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.

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