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[SotC] Spirit of the 'Verse (Firefly/Serenity)

Kai Tave

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I'm sure someone, somewhere, has beat me to this, but after getting my very own copy of Spirit of the Century (which is, indeed, as awesome as has been claimed), this was the first thing I thought of.

Here’s how it is…
The following are a rough set of guidelines for using Spirit of the Century to run games set in the Firefly ‘verse as shown in the television series and movie. Surprisingly, Spirit of the Century (SotC from here on) is actually a pretty good fit without a lot of hacking necessary, so the guidelines are less about what needs changing and more about making a few tweaks to the themes present.

The first thing to take note of is the genre. Firefly is essentially a western. It’s often called a sci-fi/western hybrid, but the sci-fi aspects are almost entirely set dressing. Now, westerns and pulps cross over pretty well, so there isn’t so much that needs changing here except to note that some westerns, including Firefly, tend to have more shades of grey than the sorts of action pulps SotC uses as a baseline. There are still plenty of kind, goodhearted people and despicable, villainous sorts to be had, but there are also anti-heroes and lesser evils to consider. So, it’s perfectly reasonable to run a Firefly game as a group of plucky outlaws flying under the radar of the monolithic and oppressive Alliance, but it’s just as reasonable to run a game where the protagonists have to make unpleasant decisions just to survive and the Alliance is less evil than ambiguous in its motives and actions. The television series tends to paint the Alliance as a fairly unsympathetic organization, but this is partially a matter of perspective…the captain of Serenity is a bitter Independent veteran, after all.

So what this boils down to, basically, is figure out what sort of angle you want to apply to your game before you start putting it together. Otherwise you end up with a new spin on the “Traditions versus Technocrats” argument, and that’s never any fun.

Character Creation
Character creation is almost entirely the same as it is in SotC. Every step is adhered to with only a few cosmetic alterations. The most immediately noticeable alteration is the removal of the concept that characters must be the same age. Otherwise, proceed as normal.

-Phase One: Background
This is the same as before, only it tracks the character to whatever age they were before the War of Unification began. Important aspects to consider are where in the planetary system your character was born and raised. The many world and moons vary widely in technological and cultural sophistication, so it’s possible for characters to be raised on farms with only the barest essentials or on core planets where they enjoy an abundance of technological luxury.

-Phase Two: War
Only instead of World War I, we’re talking about the War of Unification, a war that ended only six years ago with the defeat of the Independent faction at the Battle of Serenity Valley. During this time, there were plenty of opportunities for characters to see action all throughout the system. This was a large war, relatively undefined in scope throughout the television series, but the implication is that fighting was fairly extensive across multiple worlds. However, just as in SotC, characters don’t have to have participated in the war. At least six principle characters in Firefly had no direct involvement in the war. But regardless of whether your character fought for the Alliance or Independents, the war doubtlessly affected them in some way. What were they doing then? Living a quiet life on some distant borderworld? Smuggling guns to Independent factions? Fleeing from the law?

-Phase Three: You all got on this boat for different reasons…
…but you came to the same place. How? Why? What was it that led you to meet up and sign on with the other characters? Whether you’re all crewmates on a ship plying the trade lanes between worlds or you all help run a township on some little moon, you had to meet somehow, and this is the phase to describe that. You don’t have to come up with a way for your character to have met every other character all at once. Some will arrive sooner, others will arrive later. In the television series, it all started with just Mal, Zoe, and a Firefly, with other characters joining up one after the other. So talk amongst your fellow players and figure out who met with who and when. Are you the one to start the venture, or are you the newest addition? Was it a group effort from the start?

