It’s been a while since I ran an RPG campaign, a proper one, but while writing up a once off game for an upcoming convention, I found myself bitten with the bug again. The temptation to get the Cortex System out and get a crew flying through the universe of Firefly/Serenity proved overwhelming, and so I conceived my first campaign in around four years: a more casual and breezy affair than my other games, designed to allow players to drop in and out as they pleased, and to have little in the way of grand over-arching plotlines, just lots of smaller adventures. The ship was a Firefly, a normal transport variant, dubbed Osprey by the crew. The jobs would be a mixture: legit cargo hauls, criminal enterprises, bounty hunting, whatever came up. As long as the game runs, I’ll throw recaps up here.
For the uninitiated: Yes, this is one of those “tabletop role playing games”, where I, the GM, write a story, and then guide player created characters through it, with dice rolls in combination with pre-determined stats determining success or failure at numerous junctures. For those looking for the film reviews or history posts and wondering what the hell this is all about, well, indulge me.
Captain: Jean Marshall A former cop who has gone into a second life of ship ownership and captaining. Retains an intense commitment for law and order.
First Mate: Massimid “Mass” Maxim. An enterprising coreworlder, who following a failed stint at an Alliance academy has drifted rimward. Has more than a few secrets, and enemies.
Pilot: Fionnula “Jaysus” Jacinta. A skilled flyer, but with some questionable depth perception, Fionnula has a mechanical left eye to help her out. Superstitious to a fault, she has a love affair with her prized boomerang.
Mechanic: Gao Wan. A lifetime shiphand, and veteran of numerous trade vessels, Gao has some scars from the war, but keeps them under wraps.
Medic: Zhao Liang: A somewhat unhinged veteran/expelled member of a prestigious Alliance medical institute, Zhao is out on the rim because no one else would tolerate his eccentricities and pathological need to improve himself…and others.
Security: Bartholomew “Batty” Tucker. Of an upworldly mobile noble family, but rejected the lifestyle to become a mercenary. Lacking in brains, but not in brawn.
Musician: To be named. A handy mandolin player, he moonlights as an additional gunhand and security presence on-board, as he tries to reconstruct the memories of a life he has forgotten.
The first adventure I played through with the group was one of the pre-made examples in Serenity Adventures, named “Freedom’s Glory”, the first and longest from that book. I’ll use my own plots eventually, but having not GM’ed a campaign in a while, thought it would be best to ease myself back into it. I’ve chopped and changed a few things in the adventure to suit my own purposes.
Present for this session: Fiachra (Gao), Marcus (Batty), Joe (Mass), Anto (Zhao) and Ash (Fionnula)
The Halfway House Space Station
The crew’s adventure began with a temporarily nasty encounter with some drunk gamblers on-board the ramshackle Halfway House, a common as much space station used for temporary layovers by transport vessels. A misunderstanding quickly turned violent, with Gao retreating rapidly, and Zhao following soon after. It was left to Mass and Batty to take on the hoodlums, but one smashed glass and some reasonable words later, the reasons for the fight were forgotten, and drinks shared instead.
Refuelled enough to make it the rest of the way, the crew completed the journey to Whitefall, one of the moons of Athens, a relatively backward, underpopulated rim world, run by a nasty governor named Imogene Patience. The job was straightforward: deliver 100 pedigree hunting dogs to a rancher planetside. Zhao successfully identified a mild sickness a couple of the dogs were suffering from before it could get out of control among the others, which was just as well: the crew has already been paid for this job, and most of the money has gone to playing off previous debts. Landing on Whitefall, the ship is out of both fuel and the money to buy more. But at least the handover of the canines went well, with “Eagle-Eye” Serafina taking possession shortly after landing, after which he directed the crew to the nearby town if they wanted to find more work.
With the Captain staying behind, Mass led Gao, Zhao, Batty and Fionnula into town, where they stopped at the “Slaughterhouse”, a half bar half grill place where the local ranchers and well to do gentleman were known to hang out. Despite making an initial poor impression with some bad language and some uncivilised behaviour, the crew were able to make contact with a local rancher who could use some transport for cattle. But the job required waiting around for three weeks due to the beef being on late pasture, and so the crew were instead pointed to another offworlder hanging out conspicuously at the bar.
Polite, well-dresses Saul Potter couldn’t be nicer, and soon has an agreement made with the crew, through Gao after the more crude Mass decided to excuse himself from negotiations. For a thousand credits, Potter sought passage to the nearby planet of Bellerophon for himself and three other passengers. Under pressure, he also offered five drums of premium grade ship fuel as an incentive, though he was vague about the status of the fuel itself, merely saying that it was being held at the local spaceport/scrapyard, and that there had been some misunderstanding as to its ownership. He offered to go out to the spaceport with the crew the following day to retrieve the fuel.
