|Note: I am writing this report about six months after it happened. I did record the last two sessions of play and have listened to them again in order to put this together.|
I indeed had to return to Puerto Rico in June, so my friends and I decided to do our best to finish this game in the time I had. When we got together to play, we decided to wrap up the series in two sessions to be played over the two weeks I had available. That meant condensing four episodes into two action-packed extravaganzas. I merged the Screen Presences for episodes 2-3 and 4-5, giving us two final episodes that looked like this: 2/3/2/2 & 3/2/3/3. If you have played PTA you can see how that second merged episode is totally nuts; if you haven’t, the first spread is fine, with one spotlight character (3), but the second has three spotlight characters, meaning each of them is THE main focus of the episode, if that makes any sense. I knew that this would be tricky, to say the least, but we girded our loins and plunged back into the story.
In the first scene, the Sith Triumvirate and the Bounty Hunter are all in the Sith starship, where the Enforcer has put everyone up to speed on how he killed Lady Valmira and how Lord Vader had sent to kill him. He wants to take the fight to Lord Vader, but he does not gain the full support of his Sith companions, tough they do accompany him to the planet once more and into the Sith Council Chamber. There a hologram of Lord Vader appears and disparages the Enforcer, calling him a lackey and a tool of his sister, and the other two Sith for going against the law of the Empire… er, the Republic, and buying off the Bounty Hunter to follow his orders now. The Sith trio doesn’t take well to his threats, with the Historian countering that they are the law and the Republic. The Enforcer has enough of it and finally throws down in a fight with Lord Vader, who wields both of Luke Skywalker’s lightsabers of legend. Mustering all the resources he has, he enters the conflict… and wins. After a short but heated battle, the Enforcer slices Lord Vader’s helmet in two with a killing stroke, revealing a very old, half cyborg, Luke Skywalker. Thus dies Lord Vader. Just as the alarm goes off announcing the planet is under attack by Rebel cruisers.
Somewhere on Coruscant, we see Lady Vader suddenly look up from her meditation, a thin line of blood trailing down her face where her brother was sliced by the lightsaber, and smile.
The doors to the Council Chamber open to reveal the chaos of people and soldiers running to and fro, and the figure of “Jaina” warning the group that if they want to escape with their lives, they should leave the planet now. The Historian brushes her warning aside, and she, having given the information for them to do as they please, Force-pulls the green-bladed Luke Skywalker lightsaber, which the Historian had already once given to her, and she leaves. Pulling up the visuals of the attack, they see only two Mon Calamari cruisers come out of hyperspace; one crashes into and destroys one of the orbiting Death Stars, while the other breaks through and lets loose an attack on Coruscant’s surface. The Bounty Hunter receives word that the Mandalorians are in place near the Rebels. The Bounty Hunter issues a simple order: 1-C. The Archivist, knowing this is a futile attack and that there’s more to it than it seems, plugs into the planet’s mainframe, learning that there is a fairly large Jedi army that has infiltrated the Royal Palace. They set off to confront them.
The Sith trio and the Bounty Hunter run to meet the Jedi infiltrators, picking up a small force of soldiers as they go. The two forces meet in a large chamber as the ceiling is blown open by heavy-weapon’s fire from a Mandalorian gunship which just hovers over the action. As the two armies meet in battle, the Enforcer confronts the Bounty Hunter over the gunship, to which the Mandalorian replies, “Your vision of the Republic is not the correct one.” He then turns to the Historian and tells him, “If you search yourself, you will know I speak the truth.” The Historian seems to consider the Bounty Hunter’s words for a moment, then says, “I’m not needed here,” as he leaves. The Enforcer takes great exception to these words, saying might makes right and none are mightier than the Sith. They enter a conflict, the Enforcer to prove his point and prove the Mandalorian wrong, and the Bounty Hunter to be completely unimpressed with the Sith, and thus right in his assertion. They all lost against the Producer, so no one got what they wanted; it resulted in a scene where the Mandalorian soldiers ended up overpowering the Jedi and thus the Sith did not prove that their might was right, but where the Bounty Hunter was somewhat impressed with the promise these Sith showed. The battle over, the Mandalorian turns to the Sith and says, “This isn’t the place or time where we should be fighting; you’re missing the bigger picture.” With that cryptic message, the Bounty Hunter is hoisted up to the gunship and on his way.