As well, SotC has phases three, four, and five of character creation take the form of novels that your character was participated in, one starring role and two roles in which you guest-starred in someone else’s novel. This is changed somewhat. Instead of novels, you’ve got tales. Imagine sitting down at a saloon with a pack of folks playing a friendly game of cards. You’ve all had a few beers to get things going, and now you’re swapping stories about life in the black, the fortunes you’ve won and lost, the jobs you’ve done and the troubles you’ve been in. These kinds of tales take the place of novels in this adaptation. Instead of creating a suitably pulpy title, narrate the beginning of your character’s tale in his or her own voice. Not the entire tale, mind you; you summarize that just as you do in SotC. But it’s not just the tale your character has to tell that’s important, but how they tell it as well. Start off with a sentence or two, and try to get a handle on your character’s voice. Are they rough, cultured, ignorant, pretentious, wordy, curt, etc.

-Phase Four: Let me tell you about the time…The next two phases are handled the most differently compared to SotC. The tales players create for their characters here don’t have to be guest-staring roles. The character can be a central figure in these tales, or not, as they choose. The one requirement is that these tales must involve the other characters in some capacity. In other words, these tales are assumed to be of adventures that they’ve already had with each other. This allows you to flesh out not only aspects of your own character, but how your character feels about his fellows. Are there any romances or rivalries that can be explored? Characters are encouraged to share ideas for tales, and more than one character can tell a tale of the same adventure, just from a different perspective.

-Phase Five: Now, did I ever tell you about…This phase is handled identically to phase four.

Skills remain mostly the same. The modifications are as follow, in order.

Art acts exactly the same as in SotC, but is expanded to cover another field besides the ones already covered; the art of a registered companion. Yes, this means sex, but sex isn’t all there is to being a companion. It’s a strict and demanding discipline, encompassing education both mental and physical. Not surprisingly, most companions are excellent artists in general, receiving education in music, poetry, calligraphy, dance, and a variety of specialized ceremonies. That doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone with a high Art skill is going to be as good at, well, companioning as a companion, just like two other characters with high Art skills might not both be good at painting. As always, skills are somewhat contextual. But in a universe with companions, someone will probably want to try their hand at playing one. If so, Art is the skill to use.

Guns covers the use of slug-throwers as well as fancy Alliance laser weapons and “thump guns.” It can also cover the use of less advanced weapons like bows. I’ll be upfront right now…I don’t really know what to do about heavier weapons like rocket launchers or cannons in regards to stunts. As always, common sense reigns, but I freely admit I need to think about this some more. Still, such weapons never seem to make much of an appearance in the show or the movie, so it might not be a huge worry.

Lastly, Mysteries is almost entirely stricken from the record. Almost. Again, in a show with crazy genius psychic teenagers, chances are that someone’s going to want to play one. I’m of two minds about this, with one mind being all “whatever makes the game fun for you, man” and the other being “River is more of a plot device than character, and psychics should be rarer than rare, assuming River wasn’t the only one ever.” Naturally, you do what you want. I tend to come down on the side of “no psychics please”, but River couldn’t have been the sole person targeted by that program. The possibility is there if you want it, so check with your GM and the other players first. If they’re cool with it, then go for it with the understanding that a great deal of Mystery stunts are cut out of this conversion. In fact, I think I only left three in. If you’re cool with that, then that’s okay. Otherwise, the Mysteries skill functions like normal, which is to say as a wild-card skill that the GM utilizes at his discretion. Still, Mysteries shouldn’t be a wasted skill choice, so GMs should attempt to make the skill useful whenever they can.

Stunts remain the same, with a few exceptions. Remove every Mysteries stunt except Fortuneteller, Palm Reader, and Psychic. If you’ve got to have Mysteries in your ‘verse, these are the only ones that fit the themes presented in the series and movie. There wasn’t much hypnosis or speaking with the dead going on. Now, a Buffy-based game on the other hand…

Also, remove the stunts Animal Friend, Call of the Wild, King of the Beasts, and Weapon of Destiny.

Keep an eye on characters who might abuse Resources stunts. I see no strict reason to remove any of them, just be aware that having lots of money to burn is a serious source of power in the ‘verse, and having rich characters may limit the kinds of stories you want to tell. This mainly depends on the sort of game you’re looking to run, but games based on the same sort of premise as Firefly the series should probably be scarce of things like Stately Pleasure Domes.

