Games of the Imagination

Earlier tonight, I interviewed Tracy Hickman for a future episode of the Dragonlance Canticle podcast. During the conversation, we talked about gaming, and an interesting topic came up. The basic gist is that role-playing games have become very good at being simulations in nature, but have gotten further away from narrative storytelling and creativity.

Is this the case?

There are those that say that story is independent of the rules. We as gamers bring the story to the table. There’s a lot to be said for that. I know that, no matter the game, I bring the same killer storytelling to the game table.

Can rules be a deterrent to storytelling?

Frankly, yes. Want proof? Look no further than 4th edition’s Character Builder. Don’t get me wrong, Character Builder is a wonderful tool. Yet at the same time, I find that Character Builder is not the most conducive to house rules.

Many rules systems have a mechanic like feats that show extra-special abilities characters can do. They’re faster, they have new powers, they’re great with a sword, etc. etc. If the ability is not listed on the character sheet, do we even try it? Probably not. Yet it may be more dramatic to the story of the game if you can at least try things not on the character sheet (within reason, of course!).

For example, let’s say that you’re playing a rogue. Your rogue is running from a local thug who is out for blood, and the alley dead-ends just ahead. There’s nowhere to run. As the thug comes in, the rogue jumps against the wall, bounces off and does a mid-air flip, landing on his feet on the other side. He’s then able to attack the thug.

Now, in this scenario, we could look up a bunch of rules and find that there isn’t a specific rule covering this. Perhaps you, as the player, were also recently frustrated when you discovered there were no rules for fighting on a tightrope.

Rules can not cover every possibility. They can serve as guidelines. We, as gamers, can easily be drawn into the idea that if the Rules As Written (RAW) doesn’t offer an option, then it can’t be done. Yet this is a restriction on creativity and storytelling. The game suffers in the process.

My advice is to find the rules you want to use, and then approach them in broad strokes. Sometimes, a simple skill check or ability check is all you need. Our rogue from up above may have made an Acrobatics or Dexterity check to pull off that amazing flip. The DM sets an appropriate target number. If the player makes it, then you’ve got Hollywood action in your game.

Allow for the player to be creative and loosen up on the rules. It will allow everyone to have more fun and be a creative boon to your world.

Broadcasting: A Farewell

I had grown up watching WKRP in Cincinnati. Loved the show. The characters were great, and who didn’t want to be Dr. Johnny Fever?

It wasn’t until high school, though, that I fell in love with broadcasting. I was approaching my senior year, and had already taken some journalism classes. I got the chance to tour KMOS-TV and KCMW-FM at Central Missouri State University (CMSU) around my senior year. It was love at first sight. I knew from that moment what I wanted to do with my life. I was going to be a broadcaster.

I spent over three years at KMOS-TV and even a short jaunt at KCMW-FM (now KTBG-FM). During the time, I learned my craft and met many friends. The broadcasting program at the school had its flaws, but the stations were great. I was lucky enough to have a good mentor in the form of Fred Hunt, a man whose passing has been way too soon. I wish he was here now so that I could seek his advice once more. I was lucky to have him when I did. He was a role model and an inspiration. This was a time when I did broadcasting in a pure form.

wb62Afterwards, I got into corporate broadcasting. This was a time of growth, and an understanding of the real world. I had some good times, but my young naiveté didn’t prepare me for certain realities. It was during this time that I moved into traffic, as our traffic manager at KSMO suffered a horrible accident that paralyzed her. Her sister, Libby, was also in the department. Libby became a good friend and taught me all I knew about traffic. Libby eventually left the station. I was on my own, and advancement up the ladder seemed the natural course. I came to realize that the American dream of climbing up the corporate ladder was false. My faith in the system was shattered. Promises of advancement were broken, and for the first time, I encountered betrayal.

I moved over to KCWE-TV. They offered me an out from KSMO and a pay raise. I took it. The environment wasn’t quite what I expected. I was in a place where there was me and seven women. Normally this is not an issue, saved that they had certain discussions that really shouldn’t have been in the work place. I met my friend Donna there. Donna taught me much. She had a singular wit, and gave me strength to stand up to oppression. I discovered courage.

