#RPGaDay 2017 11: In celebration of dead systems

I thought long and hard about this. At first I was going to say Firefly, because, well … because Firefly!

But actually, why?

I just dug out a piece I wrote for The Signal, the fabulous Firefly fan podcast, about the demise of the original Serenity RPG, which I have written about before in this series. Back then, I thought there were good and bad sides to the loss of the license. On the “good” side, I was very happy about the absence ofsplat books:

I never liked the feeling that I had to buy every supplement to a game, just to keep up with other player’s knowledge of the rules changes. In fact, I disliked the way that as more supplements got released, the canon setting would become more and more constrictive.

For example, I’m not interested in QMX’s Map of the Verse. Without demeaning all the work that fans across the world (including members of the signal crew) put into unravelling all the clues scattered across the scripts, and agreeing a structure for the system that makes up the ‘verse, I’m not interested in knowing how far Beylix is from Verbena. If I’m game mastering a session of the Serenity RPG, I want my crew’s ship to travel at the speed of story. My ‘verse needs to obey the laws of drama, not physics.
Of course, there are other points of view, and if you play Serenity with a copy of the Map to hand don’t let me stop you.

But I wasn’t worried about the lifespan of the Serenity RPG – I had the main rule book, I had my imagination, I had some dice, I was happy.

But on the other side, there was one big problem with a game dying after only its first edition:

As a first game from a creative team, the rules and dice mechanics hadn’t been tested to breaking point. That’s no fault on MWPs part, there’s only so much play-testing a company can do. Different groups have different styles of play and expose different weaknesses. Through the wonders of the internet, the problems get discussed and solved relatively quickly now, compared to when I started playing.

But here we come to one of the disadvantages of playing a dead system. Those solutions never made it back into a second edition of the core rules. Yes, MWP did release the Cortex System, an updated version of the crunchy part of the system with none of the fluff, but then those rules don’t quite reflect the style of action we saw and enjoyed in Firefly and Serenity. Of course players can spend time mashing up the new Cortex rules with the old Serenity rules, but then, if they are going to do that – they might as well chose to mash up the Firefly setting with Gurps, Savage Worlds, d20 or whichever rules system is their favourite.

Of course, eventually the rights-holders, Fox, realised “there’s gold in them thar Browncoats”, and started licensing Firefly merchandise left, right and centre, and new Firefly RPG was released by MWP, with a very developed evolution of the Cortex system. Its hardly the same game at all (and that’s a good thing). But the license expired and it obviously hadn’t been the cash-cow MWP or Fox had expected. So its gone. Again.

And I realised that the only reason I wanted it back was so that more people might want to play Hell’s Ditch, the excellent scenario I’d created and run, on-line, with friends, and at conventions, under the old Serenity rules, Savage Worlds, and then with the Firefly ruleset.

So, I’ve been thinking, is there a ruleset or setting that I love, but is a bit … raw? That died before getting a second edition? Thanks to Kickstarter, after all, such dreams are possible, they only need a few hundred dedicated fans to turn them into lovely books.

I got Feng Shui 2 that way. I got Unknown Armies 3. I don’t need Legend of the Five Rings 5, because 4th edition is perfect. Runequest 2 is reborn and very shortly to be rebooted. Traveller in its second Mongoose edition is almost perfect (perfection would require Little Black Books). There are a host of games that need revised editions, but I simply don’t love them enough to care. If I dig deep enough in my past gaming life I suppose I might have a soft spot for the relatively little known British superhero game, Golden Heroes, but I’m not sure I care about superheros enough any more to want to roleplay one. But what the heck, lets say that (even though it does already have a secret love-child in SquadronUK.)

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