For the last couple of years, I've been lucky enough to play in two regular groups - one of them on the weekend, the other on Wednesday nights. I initially started the second group as a means to get more time "behind the screen", a way to hone my skills and tell a few stories that I might not have time for in my weekend group. (On weekends, I trade off GMing duties with my friends Rob and Colin, and last summer my wife Megan took her first turn in the GM chair.) It was also a chance to game more regularly with our friend Amanda, who we'd been lucky enough to meet during a game at WARP, the local university gaming club.
Amanda is a Firefly junkie (and so are the rest of us), so our first Wednesday game was an easy choice. I'd had a couple of ideas about what I'd do with Firefly floating around in my mind - parts of the story that seemed unresolved at the end of the Serenity movie, and glosses of my own that I wanted to inject - so I was charged up to run this. "Easy" went out the door as soon as we sat down to make characters, however.
My concern about playing Firefly - because I'd already played in a Serenity game back in Kingston - was that we'd fall into the old RPG trap of playing a game that was essentially about heartless mercenaries. Murder hoboes on a spaceship, if you will. I wanted to tell stories that were deeper and more Whedonesque than that. I wanted drama and heartbreak, not cold negotiations over cash and contract details. So I came to the table with a simple demand of my players: their characters had to have one thing that they couldn't walk away from. They could be mercenaries in every other sense, but there had to be one thing that they cared enough about that no amount of money or danger could sway them.
My players took up this gauntlet, and then some.
The characters they brought to the table were:
- Amanda was to play the captain and owner of the ship, who happened to belong to an extended family of gypsy-like spacegoers who made their life and living travelling from world to world. (This was her first game at our table, again, and this was the closest we came to a "standard" Firefly character or a straightforward heroic roleplaying type. And not that close at that.)
- Megan's character was a Quaker pacifist, a "conductor" on the spacegoing Underground Railroad meant to deliver people from the slavery that seems common in the Verse.
- Colin's character was a former Alliance officer who had committed a notorious atrocity during the Unification War, and now was on the run from her wealthy family. Oh yes, and she was very, very pregnant.
That's right, a gypsy, a Quaker, and a pregnant war criminal. Whatever I'd expected would come of this game, my players had also thrown down the gauntlet at me. I had been afraid of a game that was going to be all gunfights no heart, and the crew I'd ended up with were all heart and no gunfight.
And that was just the beginning...
As an aside, I think it's important to note that the size of your roleplaying group often has a direct effect on the quality of in-character dramatic play. Both American Nightmare and Firefly were three-PC games, and I don't think it's a coincidence that we got a lot of good, deep play -- we had lots of "spotlight time" to go around.