When they first announced the “preview” for the Firefly RPG was being released for $29.99 on Drive Thru RPG, the fandom seemed a bit unimpressed. I happened across the product on the previously mentioned website for $9.99 and judging from the description, I figured it was most of the game with a few adventures thrown in. I was right — this is a “beta”, if anything — the game is nearly finished, but they punched out an edited version with a pair of adventures to allow GenCon goers something to buy and try.
There are a few things obviously still to be completed — the episode guide isn’t complete, and each show seems to have either sidebars with rules variants or important NPCs for the episode. Once completed, it should be useful for the GM. The experience/advancement rules have yet to be finished, but character and ship generation is mostly there.
So what do you get? The basic rules are complete, and take Cortex Plus closer to FATE than the game mechanics for the other Cortex Plus lines. For some this will be great news, for some…not as much. Characters have three attributes: social, mental, and physical and you have between d6 and d10 , your skills are between d6 and d12 (no knowledge get you a d4), and you get three assets that use the same d8 or d4 and you get a plot point mechanic of Marvel Heroic RPG. You set up a dice pool from the appropriate attributes, skills, and assets and try to beat a number rolled by the GM based on difficulty and various assets or complications of the scene setting. Sound familiar? Yeah, it’s FATE.
Spacecraft aren’t created like vehicles, which are a single die asset; they have their own attributes and assets. There are a few examples of the vessels seen in the first episodes, and i suspect you’ll have more as the game is completed.
In combat, or doing any other deed, the player or acting character chooses the outcome they want — if you succeed, that happens. In combat, you are “taken out” (this doesn’t necessarily mean dead) if the opposition is trying to harm you, or otherwise gain a complication. Complications are bought off with opportunities due to the GM rolling a 1. Sound familiar? /Yeah, it’s FATE with d4-d12 polyhedral dice (or Cortex Plus.)
There’s a small Chinese glossary (and specific lines from the show are covered in the episode guide), a basic layout of Serenity, and an atlas of the worlds around White Sun. If you’re a big fan of the show, you may already have the beautiful Map of the ‘Verse, the Serenity Blueprint Reference Pack, or the Atlas of the ‘Verse book by Quantum Mechanix. Use these instead. If you don’t have them, pick them the hell up…they’re worth every penny for even passing Browncoats.
How are the adventures? To be fair…I didn’t look at them, yet, and this “quick” review is already over 800 words long.
So how is it? For $10, it’s great! I’m not a huge fan of Cortex Plus (as you could tell from this review or other one on the Cortex Plus line — the main exception being the excellent MHR) but the game design is tight, simple, and easy to learn — perfect for the RPG newbie, which is the stated market of the line producer in an afterword in the book. I suspect it will be fun, easy to play, and worth the full price once the release version comes out. So next question: can you buy this and play it? Yes. And if you know Cortex+ or FATE well enough, you’ll be able to “fudge” (oh, shut up) the missing bits of the rules. For those who just want a quick pick up game in the universe, this beta might be a better choice for you, if you can grab it while it’s still $10.
One the style side: Production values are very high, editing is complete enough that I didn’t have any typos or errors jump right out at me. There are some glaring omissions in the rules set, as mentioned above, and incomplete chapters (although they tweaked those bits enough to not be readily obvious. It’s typical corebook quality from Margaret Weis Production…top notch. The only weak part is the art in the pre-generated character archetype section. The rest of the book uses screen caps and looks pretty and shiny. The art here is, in a work, execrable. A word to Monica Valentinelli — when you guys hit the splatbook phase of the game, do not hire this artist. No, really, just find appropriate screen caps and pop a bit more cash for the next tier of artist, because this guy truly stinks.
So — Substance: 3.5 out of 5 (it’s most of the way done, and if they keep going with what they were doing in the episode guide, I suspect it’ll be a 5 out of 5 for the core book.) Style: 4 .5 out of 5 — it’s pretty, the pdf has some bookmarks and hotlinks in the text but they are not fully built out yet. The use of screencaps is nice, but the original at is crap. As it stands, this particular beta is definitely worth $10, but would have pissed me off royally if I’d paid the original $29.99 they were asking. Another plus — if you buy this, you get 20% off the real book, which should give you the price point; they’re going to spot you the cost of this product — of the main core book is fully bookmarked, hotlinked, and the episode guide and rules are complete, this will be a definite buy as a pdf or hardcover for $30 it looks like they are shooting for.