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Firefly & Serenity Risus

Earth that was, got used up. Like a 2 dollar hooker. Er, I mean ... um, like a very nice Companion nearing retirement with an excellent pension plan.


Then FOX cancelled it.

Table of contents

Credit where credit is due
--- Spoiler Warning ---
--- Draft Warning ---
Thoughts about Risus
Thoughts about Risus Firefly
Thoughts about characters
"Any Job, Anywhere"
Animal Attraction
Trojan horses and casting against type
Passing the torch and blowing things up
Resources for role players
Reciprocity in the 'Verse
The 11th character in Firefly
The topology of dystopia
As above, so below
Scenes, Acts, Episodes, Seasons
Plot ideas
Inara's syringe
... and horses!


Credit where credit is due

Risus: The Anything RPG is the work of S. John Ross and Cumberland Games & Diversions

This began as a reflection on the great original work Risus Firefly by Martin Runyon.

There is an official Serenity RPG, which you should check out.

Firefly and Serenity are variously the property of 20th Century Fox, Universal Pictures, and Joss Whedon. No infringement on the rights to firefly or serenity is intended or should be inferred.

I should also thank the denizens of the Risus Talk mailing list for feedback.
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Spoiler Warning


This document will contain spoilers of the Firefly series, the movie Serenity, maybe various books or stories and quite possibly even your milk.


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It’s a Draft!


This document is full of holes. This is a work in progress, but feel free to send me comments, suggestions or questions.


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Thoughts about Risus

I was browsing around, thinking about fan fiction writing within the Firefly / Serenity universe, and ended up on a website with an adaptation of Firefly to an very interesting roleplaying system called Risus: The Anything RPG by S. John Ross, who has an e-mail address at the old illuminati domain ... which is the kind of thing that not many people would think is as cool as I do. (Then again, I did score 47.14004% on a Geek Test.)

Risus is a very nice, quick and, in a good way, simple system. It reminds me of the feeling I had when reading the materials for Toon or Amber diceless game. One of the most compelling things about Toon is a built-in rule that if a player can manage to rationalize something in an entertaining way, that they should be allowed control outcomes. For Amber, the diceless aspect of the game allows for a straight-forward ranking of the characters based on their stats, such that a character might be the strongest, and therefore able to win in all contests of strength, another character might be smarter and therefore be able to outwit the first. No dice, just self-evident outcomes based on rankings.

The system in Risus is worth a look. The premise is that characters are built around clichés, which can be simple or complex. These clichés are give scores which are used to, essentially make "save" rolls for any kind of activity. In addition, these clichés are also used to record damage from conflicts, which is another surprisingly good way to simplify.

The beauty of the systems I’ve mentioned, including Risus, is that they are minimal frameworks to help contain a collective storytelling experience. I find myself thinking that Risus might be a great way for an author to keep track of characters in their work, whatever kind of work that might be. It could be a nice shorthand for keeping character notes.

Additionally, there’s a whole, amusing intentional culture around the Risus system, with a special "Order" to which fans and customers of the Risus Companion can sign-up. The writing is humorous and the extensive use of stick figure illustrations add to the overall effect.

The simplicity of Risus reminds me of Andy Looney’s Fluxx or Peter Suber’s Nomic, especially in the primary rule, articulated by the author Ross, that "there is no wrong way to play." A completely minimal set of Nomic rules consists of the rule that "All players must agree to the rules." And the initial rule card of Fluxx is the entire rule set at the beginning of the game: start with three cards, and draw 1, play 1.

I guess the only thing left is to wonder if, somehow, Risus could be used to finally make a variation of Tafl that makes it fun to play and whether there’s a way to combine Risus and Icehouse Pyramids in a fun way.

As I’m reading the Risus Companion, I’m realizing that this is as fun as reading the old West End Paranoia books which has apparently been re-released by Mongoose Publishing.
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Thoughts about Risus Firefly

Note: This is in reference to the Risus Firefly page by Martin Runyon, so you might want to check that out first and then come back.

I think, in the world of Joss Whedon, that the "inappropriate cliché" rule might actually still apply. He’s got a might long streak of creating characters that cross types and making things not what they seem. There’s an affinity for surprises that just might be related to inappropriate clichés.