Donna also gave me the idea to work in advertising. I eventually went to work for Barkley Evergreen and Partners (now simply Barkley), again in traffic. This was my longest stint ever at a job, lasting 7 years. It was a fantastic place to work. It was also at this time that I learned there was a life outside of broadcasting and advertising for me. I discovered the online Dragonlance community, which led to one of the greatest accomplishments of my life – the Dragonlance Nexus. My career really stalled at this point, but I grew as a person exponentially. I became a writer, an online administrator, and a game designer.

All good things must come to an end, and so I moved on. It was a career disaster, and I found myself without a job. I decided to go back to school, learning web design at DeVry University. I began to reinvent myself. It was at this time that I got a job at KKFI-FM as Chief Operator. Suddenly, I was working in the same position that my mentor, Fred Hunt, had worked. I had value as a broadcaster again. I was a broadcaster reborn. I still had to do some traffic duties, but it was a far cry from what I did at other stations.

KKFI had its own unique climate. I’ve had the pleasure of working with some fantastic programmers. I’ve had my downs as well. I am proud, though, because I stayed out of the inner politics and focused on my job. Based on the reactions I got when I turned in my resignation, I feel that I did a good job and had earned a great deal of respect.

Now, after 19 years, half of my life, I have said farewell to broadcasting. This was a hard decision for me, as I’m saying goodbye to a field I’ve worked in since I was 19. Looking back, my degree provided for me. And yet, I landed up going directions not intended. I’ve had some really good times, some bad times, and many times in between. I’ve learned much about the world and have grown.

Now, I have a new love in web design. It’s a love I developed working with the Dragonlance Nexus. I was afraid at first, as I wasn’t an artist and this was all new. But now that I’ve done it for a while, I found something else that I like and I’m good at.

It’s an exciting time, but one that is fraught with a sense of uncertainty. I believe that there are more opportunities in web design, and I believe as well that online media is the future. So maybe I’m saying farewell to broadcasting, but at the same time, perhaps I’m just moving on to a form of media that rivals radio and TV.

With all my love to my fellow broadcasters…

Trampas Whiteman

Gaming in the ‘Verse: The Unification War

BROWNCOAT (Trampas): “Michaels, you take point. Smith, you’re with me. Okay, let’s go!”

OFFICER (James): Freeze, Browncoats! Lay down your weapons. Nobody moves!

BROWNCOAT (Trampas): Well, now. Looks like we’re gonna have ourselves all sorts of fun.

SFX: Gunfire.

The ‘verse is a vast place, filled with all sorts of adventure. Though most adventures take place flying a rusty old boat from world to world on the Rim looking to find the next job, there are other ways to adventure in the ‘verse as well.

Six years before the Firefly TV series, the ‘verse was at war. It would later be known as the Unification War, as wars are often named by the winners. It was a time of great loss, and great sadness, but it was also a time of heroes and adventure.

The Unification War can serve as an alternate backdrop for your Serenity game. Though it is the same setting, there are some differences as well. The heroes will likely be on one side of the war or the other.

Those fighting on the side of the Browncoats are fighting a losing war. Game Masters should feel free to allow the occasional victory, but keep the feel that of a losing war. From the Browncoat point of view, the Alliance is unjustly trying to take land and tell people how they should live.

Those fighting on the side of the Alliance believe that their cause is just. They seek to improve the quality of the human condition, only to have Independents stop them from helping others.

As Firefly is modeled highly off of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, it may behoove a Game Master to look into the American Civil War for themes to use in his game. One of the greatest themes from this time is “brother against brother.” The Unification War undoubtedly split up families who were torn between the side of the Browncoats and the side of the Alliance.

Despite the conflict, there will always be those who seek a profit during a time of crisis. Those that do may have adventures more like a typical Serenity game, save that there should be a constant threat of war making it harder for a dishonest man to earn a living. Eventually, the war may force a crew to choose sides.

What can also be cool is if a Game Master uses a Unification War campaign as background for the modern era. This can be done in-game with a time jump, or when a Unification War campaign has ended, a new campaign in the modern era can begin that uses the Unification War as background.

