What would the Serenity RPG look like as a Story Game?

So over here Rich was opining how disappointing and generic the Serenity RPG was. So, what should the Serenity RPG look like? Or the Battlestar Galactica one for that matter? What would you want to see in them?

I'm thinking for a Serenity RPG you'd want it to be tightly focused on the crew of a spaceship, nothing else, no divergence.

Maybe the adventures could be player generated, with everybody coming up with a "job" to post in the local town and then the group deciding which job to take.

Perhaps you could throw in some resource management too, to add a little bit of desperation and tension into the mix, to force the players into deciding whether they want to take a safe but low paid job, or to throw caution to the wind and go for a high paid high risk job.

So how about you? If Serenity was remade as a Story Game, what would it look like?


  • Andrew,
    I think I'd have to agree with you about the focus. Coming from a traditional gaming background most recently, my first thought would have been to open up the world and make it expansive. But on reflection, I think, yes, a tightly confined (spatially) group would be great. Just like Firefly. Things I might include include:
    1. Everyone has a secret. Maybe something general, maybe something specific; maybe harmful, maybe beneficial.
    2. I like the job posting idea. Let's introduce stuff-that-happens, with everyone contributing one or two bad things that happen in an episode, and one or two good things that happen. Toss 'em in a hat and pull. That could add to the drama of choosing which job to take. "Yikes, coolant leak! We'd better take the quick job." "No, it's too expensive. We need a big job to afford to fix the engines!"
    3. Rather than a skills-based or class-based system, have general player-defined abilities, rated perhaps one to five:
      River: latent psychic, rating 5; savant, rating 4.
      Kaylee: good with machines, rating 4; likes sex, rating 3.
      Jayne: good with firearms, rating 4; Obtuse, rating 3.
      Then players could describe things the characters could do within those abilities.
    That's all for now. Are you planning a Serenity hack? 8^>

  • Leaves out a couple of things:

    First of all, the Serenity movie had something that Firefly the TV show didn't have and badly needed - a damn good villain. A trad game setup is perfect for this.

    Secondly, the very best Firefly ep was the one where they ran out of gas. Also much better when done in a trad game format.

    Thirdly, Joss Whedon can't write his way out of a paper sack. Nothing much can be done about this though. :)
  • edited December 2006
    "Thirdly, Joss Whedon can't write his way out of a paper sack. Nothing much can be done about this though."

    Okay. We'll set that to the side. (Hit TV show for seven years? I'll give the man some credit. Let's move on.)

    Next, I'm not sure if this will matter, but I saw the movie before seeing the series. I enjoyed the movie so much, I decided to watch the run of the show... And my reaction? Not so much.

    The feature was darker, more thematically slam bang. The TV show was -- I thought -- a bit soft and meandering.

    Others disagree with me on this point. Which is my point. For some, there's some disagreement on what "Firefly" is. For me, I'd go with the feature. A discussion about the "Firefly" RPG might end up having to address this.

    Third, I agree with everyone who got here before me: I see focusing on the ship as the key.

    The ship and the characters on the ship form a community. The tensions, ambitions and arguements of the individuals as they try to hold onto their own personal needs while working with the other members of the community while trying to steer the community the way they want it to go while trying to keep the community safe and whole is what the core of the game would be about.

    So, for whatever reason, the characters call and consider the ship home. It's not just a job. It's as much a community you are bound to as your actual family, your religion or your nation -- even if some people in that community piss you off and you want to storm out. But you can't. Because it's your community. For whatever reason, the PC belongs on that ship, and knows that no matter what, they're better off struggling to move the community in the direction they want than to leave.

    I'd say the game mechanics would be rigged-up somehow so that a) the GM puts pressure on the starship community, and then b) the PCs are driven into conflict with each on what their community is supposed to do under that pressure while under that threat.