I wonder about "funky dice" because of the way that a character like Mal is able to really pull through in situations such as the torture in "War Stories." I was thinking that there’s two ways to deal with that. The first is that Mal leads with his Cynical Captain (4) and gets beat on, but then pulls a Jaded Veteran (3d10) out of his pocket and turns the tides. The other way is if he’s a Cynical Captain (4) but has a Jaded Veteran (6) in reserve, for when things get bad. Or, perhaps, he’s a Jaded Veteran (3) in most cases, but when he’s declared war he’s a (4d10) ...

There’s an obvious spot in Serenity, the movie, when Mal’s character switches clichés. When the crew are on the mule, fleeing the Reaver ship, Mal attempts to shoot the rope that is connected to the hook in Jayne’s leg. His first attempts fail, but then the Reaver ship fires a projectile at Mal, and you can just _see_ Mal switching to his pocket ace when he whips around and handily scores a single shot on the rope. For me, this suggests the secondary cliché is actually the more serious one. Mal is playing his cards close to his chest, and that means his opponents consistently underestimate what he can do.

In fact, nothing is what it seems. Almost all the characters in the series lead with something that they aren’t the best at. Book is a shepard, but he’s also a scholar and warrior. Jayne is a lummox, but he’s also fantastically skilled at fighting. River is crazy, but she’s also psychic and a frighteningly powerful Manchurian Candidate. Wash is a goofy, pacifist nerd, but he’s also a brilliant driver and a closet entertainer with skills at shadow puppetry and gosling juggling. Zoe is like an Athena: the warrior goddess, that also turns out to be a goddess of love. This might make an interesting counterpoint to the Risus Companion’s lexicon which offers the unwritten rule "When in doubt, roll against your primary" because characters in Risus Firefly almost never roll against their primary unless they are up against it, whatever it might be.

I was thinking about hooks that would give characters like Mal, who rightfully are of a more heroic level than us. For example, Mal’s hooks might be things like "run when you ought to fight," "fight when you ought to deal," "don’t push me, I won’t push you." Examples for Jayne might be, "wouldn’t have thought it possible, but denser than Mal" and "like a trained ape, without the training" ... These would give these characters the extra dice to be the heroic types they are.

But, I keep coming back to this notion of Mal having a much higher skill in reserve, as an ace in the hole, which make him much more, perhaps over, confident in his okay level in the primary. Then when reality hits that he’s been overconfident, he rolls back onto the reserve.

You’ve got Zoe with 11 dice. It makes sense that she’s more skilled at the activity of a warrior, but this turns into another reason for funky dice. Zoe has more skill (more dice) but Mal’s got more will to power (funky dice)? The reason to use funky dice might be that Mal’s not super skilled at being a veteran, but when he sets his mind to a thing, there ain’t a power in the Verse strong enough ...

Jubal Early might also be a shmo at Careful Listener (1) "Am I a lion? I guess I am ..." or maybe that’s just being "In his own mind too much" as a hook?

For the Dortmunder, don’t forget Advanced Medical (3) and Fighters (2) or something. As a possible hooks for the Dortmunder: Diffusion of Responsibility (Maybe someone will stomp out the cockroach), Bored Crew, and Duty to Respond to Distress Calls (Crybaby vulnerability).

Instead of Crazy Ivan for Serenity, maybe Funky Named Maneuvers (4)? Cuz, you know, there’s more than just the Ivan!

Jayne’s "Smartest Man on the Ship (1)" might actually be a hook "Thinks he’s the hero of the story, but it just ain’t so"

River, we know, is also a Freakish Good Shot (6) or something, as well as her other combat talents, which might be pumped up because of her Mostly Crazy and Really Doesn’t Like Blue Sun hooks.
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Thoughts about characters

In many ways, the Reavers are a force of nature to Mal and the crew. For players, the meeting the Crew would likely be to confront a force of nature as well.

They’ve got love, sure, but when they’ve also got tactics they are amazing. Examples include their assault on Niska’s spaceplex, their heist on Ariel, not to mention the events of the movie. When they’ve got both love and tactics, they are a phenomenal force.

When I was active in theatre, primary techniques for developing a character were grounded in the textual evidence. When thinking about the canonical Big Damn Heros, from the Firefly series and other sources, one can get a great deal of information in what they say about themselves and each other.