For those that like miniatures battles and wargaming, this is the perfect era for you. Mock space battles and troop movements during the war can be simulated with the right gear. While there are no Serenity miniatures, you might look into miniatures from other sci-fi shows. Mongoose Publishing produces miniatures for Babylon 5, and Wizards of the Coast produces miniatures for Star Wars.

So have fun with your Unification War campaign, and with all your Serenity games. Stay shiny, and sleep with one eye open.

Gaming in the ‘Verse: Send in the Clones

Author’s Note: This is the script for the final, unaired Gaming in the ‘Verse segment. The producer at the time was a noted atheist who took exception to me using the phrase “playing God.” I, in turn, felt the phrase was very important to the script. Unfortunately, this conflict led to me leaving the Signal podcast.

Mal rounded the corner, Zoe and Jayne right behind him. Entering the lab, the trio spotted the scientist they were hired to “retrieve.”

“Ah, so good of you to join us, Mister Reynolds. You’ll have to forgive me, though. I already had guests.”

Mal (not sure which episode): “I’m Malcolm Reynolds.”

Mal (not sure which episode): “I’m Malcolm Reynolds.”

Mal (not sure which episode): “I’m Malcolm Reynolds.”

Mal (not sure which episode): “I’m Malcolm Reynolds.”

(Same phrase repeats, to give the effect of clones.)

Trampas (as Jayne): “I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”

SFX: Gun shots.

The subject of cloning has come up in many science fiction shows throughout the years, perhaps most notably in recent years in Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones. While Firefly is a space western, we should also remember that it is a science fiction show as well. Combining elements of science fiction with western gunplay can lead to great fun.

Cloning is a controversial subject in our own times, and should remain so for purposes of your game. Is it right or wrong? Are we playing God by cloning? What happens when someone is cloned against their will?

Your crew can have great fun with figuring out all these moral dilemmas. Remember to try to present both sides of the situation and let players decide for themselves what their characters’ moral stance is.

So how do send in those clones, anyway? Perhaps your crew was hired to investigate a secret scientific facility the Alliance has on some backwater moon and steal the technology for their employer. While the crew is there, they discover that it is a cloning facility. Perhaps the facility was made for the purposes of creating an army, or perhaps some sort of black ops team. Maybe the scientists are trying to clone an individual in hopes of replicating memory and discovering some lost secrets. Or possibly, they’re trying to create their own River Tams, minus the baggage.

If you really want to throw the players for a loop, have a few clones of one of the player characters join the fray. It’ll be pure chaos, to say the least!

Be careful how you approach this, though. It seem like fun to see the look on players’ faces if you tell them that they’re clones of the real deal. However, players may not react the best to this. In the Spider-Man comic books, there was a storyline where it was revealed that the Peter Parker we knew and loved for years was a clone. It was not received well.

Don’t be too concerned about the technical side of things, though having some technobabble handy might be good. Consider that there are many ways of applying cloning technology. Perhaps DNA is being combined to form the ultimate soldier. Are memories being transferred in the process? If so, can that become a dangerous technology in and of itself?

I highly recommend J.C. Hutchins’ podcast novel series, 7th Son, as good research into the possibilities that a cloning story can offer. There are several scenarios in the series that can be adapted to your Serenity role-playing game.

So send in the clones, watch your players as they’re beside themselves, and sleep with one eye open.

Gaming in the ‘Verse: The Hired Gun

“Cash looked at the man on the ground, throwing him a gun. “Get up, you gorram piece of gos se. Go on, grab the gun! When I kill you, I want you to die looking me in the eye with steel in your hand.”
-Cash Younger, hired gun

The Black can be a dangerous place. No tellin’ who’s aiming to put a slug in your back. One minute, it might be your enemy; next it might be your friend. Best that you have someone to take on the opposition. Yer gonna need a hired gun.

The hired gun is the mercenary of the group, a gun-for-hire who gets paid to do the dirty work. It’s often best not to ask him how he gets the job done, so long as it gets done. The hired gun puts morality aside for coin. Feelings just get in the way of what needs to be done. Coin is what pays the bills and keeps you flying.

