Firefly RPG: Core Book Hardcover

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The Firefly RPG puts you right in the middle of the action of the wildly popular television series. You and your Crew will trade bullets with fearsome bounty hunters, folk who want what you have, or varmints that try to put out the light of hope you represent. Keep your Browncoat banner flyin' high and dodge Alliance cruisers. Side with the Alliance and track down riff-raff to haul em in for justice. Explore your 'Verse to find a crew, find a job, and keep flyin'! Using a freewheelin version of the award-winning Cortex Plus System, the Firefly RPG Core Book is packed with all the shiny goodness you need to bring the 'Verse to life online or on your tabletop including character creation rules and Gamemaster NPC's like Niska, Badger, and Patience, over 30 pre-generated player-characters including Mal and the Serenity crew or one of 24 archetypes, Serenity ship and engine schematics, and dozens of sample ships, plus tips for world building, system maps, and an Episode Guide to teach new players and provide in-depth analysis of Firefly TV show.

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A Definitive Board Game of the Show and Film


In other gaming news, Firefly is... well, it's actually a really awesome game system. It's not internally simulationist (so, differing in that way from games like the d20-variant systems of Pathfinder or similar) - it's very narrativist to the core, what with "Plot Points" and "Big D<censored> Hero Dice" and "Assets" (signature or otherwise) instead of gold pieces or weapon damage... but it's really good.

It does the 5E design goal of bounded accuracy better, I think, than 5E, while providing methods for having everyone engage in Thrillin' Heroics. The simple version is that you roll dice (each ranging from a d4 to a d12, depending on how good you are at something) and take the top two to compare to a similarly-rolled number (usually by a different character, but sometimes from hazards, or other effects). There are, of course, occasions where you could roll or select more, but those are limited enough that it really doesn't matter all that much. This effectively caps things, at most, between 2-24 on all ends; and most things range more in the 2-12 range for Game Master Characters("GMCs" aka "NPCs") or 2-16 for PCs... though there are hazards for GMs to throw up that add more dice: in addition to increased difficulties, any natural 1s that come up on any dice add a "Complication" to the other side (usually generating an additional dice of various values, depending, which is added to the DC you have to overcome). Players can also add extra dice, but by spending Plot Points to make something that functions within the narrative... and it only lasts for a single scene (encounter/obvious set-piece) or use before vanishing, so those are usually over pretty quickly.

Further, the attributes have found a way to make Charisma definitively different from Charisma, and have mental scores... without having mental scores. The three attributes - physical, mental, and social - allow you to use any skill whatsoever with that attribute, if it's appropriate. All skills may be accessible at all times, but they all start out only at the d4 level; your attributes range from d6 to d10.

Death is handled in a rather cinematic and merciful fashion. Ask your players if death is on the line. If it is, than it's deadly to be Taken Out. If it's not, than it's not. (The GM may, at times, deem something as too dangerous, and simply inform the players, "If you go this way, death is not just on the line, it's super on the line. It's going to happen, if you get Taken Out" in which case, you know, the PCs are aware before hand.) Otherwise, getting Taken Out in a Scene is a case of failure - if you don't succeed at the thing you were doing or opposing - whether Physical, Mental, or Social - you get taken out for the rest of the scene. Depending on what takes you out, you might be out for a Scene, or an Episode - or longer, though that's not encouraged, usually. Often, if you come back, you come back with a Complication. Even if taken out, though, you can still act! You can spend Plot Points to take Partial Actions!

One of the most amazing things about the system? With few, minor exceptions... I can see the series run from the Pilot episode, Serenity to the swan-song film, Serenity, on this system (and not just because the book literally takes you episode by episode to introduce the system). For example, for almost the entire season of Firefly, River - with one or two notable exceptions - simply causes complications for the crew, and accrues Plot Points and B.D.H. dice for herself due to stuff on that. Then, in the film, <Spoilers>... and it all makes sense in-system.

What it lacks is that it doesn't (in-system) provide a motivation - there is a useful thing with getting more "episodes" (adventures) under your belt to improved your characters... but there is no singular potentially in-universe built-in motivation for going on adventures that is definitively reflected mechanically.

The other problem I have with it is that the mechanics are... opaque... in their presentation. I love the book, and I understand what it's trying to do, but they don't introduce the system well - I would have wanted them to do that first, then explain what it does by walking you through it in the episodes. Instead, they walk you through the episodes, highlighting game system elements when something becomes relevant instead. It's very much a video-game tutorial built into the second chapter of the book (the first chapter being the vague introduction):

Typical Video Game Tutorial wrote:

- Game: "Click on this square to move your unit there."

- Mouse: *Click*
- Game: "Good!"
- *cutscene*
- Game: "Now, you move your unit here, and select the glowing icon on the right."
- Mouse: *Click*
- Game: "You missed the square. Now, please, move you move your unit here, and select the glowing icon on the right."
- Mouse: *Click-click-click*
- Game: "You missed- You missed- You missed the square. Now, please, move you move your unit here, and select the glowing icon on the right."

It's informative in it's own way, but, unfortunately, it's... not easy reading. It's dense - or at least it can be - and, though I love me some books, as I'm trying to absorb game rule functions, I find the narrative bits distracting and my ADD refused to sit still (I have a d4, like everyone else, but with a 2d20 Complication, there, I think). Instead, I flipped through the book until I found the "how to create your character from scratch" (ignoring the many sample characters) and found that much more informative. Similarly, whenever I found the sets of rules that were more rules-heavy, I think the book actually shined - it was clear, understandable, and made a great deal of sense.