So, for these sketches, I'm looking to identify a core cliché, lead and hidden clichés, textual evidence that may lead to either additional clichés or hooks, tools of the trade, and to collect thoughts about these.

Big Damn Heros


Core: Charismatic

Lead Cliché: Charming Rogue (3)
Hidden Cliché: Jaded War Veteran (4)

"run when you ought to fight"

"fight when you ought to deal"

"don’t push me, I won’t push you"

"a hero is someone that gets other people killed"

""I don’t care what you believe; just believe"


core = Athlete?

Lead Cliché: War Veteran: (5)
Hidden Cliché: ?



Core = Nature Boy?!

He thinks he’s the hero of the story.

denser than mal

too litteral

like a trained ape, without the training

we’re robbin’ the place, not occupying it

  • Vera
  • Knit hat from home
  • Stuffed turtle with a poorly stiched-up neck wound.

    "His floppy neck’s makin’ me sad."

  • Grenades

    "Boy, it sure would be nice if we had some grenades, don't you think?"


core: Mechanic

lead cliché = mechanic (3)

And, she’s got this thing she does that will make you wish you were a strawberry.

  • Parasol


core = Wizard

"River the Reaver-Slayer"
In a satirical game, she might instead be "Creek the Creature Crusher"

lead cliché = crazy, abused, genius teen (3)
hidden cliché = psychic manchurian candidate with skills (Wizard) (4)

River is an enigma. She’s eccentric to a fault, but also can have moments of shocking lucidity. When she’s lucid, she could be or do just about anything, and that really makes her fit the core cliché of a Wizard. She could become another personality or have hidden skills that surface. Plus, she’s psychic. Oh, and the feet. She’s got pretty, naked feet. Unless she’s wearing combat boots, in which case you’re gonna get kicked. makes Simon look like an idiot child

that was just the kinda distraction we coulda used (4)

vulnerability to conditioned triggers

hates Blue Sun

hunted by the Blue Hand people, and various


Core = Medic

lead cliché = fugitive scion of a rich family (3)
hidden cliché = brilliant doctor (4)

"You really are an easy mark"


Core = Scholar

"How come a preacher knows so much about crime?"


Core = Driver

"I am a leaf on the wind"

(the 10th character)
(skilled object)

funky maneuvers (4) or a general bonus to driver clichés [or, if you’re using rules from the Companion, you might offer the players some Lucky or Quest dice to use when doing a task that involved Serenity's maneuvering.] Optionally, the players have to "name" the maneuver they are attempting in order to use the bonus.

+2 to any mechanic (3) or better [or, if you’re using rules from the Companion, you might offer the players some Lucky or Quest dice to use when doing a task that involved Serenity herself.]

"she usually lets me know when there’s something wrong with her"

"she’ll fly forever if she’s got a good mechanic"

Other Characters

Jubal Early:

Core = Sneak

Jubal Early:
"Am I a lion? I guess I am."


Core =

"only woulda lied anyhow"

Fanty & Mingo:

Core =


Core =

"Sad little king of a sad little hill."

  • Fine Hat


Core =

Mr. Universe:

Core = Communicator

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"Any Job, Anywhere"

Players should have some kind of creed or goal, without which they are lost. "Any job, anywhere" is one suggested in both the intro to the unaired version of the Firefly pilot and in the Train Job. In the movie, Jayne mentions that the Shepard told him once, "If you can’t do something smart, do something right." These are examples of the kinds of creeds that a crew might use as their guiding light.
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Animal Attraction

There’s Crow and Badger. Also, Jubal thinks he just might be a lion. Don’t forget Serenity herself, the Firefly-class transport. There’s a pattern here.
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Trojan Horses and casting against type

Mal (in Serenity):

Packages are not what they seem. Large boxes contain Rivers. Small boxes contain strawberries. Cargo holds contain cattle or bobble-headed Geisha dolls. Other large packages contain corpses that turn out to be suspended organ smuggling compatriots. Frightening Niskas are ... well, frightened cowards at heart.

Mal (in Our Mrs. Reynolds):

Good guys are cruel overlords. Bad guys are our heros. Dead people turn out to be alive. Allies are enemies. Innocent women are actually sneaky, freaky, naked and articulate. (Then, again, maybe that last one isn't so much of a surprise?)