Coin can keep a hired gun on your crew, but beware of when someone else has more coin than you. Your ally may quickly turn upon you. In role-playing terms, you typically want a cohesive group. Yet a group that never has spats is a might bit dull. Game masters should consider throwing a chance at a hired gun to turn upon his crew. The hired gun is not obligated to take the job, but the temptation will help develop the character. In Firefly, Jayne quickly gained a newfound respect for Mal when Mal threatened to blow him out of the airlock.

The hired gun is typically a character that has more brawn than brains. He may not have much in the brainpan, but you certainly don’t want to cross his path. This may make the hired gun more dangerous, though other characters may be able to take advantage of him.

This stereotype can often be misleading. A character may pretend to be the idiot gun-for-hire when, in fact, he’s smarter than he looks. Such a character may prove to be a good non-player character for game masters to surprise their players with. Likewise, a player may take this role to get the jump on folk he encounters.

In order to do his job, the hired gun needs to have the right equipment.

FIREFLY QUOTE: From Our Mrs. Reynolds, Jayne telling what type of gun Vera is.

The hired gun is never without a weapon. Typically, he will have a sidearm as well as a rifle or automatic weapon (if not both!). A knife can come in handy as well, giving the hired gun an edge in melee combat. Word of advice: never go on a job without grenades.

Players have several options when playing a hired gun. The first question to ask is why your character became a hired gun to begin with. In Firefly, we learn that Jayne sends money to support his mother, showing that beneath his insensitive exterior, he actually cares for something.

Perhaps your character was bound by law. A character could have been falsely accused. Perhaps not. Either way, your character is on the run from the Alliance. Best to keep that bit of info to yourself, unless your captain finds out. Game masters, use this bit of background to help further the story, whether an Alliance operative is seeking to kill the hired gun, or the hired gun is seeking to clear his name.

Be careful that the hired gun isn’t too serious. Serenity may have dramatic moments, but they are often broken up with bits of humor. The hired gun can have a quirk that helps to offset his dangerous side. In Firefly, Jayne often wore hats made by his mother. Try to think of ways for your character to bring a hint of humor to the game, though not at the expense of your dangerous side.

Consider as well how you want your hired gun to develop. While he may appear amoral at first, the hired gun may develop a sense of morality as the game develops.

SERENITY QUOTE: “Shepherd Book once told me that if you can’t do something smart, do something right.”

The opposite may happen as well. The hired gun could try to live as good of a life as the ‘verse will allow, only to find out that he has little choice in the matter. Over time, he may forget the man he once was.

The pitfall to consider is that the hired gun may take away from a cohesive party. This will largely depend on the makeup of the crew. While you want to see a roguish sort of mercenary, you want to make sure the group works together towards the goal.

Coin may be what the hired gun works for, but with proper development and equipment, the hired gun can prove to be an interesting role-playing experience. Keep flying, and sleep with one eye open.

Gaming in the ‘Verse: The Gearhead

FLAVOR TEXT (female voice [Miranda?], perky)
“Now no need to fret, cap’n. Everything’s shiny. We just blew a stabilizer circuit. I’ve bypassed it through the Jensen board. She’ll run a little hot, but she’ll see you home. Just don’t be pulling any Crazy Ivans!”
-Tawnie Malone, ship mechanic

ANNOUNCER (male voice):
Gearheads live in a world of machines, more at home in an engine room than anywhere else. Gearheads keep the ship flying, even when it has no business doing so. Your ship may not be a technological marvel like an Alliance ship, but you wouldn’t have it any other way. Alliance ships may be fancy, but they don’t have the hum and lifebeat of an engine that you put your heart and soul into. You can feel the vibrations in the deck and know when your ship’s in trouble, even before it shows the signs.

Gearheads come in all shapes and sizes, some of which can be surprising. Kaylee was a young, innocent girl who had a natural knack for mechanics. At a glance, you wouldn’t think she would be a good mechanic. Once she started talking shop, no doubt remained. Perhaps your Gearhead used to work for the Alliance, and is now on the run. Maybe he skims parts off the top, selling them on backwater worlds to make some extra coin. Whatever you choose as your background, it is key to focus on skills relating to mechanics, engineering, computers, and electronics.

