It’s must be 16 years since I last bought an RPG, and 11 since I last played. However recently I’ve been thinking about playing again.

Browsing through the RPG section of Waterstones in Milton Keynes I came across Serenity RPG, based on the Joss Whedon film (and, not credited, the SF series ‘Firefly’). As I love the series (I have watched approx half on DVD) I was drawn to it. I must say I was impressed. If you are into either Serenity or RPG it’s definately worth a look.

(Click on the fold for more)

For those who haven’t see the series the background is as follows.

Earth-that-was has all been used up.  Luckily Man was able to escape with the help of technology.  As there is no FTL the ‘Arks’ too a couple of generations to reach a suitable star.  Terraforming began, first with the innermost ‘core worlds’, then with the ‘boundary worlds’, where the terraforming isn’t yet complete.  Because of this the boundary worlds are low tech, and people rely on horses musch more than engines to get around- it’s a ‘frontier’ and Whedon has deliberately set it up to be like the ‘Old West’. 

6 years ago there was the end of the bloody ‘Unification war’ where the Core worlds asserted their control over the boundary worlds, leaving a sort of post American Civil War atmosphere. Weedon’s Hero’s are the crew of the ‘Firefly’ class tramp cargo ship, named Serenity after the final bloody battle which it’s captain Mal Reynolds fought at as a ‘Browncoat’ (the nickname for the seperatist soldiers).  It follows their adventures in this new frontier trying to scratch a living ‘in the Black’ (More at Wiki)

 The game lets you play as the crew of the series, or come up with a new crew.

 It has all the stuff you’d normally expect from an RPG: Attributes, Skills, Equipment, Weapons etc.  What grabs me about it is the resolution system, and the potential for the ‘game engine’ to be used elsewhere. 

All Attributes and Skills are expressed not as an absolute value (as in most RPG) but as a dice.  The game uses polyhedral dice – i.e. dice with more or less than 6 sides- so a d8 is numbered 1 to 8.  All values are expressed as either d2, d4, d6, d8, d10 or d12. The higher the die, the more chance of rolling high (and less chance of rolling ‘1’s- which is a very bad failure.  General Skills can be taken up to D6, then you must specialise to get d8+ so you can have d6 in Fire-arms, but to be d8 you must specify a kind of weapon- pistol, rifle etc. You still get the d6 if you don’t have a specialty.

 Resolution is a matter of rolling the appropriate attribute die, adding the skill die and beating a target number- the harder the task, the higher the number.

 Example- Zoe Washburn, Mal’s 2nd in command has Agility d8, Covert d6, speciality Stealth d10. She tries to hide in the shadows during sunset. The GM (game-master) decides this is a Average difficulty task for that locale- target number 7. She rolls a d8 and a d10, and a total of 7 or more would mean she is unnoticed by a casual observer.  She actually rolls 15. Because this is 7 or more than the target number, it is an extraordinary success.  The GM decides that unless another person is actually looking for her, and in the place she has crouched, she isn’t going to be seen at all. He may also decide to see her the searcher has to roll Alertness (stat) + Perception (skill) of 15+ to actually see her.  However if she was trying to pick a pocket, she does not have a speciality in it, so would roll the D6 for Covert.

Modifiers to the skill, + or -, are to the die throw, not the total. So a Skill of d8, -1 rolls a d6.  Rolling two ‘1’s cause bad things to happen.

Combat is exactly the same, except that the target rolls either to Block in melee, or Dodge fired weapons (both Agility+ appropriate skill)- this becomes the target number to hit.

Most RPG have Hit Points or some such to show how much ‘life’ you have left, with weapons knocking these down. In Serenity you have Life Points- and you get 2 lots! One is for Stun, the other Wounds (that’s bleedin’ to you fancy Core types). When you hit someone the score above the target number is split equally between them, with odd points going to Stun.  You then add the roll for the weapon to which ever total is appropriate for the weapon. If the total Stun + Wounds = LP then you are knocked out.  If wounds = LP you are about to die, unless you get fixed up real quick.

Example. Mal fires his pistol at a goon (who has 12 LP). The GM rolls the dodge and gets just 5 (and probably groans). Mal Has Agility d6, Pistol d12.  He rolls a total of 12 Not only does he hit, he beats the total by 7, doing 3 wounds and 4 Stun. Mal’s pistol does d6 wounds, and he rolls a 5. The thug now has 8 wounds and 4 Stun. As this equals his LP he goes down like a sack of potatoes.

That’s the core of the system.  I like it. It’s fast and flexible.  I have seen one comment saying the rules are a bit sparse. I disagree. The writers have included the most common skills and descriptions of how they are used, but they make it clear that the list isn’t exhaustive, and it’s easy to add new skills.  Players are encouraged to expand the game with new skills and advantages and disadvantages.  The core system can easily be adapted to other genre’s- A fact I am testing with a sort of ’21st Century Occult Hunter’ concept I have been toying with.  I had no problem coming up with a sample character or two, and could probably describe any character you like in game terms.  The character generation system is simple, and I prefer the feel of the rules on first read to GURPS, the most famous generic system.

The setting leads its self to lots of possible stories- Wild West in space is so flexible that any story you have read could form the basis of an adventure (though no aliens in Whedon’s ‘Verse).  The feel of the play seems to cinematic, with ‘Plot Points’ to be spent by the players to change the course of the game, either by adds to die rolls, or fortuitious conincidents (“Oh, I’ve just remembered the 100 credit bill I keep hidden in my shoe for just such emergencies”).  These are handed out for anything the GM feels worthy- from Completing an adventure, to just plain good role-play.  In addition spaceship generation is similar to character generation, with the idea the ship is another crew member.

 As is normal now-a-days, production values are high.. The book is hardcover and well bound.  Colour photos and quotes are scattered through out, as are fiction snippets which could easily serve as adventure ideas.  Deck plans of the most common ships are rendered in full colour.  Brownie points with me, as it has  7  pages of three column index for a 220 page book, so stuff is easy to find. Cover Price is $39.99- I paid £22.99 in the UK, about right because at the moment it’s about $2=£1.  Its published by Margaret Weis Productions Ltd, and Margaret Weis  is credited with the in book fiction ( I believe she co-wrote the D&D fiction- though don’t let that put you off!).

And Hey! how many other RPG’s teach you to swear in Chinese!