Mal (in Shindig):

Any chance there is to make characters do a double take or be struck speechless should be liberally used to pull in surprises.
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Passing the torch and blowing things up

I suggest the use of skill training and exchange. Either of these elements may, and are most likely to occur, in conjunction with a montage of some kind, such as the planning voice over.

Characters with proficiency in any cliché may provide other characters with that skill divided by two, rounded up or, optionally, may only provide a (1) level cliché in this way. (Yes, that means any putz can infect others with the ability to be just as pathetic.) Typically, this is a temporary boost gained during a montage. Frankly, I was thinking this would require some die role, but the players could decide to sit and role for as long as it takes, so why not just make it a natural part of a montage?

If the character attempting to learn the skill has a way to buy the new skill permanently, through some kind of advancement, the training may become permanent. The character can make permanent as much of the temporary skill as they can afford. Optionally, if the character can afford more than the temporary skill, the character may choose to "surpass the master" through some kind of rare and spectacular insight.

When characters die or have major life changes, they have to option of passing, or exchanging, clichés or goals with other characters, including NPCs. As in the "As Above, So Below" section, characters may represent archetypes or other important game elements. So, if they are taken out of the game, for whatever reason, they may pass or exchange elements with other characters. Additionally, in order to represent character arcs, characters may exchange elements when they reach important milestones in a story. This might also be involuntary in some cases, when necessary or amusing.

I also believe these ideas will help with long standing campaigns by allowing for the characters to develop arcs within the structure of the campaign and to sustain important elements in the game even if the players, in number or condition, change.
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Resources for role players

Note: There is an abreviated version of this list on Amazon as a "So you want to ..." list, Here

If you are looking to write fan fiction within the universe created by Joss Whedon in Firefly and Serenity, then here are some resources you may wish to use. Additionally, perhaps you are running a campaign in some role playing system, you may find these resources useful. This list is a work in progress, certainly not complete, but hopefully useful.

Canonical Material

First, there’s the cannonical material. Joss Whedon’s ’Firefly - The Complete Series’ is available in a complete DVD collection. There’s also the DVD of the movie ’Serenity (Widescreen Edition)’ and ’Serenity [HD DVD]’. Don’t forget to listen to all the commentary tracks and bonus materials for insight. Obviously, any of the characters, including the Operative, might be found to have additional stories to be told. Don’t forget to find the Fruity Oaty Bar commercial, an easter egg on the movie DVD.

Bridging the gap between the series and the movie is the 3-issue Dark Horse graphic novel, available in a collected edition as ’Serenity’. Although I think the artwork suffers from trying too hard to match the appearance of the actors, this is an important segue from the series to the movie. This wraps-up a couple of threads from the series, but there’s still room to explore Blue Sun and the Blue Hand people.

There’s a great deal of first hand material available in ’Serenity: The Official Visual Companion’.

Look online for the viral ’R. Tam Sessions’ videos. One might also find online some material to include in the canon which others might not. I chose to include the unshot script for "Dead or Alive", and, if you’re willing to misbehave, look for the capture of the unredacted of the pilot, which has different music, effects, dialogue and Joss voice-acting the introduction.

This is the primary material from which one can find technique and style that will help evoke the feeling of the Firefly / Serenity universe. For example, the way in which Mal seems clueless about interpersonal relationships, only to have Jayne say something even more clueless. Another example, is the way in which characters are aware of, and able to short-circuit, vanilla plot devices, like Wash’s dinosaur speech in the Firefly pilot or the exchange between Mal and the Operative in Inara’s room from Serenity, the movie.

Apocryphal Material

The first item in the collection of material that is not exactly the original source material, check out the essays from people connected to the canonical production ’Finding Serenity : Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon’s Firefly (Smart Pop series)’.

There is the ’Serenity Role Playing Game’ which includes a wide selection of resources and suggestions as well as a follow-up expansion ’Serenity: Out in the Black’ coming soon. There’s also a game master’s screen coming, but promises little additional use for the fan fiction writer, as even the map of Serenity herself is contained within the first RPG book.

