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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 again ((How long would that take? As long as seemed fun in play.)). That meant I had to do a little less-than-believable finessing of their ((Non-existent, in the real world.)) 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 thing ((Even in a system like Firefly, that doesn’t track money as such.)) 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 quo ((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.)).

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 happen ((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.)).

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 principals ((Along with their aides.)) 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 trip ((Plotting a fast course, scanning for followers, etc.)) 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.

Followin’ Yonder Star


Imagine Games and Hobbies, all ready for Winnipeg Harvest Game Day.

Imagine Games and Hobbies, all ready for Winnipeg Harvest Game Day.

Yesterday was the Winnipeg Harvest Game Day at Imagine Games and Hobbies, here in Winnipeg. It’s an annual day when the store hosts a number of games, collecting donations for Winnipeg Harvest. As has been my tradition for the past few years, I was down there all day, running a game. This year, it was a Firefly RPG adventure.

Lots of other stuff going on, too:

A Wings of War game, with airships and - I believe - Snoopy.

A Wings of War game, with airships and – I believe – Snoopy.

An asteroid field for X-Wing. The game involved some chocolate spacecraft.

An asteroid field for X-Wing. The game involved some chocolate spacecraft.

A table of boardgames for people to pick up and play.

A table of boardgames for people to pick up and play.

Snacks! You need to have snacks if you're going to be playing all day. Thanks to Wendy for keeping us all fed!

Snacks! You need to have snacks if you’re going to be playing all day. Thanks to Wendy for keeping us all fed!

And here's my post - all ready and waiting for my players to arrive.

And here’s my post – all ready and waiting for my players to arrive.

So, I had a sign-up sheet at the store for about a week, letting people sign up and reserve their favourite Serenity crew member to play. I was slightly concerned, because there were only three people signed up on Friday. But by the time I got in to the store around 11:30 on Saturday, we had seven people signed up – only Simon Tam and Inara Sera weren’t claimed.

Game time rolled around ((We actually got a bit of a late start – two players called and said they’d had car trouble but would be at the store soon. One other player just didn’t show, so no Shepherd Book.)), and we jumped in with a quick briefing on how the rules worked. It took only about fifteen or twenty minutes to give folks a rundown of the system – enough so that they understood the basics of building dice pools and spending and earning plot points.

There’s a twist to these games – Cheat Tokens. To encourage donations, for every dollar worth of food ((Or money.)), a player gets a Cheat Token. These can be used in the game for special advantages. For Firefly, I decided that the Cheat Tokens could be used to re-roll any die, even a jinx.

One final twist is the prize. Wendy ((Owner and manager of the store.)) always goes above and beyond, creating amazing edible prizes for each game. But because there’s a prize, there must be a winner, and that’s always challenging in an RPG. I fell back on the technique I used in previous such sessions: I divided the game into three acts and, after each act, the players voted ((By giving their choice a jingle bell.)) on who had done the coolest stuff that act. At the end of the game, whoever had the most jingle bells was the winner ((Seems simple, but just wait for it.)).

This is the prize made by Wendy for the Firefly game. It's made of fondant, and is edible.

This is the prize made by Wendy for the Firefly game. It’s made of fondant, and is edible.

And here's our crew, ready to misbehave.

And here’s our crew, ready to misbehave.

And so we started the adventure.

The adventure was pretty simple: the owners of three moderate-sized corporations hired Serenity to ferry them in secrecy from Bellerophon to St. Alban’s. They had heard that someone on St. Alban’s had managed to create a satellite power broadcast system that could revolutionize life outside of the Core Worlds. These three businesspeople wanted to form a joint corporation to help the creator bring his prototype into production. Of course, Blue Sun had also heard about this development, and were just a step behind our heroes.

I had three pages of rough notes for this adventure – one of the great things about Cortex Plus, especially its Action iteration ((That’s Leverage and Firefly, so far.)), is that a lot of the interesting stuff comes out of complications in play. It’s a simple system to improvise in ((After a little practice, of course.)), so I just needed a rough outline of events and a few notes about the kinds of things that could go wrong.

