This article originally appeared in Issue #013, January 2011, of the downloadable PDF magazine.
So, for several months, I had been running a Serenity RPG game. Nothing special, just having a crew explore the system, trading, taking on odd jobs, getting themselves shot at. Then, several of the players became unavailable for game, due to non-game related issues. So I figured, “Hey, perfect chance to force the rest of my group to learn Traveller instead!” So, to ease the rest of the group into the new rules (and speed up gaming) I rolled them up three characters and set up an adventure for them. They said they wanted to try being pirate hunters, so I set their first adventure as obtaining a ship. Easy enough, right?
Game night rolls around, and I show up at the hosting apartment and BAM! The whole group is there. The ones who I created characters for, the ones who had dropped out, and the ones who were occasional cameo appearances during the Serenity game. I went from having 3 players (a decent size group to teach rules to) to having 9 players (a couple of the kids felt like playing too).
Well, thinks I, we could just play Serenity instead, I guess. Wait, no, I don't have any Serenity adventure set up to use. I could roll them up a few characters real quick like. What should I do? Then, the bright idea hit me: Why not just let them RP out a pirate vs pirate hunter fight? So, I quickly made up some pirate characters, printed out some ship stats, and GMed by the seat of my pants. Wheee!
Setting up a scout ship for the Hunters, and a Corsair for the Pirates, any number of things could have happened. I set up the scene that the Hunters had gotten a rumor of a pirate operating in this system, and that they had just jumped in to the system. From there, it was interesting. First, there was the item of the two different crews, who knew each other as people, but not as characters, trying to get together and quickly sort out their crew dynamics. Then, there was the on-the-fly act of instructing the players in the rules. Finally, there was the constrained chaos that comes from having two opposing teams in the same room together, with the furious passing of notes, whispering, and Out of Character information gathering.
So, the two crews fought each other, RPed with themselves and each other, and all had a good time, with me just acting mostly as a referee to interpret the weapons hits and damage. The moral of the story: A GM doesn't necessarily have to run what he has planned, if something else will be more fun.