Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Whiff Table: Something happens every round of combat

I'm thinking of running 0e DnD or Black Pudding's flavor of B/X, or Moldhammer, or Wolfbreaker. But I love combat systems from Into the Odd where there's no to-hit roll (and no missing) or Troika/Tunnel Goons/Macchiato Monsters where someone always gets hit. What to do? Write a whiff table! 


When two opposed combatants in melee both miss their attacks, roll on the whiff table.
  1. You knock each other's helms off. If anyone involved is not wearing a helm, they take 1d6 damage.
  2. You both fall down. 50% chance you're on top. You're at a range where punches, kicks, and daggers will work; larger melee weapons will not.
  3. You bind weapons and then push one another back. Their weapon lands at your feet; yours lands at theirs.
  4. Belt or backpack cut. Lose the top item in your inventory, as it is on the ground now.
  5. Lesser HD combatant knocked back into someone else on their side, who must save or be knocked down. 
  6. Environmental damage! Crack the ceiling, start a fire, destroy furniture, valuables, etc.
  7. Tooth loosened. You can spit it out in their face for a +4 to hit bonus next round, or try to keep it in place and get it fixed later (maybe?). No hp loss.
  8. Metal strikes stone. You and your opponent are bathed in sparks. Exposed paper or oil will begin to burn. Hair smolders.
  9. Opponent had an oil jar or gland that you just barely nick, but it splits open nevertheless. You, your opponent, and the ground are drenched in oil. 
  10. You just barely get an opening. If you swing with everything you have, embedding your weapon in your opponent, you can do so and roll damage with advantage, but you lose your weapon. Otherwise, normal miss.
  11. Their swing or thrust misses, but tosses sweat and grit in your eyes. Take -4 to AC until you spend a round wiping that out; your peripheral vision is .
  12. You clash weapons and it's incredibly loud. Roll for an additional encounter.
  13. You disarm them and their weapon sails behind them. If they have natural weapons they take 1d6 damage.
  14. Their weapon pins you in place. They lose it but you will have to struggle for 1d3 rounds to be able to move again. Can still fight.
  15. Ancient war-sigil mine stepped on, 1-3 by you, 4-6 by enemy. Spend next round levitating 10' in the air. Spells lowers you down gently (defective).
  16. Skyknife! Your weapon is knocked up into the ceiling and lodged there. It'll fall in 1d6 rounds. Anyone under it could be hit by it. (If no ceiling is available your weapon targets someone random closeby.)
  17. Ambient magical energy interacts with your intent to cause harm. You and your opponent glow like torches. -4 AC penalty to both of you for 1d6 rounds.
  18. You blink blood out of your eyes. You and your opponent are covered in blood and gore. Perhaps another attack drenched you both, perhaps some blood god is merely happy at your mishap.
  19. Their swing is about to cleave into your throat and you are suddenly in the Dead Realm. Any spirits or undead in the area are still present, otherwise it is empty, grey, cold, foggy. You can move about for 1 round and then you will re-appear wherever you moved to. Any valuable treasure or items are but dust in the Dead Realm, unless you brought them in yourself.
  20. Both of your weapons bind and break. If either of you were using magical weapons, said weapons can save against breakage. (Roll a 4 or more on a d6, adding the weapon's magical bonus.)
You could just roll a d6 against this table, or a d12 if you don't want random magical war-sigils to show up in your theatre of the mind, or random Dead Realm trips. 

Friday, November 8, 2019

Ghost Gang Random Tables for Esoteric Enterprises or whatever modern urban fantasy you got

In anticipation of Cavegirl's AWESOME Esoteric Enterprises coming out bigger and badder, here are my thoughts on Ghost Gangs. Because people die all the time, there's almost always a few ghosts in a rough collective, if not an outright organized body of the disembodied.

They're a fantastic organization to hire out freelancers, because they need a literal pair of hands (or 4) to lift up a priceless painting from one subterranean hidey-hole and carry it safely to theirs. 

(Also here's a link to the player's handbook for Esoteric Enterprises, with which one can create ghosts.)

From Wikipedia


  1. Enchanted fresh food to actually eat. 
  2. Ancient vinyl pressing of ritual music.
  3. Large (4' x 6') oil painting, frame optional.
  4. Unenchanted stone idol.
  5. Large pile of enemy's wealth to be destroyed dramatically.
  6. DVDs and DVD player. Holy oil to anoint such that they can push the buttons.
  7. Hookah, brick of undergrown-cultivated herb. 
  8. Blessed salt to keep out uninvited spirits.
  9. Silver-coated sword that they can wield.
  10. Rune-carved zippo lighter shipment. They don't run out of fuel.
  11. Ectoplasm-filled jar, the remains of one of their own.
  12. Liber Noctis, a book of binding ghosts. A furnace to destroy it in.
  13. Soul trapper's scalp or forefinger.


  1. A thief-lich (HD6) and her disciples.
  2. Null soul zone-dwelling scavengers. 
  3. Overly large cryptid.
  4. Nearby police precinct. 
  5. Bank vault, front for some undead businessfolk.
  6. Devotee of the Void and their flock.
  7. Rival ghost gang.
  8. Urban explorers, last seen diving the depths.


  1. Underground, an abandoned subway stop
  2. Aboveground, in an unknown safehouse
  3. Underground, beneath a small settlement of worshippers / traders
  4. Underground, in an automatic sewer processing system
  5. Underground, in an ancient building that was built over hundreds (?) of years ago but looks like it's from the 1980s
  6. Aboveground, a squat atop an abandoned (?) building

Oh yeah, obviously if you get a location or WHO HAS IT from the What they want table, don't bother rolling on the later tables unless you want.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Mothership AP: Kids Are Alright 2: Hellslide to the Sink

Ryan, Teamster, Pilot and Jack of Many Trades
'Doc' Krober, probably not a real doctor?, Scientist, Curiosity Fulfiller
Willow, Former Marine, current computer / hacker specialist
Ed, Mercenary-stat'd Android, (Combat: 38, Instinct: 45, Loyalty: 50, Revolver, 3 reload cylinders Flight Suit)

Getting to the Dream

So the niece/nephew/brother-in-law/android merc squad dock just outside Prospero's Dream, because their 93 Hull mining vessel will not fit in the dry dock. They lose some stress from getting back to civilization, and then the Q-Team pointing pulse rifles at them and hosing them down with disinfectant stresses them out again. They head through the dry docks, down a corridor towards the Stellar Burn to buy drinks, look for weapons, and offload their cargo.

