Friday, August 26, 2011

TROOPS: Cloud City

Last night I ran a one-shot based on the cool old Star Wars fan-film TROOPS. This was the second time I'd run such a game, but the last time was way back in February of 2009.  For last night's reprisal, I moved the game from Tatooine to Bespin. Filmed live on the platforms of Cloud City.

Here's a link to my post about the old game.  For those unfamiliar with the general TROOPS concept, here's a link to the very entertaining video that inspired this madness.

We used the classic d6 system, with the PCs assembled quick and easy via the game's template system. The PCs were mostly Stormtroopers, plus one contract Bounty Hunter (an Ewok of all things) and a probe droid operating as embedded journalist / camera crew. Surprisingly likeable PC Stormtroopers, as in the video, with completely dysfunctional shady NPCs. "All NPCs are Guilty - Otherwise they wouldn't be NPCs." A few of the PCs were reprised from the other scenario two years ago, but any who got promoted had since been busted back down to no more than junior officer status so it would still feel like TROOPS.

This time I ran them through the background events of the last third of Empire Strikes Back, explaining why the 'Falcon's hyperdrive is deactivated, how C-3PO got shot, and what kind of trouble you can get into when someone's severed hand lands on your back porch.

At the start of every scene, I handed a random PC a short written script. This was their narrative monologue to the camera, used to set up and lead in to the next scene, and establish background details. For example, to start the session, I had someone read:

We’ve just been recently stationed out here on Cloud City in the Bespin system. I know, you’ve probably never heard of it, neither had I. It’s one of those fly-by-night corporate towns, mining Tibana gas out of the sky. Not sure you can even call that mining, it’s more like sucking. Can I say that on TV?

The local governor is kinda shady, 'cause the place is almost small enough to not be noticed. He’s not even enrolled in the Mining Guilds, and he owes a lot of back taxes and gambling debts. Anyhow, the citizenry aren’t too pleased with the way he’s running things, and there’s been some disturbances as a result.

That’s why we’ve been called in, to bolster the local police force.

Sometimes that ruffles a few feathers with the local big whigs, of course, but in the end everyone agrees quality of life improves once the Empire gets involved, and that’s what really matters. 

"Cloud City, Bespin, 7:00 am local-time" scrolled across the screen. Then the camerabot turned to another one of the TROOPS, who said (read from the telepromter, no doubt) this:

We’re responding to a call from the local Port Authority, seems they need a bit of help here.

There’s a ship that came in for repairs, had a malfunctioning hyperdrive or something, Put it in to dry dock at the local shop, and there’s some sort of animal problem. I’m guessing the owner left his pet on board, and forgot to tell the mechanics.

Normally, this sort of thing would be handled by Animal Control, not by the Emperor’s Finest, but apparently these here Gas Giant planets don’t have much in the way of wild life, so this town doesn’t actually have an Animal Control Guildhouse.

Looks like that fellow over there works here, we’ll start by asking him if he knows what kind of animal we’re looking for.

So the PCs enter the shipyard, where a pissed-off mechanic is bandaging his hand. He explains the owner of the ship has a real menagerie on board, some big fuzzy thing, a bunch of droids, and whatever it was that bit him. For a couple minutes I managed to imply it was Chewbacca that bit him, which was a total miscommunication red-herring. The players were wondering what the guy did that would provoke Chewie to attack, but had to proceed as the arrogant Imperial pigs they were.

The Imperials head over to the ship to check it out. One officer leans into the open hyperdrive port and bangs on it to scare out whatever the animal is, and ends up with a Mynock wrapped around his helmet.  There's a couple more in the engine block, and they start flying around.

It wasn't much a challenge for armed and armored troopers, but I broke out the Star Wars miniatures anyway and dipped our toes in a combat system none of us had used in a long time.. The first two Mynocks went down in the very first round, but the third one was surprisingly resilient. No one could get a decent damage roll on it, and a missed shot with a "1" on the wild-die left the NPC lying dead on the floor.