    I'd say that I'd be less interested in making the "Firefly" RPG than the Spaceship Community Under Pressure RPG -- which could then be used for "Firefly." But note that I'm describing "Battlestar Galactica" as well.

    I'd say I think I finally got a handle on the SF RPG I always wanted to play since reading Traveller almost two decades ago.... But couldn't figure out how to get the game to deliver the emotional and social pressure I wanted from the setting and situation assumptions built into the rules.

  • 1) I'd make it a fan-fic thingie. This isn't about playing characters kinda-sorta like the crew of the Serenity, it's about playing the crew of the Serenity.

    2) I'd have the players accumulate Joss Whedon Points. Joss Whedon Points are gained by the player playing towards canon ( perhaps awarded by the other players, similar to fan-mail in PTA). By playing towards canon, I mean that a players interpretation of say Jayne, stirkes the group as being in-line with the show's example. If you're The Joss ( GM) for the session, you get JWPs for the other players agreeing that you've set-up situations, played npcs, whatever, in-line with their expectations about the style/feel of the show and have incorporated bits from the show.

    3) The way to add to, alter or clarify canon is by the expenditure of JWPs. JWPs are not used as drama/hero/bennie points- they strictly exist for the group to flesh out the Serenity-verse and the inhabitants.

    4) The characters and The Joss (GM) position aren't tied to a player. Those are expected to rotate among the group, possibly even during the same episode.
  • Posted By: qhudspethThat's all for now. Are you planning a Serenity hack? 8^>
    Not really! I'm just idly speculating ...
    Posted By: Christopher Kubasik
    I'd say that I'd be less interested in making the "Firefly" RPG than theSpaceship Community Under PressureRPG -- which could then be usedfor"Firefly." But note that I'm describing "Battlestar Galactica" as well.
    Now when I started this thread I was just commenting on MWP producing both Serenity and BSG, but I hadn't considered that the two might be permutations of the same core idea - that of a family of characters on a starship on the run from someone. Hmm ... interesting.

    So are there any games out there now that could be hacked for such a game?
  • I think it would look a lot like Spirit of the Century, personally.

    But I may be biased.
  • I disagree with Chris about the movie being stronger than the show - Whedon's habit of using flat, ridiculous recurring villains really bores me, and I'm glad that they didn't get around to that in Firefly.

    But other than that, he's got it exactly - it's an unbreakable community under pressure. The ship always calls them home.

  • Something else that came to mind:

    I'd make the GM Pressure a Community as well. I think this would increase thematic resonance for the players.

    In "Serenity" -- which was my introduction to the "Firefly" universe -- I saw this fantastic Alliance that was determined to bring peace to their interstellar community. And, in particular, Chiwetel Ejiofor's Operative character was compelling to me precisely defined he defined Honor as protecting the community -- and considered it honorable to protect despicable secrets to protect the community.

    In fact, what I loved about the structure of the film was (again, knowing only what I knew from the film alone), Mal fought to steer the interstellar community toward what he wanted it to be (The War). He lost, and tried to build a "safe" community on the ship. But even on the ship there was conflict! And then he had to make choices about whether or not to get involved again with the larger community again.

    In the same way, The Cylons are protecting their community.

  • One of the earliest serious discussions of Dogs in the Vineyard hacking was for a Firefly game. That ends up focusing more on the cultural and political stuff maybe, but some folks played it and really enjoyed it.
  • It would be called Primetime Adventures.
  • edited December 2006
    Posted By: andrew_kenrickNow when I started this thread I was just commenting on MWP producing both Serenity and BSG, but I hadn't considered that the two might be permutations of the same core idea - that of a family of characters on a starship on the run from someone. Hmm ... interesting.
    It's essentially a zombie movie. Night of the Living Dead, Lost, BSG, Firefly = a group of people, isolated, dealing with each other as the main focus but also under pressure from external, hostile forces. Get a good zombie game that deals with interactions within a small community, throw in a spaceship, and you've got a Firefly RPG. However, most zombie games I've seen are all about killing the zombie menace, not about conflict between characters.
  • Community-focused RPGs need a GM like a I need a third leg. Just sayin'. If what's important is the community, the way the group of players creates and solves problems should reflect that. Problems come from within the community (and within the group of players), not from outside. We're all in this together.
  • Hm, you know, maybe it would look a little like Snow From Korea...

