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Review: Serenity Role-Playing Game

by Frances Moritz

I am, I confess, a Firefly fan. I came to the series late, having missed it on TV, but am about halfway through my third watching of it. So I was delighted to hear that Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd. was producing a role-playing game based on it. OK, technically it's based on the movie Serenity, but that picks up where the series left off. Three different perspectives stand out for a review of the Serenity Role-Playing Game: the system; the book itself; and the fangirl-mandated connection to the series and movie.

Serenity uses a new game system, making use of every even-sided die from two-sided to a twelve-sided. (Alas, still no use for my seven-sided dice.) Penalties and bonuses alter what type of dice you're rolling, rather than altering what number you rolled; if you have a trait at d8, but have a -2 step penalty, you'll be rolling a d4.

You have a set amount of points to develop your character with; these points vary depending on what experience level your campaign is starting out as: Greenhorn, Veteran, or Big Damn Hero. You buy traits and skills up from nothing, including at least one Asset and one Complication. Assets cost points to buy, but Complications give you points back. Both Assets and Complications help build the character's background, giving your gamemaster some plot possibilities.

Most skill rolls combine a trait with the skill, which is resolved by rolling the dice for both. A character, such as Simon Tam, with a d12 Intelligence and a d12 specialization in Surgery, will roll two d12s when using his medical expertise to fix up one of the crew. Some skills - such as surgery - require knowledge of the skill; some can be attempted unskilled by just rolling the appropriate trait.

The overall system is simple, and clearly written in a way that will make it easy for an experienced or first-time gamer to pick up. At least, once they get used to the layout.

My first complaint with the layout came immediately after I opened the book. Before looking at anything else, I flipped to the back to look at the index. There isn't one. Perhaps my views are biased because of Lori's indexing article; perhaps it's because the last Role-Playing Game (RPG) books I read were Munchkin d20 books, and Steve Jackson Games consistently includes indexes in their books. As I prepare to run a Play by Email Serenity game, I keep finding myself wishing for an index.

The book reads well, and it's awful pretty, with an assortment of photographs from the movie. Several ship diagrams made it into the chapter on "Boats & Mules," along with details on how to design an appropriate ship for your campaign. There's even a section near the end with appropriate slang, including pseudo-Western and spacefaring, and a few pages of Chinese slang. So now I know it's Bai Lih Mohn (wishful thinking) that they had an index for this book.

The order of the chapters seems wrong. The chapter on "Boats & Mules" interrupts a series of chapters about building and playing your character; the chapter after it has the details on when to roll, what to roll, and other very important mechanics for actual play. But once you get used to the layout, and bookmark the important pages, it's useable that way.

Oddly enough, there is no blank character sheet provided in the game book. A layout is suggested in the sample characters that are provided, but you have to look online for fan-created character sheets if you don't want to build your own.

From a fangirl perspective, there's a lot missing. The game book is set at the beginning of the movie. If you haven't seen the movie, that means there are no spoilers in the book. That's not really a problem, since you can easily incorporate the movie revelations into a plot if desired.

But I was hoping for more secrets from the show. The book hints at some of the secrets, which is somewhat annoying. While they provide character sheets of Serenity's crew as examples, the character secrets aren't revealed. If you want to play the core characters, you'll want to fudge some of the background based on the hints that were dropped in the series and movie; personally, I'll be reserving them for cameos. Likewise, if you're looking for government secrets, corporate scandals, or even revelations about the Reavers, they're not there.

On the plus side, streamlined stats are available for recognizable Non-Player Characters (NPCs) from both the series and movie, along with generic characters based on an assortment of worlds.

As a gamemaster, I'm hoping for a separate book on the secrets of Serenity; I'm also hoping for an expanded world book, to supplement the short geography/astronomy section. Until then, I'll keep flyin' with what was provided. The book is available at DriveThruRPG in PDF format or as a hard cover book at your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS).

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