After the Mynocks were dealt with, the PCs put a "boot" on the Falcon's hyperdrive, broke one of it's tail-lights to justify a few extra tickets, and searched the holds. They confiscated the boxes full of money that Han was going to use to pay off Jabba. Aside from a little trouble with that little zappy ball that Luke used to practice his sabre work in the first film, the scene wrapped up without incident, and without the PCs ever meeting the main characters from the movies.

Next scene. One of the PCs reads:

This part of town has a bit of a reputation as a “red diode district”, if you know what I mean. That is to say, prostitution, mostly droid-related.

We’re just gonna do a little sweep through the neighborhood, mostly chase off the hookers and johns. Let them know the Empire is here now, and that sort of thing won’t be tolerated anymore.  They shouldn’t be out on the streets lookin’ for droid love, that’s what the Twi’Lek Dancing Girls Guild is for.

Of course, if any of the pimps, hos, or sexbots get uppity with us, we are authorized to use whatever force we deem necessary. That’ll send a message, loud and clear. To protect the decency and social welfare of the city, of course.

This lead to a small scene with an "obvious prostitute", I said as I placed a minature R4 astromech unit on the tabletop. When they eventually blasted the sexbot, it responded in the typical R2D2 method, rolling back, head spinning, and dozens of tools and attachments popping out of all the hidden compartments. So now the corridor is littered with vibrators. They question the other nearby bot,  PI-MP, who claims to know nothing about "that slutty little bitchbot".

"You want me to backhand her for you officer? I'm fluent in over 6 million forms of bitchslapping."

Surprisingly, PI-MP doesn't get blasted. He managed to convince them that he was innocent. Some random protocol droid came walking in at that moment, and PI-MP pointed at him. "Look, that's gotta be the pimp you're looking for officers. Look how much bling-bling he's made out of." So they let PI-MP go, and blasted poor C-3PO who just happened to wander in at the wrong time.

Meanwhile, the dirty little Ewok bounty hunter wasn't at all interested in cleaning up the prostitution of Cloud City. Since we were in a bad part of town, he went looking for other entertainment. Before long, he was involved in some illicit gambling with a bunch of Ugnaughts and Jawas, playing some high-stakes game called "Utini!" As their game wrapped up, his fellow little people said they were off to some big protest that was going on.

Which lead right into this scene:
There’s a lot of labor disputes going on lately. Not being affiliated with the Miner’s Guild, the local government is ill-equipped  to deal with it.

An informant told us that there was going to be some sort of protest going on, an attempt by the workers from “Deck Twelve an’ a Half” to unionize or something.

On the one hand you want everybody to be able to speak their mind and improve their lot in life, but at the same time... well, we all know that protests are often just the first step towards Rebellion and lawlessness. We’re gonna see if we can’t get them to disperse, kinda nip that in the bud before it gets too troublesome.

Ah, jeesh, look at all those little guys. They’re kinda cute. Hope we don’t have to disintegrate them. Set for stun.

I got out an actual map for this one, and set up a big cluster of ugnaughts, ewoks, jawas, and various short droids in a picket line. They were complaining about the working conditions on deck 12 & 1/2. Poor lighting, no safety railings, and the terribly low cielings. "First off, who are they trying to kid here? We all know deck '12 & 1/2' is really unlucky number 13. Secondly, why the low ceilings? Are they trying to say we're short? Just because we're not 2-meter tall freaks doesn't mean that some of us don't get claustrophobic! And what did Baron Calrissian do to 'improve' our lot in life? Longer coffee breaks and freakin' door to the brain of Moff Malkovich. I don't think even Moff Malkovich wants to see what happens inside Moff Malkovich's brain. I sure don't!"

