Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Tommy's Take on The Firefly Roleplaying Game

And so the Firefly theme continues with the Firefly RPG by Margaret Weis Productions, not to be confused with the Serenity RPG they released a few years ago.
DISCLAIMER: I received a comp copy of this PDF via the RPGNow Featured Reviewers program. I have an affiliate link posted in the link, and purchasing the book via the link may provide me with store credit, which will be used to make further purchases from RPGNow for this blog.

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW: The Firefly RPG uses Cortex Plus, the same basic system that powered Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic (two of the three were named to my Top Six). It is currently available in PDF for $20 (the print version will be $50). As usual for MWP, the production values are pretty great, with high quality stills and good artwork.

Though this uses Cortex Plus, there ability spread is a bit more traditional than in Smallville, Leverage or even Marvel Heroic, as you have a Physical, Mental and Social stat, and then you have Skills like Shoot, Fight, Fly, Drive, Sneak, Operate, Labor (basic grunt stuff) and Treat (healing). As with other Cortex Plus games, these are ranked as dice, from d4 to d12. Generally speaking, you roll an Attribute and a Skill, but you get an additional d6 if you have a Specialty in that skill that's relevant to the task at hand, and if you have a Distinction (kinda like Fate Aspects), you can add another d8 to your pool, and if you have an Asset on hand, that lets you add (usually) a d6 (though Signature Assets, like Jayne's favorite gun Vera, can be advanced to a d8). After you roll, you can keep two dice, more if you spend Plot Points. In certain situations, other folks can lend you skill dice for your pool, and there's even a Big Damn Hero die you can bank if you beat a target number by more than 5 (which is a really sweet mechanic). For instance, if your target number is 12, generated by the GM rolling a d6 and a d8, and your final score is an 18, you get to keep a d8 that you can roll later.In a high stakes roll (like a Shootout or a knife fight), losing the roll means you are Taken Out, unless you spend a Plot Point to take a Complication (which can be used by your opponents). If the Complication ever reaches a d12, you are Taken Out anyway. Your Distinctions all have specific Triggers that must be hit before you can use them, and while each Distinction includes three, you don't have access to all of them in the beginning.

The crew of The Serenity is included if you want to just jump right into playing as them. There's also about two dozen premade archetypes you can use. Of course, creating your own character from scratch is an option as well. Interestingly, using the premade Distinctions list means you will have a series of Highlighted Skills, based on Distinction. Those are the Skills you step up in character creation (plus 9 additional points to buy skills). Interesting touch. The existing Distinctions list is pretty extensive, with options like Bounty Hunter, Fed, Mercenary, Registered Companion, Ship's Captain, Backstabbin' Git, Duelist, Heart o' Gold, One with the Shadows, Sore Loser, Blind as a Bat, Drunk, Filthy Rich, Government Experiment, Semi-Retired, Wet Behind the Ears and a LOT more. Plus, guidelines for making your own.

Ship creation is ALSO included, complete with the ship having its own Distinctions, for History (Battle Scarred, Bad Reputation, Cursed, Famous, In the Line of Duty, Won Her in a Card Game, etc.) and Customizations (Built for Speed, Cruisin' the 'Verse, Livestock Hauler, Green Livin', Turtlin', etc.), and the ship can have Signature Assets as well.

The setting for the game is assumed to take place between the TV series and Serenity, so the events of Serenity are not known to the general populace. There's some nice galaxy maps in the book, showing all the big travel destinations.

The book spends about 130 pages on an Episode Guide, more than I have ever seen from a licensed RPG...and it turns out to be maybe the best episode guide I've ever READ in an RPG, as they not only provide the character stats for the relevant characters in each episode, but they also use events from the show as examples of the game's mechanics AND provide launching points for your own episode, based on the events of the actual episodes! Out of Gas, one of my favorite episodes, has a few potential plot hooks coming out of it, like Capt. Pickett's ship being stranded and Serenity answering their distress call (Pickett shot Mal and left him for dead on Serenity) or Bester - Mal's old mechanic - notifying the crew that Kaylee's parents have been arrested...because they got framed for Bester's misdeeds.

The episode guide is FULL of stuff like this, including not only the relevant stats, but also sidebars (the aforementioned episode also has tips for using wealth as an Asset/debt as a Complication). Wonderfully done.

GMCs are handled as Major and Minor GMCs, with the latter having very little definition, and the former rising in definition, competence and power level at three tiers (Light, Major and Heavy). Patience, Harken and Saffron are used as examples for each. Extras are summed up by a single Trait/die. The GMing section in general provides pretty good advice on running an RPG in the Firefly show "template", complete with episode beats, advice on running miniseries and one shots and so on.

A sample episode (The Way of Things) is included, and while it is built to run with the Serenity crew, with a little work they figure you can use most characters.

The appendices include a glossary of Chinese used in the show, a Master Distinction List, a cutaway of Serenity and blank sheets to use.

WHAT WORKS: The book is chock full of examples, within the episode guide and outside of it, making the system easier to understand than, perhaps, any other incarnation of Cortex Plus. They squeezed a LOT of customization options out of the Firefly universe, broadening the scope nicely. The Episode Guide is the best I have ever seen in a licensed RPG, worth reading even if you know the series by heart. The most "traditional" feel a Cortex Plus game has had yet, which should help make it more accessible.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: No real treatment of Reavers, I guess? If the print version doesn't have an index, that's going to be rough in a book this size. I could have went in for a Random Episode Generator.

CONCLUSION: The clearest, most concise version of Cortex Plus yet, with no real complaints on my part. The episode guide is an epic thing of beauty, and I could see someone using this as a "gateway" to Cortex Plus and walking folks "back" to other Cortex Plus games once they grasp the basics off of this. I'll admit, I like Firefly, but the idea of a Firefly campaign doesn't fire me up, until I see *just how much* they were able to cram into this book. They even managed to squeeze in playing an Alliance Operative! I'm not really sure how much material they have to expand the gaming universe with, but given how tight and complete Smallville and Leverage were (*sniff*, poor Marvel Heroic, *sniff*), I don't know if that's a bad thing to create a "basically all in one" Firefly RPG. I give it a pretty high recommendation for gaming in the 'Verse, for sure.

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