Archive for the 'Design Diaries' Category

Savage Characters project update

Greetings Dragonlaird Gaming Fans!

Just a quick update on the Savage Characters Volume 1 project.  We’ve had to switch layout designers but are pleased to welcome Heather Miller to our team.  We’re already looking at drafts of covers and layouts.  My new target is to have Savage Characters Volume 1 published to before GenCon in August.

Once this project is up on that site, I can turn my attentions to supporting materials for the settings established in that product.  My primary focus will be Dark Ages and Dragon Gods with the potential to run a series of games in the setting at Origins 2015.

Watch here for sneak peeks of the covers and inside layouts before we unleash these Savage Characters on the world! :)

Design Diary: Azell Valley Campaign 1

(Originally posted on on May 15, 2009)

At the beginning of 2009, my home group has lost momentum with our Serenity campaign due to nearly two months of cancelled sessions, holidays, etc. It seemed like a good time to start a new campaign. Huzzah!

I was ready to get back to helming a fantasy campaign and after consultation with the group, we decided to return to my Esterra Campaign World. This was done because everyone at the table had played in at least some games set in Esterra and they wanted to leverage their familiarity with the world. I chose to set the campaign about 300 years after the last “Big Thing” when the Dragon Throne was resurrected from underneath Ramal and the era of the Dragon Empire began anew. This kept it close to what they expected, eliminated the meddling of other player characters in the world and let me reset a lot of things.

One thing that I’m always working on is keeping the game focused, tight, and moving. Too often, my players will not maintain a good vision of what needs to be done, what the quest is, etc. Certainly you could blame that on our growing collective senility or the fact that gaming night occurs after a hard day’s work for all of us when we aren’t our freshest. We did finally move from a once every three weeks schedule to a once every two weeks schedule which seems to be helping continuity in the game.

The setup began like this. Each player character was a former apprentice of a scholar-wizard named Vells Gilroth in the Azell Valley. The Valley is in the same nation as most of the other games have been set but far away from Ramal, the capital and most visited location. They came from all different classes but seemed to be dwarves and elves. Each had spent some time at Vells’ manor house, learning all sorts of things like philosophy, history, ecology of monsters, etc. They’d each left Vells in the last year or so but now, based on a message from him, they have been summoned back to the valley.

Vells is important as he is the brother of Erik Gilroth, Lord of Azell Valley and resident of the small castle overlooking the town. Erik and Vells do not get along although both speak with their sister, Anna Gilroth, high priestess of the local temple.

Upon arriving in the valley, they run into two sets of monsters attacking travelers and locals, each set burdened with 300 crowns of gold minted in the Dragon Empire. When they reach the one town in the valley, Shammelvot, they find it draped in mourning banners. Vells Gilroth is dead. (FADE TO BLACK)

Further inquiry tells them that Vells was killed only the night before, his headless body appearing out of nowhere to crash down on his brother’s feast table. Vells’ manor is sealed in stone and covered in dangerous runes. His manservant was sent to Shammelvot a few hours before his death but the groundskeeper is missing.

Here I take the time to describe the death rituals of the predominant religion. One of the player characters also died in those early monster melees. He was dwarven, brother to the other dwarf, so we played out the dwarven rituals as well (somewhat modeled on Jewish traditions). The PCs attend the funeral and the wake being held at the town tavern, the Scarlet Fox.

Soon there is a reading of Vells’ will . The manservant also slipped each PC a piece of vellum, torn from the bottom of the will. Each piece is a symbol. A big hint in the will is that Vells lets slip that he has three siblings (Erik, Anna, and ???). His only inheritance to the PCs is the reference to a working song that he taught them back in their apprenticeship day called “The Pieces Will Go”. He ends the phrase with “99 days and not a moment more”.

At this point, the players pick up on the clues. The worksong references a series of places around Esterra so they figure they are supposed to go to those places. The meaning of the torn off symbols is a mystery to them.

The last session ended with the group trying to finish the funeral rites for their fallen, dwarven comrade when they were ambushed by more orcs with Dragon Empire gold upon their persons.

After a couple sessions of the campaign, we decided it was still early enough to make a change in rules system. After having created 3rd level 3.5 edition characters, we rebooted with 1st level characters built under 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. The events of the campaign did not change very much at all, although the monsters they fought coming into the valley would have been too strong for first level characters.

My intention is to use the Keep on the Shadowfell 4th edition module as part of the campaign, setting the PCs on the trail of the missing groundskeeper, the trail leading into the module. We haven’t started that part yet.

Another new variation to this campaign, a player who helped found the group but who had to move to another state several years ago rejoined the group, playing via Skype, webcam, and MapTools. After hammering out some technical issues, it has been working fairly well. It has been a lot of fun having him back at the table, even if only virtually.

That’s it for now. I’ve got a Serenity/Horror one-day game I’m prepping for August and we’ll see how the 4e campaign fares in the next installment of the Dragonlaird Gaming Design Diaries.

Design Diary: Azell Valley Campaign 2

(Originally posted on on June 12, 2009)

Four sessions in, the jury is still out about the 4e rule system, but we haven’t abandoned it yet. I think it will probably work out okay. Time will tell if we convert all future campaigns over to it. Momentum will probably get us there.

So I signed up for Wizards of the Coast’s D&D Insider service. It comes with a nice character creator, online encounter generation tool, all the rules online, and access to the online versions of Dragon and Dungeon magazine. We used the character builder (MUCH better than the 3e piece-o-feces) and I’ve been using the encounter tool. The encounters have ended up being very tough, usually with one PC getting knocked below zero. By the encounter tool, I was making standard encounter strengths, so we’re thinking its just inexperience with the system. We also have a little bit different mix of players so they are sort of going back to basics, tactics-wise. We’ll see how they do going forward.

I decided to weave Keep on the Shadowfell into the game so the players and I would experience a supposedly balanced module. It didn’t take me long to determine that Dar Hvrenna, the groundskeeper who fled Vells’ death, fled to Winterhaven. That’s the hook that will draw them out of Azell Valley.

I encouraged the players to start their “Plot Map”. Since we only game once every two weeks, after we get off work, remembering what is going on can be a challenge. We do have one player keeping a log but that gets kind of thick to review. The Plot Map will let them see at a glance who the key characters are, the possible clues, and their goals. With that consistent reinforcement, I think their game consistency will improve.

