Firefly: Bucking the Tiger, Part One

***SPOILER ALERT***

I’m running the adventure Bucking the Tiger to wrap up our Firefly RPG campaign. It’s a fun scenario, written by Rob Wieland, that I highly recommend. But if you’re looking at playing through it, you may want to stop reading. I’ve taken some1 liberties with the adventure-as-written to customize it for my crew, but there will be some spoilers.

***YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED***

We’re wrapping up our campaign next session2, and I wanted to end with a big, splashy affair. Because Su Jin, our ship’s mechanic, is also a gambler who is always looking for a high-stakes card game, Bucking the Tiger looked perfect. Not only does it giver her her card game, it’s set in a wild-west-themed casino resort, with lots of opportunity to hook the rest of the crew into interesting stuff. I figured that I could easily make it last two sessions.

And it’s going to last two sessions, so that’s good.

We got off to a bit of a rocky start. I don’t know if the energy was low in the room, or if interest is waning because we’re reaching the end of the campaign, or if I just effective in what I was doing, but none of the players were biting at any of the hooks I was dropping. Now, they’d engage when I pushed things into the “unable to ignore this” realm, but they didn’t show the same sort self-motivation that they usually do. It kind of turned the game from a conversation into monologue, as I’d describe something and they’d say, “Cool!” and then wait for the next bit instead of grabbing the description and doing something with it.

That kind of sounds like me complaining about my players, doesn’t it? That’s not my intention. Firstly, anyone can have an off game. Second, if it was just one of the players doing it, I’d say that he or she was having an off game, but when it’s ALL the players, it’s more likely that it was the common element (i.e., ME) that was the problem. Part of it may have been the fact that I was trying to set the scene in a little too much detail, and part may have been that I hadn’t put in enough prep time, but I wasn’t able to snare the interest of the crew as much as I wanted. At least, not in the early part of the game.

Now, the adventure starts with an invitation to the casino resort by an old friend of the crew who winds up murdered. In the adventure, the friend is a singer who used to travel with the crew and has finally made it big. She invites them to come stay for free at the casino to repay them for their help. I changed that to Annie Pan, the marshal that the crew helped out back on Heaven in the first adventure in the campaign3. Instead of being hired as a singer, she’s the second-in-command for casino security4.

Speaking of call-backs, I also brought in Ada Wilson, the mercenary from the last session. After Walter and Price knocked her out back on Rubicon, Price made off with her Alliance officer’s sword as a trophy. She really wants it back, and tracked Price down to ask for it. Unfortunately, Price already gave the sword to Grandfather, the head of the Jiang Triad, and Price’s actual grandfather, as a gift. So, now he’s talking with Uncle Fung about what to do.

Anyway, I wanted to establish a normality for the casino so that, when the murder occurs, it’s shocking. That meant letting the characters drift a little bit5, seeing what the casino was like on a normal day. In retrospect, I have the feeling I should have started with a teaser – the crew standing over the body of their friend6, as security bursts into the room and orders them to put their hands up. Roll opening credits, then “24 hours earlier,” and cut to the crew arriving. That might have given things a little more focus and energy in the early part of the game.

But I didn’t do that.

When I did introduce the murder, I made the crew work for it, and that started to get them doing stuff again. When Annie didn’t show up for breakfast with them, Price and Jin went to check on her. Price scammed their way into her quarters and found her with her throat slit and almost dead. She was able to mouth the word, “Faro,” before dying. I brought in the whole feeling of dealing with the police then: the slow, methodical questioning, the lack of two-way information exchange, the professional blankness of the security head, balanced by his obvious competence and his request that the crew not mess with his investigation.

Everyone took that real well, of course7.

After that, everyone got on the trolley of trying figure out who killed their friend. Jin bought her way into the high-stakes, private Faro tournament currently running, and Domino partnered with her to keep an eye out for the murderer up there. Price decided to have a chat with the Triad folks who were running this casino. Walter sent a wave back to Heaven to let Annie’s old crew know what happened, which indirectly meant he was telling the Alliance Marshal Service that one of their own had just been murdered.

We wrapped up the session with three quick scenes: Price being surrounded by Triad thugs, because they’re a rival to the Jiang Triad; Walter sitting at the bar when someone slams a marshal’s badge down on the bartop beside him; and Domino and Jin stepping off the elevator into the Faro penthouse and being greeted by Cousin Ori.

That should get things rolling quickly at this, our final session.

  1. Actually, quite a few. []
  2. Which is tonight. []
  3. I like callbacks like that. []
  4. Why would someone go from being a marshal to being a security guard? Same reasons cops in the real world go from being cops to being security guards – better money, less danger. []
  5. Not what I was actually trying to do; in my mind, I was giving them the opportunity to pursue what interested them. But really, it just let them drift. []
  6. Maybe just a body – don’t give away the identity ofthe victim right away. []
  7. Note: they did not take it well. []

Firefly: Rubicon

This past session of our Firefly RPG campaign, I finally got to use the job creation tables published in the Things Don’t Go Smooth supplement. They worked beautifully in setting up the situation, and gave me several ideas for the game that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Seriously, the whole Things Don’t Go Smooth book is golden, but that job creation section is worth the price all on its own. You should buy it.

The job tables showed some family entanglements, so I brought in Price’s Triad family to hire the crew for the job, which turned out to be picking up and delivering a person. The hitch in the job led me to decide that the person was Mitchell Stuart, who caused such fun the last time he showed up. And the locations I rolled – Planet in the White Sun System and Underwater – led me to flesh out some details about one of the planets that had no exposure in the show or the sourcebooks.

So, Rubicon became a vacation site1. Most of the planet was covered by water, with tall spires of rock and coral that poked up out of the sea. These places were crafted into dramatic hotels and estates, catering to wealthy visitors, with a few of the larger spots made into resorts for the less-affluent to visit. Because surface space was at a premium, most of the staff who live on planet lived in underwater habitats, connected to their above-water place of work. These underwater arcologies had originally been designed as friendly, welcoming spaces, but as time went on, less and less was spent on maintenance, so they looked like malls that had sunk into the sea, with tiny leaks, water stains, rust and algae everywhere. Narrow corridors ran from the larger communal areas to residential suites; these looked like they belonged in a U-Boat. I thought this gave a nice contrast between the haves and the have-nots of Rubicon.

I also generated the antagonist for the scenario: an ex-soldier bounty hunter and her crew. I buffed this antagonist – Ada Wilson – up a fair bit, because I find that the system lets the PCs really pull some astonishing stuff off with good description and working the plot point mechanics. To make sure the enemy was a real threat, I needed to make her a real threat.

Here’s how the disparate bits of the scenario came together in my notes:

The crew is paid to pick up a person on Rubicon and deliver to Albion. That person is Mitchell Stuart, now fallen from fame, and needing asylum after his involvement in events on Deadwood came out. He has info on a branch of Niska’s cartel that the Jiang Triad would like, and he has agreed to share it with them in return for safety from Niska and enough money to start a new life in luxury and secrecy. The Jiang Triad has, of course, tapped Price’s crew to make the pick-up and delivery, partly to see if their reliability has been as compromised as rumours2 have indicated.

