game review

Serenity Role Playing Game

When I saw the television series Firefly and the accompanying film Serenity I immediately thought that it would make an excellent role playing setting. I was not surprised that shortly after I spotted a rulebook for it at a local store. Unfortunately, it was a D20 system, the open D&D rule set, of which I am not particularly fond. Still, my role playing group decided to give the setting a go, so I went out to see of the book contained some good background material. To my pleasant surprise, I found a new version of the rules, which includes all dice except D20s, in which many ways suits my style of play perfectly.

In fact, the similarities in design and philosophy between Serenity Role Playing Game and my own system are striking. The core rules are simple, if you need to role something you just combine an Attribute and a Skill which both are expressed in one or two dice. You roll all the indicated dice together and add the results. The higher you score the better you do. There is a elegant mechanic comprising stun and wound damage for combat. Serenity is a straightforward and flexible system that plays easily.

The best mechanic, and the one that sets Serenity apart from most other systems I have encountered, is the plot points. The plot point mechanic doubles as an experience point system and giving the players a back-up for when things go wrong. Plot points are a currency in the game that allows the player to put in an extra effort for those crucial actions and life saving actions. Plot points should be used lightly and often by the players as they are also easily gained. Furthermore, plot points interact with the character's many assets and complications (virtues and flaws in some other systems) to stimulate and reward actual role playing.

The setting is perfect for colourful characters and a wide variety of play action. For those that are unfamiliar with the series and the film, it is a mix between the science fiction and western genres, a mix between old and new technology and progressive and conservative philosophy. Almost anything in the game and its universe internalises this paradox and this makes for a setting with surprising quality and depth. Another brilliant move was to give spacecrafts in the game same statistics as the characters, inviting players of Serenity to treat their boats as an extra character in the party which is testimony of how well the setting translates to the game's mechanics.

If there is one thing that the designers forgot, it is to include a character sheet. Even though character sheets is one of the first things I look for when encountering a new role playing game (to me it communicates a lot of the character of the game), this problem is only trivial; there are many player designed sheets just a few clicks away. Hey, it was just another opportunity to design the sheets just the way I like them!