Lucasfilm purists might complain about my bizarre choice to work in numerous references in this scene to Being John Malkovich. I know, it was silly, and doesn't quite fit in the Star Wars universe - not even the Expanded Universe. Just like the cameo by Tom Servo in the background in the TROOPS film, so I feel justified. And lets be honest, it's not like you would have been any happier if my references were to Willow or Howard the Duck, so cut me some slack.

The PC Imperial Officer starts making rolls of his command skill, threatening to blow up the protesters if they don't disperse. This gets rid of most of the crowd, except one little power droid who stands his ground shouting "Gonk no, we won't Go(nk)!" Time for some good old fashioned police brutality. The PC AT-ST Pilot chose to have her walker kick the Gonk Droid off the platform. She failed, with a dismal low roll and a spectacular "1" on the wild die.

So now the AT-ST scout walker is lying face-down on the terrain (a parked Imperial Shuttle on the platform, as a matter of fact) and the badly damaged Gonk droid is ominously whistling as if it's going to blow.
It ain't easy justifying this much SteamPork.

That's not nearly dire enough, so I chose that moment to have some of the other protesters return. Including several ugnaughts in a mecha war machine. I put my "Uggernaught" miniature on the table. I've been itching to use this mini in a scenario ever since I opened it in a booster of Star Wars minis a couple years back. Look at that thing, ain't it just ridiculously cool? Usually hard to justify, but this was no doubt the perfect game for it.

So now the PCs are pinned between the fire of a crazy ugnaught death machine, and the whistling overload of a malfunctioning power droid. Now that's drama!  :)

While most of the squad was pinned down, one of the Troopers did manage to use the cover of the buildings on the map to advance without incident and take out the rebel ugnaughts by means of a well-placed grenade. The whistling Gonk droid on the other hand was beyond their ability to multi-task, so most of the PCs took wounds from shrapnel damage that penalized their rolls the rest of the night.

The PC Imperial Officer went to fetch a change of uniforms, and came back with a new mission (and thus another of my short scripted monologues).

We’re responding to a possible domestic dispute. Neighbors called, said there’s a lot of yelling and the sounds of dishes shattering coming from one of the homes here.

I don’t expect too much trouble, though, as you can tell we’re in a nice part of the city. They’ve got a beautiful view of the bottomless shaft, there. That’s a doozy.

 If need be, we can take one or both of them down to the Detention Center till they sober up or calm down.

Dispatch says its the address is the home of one of the local city administrators, so chances are they’ll quickly calm down just to keep up appearances. These local government types are kinda slippery like that.

As it turned out, the home was that of Mr. and Mrs. Lobot. For those of you who don't recognize the name, Lobot was Lando's right-hand man on Cloud City. The bald guy with the computer sticking out of his head who follows Calrissian around, wordlessly directing lesser minions. He holds a position of importance, but he's very formal and not a particularly warm or communicative individual. So, it's no surprise that his marriage is a bit strained. Probably works late nights and weird back-room business deals with his shady boss in gambling dens and strip clubs. Who's to blame Mrs Lobot if she suspects her husband is secretly some sort of mob boss?

Lots of hysterics follow. The place has been trashed. She's in tears, crying and screaming, and he's standing there stoicly telling the troopers that everything is under control. Amidst all her sobbing, they eventually figure out she keeps repeating "it's on the balcony!" There the PCs find a severed hand. Mr Lobot swears he had nothing to do with it, that it must have fallen from somewhere further up the bottomless shaft. Mrs Lobot, however, is certain it's some sort of creepy mob signal, like waking up with the head of a Bantha in your bed.

While they're all out on the balcony trying to sort things out, the rest of a body falls past them. They look upward, and see this narrow promontory extending out to the middle of the chasm. There's someone else up on the damn thing, too, some black-clad Emo kid. Cut to narration:

We’re heading up a few levels, there’s a crisis situation, looks like a Jumper. It’ll be our job to talk him down.

