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Firefly in the Vinyard (FitV) Character Creation

Character Creation (my initial thoughts)

As with DitV, do not come to the first session with a character created. It will be useful to have watched Firefly (but not necessary) and to have some ideas in mind. Remember that this is your story and you do not have to have everything that they have on the show. You are not playing the crew of the Serenity (but you can if you like.)

What every crew needs:

  • The Captain – The captain owns the ship and must take it as one of his possessions. This means that it is his ship with all of the good and the bad that comes with it. The Captain should be a PC.
  • A pilot – Someone must know how to fly the ship.
  • A mechanic – Someone must know how to fix the ship.
  • A steward – Someone must know how to handle money and handle proper resupply. If a crew member knows how to, then the Players don’t.

Note: I will use the word Crew throughout this document. This refers to a PC or NPC that is controlled by the players, even though they may not actually work on the Ship (i.e. River. She doesn't really count as crew per say, but would be counted as such for this document.)

Since a standard group of players will be between 3 and 6 people, it may be useful to have several NPCs crew members to handle one or more of the above roles. Having an NPC pilot (or backup pilot) is useful as it allows all of the PCs to be directly involved with the conflict.

Step 1: Create Characters

1) Decide how the above roles are going to filled. It doesn’t matter how you decide. If no one wants one of the above roles, then it will be filled by an NPC (See below.)
2) Begin character creation normally. Each person uses standard DitV character creation methodology.
3) Name the Ship. The Captain makes the final decision. It is his ship after all.

Step 2: Create NPCs

1) Decide what other characters (if any) you want on the ship.
a. Maybe you want a Shepard on the ship, but no one wants to play him as his PC. No problem. Lets create him anyway.
2) The group should then create the NPCs. The GM is considered the player for purposes of character creation (ultimately deciding where points go, etc …) but creation is really done with the group.
a. The GM also has the option to “plant” one or two characters of his own design to the ship’s crew (the Doctor and River could have been GM plants.)
b. I do not recommend doing this if the players object, but it is a useful way to introduce some unusual elements into the life of the ship’s crew.
3) A quick note about NPCs – This is preliminary, but it is my thought that any player can decide to play one of the NPCs at any time when his own PC is not directly involved. If a Player does this, he must play the NPC as if it were his own PC, even if the fallout may effect his PC. That is the deal. Examples include:
a. Playing the pilot in a high pressure chase, rather than having the GM play both the NPC and pursuer.
b. You PC is captured or injured and you don’t want to just “sit around.”
c. When a PC comes into conflict with an NPC (verbally or otherwise) one of the players can play that NPC rather than the GM. This allows the other players to think of these characters Crew rather than the GMs NPCs.

Comments appreciated.

Personally, I think the results will be much better if all the crew members are PCs. I think a big part of the fun is going to be the dynamics of the crew, and this will work best if all the crew members are PCs. Look at the great conflicts in firefly: Mal vs. Jane, Mal vs. the doc, Jane vs. the doc, and so on. These would work better, IMHO, if the whole crew are PCs.

That said, your suggestion that a player be ready to take on the role of an NPC is a good one. Purely GM-controlled crew members (unless they are somehow "lesser" crew members) doesn't strike me as something that will work that well.

I still don't see the need for these strict "roles" that need to be filled. The players make the crew of a spaceship. Let them figure out who does what and why. "Steward" really confuses me. Our game is about tough decisions on Jobs, like the TV show. Keeping track of money and resupply seems like a waste of our time. I mean, the premise of the game is, we're poor, and we have to take Jobs to survive. Fine. We don't need a character devoted to counting credits and fuel consumption to make that happen. We already know it, as players. We get a Job offer, and someone says, "I don't like the sound of that, but we need a new radial-compensator for the induction manifold and the fee for this job will cover it." Done and done.

Also: Six players is VASTLY too many for DitV style play. I shudder to contemplate it. Four is pushing it.

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The roles are strict in terms of: Every ship really needs someone who can do each of these things. It is not that you MUST have one person who is a pilot, one who is a mechanic, etc ... But rather someone must be able to fly the ship. Someone must be able to fix the ship, even if they are the same person. Without them, you are seriously limiting the crew's flexibility.

The Steward as a role, is simply a way to say that someone needs to know what it takes to run a ship. How much fuel it needs (and how much fuel "should" cost), how much food, etc ...

If you want the game to simply ignore that aspect and assume that it is "taken care of" by the simple act of Job success and Job failure then ignore it. It is no biggie, but for realism, someone should have some sort of business sense.

This is going to sound nitpicky, and I know where you're coming form, but "realism" always sets off alarm bells.

How about doing it this way:

There are some attributes:
"I'm the guy that flies the ship 2d6"

"I'm the guy that fixes the ship 2d6"

"I'm the guy that handles the business 2d6"

Let the players split them up however they want. That way no one "has to" become the engineer for "realism" purposes, rather its a free thing that the players have to request in order to get.

I'm with Tony. Realism? Wha?