The Triad intends to test the crew in the most direct way possible – by feeding information on Stuart’s whereabouts to a bounty hunter working for Niska, and seeing how the crew handles it.

We were all a little scattered and unfocused for this session, which led to a kind of distracted play. Still, we had some fun. Price got tasked with the job, and persuaded the rest of the crew to go along with it. Now, it’s important to note that Price was not told that the person he was picking up was Mitchell Stuart. That was mainly for my own amusement.

It was a short trip from Albion to Rubicon, and the gang was somewhat interested in the description of the planet. They decided to send Price and Walter down to pick up the passenger, while Domino and Jin stayed with Peregrine3. I got the incredible pleasure of watching everyone’s face when the door down in the underwater residences opened to reveal a haggard Mitchell Stuart to the crew4.

Of course, that’s when things had to start going wrong. There were a couple of thugs lurking in the corridor, but our heroes made short work of them, even scavenging a grenade from them. This almost came in useful, when Price tried to use the grenade to force Ada Wilson and her squad to let them into the tube train back to the surface. Unfortunately, Price rolled a lot of 1s on his intimidate check, and I decided that meant Ada had her tech specialist just defuse the grenade remotely. This, of course, led to some shooting, and eventually a big explosion, but the gang managed to get Mitchell up to Peregrine and break atmo.

On the transit back to Albion, Peregrine was caught by Jasmine Angel, Wilson’s ship. There was a bit of a stand-off, as Jasmine Angel used an EMP device to shut down Peregrine’s systems. But thanks to some fast-talking, clever shuttle use, and Su Jin’s impressive repair skill, the crew managed to blow out Jasmine Angel‘s airlock with a breaching charge, fix their own systems, and escape.

Back on Albion, I had one last obstacle for them: a sniper in the docks, with a high-powered rifle trained on the ship5. This almost took Mitchell out as they were escorting him to the delivery point, and it kept them pinned down in the dock away from the ship for a while. Then, though some clever trickery6, they filled the area with obscuring smoke or steam, and made a break for it.

And so, Mitchell Stuart was delivered safe and sound to the loving7 arms of the Jiang Triad. Price scored some points with his family, and everyone else got a nice pay day.

We’ve got two or three more sessions in this game, then the campaign wraps up. Because it’s been a very episodic kind of game, I’m not aiming for a big, tie-up-all-the-loose-ends finish, but I am seeing a lot of opportunities for callbacks to the early adventures, and I’m going to be bringing some of those in.

Stay tuned. We’ve got some fun left to come.

  1. The advertising slogan was “Rubicon. There’s no going back.” []
  2. After the issue with the indentured workers. []
  3. Now that Domino owns Peregrine, they’re even more paranoid about someone messing with her. []
  4. That alone was worth everything. Everything. []
  5. “How did they know we were coming?” “Yeah, weird, right? It’s almost like someone told them.” “Stupid Triads.” []
  6. That I don’t properly remember right now. []
  7. Kinda. []

Firefly: Followin’ Yonder Star

The time before Christmas is always busy. I found that, for our last Firefly game before Christmas, I was running short of time, and didn’t have time to do all the prep I wanted on the session. At the last minute, I decided to instead use a scenario that I created for the previous year’s Winnipeg Harvest Charity Game Day, and used again at GenCon at Games on Demand this past summer. Having run it twice before, I figured it would be an easy one for me to run, and I already had all the background worked out.

It took me a few minutes to tweak the set-up to fit the current state of play in the campaign. After the previous session, the crew of Peregrine were kind of on the outs with their boss, Tully, after meddling in job. So, they were reduced to sticking to the Tullymore Run regular stops, not being given any special assignments until they proved that they could be trusted again1. That meant I had to do a little less-than-believable finessing of their2 contract clauses so they could accept the job that was forming the basis of the evening’s adventure.

To that end, I told the players that Domino and Price had negotiated a service clause in the crew contract whereby they could use Peregrine to undertake freelance jobs as long as:

  1. It didn’t interfere with the mail schedule.
  2. They were responsible for all repairs and maintenance of the ship necessitated by the job.
  3. They paid Tullymore a reasonable fee for use of the ship, fuel, food, etc.

In terms of real-world logic, that kind of contract provision makes no sense, but what the hell. It got the game going, and I firmly believe that anything that moves the game from boring to fun is always worth it.

The other impediment to using this adventure with the campaign was that it had, as written, a big payday at the end. That sort of thing3 can be a big disruption of the game, and I had to think about whether or not I really wanted that to happen. If I was willing to change the status quo4.

Domino had decided that one of her goals was to buy Peregrine from Tully, so that wound up being the deciding factor. I decided that, if they pulled the job off, and if they made the right choices as far as payment went, that could happen5.

This is, as I mentioned above, the third time I’ve run this scenario, and it’s gone quite differently every time. The broad strokes are all similar, but the route the characters take to get to the end goal varies wildly. I started this time on Albion, because it’s the one Core world that the Tullymore Run stops on. Domino and Walter met the three principals in a dive bar, and got the pitch: take the three principals6 to St. Alban’s, locate the reclusive inventor who has perfected broadcast power, and get them in to see him and make their pitch.

And then, like a moron, I forgot the scene where they find out the ship is security locked in port and have to get past that to break atmo. Not a huge deal, overall, but the main function of the scene is to tip the crew that there is another interested party involved, and because that party is Blue Sun, they’re quite happy to be underhanded.

I finessed it a bit by using the 1s rolled during the trip7 to put an Enemy Pursuit complication on the board, showing the players that there was opposition, though their characters didn’t know about it. This worked pretty well.

By the time they made it to St. Alban’s, things had been going well enough that I decided to ignore the other bit of distraction – the idea that there was a traitor on the ship. There was a bit of a stall when they tried to figure out how to find where the inventor was on the planet, but they figured out the location, and went to have a chat with him.

Cue the firefight.

There was negotiation going on inside the inventor’s cabin, with Walter and Domino pinned down outside. Price managed to extract them all – including the inventor – under fire using one of Peregrine‘s shuttles. I think there was also a big explosion, taking out the cabin and the prototype and the enemies.

So, they managed to get the inventor and his data, though not the working prototypes of the broadcast satellite or the receiver station. It still earned them enough money that Domino was able to secure a loan to purchase Peregrine from Tully.

I’ve managed to schedule the next few sessions, which may wrap up the campaign. I’m going to have to do some thinking about how the next sessions are going to go, and how we end the game.

We’ll see what I come up with.

  1. How long would that take? As long as seemed fun in play. []
  2. Non-existent, in the real world. []
  3. Even in a system like Firefly, that doesn’t track money as such. []
  4. Why worry about the status quo? Isn’t change and surprise good? Well, yes and no. The players agreed to play in – and designed the campaign structure – to reflect the game they wanted to play. Unilaterally changing the game to something else is kind of a dick move. []
  5. It helped that I expect the campaign to run only four or five more sessions before we wrap it up. Status quos don’t matter so much in games of limited duration. []
  6. Along with their aides. []
  7. Plotting a fast course, scanning for followers, etc. []

Winnipeg Harvest Game Day 2014

As they’ve done for the past many years, Imagine Games & Hobbies is holding a charity game day to gather donations for Winnipeg Harvest this Saturday, December 6. And, as I’ve done for the past few years, I will be running a Christmas-themed RPG session.