A Gearhead is not only good with technical issues, he also excels at jury-rigging. While the rules system you use can define how this is done, game masters should focus on describing the situation with a bit of style. A successful skill check is fine, but telling the player that they bypassed a primary system to get the job done makes it all the better. Players and game masters should work on the “technobabble” to try to add a bit of mechanical flavor, though be careful not to overdo the “level one diagnostics.”

While a Gearhead may be great with the mechanical, he may prove to not be the keenest in social situations. Kaylee was extremely shy around Simon. A Gearhead may be quite crude, having no sense of diplomacy. This can be fun when your crew loses a job due to a crude comment. Be sure to make comments, good or bad, about other peoples’ boats.

FIREFLY QUOTE: Kaylee in the episode where the crew is on the Alliance ship, talking about what a hunk of junk the ship is.

While a gearhead primarily works in the engine room, he needs to be able to work with the group outside of the bounds of the ship as well. Gearheads can gain you entry into ships you might be boarding, opening doors and bypassing security. Gearheads can make their mark by foiling Alliance or Blue Sun computer systems, allowing the heroes to get in and get out. Gearheads can set your crew up with the necessary mules and rovers needed to get jobs planetside done. Game masters, be sure to include elements in your story that will draw the Gearhead out of the engine room, and into the heart of the action.

Game masters should consider the idea of having a gearhead as an opponent, either working alone or as part of another crew. The Alliance may have spotted your vessel and is using one of their top hackers to shut your boat down. Pirates may try to board your boat using a Gearhead to gain access through the airlock. Either way, the first line of defense against an enemy Gearhead is to have one of your own.

QUOTE: Some quote from Star Trek by Scotty on repairing something. Maybe from Relics from TNG. O’Brien from DS9 would also work. This quote can be dropped if necessary.

Players can look to a variety of sources for inspiration for their gearhead. Scotty from Star Trek is a prime example. This Scotsman was known as a miracle worker, pulling off the impossible. Remember, estimates on repair time should always be multiplied by four. When the job gets done faster, your character will be a miracle worker as well.

MacGyver is another great inspiration. While it would be unrealistic to repair your engine with a paperclip, his resourcefulness can make for a good model. Always look for unusual ways to keep your ship flying, and use all resources at your disposal. Make sure to ask your Game Master for detailed descriptions of the locales you visit, then take a variety of items that can come into play later. And always have your duct tape!

Not every gearhead has to be good at what he does. Tim Allen’s character from Home Improvement might serve as a model for a bumbling gearhead who means well, but goes a bit overboard. How will your captain react when he finds out that you’ve re-wired his boat? Can you make improvements, or will they blow up in your face?

Wherever there’s a boat in the ‘verse, there’s going to be a Gearhead to keep her in the air. Keep her flying, and you’ll have a place with your crew. Stay shiny!

SERENITY QUOTE: Mal at the end of Serenity, talking about how love keeps a boat in the air.

Gaming in the ‘Verse: The Red Shirt

“Aye, cap’n, I’ll be happy to lead the charge!”
-John Smith, Red Shirt – exactly 17 seconds before his untimely demise.

A good captain will have a crew with a variety of talents. You’ve got your pilot, your hired gun, your companion, your gearhead, your medic. Yep, you’re all set. But who the hell is that guy over there in the red shirt? Oh yeah, that’s right. Dave. You save him for the special missions.

The Red Shirt is cannon fodder. Mr. Expendable himself, he has no permanent role aboard your crew. You don’t need him; he’s just a flunky. Frankly, you don’t even like the guy. That’s why he’s always the first you volunteer to go on a mission.

Simon Quote (Serenity): Remember, it is okay to leave them to die.

From a gaming perspective, the Red Shirt has average stats all the way around. He’s got an average build, and a less-than-average intellect. His skills are so-so at best. He’s such a wimp that your kid sister could probably beat him up.

