Tag Archives: space

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.


Character Study: Birdie

God, I love this character. I built her as a Fast Hero, which for those who aren’t aware of d20 Future’s interesting class choices, means that she was primarily Dex(terity) based in terms of skills, saves, etc. She was supposed to be fast and speedy. Except I decided to have fun with it, and made her best skill Int(elligence) instead (Dex was a very close second so I didn’t exactly suffer for this decision). Picking my allegiances, aaaand…

What I ended up with was a child prodigy in mech design and computer programming who had good reflexes and an instinct for piloting…who was also a pacifist. Due to circumstances, she had to hide who she was for quite some time, that being the child of two other highly intelligent people who are now both deceased. Except I left some deliberate holes with her family, and the DM had a whole lot of fun with them. I got to be the hero in a Gundam¬†story, and it was a blast.

I think what was fun was how she was this snarky pacifist in a war situation, and how the upper ranks just tolerated it? I mean, she ends up being this ridiculously powerful psychic who could do all sorts of stupid things, and after two or three times of being right…they pretty much believed her no matter what she said. And despite the fact that she was no hero in her own mind, everyone was looking to her, relying on her. The pressure was so heavy on her. And then it was fun to have her rely on other characters…and then the DM kills them because war is like that and it’s heartbreaking.

Birdie’s biggest characteristic, aside from being the strongest psychic of her generation, was her do-no-harm mindset. If she could avoid conflict, she’d do it. If she could resolve an issue with words, she’d do it. And if things had to go to the physical, she would do everything she could to make sure all parties made it out alive. Every death was personal to her, not only because she felt them die if she was close enough for her psychic ness to pick it up, but because she hates violence and war that much. This is ¬†what really drew others to her, making her a bit of a rallying figure for the resistance she got dragged to. Of course, this is also what made her enemies really hate her, whether its the ones who enjoy the fighting or the ones who suffered when she had no choice but to kill someone for her own survival.

Okay, her other big character trait ended up being her hair, because the doll I made for her gave her knee-length pink hair… And I basically got to play with it. She started as my pink psychic princess, and she ended as my pink psychic princess. But in between it turned navy blue and super short, except the crew is struggling to remember this as I play the second half of the campaign as a different character. I’m just endlessly amused by this.

But shortly after we started, I had a thought and realized it would have been sooo awesome if I had thought to make her a clone of her “mother.” Imagining her reaction to finding out her father is actually her uncle, and the confusion that results from it. Questioning how she’d be treated, if she would even be acknowledged as a person or if as a clone she wouldn’t. And then we meet this space royal family, and the fact my character has NO idea who her grandparents are also started twigging in my brain. So through a large portion of the campaign, I’ve been musing about a storyline where those two lines are true. It’d be radically different than the RP, but at the same time, it promises so much amusement.

You all know me. Scifi is not my jam. But I love Gundam Seed (not so much the sequels, but I like the original), and really Birdie was my attempt to honor it. I’d love to keep playing with her character concept, and making it work for a book. I have a loose idea for it, but I’m not sure how much of the war I’d want to take from the RP and how much I’d want to change for the sake of making it original and my own versus my DM’s. There’s the added issue that I am ignorant as heck about space since it has been years since my one college course in the subject, and I am the first to admit I know nothing about machinery.

I might write this in snipets and just kinda see what comes out of it. We’ll see.