A note on the Mad Science Stunt; it still exists, but probably not as a great choice for PCs. In the Firefly ‘verse, mad science seems to be the sole province of well-funded Alliance laboratories, and the two most notable instances of such science (G-32 Paxilon Hydrochlorate and Psychic Kung-Fu Assassin Schoolgirls) had results which could charitably be described as “sub-optimal”, both successfully and morally. On the whole, mad science seems like a fairly unpleasant thing to dabble in, and as such it’s recommended for antagonists only.

Thoughts on Gadgeteering

The levels of progression in the gadgeteering rules (Futurization, Speculative Science, Unbelievable) need a little adjustment. After all, it’s already the future in the ‘verse, so a Futurization that only goes up to World War II-level technology isn’t going to cut it. So, for characters in the verse, Futurization allows you to incorporate advancements into something that would be covered by any scientific advancement possible up through the 21st century, and anything especially covered in the series or movie. So, things like artificial gravity, starship drives, and laser weapons fall into this category. Speculative Science covers anything we feel might be possible from our 21st century standpoint, but haven’t achieved yet and haven’t seen clearly in the series or movie. Examples of this might include nanotechnology of various types, artificial intelligence, or sophisticated genetic engineering. Unbelievable works just like normal, as the dumping ground for all the stuff you can’t even believe in a game about spacefaring cowboys who swear in Chinese. Otherwise, Gadgeteering rules remain the same.

Sample Characters
And, of course, it wouldn’t be complete without some character writeups. Here are some of the characters from the show, written up to fall at an indeterminate time period during the series but before the film. After the events of the movie, I imagine they’d each possess several more aspects and stunts…those that are still alive, at any rate. That’s another consideration to make; in the ‘verse, character death can happen more readily than it can in SotC. GMs shouldn’t abuse this concept overly much, since arbitrary character death can lead to arbitrary game death, but be aware that nobody necessarily has guaranteed immunity from having their ticket punched.

Malcolm “Mal” Reynolds, Burned-Out Veteran and Petty Thief

Phase One: Malcolm Reynolds was born on Shadow, an agrarian world known for supplying foodstuffs throughout the system. His mother owned a ranch and, along with about fifty other ranch-hands, raised Mal as best she could. He turned out pretty well, despite a tendency to get into every kind of trouble he could put his mind to.

Raised on a Ranch. Born to Misbehave.

Phase Two: When the war came, Mal signed up with the Independents immediately. He saw action in some of the bloodiest campaigns including the infamous Battle of Serenity Valley, where he rallied over 2,000 troops to hold their ground for over two weeks in the face of intense pressure from superior Alliance forces.

57th Overlanders. You Hold!

Phase Three: “After the war, I just wandered for a spell. Didn’t have much of anywhere in particular to go, most of my friends were dead, and going home…well, that wasn’t an option. That’s when I met my girl here. She’s a prize, and that’s no lie. She’ll make that run o’ yours in four days tops. Now, let’s talk price.”

Fell for a Firefly. I’m Still Free.

Phase Four: “I tell you, it’s been no end of trouble since we took those two aboard. Don’t get me wrong, the doc’s as good at his job as I’ve ever seen, but little sis, well, she’s just a touch too crazed for my liking. Not her fault, I suppose, but still. Why, the very first time they set foot on my boat we had trouble coming out our ears…”

After being spotted pulling a job by an Alliance cruiser, Mal is forced to take a cargo of stolen goods to an unfriendly contact on Whitefall. Unbeknownst to him, one of the passengers along for the trip is actually a wanted fugitive…and another passenger is the undercover federal agent hunting him down. Before the job is over, there’s a shootout against Patience’s gang, a frantic chase against a reaver ship, and plenty of tension to go around.

