I’ve got an e-copy of the Firefly RPG from Margaret Weiss Productions, and next week I’m planning to run a one-shot with the system. After that, we’re going to run the same adventure and characters in the old Serenity rules (with a slight modification — we’re using what I’ll call Cortex 1.1, using the Assets and Complications rules from Battlestar Galactica and Supernatural.)

However, I can give an initial report on the character creation for both systems, having put together six pre-gens for the one-shot.

1) Speed of character creation: I’ve been using Cortex 1.1 for six years of so for various games, so I’ve reached the point I can slap together a pretty nuanced character in about 10 minutes, tops. After getting used to how the writers laid out the character creation in the Firefly corebook, I was able to put together a reasonable version of the Cortex 1.1 characters in about the same time. It’d give the slight edge to the Cortex+ version here.

2) Closeness to concept: One of the reasons classic Cortex has become my favorite system is the ability to really craft a characters mechanics to match the concept. There’s six attributes — the physical: agility, strength, vitality; and the mental: alertness, intelligence, and willpower. Assets and complications give a die to the character or the GM, respectively, when they come into play. Usually, if I bring a complication into play, the player gets a plot point. Skills and their specializations are well-defined. These all are defined from d2 (weak!) to as high as 2d12 — but usually you will be between d4 and d12.

Firefly‘s Cortex+ has three attributes: physical, mental, and social and the characters get to assign a d6, d8, or d10 to the attributes. You can even them out to d8s across the boards, if you like. Assets and complications are replaced by the Fate-inspired Distinctions. You get three at d8, and  may add up to two triggers (ex., a Veteran of the Unification War distinction might allow you Fightin’ Type or War Stories with certain mechanical benefits.) All characters have the same skill list and at least a d4 in all of them. Each of the distinctions gives you a linked skill that you gain a die step.

For instance: Colonel Atticus Wynn is a veteran of the Alliance military who has fallen on hard times. He crossed the wrong politician or military figure during the war and has found himself unable to capitalize on his service. In the Serenity rules, he’s got the Branded, Deadly Enemy, and Things Don’t Go Smooth complications, with Fightin’ Type, Friends in High Places, Natural Leader, Military Rank, and Tough as Nails for assets. He’s well defined.

In the Cortex+ version, I had to really work to balance the distinctions in a way that emulated the complications and assets. I created one called Mercenary Leader based on Ship Captain. He has a Lead from the Front trigger that allows him to spend plot points on his subordinates. He’s a Veteran of the Unification War with the War Stories trigger allowing him to step up assets or complications from the war. He’s got Smooth Talker, as well, since he was build in Cortex 1.1 with good influence and social skills. The three distinctions left him with good Fight and Shoot skills, and lesser Influence, Knowledge, Move, and Survival skills that were improved with the nine points given to tweak the skills. He added two specializations and took two d8 Signature Assets — a stealth suit and an Alliance assault rifle.

The difference between the character builds was subtle in this character. I had to create distinctions or signature assets to get close to the classic Cortex build on a few characters, but overall I was able to get close to a match, mechanically, for the characters. A few of the character templates were close enough to tweak and make them work — there’s quite a few of these templates to use to get yourself into play quickly. However, there’s a lack of detail to the Cortex+ assets, it can be hard to get distinctions to model the detail of the asset/complications, and the specializations are a bit free-form. If the players want the character design to help them play the character, I lean slightly toward classic Cortex for the ability to tailor a character in detail.

So for speed of character creation, there’s almost no difference in how quick you can put together a character (unless you choose to tweak a template — then Firefly is the clear winner here.) As to creating a detailed character, classic Cortex does a better job, but not by much.

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.


Looks like the .pdf version of Firefly has dropped, which means the physical copies of the book should be getting printed soon. That puts it on target for the early June date that Amazon is showing.

This time Amazon is saying June 8, instead of April 14. This game has more delays than Obamacare.

I think I’m going to cancel my order and when/if this actually sees release, I’ll buy it. In the meantime, I’m waiting for my physical copy of Mindjammer to come in. At 500 pages, it’s a bit of a monster to go through for character and campaign planning.