Art from Tsutomu Nihei's Blame!

The Slide

My first encounter roll is a deadly one. I roll an 8. I ask them who's in front of the group. Ryan's up front, and fails a Body save. The group (I rule) has blundered into a section of walkway that irises open and they tumble down a chrome-slick peristalting gullet. Random chrome slide to the Sink! When they awaken they're on a plateau of broken concrete. In the distance they see what looks dimly like a waterfall, with a few flickering yellow lights on a precipice atop it. Above them, cold blue lights shine like distant uncaring stars. Cracked buildings lean drunkenly, and in the distance a series of vast pipes seems to writhe. (In retrospect I should've had them roll a fear save or panic check, but I was so flummoxed that I was just trying to give them some semi-viable choice of direction). They manage to find an old O2 bottle with 6 hours of breathe left to it. Taking stock, they march towards the waterfall. I roll an encounter and get 8 Hunglungs with spears (and quite low speed) waiting in ambush.

The Ambush

The PCs wind up in a canyon formed of two colossal buildings leaning against one another, an alley between them turned into a small steep ravine. It's quiet, they don't see anything moving. Willow asks if she can see anything with her IR goggles, and I tell her there are dim handprints on one of the empty window-panes.

 |        |
 |        |
 |_      _|
   \    /
    \  /

So at the base of the buildings there's a shelf of concrete about as wide as a sidewalk, then the ravine, which bottoms out in a narrow trail. Willow sees someone looking out at them, just a sliver of face, partially masked by concrete and some kind of blocky monocle. The figure darts away.

Willow's player smartly asks if her bioscanner will help, and whips it out. She notices 8 signatures spread out between the buildings. Willow wants to sneak up to the 'sidewalk' and listen in on the larger cluster. I tell her there's enough debris on the ground she needs an auditory distraction, and Ryan obliges by smacking his crowbar against the ground like a maniac. The sneaking marine touches one of the metal 'vines' growing all over the Sink, and it is warm to the touch, despite not showing up on IR (Sanity save!). 

Willow listens in; the Hunglungs seem to think they're clueless tourists. As they spring out to 'ambush' them, Willow has gotten behind the Hunglungs and surprises them, snatching a spear from one of them and hurling him down the ravine. Doc, Ryan and Ed are stressed to receive a charge of emaciated, tired Hunglungs with spears, but manage to down 3 of them in the scrum. 

The Loot

The rest of the Hunglungs opt to flee, and the PCs watch them go. The PCs manage to salvage 5 spears, 2 ancient hazardous environment suits that are relatively undamaged / patchable, a flare gun (3 flares) and the IR monocle. Doc and Willow have begun to feel feverish as ACMD takes hold. Willow and Ryan don the environment suits and the four keep moving towards the waterfall. 


I'm playing around with encumbrance rules Sean is playtesting. Characters can carry Strength / 10 items. Stacks of 3 stimpacks/magazines/grenades are 1 item slot. There's a wearing slot for armor or otherwise wearable items (flashlights, RAW, and short-range comms at my table) outside of the Str/10 limit, as are slots for your mitts. So there was more deliberation at the Dream and when looting the Hunglungs about what to take, which seems very apt to me. Drives home 'survival horror' and doesn't seem to slow things down overmuch.

Also I was not at all ready for them to go straight to the Sink - there's only a 2% chance of this happening by default. But, uh, be ready for this. Just in case. You can just wing things a bit with random encounters, and a dim-and-vague description of the overall layout, which is awesome, but next time I'm going to use some of the landmarks specifically mentioned in that spread. Probably put together a small pointcrawl of where they've been, options for where to go. 

Also the rules for 'you don't have an O2 tank' in the Sink are on page 31 at the start of the Choke, which totally makes sense because you'd go through there first... unless this happens. So I forgot about that! But it's not a huge deal. They have a tiny amount of O2 and I can always say 'now that you've been down here long enough you feel really woozy' if they lose that O2 for any reason. Anyway, I do love that APoF has a Hellslide straight to the Sink.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

d10 Ways The Company Tracks You

Inspired by the awesome d10 Reasons You're In The Corporation's Pocket over at traaa.sh. That site has some awesome Mothership resources. 

This is some setting infrastructure, but don't feel like it has to be this Universal Solution. It could be that in this quadrant things are a certain way, but not in others. The Company has to adapt to different markets and sectors. 

If you've already started a game and need to introduce this, 1, 2, 3, 5, 10 are pretty easy to work in; some of the others are 'hidden behavior / things in the PCs' and may or may not work.

