Fired up a new Serenity campaign with the new girlfriend and a brand-new player out of Santa Fe (hi, Paul!)  The basic premise is a sort of A-Team/Burn Notice/Leverage meets the ‘Verse mash-up, with the characters taking on weekly jobs/helping the unfortunate while steering clear of the Alliance and finding out why the McGuffin (in this case played by the GF) was scrubbed from the Cortex records and has mysterious villains chasing her.

It all starts in a trash dump on Beaumonde, where CAROLE MCKENNA waves up, battered, bruised, dressed only in combat fatigue pants a black tank top, boots with a knife, and possessing a few hundred in Alliance script and a bottle of meds for what she doesn’t know.  She doesn’t know much actually — she’s suffering from amnesia.

What she learns — her father is a research manager for the Osiris Information Management Corporation — a software/hardware company contracted with Alliance military, and her mother is Dr. Miranda Tien, is a doctor working at the Advanced Evolutions Laboratory in a restricted island archipelago on Osiris.  Her birth records, however, gone.  Her military records, gone (she finds out she worked a special forces group doing psyops during the war and was a major), her life after she was critically injured in the final days of the war, gone.

She also, it seems, “hears” machines — she has a Cortex connection in her head that lets her access computers wirelessly.  She also seems to heal quickly (not supernaturally so, but fast!)

CAROLE MCKENNA

Ht: 5’6″  Wt: 125 lbs.   Hair: Auburn   Eyes: Blue  Distinguishing marks:  Very faint scar from pubis to sternum (someone opened her up.)

ATTRIBUTES:  Agility d8, Strength d8, Vitality d8, Alertness d10, Intelligence d8, Willpower d8

Secondary Attributes: Life Points 16, Initiative d8+d10, Endurance 2d8, Resistance 2d8

SKILLS:  Athletics d6, Discipline d6, Guns d6, Heavy Weapons d4, Influence d4, Knowledge d4, Linguist d2, Melee Combat d6, Perception d6, Planetary Vehicles d4, Survival d6, Tech Engineering d6, Unarmed Combat d6 (Capoeira d8)

ASSETS:  Allure d4, Athlete d4, Blastomere Implants d8 (doubles healing rate and gives a 1S armor), Cybernetic Implants d8 (gives +1 step to alertness, Total Recall asset, and +d4 to Tech Engineering tests involving computers), Highly Educated d4

COMPLICATIONS: Amnesia d8, Branded d8, Deadly Enemy d4, Illness, NIRS d6 (causes palsy if she doesn’t take myocephrin once/day), Traumatic Flashbacks d4 (flashes of memory, more than nightmares; due to malfunctions in her cybercortex.)

Playing her “Sam Axe in Space” (mixed with a bit of Treat Williams’ character from Deep Rising is Daniel Finnegan, former Alliance specops pilot and general layabout since the war.  He’s from Paquin — in our ‘Verse a sort of space Ireland with lots of travelers/pikers.  He was a cop, a contract pilot, then a conscripted officer in the war.  He’s been hanging out on Persephone where he makes a bit of cash off of his fast-courier boat Tough Luck and romancing war widows.

MAJOR DANIEL FINNEGAN (AFM, ret.)

Ht: 6’2″   Wt: 210 lbs.  Hair: Black (graying)   Eyes: Blue

ATTRIBUTES:  Agility d6, Strength d8, Vitality d8, Alertness d10, Intelligence d8, Willpower d10

Secondary Attributes: Life Points 20, Initiative d6+d10, Endurance: d8+d10, Resistance 2d8

SKILLS: Animal Handling d4, Athletics d6, Covert d6, Craft d4, Discipline d4, Guns d6, Heavy Weapons d6, Influence d6 (Seduction d8), Linguist d2, Mechanical Engineering d4, Melee Combat d4, Perception d6, Pilot d6 (Gunship d8), Planetary Vehicles d6, Survival d4, Technical Engineering d6, Unarmed Combat d6

ASSETS: Friends in Low Places d4, Friends in High Places d4, Military Rank d4, Smooth Talker d4, Tough d4

COMPLICATIONS:  Credo d4, Hooked (Alcohol) d4, Loyal d4, Wiseass d4

 

 

In Firefly, the reavers were this ever-present bogeyman, lurking in the darkness of space.   In essence, they were the zombies for the universe — people who had gone mad on the edge of space.  There was no telling how many were out there, why people would be attracted to their lifestyle, and what you could expect from them…

Serenity gave us a tidy backstory to the reavers that, ultimately, cut the mystery and danger out of them.  Turned insane by the PAX, these movie reavers were de facto zombies — lots of them, never stopping, senseless.  And ultimately, not as frightening as the TV show version.  By linking them with Alliance malfeasance, the reavers become victims and that removes the awe and fear they should inspire in an RPG campaign.  Moreover, the driven violent and mad meme of Serenity reavers would seem to preclude the notion that they would work in concert.  Zombie-like, the reavers prey on “the living” (just to keep the metaphors straight.)  And for me, this is where we run into problems.  As with other “zombie” antagonists, they work together to plan and execute raids, they work in tandem at time, yet they fly around in their dilapidated spacecraft with no concern for the efficiency of the craft.

