Sunday, 20 January 2013

Tales From The Table: Firefly (Part Two)

So: a gypsy, a pacifist, and a pregnant war criminal.

These three characters formed the core crew of the Fandango, the Firefly class transport at the centre of my game. Amanda's character Tess was the captain and main pilot of the ship, Megan's character Lena filled the niche of ship doctor and Colin's character Carmen was the engineer. I also decided, since my main cast was small, that we should have two more characters as supporting cast on the Firefly - a backup pilot and engineer. We developed them as a last step during character creation, and the NPCs we ended up with were Old Joe and Jimmy Woo.

Old Joe was a member of the same extended family of space gypsies as Tess, a crotchety old veteran spacer who had helped her acquire the Fandango -- which had originally belonged to Tess's brother -- when it mysteriously appeared in a salvage yard. Jimmy was a teenage runaway who was also a daredevil pilot. (Both were intended to back up Tess and Carmen, so that the ship could still function if one of them was separated from the small crew for some reason.)

The Fandango itself, which had a long history with Tess's family of space gypsies, also became a member of the cast much as Serenity is on Whedon's original show. Amanda decided that this was a ship that had traditionally carried families (which was appropriate to the themes of Firefly generally) and whose outer hull was marked with the painted handprints of everyone who had ever shipped out on her over the decades. The best episodes of the game unfolded almost entirely on this "set".

With these starting ingredients, I knew I was heading toward a game that I hadn't planned for. I couldn't simply give this crew standard "Let's go be bad guys" missions in the traditional Firefly style, as combat was not their strong suit. Unlike the Serenity game we'd played, this time around no one had been interested in playing a riff on Jayne Cobb, everyone's favourite amoral gunslinger and grumpy musclehead. (The last game, EVERYONE wanted to play some variation on Jayne, it seemed like. That didn't work very well.)

I knew that I would have to rely on challenges that were not focused on combat, but emphasized roleplaying and intrigue elements. Clearly, the characters themselves demanded certain things: some of the story must be about the gypsies, some of it must be about the rescue of slaves (and the repercussions of same), and part of the story would be Carmen's Alliance and family background and the responsibilities of pregnancy.

Slight aside: When Colin first floated the idea of being pregnant, he pitched it in a very non-committal way. His idea was that she was just in the early weeks, just on the edge of showing, and that this would be an issue that was mainly an abstract concern for his character - a motivation for choices about her future. I pushed hard for the idea that unless, over the course of the game, she really was visibly and physically changed by pregnancy - possibly giving birth over the course of the game - it wasn't as strong a story element. As the old saw in the theatre goes, If there is a gun hanging on the wall of your set, someone had better get shot by the end of the third act. Why have her be pregnant if she wasn't going to give birth?

Colin tried to back away from this, worrying that this was going to be a not-fun burden for his character, but we somehow talked him into going for it. I was glad that he agreed, because I think this made the character more interesting and unusual, and it raised the stakes much higher for the game overall. Also, given the length of time involved in travel through the Verse, it wasn't hard to imagine that over the course of a number of adventures, months of time would pass.

And yes, Carmen did give birth as an element of the last episode of the game, just as the Fandango was being stormed by Alliance troops.

To be continued...

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