[Apocalypse World] Firefly Hack!

edited November 2010 in Game Design Help

My friend is in the hospital with viral meningitis. They killed the brain bugs and he's going to be fine, but I decided I'd write him a get-well one-shot to run during the Thanksgiving holiday.

So I'm going to hack Apocalypse World (with a lot of inspiration from Lady Blackbird as a self-contained ready-to-play game) to play a Firefly-like game! It's not that much of a stretch, the playbooks don't need much modification, and my old group loves Firefly. So here are my design goals:

1. Capture the essence of both Firefly and Apocalypse World. That is, a-day-in-the-life-of style of emergent gameplay that AW provides, but set in a Firefly-esque skeleton (sort of like the "Facts and Reassurances" sheet from Penny for my Thoughts).

2. Entirely self-contained. I want to have a list of the basic moves from AW and that's it; everything else will be on the playsheets and a one or two page MC document.

3. Little to no prep. I want players to fill in stuff like character names, make some basic choices about looks, decide on group history (simplified Hx), and then throw out ideas about what sort of ship they're on. Boom, done.

4. I want it to start in media res. I think I'm going to start them stuck out in the middle of nowhere, without any fuel, about to be boarded by Alliance types (Lady Blackbird style).

5. There needs to be the possibility for non-trivial character development/improvement. I need to turbo-charge the XP system so that people can improve once or twice. I think I'll reduce the XP track to 3 or 4 and change the way stat highlights are chosen.

Does anybody have any advice? Has anyone else done this? If I finish it, would anyone like to have a .pdf of the hack?

I'm giving myself 48 hours to write and design this. Wish me luck!


  • Good luck!
    My advice to you is this: I made a pool of nine characters for AW, modeling every last one on the principle cast of Firefly, and giving them appropriate interconnections. Thus, the advice is - this is eminently doable, and the text practically whispers sweetly to you, "Hack me for Mal.... Hack me for Maaaal".
  • edited November 2010
    So you're basically making a AW + Lady Blackbird hack? Cool. I've been thinking about writing playbooks for specific, iconic characters ("Big Jim Slaughter") so it'll be neat to see what you do with that.
  • Mix the game with the TV show 24 except make it just 4. Treat every 30 mins of real time as a session and have the player to the left, right, or your choice assign highlights in that order (this way there's no figuring Hx, to know who to ask). I like the premade characters, perhaps give them custom advancements to make them non-standard. Consider making the hack a set of play materials with no stand alone rules (like a patch for a computer game) - do character sheets, play aids, and a quick-start reference sheet for each player. Then, because we don't ever want things to drag, come up with an apocalyptica oracle for setting creation - put each piece of fireflyesque apocalyptica on a card so that if the MC or players are ever hung for ideas they can just draw a card and call it cannon. Put together a box with a prop for each pregen and consider a star chart for the MC with planets with blanks for names.
  • Rock out. Of course we want the pdf when you're done.

    Hey, y'know, you could just make one basic move, and make the weak hit just a lot crappier, like you fail but you get some consolation out of it, and then have every single other move in the game be custom moves from the playbooks. They could overlap, but like not everybody would have the same seven basic moves. Dunno, maybe you need two basic moves, for Take Action and Gain Information, or whatever. Maybe Take Action, Read a Sitch and Read a Person. And then if you have a much better custom move, from your playbook, you could use that instead.

    Then again, you've got 48 hours! Maybe you should just use whatever works. Good luck!
  • This sounds like a great idea, and I'm looking forward to the results!

    A good starting situation will be key, I think.
  • Zac, what AW character type did you pick for each FF character?
  • edited November 2010
    Hey Joey, if you need some inspiration, check out these two threads by Craig Oxbrow on RPG.Net, thirty mini-plots in each one inspired by rock songs:
    30 Firefly Episodes Named After Punk Songs
    30 Firefly Episodes Named After Iron Maiden Songs

    There was also one with Elton John songs but I haven't been able to find it.

