5 players and this AP (as others are) is designed for 4. I also add an advanced template (just +2 to all d20 rolls and 4 more HP) to one Akata in the bridge fight. These changes are good, and we're vindicated with some really good combat scenes.
Adjusting for an additional player is always tricky, but given Starfinder's approach to NPCs, I find it easy to do. My creatures will always be relatively easy to hit, so the only adjustments need to come in terms of their damage output and HP. The first is refined even further by the decision to full attack (-4/-4) or not each round, which is a great tool to have for fine adjustments.
Level two and the party seeks out the remaining rooms of the ship, encountering space goblins--just like regular goblins, but with more guns--and Nor's cargo. They deliberate briefly before opening, and encounter Eskolar. I keep her responses curt and unemotional, and a majority of the party fails to identify her trappings as that of a corpse fleet officer. The only PC that does is the operative, who is actually a bleachling gnome, and cares little about that fact one way or the other. They reseal the elebrian and finish up on the Acreon. As they do, their own shuttle begins heading back to Absalom Station--as per the railroad tracks leading to the Drift Rock.
So when I read about the inclusion of the goblins into this AP, I was a bit saddened. It seemed to be a ham-handed approach to keep the Paizo Goblin IP alive in Starfinder. Fortunately, my players didn't mind and they were more or less a footnote. The interaction with Eskolar went about as expected, with little interest from the PCs. It's mentioned in the book that future chapters might come back to this, so we'll see how they incorporate that.
I include a communiqué of Nor contacting the PCs, explaining that they can't risk the PCs returning until they are certain there is no contamination hazard (as the AP says). This more or less railroads the PCs towards the Rock. They enter the main chamber, and we end the session with the NPC pilot from before, a sniper operative android named Clara-247, taking a shot at their solarian. And, as usual, I roll another crit.
Adding the message from Nor when the Hippocampus departs seemed to be the right move, and made sense. Nor has placed value in the PCs success--he wants his cargo back--and wouldn't want them to overreact to the ship leaving by doing something like opening it or jettisoning it. After all, the PCs are a relative unknown, all he knows is they can kill gangbangers. The crit train on the poor solarion keeps going, and I hope it moves on to other players soon, because 2d10+4+1d8 is a bit much for a level 2 PC to handle.
Changes made during Session 2
|Lord Fyre RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32|
|Lord Fyre RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32|
Lord Fyre wrote:First post, first paragraph of Part 1.
This write-up is a wonderful preview of the possible pitfalls of this adventure.
What is your party make-up B.T.W.?
Okay. I am a moron. :(
But, what themes are being used by the ...
- gnome operative
- android envoy
- halfling mystic
- kasatha solarian
- yasoki engineer
|WalterGM RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8|
Interesting! Sounds like you had a similar experience to mine in the difficulty of battles.... Maybe my party just kinda stinks combat wise (soldier, mechanic, envoy, mystic). But most of the battles we fight are these brutal drawn out things were we survive but barely. Which is cool in general! But maybe not for every single fight.
|Jimbles the Mediocre|
First off, thanks for taking the time to write this up! I find it really helpful to mull over other tables' experiences before running it myself. I think, though, that you're making the combat harder than the AP intends:
I played up the fact that the two gangs were enemies, and that one was only firing into the other. It helped the PCs not get overwhelmed by fighting six enemies.
Each PC only gets a 1 in 6 chance of being targeted in the surprise round, and only get targeted if they're not in cover after that, according to the AP. It also strongly suggests to encourage the players to take on one gang at a time. If they engage all six, that becomes a CR+3 encounter, which they have a greater chance of losing than winning.
Overall the second combat was made too difficult when the two guards outside joined the three guards inside. I don't know if the dice weren't in my players favor or not, but I'd consider holding off on adding more to the melee next time. Hatchbuster alone proved a decent challenge for my party of four, not to mention his envoy support and gangbanger trash mobs.
The Fusion Queen is three separate encounters. First, the two outside. Second, the three in the storeroom. The AP says that Nadaz and Hatchbuster, upon hearing sounds of combat, hunker down and prepare for their door to be blown open. Unless the PCs are literally sprinting from room to room guns blazing, they shouldn't be fighting more than two or three people at once (the heavy music should prevent the guards in the storeroom from hearing the commotion outside).
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First off, thanks for taking the time to write this up! I find it really helpful to mull over other tables' experiences before running it myself. I think, though, that you're making the combat harder than the AP intends:WalterGM wrote:I played up the fact that the two gangs were enemies, and that one was only firing into the other. It helped the PCs not get overwhelmed by fighting six enemies.Each PC only gets a 1 in 6 chance of being targeted in the surprise round, and only get targeted if they're not in cover after that, according to the AP. It also strongly suggests to encourage the players to take on one gang at a time. If they engage all six, that becomes a CR+3 encounter, which they have a greater chance of losing than winning.