They act in mindless, violent abandon in the movie, driven that way by the PAX…yet paradoxically, they’ll all work in concert during the fight with the Alliance.  You couuld make an argument that in a target-rich environment, the reavers would naturally attack whatever they could, and the Alliance ships were simply temptations.  I don’t agree.  We’ve seen on-screen how tough it is to keep a ship running:  why would the PAX reavers fix things enough to keep the ships moving?  How would they decide who fixes what?  Like zombies…why aren’t they attacking each other, if they’re so crazed from the PAX?

Lastly, there was a small percentage of the Miranda residents that became reavers.  There’s a limited number.  The nature of their affliction would seem to preclude breeding (even by rape, if they kill their victims anyway.)  That means it’s a game of attrition.  Eventually, they’ll die out, or be hunted down by the Alliance.  Not scary.

In short, the Serenity reavers stink on ice.  Even as a convenient wrap up for the movie, they offend the storytelling sensibilities.

Returning to the Firefly reavers:  there’s very little we know about them.  We’ve heard they might be cannibals (always terrifying), we know they allegedly rape and kill.  Yet in Bushwacked, the reavers raid a cargo vessel and leave a lone man alive, and that last man slowly “goes reaver.”  In the same episode, Shepherd Book remarks that reavers are “just men” that got to the edge of space and went mad.  These points leave open a much more exciting and frightening door:  reavers “breed” virally, mimetically.  Being a reaver is an idea.  It’s a lifestyle, not a drug-induced disease.

Based on the slim amount of information concerning the reavers in the TV show, I will endeavor to cast a newer — and I hope, from a gaming perspective — better version that is closer to the original concept.

Like the 15th/16th Century family gang in Scotland led by Sawney Bean, being a reaver is a choice (or madness, your choice.)  These are people who were already outcasts, layabouts, madmen — people who had or would eventually slip through the cracks.  Out on the edge of the ‘Verse, these people were outside the law, outside moral structure, and soon began to comport themselves that way.  The ritualistic body modification is a feature, probably the result of someone being into tattooing, self-mortification; that notion of damaging yourself to show strength, individuality, or to just make yourself more terrifying and hence a more efficient hunter, spread.  In this way, the reaver style is something that literally gets under your skin.

(If you know people into the tattoo/piercing/body mod subculture, you might note the almost addictive quality of the practice.  People don’t usually get one tattoo, or piercing, anymore.  And often, others who know people into the practice will buy in, as well.)

Assuming these people are insane, but not zombie-crazy, they are much more likely to work — like gangs — in concert with each other.  There’s a hierarchy, even if it’s more democratic, like many pirate ships were.  Many might be family based, with a patriarch/matriarch (like the Bean gang.)  They care about each other, and occasionally, they fight among their clans. They breed and raise up new generations of psychopathic hunters like themselves.  They leave people that could become like them alive (as in Bushwacked) knowing that, eventually, their victim will find and join them.

Worse, this means that not all reavers will behave the same.  You’ll never know if they’re going to chase you down, as in the Serenity pilot episode, let you live as with the man in Bushwacked, or if they’ll lay a clever trap.  Or clean themselves up and look like normal folk on the street…until they attack.  This past element adds another layer of paranoia:  not all reavers are the campfire bogeyman.  They could be aboard your vessel and you’d not know until it was too late.

And who knows..?  If you’re too much of an antisocial renegade, you might find the life appealing.  Anyone, pushed too far, could go reaver.

With this new take, you wouldn’t always know the ship bearing down on you might be reavers.  Not all their ships are going to be junked up wrecks with nihilists inside hoping to get cooked by their reactor.  They might be lazy and not maintain their vessels, leading to some of the tell-tale signs, but even these reavers will eventually do routine maintenance when they have to. Some might modify and hotrod their rides; the lack of radiation shielding on a ship might be because they get more efficiency and speed without the containment.  Some might paint their ships and adorn them with their victims, as in the movie, to intimidate their prey.

Reavers as subculture, to me, is much more intimidating, and much more useful as a roleplaying hook, than the Serenity version.  Here you have plot hooks galore:  what if someone comes back to their senses and wants out of being a reaver?  What if some rich man’s daughter runs away to join them and he wants her rescued?  What if you can actually make a deal with them, and what would they want in return?

MANPADS are man-portable, surface-to-air anti-aircraft weapons.  In theBattlestar Galactica RPG, they give stats for the SMI92 “Flying Needle” — essentially the Stinger missile.  The weapon has a maximum range of roughly 15,000′  (about 3.5 miles), and damage of d8W, vehicle-scale.