It helped that MWP has released a number of adventures in the Echoes of War line, full of eminently lootable NPCs, scenes, roll examples, and other resources. I had them all in a big binder at the table, so I could look up useful bits on the fly.

Some highlights from the game:

  • Zoe blowing up the batteries at the engineer’s cabin to distract the Blue Sun forces. The cabin burned down.
  • Wash plotting a fast course to St. Alban’s to beat the Blue Sun pursuit ((It didn’t work, but it was a damn good try.)).
  • Kaylee and River working together to hide their passengers from a search of the ship.
  • Jayne shooting the Blue Sun thug who was holding a gun to the engineer’s head, thus ending the hostage situation.
  • Mal leading everyone in a complex, sneaky plan to distract the Blue Sun salvage ship while Jayne and Zoe stole the functioning power satellite right out from under their noses, and Kaylee shut it down before it fried everyone.

We all had a great time, and, at the end of the game, each player had three jingle bells. Yup. Six-way tie. They’d been spreading the votes around pretty evenly. So, I tossed a d6, and Karen won.

At which point, Nathan threw down his last Cheat Token, and said, “Reroll that!” There was some grumbling, but in general, everyone was good about it – we had decided that Cheat Tokens were good for rerolls, after all. I tossed the d6 a second time and the prize went to Sarah ((Fortunately, not to Nathan. I think that might have resulted in a riot.)).

Here's the crew, with Sarah proudly holding her prize.

Here’s the crew, with Sarah proudly holding her prize. Nathan is eyeing her rather jealously.

All in all, a fun day.

Thanks to the folks who came out to play Firefly with me:

  • Steven as Mal
  • Karen as Zoe
  • David as Wash
  • Nathan as Jayne
  • Sarah as Kaylee
  • Kelsie as River

Thanks also to Wendy, Pedro, Perry, Matt, and Mike ((Technically Kelsie, too, but I’ve already thanked her, and she doesn’t get two thank-yous. Nor does she get a mind-controlled army of mutant orphans like she did last year.)) at Imagine for organizing, running, and provisioning this awesome day.

And thanks to the good folks at Margaret Weis Productions, especially Christi Cardenas, who eagerly jumped in with some great support for those who participated in the game. This is just one more reason I love MWP – they’re great people, who also make great games.

I haven’t got a total of what was raised this year, but the box of donations was pretty full when I left. Thanks to all the gamers, whether they played my game or not, who brought a little something to help make sure that everyone has a better holiday season this year.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

GenCon 2014

Well, it’s been a week since GenCon ended, so it’s about time I posted my report.

GenCon 2014 was a lot of fun. I wound up not playing as much as I have other years, but that balanced with the fact that I got to run a couple of fun games. As usual, Scott, Jarred, and Terry were great to see and spend time with at the Pagan Publishing/Dagon Industries booth, and this year, Clint joined us ((I drive down to GenCon most years with Clint, and then we see very little of each other during the show, as he has usually been working a different booth and staying with different folks. This year, he worked our both and stayed with us, so bonus!)), which was awesome.

Anyway, here are some highlights of the show.

Games on Demand

The past two years, I’ve been spending my evenings at Games on Demand, playing a bunch of new, interesting games that I might otherwise never get a chance to play. This year, I volunteered to run some ((The rumours that I did it just to get a look at the playtest rules for Feng Shui 2 are scurrilous but not entirely inaccurate.)). Because of my time commitments at the booth, and the fact that GoD wasn’t offering games on Thursday evening ((There was an all-hands meeting so that volunteers like me could find out how things work and what support structures were in place to help us out.)), I wound up GMing for two four-hour shifts, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. I brought a collection of four games all prepped and ready to run: Feng Shui 2, Firefly RPG, Monster of the Week, and The Dresden Files RPG.

