A couple of months ago I attended Concrete Cow, an event run by the Milton Keynes RPG Club, and was granted the opportunity to run a session of the Leverage RPG. I’d been eager to give Cortex Plus’ Action system a go for years, and picking up the new Firefly RPG at GenCon had only excited me further. Whilst I enjoyed running Leverage, there were elements of the system I was a bit less keen on, and upon re-reading Firefly was delighted to see that they seemed to be addressed within the engine’s new iteration. Certainly I am looking forward to giving the game a try when I get a chance.
This post is not about that game.
Instead, it’s yet another Fate hack. A friend of mine, soon to embark on a Firefly campaign of his own using the Fate Core system, asked me how I’d go about such a thing. I think he wanted a couple of sentences from me, something to inspire ideas of his own that he could easily slot into the existing ruleset. The post below is what I wrote instead.
To begin with, I really wanted to cut down on Fate Core’s skill list, because I think streamlined skill lists are good and that 18 is a bit on the big side. Once I got started though, I was surprised by how much stuff there is going on in Firefly (probably because there are nine main cast members that each have their own specialised role), so the skill list actually ended up slightly bigger. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
When choosing aspects for character creation, I decided to do away with the phase trio (which I’ve had mixed results with), and replace it with an alternate set of aspect themes. If nothing else, this allows fidelity to the show’s pilot by starting a campaign with one or more crew members new to the ship. The five aspects players choose are:
- High Concept – as Fate Core.
- Trouble – as Fate Core.
- Role amongst the Crew – this can be your literal job role (pilot, cook, public relations) if it’s not covered by your High Concept, but more likely it refers to your role in a social sense. Maybe you’re the ray of sunshine that brightens up everyone’s day, or the guy who says what everyone’s thinking but no-one wants to hear.
- Call of the Black – what makes you abandon the stability of life planetside and live life on the run. A disgraced reputation, a secret past, a yearning for adventure etc.
- What Keeps you Grounded – what brings you back to earth in a literal and metaphorical sense, what you miss about civilisation, or what forces you to maintain ties. Often the cynical counterpart to a more idealistic “Call of the Black” aspect, possibly functioning as a “dramatic pole” as defined by Hillfolk’s Drama System.
There are 18 skills to choose from for the skill pyramid:
Six of them are the same as in Fate Core:
- Athletics – this also includes horse riding (and maypole dancing)
And six more are pretty much just renamed versions of Fate Core skills:
- Brawl – rename of Fight, except where noted below
- Culture – rename of Lore, though what “culture” means in the Core can be very different from out on the frontier (also used for formal dancing)
- Fly – rename of Drive, used mostly for spaceships, but also trucks and skimmer craft
- Hustle – rename of Deceive, can also be used for general awareness of con artistry, and striking bargains with fellow vagabonds
- Mechanics – rename of Crafts, obviously very important in space
- Rob – rename of Burglary, covering all elements of “petty theft”
Then the last six skills are a little bit different:
- Company – covering bits of Rapport and Empathy, this represents how enjoyable you are to spend time with. Company also covers Companionship, which in the Firefly ‘Verse is a loaded term. In an intimate setting it can be used to heal mental consequences. Because people are reluctant to lie to people they trust, it can also be used to defend against Deceive, but only against those who consider you close to them.
- Doctor – heals both physical and mental consequences. You can’t heal yourself, but you can create advantages to help other people healing you. Also useful for studying a person’s psychological conditioning, current level of health, and the effects (and value) of pharmaceuticals.
- Fence – not selling stolen goods (that’s a more long term use of Rob), but sword fighting in the style of Atherton Wade and The Operative. In practice this works the same as Brawl, except one can’t be used to defend against the other – you need Fence or Athletics (but not Brawl) to defend against Fence, and Brawl or Athletics (but not Fence) to defend against Brawl. I feel it’s important to split up Fight in this way, both for thematic reasons (drawing a distinction between those who fight “civilised” and those who don’t) and because the show makes a point that being good at fighting does not equal being good with a sword. I don’t know where Reavers fit into this, whether “Fence” should cover any use of a melee weapon or just formalised martial arts or duelling. Probably the latter.
- Inspect – similar to Investigate, this is used for butting your nose in other people’s business. It’s used to spot forgeries, search rooms, dredge up information from the Cortex and crime scenes – sometimes it defends against Deceive. Though useful to frontier sherriffs and the like, this is mostly an Alliance skill.
- Instinct – mostly a rename of Notice, but since there’s no Empathy skill, this is the default lie-detector option. I also want to create rules for “Fast Draw” gunplay as a prelude to physical conflicts, in which Instinct is the default skill.
