WalterGM's way to long Dead Sun's playthrough (Book 2)

Dead Suns

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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This is thread #2 for an ongoing campaign of Dead Suns I’m running. It serves as a record of our game and of the various decisions and modifications that have been made during it. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting and useful!

You can find Part 1 here.

Book 2 – Temple of the Twelve

First of all, I love the flavor of this book. We’ve got our first longer non-Absalom station adventure, and the setting is great. Its Jurassic Park meets advanced technology, with warp gates and political tension. And we get to explore the lost world part of Castrovel that’s ancient ruins and modern bunkers both overgrown by alien jungle fauna. Pretty dope, all in all.

For the cityscapes (like Qabarat) I pictured your standard Coruscant-esque future city, but with special care taken to preserve sections of the natural jungle terrain—like Central Park but with alien trees. The meshing of technology and nature feels a lot like the art of Simon Stalenhag or Jakub Rozalski, for anyone familiar with Tales from the Loop or the board game Scythe.

Character Data Dump
PCs are now level 5

  • Gnome Operative… Scholar… Hacker
  • Halfling Mystic… Ace Pilot… Star Shaman
  • Kasatha Solarian… Xenoseeker… Solar focused
  • Android Technomancer… Icon… rebuilt from envoy
  • Ysoki Mechanic… Outlaw… Exocortex

Changes Made to Temple of the Twelve
Because my players are already level 5, I have to scale up book 2. Fortunately, Alien Archive makes this super easy. I simply take the existing creature, figure out what array and grafts were used, and then increase the CR by 2. To do the entire book took less than 30 minutes. I then blanket increased the DCs of skill checks by 2, the DCs of required saves by 1-2, and the damage from hazards by 50%. Credit rewards were doubled, although this might prove to be too much of an increase. Looted items were boiled down into their iLvl, and then increased by 2. So now my players loot a random iLvl 6 longarm, instead of a specific iLvl 4 longarm. Story wise, the only change I had to make was when the Iron Rictus attacks the PCs, so rather than attacking at the Drift Rock it attacked when they returned from their side quest.

Part 1 - Questions in Qabarat
Transmission Begins… Session 8, 11/27/17

Upon arriving outside Absalom Station space, the PCs find themselves immediately set upon by an unknown vessel. The markings identify it as a Corpse Fleet Cairncarver, and its weapons are hot. After a few rounds of combat, the enemy ship is wounded and resorts to overloading it’s engines in an attempt to self destruct and take the Sunrise Maiden with it! Fortunately, Captain Serissi and the Dust Runner of the Hardscrabble Collective arrives in time to fire up their laz drills and shred the detonating vessel before it can go off. The PCs open coms with their old friend, who brings them up to speed. Turns out Gevalarsk Nor shared the footage of the PCs exploration aboard the Drift Rock across Absalom Station, and then found on behalf of the Hardscrabble Collective in their case against Astral Extractions. Apparently the media is eager to question the PCs about their investigation, so Serissi offers his ship’s docking bay as a back door into the station, past all the reporters.

So a couple of changes here, the first just being the timing of things. The second is the provincial arrival of Serissi. I did this for a few reasons. The first is that I needed some Deus Ex to let my players know what happened regarding the Drift Rock. I also wanted to spice up an otherwise placid space combat. My PCs easily handled the Iron Rictus, and adding the “threat” of it self destructing brought some players out of their space-combat coma. The last reason was because aside from Book 1, the player’s decisions regarding the Hardscrabble Collective and Astral Extractions never come up again. I didn’t really like that, so by presenting Serissi here it gives meaning to their earlier choices.

Landing on Serissi’s low-key docking bay the PCs are easily able to return to the Lorespire Complex and turn in their last side quest. They also get the low down from Chiskisk, who tells them that since the Drift Rock’s details have been spoiled to the whole Station, there’s no telling who might be moving to investigate it now—which means the Starfinders are going to begin their investigation a lot sooner than planned. He’s sent the strange writings from the alien artifact out to all his contacts, in the hopes that someone will know something. In the meantime, the players spend credits and gear up.

Once they finish shopping, Chiskisk gives them the mission briefing (pg. 5) and the PCs are bound for Castrovel. However, as they begin to board their ship, a flock of reporters begins to hound them—getting in their face and asking sensational questions while hover cams film it all. Weaving through the reporters, the PCs are finally free to leave Absalom Station and begin the adventure in earnest.

