Tag Archives: commentary

Tabletop RPG: Serenity the RPG System Thoughts

(After a long drought, finally an RP post! Sorry ya’ll, I had the plague and it will not go away.)

So I had bought the Serenity the Roleplaying Game’s book ages ago, along with a big old Verse map and a giant book about a specific cargo run. Why? Because I was interested in seeing how playable it was. Now, the book itself isn’t laid out in the most logical of senses, and sometimes it seems a bit screwy to me. I’m not going to critique the system as a whole, but instead, talk about how it plays.

I ran it this last weekend for a group of three players. It was specifically meant to be short, one or two sessions, three at an absolute maximum that I didn’t see happening, and so in an effort to keep it short, I chose to use one of the episodes of the series (“The Train Job”) as my framework. Bonus, most of my players had either never seen the show, seen only a small percentage of it, or hadn’t seen it in well over ten years and had since forgotten a large chunk of it. I had no worries about them actually recognizing what I was up to.

The game started off a little shaky–I’m not used to DMing, and I was trying to think of how to describe something I had seen in a show to convey exactly the right tone. But as the players started to make their plan and I got comfortable, we all started to enjoy ourselves. This is where the good parts of the game really started to show themselves. It isn’t loaded down with rules and schematics, but instead relies on the imaginations of the players and the DM, and on the way that they RP things out. It also gives some players a bit of flux.

What I mean by that is the use of Plot Points. I know of other DMs who will deliberately fudge rolls if a character rolls poorly and it may lead to someone having a bad night, or for similar reasons. Serenity makes that almost unnecessary with the use of Plot Points, provided the characters haven’t been just slinging them around. By really using them when they can tell a roll is important, it lets them get the desierable outcome without some…somewhat shady but good intentioned shady…actions on behalf of a DM, which I can appreciate.

That being said, 1’s still happen, and critical failures can lead to problems. But I’ve taken the stance that just because you failed the roll it doesn’t mean something catastrophic has to happen, and depending on what it is, the party isn’t screwed. In my most memorable case from this last weekend, one failed the hiding roll with a 1 while the other did really well. So I did something like you’d see out of a comedy skit to explain how both got hidden because of how well the other person rolled covering for both of them. Everything still proceeds, and everyone at the table got a laugh out of it. Failures don’t have to mean instant-death, and I was glad to get to DM something like that.

Is the lack of detail sometimes annoying? Oh very. And the rate of lethal damage applied to the weapons, while realistic, means that combat is never going to go well, and I’m still thinking about how to balance that out in a longer game. I also have to figure out whether I’d want to do something similar to Whedon’s work, where there is a long arc that we’re building to but a lot of it plays out in small moments, or if I want the long arc to be the focus with occasional side jobs. But that comes back to the flexibility of the system. It really lets you run the type of game that you want to run.

I don’t know if I would recommend this system for a newbie DM and newbie group of players. It’s not laid out in a way that’s neat, there’s a lot of holes, and the combat is harsh. But for a group that has messed around with a few systems, it is pretty forgiving to let them let their hair down for a bit. As a newbie DM, I had the advantage of knowing the world best, which gave me the measure of control that as DM I need to have any kind of confidence. With a group of die-hard Firefly fanatics, that isn’t going to be the case…but other new DMs may not have my anxiety crutches, so your mileage is just going to vary on that front.

If I can trust my players to stay off my blog, I might talk about the planning I go into for longer campaigns, but that’s a big maybe. I wouldn’t want to accidentally spoil anyone’s backstory or arc for them, and that will cause sour feelings. (Plus some of the players are uber private, which I respect.) In the meantime, if you can get your hands on the book or a PDF of it, it’s worth a page-through at the very least.


Review: Criminal Minds Season 13 Episode 17

I have discovered something, the past couple years. Namely, that I am incapable of watching and keeping up with a show for an entire season. So that leaves me with limited options. Either I binge the season once it’s over, which is a waste of a weekend if I have a full weekend to spare, or I find a show that doesn’t require me to see every single episode of what’s going on, without getting completely episodic. Criminal Minds is a perfect example of the latter.

That being said, they made a grave mistake. The episode last week was in my home town. This is going to get ugly.

(Note: This is not a serious review of the show as a whole, it’s too long and much like Law and Order: SVU, I have mixed feelings on later seasons. I might do it as a series or something at some point, but not right now.)

So I didn’t even make it three minutes in. The first victim pulled up to his house, and I was like, “Okay, I might buy there being a house like that on the north side of Guymon. Maybe. But where do you think we have that many trees?” Fun fact: the Panhandle has SOME trees, but it’s mostly in residential areas, and between the drought and ice storms, a lot of those were dead and chopped down by the city.

…The clown under the bed did scare the crap out of me, not gonna lie.

I’m curious where the BAU flew INTO. There isn’t an airport in Guymon, the closest they could get is either Liberal (doubtful) or Amarillo (more likely), and either way, you are in the car for at least another 45 minutes or two hours. But we skip that, “who doesn’t have an airport, pbbbth…”

We see an overview shot of Guymon, and it’s this neatly spaced out grid, small town, fancy admin-type building, and I’m like, “Uh, no.” I based Imyl off of Guymon, okay, and it is STILL too neatly laid out, I am not even joking. Guymon is an illogical sprawl of a place, and Main Street is very tightly packed in terms of space…sort of. (Okay, the big municipal building is on a block by itself, but it is SOLID BRICK, none of this fancy molding.) What boggled me the most though, was the literal street. Guymon is famous (or infamous) for Main Street being brick. Not pavement, not any type of concrete. Brick.

It’s becoming painfully obvious that no one has done their research, here.

The inside of the police station and the hospital got a pass, I’ve never been in one and the other was close enough. But then we get the second victims. Another nice house. More trees. I’m sorry, maybe I’m biased because I (literally) grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in Guymon, but come on! We are not that well off!

Finally, it’s winding down. They are getting enough clues, we are seeing bits of our villains–yes, clowns, circus life fell apart. Okay, fine. I’m even going in my head, “I can think of a couple of fairs, they could maybe get work there?” But nope. We go…rodeo? I’m sorry, someone actually thinks rodeo clowns are actually clowns? Oh honey, no. No, no, no. Trust me, they are not the same thing at all, and being a good clown in no way preps you for what a rodeo clown does. Rodeo clowns are, predominantly, bull wranglers on the ground. Just bad, bad, bad, bad. Someone is going to get hurt.

But we’re going to a rodeo! Guymon has one of the largest outdoor rodeo arenas in the country, Pioneer Days literally is a HUGE DEAL in Guymon (we haven’t seen hide or hair of it, but I will give them leeway), and it goes on for a full week if not longer depending on slack, surely this will be right.

We go to this piddly little arena that I swear could barely host my play-days. Just, just, what is this, I don’t even! And underground rodeo, whaaa? I’ve never heard of this. People hosting roping events for some cash or running play-days, sure, but no one pretends these are rodeos. There’s no point when there’s a huge friggin’ rodeo every year! Color me boggled. (Ginny, btw, was laughing at me by this point.)

At this point, I was very obviously done. Did the ending make me sniffle? Of course it did. But I didn’t see anything really tying it to Guymon, and they definitely didn’t do their research beyond some cursory scans for stuff they could use in the show.

If nothing else, this really disenchanted me with the newer seasons. I swear, the older ones weren’t this dumb. Or at least I hope they weren’t.