Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Mien Mothership NPCs

Last year, I ran a Troika! campaign for several months and adored using its particular brand of reaction tables: Mien tables. As running distinct and memorable NPCs is definitely a weak point in my GMing ability, I've started creating some resources to help me quickly generate interesting characters and behaviors on the fly.

NPC Generation

Best used in conjunction with the great NPC tables found in Dead Planet, Pound of Flesh, and the Player's Survival Guide.


  1. Keeps a pet snake in their vacsuit.
  2. Runs an office pool for first crewmember to bite it, bets against themselves.
  3. Pours out a little air from O2 tanks when starting an EVA.
  4. Brings a Revolver into Cryosleep.
  5. Writes a new will for every expedition. Leaves best gear to favorite crewmates.
  6. Insists on drawing lots for shit duties.
  7. Gives everyone a new callsign.
  8. Takes mementoes from dead crewmates.
  9. Gets on good terms with the crew's Android(s).
  10. Writes proverbs on their Cryosleep pod hood.


  1. Fresh, real food.
  2. Always smoking, including in vacsuit.
  3. Pain Pills and Stimpaks.
  4. Kills unnecessarily.
  5. Cryosleep dreams.
  6. Kleptomaniac.
  7. Adrenaline junkie.
  8. Intercepted comms voyeur. Always listening.
  9. Fanatical religion.
  10. Cosmetic biomods.


  1. Drops a live grenade on death.
  2. Always goes in last.
  3. Puts an extra bullet in any seemingly dead non-human.
  4. Runs in to fire at point blank.
  5. Goes for the legs.
  6. Takes risky shots--fires past allies.
  7. Always aims first.
  8. Plays the environment--brings down ceilings, shoots red barrels, etc.
  9. Pacifist. Does not fight unless convinced.
  10. Protects favorite crewmate at all costs.


Use these tables to determine the initial disposition of an NPC, or to see how they respond to PC actions. Roll on the most applicable table if an NPC doesn't precisely fit the mold of the 4 core Mothership archetypes (e.g. Marine Mien for a pirate or Teamster Mien for a common civilian).


  1. Self-Sacrificing
  2. Professional 
  3. Philosophical
  4. Resigned
  5. Overcompensating
  6. Green
  7. Wasted
  8. Ornery
  9. Mutinous
  10. Berserk


  1. Keen
  2. Reliable
  3. Stoic
  4. Jaded
  5. Sardonic
  6. Sinful
  7. Cagey
  8. Shifty
  9. Rapacious
  10. Broken


  1. Quixotic
  2. Driven
  3. Pragmatic
  4. Pensive
  5. Cold
  6. Neurotic
  7. Paranoid
  8. Harrowed
  9. Egomaniacal
  10. Infected


  1. Obedient
  2. Saccharine
  3. Curious
  4. Blunt
  5. Impassive
  6. Mocking
  7. Punitive
  8. Glitchy
  9. Corrupted
  10. Assimilated

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Fall of the Vagabond: A Play Report

This week I ran a pick-up Mothership game for some friends on short notice. Despite running from very little prepared material, we all had a pretty good time. I thought it might be an interesting exercise for me, and possibly helpful to some people new to running Mothership, if I wrote up a play report that described my thought process as I was running the game, as well as post-mortem observations. Please let me know if you find this at all interesting or helpful.

The Scenario

What follows are the notes I prepared before our game:

Fall of the Jump-9 Colony Ship Vagabond

  • Comes out of warp near a watery terrestrial planet.
  • Ship hit with a spear thrown by a giant from the planet.
  • Crew just woken up from cryo--explosions and warnings telling everyone to get to the escape pods.
    • Crew can immediately recover their gear.
    • Every 10 minutes: Roll a ship critical hit.
  • Route to the pods:
    • Hydroponics: Dozens of Androids restrained by overgrown plants and begging for help
    • Cargo Bay 13C: Mech loaders staged in poses of battle. Tally marks on the walls.
    • Main Computers: Enormous, rough hewn wooden shaft bisects the hall. Zero-G. AI listing procedures broken by ship's Androids during the trip in a glitchy, annoyed tone.
    • Stateroom Wing Alpha: Blanket tents and pillow forts.
    • Escape Pods: Crew desperately piling in.
  • Alt Routes:
    • Med Bay: Gory remains of failed Android-human hybrids.
    • Recreation Hall: Androids performing The Producers while others watch loudly.