Think about Dogs. What do Dogs do? They judge the sinful. But there are no rules that say "You need to have a shootin' guy, and a talkin' guy, and a spiritual guy," because that's 'realistic.' Players get to make the characters they want, and then tell the story of those guys. Maybe no one can shoot worth a damn. What then? Does the game break? Nope.

Maybe we don't have a mechanic. What then? I see no problem in telling that story. Realism be damned.

For a game like Dogs to work, you really need to purge thoughts of "realism" from your head. Not because a game like Dogs has to be "unrealistic" but because the bugaboo of realism will work against the proper play of the game at every turn.

Here's something to consider. My character can be the best pilot in the universe. I take this trait: "Best Pilot in the 'Verse 1d4." Am I in fact the best pilot in the 'verse? YES. What happens when I get involved in conflicts and use my piloting skill? Trouble. Danger. Fallout. Realism is not a factor here. When we roll dice, story happens, not physics.

I also wanted to comment on this (regarding when you might play an NPC):

"Your PC is captured or injured and you don’t want to just 'sit around.'"

Dogs play doesn't work like that. Check out the sections on injury and fallout and such. There's no 'sitting around' phase of play, where a player is not allowed to engage in the game due to harm to the character.

*sigh* Ok, Realism was a bad choice of word. "I'm the guy who handles the Business 2d6" is all I was really looking for. It just seemed better to put a name on it (pulled from Traveller incidentally.)

Strangely though, with straight Dogs, I'm much less concerned about the idea of roles. The concept of roles in a space opera feels much more important unless you just wave your hand at the beginning of the game and say, "The ship only breaks when it is dramatically appropriate." or the players decide that they are willing to take the consequences of not having a mechanic, and that is their perrogitive.

I suspect much of this will change after I actually play Dogs straight.

Yep, "realism" is a hot button word (almost as bad as "physics") :)

I think part of what's going on here is that you're saying (appropriately for the setting) that "the ship breaking down is going to be part of the game" and "flying the ship well is going to be part of the game".

I guess it would be analogous to a Dogs party where no one carries a gun - it doesn't seem to work in the setting.

I understand, Brandon. I'm saying, the ship breaking down doesn't matter unless someone has a mechanic character. If there's a mechanic PC, then maybe a "the ship is broken" conflict would be interesting. If there is no mechanic PC, then the ship breaking just means stuff happens. We have to set down on an uncharted world. Or make a sour deal with a salvage ship that rescues us. Or drift into Reaver territory. Or whatever. If the players don't make a mechanic character, they're saying, loud and clear, "We don't care about mechanic conflicts."

Let's look at Star Wars again. In A New Hope, the Falcon works fine. There are no conflicts involving a mechanic. We don't even really know that Chewie is a mechanic. Neither Han nor Chewie need to have any ship-fixing game traits in that storyline. Does Chewie "really" know how to fix the ship during the events of A New Hope? Answer: it doesn't matter.

In TESB, though, the Falcon is always breaking down. Chewie and Han have some nail-biting conflicts trying to get the hyperdrive to work right. In that storyline, we can imagine that the players gave Han and Chewie some mechanic traits. Now, mechanic conflicts are interesting to the players (if they weren't, they wouldn't have written the traits down).

Your comment about hand-waving and "dramatically appropriate" is very interesting to me. *Everything* that happens in a game like Dogs happens because it's "appropriate" to the game. It's one of the goals of play to only spend time on those scenes that matter to the players and minimize or eliminate those scenes where "stuff happens" because it "should."

The text of Dogs is very, very explicit about this. These kinds of techniques are very hard to see if you've had a lifetime of gaming in a different style, though.

I hope you don't feel ganged up on, Brandon. I know I tend to always jump in swinging when it comes to indie game systems, and especially Nar-supported play. But there are so many assumptions about RPG play, and Dogs goes counter to almost all of them. It's not easy to untangle all of this stuff, especially in this medium.

Don't worry if I feel ganged up on - it won't change my opinion unless I agree with the POV.

I think the crux of the matter here is that the majority of my experience lies in a GM centric game. In many ways, as a player I like a GM centric because it means I have to do less work and can enjoy the ride. Of course that only works when I am enjoying what the GM has put together.

Comment about Han and Chewie from New Hope to TESB is a very interesting example and I see where you are coming from.

In many ways it seems as though the hand wave is implied at all times in Dogs. Thus in this example, the role of Steward should simply be "hand waved" unless there is a character whose has a trait, "I always get a good deal 2d8" or the mechnical issues are hand waved unless you have a character who wants to "do battle" with the ship (as it were.)

What strange waters I seem to be sailing into.

on a side note, I am just about finished with PrimeTime Adventures and talk about taking all of these issues to an extreme minimalist approach (it is almost like not having a system at all.)

Strange waters, indeed.

For comparison, I would call PTA the most system-heavy game I've played (tied with Trollbabe, I guess). Since you employ the system (the procedures and techniques for play in the text) during every moment of the game. Compared to, say, D&D, where the game system is used maybe 50% of the game time, tops.

