I want to try a little bit of a different take on the write-ups going forward. Rather than a blow-for-blow account of what happened I want to try and inject more of my opinions on the sessions and thoughts on what worked well and what didn’t. It also might give you guys more of an insight to what happens behind that “mysterious” DM screen.
Our first session of Dead Suns really did a great job of laying the foundations for the adventure, it was a gritty sci-fi/cyberpunk investigation into the death of a Starfinder Society officer that had the group embroiled in corporate espionage and intrigue. Following clues from the deceased’s apartment to meeting with shady underground criminals in the back rooms of noodle bars and nightclubs the introduction gave us a good, roleplay heavy first taste of what Starfinder has to offer. The second session however was slightly different. Not better, not worse, just different.
The second session picked up where the first one ended. The group had found out that Astral Extractions had hired the Downside Kings to take out members of the miners union – Hardscrabble Collective. All so they could stake a claim to the drift rock that had been towed to Absalom Station by the crewless ship, the Acreon. They awoke to find that they had been summoned to the Eoxian Embassy to meet with a high ranking Eoxian diplomat named Gevalarsk Nor. The Eoxian’s are sentient undead creatures who are not only members of the Pact Worlds by also early signees of the Pact Treaty despite being generally untrusted by much of the populace.
Now, blame this on my kids’ love for the film Coco or my own interest in Día de Muertos (The Mexican Day of the Dead) or perhaps a misspent youth playing games like Grim Fandango but there was no way these guys weren’t going to have a heavy Mexican influence in my game. Along with my version of Chiskisk, Gevalarsk is one of my favourite characters throughout this entire adventure and I tried to make the meeting as memorable as I could. Gevalarsk tells the party that he has come in as a mediator to help resolve the issues between Astral Extractions and the Hardscrabble Collective and to put an end to any more unnecessary violence stemming from the ownership of this drift rock. Receiving clearance from Absalom security for the group to take a ship out to the Acreon and explore the vessel and the drift rock itself if need be he also ‘gifted’ them with a small camera bot that would record their excursion and stream it back to him.
There was also the minor job of retrieving a piece of cargo from the ship which belonged to him, he assured the group that it was totally legal and nothing to be concerned about. They were reluctant at first but like any good group, the promise of credits was enough to smooth over their conscience… for now.
So far, so good. A few brief meetings followed with both members of Astral Extractions and Hardscrabble Collective, the group favouring heavily with the latter who came across as alot more personable and welcoming, citing that monetary value was of little concern to them. They just wanted answers for the families who were waiting for their loved ones to come home. On the flip side Astral Extractions were very much corporate, speaking in legalese and seeming to be looking out for nothing but their bottom line. Based on their decisions in the first game I was about 85% sure they would have chosen to side with Hardscrabble but I love the fact that the adventure is well prepared for them to make an entirely different choice, siding with the power hungry corporation and starting a whole other chain of events.
Before the group got to the Acreon they were ambushed by an assassin sent by Astral Extractions which concluded with some space combat. The jury is still out as to whether or not I like space combat at the moment. Maybe I’ve just not experienced enough of it to be certain, it does seem to flow quite quickly once everyone has got to grips with their roles but there’s an element of it feeling slightly tacked on. I don’t know, time will tell. I know there are some alternative space combat rules floating around the internet but I’m loathe to move on to those before we’ve got to grips with these. So I think we’ll stick with it for the time being and adjust if need be later.
Quickly dispatching of the assassins small one man vessel wasn’t too much of a challenge but before they could land the killing blow the ship span out of control toward the Acreon. Going into this portion of the adventure one of my biggest concerns was the amount of combat it contained. Not because I dislike combat encounters but because they can grow repetitive and slow down the pace of the adventure when they come one after the other. The Acreon was designed to be a space-based dungeon crawl which I think was a missed opportunity given how much mystery had been built up over this thing, the inclusion of the almost comedic space Goblins also felt like a strange diversion. The whole thing would have worked better with just the encounter in the bridge with the Akata’s – finding their cocoons along the way and not knowing what had hatched from them would have created alot of tension as they opened the last unexplored door. It would have also had been nice if the group was able to try and investigate clues and evidence along the way to try and figure out what had happened on board. Perhaps finding the captains logs as they ventured through the corridors on at a time.
Speaking of corridors, the combat here was pretty brutal. Lots of closed in, confined spaces which prevented anyone from really being able to deal area damage and the addition of Starfinders’ many combat rules (compared to D&D 5e) which we haven’t entirely learned really gave the group a tough time. Feiyue, our soldier failed a Fortitude save after taking a bite from one of the Akata’s in the first corridor and ended up with a disease that rendered him at a huge disadvantage throughout the rest of the session. Not an overly bad thing, the disease/poison/curse track that Starfinder uses it actually very cool but the disease itself could have done with being less harsh for new players.
Finding Gevalarsk’s cargo was easy enough, deciding what to do with it however wasn’t. Nor gave them strict orders not to open or tamper with it and with the camera bot following them they knew he was watching. After a few bluff checks at trying to destroy the bot in combat not working out the group eventually conceded and sent the cargo back to Absalom station in a life shuttle still attached to the Acreon. I love little moments like this and thought the idea of trying to destroy the bot “accidentally on purpose” was awesome. Too bad it never worked out!
After reaching the bridge, hacking the broken computer and accessing the logs the group learned that the crew had retreated back to the drift rock and followed suit.
The drift rock suffers from many of the same issues the Acreon suffered with. There just isn’t enough down time to take in how weird and out of place the whole thing is before they stumble into another combat scenario. I will take some of the blame here though, I didn’t expect the group to reach this part of the adventure as fast as they did and hadn’t spent as long as I should have planning it out but I still felt the emphasis should have been on exploration rather than combat. That said, the group pushed on, fighting through various different types of monster (mostly undead) and coming across the body of a stranded captain who had seemingly killed herself. Playing back a holo-message she’d left behind also meant the group were now proud owners of their own starship – a good thing really seeing as the ship Gevalarsk loaned them was for a one-way journey and headed back to Absalom on auto pilot the moment they left it for the Acreon.
I liked this part of the drift rock, this discovery that this thing is ancient but yet somehow man-made and covered in foreign technology that none of them could decipher. I think if there had to be combat it should have been on either the drift rock or the Acreon but not both and not as dense as these two ‘dungeons’ were. Rather than the technology and computer system being an awe-inspiring moment it kind of fell flat and sort of became “well I can’t hack that, let’s move on” without much thought paid to it. Though the group did run in to the pilot of the ship that attacked them earlier, which was a nice call back.
The conclusion of this portion of the adventure had the group go up against a creature called a Garaggakal which can not only phase through walls but can also sap the life of anyone in the group to restore it’s own at a rate of 5d6 a go. Deadly. Especially for level 2! I wasn’t sure what the design decision was here but I had to nudge the group toward the starship and it’s guns or face a TPK – which isn’t something I like doing at all because it undermines the decisions of the group but it was either that or we wrap this adventure up early.
All in all, the second half of Dead Suns, Book 1 didn’t leave me with the same level of excitement as the first. Not because it was badly written or laid out but because it didn’t really mesh with the experience or vibe of the first. It felt like going from a detective film to a John Woo style shoot-out in a heartbeat and while both have their merits the line between the two was abit jarring. With that said I am excited for the next session and think the group will also love it too.