The Report

NOTE: If the length of the following play report looks too daunting or you want to skip to pithy takeaways, jump to the conclusion at the bottom of this writeup.

I began the session by describing the massive, multi-tiered Cryobay from which thousands of colonists awoke to a monitor-projected view of their new home planet. The Vagabond was still in orbit. The PC crew--3 marines named Sylvester, Marcus Lilith, and Jessica Boggs--marched to the galley to grab some grub and their gear, though I forgot to ask their names or anything else about their characters until much later.

The ship lurched to one side and rocked with internal explosions as it was skewered by the giant's spear (a fact the players didn't yet know). I should have called for a d5-failure Fear Save, but this too I forgot. The crew grabbed their duffel bags of gear and headed towards the nearest escape pods. I described the most direct route, the one I had prepared. I had no ship map handy, so I planned to offer the Alt Routes or and begin winging it once those were exhausted if they decided to deviate from the main path.

I described the deafening noise and panic in the ship's corridors as all the other colonists surged towards the escape pods (missed Fear Save #2). The players asked if they could pinpoint exactly what damage the ship had sustained, I responded that the PA system was reading out dozens of warnings concurrently. The damage was significant, but the situation confused. The crowds blocked the crew's path towards Hydroponics and ignored their shouts to get out of the way, but parted when Sylvester unloaded his Pulse Rifle into the ceiling. At this point, I had not called for a single dice roll. Burning an entire magazine to clear this obstacle was enough of a sacrifice to progress.

Inside Hydroponics, the crew discovered the overgrown plants and the Androids trapped within (missed save #3, this time probably Sanity). The crew paused for a moment to investigate here. Because they did, I rolled a ship critical hit as the internal damage from the spear cascaded throughout the ship. Some Cryopods got taken out, and the players heard more internal explosions (missed [Fear] Save #4). Jessica and Sylvester suspected the plants might be alien, but I explained they all looked familiar and weren't lashing out to grab anyone. Marcus freed an Android using his hand welder, and was thanked with glitchy, nonsensical babble before the Android fled (missed [Fear] save #5). All the evidence of strange Android behavior pointed towards dramatic software degradation over the centuries or millennia-long voyage, so I tried to play into that.

The crew moved on into the Cargo Bay and chuckled at the mech loaders and tally marks. Here I remembered that I didn't know any of the character's names so I paused and let the crew introduce themselves. I rolled another ship critical hit--a hull breach. I decided the breach should occur in this room, particularly given it was adjacent to the spear. The far wall began buckling outward. This time I remembered to call for a Fear Save: one Marine failed and gained 3 (1d5) Stress, the other critically failed and gained 6 (1d10) Stress, then made a Panic Check which they passed. Only Marcus carried a vacsuit in his duffel bag, so the others began scrambling for safety. "Are there any other vacsuits floating around?" I made a luck roll--50/50. Failure, no vacsuits. Jessica asked which mech seemed like it had won the most battles, and critically succeeded an Intelligence + Rimwise roll to locate it: A 3-seater behemoth with enclosed cockpit and adorned with dozens of Android-skull trophies. One player asked what the Android heads were saying, and I said they were all cycling through traditional war cries from different human cultures. The crew climbed into the mech and braced for decompression.

The far wall ripped away and the sudden decompression sent the other mechs flying out of the room and away into space. The absent wall afforded a view of the spear's shaft (missed [Sanity] roll #6) and the ruins of the main Computer Bay. The crew debated the best course of action to cross the massive rift the spear head had left in the hull. They asked if the mech had any tools equipped, and I said they could pick one. They chose a jackhammer--it never came up again. The mech mag-booted to the edge of the rift and the crew looked around for useful floating debris. Could the infrared goggles pick up any survivors? Failed luck check said no. How about a Rigging Gun? Success on this luck check. I have players call high or low when I roll for luck checks. It's a fun and simple way to resolve situations with uncertainty, but don't involve player actions.