Feng Shui 2

The first game I got to run was Feng Shui 2 on Saturday night. We had a full table, and none of us had actually played ((Or run, in my case.)) the second edition rules before. I’d spent the weekend before leaving for GenCon reading the playtest draft sent to me by the inestimable Cam Banks, but that’s not a lot of time to internalize a new game system ((Even one as fluid and easy as FS2.)). Fortunately, having run a lot of demo games and store games, I was able to identify the important bits for remembering. Also, a confident attitude and enthusiasm covers a multitude of system-knowledge deficiencies.

The big downside was that, because of my inexperience with the rules, I spent a little too long teaching the rules and providing background, and was slow running the first combat. It was half-way through the session when we wrapped that first fight, and that meant we had two left to go, plus all the connective tissue ((Honest to god, that’s what they call the bits of roleplaying and investigation and stuff that moves you from one set-piece fight to the next in the game.)) of the investigation and roleplaying. We took a short break ((Not entirely to give myself time to think about this, but it was a factor.)), and when we reconvened, I offered them a choice: we could jump straight to the climactic fight, and narrate the stuff in between, or we could play through the other stuff to show how the rules handled non-fighting things, and narrate the combats. Either way, I promised, I’d make sure they got a whole, engaging story out of it.

They chose to play through the non-combat stuff to get a taste for how that worked. So, they got to interview people, and to spring traps, find out about the Chi War, and so on. At various points – like during the fights – I’d ask the players to describe something cool that the character was doing to help out. That’s how we settled the climactic battle, and then we narrated an epilogue, where the players decided the characters had been thrown through time back to the 1850 juncture. I claimed the last bit of narration for myself, telling them that they regained consciousness to find a wizened old man standing over them, who greeted them with, “Welcome, Dragons. There is much learning to do.” Fade to black.

We all had a blast with it, and I’m really looking forward to release of the final rules.

Firefly RPG

The next night, the GoD host asked me to offer only the Firefly RPG for the session, because they were expecting a lot of people, and Firefly can accommodate nine players for the full crew. I said sure, and had a full table ((Well, I started with a full table, but one of the players wasn’t feeling well and left fairly early.)). I used the same adventure I had created for the Christmas charity game, Followin’ Yonder Star. Different players, and the wonderful complications system of Cortex Plus games, meant that the game went very differently than the previous time I had run it, but the crew was still victorious, and everyone had fun.

Thanks to everyone who came out to play with me at Games on Demand. Thanks also to the hosts and other volunteers who kept things running smoothly. And special thanks to the organizers, who work hard all year to make sure Games on Demand can happen at more and more conventions.

ENnie Awards

I never attend the ENnies, but I always keep an eye on what happens via twitter and other social media. This year, my friends at Evil Hat Productions were the heroes of the show – they won at least a Silver in every one of the eight categories where they were nominated. All the wins are well-deserved, but I was surprised at the sweep – not because I had any doubts about how good the EH products were, but because they were up against some very impressive and daunting competition in every category.

So, congratulations to Evil Hat! And congratulations to all the winners! And nominees!


Hillfolk got some nice awards this year, too. It started by winning the prestigious Diana Jones Award, and then picked up two of the Indie Games Awards for game of the year and best support. Congratulations to Robin D. Laws and Pelgrane Publishing!

Some day, I will convince my group to let me run a Hillfolk season. Some day.

The Dealers’ Hall

GenCon is getting bigger. Over 56,000 attendees this year. The Dealers’ Hall has expanded, too. This year, it had about 20% more floor area, as they opened up another section. Even with this expansion, it felt very crowded. Part of that was the large number of people ((Really?)), and part of that was the hall layout. I noticed, and several other people also commented, that the usual straight-line main avenues that let you cross the hall easily were broken up by the larger islands of big exhibitors or by other twisty detours. It made moving around in the hall quite difficult, especially when you’re working with limited time. I don’t think I saw more than about a third of the entire hall.