Despite these obvious drawbacks, the Red Shirt has one virtue: unwavering loyalty. He is always there to give you a hand, aiding you in whatever scheme you’re involved in this week – whether you want him there or not. He’s like a bad rash that way – you can’t get rid of him. Yet you know that when you need someone to selflessly sacrifice themselves, the Red Shirt will be the first to volunteer.

Game Masters can use Red Shirts to show how deadly a mission is without killing off one of the player characters. Rolling up new characters is so bothersome anyway. If you want to stress how badly the crew is going to hurt later on, just kill off old John. You can use his stats over again next game just by using a different name and a few physical details. It’s not like the crew will notice the difference anyway.

Disclaimer: Game Masters should be forewarned that the Red Shirts are a union (local 472). Over-abuse might lead to a Red Shirt strike or legal action. Remember, a crew without a Red Shirt is all-too-mortal, and that means you very well may have to kill somebody if the union isn’t kept happy. Though player character death offers its own rewards.

Where Game Masters can surprise their players is when a Red Shirt grows beyond his natural limitations to become a character of note in the game. If you want to throw the players for a loop, have your Red Shirt, who everybody trusts, turn upon the crew.

Firefly Quote: “Curse your sudden, but inevitable, betrayal!”

While the Red Shirt may be generic, the method of his death should have style. Shooting a Red Shirt is fine, but you can also look into impalement, electrocution, freezing, choking on a ham sandwich, wild allergic reactions to whatever it was the player characters just ate, or whatever just strikes you as funny at the time.

Whatever you do, don’t name the Red Shirt. Call him Joe, John, Mike, or Dave. Something generic. Once you know him as Jeremy, you’re obliged by Red Shirt union code # 784 subsection A to graduate him to full crew status. When that happens, you’re humped. You have every chance of dying as the next fellow.

The Red Shirt may be a pawn in the great firing range of life, but he can be fun to have along in the game. Keep flying, and sleep with one eye open.

Gaming in the ‘Verse: Playing a Shepherd

Out in the Black, every man has to look to himself to survive. The Alliance surely won’t look after you, and nobody else has your back. It’s just you and the ‘verse, as it was meant to be. God? Some folk talk about God, as if he will whisk you away from the way of things into a never-neverland. Me? I just have my sidearm and my ship, two things that are a might bit more real, and reliable.
-Jeb McMillan, Former Browncoat Chaplain

The shepherd has his work cut out for him. In an unscrupulous world filled with killers, rogues, and thieves, a man of conscience has a hard time finding his place. He has left the relatively safe environment of his abbey and journeyed into the ‘verse to offer religiosity where he can. Playing a moral character in an immoral world can be a challenge, yet can be a rewarding role-playing experience as well.

When playing a shepherd, remember that he’s very much a fish out of water. Your companions are not looking for God. They just want to get paid, and fly another day. Your job is to show them that there’s something more.

SERENITY AUDIO QUOTE: Shepherd Book telling Mal that he doesn’t care what Mal believes in, so long as he believes.

As a shepherd, you are offering a conscience. You’re not a Bible-thumping missionary by any means. While you may talk about God, your role is to provide a guiding light for those who walk in the dark.

So why is your character doing this? It may be that your character has walked the path of darkness himself, and he’s trying to keep others from making the same mistakes. This sort of shepherd is searching for his own redemption, making amends for a past tragedy he would rather not talk about.

The shepherd may also be the victim of some tragedy, and has decided to venture forth into the Black to offer balance to the ‘verse. Perhaps he has lost a relative or friend. Perhaps his abbey got in the way of an Alliance operation, and he’s the only survivor.

However you decide to approach your shepherd’s background, there must be a reason for him to have found faith and a purpose for him to direct faith and belief to others. Some research into real world religions may offer various ways for your shepherd to approach the world around him.

Of course, not every shepherd is a man of God, despite claiming otherwise. Some are false shepherds, taking advantage of their flocks. These false shepherds make for great non-player characters for game masters, providing memorable villains. What happens when the false shepherd hires the crew to do a job, and they find out that it’s at the expense of the folks on a small moon? What happens if the crew already has a shepherd on board?

