Writing The Yellow Submarine Campaign


This was the greatest campaign I have ever been a part of. The players have been some of the best I have ever sat at a gaming table with, but their excellence away from the gaming table is part of what has made this campaign so shiny.

A Joint Effort

The Serenity 'verse is not very well detailed. There is a real shortage of consistent, official material on the setting. Especially a map. Most of what we have would have to be classified as fan material, even the most "official" material like QMX's "Official map of the 'Verse" and the roleplaying game itself is pretty much approved fan material. But much of it contradicts the show, the movie or each other. So, as the GM, I had a lot of blank spaces to fill in.
By far though, I have to credit the creativity of my players for helping to fill in some of those blank spaces with their ideas. Some of my players have given me a lot of credit for being a gamemaster who was willing to accept their ideas and not say "no, this is MY campaign, you're just playing in it". That might be true, but I feel a campaign is the players' game too, so a GOOD gamemaster is open minded to the ideas of the players. As I said, it was a joint effort.
Another very strong contributing factor is this wiki. I had never done anything like it, and I would not have come up with it on my own. I have always maintained a "gamemaster's guide" to my campaigns, some of that information was secret, but much of it was details about the setting. If players asked questions or the adventure required it, I would pass out information. But the wiki gave me the ability to effectively PUBLISH information the characters should have so the players could see it. The first time one of my players pulled out her smartphone to look something up on the wiki in the middle of play, it was very surreal for me as the gamemaster. And it gave the players a chance to publish their thoughts and share them and build on them together.
Things like the Londinium Connection for coreworld soldiers turned Browncoats and the sport of Fish that Tony's character Wilks plays came from my players. Sometimes its something small, like the Kalavela Skyplex having a lot of Finnish and Scandinavians living and working there. In one session, Konrad's character Jackson spent a week on Beaumonde living on Korean take out, so I put in a blurb that Beaumonde has a large ethnic Korean population.
Another influence on our success was our mutual love of the show and the setting. In my opinion, Firefly is one of the three greatest, ground breaking sci-fi shows of all time, alongside the original Star Trek and Babylon 5.

The Plots

The campaign has several recurring plots that show up in multiple adventures and are the framework for our campaign. Like the X-Files' "arc" episodes, they are the heart of what is happening.

The Londinium connection: Lennon, Jackson and the Glory
Emily wanted to play a doctor who had grown up on the core worlds, but defected to the Independents. From that came a huge back story about how the Londinium planetary military had opposed Unification, but had been forced into it by their political leaders.
The ship's mechanic, Jackson, was from Londinium as well, and did not get along with the doctor character, but their shared homeworld gave them a link that pulled them together even as their personal differences pushed them apart. Sort of like feuding siblings.
Then we had a modified version of the "Ghosts of the Rebellion" adventure published in the Serenity Adventures book. I boiled it down to the recovery of the Glory and changed the ship's history so that Admiral Sharpe and her crew defected with her on the eve of the war. This all tied into there being a strong Independence movement on Londinium resulting in more Londinium military defectors to the Browncoats than any other world. It also forged another link between the crew of the Glory and the player characters. On the journey to rescue the Glory, the Londinium born PCs spent time reminiscing with the former crew of the Glory about the home they had left behind, a world that no longer existed, an unremarked victim of Unification.

Pirates and slavers
One of the major themes is that the PCs run afoul of pirates and their involvement leads them to contact with Alliance agents running down the pirates. The PCs also assist Sharpe in his campaign against pirates and slavers. This is one of the major plots, as the characters help put together the pieces that lead to a pirate ring masterminded by an Alliance senator.

Political Reform
A political background element is that former Browncoats were barred from voting or serving in the government. Another is the corruption in the Alliance government. Both of these are issues directly affect the Browncoat PCs and Baron von Alksburg is the leading proponent of reform. The senator was kidnapped by his political rivals and Admiral Sharpe contacted the PCs to help rescue the senator because the admiral is a covert supporter. As we approach the end of the campaign, some of the players are discussing political careers for their characters as part of their post campaign futures.