Oddly my players never thought of speaking with Nor about the Corpse Fleet ship, probably because he had already paid them for their work in Book 1. I included the mob of reporters to foreshadow the same thing that happens later at the university, but as you’ll see that didn’t really matter.

Arriving on Castrovel, the players meet up with Whaloss and head to Qabarat University. He leaves them at Karei hall, where the players have a meeting scheduled with the head of the linguistic anthropology department—Professor Muhali. Elevator doors open and the PCs see a mob of reporters scrambling to get in to see the professor. A lone assistant is overwhelmed as he tries to hold them off. Wasting no time, the android sees conflict and heads to a different floor. The operative enters stealth, and the remaining three players approach. After a few feeble attempts and quelling the reporters, the solarion looses her patience and lays one out. The distraction is enough that the three are able to get inside and see Muhali. She gives them the low down about Aliabiens 21:2 (as his name comes up this first time I allow my players Culture check to learn of his names significance) and gives them the deal—help me settle this and I’ll track down the professor on leave who can possibly translate those writings. As the player’s agree, the door opens and campus security arrives to escort the solarion off the premises.

I had no idea how to expect this scene to break out, I had some thoughts, but combat wasn’t one of them. Fortunately the bit about campus police is in the book, which made it easy to deal with the situation. For all of the descriptive bits about Qabarat University, I just pulled from my time in college and having two parents as professors. The players and I joked about the QU’s rival, University of Qabarat (or UQ), and we came up with school colors (neon green and safety orange, like a PFS HQ shirt). Most of Muhali’s personality I took from the chair of a department I know, who’s mantra seems to be “I got into this to be a scientist, not an administrator” – which jives with how Muhali is presented anyway.

The operative, mystic, and mechanic go to speak with Aliabiens 21:2 while the technomancer tries to hack into the university computer system and get the absent professor’s home address. He whiffs the Computers check, and a moment later campus security arrives to escort yet another member of the team off the grounds. In speaking with Aliabiens 21:2, the PCs are a mix of disgusted (mystic), enamored (mechanic), and indifferent (operative), which makes for some great table talk.

The mystic and the mechanic head back to Muhali with Aliabiens 21:2’s demands, while the operative stays behind. Muhali agrees to 2 of the 3 concessions, but refuses to wipe Aliabiens 21:2’s tenure review file. The mystic and mechanic decide to lie, and text the operative that Muhali agreed to all three points—and the operative (not knowing he’s been lied to) shows Aliabiens 21:2 the text. Futhermore, while Muhali is distracted, the mechanic remote hacks her system and wipes the tenure file anyway—he did like the guy, after all.

So in the end, Aliabiens 21:2 believes the tenure file has been wiped. The operative, mystic, and Muhali know it hasn’t, and the mechanic knows that it has. Shenanigans!

Roleplaying the uber-logical floating brain was easy, as I basically made him act like the brains from Futurama. He refused to admit fault, as he couldn’t possibly be wrong. And if debating a point for more than a moment with a PC, he brought up their lack of qualifications and dismissed them. There was some good roleplay to be had, as the player of the mechanic is highly logical thinker and enjoyed some verbal sparring.

As Muhali learns that professor Solstarni is missing, she contacts the fuzz and gives the PCs (well the 3 that are still there) access to Solstarni’s office. They search and find the breadcrumbs that Solstarni was researching what they’re looking to research, and that she was probably kidnapped by this mysterious figure Eryub Paqual. The cops arrive and they lay out their findings, and the cop suggests they go undercover and see what they can learn about Paqual by heading to the Five Arches—where Paqual was slated to meet Solstarni a few days ago. The second thing to investigate is the Port Authority, where the goons that took Solstarni appeared to work. Fortunately, half the party is already back at the ship by the Port Authority, having being kicked off campus.

Nothing much to say here—there was just a lot of plot exposition that needed to get out in this section. I did replace the no-name Qabarat detective with the same hardboiled detective from Absalom Station—transferred to Castrovel for some peace and quiet. Needless to say he was unsurprised with the PCs arrived to interrupt his zen.

