It was just too long between games. Momentum was lost; it happens the best of us and yet no one seems to blog about it. Well, here we are. The three gamers had a candid discussion and agreed to walk away.
We’ll be back to Mothership before too long and you’ll see ME, Mother Eff, your favorite ghost-astronaut mascot to walk you through it.
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Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons
In this third session the scientist player-characters entered the Cyclopean Alien Temple through a breached wall. They tested out the Panic Table and pushed some buttons. Judd was going to name this session, Cyclopean Alien Temple but Pushing Buttons felt more clever.
It has been three weeks since this group last played, so they settled into things. Dr. Navaro, played by MadJay!, did some research, trying to make sense of this pillar orbiting a cube the size of a moon.
That roll failed and so Judd moved things to the Sanity or Fear roll the adventure demands for dealing with the scope and size of this thing. Navaro failed that too and took some stress.
Scans showed 3 possible entry-ways into the temple – 2 of which were breaches in the walls. Dr. Anders, upon spacewalking to the breach they chose for their entryway, failed his Sanity check too and took his Stress up to 5.
Shit was real when they finally rolled on the Panic table upon seeing 3 alien corpses floating in this control room. Navaro got a sense of DOOM, all critical successes are failures. Anders came away with a new phobia, latching on to the fact that the Triathals (what the aliens are called) were headless. The good doctor now has a fear of losing his head.
That Panic table is no fucking joke. You can lose your character in a single roll.
After that it was time to play with some alien glyphs and the room’s control panel, covered in alien glyphs and nerd out about theories about alien brains – both in and out of game. The breach they entered through was a claustrophobically close fit.
Drones wouldn’t work because the stone/metal the temple was made of ate the signal that allowed them to control it.
A few interesting things happened as they pushed buttons on the control panel.
First of all there was this moment of brevity, where the two scientists joked about pushing the 3 depressed glyphs at the same time. Navaro made a joke about, “Clearly, we’ll push the buttons on 3.”
Judd decided that this moment of levity took away a stress point. “For a moment, you two are interacting like you did back at the lab and you can almost forget that you are in an alien control room open to the vacuum of space in an alien temple.
The glyphs on the panel went from this:
That didn’t mean shit to them because the glyphs don’t have context yet. When their trusty android colleague, Mendel, reported that the pillar they were in was seeming to drift away from the cube and other pillars in formation, they quickly depressed the original glyphs again.
Going over the room carefully, they found a trapezoidal piece of metal with an alien glyph on it, crossed out.
Jim, who plays Dr. Anders, asked if he could make a Linguistics roll to make some sense of this shit or get a clue. Judd was down with it, knowing that it is a fine line. Part of the fun of this adventure is figuring this shit out but can you figure it out with the information at hand?
The roll was a success but not critical. Judd offered the following: The crossed out glyph means, God. The control pane is numbers and the other glyphs from the column are simple words and concepts.
Anders isn’t sure how or why he knows that; he is attributing it to the dreams that brought him here.
Anders was explaining this and the game was already a half-hour over time. Judd dropped a final detail on them before the game ended, as their mentor and professor, Dr. Grahm walked into the room through a trapezoidal glowing blue doorway. He had a strange key in one hand and a cheap pistol jury-rigged for vacuum firing.
“I am seeing a vision of my students from my lab back at the university. There must be a psionic angler nearby. I’ll shoot it and get to work.”
Pushing Buttons, indeed!
TO BE CONTINUED next week…
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Mother Eff out!
Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons
In case your Mothership team has to hire a soldier or you’ve got an NPC and need to flesh ’em out fast. Here’s an updated table using for 1d10 and 1d10 and a if you need one more detail – a d20 to come up with a soldier NPC.
What is a post-human rebellion? What the heck does an asteroid siege look like? That is for you and your friends to decide. What is a Void Ranger? They’re effing cool is what they are.
Need one more little detail? One more thing? Don’t feel like rolling d100 and picking up a patch for your NPC Soldier? Okay. Here’s a d20 table with some added little details if you need that one more odd thing.
If you use Temporal Scarring at your table, please let us know what it means so that we can help the suffering spacers afflicted with it.