Aces & Eights
Aces & Eights is a classic Traveller adventure by the late John M. Ford from the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society. The PCs explore a mystery and murder on a casino ship and come into possession of a set of playing cards concealing a treasure map leading to an abandoned military supply cache from the war. And in that cache are personnel records including the Butcher…

The Butcher
Every war needs a war criminal, and in my history of the war, Major Boris Yegevny from Osiris was that man. I wrote up an Alliance unit that rarely took prisoners and its leader who was known as "the Butcher". He disappeared during the war, but during the campaign one of the ex-Browncoats ran into a man who reminded him of the Butcher. Major Yegevny had faked his death to avoid trial for his crimes and disappeared to change his identity. That led to a series of events and an adventure where the PC tracks down the man he saw to prove he is the Butcher and take revenge on him for his war crimes.

The Mystery Woman
She is, of course, an Operative of the Parliament. She was unmasked in Secrets of Miranda. When I started writing the campaign, I decided that the characters would deal with an Operative, but I wanted one different from the one in the movie. The movie Operative believes in the righteousness of the Alliance, that it is perfect and can do no wrong, therefore what was done to River and others like her is acceptable. The Alliance is his god and he is zealous in pursuit of its goals. He is also slightly insane. His style is direct involvement, he is hands on, such as the meeting with Mal at Inara's Companion House and going to Dante. And he is somewhat arrogant, commandeering a ship like a Cortez class as his personal transport.
I wanted my Operative to be different. She is secretive, a manipulator, working through active agents like Fiolla Hart and catspaws like the player characters. She is just as zealous, but she believes in the goals of the Alliance. She wants to bring peace, safety and prosperity to the people of the Alliance, all of them. So she has focussed on criminal elements like pirates and slavers who prey on the people. The revelation of the horrible crime committed against the colonists on Miranda has brought her into partnership with Senator von Alksburg to punish those who caused this atrocity.
She is less arrogant than the other Operative, using a smaller Orca class corvette, the IAV Lionfish as her command post. The Lionfish carries half the normal number of troops, replacing them with a team of analysts and powerful computers to sort information for the clues she needs.

Campaign inspirations

Traveller is one of the oldest RPGs and one of my personal favorites. When I first saw Firefly on TV, I was struck by how many elements from Traveller could be seen in it. Let's face it, the crew of the Serenity is a group of roleplaying game style adventurers. I pulled many adventures, concepts and pieces of equipment from Traveller to flesh out my Serenity campaign.

The Serenity Movie
One of the things I decided during my pre-campaign writing was that the campaign would overlap the TV series and the movie. During one session I paused the game and put in the movie so the players could watch the Miranda Broadwave as if their characters were watching it. That lead to the players being contacted by Senator von Alksburg to investigate the broadwave. The PCs went to Mr. Universe's moon and explored the base after the events of the movie, fought some reavers and recovered the data pack with the recording that Mal left in the transmitter.
An additional spin was that one of the players (Raleigh who played Captain Sata) spent all the plot points he had at the time to make his character a relative of the woman in the video, to give them a personal link to the events.

Path of the Fury
Path of the Fury is a sci-fi novel by David Weber about a former commando who goes vigilante to chase pirates who raided her colony and butchered her family. In the book, pirates raid world after world, killing everyone, even nuking cities to wipe out every witness. The Fleet can't stop them, Intelligence can't find them. Finally, it is revealed that the "pirates" are rogue Fleet personnel in warships working for the Sector Governor, who is using the pirate hysteria to further his political goals. In my campaign, a corrupt senator is feeding intelligence and recruiting personnel from the Alliance military to support the pirates for a cut of their income and to use the pirates to attack rim worlds. In both the book and my campaign, one of these soldiers turned pirates is killed, revealing the government connection.

Seeker by Jack Mcdevitt is a sci-fi historical mystery about an antiquities dealer who comes across artifacts from a famous lost ship. He and his assistant follow the clues across the galaxy and back through history to locate the ship. I put that in as an idea for a colonization ark that was lost on the journey from Earth. That side plot started when one of the characters bought a mug from the missing ark in a pawn shop and the crew later tried to track down how it got there and where the ark might be.