Art by Xenya Dominguez

d10 Ways The Company Tracks You

  1. Ship burst-transmits whenever it jumps; the Company has an elaborate system of message-receiver satellites and couriers that pull data from them. Burst-transmitter is built into your ship's jump calculator.
  2. Hidden cameras on the ship, hidden brain-in-a-jar somewhere on the ship, secret network of space-brainwave transmissions in these sectors.
  3. Civilization scabs sell your data as soon as you're getting docked; they're buying data from the station manifest-checkers and selling it to the Company.
  4. Hypnogogic command dream-locked into the humans causes them to lose a tiny bit of time at each port transmitting reports up to the Company. Androids unaffected.
  5. There are a lot of spy scouts and couriers in the area that fly into scanning range and jet away again.
  6. Preinstalled cyberware (1 slot, body camera and transmitter) broadcasts data to corp networks every so often. Reapable, as in, you could try to get this cut out and sold, however the Company will see this as a breach of contract and try to retake any loaned goods.
  7. Obvious cameras in ship, 'tamper proof' physical data dumps when in civilization when docked. Spacewalking best way to have a private conversation.
  8. Spot bonuses incentivize self-reporting - jobs often pay less as this is how most ships cover fuel, O2, stores.
  9. Locator/IFF beacon and cargo scanners that you need to work track data and transmit it to Company systems.
  10. Jump-space monitoring by a fleet of Android pilots who are begging for any kind of release from where they are stationed, but also still doing their job. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Mothership AP: CompanyLands Night Drive, 1 & 2, in-person crew

Writeup physical game nights 1 and 2. I ran my Night Drive desert delivery 'module' for some coworkers. 

Marine with examination loadout - WHooooo that is a real (awesome) warning sign. Don't fear the scientist, fear the marine with this gear, for they will be a butcher of all things. Also if a mysterious benefactor pays for a delivery, but you want the PCs to get into all kinds of hijinx, tell them that the benefactor will pay them for any interesting/weird/anomalous discoveries. Also, don't forget that vehicles have a speed stat - driving fast is more about that than a character's speed stat.

It's Friend's Nighttime Delivery - Geoff the marine, Jeff the Teamster, and Steaksauce the Android driving an A-6 Grizzly from Bixby to Lyons, a strange box in the cargo hold, at the behest of Friend. I'm running the same scenario with two different groups.

Art by Karl Sisson

Session 1 -> The android drives because it, nicknamed 'Steaksauce', cannot become bored. He fails a driving check and the roadkill encounter gets lodged under the Grizzly. The marine finds some roadkill and cuts out its brain for science. They drive off and the roadkill drags itself away. They come across Roland's Bait Shop, hear Sara asking for their help over short-range comms, warning them of automated turrets around the place. They use the Grizzly to shove 2 wrecked vehicles at a turret until it expends a lot of ammo. They bolt the remaining still-moveable wreck to the front of their Grizzly and ram a turret - it gets off a shot at the Grizzly but the ATV's armor handles it well, and the turret is destroyed in the collision. 

They bust into the Bait Shop looking for Sara in her panic room and pallets of food to scavenge. Not in that order. They find a computer and watch CCTV footage of the God destroying Roland and Darren, Sara's Dads, who with her had run the gas station for years. Sanity checks as it mists its way through a fist-sized hole, reforms in its pale maggot-colored flesh, and wrecks havoc on Darren and Roland. 

Then bioscanners detect a strange reading vectoring in on the Bait Shop. They frantically break into the hatch leading to Sara's panic room, she clambers out and deals with what has happened as they load themselves into the Grizzly. Jeff stares out at the God through his IR goggles but fights down panic. As they climb aboard the Grizzly and drive off, Roland's corpse begins to stand up, shouting that "God is here." Sara panics and wrestles for her pulse rifle, Jeff and Geoff try to de-escalate the situation, and Steamsauce slams the gas and Sara hits a bulkhead and is knocked out. Geoff and Jeff look for rope with which to tie up Roland, who comes at them. Overall, lots of good tension buildup.

Session 2 -> Sara's knocked out in the cargo hold, Roland pins Geoff's arms to his side. Steaksauce is driving away from the God, Jeff is watching it in the turret through his IR goggles. Jeff, hearing Geoff struggle, slides down the ladder and runs behind Roland, hitting him with his crowbar. Roland, distracted, let off some pressure on Geoff, who struggled free and levered up his stun baton but missed. Steaksauce, listening into comms from the driver's cockpit, slammed the brakes and only Geoff remained standing, who snatched up some stowing rope and struggled against Roland to tie up his hands. Roland stood and launched himself at Jeff, headbutting him and biting him. Geoff failed to trigger his stun baton optimally - eventually Steaksauce briefly halted the vehicle, ran back to tranq Roland, and sprinted back to the cockpit to drive the ATV away. 

As Steaksauce had driven well and put in a big lead against the pursuing God, and as he was away from the cockpit for ~15 seconds, I figured It had not caught up with them, though he had a 3rd drive check to speed away from It. I sadly forgot to use the vehicle's speed for these checks; the God would have probably caught up to the ATV had I remembered. Fancy maneuvers - I could see using the Android's stats. Pure 'drive fast' - should have used the vehicle's speed. Regardless, out-driving the monster is less scary, but it's how the dice fell. It'll turn up again, I'm sure.

They tried to understand Roland. They hypothesized that the God might be broadcasting and receiving data from him. They turned their bioscanner, medscanner, cybernetic diagnostic scanner and electronic repair tools to the task, and knew it was so. Roland's cyberbrain prosthetics were doing this, as were the burnt-looking black marks upon his scalp, which seemingly wired into his cyberwear.

Sara woke up and as usual, seems to roll well, passing a 'panic check or no' Instinct check. She spoke to Jeff and Geoff as though in a dream. She seemed surprised that they were keeping her father's body when it was clearly dangerous, when it was raving about God, back from the dead but clearly Wrong; she asked them why they were studying Roland's body rather than dumping it. She indicated that it wasn't Roland anymore.

They rolled up on a curve in the road, boxed in somewhat by somewhat steep sides. Boulders on either shoulder. The road itself had a patch that was carved up as though by a laser cutter. Jeff threw a box of twinkies at it from the pallet, to no effect. Geoff knew, from his military training, that mine triggers are set to weights close to what they are designed to attack - an anti-vehicle mine won't go off from a 5 pound weight. He crept close and noticed detonator pressure sensors and mines or IEDs wedged into the road carvings. Steaksauce drove the ATV around, critically succeeding and thereby running over an android hiding under camo blankets near one of the boulders. 

