Firefly: Switch

A couple of weeks ago ((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.)) was the second session of our new Firefly RPG campaign. Because of reasons ((Trying to catch up at work, making dinner, and poor organizational skills.)), 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 dinner ((Barbecued pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and grilled pineapple and pumpkin pie for dessert.)), 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 board ((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.)), and turning in their weapons ((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.)). 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 operative ((Cousin Martin.)) 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 raced ((For varying values of the term “raced.”)) to the source of the scream ((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.)), 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 him ((Or her.)) 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 true ((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.)) ((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.)).

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 patched ((The Green Livin’ distinction came in handy here, with it’s Organic Life Support trigger.)), 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 skills ((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.)), 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’!

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