At the Port Authority the solarion and the technomancer spend an hour in bureaucratic hell tracking down a gate controller. They get the info they are after though, and learn that Solstarni has gone through one of the aiudara as part of a 15 man team headed to Ukulam. The remaining PCs head to the Five Arches.

I envisioned the TSA mixed with the police from Half Life 2 for the Port Authority. High tech scanners, slow moving lines, and lots of red tape. For the passage through the aiudara I thought of any border crossing, but with alien technology and some automated turrets.

After spinning their wheels a bit, they notice a lashunta looking in their direction. After making contact, the operative and the lashunta, Twonas En, go sit privately to discuss some transportation. The operative does a great job acting the part of a criminal, and before long has bought five illegal visas and a hassle-free baggage check through customs. Twonas thanks the operative for his business and heads out.

As fun as roleplaying a shady transaction is, nothing was more fun that describing Five Arches in great detail and playing the PCs waiter—an energetic man with well over 15 pieces of flair named Bobby. We decided that Fiver Arches is the equivalent of space Applebees, with all these stereotypical pact worlds’ memorabilia hanging off the walls in various sections. The PCs opted to sit in the Akiton section, where faded black and white photographs of Akitonian miners hung between rusted sections of mining equipment bolted to the wall. At the center of the restaurant was a slow moving collection of tables that made up Diaspora, complete with a traveling bar and bartender. The various food dishes we came up with were also extraordinary, my personal favorite was probably the Pact Worlds Sushi Platter – a massive dish of over 50 unique space sushi, one for each planet, moon, or other landmark in the Pact Worlds.

The PCs reconvened and shared their intel with the cops. Tracer Bullet tells the PCs that he’s going to move on their intel and seize the smugglers, and Muhali agrees to give the PCs visas to travel to Ukalam if they agree to try and recover Solstarni. Not being heartless monsters, the players accept. The smugglers are captured offscreen and the operative’s credits are returned in block text. The next day they head through TSA Gate Security and find themselves on another continent.

Some more plot movement here. The descriptive text nearly everything about an aiudara is lacking, aside from what it does, so I had to make some things up. Our aiudaras are a couple hundred feet tall or so and are crawling with security staff. Massive scanners mirror the curved arch, scanning the ships that pass through the top half of the arch as well as any people traveling on foot through the bottom. Security on the other side of the gate is much lighter—as the goal is to limit traffic into Ukalam, not out. The gate itself doesn’t have a perceptive field, but you just see another location through the middle—like the doors in Doctor Strange

We finished up the session with the players meeting Dr. Khair at Turhalu Point, who told them Solstarni’s expedition headed into the jungle a couple days ago—so she was at least alive then. The PCs are free to rest and resupply at the Qabarat University base camp before heading out into the Ukalam wilds after Dr. Solstarni and the mysterious Paqual.

I imagined Turhalu Point like any actual base camp at the foot of a mountain. So you’ve got annual support staff, some physical structures, and a bit of a tent city going on. Given Qabarat Universities influence and annual visas, they have a standing structure, which is where the PCs are free to gear up before heading into the jungle. Dr. Khair played the role of explainer—telling the PCs all this information as he showed them around the camp.

Transmission End

Notes from Session 8

  • First session with no combat! I’m excited because this is the first time, both in running this AP and in any game of Starfinder I’ve participated in thusfar, that there was no combat. And it ran beautifully. We had only a handful of d20s rolled at all, really, just on a couple Culture, Perception, and Computers checks—none of which were vastly important. Glad to see first hand that RP is alive and well in this new system.
  • As I said before, I really like this setting. I’m excited that we’re out of the city and about to enter the jungle. I could have used more descriptive text with the aiudara, but was able to make do.
  • Proper names. A running joke of mine is that at the start of some games of PFS, you get hit with a wall of proper names—locations, factions, names, objects, etc—that you are expected to know in order to understand the plot of the game. I was worried when I saw so many characters so quickly at the start of this AP, but the more we played the easier it was to keep things straight. That said, you still have: Halkueem Zan, Castrovel, Qabarat, Whaloss, Ikimsi, Muhali, Aliabiens 21:2, Ukalam, Solstarni, Eryub Paqual, Uilee, Five Arches, Twonas En, aiudara, Raiyiri, Turhalu Point, and Dr. Khair al-Nuaf. That’s a lot for one session.