    Also, by all means spread the wealth. This is on my shortlist for games to run when I finish my current AW game.
  • The ship is a combination of a hardhold and a driver's vehicle, right? With a Savvyhead in the engine room?
  • David,

    Let's see... Dr. Tam is an Angel, of course.
    Zoe is a Battlebabe.
    I decided River is more of a Brainer than a Hocus (she's got no followers... that we know of).
    Wash is a Driver.
    Shepherd is a Hocus (potentially havin' followers makes some sense for him).
    Jayne is a Gunlugger, 'natch.
    Mal is an Operator. I daresay he is THE Operator, the archetype.
    Agreed, Ry - Kaylee is a Savvyhead.
    Inara, last but not least, is a Skinner.

    Ry, I don't think Mal is *quite* a Hardholder - he just doesn't have enough people under him, and neither the Leadership nor Wealth moves quite apply to him, either.
  • Nope, but both Rance and Nandi from "Heart of Gold" could be Hardholders, if they were PCs.
  • Posted By: Zac in DavisRy, I don't think Mal is *quite* a Hardholder - he just doesn't have enough people under him, and neither the Leadership nor Wealth moves quite apply to him, either.
    I think Mal is a mix of chopper, hardholder, and operator. He does do the negotiation, but he also owns the ship and I don't see anyone else paying to make upgrades. That said, he is also the leader of a small gang with some leadership issues. Were it me, I'd blend chopper and hard holder into a ship captain play sheet with a mix of crew and facilities powers. Driver still seems reasonable as someone with their own 1-2 man/woman craft. For example, Inara would probably be a skinner and driver mix.
  • Regarding Mal as a Chopper/Hardholder:

    Would moves related to "gang" or "crew" work when the gang or crew is made of PCs?

    That said, I like the idea of starting a session through some kind of setup move he makes to see what the ship and crew is currently lacking, or how they're in trouble.
  • Perhaps a useful distinction would be whether or not you want ship to ship combat ala Star Wars or BSG or whether you want the space ship to be a setting that also connects to other other settings. If there's to be combat, you'll want more driver/chopper in a ship commander; on the other hand, if its more of a setting then you might want more of an operator/hardholder mix.
  • Yeah, the one thing I want to see is some dogfighting. Firefly didn't really have that, Serenity implied it was out there, but that would be boss.
  • I'm calling Mal a pure Operator. In the show, though, he's not really a chopper I don't think. Or a hardholder. He's definitely an Operator, his crew are his... crew, and he has several gigs (scavenging for Badger, stealing shit for that crazy dude with the space station, etc).

    I don't think Inara and Book are a part of his crew (in AW terms). Simon wouldn't be either, or River. Jayne, Wash, Zoe, and Kaylee are his core crew. That's not really a gang (not really talking about size or use here; more about interactions).

    Since the setting isn't a post apocalyptic wasteland, it's a space opera, he has a mobile base. He rarely pilots it; the ship as a setting is his. The ship as a vehicle is Wash's.

    I can see maybe a bit of Hardholder in him, but he doesn't have the population. He doesn't really do high level logistics or have to deal with problems that a town leader would have to deal with. He cares for the eight people who travel with him, but only in his capacity as a friend and captain. I think everyone contributes to the ship's stores (food, water, supplies, etc), and sometimes Mal complete ignores the logistical needs of his ship (compression coil, anyone?).

    The playbooks are supposed to represent unusual expertise, not capture all of the side talents of a character (those are color, or custom moves, or moves taken from other playbooks with improvements). Mal is a terrible Hardholder. If it weren't for Kaylee and Wash (and to a lesser degree, book), that ship would fall apart and they would all die cold and alone in the depths of space.


    Sorry for the rant; it actually just helped the Mal-like playbook click for me. Thanks for the discussion!

    I'll probably make a straight Operator and hack it slightly, definitely change the gigs around a bit, and if I decide to make it laser-focused (i.e. the Captain playbook, rather than the Operator playbook), I'll throw in some shit about the ship and the relationships it implies (what kind of ship is it? do you own it? where'd you get it? who'd you buy it from? did you even buy it? do you pilot it? who's your crew? are PCs or NPCs? friends or employees?). The ship creation will sort of be a group thing, but I've yet to work that out.

    I sort of went over my 48hr deadline, but I'm moving along nicely now!
  • Its interesting to think of Firefly in game terms: The game would be different depending on who you think the PCs are and who you think the NPCs are. Mal, Zoe, and Simon seem like the best PC candidates. I tend to see River through Simon's eyes, the crew through Mal's eyes and Mal through Zoe's eyes. Book and Inara seem like GM/MC derived NPCs, while River and Wash seem like PC derived relationships.

