Archive for the 'Serenity Articles' Category

Serenity Articles : Parson City, Persephone

Here’s an expansion of Persephone which I always felt had more potential than just Eavesdown.

Sprawling across the top of a broad mesa and backed up against a breathtaking mountain range, Parson City overlooks the breadbasket of Persephone. In the summer, standing on the edge of the mesa, one can look eastward across a swath of green fields cut by several glistening rivers. Rich farmland producing food which is in turn, brought to Parson City to be frozen, dried, canned, and otherwise prepped for shipment across the ‘Verse.

Parson City, more than most border world settlements, has stuck to its original layout plan, broad circular avenues bisected by roads leading out from the city center like radii. Roads have been laid out past the edge of the settlement through civic vision, plentiful nearby stone quarries, and the need to keep workers busy. The only place where this order and regularity breaks down are the Boneyards south of town. Regular streets end at the edge of the vast field of rusted metal hulks and scraggly vegetation. Parson City continues to grow north and west, but south they’ve left aloneā€¦ for now.

The biggest figure in the city is its mayor, the Right Reverend Hezekiah Lawkins, leader and Superior of the Parson City Traditionalist Church. With his muttonchop beard, full hair, and easy smile, he often seems more like a snake-oil salesman than a holy man, but there is no arguing that he has Parson City’s health and success dear to his heart. Some say the Right Reverend IS Parson City.

But if one is willing to turn away from the Right Reverend’s brilliance, one can find other important people in the city. There are the Right Women of Parson City, the most devoted zealots and supporters of the Right Reverend. The Right Women exert enough influence to keep the brothels off the main streets and folks lookin’ respectable.

Jack McCollough, Persephone’s own robber baron, owns several food packing plants and many of the necessity stores that serve his workers. Lizzie Proud owns the most profitable mines in the region and loves to stick it to McCollough, her fiercest rival. The Macabies are an odd sort of fraternal club/company of thieves who keep the underworld orderly.

If you look long and hard, you can find dens of debauchery and hives of scum and villainy. They just don’t walk around twirling gold watches on Main Street like in Eavesdown. Some of the most successful enterprises serving the darker needs of society are actually set up inside the Boneyards, inside the rusting, stripped hulks of spaceships. An informal community called Bonetown lies a half mile into the mothball zone and supports a small population of the criminal class who serve more “visitors” than the Right Reverend admits.

Places to stay aren’t too hard to find in the city, though you’d better keep your mouth clean in most of the rooming houses you’ll find. One too many gorrams and you’ll be tossed on the street by somebody’s grandmother. Finding work isn’t too hard either, though it isn’t work many people would be looking for. Working 12 hour days in the cannery or meat-packing plants is exhausting and poorly paying work. But most folks arrive in Parson City having spent their money on the trip, with little chance of leaving again.

Landing a spaceship at the city means either landing at Lawkins Airfield under the watchful eyes of the city government or at one of the company zones around the city. Things are orderly enough in the city that you’d have to go out over twenty-five miles to find unclaimed land big enough and hidden enough to leave a ship.

Adventure Ideas

At the end of the war, the lucrative canned/preserved food contracts that Parson City Foods has with the Alliance were quickly lost. A loss of income that big brings a lot of pain. The powers-that-be in Parson City may set their eyes on Eavesdown, moving in on smaller operations, disrupting current arrangements, using muscle if necessary.

The Right Reverend Lawkins is the face of Parson City, but he has secrets. A special yacht adorned with all the luxuries he claims to eshew? Secret control of Parson City Foods when he professes to be uninterested in material things? He could be the hand behind all manner of dastardly deeds.

Serenity Articles : The Society of Natural Philosophers

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on August 1st, 2008)

General Description

Gathering the finest minds in the ‘Verse in the areas of botany, zoology, and many other scientific disciplines, the Society is a fraternal organization dedicated to exploring the ‘Verse and its many natural mysteries. They seek to establish the truth of scientific matters by direct observation and experimentation. Members include full-time professional scientists and far more amateur natural philosophers who are prominent in other fields such as politics, the military, or entertainment.

Inspirations

The Society is a ‘learned society’ patterned after the Institut de France and the Royal Society in London. The character of Stephen Maturin from the Aubrey-Maturin series of novels by Patrick O’Brian is a great example character of the Natural Philosopher type.

Common View

“The Society of Natural Philosophers is a bunch of egghead Core folk with too much money and too much time on their hands. Traipsing around the ‘Verse looking at bugs seems like a waste of time. But heck, if they want to hire my ship to take them there, I’ll take their money.” – Captain Donnell, the [i]Glorious Swan[/i], a bar on Boros.

Alliance View

The Society is seen as harmless to those who look for trouble and an honor to those seeking status and rank in society. To be invited to join the society is quite a mark for any scholar be they amateur or professional. The Society Symposium on Londinum each year are a major social event in addition to the revelation of new knowledge as members share papers, findings, and reports of their trips.