Essentially taken from the production script of the movie, there are additional scenes and developements in DeCandido’s ’Serenity (Serenity)’ and coming soon is a new, original DeCandido novel in the Serenity series ’Mirror Image (Serenity)’. The novelization makes it clear the Fanty and Mingo were on the Operative’s vessel, and the source for information about all Malcolm Reynold’s hiding places. Could they have made it out alive, to show up later? I might also mention that Steven Brust is rumoured to have a complete novel set in the Firefly universe, about which I’ve heard no publisher blurbs yet, so keep an eye out for that, or additional author’s works, to possibly show up over time.

Also, within the source material which isn’t canon, but includes the characters and the feel of the show, don’t forget to check out what fan fiction is being written, some of which feels spot on. To this should be included any community or role playing resources, including this self-same document, or even transcripts others might offer for their gaming sessions.

Ephemeral Material

First and foremost, is the summer reading which Joss has stated helped to inspire Firefly, a novel of the battle of Gettysburg, ’The Killer Angels’. This was also the source material for the movie ’Gettysburg (Widescreen Edition)’.

I can’t help but include here the uncanny similarity between the crew and some story elements between Joss’s Firefly and what remains of Joss’s work in ’Alien Resurrection (Collector’s Edition)’ or better yet, check out ’"Alien: Resurrection" Script Book: The Original Screenplay’.

Also, don’t forget the obvious references to ’Forbidden Planet’ in Serenity, including "Miranda" and the ID number of the Research and Rescue vessel.

In some interviews, Joss jokes about the place John Ford movies played in his development of Serenity / Firefly. Although it was a joke, I think there’s some truth to this. I’d suggest checking out ’The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance’ and ’Drums Along the Mohawk’ as movies to watch for inspiration. Both are about the political and ethical conflicts in border territory. The latter includes the libertarian archetype in the widow and the alien threat of the Mohawk in the forests, both of which reflect on the universe of Firefly / Serenity. The former offers characters who represent the archetypal conflict between law and lawlessness, with a character in the middle that doesn’t belong in either extreme but has a deep sense of honor. This is an exploration of the attraction and avoidance of liberty and how the characters come together and react to each other.

The beauty of the future that Joss Whedon has created is that it’s possible for all cultures and all periods in history to appear. The closer to the core the more futuristic things will be; the farther out the more primitive and pre-historic. So, you have the flexibility of placing in your story elements from essentially any culture or historical period, or combination of those. Almost anything that offers to reflect some element of the Firefly / Serenity universe will be useful. Here are some general resources that might be inspirational to you, which I think of as inspirational or reflective of the Firefly /Serenity universe. In many ways, Joss has done for SciFi, with Firefly / Serenity, what Robert E Howard did for Swords and Sorcery, with the setting of Conan: created an environment in which all times and places can be represented.

The book ’Master and Commander (Aubrey Maturin Series)’, which is part of a series of books, offers a look into the lives of sailors and combat at sea which would provide inspiring.

The Firefly episode "Out of Gas" was part of a genre of "The Enemy Below" stories, of which I believe ’Das Boot - The Original Uncut Version’ is one of the best. This movie offers a look at the stress and strife of living only a thin metal plate from a cold death.

Another movie about the ecotone on the frontier between order and chaos, honor and advantage, ’Bend Of The River’ is a movie in which various characters face their choices, some good and some bad.

I was thinking about what I could read to get a feeling of horror and fear that characters might feel when faced with Reavers. ’Adrift on The Haunted Seas : The Best Short Stories of William Hope Hodgson’ may offer a glimpse in the combination of horror, alienation and crews on ships.

The story in the movie ’Winchester ’73’ unfolds in layers, like several episodes of Firefly such as "Trash". There is a range of conflict on a personal level and in large engagements, which mirror the conflicts faced in the Firefly pilot. There is also the exploration of a troubled, charismatic hero faced with choices, and a mirrored plot that follows the anti-hero, finally coming together in a final one-on-one battle.

John Cusack’s role in ’The Jack Bull’ offers a glimpse at the dialetic between law and lawlessness on a frontier where farmers and ranchers are in conflict.

There are so many other resources. Look for anything the offeres a useful reflection, like submarines or sailing, or pirates and thieves.

Include a flavouring of Chinese culture with Pearl S Buck’s ’All Men Are Brothers / Shui Hu Chuan’, a traditional tale of a gang of thieves, or check out the funny dialogue in ’Outlaws of the Marsh (Chinese Classics 4-Volume Boxed Set) [BOX SET]’ which should strike a fan of Chinese in Firefly as familiar.