  • Steve Darlington at rpg.net already gave this a shot and did a fairly good job at it, I thought. Definitely worth looking at and better than the real version:

  • Our group ran a Firefly adaptation of Dogs in the Vineyard, with some success. The setup of a DitV scenario is the town, and we tried to adapt this to the concept of "the job". Our implementation was a little rough, but I think it went pretty well.
  • JD, I don't understand what you mean about villainy requiring a "trad" game. You have someone play the villain, villainously. They get rewards for doing villainous stuff. If they're free from having to also arbitrate the fairness of the conflict, they're going to play better villains than if you have a GM who's either pulling punches or hosing the protagonists.

    The stuff that matters in Firefly, I think, is what the agreements are between the protags that allow them to get along when pressure is applied in certain ways. Those "ways" are jobs.

    So here's what I think you've got:

    A bunch of people playing the protags, the Crew. Each player has at most one Protag. They receive rewards for defining the trust between the characters. That trust will never actually be violated (at least not substantially), but the détente between the characters will take form over time, and adding or changing details to reflect that relationship change is their reward.

    Someone is playing the Job. That person's job is to set up a straightforward challenge — "Take this completely innocuous crate to a completely friendly planet and receive your very ample reward." The bigger the rewards for the Protag players, the bigger the reward for the Job. This person plays the guy who hired them, townspeople, the recipient, &c. This player is actually on the side of the Crew.

    Someone is playing the Villain. They complicate the Job. They're the ones that make the crate be full of babies or whatever, or the friendly planet have a trap, or the ample reward be fool's gold. They're playing the characters actually responsible for challenges, and they get resources for testing the relationships between the characters. One of the ways this can happen (and I think this is interesting when freed from the mass media requirements of TV and movies) is by killing protagonists, but they can spread lies, cheat the Crew, kidnap them, whatever. The point is to get the Crew in a situation where they have to choose between getting what they want and altering the nature of the trust between the characters. The Villain has a set number of resources to use in the course of the story. The more used now, the fewer scenes remain.

    I see some parts of Mountain Witch working in here, as well as some Polaris. The Villain bit is straight out of Shock: but repurposed a bit.

  • Hi!
    I think that instead of the "secrets" idea suggested earlier, instead use a mechanic similar to Struggles found in PoC
    I feel like this closely matches the makeup of the characters in Serenity. All of the demands of each character is counterbalanced by another need or desire. for instance Inara is torn between Conformity and Individuality.
    I guess that's what it Serenity is to me, shades of gray set in an epic scale.
    Dave M
    Author of Legends of Lanasia (Still in Beta)
  • I love the variety of responses here. Firefly/Serenity is interesting, because it's a totally Rosarch-blot for storygamers. Let someone look at it, and (if they at least like the show somewhat) you'll hear both about what they might value in a story, and also what they'd value in a game.
  • edited December 2006
    [edited out]
  • As a fan of both BSG and Firefly, I think what Christopher says about "community" has a lot of merrit. In a game people might get dice/points for protecting their community (although betraying it, as Jayne does, would then be *seriously* swimming upstream). I think the strength in both series is that they aren't afraid to put the series' dynamic on the line--BSG is willing to do 6+ Episode story arcs, Firefly is willing to convincingly play with character's lives.

    In order to do this in an RPG, one possibility would be to have every player have a major and minor character. The major characters have Plot-Points or some other form of script-"immunity" (really a 'defense'). While the minor characters get none--and if your minor dies, you are expected to suck it up and make a new one. Everyone knows that Baltar, Starbuck, and Mal aren't going to die--but lesser charcters can (Walsh would be a surprise. Book, maybe not).