Gamemaster View

The Society is a great way to have knowledge-oriented characters connect with each other. Fellow members of the Society usually enjoy sharing a cup or a meal and comparing notes. For enthusiastic members, these meets can last for days or even blossom into plans to travel together.

Adventure Ideas

The Society can influence adventures in many ways. Society members could hire a ship to go to a remote area, bringing the PCs into contact with wildlife or some of the more bizarre fringe settlements. PCs and NPCs can connect as members of the Society, obeying traditions of sharing drink, food, and their latest discoveries and theories. An NPC society member could get himself innocently into trouble with ‘a bad sort of people’ and need the help of our heroes. A PC member enriches their character with an engrossing hobby.

Membership has its Privileges

A member of the Society has the right to visit Society locations in the Core Worlds and utilize their extensive library and collection of natural phenomena. They can contact other Society members to discuss matters of natural philosophy and lean on the general goodwill and aid members provide each other. When visiting a new world or remote area, finding another member probably means a place to stay, good meals, and many hours of discussing the latest discoveries.

More Details

When the worlds of the ‘Verse have been terraformed to Earth-That-Was-like standards, what is there for a natural philosopher to do? Aren’t all the plants and animals already known, tagged and numbered for the journey to these new worlds? Well, yes and no.

Although well-known to the Society, it is not general knowledge that many of the plant seeds and even some of the preserved species from Earth-That-Was were not well catalogued. One ark-ship lost many of its records even though the sophisticated replication equipment still had enough to regenerate species. The original colony worlds of Londinum and Sihnon had existing, human-compatible ecosystems with their own flora and fauna. A few hundred years of cross-breeding and natural hybridization combined with uncontrolled import/export of plants and animals and the migrations of humanity have created a ‘Verse rich with species in many kingdoms unknown to man.

The central location for the Society is the Society College on Londinum. This ornate and extensive campus contains the Society Collection, the Library, several lecture auditoriums, offices, apartments for rent by Society Members, and a well-funded Emeritus Wing for retired and ailing members.

Serenity Articles : The Zodiacal Light

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on July 29, 2008)

This suggestion provides an enhancement or twist to the Long Reach organization I posted earlier. Read that post first and then this one.

Common View

There is currently no common view of the Zodiacal Light. They are a very secret organization.
Alliance View

Dedicated members of the Alliance intelligence community are trying to put together the puzzle pieces of a diverse set of events, places where the Light has acted through focused destruction, media leaks, and even assassination. Honest Alliance agents believe that they are hunting a terrorist organization, likely Browncoat-related. They are not public about their search.

Gamemaster View

A variation on the Long Reach organization that I’ve chosen to incorporate into my own personal Serenity pbp campaign is the Zodiacal Light. Essentially, a small group of Long Reach members got together and agreed to form a secret society within the LR. Their intent is to act against the Alliance to prevent the sort of tragedies that the Long Reach typically has to address after they’ve occurred.

The Zodiacal Light was formed by a man known to the others only as Excalibur. He has protected his identity fairly well, although the Long Reach only has around 100 members, so some educated guessing might correctly identify him. His vision is for the ZL to be the hidden shield that protects the people of the Border and Rim worlds from the atrocities and neglect of the Alliance government and corporations. It is willing to use any tools at its disposal, but strictly limits itself to preventing tragedies. It will not attempt to overthrow the Alliance government. They will advertise corruption and individual government members who are the cause of the tragedies they strive to prevent, but that’s as far as they go publicly.

Privately, their methods may seem to contradict the code of the Long Reach. They are willing to kill if they deem it the only way to stop harm, injury, or deaths of innocents. Members of the ZL can sabotage Alliance schemes and bring dirty dealing to light, but it requires the sanction of Excalibur himself to kill someone.

No one in the Long Reach knows about the existence of the Zodiacal Light unless they are a member. Membership invitations are not extended until the ZL has absolute confidence they will be accepted. Where LR can be seen as a noble, fraternal organization, the ZL is a dark and secretive cabal, acting where the LR cannot or will not.

Adventure Ideas

Having player characters associated with the Zodiacal Light provides a more driving campaign dynamic than simply having them associated with the Long Reach. The realm of spies, espionage, covert operations, paranoia, and secret wars becomes the main stage. For characters active in the ZL, this doesn’t blend well with a devil-may-care tramp freighter existence, but those who are ‘inactive’ could be compatible. The ZL can always contact them with a job that needs doing. The ZL tolerates long absences from ZL work as it helps to hide the organization and provide cover activities for its members.

Once nice twist would be having Shepherd Book be a member of the Zodiacal Light, perhaps in the past. He might have been a Alliance/ZL double agent. The organization does provide characters with a reason to have accumulated specific military and covert skills outside of direct participation in the War of Unification.

So the ZL can drive a campaign or even be an NPC organization getting the heroes into trouble. It could even be seen as an evil organization depending on the viewpoint of the PCs and thus a running antagonist to them. Let me know if you bring a little Zodiacal Light into your campaign.