I’ve started a Wiki for my Esterra Campaign world (sorry, it’s private hosted so I can’t share the site, at least yet). The site covers details of all the campaigns and Ohio Games I’ve run in Esterra. It’s under construction (duh) but I’m trying to add things about the current campaign first, then relevant world details, then covering past campaigns and campaign world eras. Since we run our game with some laptops around, people can access the wiki in the game and have done so.

I created a secret GM-only page on the wiki to help me organize all my campaign details (always a struggle since I’m never happy with the tool I use). Going through all the information to put it in the main wiki has really helped my thought process, enabling me to develop my plots and adventures more completely. So here’s the breakdown.

Vells was murdered by his brother, Cyrus. Vells has some ability to see the future so he knew it was coming. He set up his own return, setting his manor house to seal after his death, covered in explosive runes but also some clues. He had a will and parts of it were given to the PCs (all former apprentices). The will sends them to five places around Esterra. Each place will help fill in the story and help them assemble the item that will open the manor house once again. If they don’t have it open within 99 days of his death, he’ll be lost forever. Vells hid all the information in cryptic clues and different places to try to prevent his brother from learning that he’ll come back.

Cyrus was one of the Gilroth brothers, sent away after the death of their father under murky circumstances. He has harbored a BIG grudge, plotting and planning for his day of revenge. He became a fearsome warrior and started a knightly order, pledged to honorable works though he uses them for his own schemes from time to time. He paid orc tribes in the region of Azell Valley to invade with 8 raiding parties to keep everyone’s attention misdirected while he killed Vells and learned what he could about the state of the valley.

Our heroes helped drive off or kill the orc raiders and they got a glimpse of Cyrus, hidden inside a suit of silver full plate armor. They have already guessed that the Silver Knight is Cyrus, which means that Cyrus has taken notice of them too.

With the orc threat gone, next they will pursue the missing groundskeeper, Dar Hvrenna, off to Winterhaven and the module will begin.

That’s it for now. I’ve got a Serenity/Horror one-day game I’m prepping for August and we’ll see how the 4e campaign fares in the next installment of the Dragonlaird Gaming Design Diaries.

Design Diary: Reach for the Sky Episode 2

(Originally posted on on July 29, 2008)

After about 14 months spent in the first episode of my play-by-post game, Reach for the Sky, we’ve almost reached the end of Episode 1. About 42 hours of game time passed. That always amazes me how long things take to resolve in a PbP game, but it’s fairly typical for a high-action/disaster-movie type adventure.

To summarize, Episode 1 is set at the end of the War on a moon orbiting Hera. The major battles which will bring the war to an end are about to ignite. Skirmishes in space have been going on for weeks. In a Independent surprise attack, one of the massive Alliance cruisers gets very badly damaged. Part of the superstructure actually breaks away and plummets to the surface of Howell’s Moon. The impact and resulting disaster form the backdrop of the adventure.

Each character begins at the moment of disaster. Some are Browncoats taking cover in bunkers as they see the disaster coming. Others are prisoners trapped in spacecraft downed on Howell’s Moon before the disaster. Some are crew members of ships sitting on airfields on the moon’s largest town of Ferguson. The idea is that as each character survives, they encounter the others and end up working together to survive. Ideally, bonds form in the cauldron of such dire circumstance.

I won’t get into the details of Episode 1 since I intend to use it as a basis for a module called “Reach for the Sky”, but let’s just say that some survived and made it off the moon in a ship. They are headed out of the war zone with all manner of refugees aboard. This is where I’m starting in my design of Episode 2.


Designing Episode 2

The Approach

Many interesting characters and events were covered in Episode 1. Potential enemies were created as well as potential allies. We cycled through several player characters as players came and went or PCs were killed. My first step to approaching the second episode is to review the first episode and catalogue all the things that I might want to draw in as threads into the new adventure.

I started reading the first episode from the beginning and I really covered a lot of ground in a small sandbox. Being trapped on the moon, they didn’t travel to other locations and until the end didn’t step on to a spaceship. It ran well, but I think my players and I are ready to see some more of the ‘Verse.

We’ve got three players continuing from Episode 1 and 2-4 players joining the group. It is really important to analyze the Traits and background the new characters are bringing to things so they get incorporated quickly. Don’t want a character whose concept is wrapped around running from the Alliance to never have to actually run from the Alliance.

Adding things to the list and shaking it out, I realize that I have a lot of possible non-player characters and some will never see the light of gameplay. Just too many. I’m going to make a limited list of at least one background-based NPC/encounter for each character and try to work them in over the Episode. If they can factor into the real plot, all the better.

Once I get all that squared away, I’ll need to establish some strong quick hooks to bring the action in. I like to start following the general stages of writing a play: Inciting Action, Rising Action (with Exposition, Complications, and Revelations), and the Climax.

The Details

Alright, the Long Reach has become pretty central to the future of the campaign. One of the three characters from Episode 1 was neck-deep with them earlier in life. One of the new characters is a doctor looking for a job. That should be enough to pull them in. Since the rest of the characters are drifters or not picky about what jobs they take, I don’t see anyone competing to take things a different direction.

I really want to keep things simple. Since my players are all over the country (and international) and many have never played together before, they will be creating much of their own turmoil as they stretch their acting legs. I’ll keep the inciting action simple and direct.

A straight job offer to work for the Long Reach could engage the existing LR member and the potential new member (doctor). The others would just be help for hire which is fairly common with the Long Reach. So they need to take medicines to a remote community on Persephone. For some reason the boss of the community ordered his men to shoot at the LR’s hovercraft that they usually use for such jobs ‘on planet’. But the workers still need the medicine if a disaster will be avoided. Basic job with a complication.

That’s enough to oriented the pre-game threads I’ve got going (new PCs meeting each other and striking up connections). But too often, I just GM by the seat of my pants and end up driving the game into doldrums because I’m not focused on where the possible plot paths are going. So I need to know more than that.

Who’s the Boss?

The remote community is a primarily a farming community centered on a town called Hobbville. The lands around Hobbville are fertile but still too broken up to be easily corporate farmed. Give ‘em a decade or so of peace and they might be bought out, but for now, they are the backwater of Persephone.

In charge of Hobbville is Cletus Hobb, sixty years old and meaner every year. He claimed about 20,000 acres during the last land rush on Persephone, getting a mixture of rough hills, pasture, and rich till-land. He’s been growing it ever since, slowly bringing in field hands and hired guns until he’s shipping a lot of the produce eaten in Eavesdown each day.

Logical questions abound. That big? How does he ship it to Eavesdown?

