15 May 2018 horror mothership scifi rpgs session_report playtesting
Last night my home group had their second session of Mothership (my third playtest overall), they’re really starting to get into it, which has been amazing. Also, I’ve been getting a lot of help with development and editing for the Player’s Survival Guide1 recently as well, primarily from +Donn Stroud, +Jarrett Crader, Donald Schults, and Tyler Kimball. If you ever need help with RPG stuff, those guys have all been amazing.
Everyone showed up from last session, so to recap we’ve got:
They also had a contingent of NPCs: 5 Marines and a Co-pilot, Freya.
I recently updated the character sheet to include a skill tree, and revamped the skill system at Tyler’s request, so we did a quick run through of the changes, got them new character sheets and jumped into the action.
The crew of the USS Falstaff has been commissioned to fly to the Tybalt Blue Mining Colony on Banquo IV, where the colonists have failed to respond to communications for several months. The crew is tasked with finding out what caused the disturbance and rectifying the situation if they can.
The crew found Banquo IV to be an inhospitable icy wasteland and the colonists largely absent. After taking a hard landing and finding their jump drive damaged, they ran into some strange nano-infected colonists (and a dog) and explore a little bit before Ramona was infected.
Edward was at Dig Site Delta-6 and decided to start heading back to the ship to investigate Ramona’s infection, leaving his two marines at the Dig Site until he returned. A storm started up while he was on the way back.
Back at the Falstaff, Samuels, Louisa, and Goodhealth argued about the best way to treat Ramona’s condition - with Edwards piping in over comms that he wanted them to wait until he got there to do anything.
Goodhealth scanned Ramona and found that the nano machine that had slithered into her ear canal and had attached to her brain stem and was actually merging on a genetic level with her. He gave her 8 years until the infection spread to take over her entire body, likely leaving her like the infected colonists they had already found. Louisa orders the marines at the dig site to return to the base.
Samuels wanted Goodhealth to operate immediately, as Ramona was failing body saves every hour and taking more damage - Edwards wanted to wait. Halfway back to the ship, Edwards got caught in a huge ash storm and covered with dark snow. They decided to wait for him since he had made the trip back. Additionally, Samuels had found a way to rig-up an EMP2 from the ship’s engines, which Goodhealth thought would help them remove the infection - if it was knocked off line. However, the blast would only affect things outside the ship for a couple dozen meters, so they’d have to find a place to take her.
Ramona’s two marines took her to the air traffic control shed on the nearby landing pad. The ash storm had picked up and both marines were drenched in the stuff by the time they got her situated in the landing pad.
By the time Edward got back he saw an automated mining crawler, which is like a one-story tall mechanical crab, crawling towards the ship - he ran inside and they set off the EMP, which shut down the crawler - and dulled the nano infection in Ramona. However, on the ship, they don’t really know what’s happening, since they’ve also downed their comms.
Ramona wakes up and finds that her marine escort has essentially been eaten alive by nanomachines inside the ash storm, and they’re now attacking her. She’s weaponless and struggles to break free, eventually bursting out of the shed and running back to the ship.
The crew puts the ship into lockdown and ignores the marines for now to focus on saving Ramona.
Goodhealth went into surgery with Louisa assisting. Both of them had biology skills, but no one had surgery, which made the surgery more difficult, but they also had the medbay to help. Tyler came up with a Crisis System where players make a series of checks (in this case three), and need to get a number of successes to beat the crisis (again, three). When they fail a check, they gain stress and the check ends, though they can bet more stress to ignore the failure and re-roll. We’re fiddling with it, but it’s a nice procedure to have in your back pocket if you think a one off roll leaves too much open to interpretation - also the stress gained helps with the resource management aspect of the game.
Goodhealth and Louisa succeeded ultimately in removing the specimen from Ramona, who started to recover. Edward took the specimen to his science lab and began running diagnostics. Meanwhile the two remaining marines, who had been left at the dig site, return to the ship - they are completely infected now, and join in with the other infected marines in scouring the outside of the ship looking for some kind of port to connect to.
The only remaining marine, an NPC Lieutenant, loses it and demands that they brings the marines aboard and try to rescue them, the way they rescued Ramona. Samuels makes the case that they’re too far gone and Goodhealth tranqs the Lieutenant, strapping him down in the medbay to keep him from doing anything rash.
Edward finds that the nanomachine specimen from Ramona is part of the same hivemind as his other samples (from the ship, from the ash, etc.) though they are speaking in different “voices” like a choir. Spoilers for my players in the footnote, don’t read if you’re playing3.
Samuels puts on a vaccsuit and decides to inspect what the infect marines are doing outside the ship. He goes down into the storm and sees them clamboring all over the landing gear trying to “merge” with the ship. The other two marines have already merged with the mining crawler, their bodies and pulse rifles becoming strange appendages now to the already terrifying looking machines.