Cool Games

I did manage to find some cool gaming stuff. Here’s what I brought home:

  • King of New York – Clint and I got a chance to play this on the way home from the con. It’s got a lot of the same cool stuff that made King of Tokyo such a great game, with some elaborations that change the strategy completely. It’s a ton of fun.
  • Shinobi Wat-aah! – I haven’t had a chance to try this game, yet, but it looked interesting while I was standing in line for King of New York, so I grabbed it. Not sure how well the game play will capture the theme of the game, but I do want to give it a try.
  • Mythos Expeditions – Dangerous journeys and explorations for Trail of Cthulhu? Hell, yes!
  • The Book of Loot and The Shadows of Eldolan – I’m not even running 13th Age, but these looked too neat to pass up.
  • Noteboards – In the absence of Beth Lewis ((I missed you, Beth!)), Cat Tobin upsold me on these again. They’re just so useful! She even showed me the prototype of the 13th Age custom version of the Noteboard. It looks awesome.
  • The Quiet Year – I hadn’t even heard about this one until the Indie Games Awards. Once I had, I went looking for it, and found a neat little bagged version, with the cards, dice, and markers that you need for the game in a little burlap sack. I’ve just started reading it, and I’m dying to give it a try.
  • Carolina Death Crawl – This one, I had heard about, and went looking for it specifically. And I found it. I also later met Jason Morningstar ((Jason Morningstar also gave me candy.)) and told him that I had bought it. He said, “I hope you have fun with it. Well, for certain values of fun.” It looks a little… dark.
  • Dungeon Attack – The one evening I got to play games rather than running them, Jarred trotted out a couple of dice games. The first one wasn’t very good, so I’m not going to mention it. But the second one was Dungeon Attack and we had a lot of fun with it. I meant to go get a copy during the con, but with the difficulty of crossing the hall, I didn’t make it there. So I ordered a copy when I got home.
  • Northern Lights – This is the codename for the section of Delta Green playtest rules that the Arc Dream folks had at the show. I managed score one of the limited number of copies they had at the show for someone in Cell E.

Cool People

I got a few moments with some of my GenCon friends: Amanda and Clark Valentine, Ken Hite, Robin Laws, Cam Banks. I also got to meet Rob Donoghue face to face for ((I think.)) the first time. And of course, Greg Stolze, John Marron, and Shane Ivey were over in the Arc Dream half of our booth.

I missed my chance to game with Saladin Ahmed and Jessica Banks at Games on Demand. The timing just didn’t work out. Next year, I think, we’ll need to schedule something more definitely.



So, that was GenCon this year. It was a ton of fun, though exhausting, as usual.

Now that I’m back, I plan to work through my blogging backlog at one post a day until I’m caught up. Because otherwise, I just seem to keep getting farther behind.

Stay tuned.

Winnipeg Harvest Game Day

Once again, Imagine Games and Hobbies here in Winnipeg is hosting a game day to collect donations for Winnipeg Harvest. I will be running a Firefly RPG game this year:

Followin’ Yonder Star…

The job pays well, and it ain’t too hard. All you gotta do is ferry some high-falutin’ business types from Bellerophon to St. Alban’s and help them find some he li ji qun ((Crane among the chickens – someone who stands out.)) there. ‘Course, ya gotta baochi anjing ((Keep it quiet.)), ’cause of some kinda business reasons, but that ain’t so hard.

This one’s sure to go smooth ((If you keep saying it, it’ll be true eventually, right?)).

Game Day is this coming Saturday, December 14. The Firefly RPG game starts at 1:00, and will run about four hours. Entry fee is a non-perishable food item donated to Winnipeg Harvest. Extra food items donated will get you Cheat Tokens that you can use in the game to sway things in your favour.

You can sign up at the store to reserve your favourite crew member to play. Also, everyone who plays will receive instructions on how to get a free download .pdf from the Echoes of War adventure line, courtesy of the fine folks at Margaret Weis Productions.

So, come on down and play with me this Saturday. Not only will it be fun ((And it will be fun!)), but it’s helping out a good cause.