Gateway 2015: General Roundup

A few Thursdays ago (3rd September to be exact) began the journey that had resulted from one of my wackier ideas of late, I set off to Gateway 2015, one of the Strategicon gaming conventions run throughout the year at the Hilton at Los Angeles Airport. For those that don’t know me this was, all in all, a rather wacky idea for the simple reason that I live in the UK and I was basically going to the other side of the world just for the gaming convention, having set aside only a single day of the trip to be a tourist.

Why would I undertake such a trip? Because of the fine folks of the Happy Jacks RPG Podcast, and the rather amazing community that has grown up around the show. Since leaving Glasgow three and a half years ago the amount of gaming I’m doing has drastically reduced and those games I do play in are primarily run online. I miss face to face games and most of all I miss doing them with friends. So I flew five and a half thousand miles for the chance to play in games with people I only knew online and from podcasts. Sounds crazy right?

Turns out while it was crazy it was also one of the best weekends of gaming I’ve ever had and all the people I met were genuinely brilliant fun to be around and I got to have a great time in the games I played in / run. I’m aiming to do separate posts for the three games I ran (Project Cassandra, Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors and Firefly) but first a quick round up of Gateway itself.

Continue reading “Gateway 2015: General Roundup”

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Review: Firefly RPG GenCon Exclusive

FIREFLYRPGThe Firefly RPG is an upcoming game from Margaret Weis Productions, with the GenCon Exclusive preview released during GenCon 2013. The full game is due to be released in early 2014 and utilises the Cortex Plus Action system.

Before I launch fully into this review I want to make clear the answer to a common question about the Firefly RPG, namely

Haven’t MWP already made this game?

The answer to which is yes, and also no. MWP’s first RPG release was indeed the Serenity RPG which introduced the original Cortex system. So what’s different? Two things things. First the new game is licensed with Fox as opposed to Universal and will therefore focus upon the events of the show rather than the movie.  Woo, legal nonsense! The second difference is the system, the original Cortex system was a relatively traditional game, with attributes, skills, wound tracks etc. The new game utilises Cortex Plus, a much more narrative driven game heavily inspired by FATE with both players and GM being able to introduce narrative aspects with intrinsically defined mechanical benefits. The GenCon Exclusive is a preview of the new game, a preview that comes in at over 250 pages and includes the core system, rules for character gen and not one but two introductory adventures.

System

The Cortex Plus Action variant utilised by the Firefly RPG was originally released as part of the Leverage game and it would have been easy for MWP to simply lift the system entirely without tweaking it to suit the new setting. They’ve clearly learned from the original Cortex games however, which were criticised to an extent for being simple reskinning of the original Serenity game. The system in the Preview shifts the Action variant slightly more towards a traditional game style through the inclusion of both attributes and skills but retains the Cortex Plus distinctions mechanic, which work to both help and hinder the PCs. As a Cortex Plus game many of the mechanics revolve around the creation of assets and complications so it’s good to see that the Preview covers these in detail with numerous examples throughout the book and a discussion in the GM section on keeping complications interesting.

One of the most interesting tweaks to the system is the inclusion of the Big Damn Hero mechanic. Essentially this mechanic is designed to get around the issue of characters over succeeding on little actions by letting players bank die to boost rolls when it’s actually time to shine. Given the way in which the show was about running into constant problems then coming through when the pressure was really on it’s an interesting mechanic that certainly helps to maintain the feel of the show. It’s tweaks such as this that emphasise how much work has already gone into the system and the full game promises to go further including full rules for creating your own ships (a basic outline is included in the Preview).

