I was really excited when I heard that award-winning game designer Robin Laws was writing a five-adventure story arc for one of my favorite games, the 'Firefly' RPG. For those of you who may not be familiar with Mr. Laws, he has many fine games to his credit, but is probably best know for his book about storytelling, "Hamlet's Hit Points," which deconstructs several famous works of fiction (including the titular Sakespearian play) to show how their pacing set the story's tone. This book really shook things up in the professional writing and game publishing communities-- and its author was turning his expertise towards one of MY favorite games!!! I was ecstatic.
The adventures in "Ghosts in the Black" are great, bearing Robin Laws' unmistakable stamp-- but they also made me realize how good most of the other published adventures for the 'Firefly' line are! All totaled, there is one adventure in the core rulebook, four adventures in the "Echoes of War" supplement, two adventures in "The Smuggler's Guide to the Rim," two adventures in "Things Don't Go Smooth," and one adventure only available online in PDF format-- so, with the addition of the five adventures in "Ghosts In the Black," there are now a whopping FIFTEEN published adventures for the 'Firefly' game, and most of them maintain the same high standards that Robin Laws generally attained in this book. Not bad for an independent game with only five titles in print, eh?
To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to go into adventure details in this review. I will, however, say a few words about each in turn.
In "Six Cylinders Make a Right," the crew is more or less hired to commit an act of revenge for events which took place years ago. In my opinion this adventure, which sets the other events in this book in motion, is the least compelling adventure in the book. Stories about providing an act of vengeance for somebody else aren't quite as compelling as stories which engage player characters in a more visceral way. This isn't really THEIR story; they're simply somebody else's instruments. But this is easily enough rewritten so that the target double-crossed the players, and instead of employing them directly, the story's protagonist is helping them gain their own revenge. Not a disaster, but still, I expected more from somebody with Robin Law's resume in the gaming industry.
"Prisoner 3012Y," on the other hand, has one of the best premises I've ever seen in a roleplaying game scenario. The players are hired to deliver a Hannibal-esque serial killer to an Alliance prison-- what can possibly go wrong? I still had to fiddle with this adventure a bit before I was completely satisfied with it, but this adventure was much more in line with my (high) expectations.
"Tombstone Bullets and a Graveyard Mind" knocked it out of the park AGAIN. In this adventure, the crew discovers something that had been lost since the Unification War, and in the middle of a backwater range war they're forced to take an ethical responsibility for that discovery. ...What's that you say? Your crew ain't exactly the 'ethical' sort? No worries-- I think I forgot to mention that there's also an enormous treasure at stake.
"The Hellhound Trail" fell into the 'good, not great' category. This adventure is essentially a treasure hunt-- a shot in the dark, with Alliance agents in hot pursuit. While I thought the adventure itself was fine enough, this story requires the storyteller to sustain a sense of tension for an extended period, and this can be difficult with a lot of roleplaying groups. With some preparation-- and a little bit of fiddling-- the storyteller should be able to keep the crew engaged.
"The Big Dark" is a suitable climax for a story with such an epic arc, with one slight spoiler coming-- please skip ahead if you plan on playing, although I'll try to keep things a bit vague anyway. It turns out that the players' goal-- the thing they've been pursuing-- isn't exactly what they were previously led to believe it to be. I found this to be a bit anticlimactic, but it was easily fixable by altering the 'rewards' offered at the story's conclusion.
Anyway, I had big expectations for this supplement. These expectations were mostly, but not entirely, met. However, if you're looking for good 'Firefly' adventures, or ESPECIALLY if you need a good campaign to run, "Ghosts in the Black" is well worth picking up.
[4 of 5 Stars!]