Yup, had each player roll a d6 at the start of their turn--with a "1" indicating they were attacked. Natural 20, leads to 2d4+2 + burn at level 1, which drops most characters in a round. They took a pot shot at the level 21ers, before realizing that the Kings were the common threat and focused fire. I'm running a second table of this, and they just got through the first part last weekend, and the one thing I can say is that it really boils down to dice rolls. First table was struggling to roll above a 10, and missed a ton of attacks, making the fight longer and bloodier. Second group didn't miss a beat and ended the fight before the solarian nova'd.
WalterGM wrote:Overall the second combat was made too difficult when the two guards outside joined the three guards inside. I don't know if the dice weren't in my players favor or not, but I'd consider holding off on adding more to the melee next time. Hatchbuster alone proved a decent challenge for my party of four, not to mention his envoy support and gangbanger trash mobs.The Fusion Queen is three separate encounters. First, the two outside. Second, the three in the storeroom. The AP says that Nadaz and Hatchbuster, upon hearing sounds of combat, hunker down and prepare for their door to be blown open. Unless the PCs are literally sprinting from room to room guns blazing, they shouldn't be fighting more than two or three people at once (the heavy music should prevent the guards in the storeroom from hearing the commotion outside).
So when I run APs, I make changes as needed for my players based off their actions. This first book has been pretty "as written" but, as you'll see in session 3, I mix things up a bit.
Which is certainly what happened here bit here. Of those three Kings that were sitting outside Hatchbuster, during combat the last one standing fled past the PCs and outside, aggroing the first two guards who came in to investigate. Right as this happened, they opened the door to Hatchbuster and Nadaz. So effectively, they had 3-4 rounds of combat against 3 gangsters, then 4-6 rounds of combat against Nadaz, Hatchbuster, and 2 more gangsters. My second group had a difficult time as well, but that was because a Hatchbuster crit deals 2d10+2 at level 1. Crits in Starfinder are super deadly!
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Part 3 – Phantoms of the Drift
Character Data Dump
Transmission Begins... Session 3, 9/11/17
Session begins straight into combat, coming off Clara-247’s crit, which messes up the solarian something fierce. We navigate the additional rules of zero-g combat no problem, but Clara fails to deliver another meaningful blow and surrenders just shy of her HP threshold, but in the Initiative pass right before the solarian (still standing and pissed) goes Supernova. They keep her alive, but take her gear and credits. They make the connection tying her to Astral Extractions, and have her wait on the Acreon for a ride back to Absalom Station. The cost of the ride is, unsurprisingly, all her possessions. A fair price to pay.
With the exception of the initial crit, nothing really noteworthy happened here. I did find zero-g combat to be both interesting and a little distracting. Having to remind my players about it through the first half of the map, and moving people’s miniatures and bumping them into walls felt like a “gotcha” kind of mechanic, which I dislike doing to my players. Fortunately any discomfort was minor, and no one was ever screwed over by floating a square or two somewhere they didn’t really want to.
The PCs find the Drift Rock wholly intriguing, and spend several minutes examine the strange ceramic-alloy plating when they discover it. Given that the AP doesn’t detail what the alloy actually is, I have to adjudicate on the fly some PC driven decisions, like how much of it they could harvest with actions X, Y, or Z. A small, controlled, explosion later and they have a few shards of this alien alloy. Beginning the process of counting missing Acreon crew, the PCs count 1 dead, 1 zombie before being interrupted by a ghost, who, with the exception of being very durable, is a relatively easy combat due to exclusively laz weaponry. Her confusion aura gets one PC, but he trains onto her round 1 and nicks another player round 2. Between the combats, there is a short rest and some resolve points are spent here and there.
So I thought the driftdead would be more of a challenge, but my dice make her more or less meh. The real threat was that single void zombie, who got in some solid hits for 1d6+5, which still feels huge even at level 2. As a side note, it would have been nice to had some more info on the ceramic-alloy. Even if the PCs couldn’t learn it, I’d like to know how it reacts to things and how important (or unimportant) it is later. The PCs are very transfixed by it (at least the operative-scholar and mechanic are).
If they thought one void zombie was hard, just wait till there are two. Oh wait, there are. Ouch. The solarian does an admirable job holding both off at the entrance to the room, which serves as a natural choke point, protecting him with some cover from a void zombie. But, as the ysoki mechanic quickly learned, everything just a dice roll away from being deadly. He attempts to pass above the two void zombies, given that it’s still zero-g. He fails the Acrobatics (tumble) attempt, and provokes two attacks from the zombies. They both hit, and if 1d6+5 feels bad to take at level 2, 2d6+10 is worse—especially with that Strength damage on each hit. The party limps through the fight, and saves the ysoki moments before he burns his last resolve. Now left with a difficult decision—return to the Acreon and rest, or press on knowing that more crew members could be in danger ahead. They pick the nobler, if more dangerous choice, and open the next door.
