“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.