There are events all day long at the store, but my session will be starting at 1:00, and will run about four hours. Price for admission to anything and everything is a non-perishable food item dropped in the bin. For every $5.00 of food you donate, you also get a cheat token, which you can use during play1 to skew things in your favour. That’s important, because there are prizes for most of the events. And they’re tasty prizes.

There will also be snacks.

And my game? It’s a Firefly RPG scenario, like last year. The good people at MWP have once again provided some support for the event: everyone who plays in the Firefly game will get a code phrase that they can e-mail to MWP to get a code for one of two .pdf books: Thrillin’ Heroics or Things Don’t Go Smooth2.

What’s the scenario this year? Glad you asked!

Firefly RPG – The Feast of Stephen

Some jobs are hard. Some are dirty. And some don’t let you sleep much at night.

This job ain’t nothin’ like that.

Seems there’s a bunch of old ships that hitched themselves into a kinda skyplex up in the orbit of Tyrins. Fancy folk on that moon don’t like it there – it’s full of refugees from failed colonies on the Rim – and they’re in the courts tryin’ to get it towed away somewhere.

Meantime, you got a call from the Tyrin chief of police. He and his men are feelin’ charitable, and want to pay you to take a care package up to the ‘plex. Food, clothes, toys for the little ones, stuff like that. It bein’ a festive time of year, and things lookin’ bleak, they want to do somethin’ nice for them poor folks.

Of course, it’s gotta be by the hush. They got their jobs to think about. That’s where you come in. Flesh, wine, and pine logs, you’re bein’ paid to bear them thither.

What could go wrong?

There’s a sign-up sheet at Imagine that lets you reserve a spot in the game. It also lets you reserve your favourite Serenity crewmember. The earlier you sign up, the more choice you have.

C’mon down and play with me, and help support Winnipeg Harvest!

  1. Whatever you play. []
  2. Both of these are great books. You want them. []

Firefly: FOCUS

I’ve had this post half-written about three times, and each time, there’s been a crash and I lost the saved draft1. So, this post is going to be kind of short and general, both because of me being tired of rewriting it and because of the time that has elapsed since the session.

Anyway, the last Firefly game had our crew with an unpopular assignment – they were to carry a group of newly indentured workers from one border world to a moon2 where the local governor was re-terraforming in order to turn it into a lush showcase, similar to the Core worlds. That part was bad enough for the crew to be unhappy, but they ran into some more problems.

First, as they were loading the workers aboard, a young girl came running up to beg them not to take her daddy away. The armed guards went to chase her away, but Domino intervened, and took the little girl back to her other father, from whom she heard that the worker in question was supposed to have another couple of days before transportation, and that they had to indenture one of them because a home invasion left them without means to pay their debt.

Next, the armed guards refused to give up their weapons upon boarding the ship3. This led to a confrontation between the crew and the broker, about how the guards could not surrender their weapons while they were guarding the workers for fear of escape attempts. Negotiations4 reached the point where they unloaded all the workers and broke atmo, abandoning the job, until Tully got in touch and told them to stop screwing with his livelihood and do their damned jobs5.

So, back down they go, and on come the armed guards, as well as the workers and the broker. And off they go for the moon. There are exactly zero problems with the trip, but the crew is pissed off with being forced to back down6, and also a little suspicious about what they were told by the worker’s husband, so they keep an eye on the broker7 and Price starts digging on the Cortex to see what he can find out about this operation.

By the time they unload the workers, and have a little chat with the governor, they’ve got a fairly solid picture of what’s going on. The broker is buying up a lot of indenture contracts to provide the governor with the workforce she needs to create her little border paradise world. He’s doing by buying the debts of marginal settlers for low cost, and then ensuring that they can’t get out of debt by raising interest rates and using a small gang of toughs to destroy their property and push them farther into debt. When they can’t pay, they are forced to indenture themselves to him, and he sells these contracts8 to the governor’s office.

Thus, the broker is both lining his own pockets, and proving himself to be a valuable resource to the governor. If her star rises, he plans to ride her coat-tails into a more lucrative position.

From all they can tell, the governor seems honest – or, at least, better at not getting caught. They can’t use the stolen data to prove their claims, because it’s obtained illegally, so they decide they need a witness, and set about kidnapping the head of the criminal gang and convincing him to spill the beans to the governor.

This subtle plan results in a brawl that escalates into a shootout at a local saloon, but they manage to get the gang boss into Peregrine, where they convince him that he’s been hung out to dry by the broker, and is going to spend the rest of his short life doing hard labour in a terraforming project. He says that can’t happen, he’ll take his complaint straight to the governor.

Which he does.

He spills the whole story, turns over his own Cortex records of conversations with the broker, and provides a list of everyone his thugs threatened, burgled, and harmed. The governor, though embarrassed by the whole incident, files charges against the broker and the gang, and begins a review of all indenture contracts to make sure they’re all uncoerced. One of the first back to his family is the man with the daughter who started this whole thing.

That’s not quite where the story ends, though. Things are still tense between the crew and Tully because of the trouble on this job. Some of the crew think that Will Yunick9 deliberately set them up with a job he knew they couldn’t stomach so that they would refuse it and get fired. Tullymore Cartage’s reputation has taken a hit because of the crew’s actions – no one wants to hire a company that they can’t trust to do a simple transport job clean and clear.

So, for the next little while at least, Peregrine‘s not going to be going to the Core. That’ll be for other Tullymore ships.

As a side note, this is probably the last episode where I will be using the Leverage RPG tables to come up with jobs for the crew. Why? Because Margaret Weis Productions has released the .pdf of Things Don’t Go Smooth, a supplement for Firefly RPG. And this new book has its own set of tables for generating jobs. Oh, it’s got lots of other things, too – lots of antagonists, reavers, new distinctions, and two full adventures, for example.

But the episode generator is worth the price of the book alone.

Check it out10.

 

  1. Also, once, I was writing it on the iPad, and relearned that Ctrl-Z doesn’t do the expected thing on an iPad. []
  2. I don’t seem to be able to find the name of the planet and moon in my notes – I remember they were in the Red Sun system, but I don’t seem to have written down which ones. []
  3. The crew established right from the start of play that passengers don’t get to keep their firearms on board Peregrine. []
  4. Well, the argument, anyway. I don’t think you can fairly call “No weapons!” “Yes weapons!” repeated ad infinitum a negotiation. []
  5. The downside of not owning your own boat. []
  6. And Domino keeps working the word “focus” into her conversation with the broker, which is apparently a rude acronym. []
  7. Who spends most of the trip in his cabin. []
  8. At a significant mark-up. []
  9. Tully’s factor, with whom the crew has an ongoing squabble. []
  10. Unless you’re one of my players, in which case, KEEP YOUR FILTHY NOSES OUT OF THAT BOOK! []

Firefly: Deadwood, Part Two

I’m kind of rushing to finish this post1 because the next session of our Firefly campaign is tomorrow night, and I’m way behind on my blogging. Which is kind of status quo, these days.

