A few months back I did a review of the initial “beta” release of the new Firefly role playing game by Margaret Weiss Productions. The physical book is yet to arrive, but the .pdf went on sale a few days ago. I’ve gotten a copy of the game and just finished perusing it. So…review time!

The electronic book is 367 pages (including two for the covers) and is $19.99  on DriveThruRPG.com . As I expect from MWP, the art direction, layout, and overall look of the book is superb: full-color with a nice sepia-toned page color that evokes old paper, yet has tabs that give it a more modern flavor. The font will be great in print, but the serif is a bit difficult to read on the iPad’s screen (non-Retina) for my LASIK-modified, slightly farsighted eyes. Most of the art is either screencaps from Firefly episodes, or photos of models in appropriate clothing, etc. The text box sidebars occasionally get a bit busy. The weakest link in the art direction is with the character archetype pages, where the standard quality of RPG artwork reigns. It’s not terrible, but when compared to the original photo material, it stands out as anachronistic.

There is an excellent episode guide to the series that acts as a framework for presenting NPCs (or GMCs, as the game refers to them), spacecraft, and other episode-specific items. There’s an almanac to the ‘Verse that utilizes what looks to be the Quantum Mechanix Map of the Verse.

The rules set is very similar to the excellent Marvel Heroic Roleplaying that the jerks at Marvel pulled the plug on — in other words, a fusion of FATE and Cortex. For those who have played FATE, it will be mostly familiar, except for the use of standard polyhedral dice (d4-d12, no d20) rather than Fate Dice. The characters have three attributes: Mental, Physical, and Social, they have distinctions similar to the aspects of Fate, and skills from d4 (untrained) to d12. You put together a dice pool of applicable attributes, distinctions, and skills (plus other dice with use of distinctions and plot points, etc.) Ships or other vehicles of significance also have similar stats and are built almost the same way.

The mechanic is player dice pool vs. a game master dice pool that is either based on the same elements for the GMCs, or on a scene difficulty (d4 to d12) and any scene distinctions, assets, or complications. The GM decides what the stakes are in a test, or in combat a defender chooses the outcome. It’s easy enough to get a hold on the basics, but some of my players have found the ability to basically do whatever you can explain/pay for with plot points adds “too many moving parts” and makes it difficult to track what is going on.  While I don’t find it that complicated, I can see where — especially for new players and GMs — the looseness of the rules might be confusing. As with MHR, Firefly might benefit from GMs ignoring a lot of what you can do with plot points and “Big Damn Hero” dice, etc…

The appendix has a Chinese glossary to help players achieve the appropriate feel of the ‘Verse, as well as a master distinctions list to help build a character. There’s a schematic of Serenity (which looks to be based on the Quantum Mechanix material, as well), with close ups of her control console and engine, as well as the Maps of the ‘Verse. Lastly, there are interactive character and ship ships you can modify and save. (There are also free sheets on Drive Thru.)

Substance: 5 out of 5 — the book covers the series very well, has a complete rules set that doesn’t require any splatbooks (though I’m sure they’re coming…) Style: 4 out of 5 — the writing has the folksy tone of the show, and this might bother some (but I doubt it will the target demographic), the page design is mostly great but can be a bit busy here and there, and the character archetype and example artwork is sub-par compared to the rest of the book, otherwise it would be a 5 out of 5.

So…is it worth $19.99? If you are going to buy the book, no; go through MWP and order up the physical book/pdf combo. If you just want the e-book, yes — it’s worth it.

At some point in the near future, I’m hoping to do an alpha/beta test and run the same one-shot using this rule set, then the original Cortex rules from Serenity, then give a better comparison review.