Nothing much to say for this combat except that my dice were rolling hot-hot-hot. As usual, I roll all my stuff in the open for my player’s to see. When the ysoki mechanic floated by, and rolled the attacks and when the dice landed 18, 19 (or something similarly high), the entire table cringed. I guess the CR of the void zombie is balanced by its abysmal EAC, but it’s attacks are fairly savage. Especially when you have the option of taking two attacks at a -4 on your turn, I can really ramp up the damage when I want to. The good news is my players will think twice before provoking two AOOs in the future.
The players move into the manufactured corridors and into artifical gravity. They head to the west first, coming upon the malfunctioning security robot. Given the difficulty of the previous fight, I’m preparing to drop a PC, but its not in the
cards dice. The robot begins by firing its jolting arc, and the players mostly save (the operative has evasion!). They return fire with their laz weapons, managing to hit its relatively high ACs of 16. It takes some pot shots with its arc emitter. I notice that the “stun” setting doesn’t have a save, so I give it one of 10+CR (13) and manage to stun the mystic, who was dealing some solid laz rife damage. They bludgeon it for another round, with the mystic drawing a knife and dealing the final blow. With a bit of a whimper, the robot powers down, it’s security duties finally over.
I’m unsure if the weapon wasn’t supposed to have a DC and just always Stun on a hit. If so that’s quite powerful, given that the robot could take two attacks at a +7/+7, with the first stunning and the second more easily hitting for damage. The added DC seemed right, and the PC targeted by the attack failed anyway, so no harm no foul I suppose.
They quickly find Moriko’s hidden compartment, and manage to Engineer their way inside. We do a brief infodump of the datapad contents, with some inspired RP drawn from old Windows 95 boot prompts (as it’s outdated, this datapad was obviously running an old OS). The wallpaper of the datapad is an image of the Sunrise Maiden, with Nash standing proudly in front. Inside they find an old Word .doc and accompanying media file that plays her recording. I change it from a holo-recording to an old-fashioned handheld, shot in the very compartment where she died, and it played very well with my players. The mystic ace pilot gets quite giddy with anticipation of finding the party’s new ship.
This was a great scene to play out with my table. I kept adding more detail about Moriko from the datapad and the patches on her old flight uniform, and the players fell more and more in love with her, or rather the romanticized way she had died. The mystic ace pilot took a tarnished pin from her jacket and added it to his own, so that he could take her along as he travelled, still seeing the stars.
Discovering the alien computer console, the PCs jump in—mechanic and operative working in tandem to crack the code. Excited, they start rolling. Triggering the trap and nearly frying the ysoki, they slow down and take their time (5d6, ouch!). Three checks later, all they could hope for is revealed—in some alien language no one speaks. Again, I wish the AP included the language of the code, although I can assume it’s Kishalee it’d have been nice to know. There’s some infodump once they skill check into the code, and I’m able to draw on my own technical knowledge of computer systems to liven up what they uncover. “Knowing how these things typically work, you begin taking strips of space-tape from the mechanic’s bag and begin labeling all the monitors and systems: auxiliary power, manual control, backup power transmitter, etc. After a few minutes, you’re able to piece together some probably right information about this system…”
As a rule, I typically don’t like “make X skill checks of DC Y” mechanics in my games. They tend to break immersion pretty regularly because the players table talk “I have a +12 in that skill, let me do it,” which is a minor pain point for me. However in this case, given the unexpected electrical-short trap, I didn’t mind. The infodump went well, and the PCs are good and baffled about the Drift Rock overall, which I count as a success.
The PCs consider resting for the night before continuing, and then decide not to and open the final door. The consequences of their actions are rapidly apparent. I redraw the final map to include the parked Maiden. The reason being I have a very clear image in my mind that I want to present to my players, and need the ship there to do it. I introduce the garggakal as their attention shifts from the Maiden to the disemboweled corpses at her feet; they begin to hear it’s strange guttural calls, and it rises over the top of the ship. It spreads its wings like a dragon, roars once more, and swoops towards them. Roll initiatve.
The mystic gets off a solid hit with his laz rifle before the garggakal is among them, and with a single bite (2d6+9=19) drops the solarian that’s out of stamina. Uh-oh. PCs scramble, stabbing their solarian with a mk 1 serum of healing, and firing off some rounds. A couple hit, one of which is electricity damage—courtesy of the operative. Past it’s 60 HP threshold, the garggakal targets the operative with it’s 5d6 leech life ability. Fortunately, the PC saves, only taking 12 damage, which the garggakal gains as temporary HP. The party notices this, and collectively wets themselves.
Things are looking very grim, and, knowing enough about my players, I’m now looking down the barrel of a TPK. The garggakal is basically uninjured, and each of the PCs is a single hit from unconsciousness. Furthermore, the garggakal can use it’s pseude-heal another 3 times. Thank god for the ship and quick thinking players.