The new Firefly RPG by Margaret Weis was supposed to drop on February 18, but some last minute approval issues mean we won’t see it until April.

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.

Looks like either the money-grubbers at Disney pulled the license for the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game from Margaret Weis Productions without warning, or MWP couldn’t make the reup on the license work out since they couldn’t move enough product (I’m guessing it was a combination — they couldn’t pay for a more expensive license and Disney just pulled the license, complete with a cease and desist for selling product they were authorized to sell, although now you have until April 30 to snag all the material at Drive Thru RPG.) MWP is trying to make amends by crediting pre-orders 150% the cost of the books they aren’t going to be getting; I think that’s a stand up move.

It’s a sad day as, while I’ve not been a fan of the Cortex Plus direction the company took, Marvel was a superb game the mechanics of which really captured the flavor of a comic like none of the other, in my opinion. On the up side, MWP has an upcoming Firefly RPG. Let’s hope they can keep the license.

Here’s an idea that I used for a one-shot recently. It is, essentially, the movie Deep Rising tweaked for the Firefly universe. (It’s what I call a terrible-but-fun movie; have a look.)

The players are one of two groups — either the ship crew of a smallish freighter like White Lightning from the supplement Six-Shooters & Spaceships, or a group of mercenaries that have been hired to rob then destroy a fancy new passenger liner. If they are the freighter crew, they don’t know the actual score — they’ve been hired on a “if the cash is there, we do not care” basis, simply running the gun bunnies to point X in the Black and back. The mercs know the full score but are leaving the transpo guys in the dark for OPSEC.

The crew is hired one of the border moons or planets — whatever is easiest for your campaign. For a one-shot, you could have the action start on Persephone with Badger fronting the deal, or on Beaumonde with Mingo and Fanty. They’ve got a hard run out to a location in space that is a bit off the shipping lanes, but still reasonable. If they snoop about the cargo, they’ll find the gear the mercs brought with them includes 4 200 lb. (d6W) anti-ship (spacecraft scale) missiles with a launcher rig that can be mag-locked to the hull. What do they need with artillery?

A few minutes out from being able to find the liner, they should encounter some kind of debris — a lifeboat or shuttle — that they’ll hit before they eventually find the liner. Or if they have the usual cheap boat with bad maintenance, just hit them with some kind of failure. For whatever reason, they need safe harbor on the liner and won’t be able to run for it right off.

For the liner,  you could use El Dorado from the core rules or the passenger liner from SS&S; the bigger, the better — adrift and apparently on emergency power. The mercenaries knew this would be the case — they have an inside man (the owner of the thing) aboard who sabotaged her. The plan was simple: the ship suffers a catastrophic failure and after the passengers are offloaded, the valuables are pilfered, the ship destroyed, and the massive insurance claim filed. (The ship is so expensive, they’re running at a loss, even with a full-manifest.)

When they go aboard, however, there’s no one to be found. There’s indications of a hell of a fight — blood, bullet holes, but no bodies. They have to hit the vault, the engineering section’s machine shop to get what they need to fix their ship. Split ’em up. Lose a few NPCs who can disappear with some blood-curdling scream on radio. Eventually, they’ll have to find the bodies of the crew and passengers (maybe some still alive to make it more terrible) in a hold. There’s also something else, something worse — REAVERS!

There should be a lot of them, and it should turn into a run & gun, cat & mouse game to get back to their ship and get the hell out of there. Once they are off the liner, they’ll have to run for it, because the reaver ship that dropped the boarding party is coming back.

Tweak as you need to make it work for your game — change the scale of the opposition or the liner to suit your purposes — but it should be a good horror/action adventure for you to run.

Margaret Weis dropped word today that they have the rights to do another Serenity RPG — but not…this time they’ve got the rights to Firefly, as well. It will be “based on Cortex” — which I hope to hell means a revised version of the original cortex and not the Cortex Plus they’ve been putting out. It’s a damned good set of rules, and it deserves to live long and prosperous like.