Anyway, last session turned out to be our first two-part episode. When we wrapped up for the night, the crew was in some trouble: after an unsuccessful attempt by a criminal gang to blow up Peregrine, and the gang’s successful attempt to kill Lin Shu (the new schoolteacher in Deadwood, and former Peregrine passenger), our heroes had been told that they had until sunrise to knock the dust of Deadwood from their heels. All of this was because Lin Shu and Domino had witnessed another of their passengers, Mitchell Stuart, delivering drugs to a corrupt Deadwood deputy, and the deputy and her gang decided they needed to clean up the witnesses.

The crew, however, decided that, before they left, they would like a little justice2.

I told them that, if they came up with a plan before the next session, I would let them spend the plot points they had at the end of the first session to create assets representing their plan. This, I thought, would encourage them to come up with an interesting plot3, as well as showing off how handy it is to spend plot points for assets.

They came up with a plan right out of Leverage, which suited me just fine. Calling on contacts, they put some pressure on the corrupt deputy, making her think she needed to come up with some serious cash, fast. That would allow Su Lin to get into a game with her and lose big, giving her a marker on Peregrine‘s service as a drug runner. And, once the deputy came to inspect the ship to set things up, they could transmit her criminal intentions to Ori, the leader of the Quartermasters gang that was one of the powers trying to civilize Deadwood4.

They spent their plot points freely to build contacts, scout and bug the locations they needed, setup a getaway van, and even to make Ori into Domino’s cousin, with whom she had a somewhat troubled past. They even bought an asset called Plan B that they could call on if things went totally south.

Things went totally south.

Now, I want to be clear that the stuff that went wrong all went wrong because of complications the players rolled while working their plan. And most of what went wrong was fairly minor – just enough to force them to scramble a bit. But two larger complications really changed the tone of things.

The first was the arrival of Billy Shu, Lin’s brother, planning to storm into the casino and take some ill-timed5 revenge. Price got him under wraps in the getaway van, but he continued to be a problem, right up until Price pistol whipped him into an aggressively calm state.

The big problem came up when Domino rolled a whole mittful of ones while showing Ori the video feed from the casino. It was just too perfect, so I had Ori apologize, lock Domino up, and call a warning in to the deputy and her crew. Suddenly, Su Lin was in the middle of a bunch of armed thugs looking to end her, and only Walter’s timely intervention – he had been disguised as the barman – got them out of there.

This is where Plan B really kicked in.

They decided that they hadn’t fully trusted Ori, so they’d also been transmitting to Petaline, the bigger power in Deadwood, now that Rance Burgess was done with and she was running Nandi’s bordello. And Petaline did not take kindly to men being bullies.

And so the non-corrupt cops arrived to free Domino and round up Ori and the deputy and the rest of the bad guys. And our heroes flew off into the sunset.

They talked for a while at that point about what to name the episode6. After some really interesting thoughts about the nature of the titles they were picking, they settled on Deadwood. I like it. It doesn’t give anything away, and yet it still resonates. Kinda like Chinatown.

It felt like a pivotal pair of episodes to me, so I brought up some of my plans for the future of the game. This is going to be a finite series, and this story felt like moving from the establishing episodes into the mid-season phase, where we can start thinking about the endgame and the direction we’re headed. To that end, I asked them to think about what their characters wanted to accomplish in the game, and to send it to me.

I’ve got that list, now, and I’m doing some scheming.

I got me some plans.

  1. For the second time, in fact – my computer just crashed, eating the half-finished post, so I’m redoing it. []
  2. Or possibly vengeance. They were a little unclear on the distinction at that point. Fair enough. []
  3. And, incidentally, prevent me from having to do the heaving lifting of figuring out how they could get their justice/vengeance. []
  4. Yes, there are holes in this plan. In play, I find it’s much more fun to storm ahead with an incomplete, flawed plan, and plug the holes as they come up by flashing back to preparations made “before” the hole showed up. That’s what plot points are for, after all. And it worked wonders on the Leverage TV show. []
  5. And most likely unsuccessful. []
  6. They hadn’t named it last time, because they wanted to see what happened this time before deciding what the whole thing was about. []

Firefly: Untitled, Part One

This episode of our Firefly RPG campaign is currently untitled. At the end of each session, I ask the players to name the episode. This one turned out to be a bit of a cliffhanger, so they decided they wanted to wait until the end of the second session to come up with the name.

This session of our Firefly RPG campaign turned out to be our first two-parter. I hadn’t intended that, but the ending got a little tangled1 and I felt that, for the story to have a truly satisfying close, we really needed another session. So, when we got to the end, I left things hanging in a bit of a cliffhanger, and said, “To be continued.”

The Peregrine crew were on the last leg of the current Tullymore Run, heading from Heaven to Deadwood. In addition to mail, cargo, and the new schoolteacher, Lin Shu2, the ship had a special commission to transport Mitchell Stuart, a popular musician, out to Deadwood.

I gave the crew the option of having some sort of previous relationship with Stuart by spending a plot point, and Captain Domino3 decided that, when she was younger, she was Stuart’s biggest fan, and hooked up with him once after a concert. When he came aboard, I had her make a roll to see if he remembered her, and he did. That led to a renewing of acquaintances, and a demand that Price not have bugged Stuart’s cabin.

Everyone was having fun with interaction on the trip, so I spun it out a little bit. Walter was suspicious of Stuart, and rebuffed all his attempts to be friendly; Jin resented him coming too near the engine room when he practiced in the cargo hold; and Lin Shu turned out to be a big fan with a bigger crush on Stuart. Price thought the whole thing was hilarious, and charted a slow, roundabout course to stretch things out4. And Domino just enjoyed her re-acquaintance5.

So, they arrived at Deadwood. As a thank-you for the hospitable trip, Stuart gave everyone tickets to his first performance that night. After the show, Lin Shu and Domino went back to his dressing room to tell him how much they had enjoyed it, and found Stuart giving packages of drugs to a woman dressed as a police officer. They backed out quickly, but Stuart’s contact had already seen them and knew what they had witnessed.

When Domino confronted him later, Stuart explained that Niska’s gang was forcing him to carry drugs to various contacts on his tours. They were threatening his daughter if he didn’t comply. They followed the officer to another bar, where she gave the drugs to some gang members, along with some instructions6.

Back at the ship, then, Jin and Walter got to deal with some saboteurs. The gunfire brought the police, and the sabotage seemed likely to cause the ship’s engines to overload and explode. Amid the sirens, and the firefight, and the shouting, Price heard Lin Shu screaming off in the distance. He ran to her rescue, and this is where things went south for our heroes.

Price was in the right place at the right time to save Lin Shu. He even got the drop on the gang that was about to kill her. And he really blew the roll to save her, winding up taking an At Their Mercy complication. Even then, there was a chance that he could talk or fight his way out of this situation, but he again blew his roll big time.

