Monday, April 28, 2014

The Kill Switch, Pt. II: Analysis

Perhaps the single greatest thing about the Firefly RPG, and the Cortex Plus system as a whole, is that the flexibility of the system really gives me the freedom to experiment with my GMing. Last episode, I cold-opened on a crazy en media res situation, then started back at the beginning of the story and challenged myself and my players to get ourselves into that crazy situation. In this week's episode, I wanted one of the players to be the main antagonist, and I wanted to interweave flashback sequences into the episode as it unfolded. Here's how I did it.

At the end of the first session, I asked every player to send me some detail on their character's background. The first person to give me anything was Dr. Montgomery's player. Because he was first, I got to stew on his story the longest. I had already decided that each player was going to be the "focus" of an episode, and so I decided the good doctor would be the focus of this one.

So the doctor's story, about rehabilitating Alliance soldiers, was his idea. So I rolled with it and originally thought of a Sopranos style sequence where he conducts talk therapy with a dangerous Alliance asset in an attempt to get information. Then I realized, well shit, we've got a dangerous Alliance asset on the ship already with Q! So I stole an idea from the Serenity movie, altered it a little, and bam! Episode ready!

That was the scary part about last episode, and it was the scariest part about this one, too: the general lack of prep. By nature of the game and the story, I had to keep things loose and flexible, improv on the fly, and hope that the players can provide enough material to keep things going. And just like last episode, it worked. When everyone showed up, I took Q and the doctor's player aside, I explained the story to them, and asked them if they could do it. They both agreed. Q's player was especially excited about being the villian! I told her, of course, to go hog wild.

For Dr. Montgomery's flashbacks, I settled on three scenes. Those three scenes, I decided, would be my pacing mechanisms throughout the adventure. The first one would happen within the first few scenes, to help establish the situation; the second one would mark the half-way point, and the third one would be trigger the episode's climax. When did I know we were at the halfway mark? When I felt like things were starting to lag. I had to adjust plans for the third flashback, however, when Enzo blindly stumbled upon the kill switch. So the third flashback became a resolution of the entire plotline rather than a trigger for the episode's climax.

To keep the flashback scenes lively and fun, I tapped Kitt to roleplay a minor recurring character during the scenes. This worked really great, and it off-set the fact that Kitt herself had relatively little going on in this particular episode.

I knew going in that focusing an adventure on one character's backstory would naturally create some asymmetry amongst the players. As I said above, having Kitt's player roleplay during the flashbacks partially offset this. Having Q be the episode's antagonist also help offset this. That left only Jack, Sally, and Enzo without a significant bit during the session. They all managed to find great spotlight moments however: Sally had an awesome fistfight with Q, Enzo somehow managed to guess the kill switch (it was really awesome how that happened; Enzo's player wasn't really engaging at all with finding the kill switch, preferring to tinker around with the ship; then right when things are looking grim, he just blurts it out!) And Jack had a great stunt where he swung himself across the cargo bay on a line while the air was being vacuumed out of the ship in a desperate attempt to kick Q off of the airlock doors. It failed, resulting in a spectacular crash against the door, but it was sufficiently convincing for Q to give up on the door before he came up with another crazy idea. (Oh, and upon discovery that Q's mother was a companion, he made a lot of whore jokes. A lot.)

The good thing about the asymmetry, though, is I now know where to focus the next adventure's energy on. So everything is flowing really well and I think the third episode will continue to carry the game's momentum. I'll end this analysis with some random notes:

-I gave Q total control over his own actions during the entire episode, though I frequently took breaks to pull Q's player aside and discuss plans of action. I portrayed the Kensington Protocol as a simple d10 asset Q's player could use for any roll involving messing with the ship or the crew. It worked great. I also, of course, let Q's player come up with her own kill switch.

-Up until Enzo's amazing stab in the dark, I was afraid discovering the kill switch was going to be too hard on the players. If I ever play this adventure again, I'll have to come up with a couple of hints I can feed the players. The best I could do in this game was, as Peaches, help steer the topics of conversation a little towards topics around the kill switch (for example, the players were barking up the wrong tree for awhile with a series of questions about Q's pet cat)

-The adventure ended at 2 1/2 hours. That's just a hair short for my liking, but better short and good than long and drawn-out. Besides, we had a blast playing some boardgames afterwards!

-For the extra heavy lifting involved, I gave bonus advancements to several players. Everyone got the episode, The Kill Switch, as an advancement. I gave Dr. Montgomery a second advancement in You Can't Save Them, representing his flashback sequences (the phrase comes from Colonel Kensington himself, during the third flashback scene where Dr. Montgomery discovers that the rehabilitation project was to be shut down, and all sleeper agents executed). For her particpation, I gave Kitt a second advancement, Rosalie Lynn McCready (the name of the recurring extra she roleplayed). And I gave Enzo the bonus advancement Deus Ex Machina, for miraclously coming up with the kill switch. I fully plan on shining the spotlight on Jack and Sally in the next adventure so they get a chance to earn a bonus advancement, as well.

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