Similar weapons like the Milan and the Starstrike use laser guidance, instead of optical sighting, and their rockets fly at about Mach 3.  The Starstrike uses a trio of “needles”, each made of tungsten and carrying roughly a 3 lb. warhead.  The Starstrike would have a vehicle-scale damage of d10W (and for Serenity a spacecraft scale of d0W.)

Ever since I started running the Serenity RPG, I’ve been using the following rule for actions in action turn/combat round/whatever you want to call it.

Each extra action above the first comes with a -1 die step to the attribute. Say you have a d8 Agility. If you changed a magazine on a gun, then want pop off a shot in that turn, you can.  But the shot is a d6+skill.  Say you double tapped, the second shot?  d4+skill.  While doing that you were snagging your rucksack and wanted to get up.  Roll either an Agility or Strength and Athletics (if you had a Strength of d8, you would roll a d4+Athletics, as opposed to a d2+Athletics for an Agility.)

The limitation:  once one of your attributes is at d0 — you can do nothing, including take any kind of passive defense or passive perception tests (you tunnel vision on your tasks.)  We find it works out to roughly 3-5 actions a person could take in 6 seconds, each increasingly harder.  I’ve found that most players will leave themselves a d2 or d4 for wiggle room, should they need to defend against attack or notice something important.

They cruise the Black in Firefly and drive one of my players nuts for the physics of how they move — the skyscraper-like Tohoku-class cruiser.  They aren’t written up in any of the material for the RPG, so I took a crack at it.

Tohoku was laid down two months before the Unification War.  The vessel was to represent the height of Alliance technology, and was slated to be completed in 2510.  However, the war effort, coupled with cost-overruns, led to a seven-year construction cycle – two years late, the vessel was launched in January 2512 to great fanfare, and became a symbol of the might of the new Alliance government.  However, there were plenty of critics that cite the ship as an example of the bad economic policies and hubris of the Alliance government.

She completed her trial runs in August 2512 and was certified mission ready.  Alliance Space Force records, however, reveal several issues with the vessel: she is slow, un-maneuverable to the point of dangerous, and has strange flight characteristics due to asymmetrical mass balance.  Her offensive capabilities are staggeringly impressive, but she is lightly armored and has several weak spots that could be exploited by a well-armed opponent.  The Parliamentary investigation into the project found the vessel a major boondoggle, but the Ministry of Defense buried and classified the report.  as a result, six more of these monsters were on the slips by 2513 and IAV Dortminder and Magellan began seeing service by 2517.

Her first commander is the famous CPT Kerr, formerly of IAV Hood.  His logs show him to be unimpressed with the ship as a combat vehicle, but she is an excellent force projection platform.  Among the amenities is a state-of-the-art medical center, an artificial intelligence system that allows the vessel to operate with only 10% of her standard crew, construction facilities for repairing vessels or building civilian infrastructure, and is wonderfully comfortable to live on.

A comparison of scale for the various Alliance warships…  (I believe this image was created by Lynn Blackson, but I am not sure where I found itI will gladly remove it or credit the artist.)

Class:  Tohoku     Type: Heavy Cruiser     Length: 1800′     Beam:  2100′     Draught/Height: 2500′     Tonnage: 8.5m mtns.     Crew: 5,000     Passengers: up to 100,000     Fuel:  1 million tons (5000 hours)     Complexity: Very High     Cost: classified (est. 2.5 billion credits/ship)     Maintenance Costs/Year:  classified (est. c. 42 million/year)

ATTRIBUTES:

Agility: d2     Strength: d12+d6     Vitality: d8     Alertness: d8     Intelligence: d8     Willpower: d10

Initiative: d2+d8     Life Points: 28     Speed: 1 (3 full burn)     Armor: 2W, 4S

TRAITS:  Allure [d4], Engineering Construction Facilities [d4], Intimidatin’ Presence [d4], Memorable [d4]

QUIRKS:  Pulls to positive Z-axis

SKILLS:  Athletics [d4], Heavy Weapons [d4], Knowledge [d4], Mechanical Engineering [d4], Medical Expertise [d4], Perception [d4], Pilot [d4]

ARMAMENT:

Missile Systems — 210 long-range 200 lb missiles (d8W spacecraft-scale, x1.5 range), 200 long-range 500 lb. missiles (d10W spacecraft-scale), 200 2000lb. bombs (d12W spacecraft-scale), 12 nuclear missile/bomb (d12+d8W capital-scale)

Kinetic Weapons Systems — 8 12″ Cannons [1000 lb. warhead]: d12W (Capital Scale, x1.5 range); 24 8″ Cannons [200 lb. Warhead]:  d8W, (spacecraft-scale); 200 40mm Autocannon Point Defense systems: d6W, spacecraft-scale

AUXILIARY CRAFT:  50 ALST, 250 ASREV, 120 Warhammer-class Interceptors, 250 Arrowhead-class couriers, 20 St. Bernard-class SAR vessels, 50 Short-range shuttles.