Looking for a philosophical view? Try Thoreau’s ’Walden and Resistance to Civil Government: Authoritative Texts, Thoreau’s Journal, Reviews and Essays in Criticism (Norton Critical Editions)’, or Berry’s ’The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture’ and ’The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry’.

Ambient Material

Adding music may help you get into the groove, including the following: Check out the soundtracks, ’Firefly (Original Television Soundtrack)’ and ’Serenity’. Or, cast a wider net with the Bedlam Bards filk CD and the Dave Bourne’s period piano music available from Knuckleduster.

Other Resources

Other interesting resources for RP:

Whitewash City is a constructible set of scale buildings for use in various games, or just because they are shiny.

Knuckleduster, in addition to being a source for music, also offers a set of reproduction period poker cards that would be a great prop.

Eden Presents Volume 1 includes a section "Spacefarers and Prairie Folk" which is inspired by Firefly.

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Reciprocity in the ’Verse

Mal (to Simon):
"You don’t push me; I don’t push you"

The players will likely be met with at least as much force as they bring to the fight. For example, a ship with a weapon is pretty much guaranteed to be in a dogfight in space. If the players bring grenades, they’re likely to have to use them. The opposition will scale both their equipment and their challenge to meet what the players bring to the table. Generally, if the players are armed to the teeth, they will be met by at least as well armed opposition.


When Mal tricks the entire Reaver fleet into following, they were pretty much guaranteed to meet the Alliance fleet in orbit between them and their goal. This was reciprocal, and the opposition matched the scale of conflict chosen by the crew.

"They aren’t going to expect this."


The crew has smuggled goods on board, but when intercepted by the Alliance, they are left, for the most part, unmolested. Ultimately, only the smuggled goods are confiscated. They stole, then had that in turn stolen. (Of course, there's the little problem of the Reaver, but that's a different example ...)

"Couldn’t let us profit.
Wouldn’t be civilized."

The corollary to this is that if the opposition does something large, the players are pretty much assured that they can retaliate at a similar scale without fear that they’ve set the karmic wheel off kilter. This is an important thing for the players, because they are given a signal of how much they can reasonably do to escalate without fear of setting something even worse in motion. It’s a free ticket for the players to act, if the opposition does something egregious, and expect to get away with it.


When Niska sent a commando squad to raid a deal being made by Mal, the crew was then able to pull a commando raid on Niska’s spaceplex. This was a reciprocal action, and therefore was appropriate.

Another corollary is that, in general, the players are far better off under-shooting, than over-shooting, their opponents. In the ‘Verse, there are forces that are overwhelmingly more powerful and dangerous than anything the players could bring to the table. So, it’s in the best interest of the players to underplay power and rely instead on tricks and luck in their strategy.

There’s a reason Serenity doesn’t have any weapons and there’s a reason that Mal and the crew is willing to walk into an ambush. It’s better to use the opponent’s weapons against them, instead of bringing that kind of escalation to the table.

A further corollary is that if an encounter is interrupted by a greater foe, for example when the Reavers show up, the players can expedite their dealings with the first foe.


When Dobson has members of the crew held at gunpoint, and the Reavers show up, Mal expedites resolution of the conflict with the smaller foe by simply shooting him and dumping him off the ship. The players can then focus on the greater foe.

Note, however, that this is not necessarily the case when the lesser foe arrives after the greater foe, because then the lesser foe is a complication of the primary action and increases tension for the players.


When Mal and the crew are trying to flee the bank heist when Reavers arrive suddenly, one of the Alliance rent-a-cops runs after them and hangs on the edge of the mule, slowing them down. They could dump the goods, and lose all they have accomplished for their effort and preparation. Or, they could refuse to help. The choice, which is ultimately made, to refuse help results in having to watch as the Reavers drag the rent-a-cop, flailing and screaming, to a fate too horrible to contemplate. Now what to do?

As brutal as it may seem, the rent-a-cop, in this situation is really a complication of the greater foe, the Reavers. Mal dispenses with the complication in an expedited way, because there’s a greater foe in play. There may be consequences, but the players can likely be assured that expediting the lesser foe will not result in an escalation.