Player: “Do I think Nash would have left her ship ready to go at a moments notice?”
Me: “Hell. Yes.”
The PCs have a new plan—get on that ship, get on that turret, blast this monster to bits. The operative serves as a distraction, and kites the garggakal back into the tunnel while the rest of the PCs race to the Maiden. The operative baseball slides underneath the garggakal with a guarded step, and flavorfully shoots the control panel as he does so to close the doors—sealing the beast inside the Drift Rock. Unfortunately, it can phase through walls. It does so. More cries of terror from my players.
Meanwhile, the Maiden is powered on, and the solarion in the turret fires a salvo into the beast. Typically, starship weapons do x10 damage. Given that the solarion doesn’t want to the hit the operative, I offer that he can aim to wing the garggakal for only x5 damage. Still though, 3d6x5 isn’t bad. They blast the beast, which is now well into bloodied. It roars in anger and ignores the operative, swooping back to the ship. With another resolve point, the overgrown zubat leeches life from the solarion through the glass in the gunner pod. He slumps over, dying once more. With herculean effort, the pilot does a space-k-turn at break neck speeds, flinging the garggakal off his new ship. This places the monster directly in front of the Maiden, and her gyrolaser. A successful hit and 1d8x10 damage later, there isn’t much of a creature left to speak of.
Garggakal: 0, PCs: 1
So obviously, a lot of liberties happened here. I don’t think the AP assumes players will want to use the ship, but reading over the garggakal’s stats again, I don’t see how else they can get through this fight without at least one PC dying. The thing has very high ACs (17/19), 75 HP, the ability to heal for 5d6 (or half) 4 times a day, and a bite that does an average of 16 damage a turn. If it ever full attacks, it’s dropping a level 3 PC. I am really happy with how this fight did turn out, and that it happened so organically. I would have hated to present the PCs an unwinnable challenge to pigeonhole them into using the ship, but am ecstatic that they discovered that solution for themselves. I don’t think there was a more satisfying way for them to kill the garggakal than by blasting it apart with starship guns.
The garggakal defeated, the party rejoices. Looting the room and the ship, they decide it’s time to head out. About now is when other GMs might expect them to run into some sort of cliffhanger with a Corpse Fleet and the start of book 2. Unfortunately for me, book 2 isn’t out yet, and my players want to keep playing Starfinder. So instead we’re going to “book 1.5” – a filler arc to pass the time until book 2 begins. Given that, we can’t have the cliffhanger from book 1 occur just yet, it’ll happen after they get through the lengthy side quest I’m writing up to pass the time. For now, however, the players have a reprieve, and set their course for Absalom Station!
Changes made during Session 3
I liked using the spaceship, but it was so unique and perfect in the moment that I don’t want to tempt fate by assuming future tables would go in that direction. I’m going to look at other reviews and GM threads and see how this final combat goes. I will be changing something for my second group, because, without a mystic or an envoy to heal them in combat effectively, it’s going to go even worse.
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Apologies for the late transmission… prepare yourselves for a large info dump.
Part 4 – Arrivals and Departures
As was hinted at, I had to generate some filler content to supplement my group between the releases of the books for Dead Suns, as we’re playing faster than they’re coming out. What follows is a brief summary of the story that my players will be adventuring through, followed by the usual scene by scene.
Before the Gap, a mighty battle raged on the distant world of Obo. A coalition of multi-faith crusaders succeeded in defeating the Herald of Dagon, a demon lord from Golarion. Unable to slay the monster entirely, they imprisoned him within a dormant volcano on the island planet.
The most devout remained behind on the tropical island to guard the volcano, and ensure the demon within was never released. When the Gap occurred, the crusaders forgot their purpose, boarded their ships, and left the planet. The locals remained, knowing only that the volcano was dangerous, and to keep their distance.
Two centuries ago, the Starfinder Society sent off an expedition of two vessels, the frigate Intrepid and its accompanying explorer, the Kestrel. When the Intrepid activated its Drift drive, something malfunctioned, causing the Intrepid’s drive to shear apart and ripping a rift that sucked both vessels through, into the void. In an uncharted part of space, the twin ships crashed onto the small world of Obo.
The damage to the Intrepid was severe, and the ship beyond repair. The Kestrel was functional, as was its Drift drive. The combined Starfinder crew had the ability to send some survivors back, but not all. It was decided that the First Seeker and her entourage would leave, and return at some point with help. But when the First Seeker went to board, a small mutiny ensued. It was quashed, but not before the First Seeker was slain and the Drift drive aboard the Kestrel rendered inoperable. The mutineers were executed for their treason, but not before one escaped, the elf Indari.