And I killed Lin Shu.

We ended the evening with the crew back on Peregrine. They were ordered by the police7 to break atmo as soon as the repairs were done. But they’re not having any part of that.

They want revenge.

  1. Not necessarily in a bad way, though. []
  2. Who has been around for the past two episodes, so I decided she should feature more in this one. []
  3. I’m glad she’s the one who paid for the relationship. Domino’s player is very much a casual gamer, there more to socialize than anything else, and I’m always looking for things that will get her more immersed in the game. []
  4. Domino: “Don’t mess around, Price. We need to get the new schoolteacher to Deadwood.” Price: “Yeah, because Deadwood is all about the education.” []
  5. This was all awesome for me, because of the stuff I had planned. You’ll see what I mean. []
  6. They couldn’t hear the instructions, but they were orders to find and kill Domino and Lin Shu. []
  7. Who are heavily infiltrated by Niska’s gang. []

Firefly: St. Marcus

Last Friday was the latest session in our Firefly RPG campaign1. I promised myself that, this session, I wasn’t going to wait until the last minute to prepare an adventure, so I actually sat down with my Leverage RPG tables2 the night before and rolled up the basics.

I was a little leery about what I had rolled up, because the centrepiece of the whole thing was another wrongly accused criminal, which we had done the last two sessions. But one of the issues the players created for the campaign was the corruption, lawlessness, and injustice of the ‘Verse3, so I kept the idea, but tweaked the focus a bit to make it play differently, with a different angle on things.

We opened with a little roleplaying, letting each character do some solo stuff4 before winding up at Tiny’s, a local watering hole on New Melbourne where Su Jin can always find a game. Once I had them all gathered, I threw in the hook: a rather desperate looking man dressed as a shepherd came through the doors, and immediately started pushing through the crowd towards the back of the bar. When Walter asked if he could help him, the shepherd asked about a back door – information that Su Jin was able to provide. As they walked the shepherd towards the back, a federal marshal showed up and called out to the shepherd to surrender. He ran, and the marshal shot him.

As the story came out, the shepherd, Marcus Garcia, was wanted back on New Kasmir for his part in defrauding a charitable institution that was supposed to be building orphanages, hospitals, and schools in the newly settled communities. He’d made off with a great deal of money, skimmed from the grants provided by the New Kasmir government, and thus the Alliance. The marshal, Judith Lewis, tracked him to New Melbourne after he fled. She took the crime pretty personally, and admittedly may have overreacted when it looked like Garcia might get away again.

Three of the four PCs5 attracted enough attention by administering first aid, calling an ambulance, and gossiping6 about the marshal with the itchy trigger finger. Marshal Lewis invited them all down to the local police station as material witnesses. There followed a short interview of Domino, Walter, and Price, wherein I did my best to play the marshal as hard but reasonable, and very professional. The different reactions I got from the characters helped me shape her character so that she became a slightly contentious figure among the characters.

After a little more business, letting the characters do some research and prepare the ship for the next leg of the journey7, I brought in Will Yunick, with a big grin on his face, to tell the crew that they’d just picked up a new contract from the Alliance Marshals’ Office – transporting a marshal and her critically injured prisoner to New Kasmir. This wasn’t too far out of their way – the next stop on the regular run was Heaven, and both Heaven and New Kasmir are in the Kalidasa system – so it was all gravy as far as Will was concerned: money, reputation, and a chance to make the crew’s lives difficult.

Price and Jin pretty immediately bugged the cabin Lewis and Garcia would be using, while Walter went to retrieve Lin Shu8, the other passenger, and let her know their departure time had been moved up and a detour was taking place. I was pretty happy they had come up with the idea to bug the cabin, because it gave me a good opening to provide some of the backstory and let the characters find out what was really going on9.

We played through the three-and-a-half days from New Melbourne to New Kasmir10, mainly to give the characters a chance to do some snooping and dig into what was going on. It allowed for some good scenes between the characters, and it let me bring a few complications into play.

The most telling one turned out to be the Following Ship d8 that showed up. Price had managed a good navigation roll, giving Peregrine a nice, quick course to New Kasmir, and they noticed a ship following pretty much their exact trajectory, though at a distance. This ship really bothered them11, and they seemed to concentrate more on it than on the marshal and the shepherd12. This gave me some pause, but I didn’t worry about it too much. Cortex Plus games always provide openings for the GM to introduce new information, usually in the form of complications and/or assets.

So, the crew came up with a cunning plan. Price plotted a high-burn course change, backed by some engine tweaking by Jin, to lose their tail. Just before they made the change, they would ping the ship’s transponder to get some identifying information from it. They had held off on pinging the transponder because they didn’t want to reveal that they were aware of the ship.

The ship following them was The Jade Monkey13, a refitted Viper-class courier still sporting both cannons and warheads. It was registered to a man named Stark, who had some property outside the small town of Dry Well on New Kasmir. Then Price made his course change, and rolled pretty well, but came up with a couple of jinxes.

I used these immediately to break the marshal’s leg. She had to get up to help Garcia, who was having trouble breathing through the hard burn, and, when there was another change of vector, fell with one foot trapped in the undercarriage of the hospital bed, where she had lodged it to help keep her balance.

Why did I do this? It was the opportunity to hint at deeper things going on between the marshal and the shepherd. With the marshal disabled, she had to confide in someone, and she chose Walter. She told him the following things:

  • She had never heard of Stark.
  • She needed someone to come with her after the trial to get her daughter from some unspecified people.
  • She would really prefer to see her daughter before the trial.

The hint of a kidnapped child got everyone motivated. Price and Domino went through the archived recording from the marshal’s cabin, and managed to piece together the following story.

  • Shepherd Marcus Garcia was hounded off New Kasmir in the wake of the embezzlement scandal. He protested his innocence right up to the time he disappeared.
  • Marshal Judith Lewis, who has a very good reputation on New Kasmir, was dispatched to find him and bring him back.
  • Along the way, she became convinced that Garcia was innocent, and then uncovered evidence that Cordelia Tate14, Minister for Expansion on New Kasmir, was the actual guilty culprit. Her department administered the grants, and she was the one skimming money, while making it look that Garcia, who was in charge of actually putting the money to use, was guilty.
  • When the marshal reported her concerns, Tate had Stark kidnap her daughter, using the eight-year-old as leverage to make sure Lewis actually brought back Garcia.
  • Overcome by guilt at shooting Garcia – whom they both know isn’t going to live long, despite the medical intervention15 – she confessed what she had done, and Garcia, knowing he was dead anyway, agreed to plead guilty in order for Lewis’s daughter to be returned.

After a little discussion, the crew decided to use their lead on The Jade Monkey16 to land at Stark’s place near Dry Well and search it for the kidnapped girl.

The raid was… interesting. I sketched out a quick map of the area, showing the landing strip for Stark’s ship, the barn/hangar, the house, and a smaller shed. The crew split into two groups: Walter and Domino, and Price and Jun. We kept cutting back and forth between the two groups as they went about searching for the girl.

