Monday, September 4, 2017

Star Wars Adventure Review - Starfall

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: Starfall

Author(s): Rob Jenkins and Michael Stern

Published: May 1989

The Pitch: Depending on how old you are, this is either Die Hard on a Star Destroyer or The Poseidon Adventure on a Star Destroyer. The Rebels are trapped inside a Victory-class Star Destroyer that's been wrecked by a surprise Rebel ambush. While they make their way through collapsing corridors, they also find out the captain of the Star Destroyer plans to take the Rebel fleet with him when the ship explodes. Can the Rebels save themselves AND the Rebel fleet?

Summary: This is my favorite Star Wars RPG adventure of all time. It still holds up after all these years, even if, as written, it's pretty linear. I've run it with every official Star Wars system and it's been a ton of fun every time.

In-depth review with SPOILERS after the jump!

The Story

The story begins with the PCs in a pickle, having already been picked up by the Imperials at Kwenn Station. They were escorting Walex Blissex, starship designer to meet his daughter Lira, when she revealed the meeting to be a trap to arrest Walex because of his dealings with the Rebels. everyone is put aboard the VSD Subjugator being shipped off to the Kessel Spice Mines or something when an ambush seriously damages the ship. The Rebels get loose and make their way through the superstructure to the landing bay and an escaping ship. They also get verbally taunted by the captain of the ship, tricked by a malicious protocol droid and blast their way to a final boss battle.

The Design

Starting the adventure after the capture fits the in media res style of Star Wars and it also allows for a plot point that's hard to achieve: the "you all get captured" point. Players hate, hate, hate anything that removes agency, but having this happen off-camera is an okay way to do it. It's also why this is a good scenario to use as a campaign launcher (since everyone's thrust together) or as a back-up when the players get captured during a subsequent mission,

The design is frustratingly linear for such a large, interesting location. The PCs drift from location to location led by Walex with a few busywork rolls for clues to the greater storyline beyond their escape. Most of the encounters are at least unusual, with the zero-g stormtrooper fight being one that's always a blast to run. The final battle involves something of a cockfight between Captain Kolaff (whose been taunting the PCs the whole time) and one of the PCs in a pair of AT-STs. 

This was the phase where WEG was trying to add a little minigame with each scenario or trying to tie in some other element of their game line with the RPG. The AT-ST battle is mostly there to show off the scale rules, but it's not a bad way to cap off a scenario. It's also pretty easy to skip if you're short on time.

Canon Compatibility

The Victory Star Destroyer has become something of the middle child of the Republic/Empire cruiser line, surrounded by the Venator-class of the prequels and the more famous Imperial-class. A GM could probably move this adventure to either of those with little change, though they would lose the sweet fold-out map that came with the original adventure.

The story of the Blissex family also starts here with Walex on the Rebel side and Lira siding with the Imperials. They would appear again in the later Crisis in Cloud City module and scattered around as references throughout the EU. The tight focus of the adventure means it can fit in a non-Legends story.

Special Modifications

The original version of the adventure comes with a gorgeous fold-out map of the Subjugator. I tend to run it more as an open sandbox with players able to do something at the different locations on the map that ticks down to the inevitable run to the escape ship at the end.  Most of them are made up on the fly or hastily scribbled notes, because its such a gorgeous location.

Walex Blissex is a fun character but he's fairly inconsequential to the affair, even with his connection to Lira. It's more important to have him if a GM wants to have that story to explore throughout the campaign. This seems to work best in a campaign that's not focused on the Galactic Civil War because it puts faces to that struggle that aren't destined for other things.

It can be fun to open a campaign with the players revealing "what are you in for?" when they bust out of the prison block with brief flashbacks to how they got caught.

Final Thoughts

Starfall is one of my favorite Star Wars adventures. It has that same pulp breathlessness as the films, with some interesting if lightly sketched characters, some fun encounters, and a very good plug-and-play episodic feel that works in any part of a campaign. The linear nature of the adventure works against it but the pieces can be moved around as needed.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Death Stars