Indari fled inland, and lost himself in the jungle. After days of wandering, he found his way to the large mountain in its center. Something called from within it, and he headed down the wide lava tubes into its heart. A devil, imprisoned within the mountain by protectors from another place and time, wormed its way into Indari’s mind, poisoning it. For the last two centuries, Indari has been gathering followers from the locals on the island and they have been constantly mining the belly of the mountain out by hand.
The rest of the shipwrecked Starfinders took a different path. They met with the locals and made peace; they turned the wreck of the Intrepid into a small city, and made lives with the people of Obo. Two hundred years later, of the original Starfinder crew, only one remains: former engineering officer and now self-appointed Last Seeker Brannor Rustknuckle. To pass the time, he has spent the better part of the last century forging replacement parts for the Kestrel and has just finished making it operational.
Through his followers, Indari has learned that the Kestrel is repaired. He leapt at the opportunity to take it off world and get some better mining equipment. Taking his most loyal followers he completed what he failed to do 200 years prior, and stole the Kestrel. His first stop: Absalom Station.
Session 4: Adventure Overview
With the Drift Rock cleared and the Sunrise Maiden in their possession, the PCs return to Absalom Station. After receiving their rewards from Nor, they are directed by Chiskisk to the docking bays, where a long lost Starfinder ship, the Kestrel has returned after 200 years in space.
Upon approaching the crew of the Kestrel, the PCs are attacked and the ship abruptly takes off. Chiskisk tasks the PCs to chase down the rogue ship and figure out what in the nine hells is going on. The trail leads to Akiton, where the Kestrel picked up mining equipment. There they once again encounter the crew of the Kestrel, but find them to be strangely corrupted, as one sprouts excessive tentacles (although any amount is probably excessive, now that I consider it). A second confrontation breaks out, and afterwards the PCs race to stop the Kestrel from escaping, the PCs catch up to the rogue ship in space.
After a brief ship battle, the Kestrel activates its Drift drive to escape, but a malfunction occurs—pulling both ships through. The PCs must safely guide the Maiden into the unknown or risk being torn apart!
Transmission Begins... Session 4, 9/18/17
The PCs finish up at the Drift Rock, and with their new prize: the Sunrise Maiden in tow they head back to Absalom Station. What follows is some basic bookkeeping. They meet with Nor, who happily pays them for his cargo, as well as a fee for services rendered. He informs them that he’ll need some time to ponder the data they’ve brought him on the Drift Rock and the Acreon, and afterwards a decision will be reached. A couple of days pass, during which the PCs spend their credits and upgrade their gear.
Then, I hit them with the plot hook as an urgent message from Chiskisk flashes across their comms: “Starfinders! We have an urgent assignment for you. Please report to Docking Bay 29—the Kestrel has returned! She’s an old Starfinder explorer-class vessel that was thought lost ages ago. It’s a miracle! Make haste and greet them. We will be along as quick as we can.”
With a quick bit of research on their way, they learn that about 200 years ago, the Kestrel and another ship (the Intrepid) were thought destroyed in a terrible Drift drive accident outside Absalom Station. The accident occurred when the Intrepid fired up its Drift engine. Something malfunctioned, and both ships were sucked into the Drift—and thought destroyed.
Here’s where things get different. It’s relatively easy to change the timeline of when the Corpse Fleet arrives. They’ll be coming at the end of my side-quest arc, meaning that Nor will broadcast the info while the PCs are abroad, so that when they return to Absalom Station they’ll be at relatively the same point as they normally would.
The PCs arrive and find a crowd of onlookers standing before an old explorer ship; a faded name painted across it’s side identifies it as the Kestrel. Making their way through the crowd, they meet up with the sullen crew of the old Starfinder ship, who refuse all attempts to break bread. Enough conversation pushes some unknown buttons with the armed crewmen, who attack the PCs. Combat ensues, and as the tide of battle favors the PCs, the ship makes an abrupt exit, tossing the mechanic and the solarion from the open cargo bay. The Kestrel smashes through some Station equipment before breaching the atmospheric force field and escaping into the void. They manage to take one member of the crew alive, and question him as best they can. He reveals little aside from ominous quips about “the weakness of the Starfinder Society” and phrases like “the Last Seeker was wrong.”
So my goal here was to have something explosive and exciting to kick off my mission. The combat was fairly straightforward, and began with the PCs trying not to harm the crew. After a few rounds, they (rightly) assumed that these people were not lost Starfinders and took to more lethal methods. I added a hazard of the fuel line (the Kestrel was mid fueling when combat begins), but the mechanic wisely disconnected it. Had he not, when the ship took off the line would have broken, and we could have had a real situation with a rocket-fuel fire.