The Hobbes Railroad was built twenty years ago. The train takes three hours to steam its way over the 160-odd miles to Eavesdown and unload the produce. It travels to Eavesdown at night and back to Hobbville in the daytime. (For the theft-minded, that means she’s ridin’ light on the return trip but has the money). That gets the produce there in time for the dawn markets and gets the train back in time to be loaded late in the day and evening.

How many field hands and hired guns does he have?

Well, it should be enough guns to make the PCs think twice about just barging in like they own the place. Since the gunhands are more like minons than full NPCs, I’d say a 3-1 ratio would work. We’ve got 7 PCs right now so about 20 gunhands. Normal operations has 6-7 of them asleep, maybe 6-7 riding the fields managing the business, and 6-7 in town protecting Hobb or just enjoying the life of a “lawed man.”

For the field hands, I’m thinking hundreds of indentured workers. There should be evidence of families of workers (workers marry, have kids, kids grow up as workers). That means a lot of barracks, big mess hall, should be a doctor around but let’s say the Hobb skimped on that. For accuracy, I’ll say 800 field hands plus 100 non-working dependents (the aged, young children, injured).

Really, we’re aiming for that Company Town atmosphere where one man’s word is Holy Write and the people are no better off than slaves. Lots of juicy indignation and moral quandries for the PCs that like chewing that sort of scenery.

Why does Hobb not want the free help of Long Reach?

Ah, now here’s the rub. Hobb is a greedy, calculating bastard so there must be something in it for him to give up free medical care for his workforce. Just not wanting the interference, or fearing that his slave plantation will be uncovered isn’t enough in my opinion.

Enter the Right Reverend Hezekiah Lawkins! Holier-than-thou master of Parson City, the Right Reverend might be interested in locking up Hobb’s produce, bringing it into the canneries and processing plants in Parson City, and profiting handsomely for selling nutrient-depleted and chemically-stunned foods to Eavesdown. Yes, it is time to have the hand of the Right Reverend affect play.

So fine, Hobb’s is considering this deal. Maybe he thinks he can get more money out of Lawkins or maybe he thinks he’ll lose out overall if he gives up his own link to Eavesdown. Lawkins should definitely be pressuring him and one of the ways is having his own people, the Sisters of Mercy, there treating the ailing workers. Perhaps Lawkins and the Long Reach have a history of hostility. I should plant a seed about that early on as the characters get to know the Long Reach and get pitched the job.

So you’ve got a hostile plantation owner and outside influencers in the Right Reverend’s Sisters of Mercy. The heroes are being paid to do the right thing in addition to the fact that it is the right thing to do.

We’ve got a minor powder-keg set up. Will the players start shooting? How will they get the medicine to the workers? Do they just have to drop it off and get out alive or do they need to administer it as well? The easier I make it, the less time they will spend here.

Let’s say that Hobbville has a doctor, but he’s a poor excuse for one. Dr. Emmett Lukens is content to sit back and… just being a drunk is too cliche’… sit back and play with hybridizing plants. There we go. He’s got a greenhouse and makes the right noises if any government man comes around asking about the welfare of the workers. He actually doesn’t like people that much and only incidentally has a medical license. He’s actually a doctor of botany.

The key to success in Hobbville will be getting everyone innoculated with the medicine. So what is ailing the good workers of Hobbville? The scourge of the 26th century, polio. (Here is where I do a brief amount of research so the science sounds like it would hang together… Wiki Polio Entry.) Officially Type 5 Polio, the origin of the disease is a mystery, though rumors run rampant that it came from an Alliance experiment or accident. The fact that it is only appearing on Rim and some Border worlds fuels the conspiracy theories.

So the Long Reach is trying to get a vaccine to outbreak zones. (Side note, they will ask all the PCs to be vaccinated for their own protection.) The Polio vaccine is expensive and difficult to come by. The LR will not accept just dumping the vaccine on the edge of Hobbville and hoping someone uses it instead of re-selling it. (Good time to see if any characters are going to go “Jayne” on me and explore how much selling it would be worth… let’s say 4 credits/dose (~$100) but it only takes one dose. To vaccinate all of Hobbville will take 1,000 doses or 4,000 credits worth of medicine.)

So they have to find a way in and a way to get all the workers vaccinated. I’ll rely on my player’s creativity to think of a way: by subterfuge, force, bribery, etc. And it wouldn’t do to get too far ahead of myself. That’s enough for now.

Stay tuned for the next diary after we see how things progress a bit.

Design Diary: Atalban 1

(Originally posted on on Oct 7, 2007)

So where have I been for months? Well, various projects have kept me away from DLG but here is one of several new postings. I just completed a campaign started two and a half years ago (Jan 2005). It all started with a few particular concepts that I’ll outline, and then my post-campaign thoughts. Perhaps this will be helpful for other gamemasters considering a similar campaign.

The Record

I started creating the campaign by brainstorming ways to make the typical fantasy races a little more interesting. I found real-world inspirations for each race, changed their names, and determined how I would present them. I guessed that at some point in the campaign, the players would figure it out but, in fact, they never really tried to. They just treated the races as I presented them.

The second concept that I folded in was to start the characters in a remote, isolated village, cut off from the rest of the world. To achieve this, I told them that the old human kingdom had been destroyed and that they were the only survivors, the last of humanity. To support this, I decided that I would restrict the opening classes somewhat, since the village only had a representative sample of original races.

The third twist of the campaign (that’s three major twists, remember that) was a change of rules system. I picked up Monte Cooke’s Arcana Unearthed. I’d always chafed a little at d20’s magic system and I liked the things Monte did in that regard. I didn’t use the other races, but took the classes as required to support the system.

The campaign lasted two and half years and 34 individual sessions. The characters began at 1st level and ended the game at 11th (earning enough in the final battle to level to 12th). Feedback on the campaign was rough early, but the players persevered and I think earned one of the best campaign ends I’ve done.

The Analysis

Overall the campaign was a success. The players eventually fell in love with their characters (or at least “in like” with them). We adventured up more levels in a single contiguous campaign than I’ve done in a long time. We got a climactic ending with the option to adventure more with them some day.

I’d say that the number of twists I put in the campaign, made it harder than it needed to be. If I’d dropped the switch to a different version of d20, it would have gone better. I don’t think I’ll be running anything in Arcana Unearthed in the future.

I learned a lot from the experience (or hope I did), and after the campaign wrapped I let someone else take the GM’s chair for awhile. I’m getting a chance to be a player for an extended time, something I’ve not done in a long time, so that’s a nice change of pace. When I start putting together the next campaign, I’ll start a new diary.