HEY! Someone at your table might be dealing with having returned from war or have loved ones who have. As always, talk to your friends at the table and make sure you make-believe bullshit isn’t forcing a friend to relive trauma.
Check in on your buddies.
Want to make your own table? Below is a PNG and PDF of the above tables but blank.
If any of this stuff is helpful, please drop a comment or an email and let us know how it shook out for you.
Judd woke up the morning after publishing this post and had blogger’s remorse. No, not the usual kind, where he screams into the void, “Oh my stars! What am I doing with my life! No one reads blogs!” No, he realized he didn’t have a pdf with all of this together in one place, including the blank table on page 4.
If you want to play What We Give to Alien Gods – SPOILERS ahead. Nothing too terrible but if you want to know NOTHING, don’t read.
In which the scientists search the powered down science frigate their mentor had taken into this nebula and abandoned before the Balinadae’s crew went into the alien temple.
The last team, led by Dr. Grahm with mercenary soldiers as support, had left their ship in orbit around a dead planetoid in the nebula. I called it the CSF Balinadae, a larger ship sent by the same corporation that had sent Dr. Anders and Dr. Navaroe – the Bradfield Company.
This ship is not in What We Give to Alien Gods but it was nice to do some warm-up, getting used to horror GMing and all around Mothering Mothership, getting used to the rules and doling out some stress. I made use of the d100 Random Item table and had them find their first magnetic tape recording.
They sent a drone over into the ship and I asked what we thought it looked like. Jim described a floating penis looking thing that led to a decision that crews often have crude names for them and to many, many dick jokes.
Started with Wren in a dream. I asked Jay if their exhausted post-hyperdrive sleep dream was something they missed. Jay (check out his patreon or podcast) talked about a conglomeration of their last day with a special lady. I added a detail that their lady-friend was reading a book about making relationships work when long distance space travel is involved in someone’s career with their patch from the d100 Trinket Table, a fire emoji, was used as a bookmark.
I didn’t add a horror detail. It would’ve been easy but I decided not to right now. It felt like too much of an idyllic moment and I didn’t want to add in alien shit just yet.
When I asked Jim what detail Nathaniel was vaguely remembering as they woke up, he said it was a caterpillar. I did add a horror detail to that, saying that the caterpillar from their dream was trilateral, causing the creature to move in a strange corkscrew motion. When evidence of trilateral aliens came out, Jim had Dr. Anders jump on it with both feet as a kind of prophetic vision.
In the ship they found a Spent Quantum Lance Shell, a Lump of Triathal (the trilateral aliens), a Halogen Censer and an Instant Photo of one of the mercs. Nathaniel found the photo of a mercenary officer whose skill was changing as their head became trilateral. There was a failed Sanity check that caused more Stress to pile up. Nathaniel Anders started acting more and more strange, a mix of alien prophecy and real-world academia pettiness. He has an alien harpoon/spear/lance that has a hollow bit near the tip.
Dr. Navaroe went to the lab and first found the magnetic tape recording and a piece of Triathal capapace. They were full of theories as to why Dr. Grahm’s lab wasn’t sterile; turned out one of the mercs just did a shitty job cleaning it.
Nathaniel stays aboard the CSF Balinadae when Wren and Mendel went back to the CSB Humboldt. They could talk to one another but it made it feel isolated. Nathaniel found some kind of alien symbol on an aluminum cube and they found the worksheets Dr. Grahm was using to figure out the Triathal language; with a solid roll Nathaniel figured out that the symbol on the cube is NOT Triathal in origin.
We had an interesting talk about hiding things from one another at the gaming table and something I associate with college games, GM’s taking players out of the room to talk about something the other characters don’t know. Sometimes Jim had Anders hide something for a bit but he did it in front of Jay and in the end, Dr. Anders came around and showed Dr. Navaroe. If we had talked about it, we would’ve found the boundaries were there are disagreements but in play, smooth as the shell on a Triathal carapace.
The other players-who-GM moment was when Jay narrated into existence, in a cool way, that the commanding officer of the mercs was the lady from his dream. Love it. That is very useful horror-shit.
When they got over to the Balinadae, I mentioned that the ship was a refurbished former military frigate that had been remodeled for corporate science work – guns removed, gym turned into a lab. Jim asked, “What sound do the doors make when they open and close?”
