Thursday, June 26, 2014

Firefly RPG, Episode Four: "Breakout" Part II: Analysis

On Monday, I posted my synopsis of the fourth episode of my Firefly RPG season. Here in part 2 of that report, I'll talk about some general thoughts and observations about the session.

There are generally three levels of enthusiasm I have when I'm about to run an RPG. At the bottom level is "well, I said I was going to do it, so let's do it," where I don't really want to, but I'll suck it up basically on the good faith that I'll still have a good time. At the middle level is my default level of enthusiasm, where I am stoked to play the game and I'm going to do it no matter what, and I'm pretty confident it's going to be a good time. The third, highest level, is Maximum Hype. I am stoked to run those games. I can almost guarantee everyone who shows is going to have a blast. Last Sunday's episode was Level Three on the enthusiasm meter. And it delivered, if I do say so myself.

Of course, I cannot take all the credit. Stephen did an excellent job running the flashback adventure. He hadn't run a game in a long time, and he had very little experience running the more narrative-style story games like those of the Cortex Plus system. I had total faith in him, though. I was ready to back him up and jump in if he seemed to flounder, but that was never necessary. He handled it like a champ.

And, obviously, a big hunk of credit goes to my players for being awesome, too. When Stephen and I designed the kids the others would play, we both knew to go in with as broad a template as possible, so the players could add the details and backgrounds about them as they played. This of course was going to be the biggest gamble...most of my players are pretty experienced at what they do, and prefer to make their characters from scratch. They'll use pre-mades, but you can practically see the distance between the character and the player playing that character, even if the player gets to choose a few surface details. I was nervous about that, because for this flashback to work, the players were all going to need to buy into the experience. I didn't want it to be a situation where Q's player was the only one having fun and the other players were essentially just out-sourced NPCs.

By the end of the adventure, though, I think those kids were every bit the Big Damn Heroes that the regular crew was. Sure enough, the players readily injected personality into those kids, and had a great time using their powers. Q's player, Mary, even wrote a fan fiction piece about the kids!  So that went off extremely well.

On my end, all I had to do was keep tying the loose threads from the past into the present, and that practically wrote the adventure by itself. Following that line of thought, it just seemed to make the most sense to have Doctor Montgomery turn traitor on the crew. Only thing, though, was I had come up with that twist on the spot. So I had to ask Stephen: "Hey, Stephen, how would you like to kill off the character you've been running for the past few months and turn one of this session's primary antagonists into your new character?" But Stephen, again, was really cool about it, and agreed. I can't speak for Stephen, but I hope that his transition to Ira leads to more great roleplaying and interesting twists for the crew.

However, this leads into another concern I have coming out of the adventure: the continuing tight-rope walk between the source material and my own aspirations. As the season moves on, I find myself thinking of increasingly bold ideas by the standards of the TV show. I'm beginning to drift away from Firefly as source material and more as reference material to my own "space western" game. The pilot episode had references to recurring cast members and direct ties to stuff from the show. This episode had five kids with psychic powers. And we're not just talking freaky visions and mind-reading here like River on the show...we're talking about Whiskey, who could start fires with his mind. So we've begun a departure from the show here. The question now is, how far do we go off the TV screen? Should I start to steer it back, or should I just go with it? And what impact will that have on the remaining episodes of the campaign?

Well, the next episode is several weeks out. So we'll see where the whole thing goes next month!

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