Design Diary: Flying Pig Campaign 6

(Originally posted on on Jan 21, 2007)

Well, we ended the mini-campaign on the 8th of January in pretty good style. The long arc of the opening of a new planet, Columbiana, came to fruition. I’d prepared to use the “El Dorado” from the core rulebook as the place where Bruno Franco had hidden his last bank haul. The idea was that the PCs would wake Bruno up, get him to deal, and they’d all go “liberate” the loot and Vinnie would be off the hook for the promise of C50,000 he made to the others to rescue Bruno.

Yes, I’d actually prepared. I knew the rough stats of the people on the El Dorado, I knew where the loot was hidden, etc. etc. What did they do? They kept Bruno sedated for days to keep him “out of the way” while they picked up the original thread of Columbiana and ran with that. Okay, cool, it wasn’t off in a completely unprepared direction.

Anyway, in the December session they made their way back to Persephone (where criminals were waiting to get revenge on the doctor), cut deals, and looked for another job. Persephone by this point looked like the Oklahoma border right before the Land Rush of 1889. They easily picked up several sets of passengers.

Unbeknowst to them, Adelei Niska was having trouble with the Columbiana data and code key they’d gotten for him. Two of his techs had stolen the code key and some unencrypted mineral surveys of Columbiana and were off to make their own fortune. So when the Flying Pig lifted off to sneak its way to Columbiana, another ship started tailing them.

On to the last session in January. The tailing ship was catching up to them and it turned out to be a gunship for bounty hunters. The hunters demanded that the PCs hand over Niska’s techs and the codekey. At the same time, two criminals after Dr. Jones’ head emerged from the “passengers”. With a masterstroke idea from the PCs, they took the codekey from the techs, and told the hunters they could have it back if the hunters would come on and “take care of” the criminals. Gun stand-offs, gun battles, screaming settlers in the cargo hold, all sorts of fun! In the middle of it, the PCs sniper had a leaky brainpan episode after seeing a spider (major phobia). He decided to depressurize the ship in order to get all the spiders out. Always conservative in his use of energy, Vinnie simply shot the sniper until the sniper was down (instead of wrestling him from the controls or something a little less potentially lethal).

The hunters left with the codekey, the techs were alive hiding in the settlers, the criminals were dead, and the pilot made some great rolls (with PP) to get on to Columbiana before the Alliance declared the planet open. The settlers jumped off at the first possible stop (to get away from these madmen), the techs went to their claim areas, and the PCs made their own quiet claims to three areas they’d ID’d before giving up the Columbiana data.

I wrote an epilogue for them to set the scene for whenever we would revisit the campaign.

Riley leaned back in the chair she'd appropriated from Vinnie and looked out across the town. In just days a small city of several thousand people had formed at the confluence of two major rivers on Columbiana. Official names would come later, but for the moment the rivers were apparently Pisser and Muddy and the town was being called New Dawn.

Riley was just pleased that they'd survived the last few weeks in one piece and that she could relax a few moments without another gun being put to her head.

Inside the ship, Beckie was rehabbing the engine, adjusting the shaft they'd just bought on Persephone. Although bullets had flown all around her, she'd gotten away without too many scratches. Dr. Jones was sleeping in his cabin again, self-medicated and recuperating after being shot in the leg by Niska's men, just to get him out of the way of their true target.

Jonas was moving around surprisingly well, though he was still using a hovermule stabilizer bracket as a crutch at times. Riley smiled as she remembered Jonas thanking Vinnie for saving his life from the spiders, when it was Vinnie who'd actually shot him twice to keep him from decompressing the whole ship. Of course, Vinnie could have just knocked him away from the controls, but the gun seemed the quicker course at the time.

Bruno was recovering well, though Dr. Jones still kept him sedated, so they'd learned nothing new from Vinnie's ne'er-do-well brother. Vinnie was still concerned about owing the crew C50,000 and was extra cautious around Earl and Dr. Jones, the more irate crew members. Maybe if Riley let Bruno wake up, there might be some of that bank robbery loot out there for the taking.

Earl had taken the shuttle to go check on their three claim sites. The claiming had gone well enough, but overloads and other irregularities in the Terraforming Consortium's orbital's systems had meant that a lot of claims weren't actually registered. Rumors were hot that folks were claim-jumping and smashing the computerized claimstakes of their victims. With no registration on the orbital, no one could prove any different.

What gave Riley most pause was the rumor casually sent her way that Niska "liked" her. What that meant she had no idea. She'd helped him recover the Code Key and allowed him to make massive claims all over Columbiana. He was undoubtedly set up to become a real power on the planet. Rumors were that he arrived aboard the Lotus Blossom, a casino ship he'd bought, and that he was making Columbiana his new home.

Sir Tibley had finally parted ways with the Pig yesterday. He'd thanked Riley for the trip, but the violence and danger had convinced him that spending his time in the wilds of a new planet was much safer than riding along with her.

And things were looking up for the Pig. There was going to be a lot of excellent jobs from Persephone to Columbiana and back for months. New settlers, crucial supplies to meet shortages, even tourists wanting to see "a new planet" might work.

She still had more than 35,000 credits in platinum locked away in the ship. Unfortunately, that money had baggage in the form of Persephone drug dealers who Dr. Jones apparently had double-crossed, and the job source, Ermano the Geek on Santo. Both had it in for Jones, and the rest of the Pigs by association. Two of the Persephone gunmen had tried to recover the drugs or money, but Niska's bounty hunters 'put them down'. But that wouldn't stop the rest of them. That baggage was the one thing making life difficult for Riley's vision of fat jobs on the Persephone-Columbiana trade.

While Beckie's Pappy hadn't wanted to come to Columbiana himself, preferring to make his profits supplying the settlers, he was already asking his niece to make quiet contacts on the new planet. He'd probably be a source of work as well, if Riley didn't mind moving dirty goods or contraband past the Alliance flotilla.

Riley realized that her eyes were closed when she saw a shadow pass over her. She didn't pull her gun since she knew Vinnie was lurking somewhere nearby and would scare off the riff-raff.

"Hello, someone said you might be looking for a hard worker?"

Riley opened her eyes and smiled at the tall drink of water standing over her. A 'hard' worker sounded like just the thing!

Design Diary: Flying Pig Campaign 5

(Originally posted on on 10/1/2006)

Our September 24th session got delayed until tomorrow night (October 2nd) so I’ve got some more time to prep and review what I’ve planned so far. Let’s review my open work items.