Membership Has Its… Burdens

Once invited to join the Zodiacal Light, there is no going back. In fact, there really isn’t a choice to join or not. When you are made aware of its existence, you are a member or you are dead. Joining means that you know, at most, three other members of the group and usually the members try to retain their anonymity even among themselves.

In general members go about their lives until the ZL contacts them. They are given a mission and an explanation about why the mission must be done. That’s about it for the typical circumstance. An inner circle chooses the targets.

If necessary, a member can call on additional members but only in dire circumstances. It is expected that members will use their own resources and allies to accomplish their goals. If more than one ZL member is required, the operation is coordinated by Excalibur and as much separation between operatives as possible is maintained.

Serenity Articles : The Pilgrims Campaign

(Originally published on December 20, 2007)

The Pilgrim’s Campaign

This suggestion provides the Gamemaster with a campaign concept that might give them a nice variation on your typical Serenity campaign.

Although the following campaign model originally came to me in terms of a fantasy campaign, I think it can work just as well in a Serenity campaign. The central concept is of a pilgrimage, a journey by people of all sorts of backgrounds across distances to reach a holy shrine or gathering. Sort of Chaucer in Space. Let’s look at the core elements.

  1. The concept provides the perfect way for all sorts of characters to end up on a ship travelling together. Some might be on the pilgrimage for actual religious convictions, for others it might be a form of tourism, still others are hiding under its peaceful purposes to achieve darker ends or to escape their own misdeeds. So you have a ship taking pilgrims and let the players create whatever they like.
  2. It gives the adventure focus, whether it is a campaign or a four-hour convention adventure. Getting to the goal location is always the end-game and the GM can lace it with as many fun complications as their heart desires.
  3. It lets the GM take the players to locations in the ‘Verse they might never otherwise see. The most likely spot would be either Bernadette with its many churches or Sihnon if the goal is Buddhist in nature. Who wouldn’t want to see the “ocean of light”?

So, do the adventures tie some of these pilgrims together by their experiences? Do they travel together after the incidents of the Pilgrimage are over with? That depends on how the characters are created and how their long term goals align. Unless care is taken, it will make much more sense for them to go their separate ways at the end of the adventure. But that isn’t always a bad thing.

You can have the pilgrimage be something that happens year-round, a once-a-year event, or even something more momentous, like a once-in-a-lifetime occurance. Whichever way you decide, I hope you and your players have fun with it.

Serenity Articles : The Dressler Report

(originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on February 12, 2007)

The Dressler Report

This suggestion provides the Gamemaster with a “big secret” of similar scope to “Miranda” to set behind their campaign. It should be laced behind a large arc, a season or two worth.

The exodus from Earth was an achievement on a scale unheard-of in human history. Massive amounts of technology, machinery, and people flew across the heavens to land in a new universe, a star system that promised miraculous possibilities. Planets were settled, terraforming began and in the short time of a few hundred years, dozens of planets were human habitable.

As planets became more difficult to terraform, as the work moves away from the support of the Core Worlds, the effort became more expensive and much slower. There came a point where the drain on the government’s resources became too great and any terraforming efforts now are simply for show.

Most of this is common knowledge to anyone in ‘the know’, business men, senior government officials, masters of the guilds. What is not generally known is contained a highly suppressed document called the Dressler Report. It was written a few years ago by Hiram Dressler, a sharp analyst in a forgotten government bureau. Dressler concluded that the financial base of the ‘Verse, of the mighty Alliance itself was deteriorating quickly and there was no way the government could maintain its size and scope. To attempt to do so would undoubtedly bring everything to a violent economic crash.

The implications of the Dressler Report are staggering. Anyone in government would likely lose power. The markets would crash taking massive amounts of paper wealth with them. A military coup would be inevitable as the ‘Verse descended into chaos and war.

Suppression of the Dressler Report is key to the preventing all these things, to letting people keep their heads stuck in the sand as long as possible. For some, they truly believe that belief in their future will make it come true, that it will overcome the forces of economics and human nature. Perhaps, if they can change the rules of the game… adjust human nature… they can rig the game and avoid the ‘prophecied end’.

Several variations present themselves for introducing this secret into the game.

  1. What ever happened to Hiram Dressler? Perhaps he’s still on the run, keeping his secret, perhaps even trying to flee it and its consequences. Is the government hunting him? Do they think he’s dead but then during the adventures he gets ‘rediscovered’? He could be sought by enemies of the government as well, willing to bring everything down.
  2. A copy of the report is stolen with the intent to use it as blackmail against the government. That copy gets lost and eventually comes into the possession of the PCs. Do they know what it means? They should hang on to it, even if its for a completely other or bogus reason. Later, when they learn what it is, they’ll have it to use.
  3. The report is released somewhere and causes shockwaves across the ‘Verse. The end it predicts starts to come. How you conceive of this playing out is up to you and how drastically you want to affect your version of the ‘Verse. Does the military shatter into independent factions? Is travel and connection to the Core worlds restricted or even cut off with the collapse of the Cortex?

