Shooting Lots of Fish

***Spoiler Warning***

I’m going to be talking about the Firefly RPG in this post. Specifically, I’m going to be talking about Shooting Fish, one of the adventures in the Echoes of War line from Margaret Weis Productions. I’m going to be doing my best to avoid big spoilers, but there may be some – some of the things I want to talk about will probably give away a few plot points ((See what I did there, Cortex Plus fans?)). I’ll try and keep anything big hidden behind spoiler tags, but read at your own risk.

***You have been warned***

All set for the Firefly RPG demo at Imagine Games and Hobbies.

All set for the Firefly RPG demo at Imagine Games and Hobbies.

So, as I mentioned back here, I got a chance to play the new Firefly RPG from MWP at GenCon this year. I had a blast, and had already bought the GenCon exclusive preview book, and so I offered to run a couple of demos here in Winnipeg: one for my gaming group ((Well, for portions of my gaming group. My gaming group, over the years, has expanded to be a loose network of about fifteen people, and each game I run or play in involves a subset of that larger network.)), and one for my FLGS, Imagine Games and Hobbies. I decided to take the same tactic that Rob Wieland took when he put us through our paces at GenCon – offering the group the choice between the two scenarios that were included in the preview book.

I think it’s interesting to note that, in each of the three games where this was done, everyone chose the scenario Shooting Fish. They’re both good adventures, and both look like a lot of fun to run and/or play, but Shooting Fish has the crew helping out an orphanage, while Wedding Planners has the crew escorting a young socialite to her wedding. As soon as the word, “Orphans,” comes out of a crewmember’s mouth, though, it’s pretty much all over bar the whining ((At least, playing with the characters from the TV show. There’s a certain expectation of heroic, soft-hearted behaviour with the canon crew. Be interesting to see how that changed with a player-created crew.)).

So, yeah, orphans. Everyone goes running off to Newhall to help the orphans. The adventure is fun – it’s simple in structure, with a couple of nice set-pieces, and a good twist that sets up an obstacle with multiple solutions. If you want a more detailed rundown, it’s hidden behind the spoiler tags below.

The crew travels to Newhall to help a shepherd running an orphanage. The evil mayor of the nearby town of Endurance is intent on closing down the orphanage by calling in all its debts. The crew can win enough money to save the orphanage by winning a boat race against the mayor and several other boats, and splitting the prize money between the crew and the orphanage. The mayor, however, won’t let them enter the race until they convince him to, which can happen in a number of different ways. Once the crew gets in the race, they have to repair the orphanage’s boat, and compete in the race. Win or lose, there’s an optional final showdown with the mayor to make sure the orphanage is safe forever.

Both games ((All three games, if you count the GenCon game where I was a player.)) were similar in the overall shape, but quite different in details. This is largely because of the way that complications generated in play by bad player rolls shape the narrative ((For more discussion of this kind of thing, take a look at this post I did about setbacks in play.)) in different ways.

Here’s an example. In today’s game, Inara, Mal, and Zoe were in the bar run by an unfriendly character. Mal and Zoe made a big deal about drinking only water ((Tepid water, at that.)), while Inara ordered a fancy cocktail. While Mal and Zoe were dealing with other stuff, Inara worked the room trying to gather information. Not only did she roll poorly and fail, but she rolled a couple of 1s on the dice. I bought those dice and created the complication Inara has been drugged d8. Now we had an entire sub-plot going with the bad guy’s attempt to kidnap a roofied Companion.

That’s the kind of improvised twist that the game system is good at delivering. I didn’t run as far as I could have with the plot line because we had a limited time to play, today, but it could have generated lots of fun encounters as she tried to escape and the rest of the crew looked for her. It was nothing I had planned, and it happened because of a player roll, and it could have been its own adventure in and of itself.

I’m not going to talk in-depth about the events of the adventure, but here are some high points:

  • Jayne taking on a crowd of drunks in a bar to earn a place on a different boat’s crew so he could sabotage them ((Let’s be straight, here. Jayne planned to either sabotage the opponent’s boat or help them win, whichever way looked like the bigger payday.)).
  • River and Book seeking out and neutralizing snipers during the race.
  • Wash jettisoning a burning boat engine right into a pursuing boat, taking him out of the race.
  • Mal doing his best to pick a fight with an Alliance-supporting bigwig.
  • Simon fighting off an armed boarder in the middle of the race.

In the end, time constraints prevented us from lingering on the ending of either game, but in both cases, our heroes carried the day. I highly recommend both of the adventures available right now in .pdf format; they contain all the rules you need to run them. What they don’t have is characters, but the Serenity crew ((Plus a bunch of other archetypes and the basic character and ship creation rules.)) is also available in .pdf format. Here are some links for you:

So. That’s the adventure. What about the game system itself?

It’s another implementation of the Cortex Plus system, like Smallville, Leverage, and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. Of the three, it is most like Leverage, building a relatively small dice pool based on an attribute, a skill, a distinction, and an asset ((There are, as might be expected, one or two twists to the system, but that’s the basic idea.)). Complications can be generated through play by the players rolling 1s, and assets can be created by spending plot points.

It nicely models the pacing and style of an action-oriented TV series with a moderately light tone. It does a few specific things to model this:

  • General competence of the characters. While characters will have some skills rated at d4, the lowest attribute they will have – out of Physical, Mental, and Social – is a d6. So, no character is really hopeless in a broad category of task.
  • Fast combat. One successful roll takes out an opponent. Named combatants – including the PCs – can forestall being taken out by accepting a complication instead.
  • Clear distinction triggers. In a lot of the Cortex Plus games, distinctions are left deliberately vague as to the situations where they apply. The distinctions in Firefly have that element to them, but also have special little perks assigned to them, similar to the way distinctions work in Smallville. This does a lot to help players get good mileage out of their distinctions.
  • Big Damn Hero dice. If you beat your opponent’s roll by 5 or more, you can bank a special die that you can bring in on later rolls to do awesome stuff. This allows the characters to pull off some of the cool things you see them do in the TV series and movie.
  • Surprising problems and twists. This is caused mainly by the complication mechanics that I discuss above. It allows surprises for both the GM and the players.
  • Adventure structure mirrors the TV episode structure. The two scenarios follow the type of act structure that is used in the TV episodes, making the game feel more like a TV episode. This helps with pacing and dramatic flow.

My verdict is that this is a great emulation of the TV show. It’s fun, it moves fast, it encourages and rewards cinematic play. It captures the feel and the heart of Firefly, and should satisfy fans of the series who like RPGs. And, to judge by the group that showed up at my table today, it gets non-gamer fans of the series to try an RPG.


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One Response to Shooting Lots of Fish

  1. Barry says:

    It was a lot of fun today, thanks again for running the game.

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