Mean Old Man. She Muddles Things Up (Hidden Feelings for Inara).

Phase Five: “Niska? Yeah, I know’im. Wish I didn’t. This once, we were low enough on coin that I actually went looking to him for work. It didn’t really work out all that well in the end. You ever been to Paradiso? Well, see, they get this sickness there…”

Mal and his crew are hired by the infamous crime lord Adelai Niska to rob a high-speed train heading into the town of Paradiso. What they don’t know until they pull it off is that the cargo they were sent to rob was actually a crucial shipment of medicine needed to counteract the Bowden’s Malady everyone in town is afflicted with. He decides to return the medicine, but earns an enemy in the process.

God’s Not Welcome On My Boat. Man of Honor.

Superb: Resolve
Great: Guns, Leadership
Good: Alertness, Intimidation, Fists
Fair: Athletics, Burglary, Endurance, Survival
Average: Deceit, Stealth, Rapport, Slight of Hand, Contacting

Resolve – Inner Strength, Iron Determination, Still Standing, Driven
Guns – Quick Draw

Jayne Cobb, Gun-Happy Mercenary and Hero of Canton

Phase One: Jayne Cobb was born in a remote township on a rimworld. His father was a welder working at local factories, while his mother raised him and hid brother while trying to beat as much sense into him as she could. Jayne never received much of an education, but what he lacks in book-smarts he makes up for in rugged demeanor and an intimidating manner.

Blue Collar and Backwater. Big and Mean.

Phase Two: Jayne never cared enough either way to fight in the war, figuring there was no point in dying for someone else’s cause. Instead, he struck out from home and eventually signed on with a group of small-time hoods, where he spent his time thieving, brawling, drinking, and shooting. In fact, Jayne took to shooting like a duck to water, and he developed a love for guns that lasts to this day.

Life of Thuggery. Guns, Guns, Guns.

Phase Three: “They offered me a better cut, simple as that. Course, that was only after I tracked’em down and had’em at gunpoint, but still, they was smart enough to recognize a man of my talents, and I even got my own bunk out of it. I call that a win.”

Found You Easy Enough. What’s the Pay?

Phase Four: “Yeah, I’m that Jayne Cobb. Don’t stare. I know all about the stories, what those folks think o’ me, and they got it all back-asswards. Here, you buy the next round and I’ll tell you all about it…”

A job on Higgen’s Moon gets complicated when the crew discovers that Jayne is a bonafide folk hero to the indentured workers in the Canton settlement, who tell stories of the time Jayne stole the magistrate’s money and dropped it onto the town. What they don’t know is that Jayne wouldn’t have dropped the money if his aircraft hadn’t taken damage and he needed to drop the weight. An old associate of Jayne’s also comes back to show the workers what kind of man Jayne really is.

The Man They Call Jayne. Uncomfortable Hero.

Phase Five: “The doc? Can’t stand’im, or that moonbrained sister o’ his. Both of’em are more trouble then they’re worth, and considering what they’re worth…I ever try to collect on’em? Well…okay, but you gotta keep this one t’yourself. There’ll be no livin’ with Zoe if she finds out what I done, plus the shepherd would gimme that look. So we was set down on Ariel…”

While sitting grounded on Ariel, Simon proposes a heist where the crew breaks both him and his sister into a hospital where he can scan River’s brain with the equipment there, while the crew can help itself to valuable medicines. Once there, though, Jayne decides to sell the Tams out to the feds in the hope of collecting the reward. Jayne himself is betrayed, and helps the Tams escape capture, but Mal finds out what he’s done and considers killing him before finally relenting.

It’s Amazin’ We Kept’em This Long (the Tams). Don’t Tell’em What I Did.

