Monday, September 11, 2017

Star Wars Adventure Review - Riders of the Maelstrom

Cover courtesy of Wookieepedia
This is an ongoing series of reviews of classic West End Games Star Wars RPG adventures. I've run a few, read a few more and not touched a few since I bought them over the past 30 years. I'll look at them for a few different angles, including what I would change to bring the adventure to my table.

Adventure title: Riders of the Maelstrom

Author(s): Ray Winninger

Published: July 1989

The Pitch: Another big ship based adventure, this one based on a Mon Calamari luxury cruiser. The Rebels stumble across a plot that involves pirates, other pirates that are also Rebels, and rival Moffs looking to put everyone out of business.

Summary: There's a lot going on in this adventure which depends a bit too much on coincidence  and has problems projecting a straight plotline. But there's a lot of neat NPCs, factions vying with each other and a big location that's dying to be explored.

In-depth review with SPOILERS after the jump!

The Story

We open with the PCs being chased off the planet Aris through a twisty jungle maze, a rewiring puzzle done under fire from infinite stormtroopers and escape thanks to the fortuitous appearance of an alien species that wears masks. The PCs make their escape on the Kuari Princess, a luxury liner where two Moffs (!) have commandeered a big chunk of the ship to have a secret meeting about the local pirates. Just as the PCs finish snooping around the closed-off section of the ship, those pirates show up to take the liner and start setting up machinery to allow them to attack ANOTHER band of pirates (who are also Rebels) by ramming the ship into the Rebel pirate base. The adventure ends with a battle cross-cutting the PCs on board the liner trying to take it back with the PCs desperately flying through the bad guy pirate fleet trying to warn the good guy pirates. 

The Design

Does that sound like there's a lot going on? Because it is. Most of these early WEG adventures seem built for an evening or two of play. This adventure feels like it could easily go four or five sessions with just the stuff in the main plot. Mixing in the side quests and the various encounters made for PCs ducking into a room to avoid stormtroopers in the hallway could stretch this adventure into a mini campaign. 

Unfortunately, the main plot hinges on a lot of coincidence and player action assumption. Its assumed the players are going to sneak around the Moff meeting and try to help the off-screen Rebel pirates, but there's not much motivation for them to do so other than they are Rebels. For example, it's assumed the Rebels will sneak on board wearing the communication masks of the Anomids, even though there are several fun and exciting ways to get aboard the ship like masquerading as crewmembers or hiding in luggage or something. Also, what about droid or alien PCs that can't pass for human under an elaborate mask?

The scenario design makes up for this, however, by providing a ton of information and side encounters on the Kuari Princess that make up for it. The book almost feels like it was written as a location sourcebook and then hammered into an adventure to fit an open slot on the production schedule. There are dozens of side encounters that could just as easily be fleshed out into adventures or action set-pieces for use in stories on and off the ship.

Canon Compatibility

Scan courtesy of Wikipedia

The Kuari Princess first appeared in the original Star Wars The Roleplaying Game book as one of a handful of adorable in-universe advertisements in the book. It was a galactic cruise featuring stops on Tatooine, Endor, Bespin and the yet-unnamed-Coruscant (called Imperial City here). It was mostly an excuse to burn through some more concept art in a full-color spread, but a campaign that starts with the PCs as a Rebellion cell operating undercover aboard the Kuari Princess and visiting iconic locations in the first few weeks of game sounds pretty cool to me.

Special Modifications

There's a lot of fat to trim from this adventure. The off-screen Rebel pirates and their base can go, as can the overly intricate escape opening (though I might save that for ideas the next time the PCs need to book it off a planet after a bad session). Two Moffs seems unnecessary, as does the need for the pirates to load the ship up with equipment to ram it into the base. Hunting pirates and messing with Imperials is at the core of this adventure, so I would bring that front and center.

Word leaks to the Rebels that the Imperials have secretly boarded the liner and told the captain to make way for the Maelstrom to lure the pirates to attack. The Imperials have a battalion of troopers and materials stashed on board to counter-ambush the pirates without any regard for the innocents put in danger by the act. The Imperials, in fact, want to use any innocents killed as justification for clamping down on the sector. The PCs are put on board to figure out what the Imperials are up to and possibly tip off the pirates, who are more good guy scoundrel types in the case.  Things get real when they either go on mission to figure out the Imperial plan or, if they get two wrapped up in hanging out in the casino or flirting with other passengers, the Maelstrom pirates strike. The session ends with a big shipboard battle between the Rebels, the Imperials and the pirates, who could become potential allies if the Rebels stop shooting at them long enough to talk.

Final Thoughts

Pre-published adventures are most useful when you can run them out of the gate with a few modifications to suit your players and their characters. But even those that don't work well as published are often useful as resources for characters, scenes and encounters that can be pulled out and inserted into a campaign elsewhere. The main adventure is a mess, but there's enough material included with Riders of the Maelstrom that a GM should be able to stitch one, if not multiple adventures, together with a little work. 

Rating: 3 out of 5 Death Stars