The Archivist is shown in his information center, surrounded by tons of communication equipment, when on a large screen in front of him appears the face of Lady Vader saying one word, “Report.” The Archivist puts her up to date on the recent events, and she in turn tells him it is time to move to the next phase of the plan. The Archivist enters a conflict to renegotiate the deal with Lady Vader; he wins, and requests full unrestricted access to all Republic and Sith information databases. Lady Vader grants it, but tells him that he now belongs to her; the Archivist says he belongs to no one, but he acknowledges the pact and goes on to put the rest of the plan in motion.
The Bounty Hunter returns to his starship to find Lady Fett bewildered over his actions, saying this doesn’t help rebuild House Fett. The Mandalorian shrugs it off, “House Fett can be rebuilt in Mandalore. You’re focused on the details.” Lady Vader enters the room, and orders Lady Fett to leave. The Bounty Hunter concurs, stabbing her in the heart, emotionally speaking. After some small talk, the Bounty Hunter tells Lady Vader that the plan is in motion and the invasion of the systems is under way. She orders him to take the Sith trio back to Hoth to tie that end once and for all.
At Hoth, the Rebel Command Center doors open and the Historian walks in, where he is greeted by “Jaina” with a kiss. Taken slightly aback, the Historian tells her that it is time for the “Rebellion” to stand down; the Republic works and under his control peace will be reestablished. She doesn’t see it his way, noting that Sith will still be in control. He assures her all will be in order, and that his companions would be no problem. She’s still not convinced, especially after she asks him what’s going on with them and he goes on like he has no idea what she’s talking about. He requests all info on the Rebellion and demands to know why they were at the attack on House Calrissian. “Jaina” says they needed something that was there, pointing to two ancient droids in an adjacent room which contain the information necessary to destroy the network of Death Stars around Coruscant. The Historian enters a conflict to obtain the data from the droids and convince “Jaina” that it is the right thing to do so that he can end this needless bloodshed. He wins. Information in hand, a possible relationship on very tenuous ground, and a promise to actually bring peace, he departs. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” “Jaina” says. “I know what I’m doing,” he replies. “I always know what I’m doing.”
The Sith Council is convened by the Archivist. The information revealed is almost laughable and makes everyone wonder why was a Council called. The Archivist is dismissed but not before learning there are only six Sith Councilors alive. The Council then turns to the Enforcer who accepts without remorse that he killed Lord Vader. Nothing happens; it is determined he acted well within Sith tradition.
The Enforcer finally gets his main spotlight scene, and it starts with him walking into Lady Vader’s chambers and asking about their plan. “What plan?” “The one we had, to take down Lord Vader,” he says. “You are so innocent,” she says sarcastically. Lady Vader lets him that she’s been playing him all along, and he has been her willing pawn, even if we wants to think he did things because he wanted to. With Lord Vader out of the way, she remains the sole power in the… Empire. The Enforcer protests but he’s told he’s as idealistic and stupid as a Jedi. Here we enter a conflict where the Enforcer wants to impose himself and dominate Lady Vader, proving once and for all that he is her equal. He wins the conflict. There is an effects-laden battle between the two Sith, but the Enforcer manages to get the advantage and slices off Lady Vader’s arm and foot, forcing her down onto the floor, kneeling. The Enforcer puts his lightsaber at her throat and says, “I have won. I have proved myself. I am no longer your apprentice. I am now Lord Vader.” With a look of pure hatred, she simply replies, “Yes, Lord Vader.”
Next Time On…
- Lady Vader appears, enraged, and says, “We have to talk.” We do not see to who she says this.
