Continuing Tales From The Serenity RPG

Years and years ago, I had an idea. I can’t even remember where it came from now, but I remember scribbling down notes for possible use in a future story, only for it fall at the wayside. It was of a new war between the Alliance and the Browncoats culminating in one great terrible battle, on a planet called Salvation. Salvation was some kind of nature reserve planet, otherwise unexceptional, except for some dark terrible secret that it was hiding that both sides wanted. My notes were titled “Salvation’s Call”.

A while after, I came back to the idea when it came to the third and final part of the “Dave-verse”, a game simply dubbed “Firefly: Salvation”. Yet another new ship, but a crew made up nearly entirely of former players, but all in new roles. When we last left things, the new Independent Republic and the Alliance were at each others throats again, with no end to the fighting in sight. In the middle of it all was my new ship, with a crew of mercenaries willing to fight for one side or another.

The hook of this campaign was a new questing mission, based around an individual named Michael Udray and a famed lost ship, the Thanatos. Udray was a sort of neo-Da Vinci from the time of the Ark ships, who revolutionised various fields and was considered a sort of demi-God by cult followers. He and his ship vanished shortly after the new system was being colonised.

But then! A mysterious message is broadwaved throughout the verse from the, presumably, long-dead Udray, now taking on a kind of Hari Seldon role (guess what I had been reading at the time?). In it, Udray predicts that the galaxy is at war again, and further explains that he believes the galaxy will always be in a cycle of war and authoritarian domination. In order to snap humanity out of this cycle, Udray relates that he has come up with the ultimate weapon, one that will make war against whoever possesses it an impossible endeavour. Some tantalising clues here, some mystery there, you got yourself a plot!

So, the crew spent the first half of the game trying to find out where Udray’s Thanatos has been hidden, visiting temples dedicated to the man (one surrounded by herds of stampeding cloned mammoths, that was a favourite), scientific institutes founded by him, all while the war raged around. The crew were soon back in the books of one Donald Mason – now a slightly more capable Colonel, in charge of a revolutionary fast ship – and also interacting with a slimy agent named Colonel Enrich West.

All roads led to Salvation, imagined as the first planet of the new system that humanity actually landed on, one filled with forests, grasslands, giant spiders (another genetically modified abomination, meant to freak out one arachnophobic player) and the buried remains of the Thanatos. Both the Alliance and the Independents race to the planet upon discovering the secret, and a battle was fought, one where the Alliance, with the crews help, comes out on top. That leaves them free to dig up the Thanatos and uncover its secrets, which is two main things.

The first is a robotic intelligence named Michel, Udray’s last and, in his own mind, greatest creation, a true AI which uses holographic emitters to appear as human as possible. Michael would end up joining the crew as an NPC, helping them in their future adventures.

The second, and much more important, was the Planet Killers, Udray’s terrible weapon, essentially a sort of oxygen destroying nanomachine bomb, that has the capability to replace the entire atmosphere of any planet of Carbon Dioxide in just a few minutes. And the Alliance had their hands on a few of them. Then betrayal, as Colonel West has the crew arrested and takes possession of the “PK” weapons.

This was the mid-year finale, and again I launched into a Christmas break write-up of intervening time, which ended up being a universe-altering event of scope that even I look back on and grimace at. Long story short: the Alliance launch a PK at Boros, an Independent planet, killing the vast majority of its inhabitants. The Browncoats respond with numerous nuclear missile strikes on Alliance worlds, utilising new stealth ships. The Alliance do the same. And for a few weeks, the ‘verse reels from the literally billions of deaths, before a makeshift truce is announced.

Re-enter the crew, freed from custody and now tasked with helping a breakaway faction of the Alliance military, who are secretly trying to bring the war to a swift conclusion as bloodlessly as possible, by finding the remaining PK’s and stopping them from being used again, especially by the now rogue Enrich West, who appears to be genuinely psychopathic.

More going back and forth, with some interesting moments. I recall our resident medic going on a kill spree on-board the Carousel, a location I wanted to come back to at least once before I drew things to a close. I remember the crew visiting an irradiated zone looking for more information about how to build more PK weapons, and having to deal with desperate refugees. And all the while, Colonel West continued to machinate.

The finale involved a desperate chase to stop West from detonating another PK, this one on Hera, at the site of Serenity Valley. West was revealed to be the Captain of my very first crew, a very amoral guy who had just gone crazy, and was interested only in galactic destruction at that point. With the help of Donald Mason, West got put down, and the PK detonation was stopped, while the Independent faction got their hands on some of the weapons themselves. With that, the war came to a close, neither side wanting to continue a conflict where the other side had a weapon of such unimaginable power: essentially, a great Cold War in the making. The crew got their rewards, and all was well that ended well. Sort of.

I was somewhat mixed feeling about “Salvation”. Looking back, it was so far removed from what Firefly is that I might as well have called it “Bits of BSG, DS9 and Star Wars mashed together: Salvation” and I think that’s something that bothers me a tad. I was so lost in upping the ante at every turn that the game just lifted off from the kind of roots that made it a Firefly game in the first place.

On the other hand, the players all seemed to enjoy it, ad I had a lot of fun with concepts like Michael the robot, and Enrich West, the kind of characters I enjoyed playing around with. But with the conclusion of that game I realised that I needed to call a halt to proceedings on the Dave-verse, which was so far gone that it didn’t seem possible to continue it without moving into truly laughable territory.

If there were three things I learned about Gming that time around, it was these:

-You go big or go home, but, eventually, you can get way too big. Sometimes it’s better to rein in your grander instincts.

-Nothing works better at hooking players’ interest than classic, well-worn plot devices, like, say, a missing ship from centuries past, or a destructive new super weapon of terrible power.

-All good stories have an ending, it’s something I believe in very strongly. And half the trouble with endings is being able to recognise one, and stepping away when you reach that point.

Of course, I wasn’t done with Firefly, and in an RPG sense, I still haven’t finished. Next week, I’ll talk a bit about the once-offs I have been a part of that involved the Firefly setting, and the kind of stories I attempted through that more restrictive confine.

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