Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adventuring Into the Black

Mi Tian Gong.  Dong le ma?
I really want to make an effort to focus this blog on the positive things about gaming.  There are a lot of things about this hobby to celebrate and like most things geeky, there are a lot of people who would rather whine and complain about what is supposed to be a source of enjoyment.  I do my fair share of that, but I would really like to limit the amount of that sort of thing that I do here.  As such, I will express my one negative opinion about this subject, get it out of the way, and then make my way to the more constructive and creative aspects of this endeavor.  <RANT> Margaret Weis Productions has made two games in the Firefly universe: Serenity, which I did not like, and Firefly, which I like even less.  The PDF of the latter was so bad that I cancelled my pre-order of the physical product before it comes out later this year. <END RANT>

While I find the published games somewhat lacking, that does not dampen my enthusiasm for the property and the potential to run a successful game in it.   The original television series lasted less than half a season before Fox cancelled it.  I was fortunate that I discovered the series on DVD a couple of years later, and was thus spared the gutting that came with the cancellation for so many of the first run fans. The Serenity movie was uneven, but at least it brought a sense of completion to several of the character arcs, if not the entire story.

If you are unfamiliar with the Firefly universe, my best advice is to go.  Find it. Watch it.  If you find that you do not like it, search your inner self to figure out what has gone so terribly wrong in your life and see if there is anything you can  do to fix it.  For those who feel they do not have the time to enrich their life, I will tell you this.  The world of Firefly is set in the very early days of Human colonization of Space.  Earth was, as is often the case in Sci Fi, exhausted and humanity, primarily the Americans and Chinese went to the stars. The primary focus  of colonization is a small series of systems.  Eventually the more self-reliant, but sparsely populated, colonies on the Border, an outer ring, of planets decided that they no longer wished to be dictated to by the Alliance controlled Core planets and revolted.  The revolt did not go well.  Present day is several years later with the powerful inner rim once again in control.  The central hero of the story was a devotee of the Independent Border's  lost cause.  He exists on the fringe by operating his rust bucket space ship with a crew of quirky characters, most of whom have secrets, or at least interesting pasts,  that drive the narrative.  Eventually, they run afoul of a shadowy government group that genetically modified one of the crew.    

On the surface, that sounds pretty generic.  The devil is in the details.  The crew are all fully realized characters whose lives engage you.  The Verse
is not our own, but the problems the crew face are very accessible.  Little details transform what could be a vanilla effort into something truly special.  The characters speak in a mixture of English and Chinese slang that seems odd to the ear, but quickly becomes second nature.  The equation of the Border colonies with the American West, complete with sheriffs, six guns, and horses makes the backdrop both alien and familiar at the same time.  When the high tech Core worlds begin to make an appearance, they seem somehow even more out of place than the ranches and cowboy hats you have become accustomed to.

As much as I love each of these characters, I would
 prefer you create your own to fly the Verse.
One of the problems with the existing game material is that the authors seem insistent on replicating EVERYTHING about the series and original crew in your own characters.  I did that the first time I ran Serenity and the game admittedly went pretty well.  The game I would like to present at this time is a little different.  In this game the PCs will not own their own ship.  Instead, the ship itself is the property of a small colonization effort on one of the Border planets.  The players will indeed be the crew of the ship, but rather than vagabonds bouncing around the Verse at their own whim, they are responsible for delivering some of the valuable commodities produced by the colony to buyers and return with supplies desperately needed for their friends and neighbors.  It is one thing for a crew to pick up a cargo of grain and trade it for some medical supplies.  It is quite another when you are delivering your neighbor's entire crop and failure means that she and her family will likely starve to death, or die of the space measles if you do not return home with the proper vaccination in time.  The various adventures will roughly split equal time within the colony, in the Black transporting goods and the occasional passenger back and forth, and on other planets including the occasional foray into the byzantine Core.  

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