They came up to a Grizzly parked 200m or so from the IED ambush, and watched as a rubber-faced android climbed into the turret and pointed a pulse rifle at them. It told them to turn off their engines and dismount. Steaksauce locked all external doors and came in the back to scheme, and because he wasn't sure if the pulse rifle rounds would punch through the driver's cockpit. The android promised them shelter, and that it was not familiar with the God of Route 11b, and the party was not wholly convinced. They decided to dump Roland out the back and see what the Android did with him. As they roll up the backdoor, they spot another 2 androids in the distance, behind boulders, aiming weapons at them. They throw Roland out and slam the cargo door shut as pulse rifle rounds impact off it. 

The android on the radio calls them. 'We tire of this. Step out of your vehicle, it is time to meet God.'

I figure the next session starts with a panic check. They were very convinced androids would not be swayed by the God, as Roland was. When hope is drastically cut away, panic checks.

Art by Leo Haslam

Monday, September 2, 2019


Sleevejacker is a class for Mothership, inspired by one of the random encounters from A Pound of Flesh, which most of us are still hungrily awaiting in physical form or otherwise. This is not playtested. Anyway, here is the encounter:

Yuvenko | Sleevejacker | “You haven’t lived until you’ve lived twice.”

All their non-immediately-dangerous encounters have a _name_ and a _quote_. If you roll the same number as before you now have a reoccurring NPC, and the quote does a good job of suggesting personality. Like Yuvenko, who is an unrepentant sleevejacker. 

Resleeving in A Pound of Flesh gives a +1 minimum stress to 'the sleeve' - so perhaps if you get back to your original body you get rid of that, perhaps not. Either way, bodyhopping is not undertaken lightly - except by sleevejackers, whose minds seem almost designed to be transmitted from body to body.

Art by Sebastian Szmyd


You might not have even meant to start. You might've woken up in a strange body, remembering the shrieking backup machine sifting through your mind with its magnetic fingertips, but not why you were embodied. You might have deliberately kidnapped someone to wipe their brain and commandeer their body. You might have returned from penal cold storage in new flesh. Either way, you discovered you had a knack for resleeving that others lack. Otherwise you're awfully similar to the background-noise masses of void urchins and star vagabonds.

Special: When you resleeve you don't gain +1 minimum stress. You start out backed up somewhere semi-useful to you, to be discussed with your Warden.

Skills: Rimwise, Scavenging, +2 skill points

Saves: Sanity 35, Fear 40, Body 25, Armor 30

Panic Effect: When you fail a panic check, in addition to whatever happens, you have a moment of Sleeve Rejection Syndrome. The Warden gets to take an action as your sleeve runs semi-autonomously, often acting as though its former occupant was still within. 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Worldbuilding Equipment Lists

I've really enjoyed the worldbuilding in equipment lists, as seen in Troika, Into the Odd, and Mothership. Here's one I put on a postcard and forgot to send, stat'd for Into the Odd.

Art by the awesome Victorin Ripert

  1. Voluminous Scintillating Robes. Preferred by nobles. Larger on the inside - can fit a 10' pole or a greatsword within. Disadvantage on stealthy indiscretions. 100 G
  2. Telemetry HUD Helm. Holograms and soothing whispers give advantage on all ranged attacks. Disadvantage to notice things when applicable, as it constantly is trying to get you to shoot at things. 10 G
  3. Living Rope. Grows 1' a day if fed about a cup of sugar. 1 G for 20'
  4. Polis ANFRAM. A tracked, self-propelling mounted gun / hydroponic flask. Moves at a steady walk. Fires flows and vines out to far range. Flower pollen does d6 subdual damage. 5 G, 1 G for a 6 round ammo belt.
  5. Mudskipper, Giant. Mount in the Wet Slopes. 15 G. Fish food in bulk is 1 G for 5 days.
  6. Guard Psychic Maltese. Understands simple commands. 7 hp 5 Str 16 Cha. Psychic Attack (d6, ignores most armor). Telepathy alarm. 30 G.
  7. Crystal Rations. Do not spoil, not hurt by wet. 3 G / day.
  8. Multitool Repair Spider. Can repair some Pretech on a Cha roll. 2 hp 9 Str 12 Cha. 
  9. Bone Armor. Must be fed via wearer's blood (-1 Str) once a week. 1 Armor.
  10. Gravity Bomb. Triples gravity in a 60' radius for 1d6 rounds. Treat falling down as falling 10', Str check to stand. 12 G
  11. Music Box. Telepathic melody projector. 13 G.
  12. Eel Sword. Comes with an aquarium-sheath, can fire out electricity 1/day doing an extra d8 damage. Come in one-handed (1d6) and two-handed (1d8) varieties. 8 G

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Mothership AP: The Kids Are Alright


Art by Marcel van Vuuren

Ryan, Teamster, Pilot and Jack of Many Trades
'Doc' Krober, probably not a real doctor?, Scientist, Curiosity Fulfiller
Willow, Former Marine, current computer / hacker specialist
Ed, Mercenary-stat'd Android, (Combat: 30 (?), Instinct: 40, Loyalty: 45, Revolver, Flight Suit)

If you played in this game pls leave now. Spoilers for y'all.

Ed courtesy of Alien Isolation

I ran a amalgamation of 'Alpha Gaunt is here' and 'asteroid mining and pirates.' This was a combined set of advice from the excellent Mothership discord (thanks Sean, Uncle Kudzu, and doghairedinfant!). The pirate attack was cut short by them jump-driving away; they elected to ditch 33% to 45% of the asteroids for less damage, which was very sensible. 

Ryan's player drew up an extensive mining ship and so I had to use that as where they were being hunted by a lightly-reskinned alpha gaunt.

The crew of the Honeybadger, a mining vessel, had heard rumor of some asteroids drifting in from the deep, a short jump from Prospero's Dream. We open on them looking at 1 water and 2 ore asteroids in a decaying orbit around a pulsar.