Shadow Lodge RPG Superstar Season 9 Top 8

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The holidays are over and everyone’s back and ready to venture into the wilds of Castrovel! Joining the party is a sixth member (a refugee from a different Dead Suns group that never left the station). This Kasatha Operative carries a set of four pistols and is gearing up for the Fusillade feat chain.

Part 2 – The Ukulam Expedition
Transmission Begins… Session 9, 1/1/17

Before heading into the jungle, the players decide it prudent to hire a guide that speaks elven. The kasathan tells them the journey to the lost temple they seek should take about 12 days, barring any unscheduled stops. After making any final purchases, they head into the jungle.

I always like having clean tie ins when adding additional players, and this one was pretty smooth. He’ll fills the role of translator/guide needed for their expedition and throughout the journey, become another member of the team.

Day 2 – Trampling Titans & Rune Obelisk
The players navigate a wide, dry gulch and do their best to placate and avoid a herd of massive yaruks. Things go sideways as a sniper fires a shot into a yaruk, hoping to start a stampede. The PCs run to avoid the stampede, clambering up walls, diving between the beasts legs, and doing anything they can think of to avoid certain death. Battered, bruised, and wary of some unknown threat, they survive and press on.

This was a great skill-based encounter. Typically these boil down into “what check is the best, I’ll roll that five times,” but I was able to keep my players by describing the chaos around them, forcing them to be creative and find ways to avoid being trampled. At one point, the technomancer tried to do a Life Sciences check and easily broke a 30. I flavored it as him reading an issue of Readers Digest and seeing an article about a woman that survived a yaruk stampede by standing on one leg and mooing like a cow. This lead to some hilarity as his character remained motionless during the stampede, as the gargantuan yaruks miraculously ignored him. The flavor for the location was stripped from King Kong and the new Jumanji – that narrow gulch you have to run along to avoid being trampled.

The destruction left by the yaruks opens a path to a large stone obelisk. As the PCs approach, the local primate wildlife begins hooting warnings and throwing sticks. Ignoring the space monkeys and threatening them back with roars of their own, the players approach. Of course, the hidden plant monster at the base of the obelisk emerges, takes a huge bite out of the mechanic and entrancing the solarion and technomancer. While this happens, the monkeys drop from the trees and engage the other intrepid explorers. Combat erupts, and when the dust settles the monkeys have retreated and the vracinea is no more. The jungle is no place for the faint of heart.

I was happy with how this fight played out. The party’s highest DPS character (solarion) was out of commission for the first two rounds, which actually made it challenging. Otherwise I’d be surprised if other parties have much trouble here, unless everyone tanks their will save. Combining the vracinea with the kaukarikis seems fine, given how low CR the space monkeys are. Flavorwise, the monkeys acted like the apes in Princess Mononoke while they threw debris at the party.

Day 5 – Dangerous Flora
The days pass uneventfully until the PCs notice they’re being followed. A ksarik, a large tentacle-faced plant beast has picked up their scent. It runs off, only to return hours later, hounding the PCs with a deadly barb from its tail. They examine it and find it to be teeming with ksarik larvae. That can’t be good to get hit with. Later on, they hear the cries of a crippled woman, and approach to find a cultist on deaths door, horribly plagued with a pair of spines sticking from her leg. Of course this is a trap set by the ksarik, who jumps them. After half the party has been tail spined, it emerges from cover and tangles with the kasathan operative. The solarion connects with a solid blow and the beast collapses, its work done.

This is a great tropic thing—some beast hunting the party, luring them into a trap. Lot of RP influences here came from The Grey and Predators / Independence Day (with the injured person acting for help). The combat was ultimately meh, with just a bit of cover and stealth shenanigans from the ksarik. Unfortunately its stealth is abysmal, so it can’t keep that up for long, which is weird, as that’s its written tactics. The good news is it got its spine-children out there, so the PCs will have check to makes in the coming days

The party decides to keep the injured cultist alive, although she does slip into a coma on the next day due to her condition. They make a sled and drag her along, hoping to heal her up in the days to come.

