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WalterGM's way to long Dead Sun's playthrough (Book 1)


Dead Suns

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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.
...
Transmission End

Changes made during Session 1

  • Adding an intro period while the players are on the shuttle before they land proved to work well. We probably spent 10 minutes of table time just talking about their shuttle journey.
  • 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.
  • Addition of the detective and android partner NPCs went over well; would recommend having some named NPC present with the Station Security for potential future interactions.
  • I interspersed their research onto the two gangs, the Collective, and Astral Extractions with rumors about Absalom Station in general, pulled right out of the primer in the back. Provided me a great platform for giving them any info I wanted--like about the gangland origins of the government there.
  • The characterization given to Mama Fats and Jabaxa was well received, so I'm glad those tropes were well placed.
  • 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.

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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.
    ...
    Transmission End

    Changes made during Session 2

  • Expanding what the AP provides for the Starfinder Society based off what I know from participating in the real world Starfinder Society went well; the inclusion of all that material from the Commencement was very easy to do and I'd do again.
  • Given that there was only 2 pages in the book given to all three meetings (Nor, Joss, and Seressi) I had some content to allow any decent RPing to take place. Fortunately, between the primer in the back for Bluerise Tower, information about Eoxians found in the Starfinder Core, and lots of tropes dug up elsewhere, it all came together.
  • The starship combat with the Stiletto could have gone on another couple of rounds, but the end result would have been the same. I'm going to re-read starship combat and do more of it in SFS before it comes up again in my running of this AP. It still feels clunky, and I want all my players to be engaged at all times.
  • The easiest way to scale difficulty for more players is to level them up a little slower in some areas, and to make enemies a little stronger in others, and that worked beautifully this session. I've already got plans for how to adjust combats on the Drift Rock, so we'll see how those go.


  • Thanks for the notes and asides in these playthroughs WalterGM - seeing the reports and experiential ins and outs of combat and space combat, as well as the flavour, plot and narrative additions and tweaks are really helpful!


    Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

    This is immensely useful! Thank you for sharing!


    Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Subscriber

    this is very helpful, thank you for sharing this :)


    Completely agree - hugely helpful resource you're providing - I also plan to run it with 5 players so some on-the-money stuff here regards that.

    Cheers


    Starfinder Charter Superscriber

    Agreed, this is super useful. If I get a group together for this I'm totally stealing ideas from your run.


    ...This is good stuff.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

    This write-up is a wonderful preview of the possible pitfalls of this adventure.

    What is your party make-up B.T.W.?


    Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
    Lord Fyre wrote:

    This write-up is a wonderful preview of the possible pitfalls of this adventure.

    What is your party make-up B.T.W.?

    First post, first paragraph of Part 1.

    RPG Superstar 2009 Top 32

    Joseph Wilson wrote:
    Lord Fyre wrote:

    This write-up is a wonderful preview of the possible pitfalls of this adventure.

    What is your party make-up B.T.W.?

    First post, first paragraph of Part 1.

    Okay. I am a moron. :(

    But, what themes are being used by the ...

    • gnome operative
    • android envoy
    • halfling mystic
    • kasatha solarian
    • yasoki engineer


    Starfinder Charter Superscriber

    Excellent read, I commend you on this playthroughh. No doubt. Plenty of pointers to use in my own campaigne. Thanks for posting!

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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    Glad you all are enjoying our journey too!

    Lord Fyre wrote:


    But, what themes are being used by the ...
    • gnome operative
    • android envoy
    • halfling mystic
    • kasatha solarian
    • yasoki engineer

    I'll get more PC details from my players after our session next week.

    Liberty's Edge

    Great stuff man! I am going to look hard at your experiences with my all Space Goblin group.


    Looks great and sounds like you're having fun!


    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.

    Liberty's Edge

    I think a majority of the problems with combat is that people are used to fighting like in Pathfinder, where in Starfinder it is much more lethal with lower AC's.


    Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

    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.

    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).

    Scarab Sages

    My players decided to stop and loot the three in the storeroom at which point Nadaz opened the door and Hatchbuster tossed a grenade into the room.

    Then we rolled for initiative, Hatchbuster went first and tossed his other grenade in the room.

    They barely survived that fight.

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

    Jimbles the Mediocre wrote:

    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.

    Jimbles the Mediocre wrote:


    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

  • Gnome Operative… Scholar… Hacker
  • Halfling Mystic… Ace Pilot… Star Shaman
  • Kasatha Solarian… Xenoseeker… Solar Weapon, Stellar Rush
  • Android Envoy… Icon… Get ‘Em
  • Ysoki Mechanic… Outlaw… Exocortex

    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!

    Transmission End

    Changes made during Session 3

  • Having Clara surrender a couple HPs prior to her threshold made sense, and provided them the opportunity to chat her up rather than poke her charred body. What happens with her going forward might be interesting; the party is split on their impressions of her as a gun-for-hire.
  • The void zombies were rough, but the challenge level was right where it needed to be for my party. As I was prepping, I though about adding an akata to one of the fights, but am glad I didn’t. We’re just about where we need to be with the difficultly slider for this table—from safe to deadly with a single roll. Basically like Shadowrun.
  • I liked what the PCs and I collectively came up with for Nash’s datapad, there was good back and forth as we all reminisced about old operating systems and bad computers we used and loved. The mention of Netscape and AOL came up at one point I believe.
  • Embellishing the computer console wasn’t difficult, and helped turn an otherwise straightforward “roll these dice X times and get Y positive results” series of checks into something engaging for the entire table. I’d advise shoveling on the lore and descriptive text to make it more fun.
  • The biggest thing was the garggakal fight. Looking at the AP as objectively as possible, being run for 4 players at level 3 (which they might not actually be if they’ve missed some XP opportunities), I think there’s a high enough probability of a TPK (at least 25%) that something needs to change. Whether this is something as simple as lowering everything by 2 across the board, like an inverted advance template, or something more—like possibly having a different creature here, more related to the void zombie/akata theme from earlier—I don’t know. But as written, this fight is beyond brutal. I mean, 75 HP and the thing can ranged vampiric touch 4 times a day? Holy crow.
    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.
  • As I solidify what the adventure in book 1.5 is going to look like, I’ll post up chunks of that so this story continues to make sense. The addition of that content is going to add some wealth and gear to my players, as well as another level, so book 2 of this AP will be getting a facelift once I get my hands on it.


  • For arc weapons, unless I'm mistaken, stun just means non-lethal. Its like a phaser,and can be switched from stun to kill. I think

    Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

    TheGoofyGE3K wrote:
    For arc weapons, unless I'm mistaken, stun just means non-lethal. Its like a phaser,and can be switched from stun to kill. I think

    That makes infinitely more sense. Curse these games and their recycled terminology!

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