I think my notion of ’reciprocity’ can be boiled down to the motto: "Nothing is forbidden, but everything has consequences." Reciprocity, as a guideline, means that there’s a very uneasy balance just waiting for someone to slip and pull the trigger which causes all hell to break loose. So, who gets nervous and pulls the trigger first? If the players are doing poorly, something is likely to snap and interfere with the opponent. But, that also means that if the players are doing too well, something is likely to snap and interfere with them, too, or offer a dilemma with no ideal solution.
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The 11th character in Firefly

Music is the 11th character in Firefly. Not so much in Serenity, where the music was mostly forgettable, but in Firefly, the music was soaring and soulful.

Try music for the colonies, or period saloon music. However, don’t forget to mix in world music.

Think about how music might play a part in your campaign. One example, from a campaign I ran many years ago in another RPG, is when I used an ambient rainforest sound CD. The experience, and my narrative for the players changed with the music. When there was stronger rain and thunder, my narrative included this change. It was novel and unexpected.
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The topology of dystopia

If the Verse is arranged with the most futuristic elements at the hub, and the technological / historical periods increasingly remote as one approaches the rim, then the terra incognita of the black where the Reavers live is the nasty and brutish place where pre-history occurs in this topology.

So, if this linear topology is taken at face value, then the placement of Miranda past the Reavers, places that dystopian planet firmly in the mythological period.

The movie Serenity travels from the bright and shiny dystopian future, through the dystopian era of the civil war, past the frightening "Monsters Be Here" territory of the Reavers ... to reveal the dystopian truth behind the mythological Eden.
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As above, so below

In the commentary for Serenity, there is a very interesting tidbit about the relationship between Mal and Simon. The comment is that Simon represents the Alliance, the bright and shiny future. This creates buckets full of meaning to a line in the long open tracking shot very telling:

Mal (to Simon): "You don’t push me, I don’t push you."

So, if Mal and Simon’s relationship mirrors, in microcosm, the greater social and narrative of the conflict between the Browncoats and the Alliance, then what are the other characters?

Inara represents the aristocracy in which she does not really belong. Her place on the crew is to represent that part of society.

The relationship between Wash and Zoe represents an essential alliance between the militant and pacifist social elements. They are essentially allied, but are in conflict with each other.

Jayne represents the competitive forces of other crews, the fellow outlaws on the ragged edge that are both informally allied and still dangerous

Book is the technical, and often secret, forces in the Verse, such as the blue hands, the Jubal Earlies and the operatives. Book represents on the crew those occult enemies.

Kaylee might represent the friendlies that the crew meets. She is on the crew the warm and hospitable people of the Rim.

And River? She’s dangerous, unpredictable and the Alliance experiments intentionally abused her brain and made her what she is. She was created just like the Reavers, and that is what she represents in the microcosm of the crew.

So, when designing an adventure or a new crew in the ’Verse that is new, the design might take into consideration this "As above, so below" principle. For example, if a player develops a character, what would that character be on a macroscopic level? What adventures might open from a conflict between the macroscopic and the players?

The other thing that I realize is that there’s also a chance to explore, as in Shindig, how the other characters might fit into the macro-world society that just one of the characters represents as well as how that character does not fit into that archetype.

In Shindig, Inara is out of place in the barfight and Mal is out of place at the grand dance. As I was thinking about this, I also realized that in Safe, we watch what happens when Simon and River are plunged into the macro-world of Kaylee, the representation of the locals. In the pilot Serenity, we watch as Kaylee gets in trouble during the kind of fight to which Mal is accustomed. We also see in Safe that Book runs into similar trouble.

However, in Ariel, we see Simon, as a representative of the Alliance, can the caretaker of the crew when they arrive in an Alliance core world. However, Jayne clearly becomes a victim of his inability to accept that guidance and trouble ensues.
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Scenes, Acts, Episodes, Seasons

The process of creating a character is a constant journey of crossing thresholds to meet opposites and resolve conflict in cathartic denouement. A typical story fractal in theatre is:

  • Exposition
  • Conflict
  • Climax
  • Denouement

This structure is something that is generally seen within each story, repeated. Another way to look at this is to think about the mythic cycle for storytelling developed from Joseph Campbell's monomyth. Christopher Volger developed this in "The Writer's Journey" and further demonstrated by Stuart Voytilla in "Myth and the Movies" as a large cyclical pattern of separation, descent, initiation and return; which itself can be divided again into more specific elements I won't go into here.