    Another thing I would do is give characters a set pool of "plot dice" as a "count-down-clock." When first introduced they could use those dice to be quite effective--but the pool generally doesn't replentish so they're going to become less dominant as play goes on (the pool *might* replentish with a new arc). The effect of this would be to make characters sort of establish themsleves fairly impressively (if the player so chose)--but eventually they would gravitate to their listed stats which would be far more mortal. This would let introduced characters strut-their-stuff while still keeping the game moderately gritty,

  • Well,

    The presents are wrapped for my nieces and nephews, Santa's name forged by me dozens of times, and I'm exhausted from the efforts of a ruse that could have been better used to robbing a bank...

    But my head is abuz on this stuff... I have nothing concrete right now, but I am excited by the permutations floating around.

    Okay, picking up off what Marco said about duel characters and combining it with what Jonathan said about GM-less play as a possibility -- maybe the secondary characters are used by players during their "turn" as GM -- or something...?

    Also, what Marco said about script-immunity struck cord with me. I'm not a big fan of "points" or mechanics to delay death for a PC... because basically it's simply delaying the death anyway, and if anyone has expectations of immunity and the points are gone, then you start fudging (okay, everyone, this may not be your read on it -- but it is mine). In my view, a game has Death and you stand by it -- like Riddle of Steel -- or you know its about another risk -- like Primetime Adventures and you stick with that.

    So, what's the risk? It could be death for some of the designers around here.But when I asked myself the question, and what got me excited, is the threat of exile from the community.

    That's the mechanic I'd be building. Something where your stake in the community rises and falls... Even if your deeds are done in secret. Sort of like the Humanity scale in Sorcerer, I guess, where it's a social activity among the players to judge if an action by a PC is worthy of a Humanity roll for good or ill.

    Actually, yeah. Now that I'm typing this... The Community Roll, ripped pretty cleanly from Sorcerer seems to make sense to me. You can do anything with your protagonist you want as long as it's from 1-10... But down to zero, you're exiled.

    This means a character could die -- but still be part of the community -- and honored as such. And live, but have been bounced.

    I'm not saying that mechanic is the solution I'm looking for. But at this moment, knowing I've got to get some sleep before I get the phone call telling me Santa showed up after all and the kids are pretty excited, I'll be turning in for some sleep now.


    PS -- Oh! Wait! Not yet!

    So! When you get in a jam, and you're part of the community, the community WILL come to your aid. Even if you did something for you own selfish reasons -- because you've still got a Community Rating, the remaining PCs will come to rescue your sorry ass. (Like when Helo was left on Caprica in the mini-series after giving up his seat on the ship so Baltar would survive. The actor was supposed to leave the show after that... But he looked so iconic standing there watching the ship they decided they couldn't... He was part of the team now, and so the whole Caprica plot was written in for the first season.)

    In this way, the players get to pursue sub-agendas and sub-plots, but always be making up trouble for the other characters because the other characters are obliged to help them. Reluctantly, perhaps. But they will help.
  • "JD, I don't understand what you mean about villainy requiring a "trad" game. You have someone play the villain, villainously. They get rewards for doing villainous stuff. If they're free from having to also arbitrate the fairness of the conflict, they're going to play better villains than if you have a GM who's either pulling punches or hosing the protagonists."

    Hm, why did I think it requires a traditional GM setup? Took me a while to figure out why I threw that out there. As with ninety percent of the stuff I think about in games, it's a social-level thing.