Now, Walter and Domino are both ex-soldier types, good in a fight. Price is really good in a stealth engagement where he can get some surprise on his side, but not that great in a stand-up fight. And Jin’s primary weapon of choice is her gambling savvy. So, while Walter and Domino were mowing down every bad guy they came up against, Price and Jin had a good first round, and then proceeded to get the crap kicked out of them17.

In the end, it was more gunplay than had featured in both the previous sessions combined. Both Price and Jin were in pretty bad shape18, the house was on fire, the girl had been rescued from the shed, and they were all back on board Peregrine and in the air before The Jade Monkey hit atmo.

We played through a short epilogue19, where Garcia died, Tate was impeached but managed to avoid any real punishment through money and connections, and Lewis was stripped of her badge and recalled to the Core worlds for sentencing with her daughter. The (mostly) recovered funds were given to the newly renamed St. Marcus Garcia Development Fund20 to get the orphanages, schools, and hospitals up and running.

The crew picked a name for the episode – St. Marcus – and we called it a night.

So, was this better than the games where I did the prep at the last minute? I think so. Because I was able to take more time to flesh out the various threads of the adventure, it was easier for me to improvise and change things on the fly. I knew how all the pieces fit, so the changes were easier. It also let me focus more on adding colour to scenes, and managing pacing, making this21 the strongest episode I’ve run of this campaign yet.

How much more prep did I actually do? Well, I made my rolls on the Leverage RPG tables, then I did up stats for both Lewis and Garcia as Major GMCs, and stats for Tate and the kidnapped girl22 as Minor GMCs. And I stole some stat blocks I had done previously for random armed goons, which I wound up using for the bad guys at Stark’s place. Then, I jotted about a half-page of ideas for scenes down. So, overall, about an hour’s worth of prep. The main advantage, though, was the chance to sleep on it before the game and think about it through the day. That let me get very comfortable with the basics of the adventure, and it let some interesting ideas percolate up from my subconscious.

In thinking about my future games, it occurs to me that I also now have a small stable of characters that can recur. Most of these are villains that are still above the dirt with grudges against Peregrine‘s crew, so that’s really handy.

I think I need to schedule the next session soon.

  1. Third session overall. []
  2. Seriously, the job creation tables in the Leverage RPG toolkit chapter are great for this. You’ll have to tweak the results a little for the different setting and the fact that (depending on your crew, of course) you don’t want every job to be a caper, but they rock for giving you a basic skeleton to work from. []
  3. Especially on the outer planets. []
  4. Which let me bring in Will Yunick, the depot manager that hates the characters, and does his best to make their lives miserable. []
  5. Su Jin was currently being inconspicuous behind he piano. []
  6. Yes, it was too gossiping. []
  7. And spy on Shepherd Garcia as he lay near death in the hospital. []
  8. Yep, it’s the same run as last episode, and Lin Shu is going all the way to Deadwood, so she’s still around. I got to have a little fun with her this session, and I hope to bring her in as a more central character before she gets off the boat. []
  9. Or so I thought. Turns out they only looked at the cameras a couple of times in play, usually while Lewis was out of the cabin. But anyway. []
  10. Despite using the map of the ‘Verse that I have, travel times are still plot-determined. In-game rationale is because of the very complex orbital mechanics of the systems – which makes sense from a real-world perspective – it’s not always the same distance between any two planets or moons. []
  11. As it should, right? It’s a complication! []
  12. I should probably mention here that the shepherd was confined to a medical bed with a full life-support system in the cabin shared with the marshal, and no one was allowed in that cabin except the two of them. []
  13. Stolen directly from the core rulebook intro adventure. []
  14. And this was the first time that name came up in the game. []
  15. If they had gone inwards from New Melbourne to one of the Core planets, he might have had a chance. But they didn’t. []
  16. About six hours, I said. []
  17. Walter: Next time we split up, we each take one of those guys with us. Domino: Yup. []
  18. Price, at one point, fell off the top of a water tower. But he got better, thanks to GM jinxes and some friends who were generous with plot points. []
  19. It was a little later than I had planned to play that evening. I had cautioned everyone at the start that this one might turn into a two-parter, and Sandy said, “Challenge!” So, I pushed on a little later than intended to keep this to one session. []
  20. They’re a mite casual about canonization out on the border. []
  21. As far as I’m concerned. []
  22. Her name, if anyone cares, was Jun. []

Firefly: Switch

A couple of weeks ago1 was the second session of our new Firefly RPG campaign. Because of reasons2, I wound up starting to prep the game about twenty-five minutes before the players were due to arrive. And then they showed up ten minutes early.

The math on that works out to fifteen minutes of prep time. Now, I was using the same Leverage RPG tables that I had used last session to come up with the adventure framework. That meant that fifteen minutes was enough to get the core problem defined, and a few of the NPCs picked from the archetypes in the book, but not enough to really build scenes or plan anything.

Everyone showed up, and had a nice dinner3, and then we settled down to play. I started with a little talk about what I had done wrong last session – mainly, not pushing things towards action and conflict – and asked everyone to help me do a better job of moving past the boring stuff to the interesting stuff.

So, here was the basic set-up:

  • The crew were on Albion, picking up cargo and passengers for the Tullymore Run.
  • One of the passengers, Nicholas Tate, was on the run from a businesswoman named Arabella Stanford.
  • Nicholas Tate has been framed. Arabella Stanford thinks he’s carrying confidential data stolen from her business. He’s not.
  • Arabella Stanford has sent Zeke Michaels, her personal off-the-books enforcer, to bring back the data. And also Tate, if feasible.
  •  The Triad are involved somehow that I hadn’t the opportunity to work out yet.

I started with a scene of all the passengers coming on board4, and turning in their weapons5. Then, Su Jin said, “This is Albion, right? The place they grow cocoa? Why are we not buying chocolate?” So, I gave her a flashback where she bought a Cocoa d8 asset. I figured I should give the rest of the crew a chance for a flashback, too, to reflect what they’d been doing with their time on Albion before breaking atmo.

Price Jiang wen to visit his parents for dinner, and then paid a courtesy call on Uncle Fung, one of the local bosses for the Jiang Triad. This gave me the opportunity to bring the Triad influence I had  previously rolled buy hadn’t figured out what to do with, as Uncle Fung first praised Price for his work on Heaven, then asked for a favour: bring another Triad operative6 from Albion to Heaven.

Walter Yu went to visit the local Alliance Marshal’s office, and looked over the various available bounties, saying this was his standard procedure when he came groundside. This, I figured, was as good a way to bring the central issue of the session into play – Walter spotted a poster with Nicholas Tate’s face on it, and the name Alexander Lowe. The bounty was good but not overwhelming, and was being offered privately by Arabella Stanford.

