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Spirit of the ‘Verse, Character Creation and First Session

13 October 2007

Spirit of the ’Verse is my adaptation of the Spirit of the Century rules to the Firefly / Serenity ’Verse by Joss Whedon. I actually had run a Serenity campaign with players from my current group back in early 2006, and this is a sequel of sorts.

The campaign concerns the Heart of Evermore, a large, blue, heart-shaped diamond that is purported cursed and purported contains some valuable information. In the previous campaign, the players won a ship, had the diamond thrust upon them, barely escaped a doomed passenger liner, and managed to lay claim to said ship.

Modifications

I modified the Spirit of the Century to better reflect the rough-and-tumble ’Verse. With only 5 aspects and 3 stunts, characters are above-average joes. The five phases take the form of tales a Tale of Life and Death, for example.

For combat, we’re using Leonard Balsera’s consequence in lieu of stress hack and René Lopez’s stress pool variant. Characters have 10 boxes of stress, and can take consequences instead of marking off stress boxes, at the typical -2/-4/-6 ratio.

Not much else has changed. I added a skill called Astronaut, which is analogous to Survival, but for outer space. I originally had planned to nix Mysteries, but decided to allow it. Guns has an Artillery stunt. I wrote up some guidelines for treating radiation, low atmo, and the like as hazardous environments.

Psychic powers, I handled with an aspect that unlocks access to a skill. The skill has trappings that allow it to be used in lieu of other skills. The psychic healer’s skill lets her substitute Psychic Healing for Science when used for medical purposes, and it allows her to take on physical consequences of other people (like Gem in Star Trek’s "The Empath").

Character Creation

I have ten people interested in the campaign, and we all made characters together a couple of weeks ago. I wrote a character sheet in Word, and printed out some summary sheets.

I can’t thank Brandon Amancio (http://www.fusionofthought.com/rpg/) enough for this Skills and Stunts Summary aid. In a single page per skill format, it summarizes the skill and lists all of its trappings and stunts. A couple of pages at the end deal with gadgets and artifacts.

Those who had done Spirit of the Century last time whipped through their characters in no time. Those who hadn’t struggled a bit. Had I to do it over again, I would have the newbies pair up with a veteran and work through them together. I ended up doing that in one case and it worked beautifully.

The characters we forged:

  • Jake Masterson, the owner of Nike’s Joy, a gambler in the vein of Mel Gibson’s Maverick or maybe Kevin Kline’s Paden in Silverado.
  • Cassie Manton, Jake’s no-nonsense, tough love pilot and wife
  • Claire Gentry, a motherly and protective proprietor of a finishing school for girls
  • Clay, a disfigured mute Browncoat turned mercenary
  • Dalton Okuda, a Browncoat engineer with a can-do attitude
  • Lija Rom, a closet psychic healer on the run
  • Miranda, an embittered psychologist with a past troubled by Reavers
  • Corey Stratford, a displaced noble turned slicer
  • Tallyrand, a… how do you said it… importer/exporter
  • Aisha, a Companion with a checkered past

The Campaign

I wanted to reintroduce the Heart of Evermore, because I had a bunch of dusty play notes aching to breathe free. The players felt lost at the end of the last adventure, not knowing what to do with the Heart. It was intended as a recurring plot device, but they wanted a linear adventure, and didn’t know what to make of the Bible passages I’d given hinting at its nature.

So, the first adventure opened with the players on Beaumonde. This is the world where Mal was to leave Simon and River during Serenity the movie. It’s dark and rainy throughout the game.

The intervening year or so since the last game hadn’t been good to the characters. Their ship, Nike’s Joy, is faster than most of the ships in the sky, but it’s bigger than a standard freighter and requires special parts, which make operating it expensive. The only bright spot is that a wealthy patron named Hu Xing has taken to hiring them to run errands, in this case, to pick up some silk brocade to make some wedding attire.

On the way to get the brocade, the gravimetric compressor broke, and Cassie made a touch-and-go landing. Without it, the G-forces of flight would kill the crew in short order, so they need it fixed before they leave.

Tallyrand had a lead on a compatible gray market compressor from a fence named Richardson. I took the opportunity to mention a larger rival organization, the Haight Gang, knowing they might come in handy later.

They discussed it for a bit, and essentially the men went off to get the compressor and the women went off to get the bolts of brocade, with the exception of Jake, who went to find a poker game. Corey stayed on the ship with the two absent characters, Claire and Miranda.

I jump cut between the two main groups, having agreed to handle the poker game offline with Jake’s player.

The Compressor

They were to meet Richardson in a deserted warehouse near the river. They set up Clay on a nearby rooftop to keep watch. Clay asked for an Alertness roll, and I described the grimed-over windows on the second floor offices and the fresh area of rain left by a recently departed hovercar.

