Tag Archives: mechanics

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.


Tabletop RP: 3.5 versus Pathfinder

My group had mostly been playing Dungeons and Dragons v 3.5 when we first started out. And like any game, you play it enough times you start finding holes in the nuances of the game. Not necessarily flaws, I hesitate to say that, but rather places that because the writers/creators were so deep in the woods, they couldn’t see the trees. (Hey, it happens to all of us, even me! That’s why I have a dev-partner.)

But when the difference in classes (some of it admittedly on my shoulders, I didn’t do as much in-depth research on classes, I just picked something fun to try) started biting us in the butt and making the power balance between players kinda funky. So after a couple campaigns, we decided to try Pathfinder. There was a bit of a learning curve, because not everything is the same, but we quickly fell into using it.

So what are some of the key differences between the two? Like we moved over for, the big thing is classes. Things progress a little faster–you get more feats in general, there are more traits to classes to try and balance them out. They also introduced archetypes and variations, so you don’t have to bounce around and multi-class, take prestige classes, and God knows what else in order to build the type of characters you want. Fighters, rogues, and some of the other fighter based classes got evened out with the sorcerers, clerics, and other magic classes in later levels.

Bad side: prestige classes are basically useless at this point. I haven’t seen a single one that was worth the buy-out for advancing through a prestige rather than continuing into the upper levels of the class I was already in, at least in my current campaigns. (I made a character to deliberately aggrevate one of Ginny’s werewolves who hosts a DnD session.) And if you do need to do a multi-class character, you are screwed, the new system is so messed up. We honestly homeruled it out and said just to use 3.5, because otherwise it’s almost impossible.

What about races? There was a somewhat complicated way of figuring out if a race was playable in 3.5, I rarely messed with it because it was all the eww. I wanted to keep things simple for my own insanity. Pathfinder makes it much easier, helping identify what creatures are possible player characters as well as introducing a bunch of new races to play. I played several outside of my elven standards, and had fun with them all, for different reasons, in different settings.

That being said, some of it seems…random? I remember certain creatures being playable in 3.5 that aren’t available in Pathfinder, I guess to prevent being over powered. But the big one (my silver dragon) wasn’t that powerful with her base classes helping her out, not when you weighed in how much she paid in levels in her class in order to be that race. And some of it is very…weebo. I mean, I enjoyed playing a kitsune, don’t get me wrong, but in combination with a lot of stuff that was added to Pathfinder, it definitely feels like it is catering more to anime, I want to play a ninja/samurai/whathaveyou like out of such-and-such show, rather than the more traditional fantasy crowd of usual Dungeons and Dragons. I don’t mind the representation, I mind that it seems more like catering to a particular fanbase instead of acknowledging another world culture.

What about the worlds in general? Well, general rule of thumb, we tended to play Homebrew worlds for 3.5. I don’t think I even ever learned the “official” canon of the world for 3.5. And while we sometimes headcanon something or adjust a rule to suit our playing styles better, for the most part, we are playing Pathfinder a lot more straight to the actual information in the books. So I can’t really comment on whether the world-building/religion is better or not.

As for mechanics, not a lot has changed, and even if one thing is easier, something else is more difficult. On one hand, yay, there isn’t this ridiculousness of seeing something but you don’t hear it, everything is tied to Perception. On the other hand, I have no idea what this CMB or whatever it’s called is. (Which is bad, I am currently playing a rogue!) So for every step forward, there was a step back in terms of general mechanics. I prefer elements of both…and still hate non-spontaneous spell castors, so really, there wasn’t a huge enough difference for me to reconsider how things work and slate my preference.

So what is the end result? Well, we haven’t fully converted. My solo campaign with the rogue is being run Pathfinder, as is a future campaign with another rogue-variant type. But my silver dragon is being played in a campaign that mixes elements of both 3.5 and Pathfinder together depending on what is easier/suits the character better, which I think is brilliant, though there are obviously still issues. That one is also being run with Greek mythology for the religion, it’s awesome. And as for me… I’m going to look into Dungeons and Dragons v 5 to see if it’s any good for running a short campaign.