Day 7 – The Moldstorm & The Mold-Maddened Beast
With a combination of magic from the mystic and medicine from the mechanic, the afflicted PCs shrug off their ksarik spine-babies and press on. As the winds shift and the notorious Castrovellen moldstorm approaches, the players hunker down for cover. When it passes, they catch a glimpse of it in the melted horror of a lone kaukariki that failed to find safety. Later that day, they hear the roar of some massive predator, charging toward their position. Wisely, they find cover. Unfortunately, they neglected to stow the comatose cultist, who was left in the open, like an offering to the whiskered renkroda—who rips poor Ralkawi limb from limb.

It was one of those perfect storms with the players seeking cover and no one mentioning that they hid her as well. I had the mechanic (who was looking after her) if he remembered his patient, and as he facepalmed we collectively described the cultist being savaged by the renkroda. I didn’t really feel a need to run the combat with this creature, as we already had quite a few combat encounters in this session. The players used their guile to avoid the encounter, and lost a potential resource in the process. And if that wasn’t enough, the side-splitting laughter told me the encounter was a success.

Day 8 – The Stargazer & Ksarik Raid
Real quick, the map for this location is a pain to draw. I recommend having a map with some ruins on it, and a second map with just the statue. The PCs can start in the ruins, encounter the sky fisher, and head for cover when Salask starts firing—moving to map #2 if they so choose.

Entering the ruins of the Stargazer, the PCs are immediately engaged by a huge sky fisher – an almost invisible flying space jellyfish. It ensnares the smallest member of the group, the poor gnome operative, and makes to flee with him. The party begins firing back, and the strand holding the gnome snaps at 70 feet. With a small thud he craters to the ground, and the sky fisher swoops down to nab the halfling mystic. At this point, Salask joins the fray and begins seriously damaging the remaining players with her shots.

Half the part moves to enter the Stargazer while the rest try to get the mystic down. Entering the base of the Stargazer, they work their way through the cultist fodder protecting Salask. The sky fisher is wounded enough that it telepathically expresses a desire to flee to the mystic, releasing him and fluttering on. Fortunately, the mystic took the time to engage his jet pack, and safely rejoins the party. Salask cornered, she fires a few more times into the two kasathans cornering her before she’s quickly, and brutally, taken out.

I adjusted the tactics of the sky fisher to make it more challenging for my six players, and it settled with them just right. This was the first fight in book two to really make them sweat, and it did that in spades. Sure I’ll grab you and fly 50 feet up. Oh, you cut yourself loose? Take 5d6 damage. Wash, rinse, repeat. I wouldn’t recommend such tactics for your table, but given that my players are 2 levels higher (and their opponents are equally scaled up) and relatively skilled, I need to up the ante from time to time.

The other major change here was upgrading Salask’s weapon to the disintegrator liquidator rifle in the back of the book (pg 52). It’s more of a sniper weapon, it does a solid amount of damage, and it’s a great reward to give my players after defeating this challenging pair of combats back to back.

Furthermore, with the PCs positions secured for the night, the pair of ksariks that attack them this evening are little threat and I hand-waive the combat.

Transmission End

Notes from Session 9

  • I was hesitant to add a 6th player (as I typically dislike large tables), but he’s been a welcome addition and so far everything has gone smoothly. With the scaling up I’ve already done to adjust for PCs two levels higher, I haven’t had to do anything else to adjust for a 6th player. Perhaps I will if combats become trivial, but so far they are still exciting enough.
  • As this was the second jungle trek my players had gone through in this AP (my side quest was also set in a jungle, so thanks for one-upping me Paizo *eyeroll*), I was a little worried they would be bored by it. Fortunately, aliens are aliens, and this jungle feels a lot different than their last one. Also the expedition is done, so I won’t need to worry about it any more.
  • The minisystem involving the chase was good, and I liked that it was a fluctuating number of successes based on the number of players, because it self-adjusts for larger or smaller tables (something other APs don’t often do). The flavor of it was also so strong, but maybe because I’d just seen the new Jumanji.

  • Nice work, I'll keep reading

    Nice write up.

    What adjustments did you make for adding a 6th player? I've been DMing for a group of five and I haven't changed anything because it all seems to fit well enough, especially since I've got a few new players who aren't as experienced. With a six player though, I really feel like I'll have to make some changes, so I'm curious of what you adjusted.

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