Han Solo's Revenge
In Brian Daley's book set before Star Wars, Han Solo works with a beautiful government agent to track down the slave traders who tried to hijack his ship and kill him and Chewbacca. The slavers have government allies and that ties in with the campaign theme of a pirate ring run by the corrupt senator.

The Hunt for Red October
Tom Clancy's classic novel inspired the idea that the crew of the Glory defected together and stole their ship.

Pivotal adventures

The Warehouse
In The Warehouse, a Traveller adventure by Joe Fugate and Gary L. Thomas, published in Challenge magazine #30, the player characters' ship is captured by pirates. The PCs need to escape captivity and retake their ship before the pirates fly away with it. The important scene is in the aftermath when the local law enforcement is processing the bodies and discovers one of the dead pirates was an Alliance soldier, but his file showed that he died years ago in a shuttle accident while on leave. This was the first clue that someone high in the alliance government was supporting the pirates.

Aces & Eights
Aces & Eights was part of a chain that would lead the crew on a treasure hunt for lost Alliance war material and in that cache were Alliance military records that could help them identify a war criminal who had escaped justice (The Butcher).

Glory's Flight
Glory's Flight established Admiral Sharpe and his band of unpardoned Londy Blackjacks as patrons for the PCs. Several jobs came their way from Sharpe as well as other assistance. It also added to and increased the campaign theme that there were defectors from pre-Unification armed forces to the Independents. This is loosely based on the Ghosts of the Rebellion adventure in the Serenity Adventures book. It needed a lot of work. For example, the adventure doesn't give you ANY details about the Glory herself, so I had to make up a ship. And once I did, she was too big to be planetside, so the adventure takes place in a deep space holding area.

No Time to Rest
This is a MegaTraveller adventure from Challenge Magazine#50, written by Robert N. Sprinkle. The PCs gained a powerful political patron, Baron von Alksburg, a pro-reform senator from Persephone. He also becomes a source of jobs and assistance.

This adventure was ripped as whole as possible from Brian Daley's Han Solo's Revenge novel. It introduced the NPC Alliance agent Fiolla Hart, expanded on the corruption in the Alliance government and the connections between pirates and slavers. Desperate for help she can trust, Fiolla calls the Mystery Woman who saves Fiolla and the crew from a pirate ship.

Seek the Seeker
The crew finally tries to track down the mystery of Sata's mug from the HMS Seeker.

Secrets of Miranda
The crew travels to Miranda ahead of an Alliance fleet and recovers evidence proving the truth of the Miranda Broadwave and that the Blue Sun and Da Dong Fong companies were involved in the conspiracy.

Finders Keepers
After everything, the crew finally got to search for the HMS Seeker. They found it, but the captain was killed in a rescue mission on a colony ship on the way back. Selling the salvage rights makes the crew wealthy and sets up some future events discussed in the Epilogue.

Ones that got away

There were a couple adventures I wanted to run, but didn't. One was a rescue mission where the crew and ship are conscripted to aid in a disaster relief effort on a colony world. I just never got around to it and decided to save it for a future game.
The other was a conscious decision based partly on some negative player actions. The adventure was Inselberg from the Traveller Adventure. The characters would have been hired by Fiolla Hart to raid the estate of the corrupt senator supporting the pirates, steal his personal data and produce the evidence needed to bring him and his conspiracy down. But, during the raid, the crew would have been pinned down and trapped until Alliance reinforcements came to arrest them. The characters would have been arrested, the data seized and everything turned over to the officer in charge…the Operative known as the Mystery Woman. Since the data was stolen property, it came into her hands as part of their arrest, circumventing her need to get a search warrant. The crew were just sacrificial lambs in her plan.
I decided against it for several reasons. One, it was a somewhat excessively involved plot, two, the characters now have some measure of celebrity status after previous adventures, so sweeping the whole thing under the rug would have been difficult and perhaps not very believable. After all, once she had the data, the Operative would have just released them and that would have blown her involvement. I might have been able to make it work, except for the actions of one of the players…
In Seek the Seeker, the player character Wilks really offended agent Fiolla Hart. Since he would have had a pivotal role in the intrusion, it prejudiced her against using the crew for the job. Instead, Alliance forces under the command of the Operative carried out the raid. So the players missed out on having their characters participate in it.