On another level, one can view an adventure as an even simpler continual cycle of equilibrium, disorientation and a return to equilibrium. Taken this way, the GM creates disorienting dilemmas which the players attempt to resolve, whether these are large story arcs or merely complications. This collective, dynamic between players and GM reminds me of an anecdote I've heard about the filming of The Hidden Fortress, a Kurosawa film which helped inspire Star Wars. I've heard that the writers would write a segment, then Kurosawa would film the scene, but place the characters in an impossible situation. Kurosawa would then hand the plot back to the writers and tell them to figure out a way for the characters to get out of the jam. So, the plot is a extemporaneous collaboration between the writers and the director ... where the characters slide from one impossible situation to the next ... which, as a role player, sounds like a great deal of fun.

The structure of a Firefly episode follows a format of a teaser followed by four acts. Each element in the structure is itself a miniature story fractal with a build climax and then typically some kind of hook that holds attention toward the next element instead of a denouement. The final act generally holds some denouement to wrap all the acts together after the final climax.

Occasionally, this structure also contains a brief coda at the end of the episode which may or may not reflect on the action of the episode. This final event can be thought of as an opportunity to work in any last jokes or other elements that didn't make it into the rest. This could also be used for some kind of bloopers or de-brief to give players a chance to transition out of character and back into real life; which is a meta structure that brings the players through the full experience of liminality into the imaginary world and back again, just as the teaser was a pre-liminal transition.

So, I suggest thinking about using the structure of an episode as the skeleton on which a session or a campaign can by developed:

  • Teaser
  • Act One
  • Act Two
  • Act Three
  • Act Four
  • Coda

This becomes a larger fractal, which can be repeated many times, and collected into a larger grouping around some particular overall arc. The overall arc can be defined by some recurring theme which is resolved through a season. This overall story arc is another important element to develop that gives meaning to the overall experience, links episodes, and creates a more vibrant texture to the collective storytelling.
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Plot Idea

Gorram Alliance crap! - Quality control just ain’t what it used to be. It’s such a small thing, until you haven’t got one.

Passengers - Sometimes the quickest way from A to Z is to hire a taxi.

Passengers Redux - Follow that transport!

High Stakes Poker - famous gamblers gather

Defend your home - Can the players help the village defend itself from several waves of hostile bandits?

Circle the wagons - Players are en route but are jumped. Where’s the cavalry when you need it?

It’s the Cavalry - Players must come to the timely aid of some other’s in need. Can they get there on time?

Claim Jump - Players are asked to protect a valuable resource, on a planet or asteroid or even a derelict ship, while a claim is registered.

The Quick and the Dead - A contest of skill, with some shiny, valuable reward. Can the crew win the contest? Maybe the reward is a little too good? Can they keep the reward once they’ve won it or steal it if they don’t?

Return to sender - The crew is asked to deliver goods, but it turns out the goods aren’t wanted, weren’t ordered or are the wrong colour or the heads bobble to the left. Too bad the captain signed for the goods when they were loaded. The small print will get you every time.

Deja ’Verse - One player has unfinished business from the past, which plunges the rest of the crew into situations in which they are unfamiliar, uncomfortable, and worst of all? They have to rely on that one player to take care of them, and that’s just a recipe for disaster.

Reavers Ex Machina - Roll again, halfway through the next result ... Reavers!

It’s not what you think. Never is. - Roll again, half way through the journey and start over!

Why must everything be so complicated? - Roll three times. It’s all happening at once, and faster.

Meatloaf again? - A character from the past shows up ... with a plan. Roll again for the plan.
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Inara’s syringe

This is just gratuitous speculation, but:

I believe the syringe that Inara keeps in a little box in her shuttle is last dose of the drug to which she was addicted. As a reminder that she’s made the choice not to use it, she keeps it around.
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... and Horses!
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John Griogair Bell - Arlecchino Malbenvolio

“Clown with a Bad Attitude”

Original material is Copyright © 1995 – 2019 J G Bell
Comments, Questions, Suggestions?

Retrieved on Wed Oct 4 17:03:58 2023, UTC from DO/Beleth