Uncomfortable Silence in Space — A Review of “Mothership Sci-fi RPG: Player’s Survival Guide”

Mothership Sci-fi RPG: Player’s Survival Guide

Author & Illustrator: Sean McCoy
Editor: Jarrett Crader
Published by:
 Tuesday Knight Games
Page Count: 44

Available FormatsPDF (DTRPG) – PWYW

In the cold vacuum of space, teams of profiteers make their livelihoods by exploring and scavenging among stars. Traveling aboard spacecraft mostly in cryosleep while in transit to their next destination. Creeping on alien planets, derelict spacecraft, and abandoned stations in search of profit. Their way of life is dangerous. Space is vast and unforgiving with unspeakable horrors lying in wait, ready to pounce on unsuspecting opportunists eager to stake their claims. The crew must keep their wits about them or they won’t make it to their next score.

Mothership Sci-fi RPG: Player’s Survival Guide is a horror roleplaying game set in the far reaches of space. It puts players into inhospitable environments where they must keep their cool while surviving strange encroaching and hostile alien inhabitants. Players choose from four different classes which encompass the crew and travel from place to place in search of profit in the way of salvage, assigned missions, or any other means the gamemaster sees fit.

Mothership is available for sale on DrivethruRPG as a PDF but not in print though one does exist. A printed version of the rulebook saw distribution at GenCon, Origins, and at other larger conventions in 2018. The PDF is digest size making it easy to view on a tablet. The art in the rulebook is very stylized. The art’s gestural and cubist stylings can seem quite crude, but the abstraction and lack of refinement add to the tone and ambiguity of what the PCs might meet in the game. Further adding to the sense of horror and despair is the color palette. The use of cool shades of gray, blues, and muted greens stimulates the emotions of fear and loneliness. There is no horror setting per se written within the game. Instead, the tone of horror comes to life through its art.

Mothership is still in development, now in a Beta Release, so keep in mind the topics covered in this review may differ from its final release.

Character Creation
When creating a character for Mothership players can begin with the quick and easy instructions printed on the character sheet. Using six ten-sided dice players generate four stats Strength, Speed, Intellect, and Combat before moving on to choose from four classes to play: Teamsters, Scientists, Marines, and Androids. Teamsters are the backbone of the ship and are responsible for it’s running. Scientists are the intellectuals and professionals among the crew. Marines are the brute force and offer force protection to the ship and its crew. Androids are cold inhuman automatons that augment the crew. Each class has its own special advantages and modifications in areas that affect attributes, how they deal with trauma, danger or damage, and gain experience to improve themselves.

Skills further augment the player’s characters, allowing them to specialize in an area of expertise by following a path along a skill tree easily viewable on the back of their character sheet. Each skill has a level of proficiency: Untrained, Trained, Expert, and Master. Each level achieved gains the player character a bonus to their skill rolls.

Once the players flesh out their characters, they can move on to equip them. To speed up the purchasing decision Mothership provides four unique loadouts to choose from, conveniently printed on the front of the character sheet. In lieu of the stock suggestions, the rulebook has a robust equipment section filled with weaponry, gear, and trinkets to choose from. The section also serves to populate found treasures for adventures as well as arm foes and NPCs.

Dice Mechanics:
In Mothership the gamemaster is known as the “Warden”. They are responsible for adjudicating the rules and creating adventures like any other gamemaster in an RPG. In the game, dice resolutions use a standard ten-sided dice with the hopes of achieving a result under a specific target number. At times an advantage or disadvantage die may come into play. It’s an extra ten-sided die that represents the tens place of a percentile roll, It’s rolled at the same time as the two other ten-sided dice that makes up the percentile roll. The better or worse ten’s place result, advantage or disadvantage, determines the outcome. Achieving doubles on the dice is a “Critical Hit” if below the target number; above it’s a critical failure. One should note in Mothership rolling a double aught “00” is a double zero a “Critical Hit”, while “99” is a “Critical Failure”.

Save Rolls: Sanity, Fear, Body, and Armor
Similar to saving throws in other RPGs, Sanity, Fear, Body, and Armor are reactionary rolls to threats the PCs will face within gameplay. A failed roll can mean a loss of mental control, emotional trauma, internal conflicts, or death. Sanity is the mind’s ability to reason with the known facts of the universe and to separate reality from fantasy, to bring forth the truth of the situation and resolve it while under stress. Fear is the character level of stability with their emotions when place in traumatic situations. Body is the toughness of their constitution to fight off alien microbes and other foreign invaders as well as their resistance to bodily needs. Armor is one’s exterior strength against objects set upon the character through combat. Failing a roll can bring adverse effects in the form of stress points and loss of hit point where applicable, but critical failure results in a “Panic Roll”.

Through unsuccessful save rolls characters accumulated stress on top of their starting stress points, two, from character generation. A character with high stress needs to unwind or risk being a liability to the team. They can reduce stress through therapy, drugs, sex, alcohol, meditation, or whatever the players and the warden can agree on. Any relaxing activity lasting more than six hours allows the players to roll a Fear Save to see if they have lessened any of their stress and how much. Not addressing one’s accumulation of stress can lead to dire consequences and possible panic.

Panic Rolls
When all hell breaks loose from built-up stress and optimism of immortality wavers, a player must roll to see if their character panics. As long as the result is under their current stress level the player character does not panic. If unsuccessful the character panics and rolls yet again to determine the effect of the panic. This time they add their level of stress and counters that result with their Resolve. Resolve allows the characters to cope with the accumulated stress thus reducing the panic effect. Each player character starts with one Resolve at character generation and may gain more as they progress in level. When calculated the “Warden” then consults the “Panic Chart” to see in what way they panic. Don’t let the word panic fool you. A very low result could result in the character become hyper-focused or get an adrenaline rush giving them an advantage. It’s at the higher levels where you’ll need to need to size them up for a straight jacket and a long quiet rest in a white padded room.