The PCs meet with Chiskisk moments after he gets chewed out by Absalom Station security. Apparently, the Society is on the hook for all the damages caused by the Kestrel, so if they’re to salvage anything from this disaster the PCs will need to hunt down that whoever is flying that ship and get some answers. When presented with the captive, Chiskisk plies his mind but gets little more. The shrrien is perplexed by the mention of a “Last Seeker” as such a thing doesn’t exist within the Starfinder Society. With the captive in Starifnder custody, the PCs pile into the Sunrise Maiden and after the Kestrel, which headed straight for Akiton.
I have a great attraction to Akiton, as it plays off of a few tropes that I love from sci fi culture. We have the dystopian future, where megacorps live in the upper 1% (literally, in the case of Maro). We get the Red Faction-esque world lore, of disinfrancished hard working miners, oppressed by said megacorps.. And to top it off the whole place feels like a Judge Dredd / Blade Runner world. So I had to take my players there.
Using their background contacts, the mystic and the mechanic find that an old Starfinder ship landed in the “bowels,” the lowest level of Maro. Arriving at Ultor’s Mining (an homage to Red Faction), the PCs find the crew of the Kestrel in the process of looting the nearly-bankrupt business. A second combat ensues, as the PCs dodge animated active salvage equipment (ala SW2: Attack of the Clones). A female crewmember, which has been slinging mystic spells at the players, takes enough damage to push her into “phase 2,” where her head rips apart to reveal a stem of flailing, squid like tentacles. The players collectively drop bricks, and proceed to put the creature down with extreme prejudice. Saving Ultor (tied to a chair in the back), they learn that these crew are lead by an old elf named Indari--one of the original crew aboard the Intrepid—and they stole a great deal of mining equipment.
This was a fun part to run. I love the city of Maro (detailed further in SFS 1-02), and Ultor’s shop was a great way bring the PCs into that. Mechanically, the tentacle monster thing is partially inspired by some games of Dark Heresy I played a couple years ago and the nether thralls from Torchlight 2. Flavor-wise, that creature is a ‘mindbroken’ a humanoid that has been wholly corrupted by the entity imprisoned within Oro. It did a great job of shocking the PCs, and bringing the “space-occult-mystery” theme of the adventure into focus.
Making tracks, they see the Kestrel lift off and promise not to let it get away a second time. The Maiden gives chase, and before long they encounter the ship in space above Akiton and battle begins. Though large and un-maneuverable, the Kestrel packs a wallop, nearly blasting the PCs apart with it’s second salvo. As things look grim, the Kestrel activates its warp engines.
Briefly: this ship combat was too hard. I pulled the stats for a CR 3 ship from an online source and adjusted some numbers, and the combat was too rough for my players. I’m going to halve the damage the ships guns do for future use.
Alarms ring out across the Maiden—anomalous readings coming from the Kestrel—as a tear to the rift splits into view. Defying all reason, the Kestrel pilots into the breach. The PCs try their hardest to resist the space-railroad-tracks leading them into the unknown, but in the end need to direct their own ship into the rift. The opening is littered with the wreckage of several ships, among them the remains of the Intrepid. If the PCs are going to survive the passage through the rift, they’ll need to navigate the cluster of space debris.
This was a simple skill test, the PCs had two rounds to make any justifiable check to reduce the hull damage their ship was about to take. For example, the PC piloting made Pilot checks, another made Computer checks to plot a course through the wreck, and yet another made Athletics checks to race about the ship and secure various doors, etc. I had the incoming damage set at 20d6, and had them reduce the damage the ship took by 1d6 for a DC 12, +1d6 removed for every 5 they beat the DC by. So a Pilot check of 25 reduced the incoming damage by 3d6. The numbers were spot on for this, and the PCs avoided all of the debris damage due to some solid rolls.
Once through the wreckage, the PCs find themselves in orbit above a bright blue world. Wisps of clouds circulate across its surface, while the vast ocean is interrupted only by various clusters of small, archipelago style islands. Twin suns illuminate the tropical paradise. The Maiden’s computers report three things.
First, the Drift anomaly is over—having finished as quickly as it began. The wreckage around the Maiden can be identified as belonging mostly to the Intrepid, although other smaller scouting ships and probes are interspersed as well.
Second, the Kestrel seems to have headed to the planet below, and is landing in the forested area of one of the larger islands. Also present on that island is an encoded Starfinder transponder, periodically communicating an emergency signal into space. If the PCs scan the surface of the planet, they find the atmosphere breathable, and comparable to that of Absalom Station.
Lastly, the Maiden’s computers report that the PCs are beyond the Pact Worlds, in a section of uncharted space.
Here's where I left the PCs after Session 4, with a nice cliff-hanger ending.
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Out of game, a player returned so we’ve been finishing up that campaign while playing through Dead Suns. As a result, we’re only playing every other week now.
Part 5 – The Lost World of Obo
Session 5: Adventure Overview
Now in orbit over a strange world, the PCs pick up the signals of both the Kestrel and another old Starfinder ship, the Intrepid, on its surface. Landing, they find that the Intrepid is no longer a ship, and more of a city built in the wreckage of a capital-class vessel.
