Sunday, 3 February 2013

Tales from the Table: Firefly (Part Five)

Sorry for the long gap there, I've finally gotten down with the funk that's been laying the entire city low for the past month or so. Ugh. Slowly improving.

So, how did the players handle the interrogations? Each in their own way. This is an excellent case study in why High Trust, High Drama play demands players who are willing to go above and beyond. And what a player can do to take play to the next level.

  • Colin, as his pregnant war criminal Carmen, saw the arc of his character as trying to redeem her family honour somehow through her actions. He was not willing to accept the gangster's offer, even if it would have provided him with power and security. (Also, I remember that Colin definitely used my "safe word" protocol -- signalling "This is too heavy, need a break from this scene" at least once. Others may have also done so, but I'm mentioning it here just as an important case-in-point -- remember to leave yourself a "safety valve" when you put the pressure this high.)
  • Amanda, as captain Tess, had probably the longest conversation with the gangster, and perhaps the level of civility between the two of them stayed the most "friendly". Lao Feng told Tess about his several wives and their gifts, one of whom had grown both the tea they were drinking and the poison used to drug the crew into unconsciousness. But when the gangster threatened to use her ship, the Fandango, as a drug-running scow, Tess managed to strike the only blow against the bad guys this day -- she grabbed her tea and threw it in Lao Feng's face. Note that this was the only overt act of violence in the entire episode. (Sticks and stones are for sissies -- words cause permanent damage.)
  • Megan, as the Quaker "conductor" on the Underground Railroad Lena, chose a complex path. She decided that giving the gangster anything -- anything at all -- would be the beginning of the end. She chose to passively resist, refusing to respond to anything he said. I had to push harder and harder, of course, to try for some reaction out of her, and said some pretty damned evil and cruel things. Lena didn't buckle under intimidation, but Megan told me later, it had been incredibly hard and painful to endure that sort of attack without resisting. And also taught her something about the power of passive resistance. I even had Lao Feng toy with her by putting a loaded gun in front of her on the table, and sending Eden his assassin away -- Lena could free her friends and escape, but to do so she would have to abandon her principles utterly. She refused. (Her fellow players actually audibly gasped during this exchange.)

One last moment from that episode:

Tess realized that the hysterical inmate in the cell opposite hers in the prison block -- Sandoval, a gambler who had previously shipped out on the Fandango, but clearly owed Lao Feng too much money -- might hold the key to her escape. But first she needed to talk him down.

When Sandoval -- convinced they would be executed any minute -- began to sing "Amazing Grace" hysterically to himself, Amanda (as Tess) hit a home run by picking up the song and singing it to him in comforting tones. That was a powerful moment.

"My, my momma use to sing that to me," he choked, after she finished. "When I'd get scared."

Sandoval managed to jimmy the locks on both cells, and the escape was on...

When the dust had settled and we talked about the episode, the players were I think exhilarated and exhausted. We had taken the HTHD jalopy up to full speed and shot it across the Snake River Canyon to see what happened. And landed safely on the other side.

Megan summed it up:

"That was amazing and tough, and let's not do anything like that again for a while, okay?"


  1. Re: Carmen, I think that was, perhaps, the first times where Carmen had to seriously consider how she felt about the rest of the crew, realized that they had somehow become family, and that she could not betray that, even with the offer as it was, and the threat so high.

    I don't recall calling for a break - do you remember the context?

    1. I remember that too, but I could not for the life of me tell you what prompted it. I remember it being a scene that had gone on for a while, and that you asked if we could switch to another scene to give you a minute to gather yourself.

    2. Huh! I definitely remember suggesting a scene break at one point because there was a logical spot for a scene break, and Bill wanted to press on, so we did.

      Reviewing my notes from that episode, I'd forgotten this bit of gold: "Carmen denies the job offer, in the end, by suggesting that they'd have professional differences, but while she's reacting with hostility (as Carmen does, when afraid), she has a depressing realization that if this was the only option open to her, and it was the only way to save her child, she might be willing to become the monster she was before. The part of her that's trying to be a better person is not at all pleased with this."

      Dude, that was a good sitting.