Saturday, August 15, 2015

Firefly Redux

The title of this post might not make much sense since I haven't really posted about the Firefly RPG before.  Well, that's not because I haven't played it, I just never got around to posting about it.  Sometimes it sucks being really busy because there's always something you don't have time for.  I have a lot of hobbies so there's already too much competition there, and when it comes to RPGs I'd rather my blog suffer as opposed to my play time or GM prep time.

But I digress.  I first ran a couple of Firefly sessions when the book first came out.  I'm just now getting to running a second mini-campaign.  One of my players recently posted about it here.  We actually talked about the very topic of his post after playing through our second session (after finishing up "Thieves in Heaven" from Things Don't Go Smooth).  It was a really interesting discussion, so I figured I'd throw in my two cents regarding that topic, and some other general thoughts.

A huge thing that Firefly players should keep in mind is that Complications shouldn't be scary.  The characters don't want to deal with Complications, but the players should have fun with them.  Complications are a major design goal of the system, which is meant to emulate an episode of the TV show.  Shit goes wrong from the crew of Serenity all the time, and that's part of what makes it interesting to watch.

When you think about it, it's really not all that different from most RPGs.  On the one hand players generally try to avoid bad stuff happening to their character, but on the other hand the game would be really boring if nothing bad ever happened.  Firefly is just really up front about it, and gives players a lot of narrative control outside of simply roleplaying their character.  It's a trend in modern RPGs to give players more narrative power, but it isn't always so blatant.

A Firefly player shouldn't think of Plot Points as having net zero effect when you earn one to roll a jinx just to have to spend one to later to step it down when the GM rolls an Opportunity.  A player will earn a Plot Point for every Complication the GM buys, but shouldn't feel the need to buy every Opportunity that the GM rolls.  The game has more drama if some of those Complications stick around, but that's not to say that Opportunities are useless, either.  They should be bought when there's a Complication with a high die value that risks forcing a PC to be Taken Out, or when the Complication is especially tough to deal with (whether it affects a lot of actions, has the potential to stick around, or will require a Recovery Roll using a skill nobody is great at).

In other words, with regard to rolling 1's the PCs should be getting a net positive amount of Plot Points.  Characters are hindered in some way now with the possibility of being more awesome in the future.  It's up to the player to decide when the best time for their character to shine is, making concessions to earn Plot Points which they can use at critical moments.  Big Damn Heroes will stumble and fall, but they'll get back up, too.

The same principle applies to Distinctions as well.  The Plot Point economy assumes you'll step your Distinctions down to a d4 to earn Plot Points early on in the episode when the stakes are lower, so you'll have a big pool of them to work with when the stakes are higher.

That said, I understand where my player is coming from regarding Complications being generated by "positive dice."  It's a little jarring in particular because we play a lot of FFG's Star Wars, where Threat and Despair (the best analogue to Firefly's Complications) are possible results on the negative dice.  But in Firefly it makes a little less sense to do things that way.  You could theoretically house rule that Complications are generated when the opposing dice pool rolls 1's, but that makes even less sense to me personally.  First of all, they're often opposed rolls so why should things get tougher for you when your enemy rolls especially low?  Second, it creates a disconnect when you want the GM to roll low, but not too low.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the way GM dice pools are built the PCs often have the advantage of a bigger dice pool.  In that way Complications are an interesting pacing tool because a bigger dice pool means players will have a greater chance of success (in other words, it's less challenging).  But if you're awesome at something you generally want to showcase that by overcoming more challenging obstacles.  Complications let that happen naturally, without the GM having to tinker with the difficulty of NPCs and scenarios.  Later on you're going to have to face a bigger GM dice pool, and in some cases it might make narrative sense that showing off your prowess might attract more trouble than you'd have otherwise.  What's a better story, shooting the bandit trying to get away with your hard earned cash, or limping forward on your sprained ankle, coughing as you try to see through the cloud of steam you just vented out when you shot that pipe, and still managing to make the shot?  And even if you don't buy the argument that more drama and challenge makes for a better game (maybe you're a power gamer?), there's still the fact that from a pure mechanical standpoint rolling 1's is good for your Plot Point economy.  Most players should find Plot Points more valuable than Complications are detrimental, so increasing your chances of rolling a 1 (by virtue of a larger dice pool) can be thought of as a good thing.

Maybe Obi Wan was right about that "certain point of view" crap.

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