We don’t get these suicide calls too often since most citizens of the Empire are so darned happy. You sure do see it more often out here on the Rim, though.

I remember a couple of planets back, there were these Jumpers just hanging from the ceiling! Hanging there. Wouldn’t come down. Stayed up there so long, they caught their death of cold.

Man, that place sure was chilly. C - O - L - D! You can ask my wife. On a frosty night,
laying in bed, I still say to her “Well at least I’m not back on Hoth!” I’ll remember that place for the rest of my life.
Hey, if you forgave a Being John Malkovich reference, I figure you won't mind me stealing a Bastogne line from Band of Brothers.

In the movie, after Luke throws himself off the ledge, Vader just heads back to his Star Destroyer like its no big deal. That of course is not what the PCs find when they get up there, though. No, I have a "fine tradition" in my TROOPS games that every session must end with a Drunken Darth. So Vader's out on the far end of this narrow ledge over a huge pit, all sad and depressed because his son just jumped. The Ewok bounty hunter walks out there to talk him back in. They end up sharing a few drinks - all those buttons and switches on Vader's chest plate are controls to his built-in minibar.

"I'm not a bad father, am I? I know I wasn't ever really there for him, but lots of people have workaholic absentee dads, right? That's no reason to shout 'you're not my father' and jump off a cliff, is it? I mean, it's not like he didn't know I exist, I left him with family after all. That's better than I had. You know what my mom told me? She said my daddy was a magic space virus!! You know what that does to a kid? Teaches him his mommies a damn liar, that's what it does! So at least I didn't lie to him like that..."

The Ewok tries talking him back in off the ledge, but without a lot of luck. In retrospect, I should have called for some sort of social roll to give him a shot at success, but it was a surprisingly complex scene and I was pretty deep in character, so I dropped the ball there. Not that I wasn't pleased with how it all turned out.

He's out there, waxing suicidally, and would rather down a six pack and a few bowls right here at the cliffs of doom than go back to work or blow off steam at some nightclub.

Someone suggests that the one female Stormtrooper in the squad try to coax him back to safety. She's rather reluctant, because the other time we played this, he made her be his date to his High School Reunion... and let's face it, Darth Vader is kind of a dick. Speaking of which, it's not long before she's ordered out on the ledge, pole-dancing on that vertical pipe or antennae or whatever the point of those weird bits on the bridge to nowhere are. This took a fairly difficult climbing & jumping roll, especially in the armor, but as it turns out she was up to the task.

As Vader is talking about what a great kid he had before he threw himself off the ledge, the PC Imperial Officer steps forward with their evidence baggie from the previous scene. "This son of yours, was this his by any chance?" he asks, handing Vader the severed hand.

I tell everyone that this is too much for Vader, and he feints. Everyone should roll initiative. I'll roll 3d6 for when Vader falls, only people who roll higher than him can act before he falls off the ledge. The first PC to act is also the only one who's too far away to do anything more than shout. The next two PCs try Brawling rolls to grab Vader, but fail and have to make a Dex check to keep from falling with him. The Ewok bounty hunter attaches a grappling hook to Vader, but there's some doubts as to how well a lone Ewok can belay the descent of a rather tall human in battle armor carrying a well-stocked wet bar. Yet another PC rushes out on to narrow promontory to try and grab him, and they also fail, this time with a "1" on the wild die.

Time for some final narration, this time improvised, by the GM:
There's a scraping metallic sound, and the camerabot pivots to see several bolts of the superstructure pop as the narrow platform buckles under the weight. With a sudden lurch, the entire promontory breaks loose and tumbles far down out of sight, taking Vader and the whole squad with it.
"TROOPS was filmed live in Cloud City." The theme music plays as the credits roll. "Bad Droids, Bad Droids, whatchyagonna do?"...
So I guess technically that's a TPK, but I've never seen a group quite that unanimously happy with a Total Party Kill before. TPKs don't usually get applause and laughter.