Consider the Dressler Report and how it might bring some of the epic gravity that Joss Whedon introduced with the Miranda plot arc.

Serenity Articles : The Dandy Flyer

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on October 7, 2006)

In the August 17, 2006 issue of TV Guide (large format), there was an article by Billy Campbell (actor, The 4400) who spent 13 months sailing on a square-rigged tall ship (The Picton Castle) as a crew member. His briefing recounting of what he found fascinating about his time aboard the ship (and why he plans to return to sail with her again) inspired this next contribution to the ‘Verse.

At First Sight…

“When I first set eyes on her, I thought I was looking at a Cortex show on the Earth-that-Was. The Dandy Flyer looks more like ancient sailing ships than a real spacecraft with her long booms, solar sails, and sleek lines. I don’t know how long I peered out that portal of the Jazonah Skyplex before I decided to see what she was about. I latched on to an enthusiastic crew member and soon was getting the grounders’ tour of the ship. Kinyeta, the First Mate, told me later he saw something in my face and he knew I’d be joining them. ‘It’s easy to see who hears the song,’ is how he put it.

“The Dandy Flyer was a relic of the great expansions from Sinhon and Londinum, when people were trying all sorts of ways to make travel to the other planets cheaper and easier. There used to be hundreds of her type but she’s one of the few left that doesn’t hang in a museum. When she was built, pulse drives weren’t being built for civilian vessels so she had to make do with reaction drives and an elaborate and elegant set of solar sails. Where a ship today takes an engineer or two to keep the pulse drive running smoothly, the Flyer needed a crew of forty to sail her effectively. And that’s forty experienced zero-g crew, able to spend hours in the black tending the sails, then come inside and keep working, repairing one of the delicate microfiber sheets, fabricating a new part for a broken winch, or just maintaining the rest of the ship. These days you crew her because you want to, not because she’ll make anyone rich.”

“You never got lonely on the Flyer. She can haul twice as much cargo as your typical Firefly-class, but the living space isn’t generous. Fully crewed, you hotbunked at times, and hammocks lined single room serving as crew quarters. (Officers had it a bit better). That makes an unusual community these days, but you soon learn the rules. As Captain Campbell put it one night at his mess table, ‘Serenity, hard work, and good cheer make a good shipmate.’ Kinyeta had his own version: keep sharp objects and sharp opinions to yourself, live and let live, do your job.”

“The crew I sailed with were mostly dark-skinned men from the moons of Londinum, those hot-climate settlements where many of the original African settlers drifted to. That said, the face and character of the crew continued to evolve as some left and new hands were always coming on board. It doesn’t take too long before you either were in love with the Flyer or you couldn’t wait to get to a decent pulse-drive ship. I enjoyed meeting so many different people.”

“In my time, I saw more lonely settlements and outposts than I can count. Captain Campbell was devoted to bringing food, medicine, and other supplies to places forgotten by everyone else. Much of his payment was in trade so while you never had much coin in your pocket for shore leave, I’ve never eaten better.

“They’ll never credit a solar sailer with making a fast crossing, though on a long leg, she can certainly get much faster than just reaction drives would be able to get. So, yes, sailing the black is a slow process but you… you hear the quiet of the ‘Verse better. It isn’t a complicated life, once you get your duties down. It’s a nice escape for awhile.

“I sailed with her for three years before I had to make my parting. And I know, if I see her again, I’ll be sailing the black with the Flyer.”

The Dandy Flyer

Still need ship statistics for here. Any fan want to submit stats for the Dandy Flyer?

Serenity Articles : The Terraforming Consortium

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on October 6, 2006)

There is a group in the ‘Verse that changes whole worlds but never gets any screen time. I felt it appropriate to document the ‘world-builders’ in some way and express their role in the current ‘Verse. Enjoy!

The Terraforming Consortium

Before the War, before even the Alliance, when humanity was still trembling from its multi-generational voyage from Earth-That-Was, there was the Terraforming Consortium. Combining the resources of all the major governments, corporations, and groups of people, it was founded to fashion the dozens of worlds into places for humanity to settle. Wealth of a kind almost unimaginable was poured into the endeavor and technological research focused on little else for several decades. Slowly, the TC began to visit more worlds in the Core, making ‘adjustments’ to climate, atmosphere, water, plant life, etc., always striving for more ‘Earth-like’ planets.

In most respects, the TC was amazingly successful. Few ‘blackrocks’, or uninhabitable planetoids, remain from their early failures and they have shaped dozens of worlds in the ‘Verse for mankind. True, some require a hardier folk to want to live on them, but with populations exploding on the Core worlds, the push to settle and seek new lands is inexorable.