Willow's player rightly points out the water asteroid will melt away, so they mine that first. Ryan flubs a piloting roll and the ship is caught out in a solar flare. They hunt down the fire on-board the ship and Willow, in her vacc suit, foam guns it away. Ryan tries to repair as Willow and Ed mine the asteroid - Ed fails a roll, giving them less profit as the mining rig cracks and scatters too much ice. 

Krober meanwhile studies telemetry of the other two asteroids. The larger one has regular striations on it that look like wind erosion, but there's no evidence the asteroid was part of a planet at some point. Keeping some of this to himself, mad-scientist-style, he tells them to mine it next.

The asteroid has three triangular ridges. At a closer distance (no piloting roll this time, they're in the asteroid's shadows), the ship's telecope picks up eroded-looking characters. Writing. Krober and Ryan (who studied linguistics) attempt to decifer it.

The Fibonacci Sequence. "We are understood and so we are." Snatches of language. Sanity saves are the order of the day. 

They decide to use the ship's laser cutter to collect the plinths and stow them on the ship's exterior, covered. The ship's computer fails an Intellect / Sanity check.

Pirates in a courier jump in-system and announce on stuttering comms that 'those are ours' - the asteroids. They try to line up an autocannon run. Willow dumps mining tailings right on the courier's vector, giving its sensors hell trying to target the mining ship. Ryan adroitly spins up the jump drive and they see bright pulsing light before the safety shutters clamp down and Ed hustles the humans off the cryo.


They wake up to Ed, holding a roughly-made rebar barricade against the cryobay door. Ed indicates that the ship computer had turned on them, lying to him, locking away the science lab, and that something was aboard the ship, moving around the main deck. 

After checking their bioscanners and getting more details from Ed, the crew moved out of the cryobay. After being told all was well by the computer, Willow rolled a 00-0 hacking the computer and managed to find the real logs showing that Ed had told the truth. Ryan welded the rebar barricade over the ladderway down to the lower deck, and began trying to see if anyone would go down and investigate with him staying up and monitoring body cams over his HUD, providing advice.

I pointed out that splitting up rarely ends well in the horror genre. They ultimately descended as a group, leaving Ed at the helm, heading to investigate the pounding and screaming that had started up after about 40 minutes of me timing their command deck exploration and planning. They knew the mining arms of the ship held escape pods, that there was no airlock access from the command deck big enough for a human in a vacc suit - Ed could squeeze through it - and that they had arrived at Prospero's Dream. From talking on the comms they found out that a Tempest Co. fighter was inbound to vaporize the ship if it continued to show unsanctioned life on far-range bioscans.

On the main deck, bioscanners showed 2 lifeforms, one moving in the science lab, another there but still. They were in an accessway between air lock, the science lab, engine and thruster rooms. The corridor nearest the science lab was covered in eroded characters, much like the asteroid-chunks on the ship exterior. 

They had a clear run to an escape pod, but decided to stay and try to lure whatever it was into an airlock and blow it out into space. 

Ryan acts as the lure, Doc hides in an Engine room, and Willow crawls into a nearby air duct. They plan on Ryan running into the airlock and keeping the screaming thing busy, Willow triggering the airlock, and Doc as kind of the floater / backup. Ryan and Doc were in their vacc suits; Willow had to remove hers to squeeze into the air vent.

The creature came into view - its torso ending in a fleshy twitching maw, its long arms almost folded in on themselves, its pallid flesh. Ryan passed a panic check, Doc failed and gained 1d10 stress. Ryan sprinted for the airlock but failed a speed check - it caught up to him and swung its long-fingered hand at his back, hurting him. (I forgot that the alpha gaunt has 2 attacks per action, foolishly.) The creature had stopped at the edge of the airlock, just outside - Ryan had been left sprawling in it. 

Willow climbed from her vent and peered around a corner at the creature, passing her panic check. It noticed her, just as she shot it in the back with her laser cutter. It staggered into the airlock, turning to lift her into the air and hurt her, screaming to scare everyone. Ryan regained his feet, sealed himself into the airlock and tripped the explosive bolts, firing himself and it into the void.

They collided and then he was trying to scramble onto the mining arms of the ship, and failed. The beast grappled on and clung to the ship. Ryan, floating away, managed to line up a laser cutter shot and the creature lost its grip on the ship and floated free.

Meanwhile, Willow and Doc came into the science lab and found that it had been wrecked, and that a small jointed gate stood glowing in the middle - the bioscanner read it as alive. It was silicon, metal, and generating its own energy - enough to run the ship for a few years. They decided to heave it into an escape pod and fire it off into the void, and did so just as something began to emerge from it.

Free of organic life, their ship was allowed to dock as Prospero's Dream. The crew had their ice-asteroids to sell, and a potential quest to find a buyer for the asteroids covered in infectious writing, if they thought such prudent. As for the creature and the gate, I'm sure Tempest Co. did its job dilligently and eliminated them via fighter-craft fire. 

Willow discovered that she had a character from that alien language eroded into her flesh. 


I think I did a good job leading up to the monster, building scary feels. I don't feel my use of the monster as a threat of death quite lived up to that. I think I ran the monster in combat a little too stupidly - I forgot that it could attack twice, physically, for one action. I feel like it stressed them out a great deal but did little damage to them. And maybe 1 panic check for the whole mission was too few? I dunno. Maybe the monster wouldn't lose its grip on the ship when shot, but I thought of it as a graceful viral-language spreader and not a Meat Powerhouse. I definitely should have thought more about what would tear a vacc suit.

One thing that might've helped was if I simply thought more about this thing's motivation. Turn entire ship into virus-writing, fly it at Prospero's Dream? Then it could simply inspire panic, stress, and ignore the PCs unless they attack it. A horrid monster that just doesn't care about the PCs. Or, turn them into parts of its gate to enlarge it? Then it would want to not act so aggresively, maybe flee the PCs and try to ambush them singly. As is, it responded more like an animal than an erosion-writer.