Samuels is the captain of the Falstaff and has basically had enough of this - he feels that he knows what happened to the colonists, their shit got fucked, and he’s ready to leave the planet and make a report. Everyone else agrees and they decide to lift off, whether the infected marines are a part of the landing gears or not. They think they can shake them off during take off. Freda plots a course to a nearby unknown system which they can jump to, since they are unable to immediately jump back to their home system.
Despite some fancy maneuvering from Samuels, the ship’s computer reports that there is still some kind of obstruction on the landing gear, and they break through the atmosphere, taking some more damage to the hull. They’re reluctant to make the jump into hyperspace with some kind of creature on their landing gear - and they don’t want to damage their ship even further. Samuels puts them in orbit around the now distant Banquo IV and Ramona decides to do a space walk with her mag boots on the hull of the ship and see what’s made it with them.
Additionally, Louisa goes into the bowels of the ship to see if she can see if anything has crawled aboard in the landing gear housing unit. She can’t see anything from the airlock - but Ramona eventually crawls in and Louisa sees something floating towards her - and so warns Ramona. Ramona turns around and sees the infected corpse creature of Chamberlain, a marine she had propositioned last session, and fails a psyche save. The creature slashes at Ramona’s suit, puncturing her air tube. She’s rapidly decompressing.
Ramona makes a dash for the airlock and gets inside. Samuels and Goodhealth now come equipped with a rigging gun, ready to fight the infected Chamberlain. Edward takes the knocked out Lieutenant and straps them into a cryochamber.
There’s no light in the housing unit, so Louisa throws a few flashlights in, which float around in freefall, shining beams of light across the dingy mechanical room. Samuels checks the area out from the open airlock but can’t find Chamberlain, until he inspects the ceiling and sees the creature ready to launch down at him. He stumbles back and Goodhealth fires the harpoon gun at Chamberlain, missing and lodging into the hull of the ship. He cuts the line and Samuels fires up his hand welder, critting and chopping off Chamberlain’s hands. Samuels orders Freda to kick up their thrusters, which she does, sending Chamberlain careening to a distant bulkhead. Goodhealth fires another harpoon, which misses, but gives Chamberlain a line to crawl on with his arms as leverage. Instead, Samuels and Goodhealth stomp over and push him out the opening and tumbling down into the atmosphere. They pull up the landing gear, everyone goes into hypersleep (except for Goodhealth and Edward, the androids), and they make the jump to parts unknown.
So the players want to keep playing, which is the first time they’ve requested to replay a game I’ve designed before, so that’s awesome. I’m keeping a survive, solve, or save design principle for Mothership and while I’m sad that they just got the eff out of there, they did basically decide to “survive” and opted not to solve the mystery or save anyone, so good on them.
Now I need to work on more Warden (what I’m calling the GM) tools. Basically, I have to design a new sector for them to jump to, and random encounters, and repercussions for them not having solved the situation on Banquo IV (of which there will be money. I’m thinking basically Death Frost Doom in space).
Additionally, I’ll need more normal horror/survival stuff that doesn’t involved aliens and robots and infections (more just people being awful) in order to get the pacing right. So that’s going to get the focus for the next week or so. Figuring out how much fuel they have, how much money they have, where they can get fuel, can they get back home - all that’s going to come back into play.
Also, without railroading, the survival aspect has to come into play in the game because there has to be a cost to saying “fuck this” and leaving every single planet they come across when things get hairy. They need to need a thing (some of them) to engage, otherwise my more scared players are going to keep running away. I love running away, I don’t think its bad. I just want to make it a more difficult decision (if we run away, we won’t get the thing we need to repair the ship, or we’ll be leaving someone behind).
Players are constantly saying “We have X on the ship, right?” or “I could rig up Y from the stuff on the ship, right?” And my go to answer is usually “Can you do that in Aliens?” Which is serving me okay for now, but I may need to drill down a little deeper into what is and isn’t “on” a ship. Can you rig up an EMP from the jump drive? Probably? At the very least maybe it should cost something, sure you can, but you’ll have to sacrifice one of your life support systems, that kind of thing.
I still haven’t killed anyone, and now I’m wondering if this is because I am afraid to do it or what? So if you play games with me in the future, be on the lookout that I’ll be trying to kill more people.
We’re looking to release a limited ashcan version at Origins in a month, so keep an eye out.↩︎
I need to outline more EMP rules. Like how do they affect Androids, etc.↩︎
Edward has a secret mission to investigate a missing Android named Stanislav who is supposed to be on Banquo IV, which is presumably why he made a beeline for the dig site as soon as they landed last session. Androids can also gain XP for contacting and interfacing with higher intelligences - and Edward’s taking that pretty seriously. He secretly subjects the nanomachines to a blood sample on the ship. Additionally, he injects the Lieutenant with the nanomachines as an experiment.↩︎
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