Character creation

Perhaps the most unexpected aspect of the Preview was the inclusion of a chapter that details how to create your own characters for use in the game. As a preview of the game I expected to be supplied with character sheets just for the crew (which are included) but with the character creation rules present you could easily run an entire campaign without picking up the core rulebook when it comes out, though I expect the full game will include additional options for use during creation. Finally if creating your own characters wasn’t enough the Preview rounds it out with a collection of character archetypes that can easily be filled out on the fly during play. With a little work these archetypes could easily be used for one shots, short campaigns or convention games where the players want to jump right into the action but also want to customise their character a little.

firefly_class_ship

The Adventures

I’ve yet to run the two adventures so I don’t want to comment on them too much. Like the rest of the material in the Preview they are well written and clearly designed to emulate the flow of episodes from the show, with interesting plots and fairly detailed NPCs. These two adventures form the basis for what MWP are calling the Echoes of War line, a series of independent adventures that all tie back to the Unification War. Given the likely size of the Firefly license, especially in light of MWP losing the Marvel license it will be interesting to see how Echoes of War proceeds with future releases and whether we begin to see an overarching plot emerge from the line.

Layout and art

As you’d hope from a company such as MWP the overall layout and presentation is generally of a high quality. There are, however, a couple of issues. First is the artwork. The majority consists of stills from the show which works extremely well; the rest of the art isn’t as good. The individual sketches included in the adventures are an extremely mixed bag while the artwork for the character archetypes simply isn’t at the level I’d expect from a license of this size. The second issue I have is with the extensive use of blue backgrounds to highlight sidebars and character sheets. Not only does it clash with the pale cream colour used throughout the rest of the book but it makes printing the characters and character archetypes all but impossible unless you’re willing to spend a small fortune on ink.

Wrap-up

As a Preview of the upcoming Firefly RPG the GenCon Exclusive goes above and beyond what I’d expected, presenting pretty much a full system as opposed to what could have easily been a simple quick start guide. If you’re a Browncoat and a gamer then you’ll be happy to know that the legacy of the series appears to be in good hands and personally I’m excited about what is to come from MWP. About my only issue relates to some of the layout and artwork decisions but overall these are minor aspects.

Score: 5/5

Playing Fair: Combat Consequences

Now that I’ve started running Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) rather than just playing it I’ve been thinking about trying to challenge myself when it comes to GMing by stepping out of my comfort zone. L5R is, from my limited experience with it, the ideal system for doing this in because it can easily throw many of the conventional gaming tropes out the window, replacing the black and white Good vs Evil of Western fantasy with complicated situations that can often boil down to no win scenario’s. The driving force behind this is the code of Bushido, the principles that are meant to guide every samurai but which often come into conflict with one another. Perhaps the best description I’ve heard is that L5R is a game where everybody is trying to be a paladin despite the fact that they’re just normal (and thus flawed) human beings. We’re only two sessions into our campaign but the group has already been placed into a sticky situation, investigating the destruction of a monastery on the (disputed) edge of their territory. I’d say more but I know some of the players occasionally read this plus it wasn’t really the point of this post.

The other aspect of my GMing style that I’ve started to reconsider is combat, namely the challenges that I put up in front of the players. Over the years I feel like I’ve worked myself into a position of holding back too much and rarely placing parties into a position where characters are going to die. The logic behind this has always been that I don’t want to kill PCs outside of dramatically appropriate moments but I’m beginning to wonder if by holding back in the combat I’m also preventing the creation of those dramatic moments, the ones where the death of a character forces the group to completely change direction, retreat in a panic or decide that they’re going to abandon their mission to hunt down the bandit group that killed their friend.

My second motivation to change is that I want my players to spend a bit more time considering whether they should be getting into a fight. I’ve had some experience with this during a past Firefly campaign. The group, on their way to deliver cargo they’d been smuggling, were ambushed by a small gang who, in an attempt to intimidate the party, drew weapons. Wanting to keep things a little tense I had the players roll initiative, with the three more combat capable characters all beating the gang members. So come the first round the players, assuming they were already in a combat, opened fire and killed or downed almost all of the gang. As I pointed out to the players afterwards they had initiated the combat, fired first then disappeared leaving a number of bodies in a densely populated space port, all because the gang had drawn weapons to try and intimidate them. Not exactly something they could explain away as self defence.

So to conclude this rambling post I think I want to achieve two things, more even and challenging combats but also situations where leaping into combat provides consequences and the players need to think more about why they’re fighting, not merely that they an. As always I’d be interested in hearing the solutions other GMs have found for this issue, especially given the deadly reputation of the L5R system.

