Mothership, the ENnies, and A Pound of Flesh

July 19, 2019 mothership layout rpgs graphic_design ennies

This is pretty incredible. Mothership has been nominated for four ENnie awards. The Player’s Survival Guide is nominated for Best Rules, Best Game, and the coveted, Product of the Year. Dead Planet is nominated for Best Adventure. Winning any of these would be huge for us in terms of visibility to the larger TTRPG world.

I’m pretty speechless. This is Mothership’s first year and this is a PWYW PDF / black and white zine and the game is largely still in beta. Dead Planet is our first adventure. As always, this is the result of an amazing team: Fiona Maeve Geist, Donn Stroud, and Jarrett Crader worked their butts off on this books and I think it shows. Alan, my business partner, was incredibly supportive in letting me work on a game that was very far off brand for us as a company that mostly creates social party games.

This has been a dream year for our little game and I’m so excited about what’s coming next.

In the immediate future that means the release of our second module, A Pound of Flesh, by me and Donn and Jarrett and Luke Gearing with art by the incomparable Jan Buragay. Dead Planet was really well received and I had been worried about the sophomore slump, so we swung for the fences with this one and crammed as much game into the little zine as we possibly could.

Problems We Tried to Solve in A Pound of Flesh

Jan Buragay is a beastJan Buragay is a beast

Plug and play

This is always a big deal for us, but primarily we want the main location in APOF, a space station called Prospero’s Dream, to be able to be dropped into any sci-fi campaign. Mothership, Traveller, Starfinder, Star Wars, Stars Without Number, Thousand Suns. We don’t care. We just want you to be able to pick it up and plug it into your world without too much hassle.

This meant modularity. There are ten(ish) major locations in APOF and while they all connect to each other (more on that in a moment), they can each be lifted as is like a one page dungeon and used in your game. They’re self contained. They have price lists and NPCs and missions and hopefully everything you need to run them without flipping.

TOC as Overworld MapTOC as Overworld Map


This is basically a city adventure or a city kit. Cities have infinite internal connections. Prospero’s Dream would come alive only if it breathed like a real city. This has a lot to do with faction play. The overarching faction onboard the Dream is this organized crime group called the Golyonovo II Bratva. The Teamsters distribute drugs for them. The Tempest Mercenary Company operates as muscle. Even the local church, The Evangelical Solarian Church, works for them, producing the cash-crop drug Sycorax. They’re all tied together.

Which means they’re all at each other’s throats all the time. Commander Cutter from Tempest is suspicious of Yandee, head of the Bratva. The Teamsters want a strike because some of their fleet is being held hostage by a rival group, the Stratemeyer Syndicate. There’s cracks in the allegiances. These cracks are where the PCs live. Doing a job for one runs them afoul of the other. They all have good reasons for wanting what they want and hopefully this will give the players a chance to pick and choose from the plot hooks they find interesting or not.

We went with our big NPC spread again from DP, missions, wants, and where are they on this giant station, all in one place.We went with our big NPC spread again from DP, missions, wants, and where are they on this giant station, all in one place.


When the players bite into this module we wanted the module to bite back. Storylines in challenge-oriented games, particularly in a pre-written city adventure are tough for me because I don’t want to increase cognitive load on the Warden any more than I have to. That means we had to talk in broad strokes and keep things so simple. At first we thought of splitting the module down the middle, internally we called this pre-cataclysm” and post-cataclysm.” Early drafts have a bunch of unmarked sections labelled After the cataclysm.” This eventually evolved into the three phased storylines we came up with. There are three major through-lines in APOF and each of them has a major event or two that occurs during a phase. For example: the Teamsters want Yandee to go get their captured union brothers back, if Yandee doesn’t, they’ll strike, Yandee will bring in scabs, the Teamsters will riot, Tempest Co will act as strikebreakers, and then war will break out. The players can have their hands in this as much or as little as they want and the warden can advance these events as quickly or slowly as they want. Every location outlines what might be happening depending on what storyline/phase you’re in. It’s boxed and off to the side, so you can ignore it unless you want or need it. The encounter tables and their deadliness change depending on what overall phase you’re in too.

Overview of the phases and storylinesOverview of the phases and storylines


My hope is that a lot of players make some kind of connection with The Dream the way a lot of players have made connections with Waterdeep. You could spend a whole campaign here and most locations have several adventure hooks that would take several sessions to see through. As per Arnold K’s excellent Dungeon Checklist which is my bible when designing these things, a lot of the locations have content I don’t anticipate many people will ever run or see. But for the people who do, it’s there waiting for you waiting to be discovered. There’s an entire sunken wasteland called The Choke at the bottom of the Dream that many players will never visit. There’s a lot of room at the margins for Wardens to add in their own content. There’s a lot filled in and there’s a lot left empty.

The Choke was one of my favorite things to map in APOFThe Choke was one of my favorite things to map in APOF


Then after all of this there’s a huge section on generating your own space station with tools for what its notable locations and establishments might be, what crises it may be undergoing, who’s running it. These tools are always a mixed bag because sometimes it can just seem like list after list of content no one is going to want to search through a book to find. My hope is that in whatever sci-fi game you’re playing, that if you need a quick lil station to throw into your world, we’ve got you covered. Our goal is for Wardens to want to have our books on hand because they never know when they’ll need a derelict, or a space station, or a nightmare, or a colonist, or a strange Chokespawn. Whether they’ve beaten the module once or never or a thousand times. There’s always a reason to keep it around.

To Much Game?

The pages of this book are cramped and I think it can maybe be overwhelming for a new Warden, or someone who’s used to more prosaic adventure design. There is a place for that stuff I’m learning, in that it provides a very comfortable reading experience which a lot GMs like. They read it over then they make their notes and prep it and then they run it. We’ve chosen the other route, which is that our books are designed to be used at the table primarily and very little though is given to the comfortable reading experience. I think we’ll get dinged for that, and maybe someday we’ll find a middle ground, but for now this is the place that makes the most sense to us.

A Pound of Flesh ships in a couple weeks to our backers and pre-order customers and I hope if you get it you’ll let me know what you think. We worked hard on it and the next stuff we do will move in another direction I think. But if you do like it, or you like what we’re doing and what to see what other experiments we have in store, please be sure to vote for us at the ENnies this year) so that more people hear about us and play the game so we can keep making this fun stuff for ya’ll.

Thanks for an amazing Year One. Here’s look at a big Year Two.

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