Good fucking question. I said they don’t hiss but make a more concrete ka-CHUNK noise because they are a bit heavier duty. If the Humboldt is the size and vibe of a shitty-basement apartment, the Balinadae is more like a 3 story suburban house.
Next game we’re headed to the xeno-temple. Y’know, usually when a game is about an alien temple I’d start it right at the front steps but it felt right to take it nice and slow. We get a grip on the characters, their relationships and the system. Mothership reminds me a bit of 1st/2nd Edition Unknown Armies in that you roll when you are under real duress because the stats are fairly low. This module is what I’ve described as a kind of cerebral slow burn and I’m enjoying taking our time a bit. I thought I’d get it done in 3 sessions but it will likely be more than that.
I described the cyclopean alien temple as a sphere the size of Earth’s moon, surrounded by 3 pillars all made of a stone/metal that is not on our periodic table. In the module it is a cube…oh well; it is a sphere now. How long until we get a dick joke? Time will tell.
Looking forward to getting into the temple next week.
As I’ve started Mothering a game of Mothership and preparing to run another, I’ve made little things here and there. Here are a few.
I’m going to start up a game with my dad soon and wanted to offer a few situations for him to choose from. I made these a few days ago but something keeps coming up and so I don’t go over it with him. Hopefully, later today…
In which gaming friends from different corners of my life meet, we make characters and play for a bit. – getting the characters’ emotional cards on the table.
There should be no spoilers but if you want to play this adventure without any knowledge at all, details might slip.
Got a pair of friends who had a particular time-slot in their lives open to play some Mothership, knowing that they’d both be down with it and hoping that friends from different parts of my life would get along. So far so good. We’ve got a pair of scientists; the character sheet gave some guidance. We’re playing, What We Give to Alien Gods; I find running published adventures pretty challenging but I think the pamphlet-size will help and I’m glad I have another week to get some visuals together to share on our Jamboard moving forward.
Dr. Wren Navarroe, played by Jay (MadJay Zero Hustle and Play Fearless) and Dr. Nathan Anders, played by an old friend, Jim, were students under Dr. Grahm, who went into Galaer XII, the Amaranthine Nebula, to look at something known only as Project Cyclopean Temple. During chargen, Jim had mentioned that Nathan was jealous of Wren and the way Dr. Grahm favored them. Post-doc students with an unhealthy relationship to their professor? Yeah, after a few decades living in a university town, that scans. Jay described Wren as being inspired by Fox Mulder and I think we’re still figuring out what precisely that means at the table. I can’t wait to learn more. I hear the Truth is Out There.
We chatted a bunch during character creation and I used every bit of it I could. Good stuff. Jay had Dr. Navarroe get them through security measures around Project Cyclopean Temple when he realized Dr. Grahm had left his favorite student a back-door into the files when he used his sign-in. Everyone at the table is a GM, so we’re all listening to one another and using each other’s creative contributions. Love it.
Dr. Anders specializes in Sophontology and Dr. Navaroe specializes in Xenoesotericism. The character sheets really were a map, Daniel. We decided that they had been hired to take a science boat out to look at a dark matter anomaly but changed course to go find their lost professor. The Bradfield Company had also supplied Mendel, an Android with some piloting skills when they are plugged into the ship’s computer and the ability to support the science team with their own training in Exobiology.
Naming things is so important in these first games and one of the things I really like about Mothership is it offers a vibe but no history, no background, just, a kind of…eh, it is a bit like Alien but not really kinda thing. The world-building is left to us and I dig that. At one point Jim talked about a trail of alien artifacts that could be offering evidence that we are getting closer to an alien homeworld and I yes but-ed it, “That sounds like a great hypothesis for a future science paper.” We’ll see if it ends up being true.
Are either of the characters veterans? What was the war about? What school did they attend? We’ll find out. I’m daydreaming details but there’s no rush.
The ship was called the Humboldt, found when someone (was it Jay or Jim?) suggested that Bradley Company ships were named after fish species. Grahm’s ship is called the Balinadae. I named Mendel after searching up names of biologists and liking how the name Mendel sounded. Awkward androids are some of my favorite PC and NPC’s to play.
