So…How does the Serenity System work?

Some of you are new to pen and paper, and some of you have not had any experience with the Serenity game system, so I thought it would be nice if I tossed a little primer up for you.

The system is actually pretty simple. Every Attribute and Skill is the equivalent of a dice code. So a Strength of 6 means one would roll a six-sided die to determine success or failure of an action. An Agility of D4 would mean rolling a four-sided die, while a 10 would roll a ten-sided die. Thus why you’ll often find a “D” in front of the number…the “D” standing for Die. D6 = six-sided die, etc.

Every action a character attempts to make will have a Difficulty attached to it. This is a target number that you are trying to meet, or exceed when rolling the dice. The attempt is made with an Attribute and a Skill. Trying to fly a shuttle in high winds would require Agility and Pilot (Shuttlecraft). Trying to fast talk a bouncer at a club to let you in might be Willpower and Influence (Persuasion). If one does not have an appropriate skill in question, one rolls just the Attribute die (which means a much lower chance of success, of course.) The result of the two dice are totaled and compared to the target number to see if the task succeeds.

For instance, Bob the shade-tree mechanic is trying to fix his broken-down vehicle. He has an Intelligence of D6, a Mechanic skill of D6 and a Specialization of Automobile of D8. So he will roll a D6 and D8, and add the results together. The GM decides the repair is pretty difficult, and says that Bob needs to hit a target of 7. If Bob rolls a 7 or more on his two dice, he succeeds…if not, he fails.

Now Bob notices the radio in the car is broken, too, and tries to fix it. The GM decides it’s a very simple problem to fix and gives it a Difficulty or 3…but Bob doesn’t have any Electronics skill. So he will roll just his Intelligence die of D6 and hope he gets a 3 or better.

The highest die type rolled is the D12. If some kind of circumstance shifts a die to higher than a D12, it adds another die to the roll…so now the player rolls 3 dice instead of two. For instance, Sebastian has an Intelligence of D10 and a Medical Skill (Surgery) at D10. However, he also has the Trait “Talented” with Medical skill which is a +2 Shift. So his Skill of D10 is shifted two dice types, which would be to D14. As there is no D14, he rolls a D12 and a D2 (And his Intelligence of D10). Even scarier is Alizee’s Seduction skill plus her Allure, so when she tries to seduce someone she rolls D10+D12+D4! Yikes.

And don’t get me started with Ethan’s Perception (Empathy) skill with Reader trait…D10+D12+D8!

A successful use of a skill can have qualitative levels of success as well. The more a character beats a Difficulty number by, the more impressive the success is. So if Francois the artist makes a painting to sell for some extra money, he asks the GM for a difficulty number. The GM decides a Difficulty of 7 will get him something he can sell for a moderate profit. If Francois fails the roll, the painting is unappealing and doesn’t sell. If he scores a 7 or 8, the painting is barely adequate, and will sell for a small amount of money. But if her rolls a 9 or 10, it might sell for a considerable profit, and a 11 or 12 might indicate a piece that generates some fame for him as well. Even higher successes could result in a masterpiece that starts bidding wars among collectors and convinces some poncy aristocrat with too much money to decide to patron the artist…

Now, the way this works out statistically is that people with higher stats and skills can reach very high target numbers…it also means that even highly skilled characters can fail moderately difficult tasks with some regularity. Someone rolling D10+D10 still has about a 15% chance to fail a Difficulty 7 task. This is completely intentional…and true to the source material. Watch the Firefly episodes and consider how many times the main characters fail at a task of some kind. Mal fails to perceive Saffron’s deceptions in “Our Mrs Reynolds”. Kaylee fails to fix the main drives in “Out of Gas”. Wash fails to elude the Feds chasing Serenity through the canyons of St Albans.

In Firefly…heroes fail individual tasks with sometimes alarming regularity!

But when it counts, they succeed…often in amazing ways. And there is a system to help ensure that when it’s dramatically important, a character succeeds. ;)

It does this through Plot Points.

Every character starts with 6 Plot Points. They earn more through game play, and may have up to 12 at one time. Plot Points are spent in several different ways.

1: For every Plot Point spent, an additional die type can be rolled in a skill task. Spending 1 Plot Point gives you an extra D2, 2 points a D4, 3 points a D6, 4 points a D8, 5 points a D10, and 6 points a D12. This can radically change a characters’ odds of succeeding at a task…and enable a character to reach very high target numbers.

For example, at the end of the Firefly pilot, Mal walks into the cargo bay of Serenity to find a Fed holding River hostage. Mal wants to get the boat off the ground (the Gorram Reavers are coming!) and is in no mood to screw around…plus the difficulty of hitting a guy hiding behind a girl while walking briskly is pretty tough. Mal decides to spend 3 Plot Points to toss another D6 on his roll…and shoots the guy in the head.

2: If a character makes a roll and fails it, he can spend Plot Points to adjust the result by 1 for every Plot Point spent. So if he needed a 7 to succeed, but rolled a 5…he could spend 2 Plot Points to succeed.

3: A character can spend Plot Points to reduce a wound taken in combat. This can be awfully handy. ;)

4: In some circumstances Plot Points can be spent to tweak the circumstances of the game’s plot. For instance…the group is sitting outside some fancy nightclub and there’s someone inside they need to talk to…however, the doormen won’t let them in so they need to find another way to get entry. A Player asks that since they’re from the area, maybe their character knows someone who works there. The GM says for 2 Plot Points the character knows a waitress in the joint, they can call and perhaps convince her to let them in.

As you can see, Plot Points can be very handy, and they are meant to be used. But, you ask…How do you earn more?

Glad you asked.

1: If something about your post amuses the GM sufficiently, either through humor, pathos, melodrama, or whatnot, the GM may award a Plot Point. Posts in the thread that go above and beyond should be awarded!

2: If one of your character’s Complications comes into play in some way to some significant detriment to your character, you can earn a Plot Point. For instance, Bex has the Complication of Arachnophobia. If she chooses to have a spider crawl across her character’s hand while she’s hiding from someone, causing her to cry out in alarm…she GM might award her a number of Plot Points! (This can also happen when someone’s Complication comes into play involuntarily as well) Drama is fun.

3: If a character completes some sort of personal goal, the GM may award Plot Points based on how important the goal is, and how difficult it was to achieve.

4: If the group completes some sort of challenging situation, the GM may award a number of Plot Points to all, based on how difficult it was to succeed, how important the challenge was, and how amusing it was. ;)

5: When the group completes a story arc, or achieves some overall group goal, they will all earn a number of Plot Points.

So basically, the Plot Points are the way players can “tweak” the game so they aren’t entirely at the mercy of the dice. However, you only have so many, so you must choose wisely when you decide to spend them. Spend them foolishly, and you may not have them when you need them!

As for the actual use of dice…if you aren’t a regular tabletop gamer, you may not have the funny-shaped dice lying around needed to roll a D4 or D8. In cases where a die roll is required, but you don’t have dice, you have a couple options. One is to use an online dice roller. They can be found at a number of different places, and the GM has one lying around on his desktop that he can email you if you’d rather. Or, you can ask the GM to roll some dice for you…and he will be happy to. ;)


Dragonfly: We Do Crime JackElliot