  • Review the advice from my article in the double-sized issue #100 of Knights of the Dinner Table magazine (now freely available).
  • “Seed” the PCs by giving players details on their character’s relevant areas of knowledge.

  • Earl Shiloh – Browncoat Underground
  • Jeremiah Jones – Terraforming/settlers, etc.

  • Develop a ship-oriented challenge that will let them use their ship stats.
  • Develop the Terraforming Consortium Facilities on Beaumonde.
  • Develop obstacles to reaching “Simon” and what Key Simon has.
  • Develop what happened on the “Dorado” job on Paquin. Give to Vinnie.

  • Okay, so let’s take a crack at these. First, let’s give Earl some details on the Browncoat underground. Not sure if this will tie in tomorrow night, but I want the player to know that his character has a role to play in things. I want the Browncoats to be more dangerous than they appear in the Firefly TV series, a real threat to reappear. Let’s say that Earl got tangled up with some of these characters in the past, so we’ll give him a recap of that.

    To Earl: “About a year before Earl met Captain Riley, he was working on an orbital skyplex over Santo doing construction for a Blue Sun subsidiary. He’d made some friends among the other workers and they would end up at a no-name bar in the lower tiers of the Skyplex. One night he met a man named Joshua Brand, a grizzled Browncoat veteran. At first it was just some story-telling from the war days, but Earl soon realized that he was being felt out by his friends. Curious, he gave them his pledge to secrecy and they brought him into their group, the Phoenix Battalion.”

    “The Phoenix Battalion was an Independence movement made up of browncoat veterans. They were convinced that the war wasn’t over. They were just waiting for the moment to ‘rise again’. Earl learned enough of them to decide that they were committed but also didn’t have a chance in hell against the Alliance. In Earl’s opinion, the Alliance had been making moves since the end of the war to ensure that a united resistance couldn’t rise again. Not everything they’d done worked, but it would be much harder to start a war.”

    “Before Earl’s ticket was over on the skyplex job, he learned that Brand and the others were seeking to find one planet where they could hide and operate from without the Alliance watching over their shoulders. If they could find such a place, they would be able to collect recruits, train, and gather their resources, making them much more effective, and, possibly, a threat to the Alliance.”

    That certainly brings the Browncoats in as a viable force related to Columbiana. Now, let’s give Dr. Jones some more information on settlements and terraforming.

    To Jeremiah: “Jeremiah has worked countless times at the dirt-scraping settlements on the more recently terraformed planets. He’s seen weird things with crops and new variant diseases plaguing the hardy settlers. On some of the planets there were still Terraforming Consoritum facilities, so Jeremiah has seen them up close.”

    “The TC maintain Monitoring Outposts on terraformed worlds until some obscure set of environmental criteria are met. They work through uplinks to a mesh of TC satellites observing the planet. The Outposts contain a tremendous amount of computing power and expensive sensor equipment, so they are well-secured by heavy permacrete structures and biometric scans for entrance through heavy steel doors. Thought they are well-equipped, the Outposts are notoriously undermanned, often with only a handful of facilities people (guards) and a set of 5-7 scientists.”

    “Jeremiah has been inside an Outpost before, making a ‘house call’. He remembers that the guards had access to Sonic Rifles (stun people) and pistols as sidearms. They also had ballistic mesh vests as armor. They weren’t hard-core like Alliance troops, so they might get surprised or duped.”

    Lastly, I need to provide Vinnie with background on what the Dorado job was on Paquin. Review of Paquin: A border world known for its theaters and cultural entertainment, as well as more pedestrian carnivals and sideshows. Some call it the Planet of Masks.

    To Vinnie: “In the middle of your robbery spree with your brother Bruno, you set your sights on the Dorado Theater on Paquin. Of course, this was another bright idea of Bruno’s, figuring that the money raised at a big charity performance would make a nice haul, maybe 50,000C.”

    “The key to the Dorado job was to sneak in as members of the Dorado staff (uniforms, identity cards) and bluff an electronic key from the staff of the Control Office. Once the key was obtained, the plan was to sneak out of the facility and do a public terminal transfer of the credits to grey account. You got in easily enough and were able to get the electronic key from Control Office clerk, but the Dorado had safeguards in place to prevent downloads of such large sums. All they netted was about 500C that Vinnie pocketed from the Control Office. For the Alliance authorities, the job doesn’t even show up as being credited to the Franco Brothers.”

    Well, that’s a start. I’m hoping Vinnie will connect the dots and realize that Bruno planned to bluff his way into the Terraforming Consortium office to get an electronic key. What I haven’t connected yet for them is that they need an electronic key to unlock the real values of the Columbiana data module. The current data they see has a built-in skew that makes the data nonsense. I haven’t given them a hint of this yet, but I’ll have to make sure they learn this soon.

    Okay, what’s next? How about the ship-oriented challenges. Let’s review the Serenity RPG book to see what the rules support…

  • Design Diary: Flying Pig Campaign 4

    (Originally posted on on 9/18/2009)

    Okay, this time I’m going to be better prepared for my next session of the Flying Pig mini-campaign. Let’s review. Two of six sessions down, they’ve gotten refueled, gotten a job to Verbena, and learned what value their surprise cargo (survey data on Columbiana) has.

    But it’s never easy. The player whose character was the plot lynchpin for this mini-campaign is missing the second game in a row. I stalled one game but I can’t drop a third of the campaign waiting for one player. So, time for a refit.

    I still want the Columbiana data to be the core of the plot. But I have to break open the Vinnie character so he’s willing to part with the data. Hmmm, that just doesn’t make sense for the character, even player-less. Now I set up some clues that Vinnie’s brother Bruno had some plan for that datacube. Vinnie would do a lot if he thought it was going to save his brother.

    Time to bring in the brother.

    This should be very Firefly-esque, introducing a quirky character with a scheme to catch the crew. Bruno had a scheme for that datacube but let’s say that he’s been captured or imprisoned some way so he can’t reach Vinnie or do the job. He has to convince his brother to pull the job to save his life. Cool. Let’s look at the clues that I put in Bruno Franco’s box.