In contrast to Mendel, the ship’s computer is warm and very human-sounding. Jim and Jay both spent time in New Jersey, something we all have in common, so I described the computer’s voice like your favorite NJ diner waitress, who smokes a pack of Marlboro Lights a day and always remembers how you like your coffee. “What’ll it be, hon?” Jim named her, Celeste.
After making characters we had enough time to wake up out of hyperdrive sleep and get to know one another a bit. Anders took some stress when an Electromagnetic Wave rattled the ship a bit but Mendel and Navaroe handled it.
Jim made some fun decisions that were worth highlighting. He had Anders trust Mendel with the fact that they had changed the ship’s course and go save their former professor. This led to Mendel trying to trust Anders with his hobby, that I presented in as creepy a way as I could, causing Anders to run when Mendel was trying to show his new comrade the whiskey still he had hidden in the engine room, “There are no cameras there, so I can engage in my hobby without observation.” Jim really played it up for maximum horror and made it a real Jonesy Moment.
Horror, in my experience, isn’t so much about one person setting a tone but about everyone buying in. Sitting at computers in broad daylight, Jim and Jay are buying in.
Mendel trying to share his hobby led to a minor freak-out from Anders and some well meant apologies. Anders let Navaroe know that he was flat out jealous of his relationship with Professor Grahm. I love that we are starting the game with that on the table, right from the start as we head to Dr. Grahm’s abandoned spaceship. Some folks would’ve let that jealousy ferment in secret but it is out there now and I dig it. That is where we’re starting next game.
Dice hit the table, we saw some stress doled out and we’ve got some context. I’d like to get more of a feel for the ship’s layout and look, get to know Navaroe a bit more and see what happens when these scientists engage with alien horror. It was a fine start.
Trying to figure out a time to meet with some friends online and do some science fiction role-playing. We’re looking at Mothership and it made me think about that delicate balance between horror and wonder.
That character sheet! I want to roll Xenoesoterricism to figure out what an alien techno-priest was thinking about the universe 10 thousand years ago and I want that understanding to mark my character in unexpected ways. I want my character to turn strange through their travels, if they manage to survive.
Sure, there are big corporations in space and corporations are only there to make money for their shareholders. I get it, corporations are sociopaths, but I also want other successful ways for humans to organize – communes, co-operatives, labor unions, libraries, tribes (that are NOT shitty combinations of some white guy’s imagining of American Indigenous Tribes and Bedouin and Samurai thrown into a blender) and other things we haven’t seen yet or modes of social power that we have forgotten. Is it a coincidence that the closest we see to a labor union in science fiction turns its members into space-fish?
What wonders would navigators witness from their math-wombs while bending space? I’m getting distracted by Dune, always a danger when talking science fiction. Where were we? Wonder and horror…
Yes, to firefights on space station corridors and aliens so very alien that they hurt our brains but also moments of beauty and wonder. Show us moments where the alien temple is framed against the nebula or where scientists share their data about a lost civilization. How about some moments of connection across oceans of space and otherworldly evolution.
Scientists I have met get that gleam in their eye when they start talking about their realm of study and what they have found and hope to find. Sure, we’ve got to pay the mortgage on this ship but if we find new glyphs on this asteroid we might be able to piece together an alien language.
I want my horror balanced with wonder and my pessimism balanced with hope.
The sci-fi gamer friends are e-mailing back & forth – figuring it out together. Hoping to do some round-robin science fiction GMing. Maybe this will be our first adventure?
Right about now some science fiction nerds might drop a, “You can’t take the sky from me,” bullshit but as Jim prophesied a decade ago during one of our many campus walks during a lunch break:
“Firefly ended before Joss Whedon could REALLY fuck it up even worse.”
Looking forward to getting together with friends and hitting that Discovery vibe – PEW! PEW! PEW!, science, friendship, found family, cool-ass ships, cosmic catastrophes, starships slowly becoming sentient and alien civilization’s archives.
I’ve been toying with Canva.com a bunch while in isolation and always loved John Harper’s creation, RAZORNET for Stars Without Number games – a site where far-future freelancers on the edge of legality can find work.
After seeing the crime gig app in this season of Westworld I decided to make a RAZORNET thing as a fun exercise.
Thanks to John Harper who let me play with his toy, RAZORNET.