Someone asked me about my Reach for the Sky play-by-post game. In particular, they were interested in its origins during the Unification War. I thought it would make a good opportunity to lay out the concept. If it someday becomes a full-fledged adventure module, all the better.
So, the name. Reach for the Sky has two meanings. First, the old west command to put your hands in the air. Tags into the Western theme in Serenity pretty nicely. Second, flying in the black is presented as the ideal way to maintain your freedom and live true. Using Sky for Space is reinforced by the theme song line “You Can’t Take the Sky From Me”. All in all, I love the phrase as a handle for a series of Serenity adventures I’m writing and running with a play-by-post group.
The original overall concept was a three adventure series.
Adventure 1 is set during the final days of the war. The moon of Harrow, orbiting Hera, is the sight of a months long protracted battle between Alliance and Independent forces. Spacecraft which normally would have established air superiority for the Alliance troops are allocated to Hera proper. Independent forces launch a crazy, surprise attack hoping to crack the Alliance buildup over Hera and win a decisive battle. This touches off the hot war on Hera. An Alliance cruiser is caught off-guard by the small but swift Independent attack fleet. A freak strike cripples the cruiser over Harrow and it begins to break apart. A very large chunk of the cruiser falls quickly to the surface of Harrow.
The impact of the crashed cruiser includes earthquakes, a firestorm, an atmosphere choked with ash and dust… basically a major disaster on the moon. Caught in the middle of the disaster are the player characters. Some were aboard an Alliance prison ship struck by Independent fire and which crashed prior to the disaster. Other PCs are Browncoat troops who survive by sheer luck in the near-impact zone. Other ideas are possible.
The PCs stumble on to one another as they try to escape the disaster zone. One might have water where the other has a compass. In an [i]Enemy Mine[/i] situation, even Browncoats and Purplebellies might need to work together to survive.
Reaching the only town that survived the destruction, they have to find a way to get passage on one of the only ships available, doing long favors for various factions and wrestling with their own loyalties and goals.
Lifting off planet and surviving the danger of ash choking the engines at the wrong moment, the PCs “win” the first adventure. Depending on the ship they chose, they might be dumped back into the military or they might slip away from the battle zone free people, their past lives buried in the ash of Harrow.
Adventure 2 was intended to tell the story of how these people who met and bonded in the disaster of Harrow’s Moon strive to find a home together, a ship they can fly, make money, and stay free. Leveraging old friends, making new contacts, doing jobs to raise money (risky-type jobs for the high return). The end of Adventure 2 would leave the PCs with a ship they obtained by hard work.
Adventure 3 would be their first adventures with their ship. I imagined very ship-oriented challenges including making critical repairs and improvements in their new home.
So the adventure started at the very end of the war, but it doesn’t give a proper model for others who want to set a campaign during the course of the war. Here are my thoughts on that.
A war-time Serenity campaign might take on some of the structure of the Star Wars films (4 through 6). There the Rebel fleet is always outgunned, outmanned, but elusive. The Alliance (a’la the Empire) is hunting them, driving for a real battle which the Browncoats fondly wish to avoid.
Characters could be special ops types, working undercover in Alliance territory. They could be a a military unit on one side or the other. You could use the TV show Band of Brothers as your model for a series of adventures. Look in books about the U.S. Civil War to get ideas about battles and ways the sides struggled against each other (and to maintain that connection Whedon made to the Old West post-Civil War.)
Movement is key, so they could have their own ship, disguised as a merchant vessel that they use to do their Special Operations. Or they could be ’stationed’ on a larger Independent warship and let that transport them from adventure to adventure (more like Starship Troopers).
I think it would be vital to impress on the players that what they do, what the Independents do, could change the course of the war. There has to be a chance (even a slim one) that the Browncoats will win and the Alliance will sue for piece.
While it would be easy to say that the Alliance would easily have numerical and technological superiority over the Independents, I don’t think that is strictly the case. I think the Alliance has more worlds to defend, merchant convoys to defend, etc. I think they would be stretched thin, unable to quickly marshal overwhelming advantages versus their opponents. The Independent worlds have some manufacturing which could be creating new spaceships, new weapons, and the ammunition needed to fight the war.
As with any game, judge what your players are interested in. You could have spies and political intrigues dominate, or a hard, gripping tale that requires players to develop military tactics to solve most problems. What flavor do people want to get out of the campaign?
Those are my thoughts about my Reach for the Sky campaign and about running a Serenity game during the war. I hope they are helpful and please drop me a comment.