Inside the city they meet with the sole survivor of the Intrepid’s last voyage, Last Seeker Brannor. He tells the PCs of the Starfinders’ crash, their mutiny, and their eventual acceptance of their fate on Obo. He repaired the Kestrel as a side project, and was shocked to learn of its departure and return. Brannor relates the mysticism surrounding the mountain, and indicates the PCs might find their answers there.
Voyaging into the jungle, the PCs make their way towards the mountain and. Along the way, they come upon ancient ruins to a long forgotten faith (Torag), and locate some old relics and weapons that can aid them in the battles to come. They see more of Dagon’s corruption throughout the jungle, as many of the creatures now carry the demon lord’s taint within them.
Transmission Begins... Session 5, 10/9/17
In orbit above the world of Obo, the PCs choose to land at the southern part of the largest island, where the Kestrel was last sighted and where the distress signal emanates from. Setting the Maiden down in the shoals, they head in on foot, cutting a path through the jungle wilds.
The inspiration for this lost world feel comes from my childhood (and everyone else’s, I assume) love of dinosaurs. I wanted to mix a shipwrecked space crew, an ancient imprisoned evil and freaking space dinosaurs. Welcome to Obo.
It’s not long before their presence attracts the attention of some local predators, and combat against a pair of large cat-like geckos ensues. After the battle, where the mechanic was nearly taken away by one of these saurian beasts, the PCs decide to dissect the creatures. Inside the bodies they find evidence of strange black discoloration, and dozens of small pustules growing within the creatures’ organs.
This fight was touch and go for a while, but the PCs made it through without any real problems. As I was statting up the creatures for this part of the filler material, Alien Archive showed up and I was able to incorporate a lot of that into these enemies. Starting with these cat-lizards (which the locals call Ferisaurs), everything is designed following the super cool rules from AI.
A short while later, the PCs encounter a local hunting party. Tan, golden eyed, with a mix of human and elven features, these people, called Mualans, address the PCs in common. The leader of this group, named Melika, informs them that she’s been sent by the Last Seeker to find the PCs, and bring them to her village. The PCs warily follow her through the jungle. Before long they find themselves standing outside a large tribal village. However, the primitive here has been mixed with the modern. Metal struts support the treetop huts, generators power water pumps, and motorized cables ferry people and goods throughout the tops of the trees. Half-buried in the back of the village is the ruins of a massive ship—the Intrepid—which has been systematically cannibalized for parts, parts that have been built into the surrounding village.
It is here they meet Brannor Rustknuckle—an old blind dwarf, former engineer aboard the Intrepid and last surviving Starfinder from the original mission 200 years ago. And he info dumps to the PCs everything from the adventure background. That they crashed here, couldn’t leave, and made a new life with the locals. Intrepid the ship became Intrepid the village, and they lived harmoniously in the southern part of the island ever since.
Why the south? Because the locals (wisely) stay away from the mountain. Old stories tell that a great evil was imprisoned there by the First Visitors long before the Starfinders arrived. Brannor informs the PCs that he rebuilt the Kestrel to pass the time, and was shocked to discover it had been stolen a few days ago.
Hearing the PCs side of things, he reckons it is up by that mountain, where something sinister surely lurks. He’s happy to return with the PCs to Absalom station, but first requests they recover the Kestrel’s power supply, so it can continue to provide Intrepid with electricity. The PCs agree, and set off.
The characterization of the dwarf I pulled straight from Max von Sydow’s endearing performance in the remake of Robin Hood. Blind, wise, and cheerful, Brannor serves to deliver about 50% of the adventure backstory and fill in any gaps in the PCs own deductions thusfar. The rest the PCs will experience as they explore the jungle, from the ruins of the “First Visitors”—the Toragian crusaders.
As they adventure north, the PCs have some random encounters, but there are three primary ones that serve to further the background of the First Visitors. The first is an old dwarven ruin. Here the PCs can find evidence that the First Visitors worshipped the old Golarian pantheon of dwarven gods, with Torag at the helm and Angradd as more of a footnote than the major player. They also seemed to be militant, setting up a dozen or so small bases of operation all over the island. They also locate some small magical items that seem to be attuned to protecting the wearer from demons.
The second is some background on the Mualan (native) culture. They find a clearing where there are some tribal etchings. They mark this place as “The Trial of the God Dragon” and indicate that the particpants of this trial would steal an egg from the ‘God Dragon,’ hide with it for some time, and then return it. While they are contemplating this, the ‘God Dragon’ (a massive alien T-Rex with feathers and longer arms) arrives to tend to its nest. We have some good RP before the alien dinosaur and it’s newly hatched offspring leave into the woods.
The inspiration for the trial came from the trials of manhood the Easter Island people would do. They had a trial where they had to swim to an island, recover a bird egg, and return with it unbroken. I felt that something similar, with the ante upped to an alien t-rex egg, would fit nicely on my alien dinosaur island. And it did!