Now, it may seem a little odd that I gave this whole speech about pushing towards the action before play began, and then just ask the players what sort of futzing around they want to do before the story kicks in. And that’s a valid point. I did this for a number of reasons:

  • Having a short, everyday life section of play helps lend some verisimilitude to the narrative. Not every second of person’s life is spent responding to action-movie-style crises, so it makes sense to show the calm before the storm, at least a little bit.
  • It also allows the players to spend a little time rounding out their characters, deciding who they are, and showing the rest of the group. Yeah, that happens in the middle of action scenes, too, but the non-action scenes let the players be more thoughtful and deliberate about it.
  • Mechanically, letting the characters have a chance to make a few rolls helps beef up the story by providing some assets and complications before everything hits the fan. This is especially helpful if you’re a little short on prep for the session.
  • I wanted a little time to think about what other scenes I was going to put in the adventure, and what sorts of drama and action I could pour in.
  • I still didn’t have a clean way to open the door to the adventure for the characters – some reasonable and elegant way for the characters to find out about and involve themselves in what was going on. Fortunately, Walter provided that with his little scene.
  • Su Jin’s player asked for a little side-scene while Peregrine was in port, and it seemed reasonable that I should give the option to the rest of the players.

So, that’s why I did it. And why I’d do it again in similar circumstances.

After the solo scenes, there was a little more character interaction, mostly centred around Cousin Martin meeting the rest of the crew, and Walter deciding to keep the bounty on Tate/Lowe to himself. When things slowed down a bit, I jumped to the lift-off, and a day or so of quiet travel. None of the characters was doing much to push things – they were waiting to see what developed. So, I had a bloodcurdling scream reach the Captain one night shift as she was looking for a snack in the galley.

They all raced7 to the source of the scream8, and the Captain arrived first to find Lin Shu screaming about a ghost that had attacked her in the dark as she was returning to her cabin from the galley. Some quick work by the Captain let her spot someone wearing a stealth suit lurking in the shadows, and she drew her pistol and ordered him9 to surrender. The figure decided to rush her, and wound up with a bullet in the eye.

The body was revealed to be Zeke Michaels, and he had a small pistol and a pouch containing a hypo spray and a selection of coloured liquids on his belt. Upon seeing this, Walter came clean about the bounty on Tate/Lowe, and the crew started interviewing folks and searching their cabins. They came to the conclusion that Lin Shu was not involved in the mess, that Michaels was looking to take Tate/Lowe out non-lethally, and they found Tate/Lowe’s locked cortex tablet hidden in one of the air ducts. Price did his best to crack the encryption on the tablet, but all managed to do was load a worm into Peregrine’s ship network.

Interviewing Tate/Lowe got him to explain his situation – framed for datatheft, on the run from Arabella Stanford, his life destroyed. He gave Price the code to unlock the tablet, and played them a message he had received from someone who looked kind of like him apologizing for framing him and telling him to start running. This convinced pretty much everyone that his story was true1011.

All this time, I’d been putting about every other jinx into an unknown complication I was tracking on the big board, marked with a question mark and a die type so that the players knew it was there and growing, but not what it was. This was my solution for having Michaels’s partners show up in their ship to retrieve Michaels and Tate/Lowe. I figured that, if the characters checked for other ships in the area, they’d find it, and the die size at that time would be a surprise complication. And if it reached a d12, then the pursuing ship would get a sneak attack on Peregrine.

Well, no one even so much as looked out a window, so it reached d12, and I added the complication Peregrine Disabled d12 to the table. This got everyone moving pretty sharpish.

The scramble to get away was pretty impressive. Everyone pulled together to get the engines turning and the hull patched12, and to keep the ship from being hit again or boarded. Once the engines were back up, the rest was pretty much a foregone conclusion – Peregrine is fast, and Price is a pretty hot pilot. They left their pursuers in the (space) dust.

We wrapped up loose ends with Cousin Martin saying that Uncle Fung had use for someone with Tate’s skills13, and had an identity all ready for him to assume on New Melbourne.

The last order of business for the evening was picking a name for the episode – obviously, they went with Switch – and going over character and ship advancement once again.

We’ve got our third session scheduled for this Friday, and I plan to actually prep the session a couple of days in advance. It’ll probably carry on this run, New Melbourne to Heaven to Deadwood, and we’ll see if I can’t work Lin Shu into it somehow.

Until then, keep flyin’!

  1. I started writing this review much closer to the actual date of play, but then life got in the way, and I’m just getting to finish it now. []
  2. Trying to catch up at work, making dinner, and poor organizational skills. []
  3. Barbecued pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and grilled pineapple and pumpkin pie for dessert. []
  4. At this point, I realized that I needed to have a passenger not tied in to the plot, both for verisimilitude and to provide a little confusion and potential complications. Thus, I created Lin Shu, who was headed out to Deadwood to be a schoolteacher. []
  5. Interesting to me is that the crew didn’t search the passengers to see if any were concealing weapons. Then I thought about it for a second, and realized that of course they wouldn’t. They were paying passengers, after all. []
  6. Cousin Martin. []
  7. For varying values of the term “raced.” []
  8. Which necessitated a bit of a discussion of the floorplan of the ship. At least one of the players and I had been searching online to find a good ship layout that we could use for Peregrine, but were stymied by the fact that the Roadrunner-Class Blockade Runners stand on their tails, and are laid out like a rocket ship, rather than the more sea vessel/aircraft layout that pretty much every set of starship deckplans I’ve found on the net assumes. We sketched out a quick division of decks, labeling each one. I’m planning to take some time to create a set of deckplans using Cosmographer. Unfortunately, I suck at art, so that’s gonna take a while. []
  9. Or her. []
  10. I had toyed with the idea of flipping things as a twist, so that he was actually guilty and using the story to get the crew on his side, but we were nearing the end of the evening, and I still had some things I needed to happen to wrap up the session. So, as far as I know, he was telling the truth. []
  11. Sandy said as I was thinking about this, “So much for making the game episodic. This one’s going to take another session.” That sounded like a challenge to me, so I was determined to wrap up in one session. []
  12. The Green Livin’ distinction came in handy here, with it’s Organic Life Support trigger. []
  13. Whatever they were. I dunno. I hadn’t had him do anything special or clever, but I wanted his story wrapped up without a lot of other futzing around. Now, I can bring him back as an expert on whatever I need in a future episode. []

Firefly: Something Rotten in Heaven

We had a long weekend here in Canada this past weekend. That made it a perfect weekend to take advantage of the extra day off to fit in the first session of our Firefly RPG campaign. We had completed setting and character creation a couple of weeks back, and I managed to get our setting details typed up just barely in time for the the game on Sunday evening.

Now, because I am a lazy bastard, I wound up getting up Sunday morning with only the vaguest idea of what the adventure for that evening would be. I had some thought about converting over one of the Echoes of War scenarios to remove the canon PCs and fit it into the campaign frame the players had come up with, but that didn’t feel like I was giving enough play to the work everyone had done on the setting creation1.

I whined about this on Twitter, and Cam Banks immediately2 responded with a great suggestion:

Use the Leverage tables and tweak!