Before the ship could go home for the night, the crew received an offer from local pugilist administrator Jerimiah Fong, who sought new competitors for his underground bare knuckle boxing fights. Batty, enticed by the chance to earn 50 credits, readily agreed, and stepped into the ring with local champion “Black” Bill Watson, a behemoth of a man whose all-out attacking style proved too much for Osprey’s resident tank. A thunderous right hand knocked Batty clean out, losing an irate Zhao his last few credits to the local bookie. Poor Batty had to deal with the effects of a concussion for a while after.
The following day, the same crewmembers travelled out to the spaceport to pick up the promised fuel with Potter. The drums were unattended, but after they were all loaded, a local machine shop mechanic confronted the crew, demanding they stop and threatening them with the name of Patience. The crew, not having any patience of their own, drove off.
Back on Osprey, the fuel was loaded and the passengers welcomes: Saul, two bodyguard types named Brutus and Jeremiah, and an old, well-dressed man wearing an oxygen mask and tended to by Potter. The old man made some memory stir for Fionnula and Zhao, but they weren’t able to place him exactly.
Before the fuel could be loaded into Osprey’s engine, the ship was surrounded by Patience herself, riding out with five gunhands of her own. After threatening to blow up Osprey’s engine from the outside, a face to face confrontation came about: a warning shot from a roof-placed Batty set the lead flying, and only after two of her men were killed – one by Mass, the other by Brutus – did Patience listen to the suggestion that she simply ride off. This she did, but not before warning the crew to not ever set foot on Whitefall again if they valued their lives.
The fuel loaded, the crew took off and set a course for Bellerophon.
Players: Gav (Jean), Fiachra (Gao), Anto (Zhao) and Mark (Batty)
As Osprey headed for the black, it suffered a small bit of engine trouble, as the starboard thruster got fouled due to a dislodged mechanism. Thinking fast, Fionnula was able to avert a dangerous spin, while Gao got the problem solved, cutting the fuel intake to the engine, letting it burn out, then hot starting in flight. Crisis averted before an unfortunate encounter with the ground, the ship continued on its way.
In The Black
During the trip to Bellerophon, the crew naturally maintained their curiosity over their elderly passenger, known only as “Mr James”. After he began suffering breathing difficulties, Saul summoned Zhao to ask for help. Zhao was able to do so, discovering in the process that “Mr James” was suffering a likely terminal case of advanced emphysema. After some distraction tactics, Gao was able to grab an ID card, letting the crew know that “Mr James” was, in fact, Roland Sharpe, once the commander of the Independent Navy during the Unification War, now an extremely wanted man. With a sizable bounty on offer, Captain Marshall was intent on handing him over.
Before he could get a chance though, Sharpe asked for a chance to address the crew. He unveiled his real purpose in the journey: to divert to Bellrophon’s moon, Pegasus, and break into an Alliance scrapyard, there to steal the old Independent flagship, Freedom’s Glory, out from under Purplebelly noses. With no Browncoat crew to gain sympathy with, Sharpe instead offered a 20’000 credit cache of coin supposedly hidden inside the hull of the target ship. But Marshall was undeterred, even after a slightly iffy moment when members of his crew seemed alarmingly close to mutiny.
Denied repeatedly, Sharpe played his trump card: a bomb he had planted close to the engine, which he threatened to detonate with a handheld trigger if the crew did not surrender the ship to him. With his compatriots seemingly on-board, the crew was left with no choice.
Guarded by one of Sharpe’s two bodyguards, the crew were detained in the cargobay. A rapidly put together plan allowed them to get the drop on their jailer: Batty first KO’ing the captain (upon his request) to demonstrate his apparent willingness to go along with Sharpe’s plan, and then using the firearm tossed to him (to demonstrate this new found loyalty by shooting his captain) as a makeshift missile to knock the guard out.
Having gained control of the lower deck, the crew hatched a plan. Gao went up first, attempting to knockout whoever was in charge of the engine room – Saul Potter, as it turned out. This rapidly turned into an unexpected melee, but Batty’s considerable fists were on hand to put Potter down. The captain took care of the other bodyguard with a well-aimed pistol shot, leaving just Sharpe, still threatening to detonate the bomb. Delayed long enough by the captain and Zhao, Sharpe took his own life with a gun after realising that the bomb had been disarmed.
The crew contacted Alliance authorities on Bellerophon soon after, handing over the bodies of Sharpe and one bodyguard, and two live prisoners. Given the wholehearted thanks of the Alliance, the crew made off with 10’000 credits in bounty money. Not a bad days work.
I actually didn’t much like this official adventure, an opinion I formed while playing through it. There are several completely pointless sequences that serve only to slow things up – like one where a crewmember goes dumpster diving for scrap parts – and its ending sequence was very vaguely written, lacking critical details. Lucky for me then that the crew went off the beaten track, due to the Captain’s ingrained respect for law and order. The announcement of the bomb is the last thing I took directly from the adventure, the rest is my own and the players imaginations at work. The adventure was written with nothing but Independent-minded players in mind, which is a bit irritating.
But it all worked out. This adventure helped ease players into the use of the system, and gave the “crew” a bit of a headstart in terms of money to be spent later. To a degree, I went a little easy on them: future games will feature more difficult adversaries with more LP and offensive options. We’ll see how it goes.