Superb: Guns
Great: Endurance, Might
Good: Athletics, Fists, Survival
Fair: Alertness, Gambling, Intimidation, Weapons
Average: Burglary, Contacting, Deceit, Resolve, Stealth

Guns – Gun-Crazy, Custom Firearm (Vera), Long Shot
Fists – Brawler
Survival – Tracker

Inara Serra, Registered Companion and Ship’s “Ambassador”

Phase One: Inara was born on Sihnon, one of the two great core planets that formed humanity’s cradle since the exodus from Earth-That-Was. Raised in this center of culture and learning, she had everything she could have wanted while growing up. During her youth, she caught the attention of the Companion guilds and was invited to join. Her parents agreed, and she was sent off to train.

Born on Sihnon. Naturally Charming.

Phase Two: During the war, Inara supported unification but was nowhere near the actual fighting. Safely away from the horrors of the frontline, she spent her time providing companionship and comfort to shellshocked veterans and preeminent politicians, all the while continuing her ascent through the guild ranks.

Registered Companion of House Madrassa. The Best of Everything

Phase Three: “You don’t care for the ship, do you? I can tell, but you shouldn’t let appearances deceive you. It’s true that Serenity might not look as new as other ships, but I can assure you that she’s quite capable of performing any task you’d care to name. Personally, I find that she has a special charm of her own…which is more than one could say about her captain…”

Running From the Past. Don’t Call Me “Whore.”

Phase Four: “Oh, you were at the ball on Persephone? I’m sorry I didn’t recognize you. You’ll have to forgive me, it was quite an eventful evening if you recall. What? You mean you don’t know? Oh, well allow me to fill you in…”

While Inara accepts an invitation to attend a formal ball on Persephone, Mal also secures in invitation at the behest of Badger, who needs Mal to make contact with a prospective client. While there, Mal manages to insult Inara’s own client, who demands satisfaction in the form of a duel. Mal accepts, despite Inara’s wishes, and nearly manages to get himself killed before Inara intervenes, giving him the opportunity he needs to come out on top and get the job.

Center of Attention. If It Is My World…

Phase Five: “And if you thought that was bad, I suppose I should tell you of the time our captain acquired a wife quite by accident. Oh yes, he just can’t seem to avoid trouble. And that was before she hijacked the ship and left us for dead. More tea? Anyway, it all began, interestingly enough, with the captain in a dress…”

After a successful job, Mal discovers that he’s been inadvertently married to a local woman. The crew all has some fun at his expense, except Inara who seems less than pleased. It looks like everything will be resolved peacefully in a few days when Mal’s bride proceeds to knock Mal and Wash unconscious, scramble the controls, and steal a shuttle off the ship, leaving Serenity hurtling towards a floating scrap-shop ready to dismantle it for parts. Fortunately, with the assistance of Jayne and Vera, the crew is able to escape unharmed.

You Don’t Play a Player. …I Fell (Hidden Feelings for Mal).

Superb: Art
Great: Contacting, Empathy
Good: Alertness, Rapport, Resolve
Fair: Academics, Athletics, Deceit, Resources
Average: Fists, Guns, Pilot, Slight of Hand, Weapons

Art – Virtuoso, Commissions
Empathy – Ebb and Flow, Preemptive Grace
Rapport – Popular Gal


Possibly more characters later. I need a break now.

Comments? Suggestions?


seeker of things AWESOME
Beautiful. I was thinking of searching for the orginal thread that had the Mal write up in it, but this is.... Shinier.

Kai Tave

Registered User
Validated User
Beautiful. I was thinking of searching for the orginal thread that had the Mal write up in it, but this is.... Shinier.
Ah, I figured someone got to this before I did. I just only got SotC about a week ago, though, and my RPG.net time has been limited lately. If you find that thread, I'd love to see it.


Validated User
I thought this as well, but you've done a better job than I did of setting the phases up. Except one; the third phase should be called "Finding Serenity", especially with these characters. :)

Kai Tave

Registered User
Validated User
I thought this as well, but you've done a better job than I did of setting the phases up. Except one; the third phase should be called "Finding Serenity", especially with these characters. :)
Oh, that's nice. I like it.
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