Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Fine Line: Strength in Differences

By Scott Bingham

                Hey all! This is the Fine Line with yours truly, the newest of the wizards at the Flying Pincushion, and this is Farscape week. Now before this week I had caught perhaps a small snippet of the show and even that wasn’t enough to spark enough of a memory. However I spent quite some time catching up and watching my way through Season 1 and I’ve enjoyed the series thus far. The universe of Farscapeis vast in creativity and endless in opportunity. At some point in time I feel I’ll want to run a campaign wherein I can do just about whatever I please because of the endlessness of my setting but for now a single continent or world will satisfy my needs. For the point of this Fine Line discussion however I would like to bring up an age old conversation that takes place between the players and the DM.

                Player A: “I’d like to play a wizard this time around.”
                Player B: “Alright. I guess I’ll be the meatshield and keep you safe. Fighter for me.”
                DM: “Who wants to play the Dex-based hero?”
                Player C: “I will! I’ve never played a rogue before.”
                Player B: “We still need a healer.”
                Player D: “I’ll be a cleric. Don’t worry.”
                DM: “Perfect! You’ve got just about everything covered.”

No. No. No. No. Stop it.

For many adventuring parties and dungeon masters there seems to be this incessant need to fill roles, to meet a certain status quo when filling out character sheets. Everyone has a job, a predetermined part that “must” be filled. Usually this is centered on combat and overall such a practice it is something that I outright despise. One of the last things any DM should do is encourage limitations on their players. Rather we should encourage our player’s creativity and thrive on the opportunity to stretch our own. Encounters become so much more interesting when each player has a different solution to the problem.

In Farscape season 1 the crew of the Leviathan Moya is as diverse as the come; KaD’Argo the barbarian whose solution to most problems is to smash and break and ask questions never, Aeryn Sun the fighter who comes from the very race responsible for imprisoning the others, Pa’uZhotohZhaan the pacifistic cleric who spends a good measure of her time naked, Rygel the XVI who acts as both diplomat (when he has to) and royal pain with an ego large enough to fill a star system and, my personal favorite, John Crichton the could-be-bard who prefers to find a non-violent resolution to difficulties and yet is not afraid to get his hands dirty.

It is indeed a pleasure when members of the party get along and have a solid synergy about them. Perhaps their alignments match up or they hold some of the same beliefs or practices. Still one of the more powerful motivators for role play is conflict and the crew of Moya is full of it. There are different beliefs, stereotypes, alignments all over the place, and no clear reason as to why the crew stays together at all. It’s not uncommon to find the Moya’s crew nearly at one another’s throats and yet there is a deep, undeniable trust that exists underneath all of the posturing and harsh words. Crichton in particular does his part to bring the conflicting party members closer together with both his actions and his words. That is the sort of thing that gives an adventure depth when the supposed meta is broken and players create characters that can be individualistic and altogether memorable. They don’t have to get along and honestly it is a much deeper connection between players when something more than matching alignments or happy-feel-goods keeps them together.

To draw upon Farscapewe will examine the episode Exodus from Genesis. Whilst traveling through the Uncharted Territories the crew of Moya narrowly dodges being discovered by a Peacekeeper Marauder housing a team of commando specialists. As they pass on and the Moya moves beyond the debris field that hid them something from the cold of space slides undetected into the Leviathan.

The party soon discovers the Draks, small insectoids that are capable of taking DNA samples and replicating it perfectly, creating copies and clones of the existing crew. In order for the Draks to give birth heat is necessary and as such the temperature inside of Moya is steadily increasing causing the cold blooded Aeryn Sun to succumb to heat delirium, a condition that if left untended or unchecked can cause a fate known as living death. At first the crew sees this as an attack but Crichton manages to broker a deal through Zhaan with the Monarch, the mother/queen of the Draks now living inside of the ship. Whereas D’Argo was all for killing every last bug in a one Luxan war Crichton in his brilliance moves in a different direction. The heat will be reduced, good news for Aeryn, and the Draks allowed to complete their birthing cycle before returning to space.

Unfortunately the Peacekeeper commandos find Moya and infiltrate the Leviathan. The five man team begins a sweep and comes across some of the clones gunning them down mercilessly. The Monarch in response cranks up the heat and believes the attack to be a violation of her agreement with Crichton. Now it’s Rygel who acts the diplomat meeting directly with the Monarch and securing an alliance to get the commandoes off of the ship. At the risk of losing Aeryn the heat is turned up even further reducing the commandoes to delirious, incapable sweat-sacks. Crichton, D’Argo, and the Draks work together to Intimidate the commandoes and send them off with their tails between their legs with stories of why you don’t mess with the crew of Moya. The Draks complete their birthing cycle and return to space parting on excellent terms with Rygel and an understanding with the other members (all of which survived) of the crew.

There is a certain sense of pride that comes when our players not only have to role play out a situation or disagreement but want to. Yes they may get in each other’s faces, compare egos, throw some insults, or even fight but in the end that deeper, underlying connection, the one less understood, is far more desirable than the standard “we travel together because we’re a party” reason. As I continue to watch Farscape I am still doing what I can to understand just what that connection is. It’s real. It’s there. It’s attainable. So the next time around you’re organizing a character creation go ahead and add in some conflict. Encourage your players to break the meta and write their own story rather than follow in the footsteps of the status quo.

You’ll be happy you did. Even during the fist fights.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with that sentiment. I think there always needs to be friction in the party to keep things fresh and interesting, but there also needs to be some kind of motivation that keeps them working together until a crucial decision needs to be made. Nice article, though I've never watched farscape so it was a bit confusing in the middle.