(Of course, the MOST obvious thing is that Dead Planet's Alexis was written with other monsters on it. The God of Route 11B I wrote has minions in the forms of its congregation.)


On the other hand, their plan was decent, they rolled quite well, and Willow distracting it (and pushing it back a step into the airlock with a powerful laser-cutter shot) and Ryan wearing his vacc suit were vital lynchpins in their plan, as was no one freaking out and going all catatonic. The monster still had 4 (45) hits as it floated away from the ship. They focused entirely on getting it out of the ship, not getting in a stand-up fight. They played it smart and rolled well. They didn't figure out what was going on (other than the fact that the language itself was dangerous around computer systems), but they did survive, and saved their payday cargo and their ship.

Monday, August 19, 2019

How I Horror

I finally ran some Mothership with other real humans, and it's making me think about how I run horror games.

Large Raccoons and Horror

I think one good thing to keep in mind is the Large Raccoon Rule. Basically, if you have a monster or a group of monsters, and they could be replaced with a raccoon - or group of raccoons - your monster needs more going on. A gimmick. A way that it reflects the horror of the universe, the way it reveals the cosmology, the way it breaks the rules. The thing that makes it wrong.

Though I haven't conformed to the rest of those rules - I have a highway drive with some clues about what's going on, but there's not a huge lead-in before The God of 11B comes along. But at least they're seeing dead people worship it and reanimate around it. That's something a raccoon cannot do.

Art by Karl Sisson

Describe and Never Name

Another one I swear comes from Falsemachine but I cannot find it anywhere - describe, don't name. If you see in the dim of a tunnel you're in, at the far end, silhouted by a lone red emergency light, the figure of a person, but small, like a teenager, which then ducks and dives and is gone. Then later this blur of pallid flesh and snarling sharp teeth charges you, and you see its too-large eyes and blue veiny flesh and it smells of rotten meat, it screams and tries to bite you with its jagged teeth - all that can be scary, or atmospheric, or at least it _makes sense_ when after that there's a fear or even a sanity save. If you just say 'a goblin charges you' then you don't, as the GM, earn that save. 

So describe things in as much detail as the PCs want but don't tell them what the things are. This can be hard in scifi - everyone thinks space travel means there must be some infinite universal wikipedia that you can image-search with a sanity-blasting photograph. But shoggoths are corporate secretes! They're not going to let that be out on the public web, you'll get cease & desisted, possibly with force. Comms channels aren't compatible, data networks attack one another like viruses competing for too few hosts. The center has not held and mere lack of solid information is unleashed on the universe.

Not Always a Monster

You can have the environment do something unusual (blood rain) that doesn't really cause any issues... not especially. And have the normal people in town start a freakin cult and start hunting down left-handed people or refugees or whatever out-group they manufacture. Get all Hellstar Remina. It makes zero sense that killing Remina will make the planet of the same name go away and not eat Earth, but hey, it's a horror game. NPCs don't have to be loyal or rational.

You could have corpsec drop smart-mines that ambush people and wound them horribly. They're targeting everyone not in the corp-sec database, did you happen to pay the monthly 10kcr fee?

Limit Resources

Mothership is fantastic in that there are rules for stress and panic, and 'not being stressed as hell' is a limited resource, the way hit points are for first-level PCs in B/X DnD. Oxygen is a limited resource. Food is a limited resource. Money is a limited resource and you owe a lot of it on your ship.

So those are fantastic mechanisms. What is Mothership missing?

The World Eats You Slowly

I like something Mothership's A Pound of Flesh has: 'storylines' that are effectively 3-part countdown timers. Locations and NPCs have notes for, say, phase 1, 2, or 3 of a given storyline. They also have a 20-point 'deadly encounter' chart that you roll a 1d10 to summon encounters. You add 5 if you are on part 2 or +10 if you are on part 3 of one of the plot charts / countdown timers, and everything above 10 is basically the storyline trying to destroy the PCs. The random encounters get weirder and more dangerous as things advance - maybe instead of teamsters drunkenly looking for a fight or local Corpsec being shit, you encounter a giant Eye that opens in the wall and blasts your sanity with its gaze. Maybe mouths open up in the floor and sing and try to chew you up. Maybe the Teamsters strike and Tempest (the local corporate security) is breaking heads.

So in addition to thinking about People's Inhumanity To People, and a cosmic cosmology of horror, and giant racoons - you always have to think of how things aren't stable, how they can get worse, and how that should reflect in everything - the once-familiar locations, the encounter tables, the gossip.

You Don't Get Better

Lots of games are about numbers going up - hit points, attack bonus, proficiency. You arc up to bigger and better things, and the things that used to be dangerous are laughable.

Just as the world of a horror game needs to rot, the PCs need to rot, or at least, rotting is on the table. They could get mind-fried or resleeved in a worse body or lose some of their sanity save in exchange for a psi power. Their hit points don't really go up, because you don't get better at getting shot over time. They make some gains but there's always room for some damage, because you're attacking that entire character sheet.

And It's Fun

Why play a game like this, intentionally bleak? There's that tension at the table, where it feels like Things Matter. The players get invested in seeing if they can, despite everything, succeed. Because they still can - they just might not get everything they want at once. That is a great feeling, and worth pursuing.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Mothership AP: Crashlands Night Drive 1.1

Ran Mothership 1-on-1 with a friend who's very interested in learning to GM games. We'd previously played a 1-on-1 game of Into the Odd, which was a lot of fun.

His character, Glenn, is a teamster who has learned about mechanical repair and driving to make a living, and art and mysticism out of an unpractical passion. He has one mercenary-statted buddy, Asher, a marine specialist armed with an SMG. Asher constantly checks and re-checks his gear, counting and recounting magazines, grenades, stimpacks.

