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 some ((Actually, quite a few.)) 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 session ((Which is tonight.)), 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 campaign ((I like callbacks like that.)). Instead of being hired as a singer, she’s the second-in-command for casino security ((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.)).

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 bit ((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.)), 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 friend ((Maybe just a body – don’t give away the identity ofthe victim right away.)), 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 course ((Note: they did not take it well.)).

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.

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2 Responses to Firefly: Bucking the Tiger, Part One

  1. Blue says:

    I’ve never tried the in-media-res opening then jumping back to earlier in the story – too much worry that my players will trying to set up advantages for that scene coming up regardless of what’s happening in “the now” plus fear of the scene not going off in the first place. Any tips on running one?

  2. Rick Neal says:

    I have a few tips.

    First, don’t give too much information in the teaser. Make sure it’s just a teaser, and not a full scene. You want it to raise questions in the players’ minds, not provide answers.

    Second, talk to your players BEFORE you spring this on them. Make sure you set the expectations properly, because a lot of players really don’t like what could be viewed as a loss of agency on their part. So, explain up front what you’re going to do. Getting their buy-in will mean they don’t fight you so much on the tightly constrained initial teaser, and are less likely to try and build assets based on player knowledge.

    Third, I sometimes use a trick where, when I add a complication to the game from an opportunity, I will mark it with a question mark and a die type. I’ll step it up and back just like all the others, but it’s a mystery complication. I only reveal it when it comes into play. This is a useful trick if I want to keep a specific complication secret, or if I don’t have a cool idea for a complication when one comes up or, as in this particular case, someone’s trying to stack the deck and I need a wildcard complication to undermine that.

    Fourth, remember that context is key. The initial teaser lacks context, so the players may start making a number of erroneous assumptions about it. A thirty-second precredits teaser on a TV show only says that something cool is coming, not what or why. If players start making some poor assumptions and create inapplicable assets, well, you might warn them about the assumptions, or you might let them run down the wrong trail for a bit. That’s going to depend on you and your players.

    Fifth, by keeping the information you give the characters in the teaser limited, you get the flexibility to change it as required to keep the game interesting. If they’re standing over a dead body when the law breaks in, they don’t necessarily know who the dead body is. You do, but you can also change the identity if the players do something that would cause that scene not to come to pass.

    Sixth, don’t be afraid to heavy-foot them on that scene. You have established some facts in the teaser scene: they are standing over a dead body when the law catches them. If, when you reach that scene in play, they leave a lookout for the law, don’t hesitate to have the comms jammed, or have the lookout captured quietly by the SWAT team, or knocked out by the actual killer, or whatever. Just make it fit the teaser you gave them, and set the expectation at the outset that the teaser is FACT.

    What I find helpful in trying the experimental stuff like teasers and flashbacks and so on is being upfront with my players. “Hey, folks, I’m going to try a little something different tonight. I’m not sure it’s going to work well, but I’d appreciate it if you go with it, rather than fighting it. If it doesn’t work, I won’t be using it again, but I think it might be fun.” Get them on your side for the experiment, rather than leaving them out and surprising them.

    Hope that helps. If you give it a try, I’d be interested in hearing how it goes.

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