My Guide to the 'Verse

"Where are we?"
When I first picked up the RPG book, I was hoping that it was going to answer all my questions about the 'Verse… It did not. The map of the 'Verse, for example, was too vague to answer my questions. And more importantly, it did not answer the questions my players would ask. (When I ran my first introductory game, I spent an hour just answering questions from the players who were also huge fans and wanted the same answers I had hoped for). So I started doing research online, going to various Firefly/Serenity websites. I found the "Complete and Official Map of the 'Verse" (COMV) and "The Verse in Numbers" (TViN), but neither one completely satisfied me (although the Map is gorgeous!). Both ignored critical laws of science and while it is science fiction, there's some laws of physics you can't ignore.
So I started to come up with my own answers. As I mentioned, I am an old Traveller player. Traveller has a large and rich official history, but there's a lot of fan material, too. Traveller fans use OTU (Official Traveller Universe) and IMTU (In My Traveller Universe) to separate official canon material from their house rules. And so it is here. This is IMSV (In My Serenity 'Verse). Granted, part of the problem is there is not a lot of official canon references to draw on. I tried to be as true to the show and movie as possible, and then the RPG and then other fan material. But sometimes I had to break with one or another to maintain a consistent campaign for the players. I realize Firefly was a totally character driven space opera, but for a game, you need to have consistency for your players.
I started with the map. I took COMV's star positions and TViN's classes and orbital periods for the stars. Where possible, I placed worlds where they were on the COMV to maintain consistency, but after that I placed them where I felt events in shows depicted them. The moon Lilac has to be near Beaumonde because it was a short flight (10 hours per the movie). Mr. Universe's moon had to be near Miranda because surely not even the reavers would chase a ship for a week or more. Jiangyin in "Safe" is 3 weeks from Persephone, I threw that right out. Can you imagine transporting cattle in your hold for three WEEKS? I made up a chart of planets using a modified Bode's Law equation and placed worlds in what are considered habitable zones using the system generation rules in Traveller's Book 6 Scouts. The line in the movie; "Dozens of planets and hundreds of moons, all terraformed…"? I threw that out too. No amount of terraforming will make a planet like Pluto habitable. Instead I took Mal's line "Mr. Universe…he can put this on every screen for 30 worlds" and went with that for a rough estimate of habitable worlds. Every world mentioned in the show and RPG books is here. The poster "Worlds of the Alliance" has 43 worlds, so that number is what I went with, making a few changes. In theory, I could add more terraformed moons if needed and expand the number slightly.

"And what happened before?"
The RPG gives a great deal more information about the history of the 'Verse, but some of it is rather vague. Why did the war start? When was Shadow bombed? And so on. So I made a time line of the war and fleshed out the campaigns of the war. When was Shadow bombed? I can tell my players. Where was the first battle? Why didn't the Independent High Command reinforce Serenity Valley? What day is Unification Day so I can send my Browncoat to a Purple Belly bar? All of that is in my history.

Day to day life in the 'Verse
And speaking of U-day, how do I know what day it is on Persephone as opposed to Boros? What is the cortex? Do the reavers breed? How is Parliament and the Alliance government organized? A lot of my Campaign Background material is answering questions like that. Some of them are issues I thought of before the game started, others are in response to questions that came up in play and I wanted to put down my answer on the wiki for everyone to see.


I have always been a gearhead gamer; half the joy of science fiction are the devices: ray guns, space ships, grav tanks and such. But, I have to admit I am very disappointed in many of the ships presented in Six Shooters and Spaceships and various adaptations of the warships from the Serenity movie. Most of the flavor text is great, its the design statistics themselves I hate. I realize a great deal of work went into writing 6S&SS, but by the same token alot of it was flawed. I took the published material as a start and reworked ships like the Longbow cruiser and the Operative's transport to versions I considered more believeable or just fixed math errors where I found them.
But even then, that was not enough. Specific adventures called for new ships, vehicles, weapons, and especially in this campaign, medical equipment. All of that gear is here in the wiki as well. I'm sorry there are no illustrations, I am not an artist and many of my designs are inspired by artwork I have seen online.