The latest supplement for the Firefly RP dropped this morning as a PDF; the print book is a few weeks away (my guess.) I had a chance to skim the book well enough to do a quick review of the product. Smuggler’s Guide to the Rim is primarily a GM resource and pre-generated adventure supplement. At 291 pages, almost half of it is a pair of adventure campaigns, maps, appendices with Chinese comments for players to throw off for verisimilitude. The rest of the book is primarily a new reputation mechanic, new templates using these rules for character and spacecraft creation, and the “Good Shepherd Run” — a cargo/passenger run that provides locations, GMCs (GameMaster Characters), and ships for your campaign.

Style: 4 out of 5 — it’s the usual high quality MWP has had since the Cortex Plus lines started rolling out. It’s well written and edited, the art is mostly screencaps from the show, photos of characters in appropriate dress, and some good quality “game art.” The whole thing is nicely hypertext linked so you can bounce around the book as you need. The print version, I suspect, will be softcover and should be a nicely done as the Things Don’t Go Smooth supplement.

Substance: 3 out of 5 — For me, this wasn’t the best supplement I’ve bought, but it wasn’t the worst. If you like to run pre-generated campaigns, bump the Substance up to 4 out of 5. The reputation mechanic is nicely done, the templates for character creation is very useful, and the settings of the Good Shepherd Run is good material to use in a pinch.

Is it worth it? The PDFs on Drive Thru are usually marked down to $17ish bucks. For that, yes, it’s worth it; the print book/pdf combo was $30 for me. Is it worth it? If you use the adventure material, it’s a definite buy; if you don’t….meh….

However, the Firefly line is definitely a labor of love for the people at MWP, and it shows. I haven’t done more than run a few adventures, but I haven’t felt bad supporting the line, thus far. Since it’s pretty easy to tweak the material for the original Cortex rules, if you prefer, I’d say buy it.

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Somehow, I’d missed that Margaret Weis Productions were kicking out Firefly supplements at an amazing rate this year. I picked up the corebook about a year ago, and our gaming group did an A/B tet between Firefly and the older Cortex Serenity game to see how they compared. Later, I played in a pickup game with one of the designers of the game, just to see how it ran with someone who really knew the system. Follow the links to see the original review of the game and other observations.

Knowing there was an opportunity to spend money I didn’t have to, I ordered up Things Don’t Go Smooth and Smugglers’ Guide to the Rim for the game. I should be receiving hardcopies soon, but USPS is apparently in full-blown FUBAR mode this holiday season, so they got bounced back. However, MWP provides buyers of the book with a free .pdf of the game, and while the Smugglers’ Guide is not out, TDGS was. This review is going to concern itself with the e-book version of the supplement.

First off, the book is essentially a sourcebook for GMs — the first three chapters are a catalogue of new bad guy NPCs and their organizations, henchmen, and hideouts or ships. There’s a chapter on new ships and distinctions for the same, and a chapter specifically on running the game, and fleshing out towns and cities. There are two adventures that I haven’t read through (I don’t tend to run canned adventures), and an appendix of the new rules and distinctions. The book weighs in at 238 pages, and two pages of character/ship sheets.

The writing is solid, and the editing — which used to be a weak spot in early MWP productions — has caught most, if not all, errors.  The art design and layout is similar to that of the corebook: it’s full-color, pretty, and uses almost no “game art” — that middling quality stuff gamers expect — in favor of screen caps from the show, CGI art, and photos of characters in setting-appropriate garb. The pdf is well-designed, with heavy linking from the table of contents, and hyperlinks on key terms throughout the book. This is one of the big strengths of MWP e-books; they are excellent for use on a tablet or laptop, if that’s how you access your books in play.

The collection of NPCs are good. They are well-designed and fleshed out, as are their support networks. There’s a nice choice, from corporate spies, to crime bosses, to privateers and pirates. There’s a section on using Reavers effectively. The new ships are good, but the artwork does not alway match the description of the vessel — if you’re going to do ship art, make it match the vessel on the page.

The Scheming and Narrating chapter is particularly good for helping new and inexperienced GMs, especially in dealing with the use of assets or complications. In play, one of the issues I’ve seen with Firefly is that the complications can become a bit overwhelming for newcomers. You are encouraged to make them…a lot of them, and tracking and using them was one of the consistent complaints I saw in various play sessions. Unlike Fate, where you often have to spend a Fate Point (plot points in Cortex and Cortex +), Firefly lets you use any one that makes sense in play. This can give you Shadowrun-esque dice pools, but more to the point often “systematizes” elements of play that might be better handled in narration.

Case in point: There’s some great stuff on using the setting to create appropriate complications — like “The Building is on Fire d6” which could definitely be used to help or hurt you, or “Dark and Spooky d6”, which could be used to help a stealth roll or create mental stress from fear or unease. But there was an example that immediately highlighted the issue with just making complications or assets for everything — “Calling for Help d8”. The characters a trapped and calling for help…wouldn’t this be assumed to be the case? Do you need to systematize “Walking in a Straight Line d6”? Without having to use plot points to invoke these complications, as you might in Fate, requires the GM to really sit on the players when they get out of hand. However, that is against the stated goal of Fate like systems, which seek to have the players have more narrative control.

For all these observations, Things Don’t Go Smooth is an excellent, and well-made sourcebook to help GMs bootstrap their campaigns, or fill them out without having to do all the heavy lifting. I suspect, if I run a campaign, i will be using several of the bad guys and their organizations. The GM guidance is good for those who aren’t accustomed to running a game, but will be mostly weak tea for the experienced one. The adventures looked lie they would be good for pickup or convention games, and probably could be mined for material for a self-created campaign.

The physical book is a softcover, but judging from the pdf will be a handsome thing. It’s retailing for $35 (with free pdf download if you buy on the MWP site or from a “preferred retailer.”), and Drive Thru has the ebook for $13. So is it worth it? If you are playing the game, absolutely to either format. If you’re playing occasionally or just need to snag a few things from the book, electronic version might be better

Style: 5 out of 5 — it’s a gorgeous sourcebook, much better production values than necessary for a splatbook. Substance: 5 out of 5 — I was surprised I gave it this, but there’s a whole acre of bad guys and groups to choose from, new distinctions for players and ships, and some good GM advice. It’s a buy.

It appears that Margaret Weis Productions is looking to re-release Marvel Heroic Roleplaying without the Marvel. I suspect this will be the same, or mostly the same, rules set stripped of the licensed material. This could be a nice boon to the superhero RPG fans, as the rules set was great at recreating the flavor of comic books.

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.

firefly

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.

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.