    Come with me now to the fabled land of make-believe:

    "Guys, I got a great Serenity game!"
    "Sweet! I love Firefly!"
    "There's these cool rules for being part of a Community On A Spaceship!"
    "Fuckyeah, that's what I want!"
    "Only one of you has to play the villain. They don't get to be part of the community. They have to be doing dastardly things and messing with the job."
    "But...the cool thing about Firefly is being part of the crew slash family slash community! I don' wanna be the villain...I mean, do I at least get to also be the other NPCs, and take part in the community scenes and problems by helping create the world and describe the situation?"
    "No no, there's a regular GM for that."
    "Well Jesus Christ, I don't want to be the villain! And we all know the main cool thing about the movie was that there was a villain and a point! This is the worst damn Serenity game ever! You suck, JDCorley! Your game sucks!"


    I was chiefly considering what might attract people to the Serenity/Firefly material. Naturally I figure players will want to be part of the crew.

    (That is just my uneducated guess, but I do have some additional data for this: my wife helps adjudicate a Firefly MU* and literally every single player of a cast of dozens on the place is either part of a crew or trying to be - to the point where players who don't want to be part of a crew are left out of damn near everything that happens. It is literally the only game in town.)

    That, plus wanting to be surprised and righteously outraged at the latest escapade of the villain, leans towards a trad structure for me.
  • Posted By: DevPI love the variety of responses here. Firefly/Serenity is interesting, because it's a totally Rosarch-blot for storygamers.
    Totally. For me, I'd just say "Primetime Adventures", PERIOD. All the "community" issues can be dealt with as Issues if need be.

    Before, I ragged on the Serenity game for a number of reasons, but what it mostly came down to was this:

    When MWP announced it, it was under the banner of getting more folks (Firefly fans) into gaming. In doing so, they basically rewrote Every RPG That Already Exists and dashed in some Serenity screencaps. It was totally unreflective of the show in general ("I think that 'submersible piloting' should be a seperate piloting skill because submersible craft are much different than aboveground and space ships!" etc), and specifically what attracted people to the show (to do the kinds of things that characters in the show regularly did, you basically had to save up 5 sessions' worth of Brownie Points and blow them all on a roll). Now I'm more or less "whatever", because I know that to do something better, it would have taken time and reflection, two things which the company probably couldn't afford if they wanted to get the game out on time.

    Honestly, if I were doing the "Mass Market Serenity Game", if would look like a cross between the existing Serenity game (mainstream elements, stats, combat system, etc) and PTA (issues, getting regular bonuses for Fan Mail-y stuff, and combat doesn't end in 'death'), and maybe throw in that 7th sea rule about the White and Black tokens for "I succeed" and "I fail".

  • About a year or so ago I used my 21 System to run a Firefly game for some of my coworkers. It worked out really well. Using cards and poker chips definitely fit the mood of the 'Verse, and the players loved being able to use Letters of Introduction (face cards) to create NPC contacts. I even started to work up some ship rules and stuff, but got sidetracked by Caper!. I hope to someday return to workign on this game, which I'm calling New Frontier.
  • Hm, whydidI think it requires a traditional GM setup? Took me a while to figure out why I threw that out there. As with ninety percent of the stuff I think about in games, it's a social-level thing.

    Someone's got to play the villain if you want any sort of functional opposition. You're saying that it should be the same person who sets up the scenario. I think that's OK if you have a definition of GM that is completely nontraditional, á la Dogs in the Vineyard or PTA. Neither are "trad" in their treatment of the role; the GM doesn't have the conflict of interest where they've got to make the opposition as hard as possible, but not any harder. In PTA, the GM has an expendable resource and in Dogs, the GM's job is to find out what the Dogs will fight for, not if they'll win.

    What you described is a game where no one wants to play the villain. That's not going to work whatever way you slice it. There are lots of ways to distribute the responsibilities; maybe while I'm playing the Villain, my Crew character is just background, and next week I get to play my Crewmember and someone else has to play the Villain and the Job. I didn't just write a game; I wrote down some design spec.