June RPG Blog Carnival: Favourite NPCs

Arcane Game Lore hosts this months RPG blog carnival and asks “Who’s your favourite NPC?”, a question which can be applied to both GMs and players. This isn’t a particularly easy question for me to answer, not because I have too many to chose from but because the majority of my games tend to focus heavily on intra-party issues, with few NPCs that get enough scene time to make a significant impact. Truth be told my NPCs are one of the biggest areas of my GM style I’d like to improve upon, but that’s a post for another time. So after some thinking I’ve come up with two favourites, who made the cut for very different reasons.

The first comes from my first Serenity campaign, which was the first campaign where I’d applied a very freeform (but not quite sandbox) approach focused purely on the goals of the PC characters as opposed to a save the world big issue type of campaign with clear aims and objectives. While the scheduling of the game was cursed (and we never did get as far into it as I’d have liked) it stands as one of my favourite campaigns as when it did run everything just slotted into place, including Alex C, a record producer at Blue Nova Records. For the most part Alex was an over the top, flamboyant character who used buzz words and three letter acronyms like they were going out of fashion. The thing is, it was all an act, something which only showed during a few occasional moments with Xoxi, one of the PCs and Alliance intelligence officer who was working at Blue Nova undercover while she dealt with some particularly nasty psychological trauma.

We never got far enough into the game for much to be made of Alex and his background but he did manage enough screen time for the hidden side of him to show and demonstrate he was more than first appearances would suggest. One of the plot threads I had started hinting at was some internal turmoil occurring within Alliance intelligence, triggered as a response to the events of Serenity (the movie). If we’d have continued then Alex would have been central to that, either by turning up dead somehow or by seeking the assistance of the PCs in evading / foiling particular events. Maybe, if I ever run another Serenity game, he’ll show up again though I suspect that may be a while away.

My second favourite NPC is a character I’ve mentioned repeatedly in previous posts, as he went on to become a PC and one of the pregen characters for my Nationals Demon Hunters game. Doyl LevettYup, Doyl Levett, caffeinomancer extraordinaire. Doyl started off life as an NPC in my very first Demon Hunters game, with the chapter not only finding him lost in the middle of the Warehouse but with a group of ROUS close behind him. While not a member of the Brotherhood at that time his basic character was already there, a coffee mage (though he didn’t know it) who had stumbled into the Warehouse by accident. From there it was simple to convert him into a full PC when I finally managed to play in a game of Demon Hunters and he quickly turned into one of my all time favourite PCs to play, with the added bonus that it lets me drink copious amounts of coffee and claim that I’m just acting in character.

On the difference between the Firefly RPG and the Serenity RPG

As I might have alluded to after the initial announcement I’ll probably be ordering the new Firefly RPG as soon as it is released. While details are still lacking Geek Native has managed to talk to Monica Valentinelli, a writer and brand manager on the project. While she doesn’t provide much new info it hints at the directions they’re taking with the licence and suggests that as with the existing Cortex Plus systems they’re working to tie the system and setting together as much as possible. The full interview can be found over on Geek Native.

MWP (re)secures the Firefly License

firefly

So, Margaret Weis Productions have just announced that they’ve secured the Firefly RPG license from Fox, a move that I certainly didn’t expect though probably should have given the recent announcement of a Firefly board game by Gale Force Nine. MWP produced the original Serenity RPG (under licence from Universal while this time the license is with Fox) which first introduced the Cortex system (which I talked about recently). While it is possible that they will re-release the game I suspect we’ll instead get a brand new one, built upon the Cortex Plus system that powers Smallville, Leverage and Marvel Heroic. Given how much I love both Firefly and Cortex the game is moving directly to my want list even though they’ve yet to even announce a schedule for the release. Expect a review once it’s in my hands.

The press release can be found here: http://www.margaretweis.com/images/stories/bonus_content/FIREFLY_MWP_PR.pdf