I told the players their mech's pincer arms were far too large to manipulate a human-sized rigging gun trigger, and prompted them to come up with a solution. The crew carefully manipulated the mech's arms to thread a loose computer cable through the Rigging Gun's trigger (successful Speed + Heavy Machinery check), and pulled the loop to fire a wire across the room. They hauled themselves past the rough-hewn spear shaft and made their way towards the far airlock. This mech was too large to fit though the airlock, so they opted to rip an arm off to make room. The operator failed an Intelligence check, so they pulled off several other critical components along with the arm (missed [Fear] save #7). I took this as an opportunity for the players to fail forward, so they managed to shrink down their mech to airlock-size but severely damaged it in the process.

The mech's remaining arm punched the single-door airlock and rushed through as air and debris began flying at them from the Staterooms. The arm-operator critically succeeded a Speed test to shield the mech from debris. I couldn't immediately think of any bonus to give the player for her critical, so I asked her what she wanted. She asked if she could grab any useful equipment that flew at her as the hall decompressed, so I described a vacsuit with women's clothes stretched over the exterior and a face pained on the helmet in makeup (the Androids were playing house). She caught it, and the legs-operator shoulder-checked the keypad on the opposite side of the airlock to close it. The crew disembarked from their damaged mech for fear of it exploding and searched the Staterooms for survivors and things of interest. They discovered a survivor stuck in a ruined pillow fort wearing a vacsuit clothed with a tophat and black-tie suit--Simon, a frightened Geologist. I had just recently named another character Simon in a game I had run for a couple of these players--I'm terrible with on-the-fly names. After learning Simon didn't know anything more about what was happening to the ship than they, the crew moved on with him in tow. On their way out, they opened a room filled to bursting with gleefully babbling Androids which spilled out into the hall (failed Fear Saves, +1 Stress).

The crew made their way to the pod bay, a long corridor full of desperate people openly slaughtering each other for the few remaining escape pods (missed [Fear] save #8). Sylvester cleverly tossed an unarmed grenade over to the crowd surrounding one of the pods, calling "fire in the hole." Under normal circumstances that would have easily been enough to disperse a crowd without involving a roll, but in this case I thought the settlers might be desperate enough not to run. I rolled "resigned" on a reaction table I had handy, so the crowd ignored the grenade. If they couldn't make it off this ship, they were dead anyway. I could have interpreted "resigned" another way, but that's what made sense to me at the time.

A player asked if there were any catwalks or other methods of approach, and I described a mezzanine overlooking the pods. The crew headed up a ladder and moved towards a nearby pod with the fewest number of people trying to get in. They used their Rigging Gun (successful Combat + Military Training check) to create a zipline over to the top of the pod, where there was an entrance hatch. Marcus and Jessica made it down the zipline, their weapons sliding perpendicular to the top of the wire, without issue and without rolling. Sylvester had become attached to Simon at this point, and had him hop on while they ziplined together. I called for a Strength check to see if Sylvester could hold on, which he failed. They both went sprawling into the crowd.

Atop the pod, Marcus attempted to disperse the crowd with threats. Normally I don't like to call for rolls for social situations, as I prefer to play things by common sense and require situational leverage for difficult attempts at persuasion. However, the player's roleplay was so fearsome and the outcome was uncertain enough that I called for a Combat + Military Training roll to intimidate the crowd away, which failed. Meanwhile, Jessica jumped down to find Androids patiently waiting in 3 of the pod's 6 total seats, and a Marine fighting with a Teamster to push back the crowd and close the door for takeoff. Jessica alerted the humans to her presence, doing the math that the pod could hold both her friends and these capable-looking folks who might be helpful when they landed on a strange planet. Again, I rolled on my reaction table and this time got "Infected". I took a second to consider what that might mean, then remembered the brutal cyborg experiments I wrote up for the ship's Medbay. I described the Teamster and Marine's faces as flayed, exposing crudely implanted circuitry and wiring (Fear Save, +1 Stress). The crew proceeded to cut down both their cyborg foes and the surging crowd with military efficiency, and not a little help from their Pulse and Smart Rifles. They retrieved their lightly trampled pal Simon from the floor, cleared out the cyborg bodies and defective Androids from the pod, and hit the "GO" button. The crew escaped from the Vagabond with no casualties.