These days (circa 2517+), the TC is less of a Colossus across humanity’s consciousness, but a titan slowly being forgotten. They have active projects on only a handful of worlds now and much of their gargantuan machinery has been abandoned on ‘finished’ worlds, or floats in the black unneeded. They no longer recruit scientists from the Universities and few study the science of it any more.

But where the TC is still active, there are good men and women trying to play God. They breed stock of plants and animals of a stunning variety from the DNA Banks from Earth-that-was. They watch newer planets carefully to detect signs of seismic instability or ecological breakdown. And there are still a few rocks within the warmth of the sun that await the breath of life.

A TC Monitoring Outpost

The most likely way characters will encounter the Terraforming Consortium is at one of their Monitoring Outposts. Placed late in the terraforming process, some sit in what are now cities while others lie in the most remote parts of a planet. They interface with TC satellites in a mesh over the planet, watching countless aspects of the world and waiting for it to fall out of required parameters.

Each Outpost is fairly small, usually a block building or small compound to house the scientists who analyze and direct the data gathering as well as a support staff to secure the valuable computers, sensor equipment, and data. These will likely be poorly-paid, non-Alliance guards, though some are devoted to keeping their charges safe.

Adventure Suggestions: While a petty theft attempt on an Outpost might bring heroes in to save them, it’s also likely that someone will pay top dollar to get some of the information the TC collects. The TC only shares a fraction of what it collects with the general public and on poor worlds, the rest would provide significant economic advantages to miners, farmers, etc. For something more cataclysmic, a world might start to go ‘bad’ (earthquakes, disease, blight, foul air, etc.), drawing in the TC into a crisis which can’t help but affect the people on the planet.

Serenity Articles : Revealing a Bit More of the ‘Verse

(Since this article was written, we’ve seen beautiful ~official cosmologies of the Whedon ‘Verse which purport to identify all the planets and moons in the multi-star system known as the ‘Verse. Well, that is all shiny and good, but as a game master I love the option of creating my own worlds outside of canon to house whatever adventures or ideas I want to spring on my players. So I don’t hold to canon in this instance so enjoy using the planets presented below. – Jim)

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on October 5, 2006)

In the core Serenity RPG rulebook, we detail 30 planets or moons, drawn from the television show or the movie. Sure you get the highlights, but there are a lot more worlds in the ‘Verse so I’ve decided to detail them for the Dragonlaird Gaming readership. Enjoy!

Columbiana

Location: Rim, Away from Reaver Territory

Status: Red-zoned

Common Knowledge: To the man on the street, Columbiana is practically a fable. For decades its been off-limits, ‘red-zoned’, as the Terraforming Consortium continued to work on making it suitable for human habitation. Periodically, rumors spring up that Columbiana is about to be opened for settlement, creating an ‘Oklahoma Land Rush’ atmosphere, but its never been opened. Nothing else is known about it except the conjectures that its either a blackrock (uninhabitable) or a lush garden the Alliance is keeping from ‘average folk’.

Adventure Suggestions: Lots of adventures can be hooked on Columbiana, whether she’s actually opened up or not. Plenty of people would kill to get their first, to get a hold of planetary survey data to see where the best claims would be, even just to find out the secret. A strong rumor of opening would have a ripple affect on other planets as people geared up to settle or speculate or explore the virgin world.

Gamemaster Knowledge: It is up to individual GMs if Columbiana is ready for settlement and if so, why it hasn’t been opened yet. Never-the-less, it does have a strong Alliance naval presence to interdict ships before they reach the planet. It also has a large Terraforming Consortium presence consisting of scientists, guards, and a small cadre of isolated workers. Massive TC machines sit in orbit and at various places on the planet: atmospheric generators, water transfer stations, biological seeding arrays, etc.

Elsine

Location: Border Worlds

Status: Unrestricted

Common Knowledge: Elsine is the poor brother to Hera, once thought to be a second agricultural breadbasket for the expanding population of the ‘Verse. Rumors have it that the Terraforming Consortium tried too hard to convert the planet and ruined it. Conspiracy theorists believe the attempt was made to break the near monopoly that Hera held to exporting foodstuffs. For whatever reason, it is now clear that Elsine is a large, fairly barren world, prone to dust storms, and hard-bitten settlers tending crops on the edges of the wastelands. For a planet as large as Elsine, the population is minute and it is a great place to get lost. The Alliance Penal Colony Hellsgate resides on a large island on Elsine.

Adventure Suggestions: If a person were sent to Hellsgate, it’d be an adventure escaping. Or coming to Elsine intent on breaking someone or a group out of the colony. Loners and hermits can be found, hiding from their pasts and the PCs may be involved in their past coming back to haunt them. Elsine is a great place to hide things as well, even huge things like spacecraft.

Gamemaster Knowledge: Only the penal colony brings Alliance to the planet and the administrative station on its second moon (Oroyos) is continually understaffed. The Alliance might have other facilities on the planet or the first moon (Charon). They might be running experiments or have secret programs there or on the planet.

