Firefly Role-Playing Game Core Book Review - Into the Black

Marshall Lemon | 4 May 2015 16:00
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Things Don't Go Smooth

Firefly may sound like a stat-heavy, number-crunching system at first glance, but in play it's actually quite the opposite. All these dice rolls set the backdrop for how difficult given tasks are, but the game is really fueled by plot points. These let players directly control how the game's story unfolds - you could spend them to draw a "hidden" gun from your boot, locate cover in a firefight, find allies in unusual places, or stay standing despite intense injuries. Players start each "episode" with a single point, but playing to your distinctions gives you a surplus that contributes to unique, interesting stories.

That's great for getting into character, but it does mean Firefly is closer to a "story game" than number-crunching RPGs. In fact, plot points completely replace most traditional game systems. For example, players don't have health bars to track how much damage they've suffered - if you get shot, you can spend a plot point to take a complication instead of being taken out. But Firefly even uses plot points for managing money - players don't earn currency for completing jobs, but they can spend plot points on dice that represent their wealth. It doesn't slow down the gameplay any, but it is a strange decision - a big part of Firefly is about taking freelance work for money after all.

In other words, Firefly puts a strong emphasis on narrative over simulation. On the one hand, that glosses over details like how much money you have, the schematics of custom ships, or how long it takes to travel between the Blue Sun to Georgia systems. But it also lets players get into the gameplay right away - anyone who aims to misbehave can just do it without looking up a dozen rules. And it's not like the Firefly show worried about those nitty gritty details after all - just the fun of diving into a difficult situation.


On top of that, flattening out the mechanics with narrative means all gameplay approaches are equal. You're just as likely to defeat an opponent with a cutting remark (and successful Social roll) as you are with a pistol. That gives players lots of freedom to experiment with combat and non-combat oriented characters, allowing for more diverse crews. And Firefly still has enough mechanical weight that you can advance your crew over time, upgrading skills and distinctions with every completed episode.

If there's one particular nitpick I have with Firefly, it's that supplements have details which should have been in the core book. The biggest oversight is Reavers - outside of a single ship, the game never addresses them mechanically until you reach Things Don't Go Smooth. Sure, Reavers technically weren't in the show but it's a notable absence, especially since Firefly treats them like a force of nature instead of enemy obstacles. Meanwhile, Smuggler's Guide to the Rim has a fantastic Reputation system for managing factions, and an upgraded character sheet with an "episode guide" that tracks experience. (Although this sheet is available from the Margaret Weis website.) The core game is certainly playable without such features, but they add so much that Firefly feels lacking without them.

But in the end, Firefly remains a fantastic game. While I personally miss some of the nuance of the original, there's more than enough here to make it a worthy successor to Serenity, and a great tabletop experience to boot.

Bottom Line: It doesn't matter if you're a newcomer or a life-long Browncoat - Firefly is an fun, exciting RPG that will make you long for the Verse all over again.

Recommendation: Take my love, take my land, take me where I cannot stand - I don't care, I'm still free, you can't take the sky from me.

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