- Preach – your ability to inspire the faith of others; not necessarily their faith in God. This sort of overlaps with Rapport, but mostly it’s something new – previous experiences with Fate have taught me that a leadership skill is useful, unless you want Will to be used for everything. Can be used to heal mental consequences, with the right sermon or inspiring speech.
As a bonus 19th skill, there’s also Read, which is a special skill used for mind reading. You need a relevant Aspect to give you permission to select it, maybe costing a point of Refresh as well. It does… something, not entirely sure what yet. Maybe lets you resolve all interpersonal rolls against passive difficulties rather than active opposition?
The two Fate Core skills I’m not using in any capacity are Resources and Contacts. Everyone is assumed to be poor, and even when they’re not, it’s not something that really factors into dice rolling, it’s just an advantage they’ll be carrying forward into the narrative at the start of every scene. Similarly, the ‘Verse is a cynical place, and whilst keeping in contact with potential employers and informants is vital, there’s no guarantee that your “friends” will actually be inclined to help you. If a player wants to have a useful contact, an invoke of a relevant aspect to declare a story detail should suffice. Actually earning their assistance will like require Company, Preach, Provoke or Hustle.
Physique and Will modify your stress boxes as normal, and stunts follow the same broadly sketched outlines defined in Fate Core.
In Firefly, spaceships are characters in their own right, controlled collectively by the players (or GM, for enemy ships). They have aspects, skills, stress tracks, consequences and stunts, though they do not have their own Fate point supply. Normally players can only spend Fate points to invoke aspects when their character is actually doing something relevant to that roll. Spaceships are the exception to this rule. Any player can spend Fate points to invoke aspects on a spaceship’s behalf, so long as their character continues to self-identify as a member of that spaceship’s crew.
Spaceships have three aspects:
- High Concept – as Fate Core.
- Trouble – as Fate Core.
- View of the Crew – what the spaceship, if it were a person, would think of its crew. Any aspect that focuses on this relationship, positive or otherwise, is a good one.
Spaceships have one skill rated at Fair (+2) and two skills rated at Average (+1). They choose from the following four skills:
- Hull – how the ship keeps its crew physically protected. Used to determine the length of a ship’s physical stress track, and rolled for its ability to break through obstacles with brute force. Can be used to defend against physical attacks if you just want to soak damage, though a Good (+3) or better Pilot is usually a safer bet.
- Hideaways – how the ship hides its crew. This is the default skill for hiding smuggled cargo aboard a ship, opposed by Inspect. It can also be used to hide people, though a Good (+3) or better Stealth skill from the person hiding will usually provide greater protection.
- Failsafes – how the ship protects its crew from system failure in deep space. Used to determine a ship’s data stress track (when attacked by an EMP beam, for example) and rolled to defend against hazards that could mess up the ship’s systems. It can also be used to downgrade consequences, but there’s a reason these are called “failsafes”. A Good (+3) or better Mechanics skill can usually do a better job.
- Paintjob – how the ship introduces its crew. If the crew is masquerading as something they’re not (as Alliance officials, say), this is an integral part of the disguise, though a Good (+3) or better Hustle skill is more useful still. If the job is really impressive (i.e. you’re built like an Alliance warship), or really sick (i.e. you chained corpses to the outside), this can be used to make mental attacks as well.
As a broad rule, most smuggler ships have high Hideaways and no Paintjob. Most Alliance ships have high Hull and no Hideaways. Most Reaver ships have high Paintjob and no Failsafes.
Ships are not sentient, though it might sometimes seem otherwise. They cannot fly themselves, repair themselves, or fire their own weapons. To do those things, you want a human trained in Fly, Mechanics or Shoot. Though spaceships don’t have any of these skills, they can take stunts that give bonuses to crew members using these skills whilst on board.
During space contents and conflicts, the spaceships themselves usually don’t take actions – instead, the characters involved take action as normal. The exception is for defend actions, where players will usually have a choice between using their own skills or the skills of the spaceship, as described above. When players aboard a spaceship are attacked from the outside, the ship’s stress tracks and consequence slots absorb the damage. Being aboard a spaceship should it be taken out entirely is a very bad thing.
The player characters’ spaceships begins play with two stunts, which are constructed in the same way as stunts for human characters. The ship can be granted additional stunts, up to a maximum of four, but for every additional stunt that is taken, the GM places an additional free invoke for their benefit on one of their pressure aspects at the start of each session. (Pressures are to be explained in a follow up post – just think of them as game aspects for now.)
Beyond character creation, I want to create rules for “Fast Draw” gunplay and start-of-session “pressure” compels, both of which were teased above. I also need to define how the Read skill works, and maybe present some example characters from the tv show if I’m feeling really productive. Check out the blog for further updates.