The final encounter of note was where the players found a larger Toragian fort. Here the artifacts they’d collected reacted with the throne in the main chamber, and they viewed scenes of the past. They witnessed what must have been a multi-faith coalition of forces, working together to defeat a monster known only as “the Shadow in the Sea” (to which the PCs failed their Mysticism checks to ID that as Dagon), and also the first signs of Dagon’s corruption, as a courier arrived, carrying a sickness within him. The vision ends as the PCs encounter that same courier, thousands of years later and still within the fort, reduced to a withered host for a ‘Tendril of Dagon,’ basically a glorified body snatcher.
The fight against the tendril was great, and ended with it infesting a PC. This is where it gruesomely forces itself into a PCs body and slowly begins to corrupt it. The players freaked out, and made Medicine checks to put the infested PC through major surgery, cut him open, and kill the tendril within.
Notes from Session 5
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Part 6 – Unravelling the Past
Session 6: Adventure Overview
Armed with more knowledge of Obo’s history, the PCs press further north. They survive the dangerous night, find more ruins from the First Visitors, and enter some sort of vault. Inside, they find a ritual underway where Indari and his followers are attempting to release Dagon from his captivity.
Transmission Begins... Session 6, 10/23/17
Spending a night in the Toragian fort, the PCs rest is interrupted by the arrival of a deadly creature. A caypin (Alien Archive, pg. 26) that’s adapted to nocturnal hunting cycles begins by sending a swarm of eyestalks into the fort. After the PCs battle their way through that, the caypin itself smashes through the front door. It looses another eyestalk blob, which is blasted apart, leaving the poor creature blind. Wounded and blind, it runs into the jungle. The PCs chase it down and eliminate the thing with prejudice.
At this point, the PCs are level 4 and the caypin CR 6. But even so, the thing was a deadly foe to tangle with. Had I been more brutal in my tactics, I would have surely killed a character. Again, I’m happy to have so many built in options to throttle back power. From attacking 1-2 times a round, having combat maneuvers, and then, specifically with this creature, choosing to make eyestalk swarms or not.
Pressing on, by the 5th day the PCs have reached the mountain. Here the jungle abruptly turns rotten and dead, and the ground falls away into a stagnant swamp. The PCs move on in an eerie silence, broken only by their own movements. They are stopped only once, to watch as a spectral procession of golden ghostly dwarves moves through the swamp, carrying a golden casket between them. The dwarven pallbearers enter the side of a rocky hill and disappear. Following, the PCs find a small crypt where the dwarf was laid to rest long ago. The name has been lost to time, but some of the valuables within remained, and the PCs pick up some easy credits.
The desire to have this encounter came from reading my old DND DMG, where it has a myriad of adventure ideas. One of which is to have a half-dozen skeletal pallbearers in a silent, undead procession. I liked this idea, and I also like the idea of having encounters that can be cinematic rather than combative. Here the PCs go to explore a bit more about the history of the First Visitors, get a first glimpse at non-hostile undead (which will be important later), and get some easy loot.
Their long journey ends as they find the base of the mountain, where a smattering of pillars mark the entrance to some ancient vault or prison. The magical wards and runes are faded, and the potency has long since waned. A door sits slightly ajar in the stone surface of the mountain. As the PCs discuss the next course of action, the ysoki engineer sneaks off. Moments later, the rest of the party notices and chases after. We get that comedic moment where the camera is viewing a single shocked person’s expression, more people show up—focused on the person—and it takes them a moment to notice what the shocked person is looking at.
The PCs are standing at the end of a massive underground chamber. Defaced and destroyed statues line the walls, and a large mezzanine overlooks a massive dwarven rune that lies partially buried in the ground. The rune emanates a soft golden light. Modern mining equipment, generators, and floodlights illuminate some sort of excavation, and a dozen or more people fill the chamber. From the elevated platform, Indari calls out:
““Ahh, the interlopers! You’ve come to stop this? You are fools! Could an ant stop the tides? You stand here, expecting to undo this—but you would just as surely stop the sea!” As he says this streaks of purple rain from his hands, and begin muting out the golden light from the rune below. He then turns his attention to those gathered around the circle. “We are nearly there—protect the ritual!”
And we cut to a ‘to be continued’ screen for next session.
Although I would have liked to finish up the game this session, because book 2 of Dead Suns is now out, if we did have to end at some point it was a perfect stopping point. The final battle is designed to be multiphased, which is something I’ve been wanting to try out for a while and should take a couple hours to play through. Obviously this climax is straight out of pop culture, and there are a lot of easy influences to draw from. For me, it felt like a mix between the end of the first Hellboy movie, with some snippets from Indiana Jones and the Mummy (the excavation).
Notes from Session 6