Review based on the hardcover Star War RPG adventure module, Mask of the Pirate Queen, supplied by Esdevium Games.
A gang of ruthless pirates are pillaging the Zann Consortium’s shipping lane. Enraged, the Consortium puts out a ludicrously high bounty on the leader of the pirates, the mysterious masked Queen. Enter you and your fellow players to hunt her down and claim the bounty for yourself.
Mask of the Pirate Queen is the newest adventure module for Edge of the Empire, Fantasy Flight’s fantastic Star Wars RPG system. Split into three chapters, the adventure contains a complete story which will take you all the way through to your goal. Be warned though, this adventure is not for those with delicate sensibilities…
One of the most noticeable things about Mask of the Pirate Queen is that the tone of the book is strikingly different to the other Edge of the Empire modules. Although Edge of the Empire always focuses on the grim and slimy side of the galaxy, with smugglers and bounty hunters generally getting up to illegal and morally ambiguous activities, things are especially bleak here. While it often encourages the player characters to act as the rogue-ish Han Solo types, Mask of the Pirate Queen allows the players to be more on the Boba Fett side of criminality. This is not a story of exploration, smuggling and thievery, this is about hunting and killing for cash.
Of course this doesn’t mean the players can’t simply play in whichever manner they’re comfortable with, if you have a group that scoff at the idea of being hired killers. But the module certainly nudges you to be fairly despicable. Meaning the GM is going to have to tweak and edit things here and there to soften the tone for those uncomfortable.
To give you an example of the tone, at one point the book explains how a certain character will react under torture, which is stunningly grim even for Edge of the Empire. Likewise the NPCs in the story are absolutely brutal and it’s rare you come across a genuine and sincere character. Instead players encounter corrupt and heartless characters from beginning to end.
Mask of the Pirate Queen is set in a dingy and grim side of the galaxy, it simply does not pull its punches.
To catch a Queen
The story itself is fairly fun, with the Pirate Queen herself an intimidating and intriguing character. The mystery behind who she is makes her a more curious villain and adds some extra incentive to hunt her down.
Unfortunately, the plot is a little cliché at times. The few twists that the book does include are fairly standard and predictable. Players are going to find an engaging little playground to run around in, but they’re unlikely to find many surprising revelations as things unfold.
As already mentioned, and as is the case with all the Star Wars adventure modules, it’s split into three chapters. These three are then spread across three different locations, ensuring the players don’t hang around in one place for too long. Although the last chapter is more linear, the opening two-thirds of the story revolve more around exploration and investigation.
The players are in control of the story’s pace and GMs are encouraged to sprinkle in some extra quests and flavour where appropriate. However, there’s perhaps not as much help on this front as I expected. One optional quest has pages and pages of information on it, while the bulk of supporting gameplay is only lightly mentioned as fleeting ideas. A better balance could perhaps have made the adventure a little easier to run.
How much the GM will have to whip up will likely depend on the composition of the player group. Teams that are more diplomatically minded will have a more challenging time in Mask of the Pirate Queen. After all, you’ve been hired to hunt down the leader of a criminal organisation, so the adventure assumes that you can handle yourself when it comes to a fight. A lot of the adventure comes down to fighting, coercing, or threatening your way through its story. Kindly gentlefolk need not apply.
If you’re not planning to GM this adventure, please skip down to the next section!
Let’s talk details. So chapter one is an investigation, where players are tasked with finding the Queen by following a set of three different clues. The first two are fairly straightforward, essentially “Go here, talk to this person”. The final clue is a bit more interesting though and basically involves a kind of cat-and-mouse slicing mini-game, this is a refreshing addition as the adventure often leans on combat, the book even includes some suggestions for what other players could be getting up to while the other is hunched over a computer. Regardless of how the players discover the next clue, the adventure then ends in raiding the pirates’ lair.
Chapter 2 has the players running errands for a rather bad person, so that they can gain access to a vital clue. Here the clue acts as a kind of McGuffin to nudge players into performing these unrelated tasks. It’s a little forced, but as long as everyone rolls with it then it allows for some more varied gameplay.
Chapter 3 ends with a big battle involving both ship-to-ship combat and on-board action. At this point the adventure is a little straightforward if run by the book and becomes a big blasty romp towards the finish.
One thing well worth mentioning is that the end of the book explicitly explains that GMs should essentially roll with whatever outlandish ideas the players have towards this point. Do the players want to betray their employers and join the Queen? Go for it. Does a player want to become the Queen? Sure, why not. It does make what is otherwise a straightforward chapter much more interesting, acknowledging just how off the rails you can send it at this point, while still having some pointers on what to do. Therefore, Mask of the Pirate Queen makes a good starting point for a campaign, as by the end of it the players will have plenty of criminal contacts and will be handed opportunities to seize power for themselves.
Knowing that only us GMs are reading this section, I’m going to talk a bit more about the tone. If you have a group who are more of the jokey heart-of-gold thieving types, you may want to re-write large parts of the plot. For instance, at one point the players are told they can bring in a target dead or alive. More morally upstanding players will presumably aim for capture over obliteration, but when brought in alive the target is casually executed by their employers.
Later on players are given the option between delivering some mysterious cargo to some rather shifty people (slavers in fact) or essentially fixing the result of a boxing match.
The package the players can deliver turns out to be drugs, which any inquisitive player will likely figure out. Meaning that again, players are trudging down into pretty murky waters that some might be uncomfortable with. However more villainous players will likely jump at the chance to get their hands dirty, so again it simply depends on your group. Some players might find the slavers reprehensible and try to free the captives, unfortunately the book doesn’t really offer information on how to handle this, meaning it’s down to you to decide how that goes and how that affects the remaining story.
Regarding the boxing match, there is of course a way to rig the match in a peaceful manner, but by the book it’s difficult for the players to discover the included option for doing so. Instead, the simplest option is to attack or even abduct the fighter, stopping them from being able to compete. This means the GM will have to work extra hard to adapt and come up with original material if this tone isn’t the taste of the group. I wouldn’t highlight this if the book took a more neutral stance, but instead you’re often given tips for what dreadful characters may get up to, but few pointers for the good hearted ones. I think ultimately this is a misstep, if only when compared to Fantasy Flight’s other Star Wars RPG modules which appeared to be reversed, mostly giving pointers to heroic characters and leaving the GM to get imaginative with the more villainous.
How you feel about this is going to differ based on what your group’s tastes are. If you’re always having to accommodate adventures going off the rails thanks to twitchy bloodthirsty characters, then Mask of the Pirate Queen will be perfect for your group as it accommodates those who are ruthlessly inclined.
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Ultimately Mask of the Pirate Queen is not the strongest of the Star Wars RPG adventure modules. But it is still a solid story that’ll keep players busy. It perhaps works best as a framework, something for the GM to tweak and build off of, more than something which can be run purely by the book. The second chapter especially is filled with little details for GMs to flesh out and build from, letting the adventure be as long or as short as the group desire.
The tone of the adventure will be phenomenal for groups who enjoy pushing moral boundaries and feeling like tough and brutal hunters. But for groups who are more light hearted, the GM will have to modify the adventure quite heavily in places to avoid any uncomfortable situations. If you’re looking for something more of the adventurous side but still allowing for plenty of criminal activity, then the heist adventure Jewel of Yavin might be more fitting. But if your GM is willing to put in the work, Mask of the Pirate Queen will provide at least a fun foundation for any group willing to delve into the seedy side of the galaxy.
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