  • Responsibility distribution doesn't have to be fixed, either. The power to create opposition could be like "It" in a game of tag, something to be discarded as quickly as possible, or like the opposite, a special privilege that's constantly competed over. Stagnant responsibilities are another artifact of traditional thinking that needs to be examined for appropriateness.

  • Yah, that all seems reasonable. In my example, the person is perfectly willing to play the villain as long as they can contribute to the focus of the source material (spaceship community) in some other way too. In other words, the trad-GM role satisfies both the need for someone to play the villain and every player's need to contribute in some way to the focus of the game. I'm sure there are other solutions but that's the way I leap, because that combo is a huge attraction for GMing licensed/adapted material, at least in my group.
  • edited June 2007
    When I ran a Firefly game a few years ago (I used West End Games' Shatterzone/Masterbook/TORG system), I decomposed the typical episode's plot structure into its components. As I recall, I figured that an episode always included:

    The Job
    An internal challenge/conflict
    An external challenge/conflict

    One of those was the A Plot, another was the B Plot, and the third was the backdrop.
  • I think Firefly would make a great Full Light, Full Steam mod.
  • ...damn, it would.
  • Here's the plot structure I observed in Firefly episodes and used to create new ones:
    Posted By: Anemone
    Basic Plot Structure of a Firefly Episode:

    Prologue + 4 acts, with plot points towards the end of Acts 1, 2, and 3.Three plot components:The JobAn external plot, complication or dangerAn internal plot, complication, or conflictUsually, two of these are prominent and the third acts as a backdrop or distractionMay have vignettes of additional internal conflicts
  • Posted By: Andrew KenrickIf Serenity was remade as a Story Game, what would it look like?
    Something like this.
  • Have I stumbled into a bizarre alternate timeline where no one has yet pointed out the suitability of Dogs to Firefly? The only barrier to understanding I ever saw was the need for a new hierarchy of sins, and I'm pretty sure I remember someone coming up with a good one on one forum or another.

    I have to admit it didn't take me long after seeing Serenity to understand ||SPOILER|| as being the result of a victorious conflict with max fallout.
  • I think that was at the Lumpley Games forum over at the Forge.

    Umm, lessee... here it is!

  • (Battlestar Galactica... well, I'd play Shock: That's why I wrote it.)

  • Some episodes, at least, might look a bit like Wilderness of Mirrors. Job => planning => execution with complications.

    If someone produced a "travelling round in a spaceship" game that could be used in various different modes, I'd be interested in it. That is, you'd have modules for arty interaction between characters, and exciting gun battles, and info about interesting planets, and trading to get ahead, and so on - and could choose how you want to use it per campaign or per session.
  • If someone produced a "travelling round in a spaceship" game that could be used in various different modes
    Tim - wasn't that game pretty much every iteration of Traveller, as it was drifted by every group that played it?

    And for a game with such broad and divergent goals as you describe, I'm not certain how well the usual story-game design methodology of "focus everything on producing X type of play experience" (this is a gross simplification but still reasonably true) would apply. Admittedly there are some games that are embraced by the story game community (e.g. Spirit of the Century) that actually support a lot of different types of character activities, but this is supported by a central mechanic with a few tweaks - so the difference between "arty interaction" and "exciting gun battle" are blurred; they are played out much the same way.

    I'm interested to hear any ideas you would have about how to permit a game to support divergent activities like these in a way that doesn't produce separate "mini-games within the game"? Or is your goal actually to have a "trade mini-game" within a larger "travel in a spaceship" game?
  • Sounds like taking a page from Weapons of the Gods. Group all the rules in modular loresheets, classified by character role. If someone buys lots of pilot loresheets, it means they read the special piloty-rules, and they can apply piloty-type solutions to things, and the GM has piloty-type challenges show up. Likewise if someone buys lots of leady-person loresheets, shooty-person loresheets, etc.

    WotG is one of the few games with apparently functional minigame, "class-specific" mechanics. Apparently, cuz I never played it, and thus I would welcome a dissenting opinion.
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