Serenity Articles : Interview with Floyd C. Wesel

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on October 4, 2006)

The release of the Serenity RPG at the 2005 Gen-Con in Indianapolis created a wave of interest in the game and a need to have a community for fans. Stepping into this gap, Floyd C. Wesel created Waves in the Black, an unofficial fan and support site for Serenity RPG. The site has grown into the premiere, fan-created support site for the Serenity RPG.

Floyd Wesel has been gaming for 25+ years, pretty much 23 of them spent running games. In between games and gaming events he’s been in the military (US Army) and is currently returned to school in the hopes of getting a degree in education. He’s married (near 11 years) with 3 dogs (about 230 pounds worth of canine). In the late 1980’s he stepped into the industry pond while working with WEG’s Star Wars D6 license. Later he also worked with WEG on several of their game lines. In later years Floyd has worked with AEG (7th Sea) and EDEN (Buffy, Angel, and Ghosts of Albion) as well as having playtested WOTC’s “Star Wars d20″ and, of course, Serenity RPG by MWP, among others. Floyd prefers RPGs over beer’n’pretzel games, board games and tactical games and he pretty much HATES collectible-anything-games. “But hey, it takes all kinds and I’m glad that folks can find a game that makes them happy. That’s what I love about the ‘gaming’ hobby.” When you get right down to it, Floyd is a storyteller via almost any medium.

We sat down, virtually, with Floyd to talk about Firefly, Serenity, and the website.

Discovering Firefly

Running only 13 episodes in the U.S. in 2002 before getting cancelled by Fox Television, Firefly became a cult hit when it was released on DVD with all 16 shot episodes included, in the order they were meant to air. Much has been made of how Firefly was mishandled by Fox (running episodes out of order, changing when it would air, tossing it around with World Series coverage), but somehow the word got out and loyal Browncoats were born.

JD: When did you first see Firefly/Serenity?

FW: I watched most of the series when it first ran on FOX, from the first episode that aired. (Though it was a bit of a challenge due to the way they aired them to watch all of them at that time. Stupid Fox.)

JD: Do you have a favorite episode?

FW: I love “Out of Gas”. I know most folk say Jaynestown and Our Mrs. Reynolds, and they are great episodes, but “Out of Gas” is just special to me because of the nature of the story and HOW it’s told. It uses a current problem to show off the most obvious and overlooked character of the show, “Serenity” herself, and how Malcolm simply won’t leave ANYONE behind, especially her. And in the course of the episode, shows how the rest of the cast got on board Serenity. It’s a masterpiece, in my mind.

JD: What did you think of Firefly at first?

FW: I was a fan from the get go. (Oddly, it was Firefly that got me later to really look at Angel & Buffy; shows I wasn’t a fan of at the time, though now I am a huge fan. Which is ironic because it was in a Angel/Buffy playtest project that got me into the Serenity RPG playtest.)

JD: What do you like about the show?

FW: Everything. (Boring answer, I know.) I specifically loved the language of the show.

Serenity RPG

Floyd and I participated in the playtesting of the Serenity RPG from November 2004 through its final, frantic stages before Gen Con 2005 when MWP was getting the last bits of ‘cargo stored on the ship’. It was a large community of active playtesters (more than 20 people made serious contributions at one time or another) along with the comments and opinions of their home gaming groups who served as guinea pigs.

JD: How did you first learn that the RPG was being made?

FW: I was doing a playtest for EDEN for Buffy and Angel and was asked to contact MWP about playtesting Serenity.

JD: Have you been involved in many playtests?

FW: I think the number of playtests is around 12 or so, maybe a bit more or less.

JD: Something obviously keeps you coming back. What is it?

FW: Well, seeing games as they come into being is always cool. Working with folks to solve this or that problem is always interesting. And let’s face it, seeing and playing a game before everyone else is not too shabby a thing. Mainly though it’s a matter of just being a part of something.

JD: What did you think of your experience in helping create Serenity RPG?

FW: It was interesting. I wished we could have had another month or two though to be honest.

JD: I’m sure that’s true of all games, creative drive vs. business deadlines. If you could change one or two things about the Serenity RPG engine, what would they be?

FW: Well, while I love the spirit of the game and the system, the book needed some solid clarifications. Something that would have helped the game would have been some good, straight-up examples of how MWP and Jamie envisioned the game running during a session. We have talked about that and I believe that we’ll see something along those lines coming out at some point. (Though it might be more BSG focused, rather than Serenity. Let’s face it, as a game company you want to support all your games, but to make money and stay in business you HAVE to focus on where your money will be coming from.)

JD: What do you think the future of the game is?

FW: Officially, Bleak. Unless Jamie Chambers and MWP can figure out a way around Universal’s unwillingness to go further with the license; which i hope they can. Unofficially however, I think Serenity will have some solid life for the next few years and then slowly it’ll fade to the very hard core players…unless, of course, there’s another movie or a TV show to shoot some life into it. I’d love to say that it’ll be strong forever, but let’s face it, other interests come along, etc., etc. Ultimately EVERY game has life and longevity that pulses with the fan-base.