Glenn and Asher have a job from Friend to take a large box from Bixby to Lyons, heading North up the old 11B route in the night. Glenn'll be paid 45k for the work if it's done fast, with less money coming to him the longer the job takes.

Desert Night by Etwoo

Cresting a hill in their Grizzly ATV, a large flash of red looms out of the darkness, a lumpy mass that Glenn tries to brake and steer around. The ATV goes over the mass with a series of bangs and wet snaps, and a a soggy feeling to the controls implies a ruined tire. Glenn pulls to the shoulder and looks about for more animals or living beings. Seeing only the desert, lit by the moon and the softly glowing band of shipbroken starships in orbit, he and Asher dismount. 

Glenn and Asher shine flashlights under the Grizzly. Dripping gore coats its undercarriage, and behind the front-left tire, they see legs twisted and a spine jutting from a dead creature. The front-left tire has what looks like a curved stick protruding from one side. 
Alpha Skag from Borderlands. Imagine it in pieces.

Asher pulls sentry duty as Glenn works to change out the tire. The curved stick is a bloody rib from the roadkill. It is heavy and clanks against the cracked concrete like metal. They stow the pierced tire in the Grizzly, and Glenn drags out rope and cable to pull the carcass from under the car, lest its strange bones damage the ATV further. Glenn asks Asher to go under the Grizzly and tie it up.

"What? No, man." Asher doesn't look away from the landscape. "Fuck no. I'm not getting paid to crawl under there. You go under, I'll cover it with the SMG from a different angle so I won't hit you if it's still alive."

Glenn crawls under the Grizzly. Gore drips down onto him. Disgust racks him but he tamps it down. The creature is still, it's legs splayed about, and Glenn begins to wrap the rope around it. It's not something he recognizes - its maw is like an inverted V, beneath which is a beaklike lower jaw. Atop its head, covered in blood but recognizable, sits a terminal jack. The same as what is at the base of Glenn and Asher's heads. All colonists had gotten them and cybernetic brain prosthetics installed when they came to Crashland... All children get the same installed in the present, thanks to the remaining corporate infrastructure relying on them. But the Company never put them in animals. Shaken, Glenn crawled back out and told Asher, who looked scared at this news. 

"Let's just pull it out, and, and get the hell out of here."

The two pulled the creature out from beneath the Grizzly. Glenn took a look at it, recording visual data to his cyberbrain, but could not recognize the remains. He mounted the Grizzly, sealing himself within. Its AC blew like a feeling of normality returning, and he pulled away into the night.

In the rear-view camera screen, he saw the remains of the creature pulling itself into the desert. He clenched his jaw and drove away faster. Its blood hadn't been pumping, it's open dead eyes had stared, it hadn't moved or twitched while he was there.

Two hours later up 11B, Glenn was feeling the full workday he'd put in at Bixby. He opened the glove compartment and pulled out an amphetamine lozenge, gaining advantage on the next few tests and a mild addiction to the drug.
Art by William Bennet

He crested another hill and looked down at a collection of shipping containers and concrete structures, a refueling pump and plastic tables, surrounded by 4 auto-turrets. Roland's Bait Shop. The console radio crackled.

"...need to get us out. We bunkered down and are currently stuck. Can discuss reward with anyone who can help out, we are armed, so don't try anything stupid." Sara Jeffers' voice on the comms, Roland's daughter. Glenn had been up before and talked to them both. Sara had a real affinity for the turrets.

Glenn got on the horn and identified himself. Sara sounded relieved to hear a friendly voice.

"My folks got a strange reading on a bioscanner, and had me and Ranlo get into this bunker, this panic room thing we have. I always thought it was so stupid... but now it seems like my folks are gone. They're not responding, the door is jammed shut somehow. I can't deactivate the turrets from here either..."

Glenn, though no hero, figured he should try to aid them.

The 7-11 was in a bowl-shaped depression in the arid grassland. Four turrets stood at the Northeast, Northwest, Southeast, Southwest, with overlapping fields of fire. Wrecked cars and signs warned of the weapons, as did pock-marked boulders. 

Glenn took stock of the surroundings. Asher talked about the potential dangers of throwing grenades at the turrets. A narrow dry-riverbed-looking valley lay North of Roland's. To the South, a low-hanging green gas drifted at shin height. To the East, an ancient airlock was nearly horizontal, its surrounding bulkhead embedded in the scree. Glenn drove the Grizzly in a wide arc to it. 

Dismounting, he's able to repair the airlock external controls and it squealed open slowly. A 40' drop led into the command module of an old ship, lit in dim, flickering red light. It's single command chair has been shot up from behind.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Notes on running Mothership tonight

HELLO - if I am running Mothership for you, please leave now. 

You're delivering a Box to Lyons. You have a Grizzly ATV, driving up 11B, surrounded by grass and desert and the wrecks of Crashland. 
Art by Rust Shake

What's In The Box

1 - 5) Viral nanohive. 1-2. Inactive 3-5. Active (Body save or replaces lungs, disadvantage running, can spit viral nanomachines)
6-10) Atlas of Hell - smoking skull surrounded by a black mold. Sanity save or 1d10 stress and 1d10 damage from self-harm, per round of exposure. Can ask it questions when exposed. Mysticism to figure out this is in the box without opening it. (stolen from Wounds by Nathan Ballingrud) (Edit: Once a day you can ask it for stuff but there's always a delivery person and they may be or become something from Hell)

Art by Joshua Cotter

What's On The Radio / Fear Save Static Hiss

1) "God is here"
2) "You are already in Heaven"
3) "God will save you next"
4) "Save... us..."
5) :Latin shouting, mysticism or theology / Int roll to decode, hint about monster:
6) "God is a black duststorm"
7) "God will strip our flesh and show the truth"
8) "God is hungry"
9) "God is suffering"
10) "We are with you and God is with us"

God of Route 11D

10' tall, bone-white, whippet-thin, face is like a distorted honeycomb that winks and screams and emits corrosive dust which it controls. Some of what it kills are animated corpses when within 200 meters of it. They may or may not fall under its control (instinct save to resist). They understand that it is close. They want to worship the God whether they succeed or fail the instinct save. 

