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.

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