Friday, December 12, 2014

12 Games of X-Mas 5: "Five Brown Coats!"

I know that the Firefly RPG is on the list for "12 Games in 12 Months" and that it is from the exact same publisher as the Serenity RPG, but from everything I've skimmed through the Firefly book I can safely say that it will be a completely different game.  Serenity runs of the original Cortex System which has some interesting quirks while showing off some fun toys.

The Good:

  • Setting the Mood
    • It's normal for a game's fluff and flavor to fit the feel of a licensed property, but it's a much more rare occurrence when a game's actual mechanics push for that feel as well.  The creators behind Serenity found a way to let two characters completely duke it out in a fist fight brawl where someone might get knocked out, but until there's weapons drawn the chances of an accidental death are slim.  On the flip side a single bullet can just end a character's story right then and there.  I've seen my fair share of games try and pull, but never have I seen it done without either hand to hand feeling trimmed back or guns feeling like holding a super weapon.  The fact that a doctor can try and save a character after their heart has stopped or that taking out a character's knee caps is actually effective all help to add to the feeling of a world that, while grand and cinematic, still feels close to our own.
  • Batting Order
    • So I will be honest with all of you and let everyone know that what I'm about to bring up is an Optional Rule.  In the core book the writers decided to present several options for how to handle initiative.  The staples of rolling each round and rolling once then just going in circles are both present, however after that they showcase two other options that personally I wish gaming had thought of long before now.  Basically how both mechanics boil down it at the start of the round everyone says what they would like to do and at the same time everyone rolls for their first action (the system allows for multiple actions per round at a penalty to all actions for the round).  In the first version of the new system whoever rolls best on their first action goes first and so on just as if they rolled initiative.  The second version is the same with the exception that anyone making multiple actions rolls again to see who's second action goes first and so on and so forth.  It does add a bit of slow down as with each action everyone is comparing rolls, but it definitely makes for much more dynamic scenes.
  • A Ship of Heroes
    • Granted this could be said is part of the mechanics fitting the feel of the setting, but I feel like this one needs it's own discussion.  In Serenity the writers understood just how important the ship is to both the characters and the other all story.  It's not simply a set piece or plot device, but treated as a full fledged character that the entire party can work together to help build.  These mechanics allow for a very personal ship with heart and character.
The Bad:

  • X Points
    • I very nearly put the fact that this system uses "Plot Points" into my positive column as I love systems that give players a currency to take some narrative control.  My problem with Serenity's take on this however is that while some of the points can be banked for later sessions the bulk of them are how a player gains XP.  To me this then feels like a player is given two options, either they can take chances and do cool interesting things with the story OR they can advance their character and level up.  This just comes off as a penalty for not staying with what the GM has already planned.
  • Too Much GM Power
    • This brings me into my what might be my biggest gripe with the construction of this game.  I am I firm believer that yes the GM is the final arbitrator of what can and can't be done, that it is their word and they are judge and jury, however Serenity found a way to take it too far.  I fully agree with the GM being able to tell players that they can't spend their points this time to dictate an NPC's background or motives.  That makes sense to me.  The problem starts when a good bit of options for players when making their character involve options that require them to spend their plot points to activate.  On the surface I'm ok with that as it is a finite currency for some f the cooler toys (like being able to talk to machines).  This by itself isn't an issue except any ability that requires plot points can be nullified by the GM for no reason at all.  Even the example in the book is of a GM that wants to tell a story of the ship having a mechanical problem no one can figure out and when the master mechanic tries to talk to the engines (the entire concept of their character more than likely) the GM has the ability to say, "No the adventure is about figuring this out so you can't do that".  I'm sorry, but that is lazy.  IF you have a player in your game that can easily trump your problem then you didn't write a good conflict for your players.  A GM should never be allowed to make a players options just flat not matter because of something as simple as they forgot the ship had a competent mechanic.  Sure it can be easily fixed by into doing it to players or by taking the effort and making an interesting reason things aren't going as they should for a character, but the EXAMPLE to teach people how to play and run this game is basically a because I said so excuse and that just doesn't fly. 
  • D2: The Mighty Sliding Dice
    • Finally there is a concept that if used in moderation I could fully get behind, but this has been taken way to far.  Basically whenever a player would take a penalty or gain a bonus the dice for their skills or attributes would "slide".  This basically means their either upgrade or down grade the size f the dice used.  That is simple enough except frequently the dice will slide 3 and ever 4 steps in any direction leaving to know knowing what dice you might need at any given time until all aspects are broken down.  The other problem this creates is when a dice goes below a D4 or above a D12 in their case the player is supposed to use a D2.  Yes a D2 as in flipping a coin that has been marked 1 and 2 on either side.  This magical D2 isn't just a fringe case though as they also seem to want to use it in random locations such as natural healing.  I get that it's for balance with this sliding dice system, but if you need to make up a completely new concept of what counts as "dice" then maybe it's an issue with your system and not the dice.
Final Thoughts:
This is another one of those games I really want to love and I do for aspects of it.  The problem is the system has major faults in its design and I simply don't agree with the mentality it teaches Game Masters.  After re-reading the books I do want to try and give it a second chance, but with some definite house rules and completely throwing out their "railroad first" mentality.  Outside of that though I will say it does a good job of feeling like Firefly and the book is worth it for the interior maps of the sample ships alone.

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