JD: Are you (still) the informal errata-keeper for Serenity RPG?

FW: Yes. (Unless Jamie reads this interview. Kidding.)

JD: Where can fans find the Serenity errata?

FW: The Errata is in the busy hands of Jamie. He and MWP will release it as soon as they can. I believe the latest printing of the Serenity RPG has the corrections already within it, though obviously, that doesn’t help the folks who bought one of the other print runs.

JD: Do you run Serenity/Firefly campaigns? If so, do you use the RPG rules? Describe the campaigns.

FW: I have done a few mini-campaigns. One was set during the Unification War, the other was set about the time of Firefly. Usually I run Serenity games for Game Days at the local game store or at conventions like GEN CON, where this year I wrote (3 adventures) and managed MWPs Serenity Games at the Con. BTW, you can download those adventures for free from WAVES.

JD: How successful have you or your players been incorporating Chinese phrases to recreate the Firefly-esque dialogue? Any tips?

FW: The players usually scribble one or two to throw in now and again, but really it has not been a major part of our games. I suggest making a pool of phrases on slips of paper and having a player each pick 1-3 slips. If they can somehow manage to use that phrase in game, in character, then give the player a Plot Point.

JD: Do you use music when you live-game? What do you like for Serenity games?

FW: Yes. I even make soundtracks for many of my games. I don’t mean I record my own music for I am a music idiot. What I mean is I simply take tracks of various CDs and make my own compilation CDs. For Serenity? Hmm, well, there’s the FIREFLY and SERENITY soundtracks themselves. As for other CDs, there’s a lot out there, too many to mention.

JD: There are many Play-by-Post Serenity games active on the net these days. Using the web to bring niche gamers together for a game like Serenity is becoming more and more common. Are you or have you ever participated in a PbP Serenity game?

FW: I have never been involved in any PBP. I don’t think I would like them a fraction as to how much I like table-top RPGs. I am not into computer games for the most part. I love the “people connect” aspect of RPGs and since we communicate 90% of the time in a non-verbal sense, I think too much is lost via email and chat and post. (Hell, someone had to invent “emot-icons” just so people could try and understand HOW someone said something not what or why.)

Waves in the Black

As the most popular fan site for the Serenity RPG, Waves in the Black was created in September 2005 to be a home for discussions on rules, adventure ideas, NPCs, ship designs, and much more. Free to join and worth its weight in platinum to GMs and players alike. A “Best Of” PDF is now available with most popular fan contributions. You can talk to Floyd by his WitB-ID: Ravenshadow.

JD: What is Waves in the Black?

FW: Basically it is a Message Board devoted mainly to the Serenity RPG, but there are sections for all things Firefly and Joss Whedon.

JD: Why did you start it?

FW: Basically, I wanted a place to talk about the RPG and there wasn’t any. This was due to the fact that the game was not out at the time. But then at that GEN CON the game was released, so when I got home, I started WAVES. (I also own REVENANT’S, a MB devoted to the 7th Sea RPG.)

JD: How successful do you think its been?

FW: I think it’s been very successful for a niche game in a niche hobby. I think the community is outstanding, there’s a huge willingness to share at WAVES; from story ideas to art to ship layouts and so on.

JD: What are your plans for the future of the site?

FW: Really, to be honest, the only plans are to “keep flying”. WAVES isn’t trying to be fancy or ultra-modern, it’s just trying to be a place to share within the RPG niche. If anything I might expand it to make some space for the new BSG game that’s coming out next year. It’ll be the same base system as Serenity, so it makes sense. I am going to approach Jamie Chambers to see if I might be able to do a “After Action Report” type thing for BSG during the playtest, telling folks about the game as we playtest it, though obviously I won’t be giving out any real secrets. We’ll see.

JD: Is there something you wish you’d see more of on Waves?

FW: No, not really. I mean I love seeing Ship Plans on the site, and folks love having more options for such things.

JD: Have you considered compiling the best material from Waves (with all attribution and ownership clearly established) and making it available in a PDF? It would be nice to see the rule variants and content in one place. Might help establish the “brand” of Waves further.

FW: Something like that would be possible, and some folks have put together a few PDFs already, but such things take time and my free time these days is a bit thin. UPDATE: Such a PDF is now available: HERE!

Battlestar Galactica

Running with their success with Serenity RPG, Margaret Weis Productions (MWP) bid on and won the license to produce an RPG based on the new Battlestar Galactica television show. They intend to use the popular Serenity RPG rules engine with enhancements to address the particular needs of the new genre. Current estimates put a “quick-start” rule set out later this year with a full book to come in 2007. From the start, MWP secured the rights to 6 BSG-RPG product releases, double the 3 they were permitted under the Serenity license.

