This is the first article with the new "set-pieces" tag. So what does this tag mean? Episode 11 of the Order 66 Podcast (titled "The GM Holocron") promotes the idea of GMs keeping a campaign binder filled with various "set pieces," which are generic scenarios that you can inject into your game for when your players go off the rails, or if you tend towards a more improvisational style of GMing. Each set piece has some enemies statted out that can be re-skinned to fit the current situation, as well as a dynamic environment with plenty of things for the PCs to interact with. In short, it lets you add "planned" encounters to your game when you're winging it, preventing the boring or unbalanced stuff that a GM may come up with on-the-fly if they're put on the spot and can't think of anything interesting.
Because I've already expanded the scope of this blog since its inception (which was to cover D&D 4E), I'm planning on supporting multiple systems with this tag, and hopefully the set pieces will be generic enough that they can be injected into any game of similar genre. But to kick things off, we'll keep in theme with Order 66 and do a Star Wars set piece. Since a common problem that some players have with the system is making space combat exciting, the PCs will be piloting starfighters.
FFG's Star Wars: Edge of the Empire (or Age of Rebellion), though it can be pretty easily adapted to any space opera or sci-fi setting.
The PCs are in a facility that's part of an asteroid mining complex when it's attacked by some capital ships or warships. There's a starfighter hangar attached, and the PCs need to fly fighters to the main hangar to either get to their own ship, or find a ship with hyperdrive capabilities and escape.
A defense array with many turrets will funnel the fighters below their scaffolding, forcing everyone to fly amongst pipes, support beams, and some geothermal vents. This is where all the dogfighting is taking place. A capital ship is bombarding the main hangar, so there's time pressure to get there before it's destroyed. Optionally depending on the situation, the facility's inhabitants as well as the attackers are both adversaries to the PCs (I used this in game where the PCs were imprisoned in the facility)
The mining complex is sited on a large asteroid at the edge of an asteroid field. There are multiple buildings on its surface, but the two main ones that concern the PCs are the one that they're in (which contains a small fighter hangar), and the main hangar. These buildings are at opposite ends of the defense system; flying above it would be suicide, so the PCs will have to maneuver through the support structures. Going around the defense system will place them in the asteroid field (the turrets cover all of the clear space), which will not only take longer but may arguably be more dangerous.
Optionally, the PCs may have to fight their way through the starting building to get to the starfighter hangar. This may be because the attackers boarded the facility already, or the defending inhabitants are simply adversaries of the PCs. They'll have to make their way through a large warehouse room containing crates upon crates of whatever materials are being mined on the asteroid (the crates stop about 2/3 of the way to the hangar doors, at Medium range from them). A large pipe has fallen from the ceiling due to a heavy hit from one of the capital ships, and is now on the ground across the warehouse venting hot steam (at Long range from the hangar doors). A loader crane sits on one side of the room (near the wall left or right of where the PCs start from) just before the pipe, and at the other end of the room are the hangar doors (at Extreme range from the starting point), which can be opened via computer terminals on the walls to either side.
Once the PCs get into their fighters and exit the hangar, they'll need to make it to the main hangar. While traversing under the defense system, PCs should be faced with at least 3 "checkpoints" where they'll need to make rolls. The first should be Piloting checks (Normal or Hard) to test how well they're able to maneuver through the support structures (failure should result in a minor collision). They should also move through an area of heavy dogfighting and be engaged by enemy fighters (with any maneuver requiring a Piloting check while dogfighting amongst the beams and pipes; add setback dice to this), and the third checkpoint should be moving through the geothermal vents (or broken piping that's venting flaming gas). After making it through, they'll need to either deal with the capital ship, or make it in and out of the hangar before it's completely destroyed. Remember to lead each "checkpoint" with some colorful narrative description to paint a vivid picture of how these fighters are forced to weave around all of these obstacles.
Once the PCs are in a ship and flying out of the main hangar, they should make a Piloting check as the capital ship blasts half of the exit apart.
In the facility, the PCs should see the silhouettes of a minion group on the other side of the steaming pipe. They can sneak past them by using the crates for most of the way, or they might use the crane or computer terminals to their advantage somehow (reward creativity!). If they stop the steam at one of the terminals, their enemies will know someone's present (but if they don't, they'll need to make Resilience, Coordination, or some other appropriate physical check to resist being scalded when they pass through). If they give away their position a stronger foe joins the fight (this will probably happen once they leave the cover of the crates even if they successfully bypass the minions).
When I ran this, I used B2 super battle droids for the minions, and a droideka for the strong enemy. Other options from the core rule book are Apprentice Bounty Hunters and either a Journeyman or Master hunter, Stormtroopers and a Stormtrooper Sergeant, or Pirate Crew and a Pirate Captain. The Pirates in particular make good generic enemies that can be reskinned as almost anything. Note that unless the group is very combat-capable, they should probably try to get past the strong enemy as quickly as possible as opposed to killing it.
For the starfighters, make sure that the opposing forces have different types (this is really easy if the attackers are Imperial, as they were when I ran this for my group, since you can simply use TIEs). It's important that whatever is in the hangar available for the PCs is not hyperspace-capable (because that would defeat the purpose of getting to the main hangar). CloakShapes and Headhunters are both good options, but I also threw in a double-seater Y-Wing without an astromech to make potentially engaging with a capital ship (I used Nebulon B's) less suicidal. I've found that running starfighters in minion groups of 2 or 3 makes for more exciting starfighter combat. Also remember that if the PCs opt to take the asteroid field, you'll want to spice it up by having a squadron of enemy fighters chase them in there.
If attacking or being pursued while in the starfighters, blow up some support beams, a pipe, or an asteroid (or fly close to them if just Piloting) such that debris hits enemy ships, causing a minor collision.
In the warehouse, an action that might reasonably cause one of the crates to topple spills crushed ore somewhere really inconvenient for the enemies (perhaps even on top of one of the minions).
While Piloting, you suffer a major collision after being struck by debris or clipping a structure or asteroid.
If flying through the geothermal vents, the heat causes your cockpit to fog up, impairing vision.