It can run slightly faster than the average ATV or Grizzly delivery vehicle. 

6(30) hits, Combat 66%, Instinct 35%, Run Fast 55%

It can swing its rubbery limbs at you for 1d10[-] damage (ie you roll 2d10 and take the worse result). On a 5+ body save or get knocked over or tossed around. 

At range it emits a corrosive black dust that can cause up to 4d10 damage - it can target multiple opponents if it doesn't move. Armor save at disadvantage unless you're in a sealed env suit of some kind, which it will eat through given a few rounds. 

It can also blast a bright light from its honeycomb face, a hellish glow that causes a fear save or take 1d10 stress.

Wants: to absorb cyberbrain prosthetics and nanohives, gaining more Black Dust. To be worshiped by its victims.

Landscape Features d66 table for hiding on a Semi-Arid Planet

1. Bouldering-sized scree / stones tightly packed
2. Reedy pool of salty water
3. Dry riverbed / rocky trench
4. Low walls of an old ship bulkheads, strewn about
5. Stripped ship generator and large (1' tall) power conduits
6. Unpowered airlock door, closed, explosive bolts, opens to a 40' drop into a derelict

1. Wrecked, flipped buggy
2. Tall grasses
3. Ridge top
4. 40' tall stone outcropping shapped like a talon
5. 4' 'cliff'
6. Copse of hardy bush-trees

1. Fallen-in concrete hut
2. Still-smoking crater
3. Cliff Racer nest, 50/50 empty. Large hole-riddled mounds
4. Geiser outgrowth / stalagmite
5. Low (crawl-height) gas. 1) methane 2) sulfur 3-6) fog
6. Dunetop plateau of sand stone

1. Concrete pipes, 8' tall, 1d10 in a cluster. Stood so they're open at the top
2. Mummified corpses in vaccsuits, 1d10
3. Scruffy shrubs surround a tiny saltwater spring
4. Flat-top stone with a narrow (2') deep (8') crack running its length
5. Rusting dumpsters in a pile as though dropped from on high
6. Tall dry grasses (dead, very flammable)

1. Blacktop cracked road with ditches on either shoulder
2. Thick mass of creepers and vines over rotting soft ground
3. Waist-high fungal growths
4. 20' stone arch
5. Throny shrub with exposed roots at crawling-level
6. 8' x 8' x 2' steaming animal turds / bones / shed skin

1. Manhole cover to small dry sewer
2. Power line pylones, 60' tall
3. Fallen-over Company billboard
4. Crashed lifepod
5. Narrow crooked valley
6. Mining sump, hastily abandoned

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Mothership setting notes: CRASHLAND

A LOT of this was cribbed from Throne of Salt's Great Screaming Hell and Unnamed Mothership Setting.

War in Heaven

We don't know why they fight. We fight for the castoffs, or we fight the castoffs. Our posthuman Angels rarely notice us. Their machinations are abstract and distant. Or close, next to us, inside us, destroying our worlds, our minds, our reality. We don't even know if it's a war. We just know it is destructive.

Their leavings, in part:
  • Exowombs
  • Warframe armor
  • MTHR computer cores
  • Automated nanofactories
  • Infested radio waves hacking and repurposing machines and minds
  • Origins of cyber brains and backups and uploading
  • Jump drives - we can't create them
  • Some androids


Y03D, or 'Yonder,' was meant to be a number of things. A depository of debtors working down their sentences. A mining colony. A shipbreaker facility. An out-of-the-way part of the galactic economy where exiled researchers could be parked. 

In time, the workers re-dubbed it Crashland.

The place was a ball of scree and comet-impacts orbiting a star. The Company shellacked atmosphere on it as fast as they could, leaving a few mild gaps in the high desert where there's essentially none - the ideal place to drop ancient ships to be broken and recycled, after orbital stations removed delicate parts. 

Salty seas were made from ice comets crashing into the planet. Desalination stations were set up, settlements sprouted in various places. Grasslands grew.

One had to get a cyberbrain prosthesis to move to Crashland, and modern medical facilities are still set up to convert people to such. Nanite injections can painlessly convert brain flesh to silicone, grow in the ports needed for work, entertainment, registration, anesthesia. Rumors of the company editing memories were not to be repeated; they were prosecutable examples of subversion. 

Then the Company foresaw a tiny thread of the War in Heaven drifting towards Crashland. They drew straws - or rather, the local executive board handed out straws to their lessers, and a general evacuation was sounded for 'non-essential personnel.' 

Now, a skeleton crew squats around a space elevator, nominally ruling the world. Factions vie for legitimacy, land, water. Ship remnants rain down every night. In the depths of the wilds, in the depths of the planet, from the depths of the void, old machinery left by the angels of Heaven sometimes stir. 

We pray we are not noticed by them.

The Trickle Down

Orbital decay causes old shipbroken vessels to crash down and spill their rotten guts. Often they're dropped into parts of the Crashland with little or no atmosphere. Some make a living scavenging. Others worship artifacts gleaned from the old ships.

Edited Memories

Cyberbrains installed via a technovirus, and the Company covered it up? Remote backdoors utilized by ghoulish operatives left behind to catalogue and safeguard Company secrets? Cyberbrain architecture derived from posthuman technologies? Random blackouts in some locations? Puppeteering? Mind viruses uploaded to the local internet? Brain-thief factions setting up neural networks from prisoners / captives and leasing out processing time? Hermits living isolated and alone developing cyberbrains spontaneously? Edited memories a hoax to hide breakdown in reality? Company never left and will never leave and walks among us in secret at night and we cannot see them? 

None of this is true or worth repeating.