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.

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