They were immediately suspicious of the lack of activity around the warehouse and decided to call Richardson. The phone rang somewhere in the upper level, but no one answered. They went in guns drawn. They slowly made their way to the back of the warehouse, finally calling the phone again to home in.

In the large office in the back, they found Richardson dead, bleeding from the ears. (None of the players there knew about the Hands of Blue or Blue Sun in general, which is okay, as their characters had no reason to know either.)

Knowing that the Haight Gang was after Richardson, they assumed it was from a gunshot, and only rifled his pockets for his PDA.

Corey remoted into the PDA from the ship and got the RFID tag number of the crate with the compressor, which is about the size of a dumpster. As they started to load it onto the mule, Clay noticed two vehicles approaching, so Tallyrand and Dalton quickly loaded the compressor, only jostling it a little thanks to a good Might roll.

The vehicles approached, a personnel carrier and a jeep with something like a 75mm or 105mm recoilless rifle in the back. Clay blew his Stealth roll, so he quickly scrambled out of the way when the rifle swung his way. It took the corner off the building, which freed the personnel carrier to advance without being worried about sniper fire.

Meanwhile, Tallyrand and Dalton started opening crates to see if there was anything that might have helped them. Neither thought to use their Resources skill (but to be fair, neither did I), so I described geisha bobble head dolls in the first crate. By then, they could hear the squad approaching, so Tallyrand used his Stealth to blend into the shadows.

Dalton tried a different approach. When the soldiers arrived, he was cleaning up the mess they’d made and claimed to be the janitor! His Deceit roll was good enough, so they just left him with a guard and kept searching the place for the "Heart".

Tallyrand decided to break cover and talk to the squad leader, a man named Tex. Tex tried to bully Tallyrand into revealing the location of the Heart, but none of them knew what he was talking about. When Tex started using his gun to Intimidate them, they called the ship. Corey answered. When the players were drawing blanks, I said, "Cast your mind back about 18 months…", they all had an epiphany. I let Corey explain what the Heart is.

So Tallyrand and Tex talked. With his "Takes One to Know One" stunt, he was able to discern that Tex was making it up as he went along. They decided to go back to the ship together and wait for Jake Masterson to arrive…

The Fabric

Interspersed with that was the tale of the fabric. Cassie, Aisha, and Lija went to the shop of Jiu Li, where they were greeted by an enthusiastic Chinese gentleman. I played him with a B-film style Chinese accent, and had the ladies rolling in the aisles.

Hu Xing had given them a credit voucher for the fabric. The first problem they had was that Jiu Li wanted twice as much as the voucher was worth. Aisha’s player had been through this sort of negotiation before, as had Lija’s, so it wasn’t particularly difficult for them. After talking up the quality of the merchandise, it being "too fine" for them to afford, they were able to talk him down some. But not enough.

He wondered if they had anything to trade. Aisha was wiling to show him a good time, but he said his "shrew-wife" wouldn’t be very happy about that. They hit upon the idea of entertainment, and sought some good fare for him. Again, Corey came to the rescue aboard ship, hacking the Cortex for some good films, and Jiu Li was willing to come down to about 80% of the voucher plus vids. Corey was also able to explain that they were about to be boarded.

They went to the First Bank of Shinon to cash the voucher, and they allowed them to do so, basically saying, "You wouldn’t have the gall to do this if you weren’t good for it."

The got the bolts of fabric and arranged some transportation, vehemently denying Jiu Li’s offers to help.

Cassie went to find Jake, while the other two ladies took the bolts of brocade back to Nike’s Joy.

The Poker Game

Jake found himself head-to-head in a poker game with an African arms dealer named Mbutu. Jake was ahead in the chip count, but Mbutu was a smart poker player.

Cassie interrupted Jake to tell him about happenings at the ship. Jake excused himself and they discussed the situation in front of the Imperial Hotel. I had a couple of street hawkers interrupt them to illustrate that they were talking about things in the open, but they kept going, so I decided to make things interesting.

"Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhearing. My name is Reverend Don Haight." The players erupted!

Rev. Haight wants the Heart as much as Richardson did, but he only wants to extract the information from it. Jake doesn’t want to part with the information in the Heart either, so they negotiate a truce and a partnership.

Corey and Haight’s man Tinker talked technical turkey and decide the extraction could be done. Haight revealed that their ship was under surveillance by Blue Sun, which made Lija’s player understand why I was telling her her psychic character was getting antsy.

Jake and Rev. Haight concoct a plan whereby they spirit the Heart out of the ship and allow Blue Sun to take care of Tex and his men. Surreptitiously through a game of solitaire mah jong, they communicate the plan to Corey, who spreads it to the others….

And, all but forgotten, Clay waits outside the ship for the right opening….

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