Some characters might even be former shepherds.

Jeb McMillan didn’t fight during the Unification War, but he did serve as a chaplain to the Browncoats. He moved from unit to unit, offering up religiosity and a powerful faith to those who would listen. Most folks said that it was McMillan who got them through the war, made them believe that winning was possible.

Then came the Battle of Serenity Valley. McMillain prayed like he never prayed before, asking the good Lord for a miracle. It didn’t come. Those who he had preached to went into battle with faith that the good Lord would pull them through. Instead, they met their maker. On the battlefield, the shepherd was the only person left standing as far as he could see.

That day, Jeb lost his faith in God and in all things religious. He learned real quick that the only way to survive in the ‘Verse is to make your own way. The Alliance won’t take care of you, and certainly not God.

Jeb has recently purchased a ship with money he took from his abbey. He figured that God wouldn’t be needing it anymore since He wasn’t doing anything with it. He calls the ship the Fallen Angel and is currently looking for a crew.

Jeb McMillan was once a man of God, but he lost his faith in the Battle of Serenity Valley. Such a character might deny his faith, but has to deal with the fact that it is deeply buried. The rediscovery of faith can be a wonderful direction to guide a character, though be sure to add the right touch of bitterness when you first play the character.

Playing a shepherd in the ‘verse can be extremely challenging. As a fish out of water, you will have to contend with a ‘verse that is very strange and not accepting of God. Yet the experience can be a rewarding one, offering the chance for not only your character to grow, but the rest of the party as well.

Gaming in the ‘Verse: The Medic

“The bad news, captain, is that he’s dead. The good news is that we can fetch a hefty price for his organs on the black market. What? Why is everyone looking at me like that?”
-Sebastian Keller, street doctor

In the Serenity ‘verse, there remains but one constant: you’re gonna get shot. Joss Whedon never pulled a punch, and neither should the game master. Eventually, your crew is going to be shot, maimed, impaled, or have the great fun of contracting a disease. Every good captain knows that you’re gonna need a medic.

The medic serves that all-too-important function of putting the crew back together after they fall apart. Their job is to keep everyone alive, from patching bullet holes to inoculating them from the local crud. Without a medic, people could very well die.

Not every medic is the same, though. Your gentleman doctor is high society, a man all educated and fancified. He dresses sharply and speaks with a fine tongue, traits hard to hide out in the black. His education cost him a fortune, and it shows. He had the choice of any medical position in the core worlds – until something terrible happened to change all that. Skills relating to education and medicine are important here.

SIMON QUOTE: Insert quote here of Simon talking about his education and how smart he is.

For a little old-school fun, try out the “old country doctor.” He went to medical school, but it’s been some time ago. He believes in tried and true cures, not any of this new-fangled non-sense. Technology seems to baffle him as well. Bones from Star Trek is the perfect example of this character.

The combat medic isn’t a full doctor, but he knows enough about medicine to keep your crew flying. Combat medics can be former Browncoats or ex-Alliance. Whatever the origin, combat medics will have military training. They tend to work well in a structured environment with a clear chain of command. Though capable, they are not medical experts. They practice what MASH refers to as “meatball surgery.” They don’t fix y ou up proper, but they get you through. Of course, what happens to the combat medic when he doesn’t have the training to save a life? How does he handle that? Also remember that bedside manner is purely optional. Just because he’s a doctor, that don’t mean he’s likeable.

Not every doctor is so pleasant. In the darker corners of the black lies the street doc, an unscrupulous immoral soul who has a blatant disregard for the Hippocratic Oath. They get a perverted sense of pleasure from working on the human body. They might patch you up, though their techniques are not always sanitary. Never cross a street doc. Doing so may mean that you live after your next job, though you will wish you died. Street docs work in the black market, harvesting body parts for sale and dealing with the illegal selling of prescription medicine.

SIMON QUOTE: From Arial, something about Simon going into the drugs that can be sold on the black market.

Game masters should feel free to make medics into foes for the players. See whether the players will trust a street doc to cure them of a rare disease. Strand an injured player character with an Alliance medic and see if the Hippocratic Oath still holds. Or use a manipulative gentleman doctor to hire the players to do some not-so-nice jobs.