    What would your game be like if different players chose different combinations of character types? What if no one wants to be the one responsible for the ship or only just the pilot (a Wash but no Mal)?

    To what extent can the number of PCs not only operate but also maintain their ship? Do you need other crew members in the background? To what extent are players trained in the basic skills of hard science fiction spacing (e.g. patching a hull breach, sealing off chambers, donning and/or patching a suit, working in 0G, understanding their bodies needs, etc.). Can you have a Firefly game without artificial gravity (thematically)?
  • Marshall, to answer one of your questions very quickly (happy American Thanksgiving, SG!):

    The way I'm designing the game, someone will have to take the Captain playbook. It's like Lady Blackbird, except I have a hierarchy of playbooks. If I have three players, for example, the only books available will be Captain, First Mate, and Pilot. The Engineer and the Socialite will be rolled into other playbooks or made into NPCs. That's what's cool about a zero-prep game!
  • Joey,

    Did you ever put this together? I'd love to see what you came up with...

    Some of my friends would be totally up for this, I think, just about 48 hours from now, so if you have something and are willing to share it, please link!
  • I put it together, but it was much more haphazard than I originally planned.

    Now is as good a time as any to go through and make it a usable thing, though, so I'll see what I can do!
  • I'd also be interested to hear how it went!
  • Any news on this? I'm sure we'd still like to hear about it!
  • Did this ever come to fruition?
  • It's sitting on my harddrive, completely jumbled and unfiltered. I will probably print out the raw text and play it with a few friends first.

    Tell you what, I will do that this month (September). If I think people will be checking in on me at the end of the month, I am more likely to actually write the thing. And then I will give it to all of you!
  • edited September 2011
    Shepherd Book is utterly a Touchstone. That playbook was written for Book. No, really, it was written because the Hocus didn't cover Shepherd Book.
  • Posted By: framweardIf I think people will be checking in on me at the end of the month, I am more likely to actually write the thing.
    Oh, there WILL be people wanting this. Rest assured.

    ...and only a few of them are Reavers.
  • edited September 2011
    Working on it! Here are some of my notes. To be honest, I just wrote them. I have not really been working on it, except for the past hour or so.

    I'm combining some of the characters, because I don't want to design nine. I've packed Jayne and Zöe into one nice first-mate package, and I've packed River and Book into one mysterious weirdo package.

    I'm going to write something like a "Starter 'Verse", inspired by the stuff Marshall has done for Dungeon World (which you can easily find by googling and searching here on the fora; I'm too tired to hunt it down). It will be a tri-fold partially illustrated pamphlet filled with neat ideas for places, events, people, objects, etc.

    It would be somewhat ironic to fold Inara into the Jayne/Zöe package, forming a first-mate who kicks ass and also does PR for the ship ("What... is his job exactly?" "Huh?" "His job. What exactly does he do?" "...Public relations.").

    It is somewhat daunting to be working on even seven different playbooks for the game. I'm taking the Lady Blackbird route and making the playbooks specific to particular characters (i.e. "The Captain" will have a name and some ideas on what s/he's about as a character, as well as moves that are linked to their personality). On a similar note, there will be a starting situation. "Your ship is hard-docked with an Alliance cruiser, and an investigative team along with a complement of marines are tearing the place apart. They're looking for some kind of contraband. What's going on?" Something like that.

    Story-games. What am I doing. Help me.

    Edit: I have read and re-read and noted everyone's advice from earlier in the thread. Walton and Marshall had particularly cool ideas. I guess what I really need is some support, but first I should produce something. I'll check back in a few days with something more concrete and you guys can help me iron it out.

    Still trying to get this playable by the end of September.
  • OHHH! Please tell me this will be available soon? What could be better than AW and Firefly?! Awesome idea!

    Good luck-

    ~Stacey (and all of the other patient people in the 'verse)
  • Necro'd, if just to spread the wealth of awesome ideas DannyK posted upstream. Makes me want to run sequels to Lady Blackbird, or maybe hack World of Dungeons to do Space Opera. Hm...
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