  • Small, leather-bound bible given to him by Mama Franco
  • Clothes: Bruno’s regular Rim-world gear but also two uniforms for the Alliance Navy, both petty officers, one sized for Bruno, one sized for Vinnie
  • A leather roll with mundane but somewhat odd metal parts and tools in it.
  • Three partial decks of cards, scattered over the bottom of the crate.
  • Four Alliance Rations Bars (Vegetarian Version)
  • A stack of music data modules, almost all scribbled with Chinese characters for the artists, tied together with twine.
  • A large, thick copy of the Koran with a metal buckle lock.
  • Most of the crate’s bulk is filled with blankets and a cold-weather parka.
  • Small card from a nice Tong club on Persephone with a phoenix drawn on the back. The card is very worn and faded.
  • Seven claim stakes (3′ long stell shaft, computer at head protected from hammer damage) tied together with twine.
  • Notably Missing: Bruno’s guns: a pair of Sidewinder pistols he cherishes.

    Now I’m pretty proud of that list. So far, I don’t know what Bruno’s plan was exactly, but I gave myself a lot of fun things to play around with when plot-weaving. Let’s see what I want to do with them…

  • The bible shows Vinnie that Bruno did NOT leave his stuff willingly.
  • The uniforms are going to be a good thing to use, having to sneak into an Alliance facility.
  • Tools in leather, not sure what I want to do with them yet.
  • The cards are just typical for Bruno, for picking up easy money and passing time.
  • Ration bars are how this box got pulled out of the ruined convoy in the first place. Bruno probably won them gambling.
  • The music modules hid the data cube. The fact that they were Chinese music tipped Vinnie that something wasn’t right.
  • The Koran… again, not Bruno’s religion, but locked. It hid something… dang, I can’t remember what I said was inside it…
  • Blankets and cold-weather parka… perhaps the break-in site is in a cold region (mountainous perhaps since that feels more Old West than ice cap)
  • Tong Club card… that is actually a fake. There is no Phoenix Tong. It is a cover for a Browncoat group interested in “rising again” (aka the Phoenix). I’ve already established that the PC, Earl, is well-known in Browncoat circles and a sympathizer.
  • Claim stakes… this relates to Columbiana. If someone could get planetside before the Alliance opened the planet, place claim stakes at the right spots based on the planetary survey, they would be rich when the planet opened up. Of course, the stakes would have to be “cooked” to not record the timestamp of placement earlier than the official planet opening. These stakes are cooked.

    Took a few minutes to consult with the player who will be missing and getting his reactions to what I’m proposing. I’m lucky that my players are mature and I can bring them behind the scenes in a situation like this. He explained that he would do what he had to to save his brother, even knowing the dangers. But he let me know that Vinnie would confide in the captain (Riley) rather than the whole crew if he could manage it. He still wants to hide his past.

    So what was Bruno up to? I’d say that he was hired to steal the datacube but then didn’t deliver it. He tried to sneak out to the Rim on the Settler convoy from Bernadette to Persephone but it got attacked by Reavers on its way to Persephone. Luckily a transport, the Scarlet Kite, came by and rescued the survivors, taking them to Verbena. Before Bruno could get healed up and escape, his boss finds him again.

    Bruno is now being held by a crimelord, let’s go with Adelei Niska until I have a better idea. So that means that Bruno is being held at Niska’s skyplex orbital over Ezra on the Rim. So why don’t they just hand over the cube for Bruno? I’m glad you asked! There must have been more to it than the cube… [thinking]… okay, what if the paranoid Alliance inserted an offset code into the Terraforming Consortium data so that it would be useless without the offset code. So they have to snag the code.

    Now I need to craft Bruno’s communication. It’ll be relayed across the ‘Verse as low-priority traffic to keep the Alliance from sniffing it, so it will be a message not a conversation. I want to establish a few things.

  • Bruno is alive.
  • Bruno is in danger.
  • Bruno needs Vinnie.
  • There is a job to do

    Bruno’s Message: (Bruno Falco appears, face caked with blood and swollen, appears to be missing a couple teeth and one eye is near swollen shut. Very little of his location is visible, just ubiquitous grey metal walls of a space ship or space station wall.) “Piccolo fratello…” begins Bruno softly, but a smile cracking through the pain. “Little something went wrong I guess… no surprise. Need you, Vin. Heard you ended up with my stuff. Need you to bring my crate to me. Well, the crate and one other little thing… (cough, spit blood)… Remember how we did the Dorado on Paquin? Time to do it again. This time its the TC center on Beaumonde. Looking for a fellow named Lloyd Simon, he’s got the key. Once you have the key, bring my crate to dock 64 planetside on Ezra. Do that, brother, and I walk away alive. I’m counting on you.”

    So, how does that look? I’ve got to feed Vinnie background info on what the Dorado job was like so he knows what the crew needs to do now. I’ll leave the definition of the “key” undefined so far. They know they have to get to one guy and that’s good enough for now.

    Well, its getting late. I’ll need to think about what the Terraforming Consortium facilities on Beaumonde look like, how hard it will be to get in and find this Simon character, what the Dorado job was like, etc. And I’m sure I’ll see some wrinkles when I look at this again in a day or two.

    Oh, as a last note, I wrote up the Flying Pig stats last time so I want to give them some ship-oriented challenges. Need to brush up on the rules. Also, I want to review my own advice, presented in my article in the double-sized issue #100 of Knights of the Dinner Table magazine.

  • Design Diary: Flying Pig Campaign 3

    (Originally posted on on 9/11/2006)

    I could say that I did it as an object lesson for my column but its just reality. I’d gotten only so far in my prep (see the column from 9/4/06), ran out of time and just ran the session. We had fun, but I didn’t have the focus I would have if I’d planned it out. The session ran short as several players hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before so perhaps it was just as well.

    Session Summary: We ran through the crisis of hauling Beckie back to the ship and having Dr. Jones save her. They then fled the city to hide the ship on the outskirts and avoid the counter attack from the Jaguar Tong. Letting Beckie recover, they mulled over their options. Unfortunately, the player for Vinnie Franco was absent making it difficult to advance the plot without him.

    Since the data module squealed twice before they shut it off, the Alliance makes an appearance. An Alliance Patrol Boat comes into orbit and drops both of its ASREVs to hunt for a firefly-class ship. They don’t make a big show of it or put out an official warrant. They don’t want the data getting out of their hands again.

    If I recall correctly, they haven’t made it off planet yet (I don’t remember having them escape the Alliance) so we’ll have to pick up there next time.

    Back to Planning: So where does that leave us. We’re down to four or five sessions to wrap up this ‘short season’. Knowing my adlibbing style, I could easily run them through all four sessions and not really get anywhere, not reach any cool climax scene, or resolve any plot arc. So planning is required!

