One of my goals for 2022 was to play more games … and to play more different games. I love Dungeons & Dragons, and I’m always up for some 5th Edition, but I enjoy the challenge of learning something new. At the same time, David Moore and I were brainstorming ideas about games we could play to augment our Lair of Secrets podcast
After polling our friends, we decided on Scum and Villainy. We’d previously played Evil Hat’s Blades in the Dark, which is an urban fantasy game in which players run as part of a gang. Inspired by series like Peaky Blinders, as well as heist movies like Heat, the game was all about pulling off a job. More than that, it was about getting to the core of the job as quickly as possible. Rather than spending hours scoping out a location, gathering intelligence, making bribes, and buying gear, Blades in the Dark assumes you’ve done all that. The gang accepts a job, then picks an approach – like “assault”, “stealth”, or “weird”. There’s a setup roll to determine how well our initial plan went off, and the action begins at the first complication (the guard notices the break-in, the safe turns out to be a massively over engineered vault, a rival gang shows trying acquire the same target).
It’s a very different from your standard, linear RPG. It hurt our brains … but in a good way.
Scum & Villainy takes that same concept to science fiction. Think Firefly, where the jobs might have been a heist, but they might also have been smuggling cargo from star system to another. Or Star Wars, where the heroes might have been rebels fighting against an oppressive empire … or might have been trying to pull a heist to get them out of crippling debt. Or even Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 1, in which a McGuffin found in a remote, alien ruin suddenly becomes a world-destroying threat that everyone wants.
Once settled on the game, David and I brainstormed aspects of the campaign as part of the podcast, and then released actual play episodes in real-time through Twitch and afterwards via our Lair of Secrets podcast feed. The complete season is available on the website through the campaign homepage.
One of the first decisions we needed to make was to figure out what kind of jobs we wanted to take … and what kind of ship we wanted to get to enable that. There are three different ship archetypes, each of which facilitates a specific kind of job. They don’t require you to take those jobs – you can always do something different – but it helps set and reinforce the tone for the setting.
- Cerberus: Mercenaries/Bounty Hunters
- Firedrake: Rebels/Freedom Fighters
- Stardancer: Smugglers
We went with smugglers with an affinity for the weird. Our ship was the Stardancer, a fast mover with room for cargo (both legal and illicit), a decked-out med bay, and an equally capable ground rover for those planetary engagements.
Our crew is comprised of:
- Dyson “Twitch” Thane (Mechanic)
- played by Josh
- Born in the stars, and will likely die in the stars
- J-A66-3R aka “Jagger” (Muscle)
- played by Kris
- Humanoid Urbot. 5’4″ tall. Neon green chassis with bright pink, yellow and blue accents.
- Ordwell Starcrasher (Pilot)
- played by me
- Former racer, now pleasure-seeking, daredevil pilot
- Polaris “Karma” Pava (Scoundrel)
- played by Erin
- A galaxy-traveling thief with a love of sightseeing
- James “Doc” Watson (Sitch)
- played by Chris
- Scion of a well-respected Imperial Family; worked as an professor at Imperial University Medical School, currently the Stardancer’s doctor.
The campaign played out over six episodes and featured a conflict with the Ghosts, four out-of-phase scientists seeking to jumpstart a dead interstellar gateway in a play for power and glory. In the campaign’s climactic end, we managed to stop their plans (mostly) but created an untethered gate floating through the galaxy.
Will we return to Scum & Villainy? I don’t know, but I hope so. While the universe is generically Star Wars, the game mechanic is compelling in part because of how much it makes us think … and think differently from other RPGs.
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Cover art for Scum & Villainy. Credit: Evil Hat