Combat & Healing
The mechanics covering combat are consistent with most RPGs; surprise rolls, to hit,  damage, reaction save when necessary, and the like. Each player character can do two significant actions per round; attacking, running, maneuver, etc. The healing of wounds in Mothership requires resting for no less than six hours and rolling a successful body save roll. Player Characters may get an advantage to their rolls if their characters use medicinal drugs or rest in a medical bays on their ship. Healing can only be accomplished once per day. When a player character’s health reaches 0, without a successful body roll the character dies.

Turning up the pressure
Life sucks! It isn’t as easy as you wish. To simulate this the “Warden” may turn up the pressure in a scene and make a task more difficult. In the game, these are known as “Crisis Checks”. A “Crisis Check” is the number of successes needed to complete a task. Any failed results in the sting of checks, the player character taking stress based on how many rolls it required to successfully carry out the task at hand. The task also immediately fails, unless the player character chooses to push through it and accumulate added stress; a ten-sided die worth. One can see how the game tension can ramp up as well as one’s stress level.

Another way the “Warden” can add pressure to the player characters is to require them to regularly consume food, water, oxygen, and any chemical or substance they are dependent on. Player characters not complying will gain a disadvantage die attached to their dice rolls. The length of which PCs can survive without before gaining such a disadvantage is laid out in the rules.

Screw this, let’s hire someone:
So if you’ve gotten this far you can see Mothership RPG is not a safe place. What’s better than hiring someone else to take point so you can hightail it back to safety if things go pear-shaped. PCs can enlist hirelings to round out their crews. Each hired hand uses only four stats to allow ease of use by the players or “Warden”. These stats are Combat, Instinct, Hits, and Loyalty. Combat handles all combat rolls and Armor Saves. Instinct is a catch-all for items like Sanity, Fear, Body Saves, and other items. Hits track how many times they can take damage before death, which isn’t great. Finally, Loyalty which determines their decision to follow orders or act on their own. Make no mistake these mercenaries aren’t stupid. They demand payment in advance and have next of kin so uncollected wages are recoverable. There are two types of hirelings a crew of PCs can hire; professionals or scum. Professionals demand higher salaries while the scum works on a deeply rated discounted rate. All hirelings gain experience like PCs do but much less.

Ship Design
In Mothership RPG spaceships are important. The PCs will spend a good amount of time traveling on them, relieving stress, and exploring derelict vessels for profit. PCs can start with their own but the costs of owning a ship are very high so they may start out in debt. A more likely situation is they are the crew for someone else or if one of the PCs has the correct skills they are the captain of someone else’s vessel. Whatever the case, Mothership RPG has a ship design sheet so the “Warden” or PCs can design and later upgrade their ship. The game makes ship design easy with the use of Modules, simplified building blocks to starship construction that come in two forms, primary and secondary. Primary consists of the essentials to the ship and Secondary are the non-essentials, though some secondary modules are more vital than others. Each module has Hull Points which determines their cost. The size of your ship derives from the number of Hull Points from each module added to your ship. Ships receive their own character sheet with attributes and easy-to-follow instruction just like the player’s character sheet. For ease of use, Mothership provides several styles of ships and their modules configuration as well as a pre-generated ship.

Space Travel
Space is a big place and traveling from point to point can sometimes take months or years. There are two types of propulsion methods ships use in Mothership; jump drives and thrusters. Jump drives allow for quicker travel over long distances. They propel the ship at a faster than the speed of light by “jumping” into hyperspace. Thrusters maneuver the ship at slower speeds and best for shorter distances. Depending on how much area the crew wishes to cover a starting ship could only have thrusters. But getting from point A to point B is no different from today’s travel. To get there you’re going to need fuel. Make sure you keep your eye on the gas gauge. You don’t want to run out in deep space.

Ship to Ship Combat
Ship to ship combat is similar to regular combat. Surprise and initiative are the same. The ship’s stats determine its maneuverability. Player character’s handle the weapons systems and the damage they deliver uses a special critical hit to highlight the larger scale of destruction they produce. The ship has armor that reduces damage and can only sustain a finite amount of damage before it’s destroyed. The one board computer can take control to ship systems to allow the player characters to focus on other tasks like a boarding party. The rules are fairly loose and a “Warden” is open to turning up the pressure like throwing characters into the side of the hull when the ship receives weapons fire.

Final Thought
Mothership Sci-fi RPG: Player’s Survival Guide is a nice change from the dense RPG tomes. Understandably the game is still in development so it may expand, but the way it sits, 44 pages, it’s long enough to cover the important material but short enough to allow a gamemaster to flex their imagination and make the game unique to them. The descriptions and concepts of the game’s mechanics are easy to understand and quick to the point. The system uses a very simple dice mechanic, ten-sided dice for everything. There’s a lot of room for players and a gamemaster to adjudicate and expand upon. The rulebook may lack a set universe or adversaries but it does convey enough to the reader through its artwork and the game mechanics for a gamemaster to create an exciting and terrifying game. As of now, it’s a sturdy framework of mechanics with an uncharted universe ripe for exploring.

~Stephen Pennisi

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. misternizz says:

    I picked this up recently, but haven’t’ played it. Thanks.


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