    Let’s deal with the major plot first, then go back and fill in minor plots based on character history and traits. Recall that the A Plot involves the discovery of secret Alliance data (full planetary survey) on a planet in the system, Columbiana, which hasn’t finished terraforming. The data indicates that the terraforming is done, Columbiana will likely be opened to colonization soon, and with the survey data, someone could get very rich claiming the right land. (My inspiration for this plot was the Oklahoma Land Rush).

    So our heroes have possession of the data module and have some idea of how valuable it is. The Alliance is hot on their trail to get the data back. They have to find some way to get rid of the module without getting killed and hopefully by making some decent money off of it. Yet, the module belongs to Vinnie, or Vinnie’s brother, and he may not want to just sell it off.

    Where From Here?: I’d like the campaign to end up in orbit around Columbiana, racing against the Alliance blockade to get to the surface of the planet. There should be hundreds of ships flooding the sky trying to get to the surface and stake their claims. There should also be somebody after our heroes and willing to shoot at them, just to liven things up.

    To make this happen, they have to let the news leak out (by choice or luck). They have to find a patron willing to pay them a lot to reach the surface and a handful of key sites first. They also have to piss of someone enough to come gunning for them. The first and third parts almost write themselves with my players :). So what do we need to determine.

    1. Select a patron, flexible enough to be inserted in several situations depending on where the PCs get themselves to.

    2. We need some complications and opportunities to fill in the time until the last two sessions (climax).

    But about Vinnie’s brother? Will Beckie’s clan come into play? Or will it be a colleague of Sir Alan? We’ll dig into these in the next posting.

    Design Diary: Flying Pig Campaign 2

    (Originally posted on on 9/4/2006)

    So my mini-Serenity campaign has begun. After getting set up with the Ohio Game, we’ve begun the gaming table sessions. The first table session was August 14th. The Ohio Game was like a major motion picture and now I’m doing a mini-series continuation of it. If my players enjoy it enough, they may “pick me up” for more episodes.

    Campaign Dynamics: Now there are some things I need to keep in mind as I plan out this campaign. My group meets for about 4 hours once every three weeks, not the most desireable schedule for a campaign but we work with what we can get. So each session needs to be well prepared and fast-paced. Most sessions should have a major crisis point, whether it be a gunfight or some sort of showdown.

    Also, we usually have one person out of six players miss any single session. So I can’t tie everything to one character as they’ll undoubtedly drop out of the session where they get the spotlight. Murphy’s Laws suck, but we all gotta obey ‘em.

    Since I’ve only been scheduled to run this campaign until the end of the year, I need to keep an eye on how many sessions that actually is. Starting 8/14, 9/4,… 6 or 7 total ending up on December 18th. One’s already down, so I’ve got five episodes to consider. Sure I could come up with five episodes of Firefly-esque stuff to just have fun with, but Firefly also had longer arcs in it so I want to identify one or two good six episode arcs and see which one the players naturally gravitate toward.

    Start By Drawing on the Characters: I set up some stuff in the Ohio Game between PCs and in their backgrounds. Some of those were played out in the Ohio Game and aren’t relevant here, so I want to review what I have to work with. First, I’ll review the characters and their traits.

    Character Trait Comments

    Captain Riley McAllister – owner of the Pig and leader of the crew Alcoholism (mc) Riley has had trouble with drinkin’ in the past (notably her tryst with Vinnie). She tries to stay away from the bottle but isn’t always successful.

    Amorous (MC) There’s nothing like knockin’ boots to work out a little stress. And no, she doesn’t want to hear you talkin’.

    Greedy (mc) Her entire life Riley has wanted money, the good life, the finer things.

    Stingy (mc) When she gets ahold of money, she tends to not want to let go.

    Stir Crazy (mc) Riley grew up on the move and gets antsy if they have to be stuck somewhere too long.

    Born Behind the Wheel (MA) Piloting was one of Riley’s first loves and nothing feels more natural than a spaceship’s yoke in her hand.

    Leadership (ma) You know that something that gets you to follow someone? She’s got it.

    Mean Left Hook (MA) Riley has dealt with problems one way and prefers to leave problems unconscious and bleeding as she walks away.

    Tough As Nails (ma) Survivin’ the Rim makes you tougher.

    Vinnie Franco – crew member with most seniority, one night stand for Riley, gun-bunny Branded (mc) Vinnie was a bad man in the past. In some places, the Alliance might still want him.

    Crude (mc) His brother Bruno was always the smooth one, so Vinnie never bothered much with bein’ polite.

    Chip on Shoulder (mc) Vinnie doesn’t take insults well, even ones only he perceives.

    Lady Luck Hates You (MC) There’s gotta be a reason he’s schlepping around the Rim in a beat-up freighter instead of basking on some Sinhon beach with his own Companion by his side…

    Lazy (mc) Never pays to over-exert yourself.

    Crack Shot (MA) Vinnie’s talents have always involved guns and takin’ care of business.

    Grace in Gear (ma) He’s lived in a bulet proof vest so long he forgets he has it on.

    Lightning Reflexes (ma) Bein’ a deadshot ain’t helpful if your gun’s in the holster.

    Earl “Zero” Shiloh – Zero-G Specialist, quiet Ego Signature (mc) In honor of his Browncoat heritage, Earl leaves a note of Independent scrip at the scene of the crime.

    Straight Shooter (mc) Don’t ask for his opinion ’cause he’ll tell you exactly what he thinks.

    Friends in Low Places (ma) Browncoats can be found everywhere, usually in low places, and Earl knows a lot of them by name.

    Good Name (ma) In the War, Earl earned a reputation as a loyal and professional soldier. That rep still earns him drinks in the right bars.

    Beckie Tull – Engineer, first-timer in space Hyper-focused (mc) When she gets workin’ on a problem, takes a lot to get her attention.

    Overconfident (mc) She’s ready to claim expertise whether she has it or not. How else could she get hired to engineer a firefly when she ain’t never been off dirt before?

    Superstitious (mc) Everyone knows green’s unlucky on Saturdays! Give me the red wrench.

    Allure (ma) While she isn’t the randy kitty that Riley is, Beckie fills out an engineer’s jumpsuit just fine, thank you very much.

    Friends in Low Places (ma) Beckie’s family is a sort of extended clan of thieves. She’s got plenty of ties in the black market.

    Mechanical Empathy (ma) She’s always been good with machines, building racers for the salt flats north of Eavesdown.

    Dr. Jeremiah Jones – Doctor and drug merchant Creaky (mc) Jones ain’t young and he’s feelin’ the aches more and more.

