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Sunday, 26 July 2015

A Fancible Foursome

Firefly Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics is a supplement for the Origins Award nominated Firefly Roleplaying Game published by Margaret Weis Productions. It collects the first four scenarios for the game originally released individually as PDFs as well as crewmember write-ups and a stripped down version of the Cortex Plus System. This means that its contents are not only compatible with both the preview, Gaming in the 'Verse and the Origins Award nominated version, but it also means that Firefly Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics is a standalone book that can be run using just the rules it contains, or it can be with access to either version of the rulebook.

The rules are succinctly covered, for these are the basic rules, and so do not include the advanced options given in the core rules, but they do include everything needed to play the quartet of scenarios in Echoes of War. Character creation, or rather customisation of the twelve crewmember archetypes is treated in a similarly succinct fashion. These rules are followed by four scenarios, each of which should take several sessions to complete. Thematically, the four scenarios all in some way hark back to the ‘Unification War’, either through an old friend from the war or a contact who fought in the war.

The scenarios open with caper/heist hybrid, ‘The Wedding Planners’ by Margaret Weis. In strange turn of events, Badger hires the crew with nary a fuss for a big jobget the daughter of a cattle baron to her wedding aboard another starship. Which means getting a spoiled, rich, media darling to the space wedding of the year on time and without any complications. This being a Firefly Roleplaying Game scenario, there are of course going to be complications and this time around they involve pirates and the course of true lovenot necessarily to the same ends. It all gets terribly complicated at the end, almost to the point of a farce, which has the potential to turn into a chaotic mess.

The simplest of the scenarios in Echoes of War, Andrew Peregrine’s ‘Shooting Fish’ is the most straightforward and  has the most obvious potential for fun. The crewmembers come to the aid of an old friend who runs an orphanage that is in danger of being closed down due its accumulated debts. Which means that it local landlord can take it over and turn it into a money-spinning brothel! Fortunately there is a way to raise the cashquite literally fast! If the crew can enter and win the local boat race, then they can pay the orphanage’s debts. Unfortunately, the only boat the orphanage has needs more than just maintenance to get it into the water and there is nothing clean and legal about the race itselfguns, grenades, sabotage, drunken good ol’ boys, and more are all acceptable in the race. The rules for handling the boat’s repair and various minor encounters are nicely done, but the race feels again a little chaotic and lacking in advice. Nevertheless, this is a fun adventure.

‘Friends in Low Places’ by Monica Valentinelli takes the crewmembers back to Serenity Valley to help out an old Browncoat friend whose new wife has gone missing. Given that his previous wife was an unscrupulous redhead by the name of Bridget, the crewmembers may just decide that getting involved with wife number two might not be such a good idea, but ‘Good Ole Monty’ is desperate for their help. This is an investigative scenario and a fairly difficult one at that, the likelihood being that the crew will end up having to garner aid from high places into order to find the wife’s whereabouts. The one thing that lets this scenario down is the lack of maps and the poor quality of the maps. Those that are given are functional at best and given that this is a location-based scenario, a map of Serenity Valley itself would have been helpful.

Last is ‘Freedom Flyer’ by Nicole Wakelin. Once again, the crewmembers are asked to come to the aid of a frienda regular motif in this anthology, but the title is Echoes of Warwho wants to get out and make a new life before her old one catches up with her. Again, this scenario has something of the heist to it, but involving more stealth and the need to avoid Alliance entanglements than in previous scenarios. Of course, there is the matter of the friend’s past and the fact that it will catch up with both her and the crew in the form of a pragmatic bounty hunter who should be fun for the GM to play.

Physically, Firefly Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics is cleanly and neatly presented. It makes decent use of photographic stills from the television series, though the few pieces of additional line art are perhaps too cartoon-like in places. Where the book does disappoint is in its maps, which are in the main serviceably bland, and in some of the repetition from one scenario to the next. 

There are two obvious problems with Firefly Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics. The first is that it collates a number of releases that were first released as PDFs, so if you own any of them already, this collection may not be as useful. The second is that it repeats a lot material that is already available in one form or anotherthe rules, the crew of the Serenity, and the new pre-generated crew. What this means is that again, there is the possibility that the purchaser is paying for material he already has and does not need again. Either reason should be enough for the potential purchaser to carefully consider whether he needs this supplement.

The less obvious problem with Echoes of War is that its four scenarios are written with the crew of the Serenity in mind. Which is fine with a large playing group who are prepared double up on a character or twoafter all, few playing groups are likely to consist of nine players! What this means is that in many cases, the GM will be mapping the personalities of the Serenity crew onto the player character created crewmembers and back again in order to fit the roles that the scenarios require. Which of course will not be a problem for an experienced GM who will know the personalities of his players’ characters, but may present an issue for the less experienced GM.

Yet where Firefly Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroics truly shines is as an introduction to playing and running the Firefly Roleplaying Game. Like Firefly the series and want to get a taste of what it is like to roleplay in the ‘Verse without getting the core rules, then it is an obvious place to start. That said, it is not an introductory product as far as roleplaying goes as its starting point is not quite basic enough and anyway, the scenarios are too complex for an inexperienced GM to either adapt to a group that is not playing the crew of the Serenity or to run. It is much more suited to a group and a GM who have some roleplaying experience under their collective britches. 

A nice touch is that each of the four scenarios comes with several suggestions as to possible sequels and consequences. Of course there is no advice on creating such sequels present in Echoes of War, but then that falls outside its remit and so they are useful for when the GM has a copy of the Firefly Roleplaying Game. There are of course issues with Firefly Echoes of War: Thrillin' Heroicsthe dull maps, the repetition of material, the underwritten advice, and so on, but the scenarios themselves are excellent, a solid quartet that do a nice job of modelling the Firefly television series and give the chance for the crewmembers to be big shiny heroes.