Recently Farscape became available on the ‘view on my computer’ queue via Netflix, part of a re-release that also put the whole series up for sale for a very reasonable price (as opposed to the original DVD releases, priced for something insane like 30 bucks for two episodes).
All of this pleases me. Initially, my plan was to watch episodes while I’m on the elliptical, and while I’m doing that, I’m not only doing that, because it’s Farscape, and it kind of sucks me in. (I’m excited to watch past third season, actually, because I don’t think I ever saw all of Season Four, and I never saw the Peacekeeper Wars.)
But in rewatching the show, I’m struck by how strongly Farscape seems modeled on the story/structure of a gaming group. Not ‘game-based fiction’, but the group itself. Not even Dragonlance reflects my experience with the ebb and flow of a game at the table, and the things that happen with your players over time.
So here’s what we’ve got when we first start playing the game.
GM: “I’m going to do this sci-fi game.”
Most of the players: “What about the DnD game we’ve been doing?”
GM: “This will still have most of those dynamics. All the classes are pretty much the same, it’s just a few skills that will be different.”
D’argo: “As long as I can still have a big fucking sword.”
GM: “… fine. Whatever.”
- Warrior: D’argo
- Ranger: Aeryn
- Cleric: Zhaan
- Rogue: Rigel
- Crichton, the only one who tries a new class, starting out as an ‘astronaut’ (basically a scientist/pilot multiclass with none of the multiclass disads… like the way elves and hobbits worked in original DnD).
Now, the GM quickly realizes that the guy playing Crichton is never going to miss a game session. The dude writes diary entries from his character’s point of view, podcasts random stuff, and even writes some fiction about the stuff that happens between official sessions. A lot of the game is built around what this player does and the stuff he and the GM talk about. But everyone’s having a good time, and the bad guy seems to be working out pretty well, and word gets around. A couple more players want to join in.
And this GM has a real problem with telling a player they can’t join if they want to.
Chianna wants to play a rogue, but the group’s already got a rogue, so she goes the ‘physical burglar’ route so as to keep from stepping on Rigel’s toes. It takes a few sessions to really take, and a it’s quite a few more sessions after that before Rigel’s player really acknowledges her at the table, but once that happens, those two kinda bond.
Stark is just a buddy of Rigel’s who’s visiting from out of town for a couple weeks and wants to play, so the GM has him play Crichton’s cellmate. The dude’s kinda of crazy, and doesn’t seem to give a crap about the actual game system — he just wants to roleplay everything instead of rolling dice, but whatever — the GM makes up death-priest variant, figuring it’ll never matter anyway, cuz the guy’ll be gone before long.
Near the end of the first story arc, the GM introduces Scorpius, whom everyone universally decides is cooler than Crase as far as bad guys go, and the GM likes playing him a lot, so Scorpius become the new big bad, and Crase flies off stage with the gunship that the GM mistakenly gave the players (he just wanted to make use of the ship-design rules he’d been playing with, and Crichton saw the design and talked him into introducing the ship via a weird pregnancy plot).
Six is a lot of players, but the situation doesn’t get appreciably better with the new storyline. Crichton is still super active, but the whole wormhole thing is kind of going by the wayside for the player, cuz he likes being chased by Scorpius and trying to hook his character up with Aeryn, so that’s pretty much the main arc.
Other players saw the whole torture scene stuff with Crichton, though, and want a piece of the story-action. D’argo nags the GM to push the ‘I have a son’ thing forward, for example. Zhaan’s player is pretty pissed about the ‘crappy healing’ that clerics get in this system and continues to nag everyone to go back to the ‘real’ DnD game, but no one’s listening.
Rigel’s fine. Rigel’s always fine. Don’t worry about Rigel. He’s good.
The GM loves playing Scorpius, so he finally comes up with a way to play him even more often by sticking him inside Crichton’s head. Crichton actually stats up Scorpius’ second in command just so he and the GM can play some one-on-one ‘bad guy’ scenes.
Oh man… Rigel’s buddy actually decides to move to town (he’s got a semi-permanent gig with the local community theater). He wants back into the game. As the same death-priest guy. Crap.
Zhaan really wants to quit the game. Honestly, she’s run by Crichton (so he can play in more scenes) and the GM as much as the original player, cuz she doesn’t show up much. (Though she does come back for awhile when Stark’s player shows move into town, cuz she’s got a crush on him, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she can’t even get his attention with a glorious death scene, so shes quits and doesn’t make a new character.)
The group is left with no healer except for the guy who’s main skill is helping people die. Crap.
So the GM finds someone to play a ‘regular’ doctor. Jool. His girlfriend. Who doesn’t game and doesn’t like science fiction. Even the guy playing Crichton thinks this is a bad idea.
Plus, the group is hitting nigh-critical mass. Too many of almost every class.
The GM wants to split the group into two separate groups for awhile. Crichton hates that idea, because he wants play more, not less, and doesn’t want to make another ‘main’ guy.
“I have a solution,” the GM says.
So the group’s get split up.
- Fighter, D’argo
- Rogue, Chianna
- Jool, “healer”
D’argo’s spending points on “I have a ship”, but he can’t do it all at once, so the GM’s letting him buy it a little bit at a time. That’s fine. But Crichton realizes that in this group he’s got nothing going on — his “Loves Aeryn” thing and “D’argo’s Buddy” doesn’t let him go after Chianna, no one’s really hunting Moya, Jool is dating the GM and they both give him dirty looks whenever he tries to hit on the character…
… so he only has wormholes to work on. This quickly gets old for EVERYONE. The only respite is when Crichton takes a break and roleplays Braka in scenes with Scorpius.
- Fighter, Aeryn
- Rogue, Rigel
- Priest, Stark
- MORE Crichton, who by this point in time has multiclassed so many times that the GM just simplified the system by making “Crichton” a class. Crichton loves this group, because he gets to continue to hit on Aeryn, shoot stuff, get chased by bad guys, and fiddle with wormhole tech.
But the GM is getting a little fatigued by running two groups every week. He isn’t aware of it consciously, but he resents all the time the game is taking — it starts to leak into the game itself: it’s basically impossible for anyone to do anything in any game session without making the situation worse, even if they succeed. This trend will, we fear, continue.
And that’s about where I am right now in Season Three.
You gotta admit, as good as the show is, it’s weirdly similar to gaming groups.
… which in turn makes it dissimilar to any other kind of ensemble cast show I’ve ever watched. The characters are more strongly archetypal (or stereotypical, depending on how charitable you’re feeling) than anything like BSG or Babylon 5 or… well, anything.
What’s weird and remarkable is that they largely retain those archetypes even three years into the series. That’s not say they’re shallow, but their depth tends to be strictly confined to the original silos they were built into. Character archetypes. Classes. It makes the show immediately easy to grasp, no matter which episode you jump into.
(Until, if I recall correctly, Season Four, where everything goes CRAZY and the GM starts dropping acid.)
More as I think of it.