Firefly: St. Marcus

Last Friday was the latest session in our Firefly RPG campaign ((Third session overall.)). 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 tables ((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.)) 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 ‘Verse ((Especially on the outer planets.)), 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 stuff ((Which let me bring in Will Yunick, the depot manager that hates the characters, and does his best to make their lives miserable.)) 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 PCs ((Su Jin was currently being inconspicuous behind he piano.)) attracted enough attention by administering first aid, calling an ambulance, and gossiping ((Yes, it was too gossiping.)) 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 journey ((And spy on Shepherd Garcia as he lay near death in the hospital.)), 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 Shu ((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.)), 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 on ((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.)).

We played through the three-and-a-half days from New Melbourne to New Kasmir ((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.)), 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 them ((As it should, right? It’s a complication!)), and they seemed to concentrate more on it than on the marshal and the shepherd ((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.)). 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 Monkey ((Stolen directly from the core rulebook intro adventure.)), 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 Tate ((And this was the first time that name came up in the game.)), 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 intervention ((If they had gone inwards from New Melbourne to one of the Core planets, he might have had a chance. But they didn’t.)) – 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 Monkey ((About six hours, I said.)) 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 them ((Walter: Next time we split up, we each take one of those guys with us. Domino: Yup.)).

In the end, it was more gunplay than had featured in both the previous sessions combined. Both Price and Jin were in pretty bad shape ((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.)), 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 epilogue ((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.)), 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 Fund ((They’re a mite casual about canonization out on the border.)) 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 this ((As far as I’m concerned.)) 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 girl ((Her name, if anyone cares, was Jun.)) 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.

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