“My Firefly Atonement” or “Get Cheap RPG Books Today Only!”

“My Firefly Atonement” or “Get Cheap RPG Books Today Only!”

When a show with a large fan base – especially a large SF fan base – ends, the fans have some small amount of solace, because there’s usually a rich bounty of “extended universe” materials to keep the fix going for a while. Often the avid fan, deprived of new episodes of the show, can enjoy exploring the novels, comic books, and, yes, even role-playing game supplements which are created through license with the show … but all good things must end.

Last Chance to Buy Serenity & Battlestar Galactica RPGs

In recent years, one of the publishers that’s been dominant in the field of licensed RPG materials from such show – including SmallvilleSupernaturalSerenityLeverage, and Battlestar Galactica – is Margaret Weiss Productions, founded by (and named after) the legendary co-creator of the Dragonlance D&D setting and co-author of most of the relevant novels that established that setting, notably the Chronicles and Legends trilogies. These have been some great games, all built around MWP’s proprietary Cortex Rule System (reviewed in Black Gate 14). Serenity RPG was reviewed back in Black Gate 10 and my own review of the Supernatural RPG is slated to come out in Black Gate 15.

The problem, of course, is that both Serenity and Battlestar Galactica are based on franchises that have been over for quite some time. The licenses may have expired or MWP may have just decided it wasn’t profitable to keep the lines going, but the result was the following message in my e-mail today:

You have one day left to purchase The Serenity and Battlestar Galactica RPGs from Margaret Weiss Productions!

That’s right, after 1/31/11 they will no longer be available and these classic Cortex books will be gone for good. MWP has slashed prices and is offering some amazing deals on these awesome sci-fi adventures, but you have to act fast, because once they are gone, they are gone.

The e-mail provides links to the Serenity RPG line and the Battlestar Galactica RPG products over at DriveThruRPG, where you can get PDFs of the main books for $9.99 and about $4.99 for most of the major supplements. GM screens run a bit cheaper.

Battlestar Galactica never really held interest for me, but I realized I needed those Serenity books. I have the main book and ran a short campaign, so can attest that it’s a fun setting. And I had a cool campaign premise that I intended to build on someday. (Three words: travelling space carnival!)

So, I had no choice but to pluck down the approximately $20 to get the PDFs. I now own the entire line of Serenity sourcebooks. It really was a moral imperative.

My Firefly Obsession

In a way, I think of my continued fascination with the Firefly setting as atonement for not having been more vigilant when it originally aired.  I caught a couple of episodes here and there during the run, but really didn’t “get” it. (I should have known better. I was dismissive of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer for nearly two years before being strong-armed into watching the second season finale, at which point I became an instant Whedon-o-phile.) It was people like me – those who should have been fans during the original run but weren’t – who were in part to blame for the original series cancellation.

So I may have over-compensated out of guilt in the years since the show was canceled, as I look at my shelves and see the following:

  • The Firefly DVD set of the entire 13-episode series
  • The Serenity Collector’s Edition DVD (I saw the film in theaters twice, bought the DVD, then re-bought it when the Collector’s Edition came out, donating my original DVD to Goodwill)
  • The essay collections Finding Serenity and Serenity Found from Smart Pop Books, edited by show writer Jane Espenson
  • Three graphic novels: Those Left Behind (in hardback), Better Days, and The Shepherd’s Tale
  • Firefly: The Official Companion vol. 1 which contains scripts from the first 6 episodes of the series, an interview with Joss Whedon, and other supplemental fan material
  • Firefly: Still Flying (Disclaimer: I think this one was a bit of a rip off. I bought it because it promoted containing 4 new stories set in the Serenity universe by writers on the show. It does. The longest of these stories is 9 pages long. There’s some nice fan stuff in here, but don’t buy this expecting it to be primarily fiction, as I did. You will be very disappointed.)

As I look at this list – realizing that I still long to buy Firefly: The Official Companion vol. 2 and Serenity Official Visual Companion (which together contain the remaining scripts to the series and film) and this Firefly keychain off of my Amazon wish list – I realize that I’m a bit hopeless on this score.

Still, I can find benefits and learning experience in this obsession. The most obvious is that my reading of the Smart Pop Books anthologies – aside from being engaging in itself – helped prime me for their Dollhouse volume, Inside Joss’ Dollhouse: From Alpha to Rossum, so that I was ultimately awarded a slot in that edition … a slot that I wouldn’t even have known to apply for if I hadn’t become familiar with the series through reading their Serenity volumes.

Cancellation Tragedies

There’s something truly tragic about the way Firefly ended, and bittersweet about its resurrection in the film Serenity. I look back at some other favorite series, which were cancelled just when they seemed to be hitting their stride. In fact, I seem to recall that this nostalgia for losing out on new episodes started at a tender age.

I remember watching re-runs of Greatest American Hero in the morning as a child – I would have been around 7 or so – wondering why the show wasn’t on any more. Now that it’s out on DVD, I see that the special effects and the dramatic concerns about the “Reds” certainly date it, but overall it’s aged surprisingly well.)

The Eliza Dushku series Tru Calling suffered nearly as much at the hands of Fox’s inept management as Dollhouse eventually did. The nice thing is that these shows do tend to find a home among fans, now that they are available on DVD and through streaming services such as iTunes and Hulu.

Cast of the short-lived 2004 series Century City.
Cast of the short-lived 2004 series Century City.

Which brings me to another cancelled gem that I’ve re-discovered recently: Century City. A 9-episode run from 2004, this is a legal drama set in the year 2030, where the legal issues under debate are based on the cutting edge science of today.

To give a flavor of the sort of topics the show explored, the shows typically juggled between two cases being handled by the firm, one of them a serious case and one a more frivolous one. They included:

  • a man who wants permission to clone his son so he can harvest organs to save his life
  • a woman seeking to gain possession of an artificial intelligence based on her deceased husband’s personality
  • a child star who wants to go on medicines that will prevent him from growing up
  • a man suing a woman for emotional damages because the morning after their one-night stand he discovered that she had a penis (purely decorative and non-functional)
  • a woman seeking to get her husband declared incompetent so that she can force him to undo the experimental neurological treatment that is killing him … a treatment which has successfully cured his severe mental retardation
  • a couple charged with public indecency because, on a “smart freeway” where the cars drive themselves, they engaged in sexual activity and were witnessed by a group of girl scouts in a bus

As far as I can tell, the show hasn’t ever been released on DVD, but it is currently available (for another month, at least) for free streaming through Hulu. If you never caught the show in its original run, I do recommend looking into it. For those who, like me, enjoy engaging in the more philosophical areas of science fiction, there’s a lot of meat in even just these 9 episodes.

There are a lot of great short-lived series out there. What’s your favorite? For me, the top choice would probably still have to be Serenity. This works out well, because I now own the full set of RPG supplements (at a hefty discount) to begin creating my own stories in that world.

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John ONeill

Hey Andrew,

Century City sounds great! I’ll have to check it out.

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Barbara Barrett

Hi Andrew,
I thoroughly understand your obsession with Firefly and Serenity. Thanks for the DVD/RPG and book information. I’ve ordered the graphic novels and the Collectors Edition of Serenity, all of which I didn’t know were available. I also have a book that you haven’t listed: *Serenity* by Keith R.A. DeCandido. It’s based on the motion picture screenplay of Joss Whedon. Publisher is Pocket Star Books(2005).
Great post. Thanks again,

[…] keep flying. It has continued in a number of forms, from comic books to board games. As I’ve mentioned before, my shelves contain a number of these related materials. (More than I typically care to […]

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