- The Mandalorian Bounty Hunter stands in front of a fully-armored, and crying, Lady Fett.
- Three Sith Councilors lie dead around the Historian, and a fourth one, clearly lethally wounded, says, “I told them all, we should have left you dead the first time.”
- The Enforcer, in full regalia, walks into a packed session of the Republic Senate. Lady Vader turns to the assembly and says, “All hail Lord Vader.”
- The Archivist extends his hand to the Bounty Hunter and says, “Congratulations, Mandalore.”
Merging episodes as I did in this and the next one was the definition of an experiment; it worked ok in this episode because the Screen Presence spread ended up in a normal PTA range of 2/3/2/2. For the next one? Even a week prior to that game I was already dreading what a 3/2/3/3 spread would mean. Check the next episode AP and Debriefing to find out how it went.
As I listened to the recorded session to write this, I was struck by how much time in a session is spent setting up and resolving a conflict. Easily about a third of our just-under-4-hour session was spent just in this process. I mean, conflicts are at the heart of PTA, so it makes sense they get this kind of attention, but in our case it felt like a bit too much. Granted, part of it was that each conflict presented a learning experience; we were honing the art of conflict presentation and resolution, teaching those who were still a bit unsure, negotiating the true essence of a conflict and the stakes, and then figuring out how to make those happen. At times it felt like pulling teeth with needlenose pliers, but the results were worth it.
We had an issue with the Order 1-C part (second paragraph above): we’re playing in Spanish with English sprinkled in; when the Rebels attack and the Mandalorian gets word from his army in orbit, he says a word. I hear “uno C” (1-C), so I ask him, “1-C?” The player looks at me with a curious look, but says yes, 1-C. It comes out a couple of sentences later that what he said was “unanse” (join them), in essence telling his Mandalorian troops to join the Rebels in the attack to Coruscant. This almost caused the Enforcer to attack the Bounty Hunter directly, all the while I’m thinking, why is he doing this, he has no idea that that’s what the order meant. We talked it out and that’s when I realized that I had heard incorrectly, but that in doing so, the player had decided to go along with the crypticness of “Order 1-C” (reminiscent of Order 66), while the Enforcer was acting on having heard the order to join the attack. It stayed that the Mandalorian said “1-C” by choice of the player, but clearing this took almost 30 minutes of our game.
Scene-framing continued to be the single-most thorny aspect of the game, though I was extremely stoked that for the most part, the players got it, and got even better as the session went along. The Archivist’s player was the one exception; he just kept blocking up when it was his turn to frame a scene, and we lost a lot of time waiting for him. We’d prod him, throw ideas and suggestions, wanting him to do the framing, but we had to jump him or frame for him for the most part. But then, towards the end of the session, he got it! A bit rough, yes, but he framed a couple of scenes successfully, and good scenes too. He also had problems grabbing narration and running with it, but again, he was able to take a few offered flags and turn them into cool bits of story. It was very much like being in a gym and watching someone try to lift a 100 lbs weight over and over until they finally lift that sucker right over their head.
Lastly, the audience was present for this episode too, but I found one thing to be on the lookout for: when the audience overshadows a main character. One of the audience members, Leo, was very sharp and even though this was his first exposure to PTA, by mid-game he had gotten the basics of calling for scenes and helping people to be awesome. The result, however, was at points he was earning more fan mail than the characters, by offering ideas on things they could do that would be awesome. I didn’t address it during the game, but afterward I reminded the group that the player characters are the protagonists and the audience is there to support, not to steal the spotlight. That was lame on my part, however, because I still didn’t address it during the game. I don’t know what I could’ve done, however, to fix this, or if it even needed fixing. Leo helped some players play key moments in the story (the defeated Lady Vader accepting the Enforcer with a “Yes, Lord Vader” was Leo’s idea, for example). Something to keep in mind for future games with audience members.
Next episode, the conclusion, and what a ride that was…