Cowboy Burn-Bop

The long awaited final chapter to the Burn Notice suite of mini-settings/campaigns is the SF setting. This one is tough, because I’m torn between space opera and cyberpunk. I wouldn’t go hard SF simply because I don’t think that fits with the style of Burn Notice. Just as Burn Notice isn’t Spooks, SF Burn Notice shouldn’t be the Forever War.

I think SF Burn Notice should be a kind of Cowboy Be-Bop, with hints of hard SF, but where the fiction absolutely trumps the science.

Welcome to Cowboy Burn-Bop.

In Cowboy Burn-Bop, most of the planets have habitation either planetside or orbiting in satellites. One of the satellites orbiting Jupiter we’ll call Station Miami X-Ray, and it is here that Michael Westen awakens. He was in the middle of a sting operation, smoking out a hacker who claimed to have the identity of US (United Satellites, or something equally pat) agents working undercover and was offering these for sale. In the middle of a crucial meeting with a cutaway–a middle man–Michael was contacted by the Company (make it the CIA if you want to still have Earth governmental organizations influencing extra-terrestrial settlements) and notified that he was burned. An implanted chip caused his body to shut down. When he came to, he was on Miami X-Ray, the station on which he was born.

It might also be interesting to have Michael returned to Miami on Earth, perhaps providing a destroyed paradise–dystopian Blade Runner meets the sunny beach–or even a bright and shiny future Miami, depending on your taste in future Earths.

The Company believes that Michael is a double agent, working for the Hacker. Until they can verify or disprove their suspicions, he’s restricted to Miami X-Ray. The satellite provides an ease of containment an actual city does not, but it’s a choice of setting atmosphere, and either will work equally well. He still has the chip in his head, and his “handlers” can shut him down any time they want . . . or can they? Since the initial shutdown, the Company hasn’t interfered in Michael’s life, and if he gets an examination, no one can find the chip–or any evidence it ever actually existed.

Fiona may be the reason for Michael’s burn. She was muscle for one of the Hacker’s middle-managers–let’s call him Non-State, for no reason in particular–and Michael had been involved with her. He revealed his identity to her, and all hell broke loose. She had tried to kill him, but when Non-State tried to have Michael assassinated, Fiona saved him and killed Non-State. That was the last Michael had seen of her, as Fiona had gone underground.

She’s in Miami X-Ray now, and the Company has given her the same deal it gave Michael–stay in Miami X-Ray or face the consequences. For her, it is a permanent exile. Does the Company think it may want to make use of her in the future? Their motivations are murky at best.

Michael learns that Fiona has been taking care of his mother and his sister Nancy–a tomboy nicknamed Nate. Fiona actually fits into Michael’s family in a way Michael never did, and this–along with unresolved romantic issues–could lead to character tension.

Nate is a successful security consultant. She’s been the brains to Fiona’s brawn, sussing out networks’ vulnerabilities on contract. She’s the white version of the Hacker. Fiona has insured that Nate never need fear from the competition, especially the criminal kind. There is a big sister dynamic working, so that both Fiona and Michael feel protective of Michael’s family.

This is actually sounding more like a story than a campaign concept, but all of this can be built into a group template to help justify the PCs’ continued co-existence.

Sam is an ex-soldier, now cybernetically enhanced to repair damage endured during his tenure as a special warfare operator. He was living the good life until Michael came back. Now the Company wants him to keep tabs on Michael. The Company has not applied a lot of pressure on Sam, because he’s got connections everywhere. He can both spy on Michael and protect him to a certain degree, and so that’s what Sam does. With Michael’s full knowledge.

Just as in the show, this small team fixes small problems using their big skills. In this version, the jobs come through either Nate or Sam. Sam’s connections–and his lady friends–often cash in on their kindness by asking Sam to take care of minor problems. Nate’s contacts through her security consultancy often make her aware of wrongs that needs righting. She’s just naive enough to feel the wrongs need to be righted.

Soon, Michael is targeted by a hit squad sent from the Company, but Sam learns that the Company authorized no such thing. The hit squad should lead to a covert surveillance team that is also from the Company but not under the Company control. It soon becomes apparent there is a shadow organization within the Company. And, you guessed it, the Hacker is running it.

The small adventures lead to this big one, and at its conclusion. Going a little Neuromancer, let’s say the Hacker is actually an AI, the first truly sentient AI known. It has been trying to protect itself and its secret. How the team deals with this problem is up in the air–do they help it, hinder it, destroy it? Whatever the case, with the Hacker problem solved, the team is suddenly free. They find themselves off the Company radar, with carte blanche to do what they will. The Company owes them huge, but the Company doesn’t like owing anyone, so they have to keep a low profile and not press to hard on the Company’s good graces.

Michael is the man with the plan, combat capable but with planning and leadership skills. Fiona is a combat monster, pure and simple. She can fight with anything or with nothing, and be equally deadly. Nate is the tech-head, but also has connections that can work in a narrative fashion that can both feed information and supply adventures. Sam is combat capable, but his the social chameleon, with contacts everywhere–also likely used in a narrative fashion.

So there you have it. Burn Notice in multiple genres.

Any basic premise can lead to a good setting or campaign in any genre. It only takes a little tweaking to make the Seven Samurai  into Battle Beyond the Stars.

Starting the Campaign Journal About Starting the Campaign

So, I finally got a group together to game in Ottawa. It took some time and no small amount of effort, and I won’t claim complete success until we’re in the campaign swing, but I am optimistic.

Given that I am finally going to be able to start a new campaign, I thought it would be a good idea to document the process, both as a way of sharing with others but also a way to reflect on what I have done and consider how I have gone about it.

First off, how did I gather a group. As with my other two times in Canada without an RPG group, I went to the internet. My first efforts bore no real fruit. I believe now that was because I was too specific. As you can see from my invite, I already had specific games and campaigns mentioned. When I went about the second time, I was completely open, and that is what got me recruits.

The second time, I also targeted three venues. First was Kijiji, which is an internet messageboard for buying, selling, and connecting that my buddy Colin (he of the GenCon Survivors) mentioned. Second was a Yahoo group for D&D in Ottawa.

But the one that worked best was Meetup. Now, I wasn’t about to shell out the money to start a club, because I don’t need that, but I do know through anecdotal evidence that this can work. Instead, I did a search for groups like Dungeons & Dragons, d20 or just RPGs. I joined the waiting list, then when I was ready to start the group, I went to the profiles of other recent joins looking to find games and emailed them from their profiles. This is where I got the majority of my responses.

So far, I have gathered six potential players with two more possibles.

Given my experience, if you want to either get into a game or start one, it is best to begin by being open to any option. If you can find a list of individuals in your area interested in gaming, such as that provided by Meetup, targeted emails are very effective.

Next, I’ll write about what thoughts and references have shaped my concept for the upcoming campaign and what my next steps will be.