I had completely forgotten about the great set of tables in the Leverage RPG designed to let you put together a job for your crew of criminals very quickly. The campaign frame for this game meant that the Crew were not criminals3, but instead were subcontractors for someone who held an Alliance contract to carry mail. Still, I figured that I’d give the tables a whirl, and see if I could twist things enough to get them to fit our game. This is what the dice gave me:

Client: Politician/Public Servant

Problem: Framed

Pressure: Police refuse to help; running out of money

Mark: Financier

Mark’s Angle: Greedy, hardnosed

Mark’s Power: Wealthy

Mark’s Weakness: Guilty conscience

Mark’s Vulnerability: Family

Who Else is in Play?: The Vizier

The Twist: It’s personal

Given those factors, and the fact that one of the issues of the game is the lawlessness and corruption of the Rim and Border planets, I boiled these issues down to the following points.

  • Annie Pan, the Federal Marshall based in Bao on Heaven, is a moderately friendly face for the crew. She’s been framed for accepting bribes, and is in jail awaiting trial on corruption and conspiracy charges.
  • The person who has framed her is local business mogul Bunmei Ndiaye, who wants to bring the lucrative flower block market4 under the control of his collective, meaning him and his cronies.
  • Marshall Pan5 was concerned about the collective violating anti-trust laws, and so Ndiaye framed her and replaced her with a more… compliant head lawman, Noel Antoniak.
  • Ndiaye’s chief assistant, Gisela Novak, had some undetermined shady ties in case I needed to bring in a gang of skilled criminals to make the crew’s life difficult.

The canny observer might notice that I’ve pretty much ignored mark’s weakness and vulnerability, as well as half the pressure. I kept the notes of these things, but I’ve found that, in Cortex Plus – particularly the Action iteration, like Leverage or Firefly – it’s easier, more fun, and creates a more organic, surprising story to leave a lot of the oppositional details up to the system of Complications. As the game played out, I didn’t really need that stuff6.

The last bit of prep I did was putting together some stats for the various NPCs. I used the archetypes from the rulebook for three of the major NPCs – Annie Pan, Gisela Novak, and Bunmei Ndaiye. Then I stole the sheriff stat block from the intro adventure for Noel Antoniak. And then I spent three minutes writing up stats for minor NPCs – Cops d6, Thugs d6, and Hit Squad (Physical d8, Shoot d8, Fight d8, Knives d6).

Start to finish, prep for the first session took me less than an hour. I giggled about that, and did a little dance.

So, how did things play out? Well, I put together a first scene, with the crew arriving on Heaven, and being greeted by Antoniak who shook them down. I figured that would get them invested enough to go poking into what had happened to their old friend Annie, and I was right.

Almost too right. Walter, being a former lawman himself, got a little cute with Antoniak and his bully-boys and wound up arrested for assault7. The fact he kept asking about Annie – who was currently awaiting trial on charges of accepting bribes and conspiring with criminals – increased suspicion about him8. His plan was, apparently, to get arrested and put in the same cell as Annie, but I really couldn’t see that happening once he kept asking about her. Even these cops weren’t that incompetent. Instead, he “fell down” a few times and wound up in his own little cell9.

After that first scene, though, things started grinding slow. I realized partway through the evening that I had forgotten some important things about running a Cortex Plus Action game:

  1. Skip the boring bits, and go to the action.
  2. Any plan is the right plan, because the characters know what they’re doing, even if the players don’t.
  3. Don’t sweat the details of the plan. That’s what assets and flashbacks are for.

Trying to get back into this mindset, I started pushing the characters a little bit more to be awesome and to get into the right mindset. But we are all steeped in the games of our past, and it was a tough shift for us all. Here’s an example:

Every time they did something illegal, they kept telling me they were wearing gloves. Now, in a more traditional game like D&D or Call of Cthulhu or even Trail of Cthulhu, that’s not only expected, it’s good play. But in Cortex Plus, they’re not going to leave fingerprints at the scene, because they’re competent professionals. Unless, of course, they roll a jinx and get a complication. And then it doesn’t matter what the player says, the character has encountered a problem. Wearing gloves? Fine. The police have a Hair Sample d6. Or they sneeze and set off the audio sensors. Or whatever.

That’s the mindset I need to embrace and share with the players.

So, yeah, the game was a bit rough. Not unexpected, because it was a first session. But it was still fun.

Eventually, they cleaned Antoniak out of all his cash at a poker table, found out who was backing him, and stole a package that was supposed to go to a Jiang Triad front to put in Ndaiye’s office. And Price Jiang, the pilot of Peregrine, had been arrested by Antoniak and was sitting in jail. The players were dithering here about the right order to do things in10, so I stole the idea of the end-of-job Mastermind roll from Leverage: I got each character to decide how they were contributing, and put the appropriate skill die into the pool, along with all the assets they’d created throughout the game. Then, one player volunteered to essentially be the anchor, and threw in his/her attribute die, a distinction, and any signature assets that applied. I set the stakes in roughly the same way for the antagonists.

The players handily raised the stakes. So, suddenly Price was released, as was Annie, and Ndaiye was returning to his family home on Bellerophon. Novak, who had Yu Triad tattoos on her arms, was missing after her house burned down. And the Federal Marshalls were showing up to see who was messing with their duly licensed representative.

Summing things up, I was pretty frustrated in the early part of the game, because I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t clicking the way I thought it should. When I finally got my head on straight regarding the system, one of the players said, “Now it’s starting to feel like an episode of Firefly!” It’s a success, if not as smooth as I would have liked it to be.

To fix that, I am rereading the Episode Guide of the core rulebook11. This chapter is so much better than any other episode guide I’ve seen, as it uses the summaries of the episodes to teach the game in small chunks, with hefty examples from the TV series. Sheer bloody brilliance.

Next session, I’ll be better prepared, rules-wise. And things’ll go smooth. Right?12

  1. But I hasten to add that the Echoes of War scenarios are all very good. I recommend them unreservedly. And each one comes with all the rules you need to play, so it’s a great way to try the game out. []
  2. It might not have been immediately, but it sure seemed that way. []
  3. I was, frankly, agog at that development. []
  4. See, Heaven has a weird terraforming flaw. It produces beautiful flowers, but they all emit the same kind of smell as a corpse flower. This makes the whole planet stink. But the flowers, encased in clear substances like glass, crystal, or acrylic, are popular exports. Thus, flower blocks. []
  5. That’s the first time I’ve typed that pair of words out. I’d like to claim it was a sly reference to the European Recovery Plan, but it’s just a fluke. []
  6. But if I had needed it, it was there for me to use. []
  7. Shackled d8 complication, that quickly got stepped down to a d6. []
  8. Also the fact that he was being a complete belligerent dick to the cops. []
  9. Me: Take a Beat to Crap d6 complication. Walter: On top of the Shackled d6?. Me: No, just change Shackled to Beat to Crap. They’ve taken the shackles off. Walter: That’s how complications work? That’s cool! []
  10. “We need to warn Price that we’re gonna do this.” “Okay, should we warn him before we steal the package, or before we get the package to Ndaiye, or before we…” “JUST DO SOMETHING!” []
  11. I just realized I never wrote a review of the Firefly RPG core rulebook. I will have to remedy that. []
  12. As I typed the question mark here, my iTunes shuffle started playing the theme song from The Weird Al Show. I guess that answers that, huh? []