That said, I do think fans of the show (myself included) will love seeing how they statted up the Crew and the GMCs and everyone and everything else, as well as (after getting a handle on the rules) walking through the episodes. (I do wish they'd provided more samples of what the GM was supposedly thinking when he set up a given Episode, though they kind of do that in the back, later.)

Anyway, I highly - highly - encourage anyone who likes Firefly to grab this thing. It is well worth the price of admission, and the fundamental essence of the system is applicable to far more than just Firefly - I think many cinematic adventurous shows (or derivative works) could be run using the Firefly RPG rules, ranging from Hercules from the 90s, to The Awesomes of Hulu.

Beyond that, the ability to revisit the world of Firefly is... wonderful. Seeing the cast and crew together again... beautiful. The art is excellent (my only complaint being that I can't get enough*), the sample characters vast and varied (and exceptionally useful), and the details on the world are intricate and useful (while still open enough to being made your own).

And also ask for PDFs. 'Cause those book prices, well, to quip Shepard Book: the Me is willing, but the Wallet is weak. Well worth the cost, but it makes it hard to consistently afford their other products and support them in that way.

* On the art: though this is not a major point for the system, it's worth addressing for the book. There are several different styles of art throughout: scenes from the show (or promotional materials thereof), black-and-white photo shots, incredibly gorgeous watercolor works, careful and straightforward model images, comic-style line-and-ink work, and "iconic"-style imaging for in-'Verse advertisements in different ways. Though when first introduced, it feels inconsistent (due to having a different style from the screen shots of the show), having the variety of art styles spread throughout the book quickly eliminates that sensation and serves to highlight the game, and make 'Verse of Firefly feel like it comes alive. Over-all, it is an excellent example of artwork in a game book and deserves accolades, optically expanding the Firefly universe even after there are no more sets or images to take from.

An RPG Resource Review


This book opens by introducing the Firefly TV show, and does so well even if you have watched it before (likely you have if you are interested in a game based on that show... although the Leverage game from the same company actually started me watching that show, but I digress). This overview is linked neatly into what the game's about: you will form a crew similar to the Serenity one (if you are confused, Firefly is the name of the show, this game and the class of ship they went around in; Serenity is the name of the ship, the movie spin-off from the TV show and a previous RPG...), and have adventures similar to the ones in the show. Indeed, if you want you can play the characters from the show. The adventures will be new, though. It would be rather dull to play out ones you've already seen on TV! This opening section finishes with there's some background on the place you'll be adventuring in, the 'Verse, and basic notes on what you need to play.

The next chapter is an episode guide of all fourteen episodes of the show that were broadcast. Naturally it's a bit more than that, with notes on how things work in the game - e.g. what dice would be rolled by a given character to perform some stunt that he did in the show - ideas for adventures spinning off from what's already happened, stat blocks for people who feature and more. Weapons and items, for example, are both described and given their game statistics, should you want to use them yourself. It's all lavishly illustrated with screenshots - alas uncaptioned. Each episode ends with several full-blown adventure outlines you could use, and there's plenty and enough detail there that you could throw the episode itself at your characters and see if they can do any better than the originals!

This is followed by Find A Crew, a chapter that explains all you need to know to create your own character. It also has full work-ups in game terms of all the show's characters if you'd rather play them and a set of archetypes that provide a half-way house, most of the hard work has been done for you and all you need to do is personalise them for yourself. If you have Serenity Crew, you'll already have the show characters and archetypes, but here you also get to find out how to create a character from scratch, if that's your preference.

Next comes Find A Ship, which provides a similar service for working out the details of the ship that will be your characters' home, transportation and business. There's even a handy technobabble chart for those who want to sound like they know what's happening in Engineering! There's plenty of material here for you to design a ship from scratch as well as a range of ideas about all the other ships that are out there in the black... not to mention other modes of transportation that you'll find when you land as well.

Ship and crew sorted, all that remains is to Find A Job: and the chapter of the same name starts with the basics for novice role-players, explains how the game is played and how the rules work, and ends with more customisation, how to create your own options and how characters advance once they've been played a bit. This continues with the next chapter, Keep Flyin', which is aimed at whoever wants to be the Game Master (GM). This looks at the rules from the GM's point of view before delving into the running of adventures, how to keep the excitement high and the pressure on, and how to create and run the myriad NPCs needed - for Firefly is, above all, a game in which interactions with other people is central.

The penultimate chapter, Into the Black, looks further into that black art, game mastering, showing you how to use those gamemaster characters to best effect, create the atmosphere and the surroundings and bring it all to life. If it all sounds a bit hard at first, everything soon becomes plain - it's a good solid overview of the game master's art. These skills learned it is time to put them into practice with a complete ready-made scenario to run: What's Yours Is Mine. In this, the party's help is enlisted by someone wrongfully gaoled for murder who wants to get their company back from the individual who framed them... well, you would, wouldn't you.

There's an Appendix jam-packed with useful bits and bobs, including enough Chinese to sound authentic (but perhaps best not practiced on the local Chinese takeaway!), schematics for a Firefly-class ship, system maps and blank sheets for both characters and ships.

Overall, it's a fine introduction to the game - go enjoy yourself out in the black!

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