JD: Any thoughts on the rumored development of BSG-RPG using the ‘serenity’ engine?

FW: Well, it’s not a rumor, MWP is making the game, though the true playtesting hasn’t quite started yet. While Serenity is stalled, it should benefit from BSG, if for no other reason then that any improvements to the game system will be applicable to Serenity. As for BSG, I think there’s plenty of RP potential, and I look forward to being a part of it, so long as MWP is willing to let me.

JD: True, we’re out of the rumor stage, although development has been postponed a couple times so far. Do you anticipate that MWP will embrace changes to the system that would make it not fully compatible with the original Serenity RPG version? What would you like to see changed/expanded/removed?

FW: No, I don’t think so. The game is fairly open within itself. They’d have to make SERIOUS changes to the basic nature of the game and I don’t think that’s needed. As for expanded, well, obviously it’s going to need more hard-written ship combat rules, given the nature of BSG. I am really interested in how the Lords of Kobol and the Cylon faiths and the “mysteries of the universe” are going to play out in the game.

JD: Do you have a set of Serenity “house rules” that you’re hoping will make it into BSG?

FW: No. I have not seriously worked on anything yet. We won’t start at my table until MWP is ready to start. I did make a BSG PC sheet several months back for the playtesters and gave it to MWP, which actually became the template that MWP used for the Serenity pc sheet, which is cool.

JD: Thanks very much for your time.

FW: You’re welcome.

Serenity Articles : Serenity Mood Music

(Originally published on www.dragonlairdgaming.com on August 24, 2006)

Back before the movie was announced, before the TV soundtrack was released, I put together three CDs of music I thought was Firefly-esque. I find it fascinating that in looking at a couple other lists like this that others have posted, there isn’t any overlap. Firefly has some touchstones musically (western guitar, soaring solo violin) but can really adopt many different flavors. Different moods can be set with music that is more modern (core worlds) vs. more throwback to Civil War era (the Rim). Action sequences can be punctuated by judicious use of electric guitars. All sort of possibilities. I hope this list is helpful to your Serenity game.

NOTE: Any tracks not attributed were dubbed off of the DVD set of the Firefly TV series. Most of these have been made available in better forms on the official TV series soundtrack.

Disc One

Firefly Theme Song (with vocals)

A Unification Bar

Aberdeen – David Goodrich

Inara is Leaving

Hunger – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Love Scene

Iguazu – HBO’s Deadwood Soundtrack

Wayfaring Stranger – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

Loved I not Honor More – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

Arriving in Deadwood – HBO’s Deadwood Soundtrack

Leave No Man Behind – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Still – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Heart of Gold Segue

Smoke N’Oakum – Master and Commander Soundtrack

I Wish My Baby Was Born – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

Into the Fog – Master and Commander Soundtrack

Wounded Button – Open Range Soundtrack

Card Game – Open Range Soundtrack

In Time – Punisher Soundtrack

Last of the Mohicans – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

Face Off – Open Range Soundtrack

Laudanum Dream – Open Range Soundtrack

Chase Into Atmosphere

Hovercraft Approach

Still Reprise – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

The Man’s Too Strong – Dire Straits

Revenge – Legends of the Fall Soundtrack

Disc Two

Firefly Theme Song (end credits, no vocal)

Vale of Plenty – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Ashokan Farewell – Ken Burns’ Civil War Soundtrack

Ashes to Ashes – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Of the Earth – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Neil Gows Lament – Pete Clark

DVD Montage

Barra Barra – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Jim & Geoffrey’s Visit to the Highlands – Christine Fraser Ramsey

J’attends – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Mogadishu Blues – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

The Cuckold Comes out of the Amery – Master and Commander Soundtrack

Moody Interlude

Synchrotone – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Tribal War – Blackhawk Down Soundtrack

Am I Born to Die – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

Strathgarry Set – Pete Clark

Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

The Doldrums – Master and Commander Soundtrack

Great High Mountain – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

Man of Constant Sorrow – Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack

Disc Three

Firefly Pilot End Credits

Far Side of the World – Master and Commander Soundtrack

Theme from Deadwood – HBO’s Deadwood Soundtrack

You Will Be My Ain True Love – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

The Battle – Master and Commander Soundtrack

The Cuckoo – Cold Mountain Soundtrack

Native Funeral – HBO’s Deadwood Soundtrack

Accidentals of the West – David Goodrich

Ride Across the River – Dire Straits

The Courier – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

I Will Find You – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

New Old Joe – David Goodrich

Promentory – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

Going Home – Gods and Generals Soundtrack

Folk Medley – Master and Commander Soundtrack

The Phasmid – Master and Commander Soundtrack

Lonesome Valley – Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack

Spooks on the Hill – Open Range Soundtrack

Wagon Wheel – Open Range Soundtrack

The Kiss – Last of the Mohicans Soundtrack

Man of Constant Sorrow (instrumental) – Oh Brother, Where Art Thou Soundtrack