    Distractable (mc) Tends to talk off on tangents and tell stories, even if you’ve heard them before.

    Greedy (mc) Money can mean your life and the Doc prefers livin.

    Sadistic (mc) Life’s rough and he’s not here to coddle you. If holding back pain meds might make a prisoner talk, he’s got no qualms with that.

    Duct Tape Medicine (MA) Things are scarce on the Rim and you make do with what you have. Doc’s done more of that than most.

    Friends in Low Places (ma) He’s spent more time dealing medicine and drugs on the black market than practicing medicine of late.

    Steady Calm (ma) When he’s doctorin’, his hands don’t show their age.

    Uncommon Knowledge (ma) Dr. Jones has spent enough time on the Rim that he’s picked up things about settlers, colonists, and terraforming.

    Sir Alan Tibley – paid passenger, scientist Guild Standing (Ma) Sir Alan has contacts in the Society of Natural Philosophers, an apolitical, independent scientific association.

    Uncommon Knowledge (ma) He knows a lot about the Earth-That-Was, maybe half of which is true.

    Uncommon Knowledge (ma) He know a great deal about the flora and fauna of the ‘Verse and takes a great pleasure in discovering the minutest variations in species and genum.

    Distractable (mc) Due to his interest in flora/fauna, he can easily be distracted from his assigned task or place.

    Dull Sense (mc) Maybe he’s stood near too many engines on takeoff, but Sir Alan doesn’t hear too well any more.

    Lily-soft Hands (mc) Sir Alan will do anything to see a new species, but he’d much prefer someone else to the heavy lifting.

    Non-fightin’ Type (mc) Can’t we work this out by talking? There is no need for fisticuffs!

    A lot of those traits aren’t that special. They’ll come into play from time to time, sometimes for flavor or to help with a skill test. Let’s look at the ones that count.

    Character Trait Comments

    Captain Riley McAllister – owner of the Pig and leader of the crew Greedy (mc) I can use this to tempt Riley and since she’s captain, that can draw the whole crew one way or another.

    Leadership (ma) I’d love to factor this in some way. She’s got so many bad habits, it would be fun to bring out her honorable side.

    Vinnie Franco – crew member with most seniority, one night stand for Riley, gun-bunny Branded (mc) This is one that I really want to explore. Vinnie used to be a bank robber with his brother and his brother will reach out to him.

    Chip on Shoulder (mc) This might be useful. The player has already shown a tendency to pull a gun in most situations.

    Lady Luck Hates You (MC) A major version of Things Don’t Go Smooth? No end of possibilities with this one.

    Earl “Zero” Shiloh – Zero-G Specialist, quiet Ego Signature (mc) or Friends in Low Places (ma) or Good Name (ma) Playing with Earl’s Browncoat affiliations might make a nice secondary plot to play off.

    Beckie Tull – Engineer, first-timer in space Friends in Low Places (ma) Beckie’s player likes to keep her characters simple but I might draw in her “clan”.

    Dr. Jeremiah Jones – Doctor and drug merchant Friends in Low Places (ma) His connections in the drug-running community might be useful to tie into things.

    Uncommon Knowledge (ma) Okay, this one is a plant with Columbiana being central to the plot.

    Sir Alan Tibley – paid passenger, scientist Guild Standing (Ma) This provides an interesting source of information and contacts that aren’t thieves like the rest of the crew. Perhaps I can promote Sir Alan to be the civilized front character akin to Inara in the TV show.

    A Plot: Okay, here’s the A Plot in a nutshell. The planet Columbiana has never been opened for colonization. Officially, it is a red-zone planet, interdicted by the Alliance while the Terraforming Consortium continues to work on it. It is one of the last planets in the system that has not been colonized, but after decades of waiting, its become a sort of El Dorado, a fabled place. If someone knew the Alliance was about to open it to settlement, they could get a jump on things and race to claim the best land (grazing, crops, mining, civilization). If they had survey data on the planet and a fast ship, they could become kings of Columbiana.

    What Happened Before the Ohio Game: A few weeks ago, Bruno Franco executed a theft from a secure office of the Terraforming Consortium. He had a tip and was able to snag an Alliance Data Module containing a full planetary survey of Columbiana. He packed himself up as a settler and took a long, slow convoy to Persephone where he was hoping to find his brother, Vinnie.

    The convoy didn’t make it to Persephone. It was said to have been attacked by Reavers. Captain Marcus Grimm of the Pied Piper did a salvage run on the wrecks and came away with several crates of Alliance ration bars and one with the personal effects of Bruno Falco. Unfortunately, the Reavers came back and mauled his ship heavily before he escaped. Without any engines, they were set to crash into Persephone until a salvage ship from the Julius Fleet rescued them, promptly taking the ship and its cargo as compensation.

    What Happened During the Ohio Game: The Ohio Game involved recovering the Pied Piper. Grimm and Riley had once owned the Flying Pig together and they used her to get the cargo and ship back. Vinnie discovered his brother’s effects and took it with him at the end of that game.

    What Happened During Session #1: So when the campaign starts, Vinnie discovers the Data Module in his brother’s box while the rest of the crew is just interested in finding a job that pays enough to fuel up the ship. Vinnie is naturally reticent about revealing anything about his past, but the crew does dig into the Data Module. First, they plug it into their ship’s computer. It seems to have some boring data on it, but that is just a cover while it downloads a virus on to the computer. The virus uses the ship’s comm system to send a coded message out to the ‘Verse, telling any Alliance receiver that a high security data module has been accessed without the proper passcodes. This happens twice before they shut down the comm system.

    They reach Santo as they purge their computer of the virus. Now here is where I introduce a wrinkle for fun. I’ve decided that the upper layers of Santo’s atmosphere contains rare gases which play havoc with typical reaction drives of space ships. It takes careful skill (a complex skill test) of both the pilot and engineer to get a ship down to the surface or out to the black.

    Dr. Jones makes contacts to get a job for the crew carrying “medicines” to Verbena. At the same, Beckie visits “family” and picks up a toolbox she’s being asked to take back to her uncle on Persephone. But as she walks through the streets of Santo toward the ship, she is followed. She stays in public places and calls for help. Riley, Vinnie, and Earl show up and try to discourage the tails, but end up in a gunfight. The tails are members of the Jaguar Tong and they end up dead in the street. Unfortunately, Beckie takes a shotgun blast to the belly and lies close to death in the dirt along with her enemies.