D&D feels like "no system at all" to me. Because, how do you know who has authority over a given thing in the game? When can I say what I do, and how do we know when it happens in the imaginary space? What does a die-roll decide? What should I be trying to accomplish as a player? It's all systemless.

Man, I LOVE our discussions on this stuff, Brandon. It's so interesting to have a contrasting (and reasonable!) point of view to respond to.

System Heavy? Are you smoking crack? (sorry I just felt that this conversation was being to reasonable :)

But seriously how can you call it System Heavy? From what I can tell it has approximately 4 rules (maybe a slight exagerration but not much.) It feels oversimplified. Sure the system is being used "all the time" but that is because everything has such broad strokes that you can't help but be using one of the rules. Really the system feels (from my first read) to be more like a card game with a storytelling aspect (kind of like Lunch money :)

I don't disagree with your assessment of D&D but I find that D&Ds dual problems lie in either too much system (i.e. combat), or not enough system (driving chacters.) But really D&D is not about playing a character driven story. It is about vanquishing foes and finding a bigger sword. But maybe that is just me.

PTA is system-heavy because you always use the system AND the system has a goal: create an episode of your own television show, focusing on character-driven drama. If you follow the system described in the book, you will create an epsiode of televsion, focusing on character-driven drama. That's system that supports the goal of play 100%.

Now, think about every other RPG you've ever played. What was the point of play? How did using the game system help you reach that point of play, moment-to-moment during the game?

D&D is a great example of system support, IF the point-of-play is: Defeat monsters, take their stuff. Was this the point of, say, your Eberron series? How did the system help you achieve the point of play for that series? My guess is, not much at all. Instead, you (and the players) used techniques to hit your point of play, techniques that are not part of the D20 system. Whenever you did that, you were playing without a formal system -- i.e. "freeform."

Moving into and out of freeform play is another common RPG technique, and one that is also not accounted for in most RPG texts.

In games like PTA and Dogs, you never play freeform. The game system is there to coordinate what you're doing during play, always, just like chess, poker, or Settlers of Cattan.

So, PTA doesn't have just "four rules" and then leaves everything else up to freeform. It has exactly the number of "rules" it needs to coordinate what the players say so that the result is an episode of TV.

You could replace Accomplishments with a scene that has a conflict and ties the character to the ship.

Hi guys...this thread is definitely getting me psyched to run a Firefly game of my own (tried running one based on GURPS a few months ago and it was an unmitigated disaster, but for that I blame the system and one particularly twinkish player...anyhoo...)

I can think of at least two additional PC roles:

1) Healer. Maybe it's just my D&D background, but healers are definitely useful roles, particularly for players who are not interested in combat and willing to do a great deal of character play. When Jobs go South and bullets start flying, sooner or later someone's beloved character is going to be on death's door...yes, it is easy for a healer to be used/cajoled/treated like a tool, but Simon demonstrated time and again that he could levy his healing talent as a bargaining chip to get what he wants.

2) Diplomat - maybe this part of what you meant by Steward, but in several episodes Inara's knowledge of high society was very useful. I'm running a Sorcerer's Crusade game right now where one of the most valuable players is a "fake noble" who can bullshit the cadre's way through the twists and turns of Elizabethan court.
Or you could turn this around and have a PC with particular ties to the criminal underworld (someone like Badger), and the twists and turns of its politics.

Now, to be certain, either of these roles could be ADDITIONAL skills possessed by the captain, gun-bunny, mechanic, etc...but I always find that when my players multispecialize it leads to munchkinism and overlap. It's always nice to make everyone feel needed...

- SW

Here's an interesting question: what's the usefulness/fun-factor of having a trait like:

"Best pilot in the 'verse"

"I can fix anything"

"I live for danger"

When would these traits ever enter a conflict? Any ideas?

When would they enter conflict? If the game is anything like I'm imagining, the answer is: all the time. Especially that last one. You could roll that during almost any action scene.

But consider "I can fix anything." Your character is arguing with the Captain. The stakes are: You convince the Captain to turn the ship around and go back to Persephone. On your Raise you say, "But we have to go back. The reduction coil compensator is about to go, and it won't be pretty. We need to go back and get a new one," and you roll your "fix it" dice.

The trick with Dogs traits is: You don't get to roll them because they "apply" to the conflict according to some objective standard. You get to roll them because you narrate their use during a Raise or See. Simple as that.

YES! Thank you for that response. That's exactly what I was looking for. It's much clearer now.

I'm late to the table here, but I wanted to toss out something that is more germaine to the original topic of the post: I think one of the most important NPCs should be the ship. On the Firefly DVD commentary, everybody is always talking about Serenity as a character. And I think that is totally true. I can envision the players creating the ship as a shared NPC by assigning traits to it, treating the ship traits as a shared pool that anybody can narrate into a scene:

Poorly maintained Gurtsler 2d4
Nooks and crannies 1d6
Skips atmo like a filly in the spring 1d10

That doesn't sound like a bad idea to me.

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