Getting the medic into the heart of the action can be a lot of fun too. How will a medic react when he is given a gun during a firefight? Will he refuse to take another human life, or break his oath to do no harm? How will the medic react when he sees the horrors left behind by the Reavers?

Playing a medic can present a real challenge to players who wish to explore non-violent characters in a violent ‘verse. How your medic deals with this challenge will be the catalyst to your character’s growth. Take two of these, call me in the morning, and sleep with one eye open!

Gaming in the ‘Verse: The Adventure Begins

Trampas: Okay, James, roll a 4-sider….

James: Wait, which one is the 4-sider?

Trampas: It’s that triangle-shaped one.

Carolyn (impatient): Can I attack now?

Trampas: Yes, just wait until your initiative.

Carolyn: What’s initiative?

Trampas: (frustrating scream)

Have you ever been in this situation? You’ve watched Firefly and thought it would be fun to play in one of those role-playing games you’ve heard about. You found a group to play with, but the rules read like Greek and the game master is none too forgivin’ to greenhorns. So what do you do?

The Serenity Role-Playing Game can be a lot of fun to play, but you need the right tools to get started. Perhaps the toughest part is finding a crew. If you’re already a role-player, you probably already have an established group. You could ask them if they would like to try something different, at which time you mention Serenity.

If you don’t have a group, though, the task can be harder. You might check with some friends to see if any of them role-play. If not, find a local comic book or gaming store and inquire there. Sometimes they have bulletin boards where gamers seek other gamers. The people who work at the store might be able to point someone out, or you might check some role-playing message boards. Once you find people to game with, you might want to see about meeting them in a neutral location, such as your local hobby shop. This way, you can get to know who you will be gaming with. Meeting a stranger for gaming purposes may be intimidating at first, but you may very well be meeting a new friend.

<strong?Serenity Quote:
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Hey, little one. Understand your part in all this?

River Tam: Do you?

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: This is what I do, darlin’.

[River walks away]

Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: This is what I do.

Okay, so you have a crew. Now for the fun part. Deciding who is going to be the game master, and what sorts of roles you want to play. For you greenhorns, a game master is the guy who sets the stage. He paints a picture of what’s going on. The players are the folk who play a role within the ‘verse, whether it be a hired gun, a shepherd, a spunky little mechanic, and so forth. Check out Gaming in the ‘Verse from season two for some ideas.

Jayne Quote (Serenity): Shiny. Let’s be bad guys.

So what do you need to play this game? Got to have some rules, right? First and foremost, you will need a copy of the Serenity Role-Playing Game by Margaret Weis Productions. This book will provide you with the rules to get started, and a wealth of material on the Serenity ‘verse. Whether you actually use this rule system or not, this is a great book to have. The Game Master Screen will give game masters a shiny tool to work with as well as a map of Serenity. And, if you’re needing an adventure, be sure to pick up Out in the Black by Tracy and Laura Hickman.

Some folk might prefer a different system, and there are plenty out there. The d20 system has several good sourcebooks that can serve as a foundation for Serenity. d20 Modern and d20 Future are popular favorites among fandom. Google d20 Firefly or d20 Serenity, and you will find a few fan rule conversions for Serenity. The d20 Star Wars system would also be good, though you may want to wait for the release of the upcoming d20 Saga edition for Star Wars. GURPS is a good non-d20 system that covers a multitude of genres, so it should work nicely for a space western like Firefly.

Whatever rules you pick, remember that the rules should come second to the story and that they should serve to enhance the game, not make it more complicated. Each rule book should have a section on how to role-play, so I won’t repeat that info here.

You will also need a set of dice, which you can find at your local gaming store, a pencil, and paper. You might want to download a character sheet from SerenityRPG.com as well.

That’s all you’ll need to get started. If you have the chance to learn from an experienced player, great. If not, then ask on a message board. Remember, the ‘verse is yours now, so have fun with it. It’s your characters, not the crew of Serenity, who are the center of the ‘verse.

So have fun, and sleep with one eye open.