Conclusions and Summary

  • You can prepare a successful play session with scarcely more than a few lines of notes.
  • You can make tons of mistakes and still have a great time. If you followed along with my missed Fear and Sanity Save count, you'll know that I missed at least a whopping 8 opportunities to load my players up with stress over the course of the session. Despite that, there was still a good deal of tension as the scenario felt inherently dangerous, mysterious, and claustrophobic.
  • Call for more Fear Saves, Sanity Saves, and Panic Checks! Clearly it's something I need to work on, but it's a good thing to keep in the back of your mind as you run Mothership.
  • Mothership works great if you want to go for Aliens more than Alien. This was easily the most action-packed Mothership game I've ran or played in, and it still felt right at home in the system.
  • Failing forward is a great way to keep the session moving while layering on consequences and dangers.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

20²⁰th Century Blues

A toolkit for time travel incidents, alien abductions, or long jumps to unexplored space. Though inconceivably distant time travel is the assumed conceit, the horrors of the Homo Sapiens Museum could also occur within an alien mothership's medical bay, or the Outdated Future-Weapons could be used as contemporary, experimental military-tech.

Future Societies

  1. A harmonious concord between many disparate species. Customs too peaceful to the human mind to stand. Shame of human failings in the face of its beauty too much for human dignity to bear.
  2. Perfectly pastoral and apparently uninhabited worlds conspire to exert an eerie will. Haunting mother nature.
  3. Multiple warring singularities engaged in perpetual total war. Fractal architecture wiped out and replaced with new patterns by new masters almost instantaneously--a daily occurrence.
  4. Beings with the form of thoughts, infinitely mutating according to their whims. The universe a kaleidoscope of abstract art.
  5. Insectoid swarm that manifests broken and conflated human anatomies in off-putting attempts to communicate.
  6. Countless clones of an apparently human original, its genetic material so deteriorated from countless reproductions that only the barest hint of vestigial humanity remains in its features, behavior, and ritual. Still-functioning and perfectly loyal machines obey every strange whim.
  7. Beings too large to behold more than a small fraction of at any one time drift momentously through the cosmos, dining on planets and stars.
  8. All matter is liquid, sloshing upon itself. A great lava lamp with countless layers in all directions.
  9. 4th- and higher dimensional beings, worlds, and more--poorly processed by human brains. Nauseating optical illusions and painful reckoning.
  10. A blank slate, wiped clean by a disappointed god.

Alien Weaknesses

  1. Susceptible to human-borne disease.
  2. Views humans as non-threatening.
  3. Incapable of recognizing lies.
  4. Defenses ineffectual against human biology.
  5. Threatened by a mortal foe, a balance of power easily tipped.
  6. Desperate for entertainment. Highly values the crew's lives.
  7. Apathetic to destruction.
  8. Ignores Androids entirely, leaving them free to act.
  9. Easily poisoned by human ideas like hate and prejudice.
  10. If the crew holds out long enough, the long running server cluster of this simulated universe shuts down. The higher-ups correct the error that sent the crew outside of their home cluster.

Homo Sapiens Museum

They put you with other relics of the past and quaint, human curiosities. The only shred of familiarity in an unrecognizable universe.

Outdated Future-Weapons

Grim reminders of a barbaric past long since evolved beyond, displayed behind glass.
  1. Non-lethal bullets that stimulate rapid nerve growth to inflict pain far beyond natural biological capacity.
  2. Device instantly destroys air within 1,000 m³, creating vacuum.
  3. Micro time travel sword--skips in time to pass through a parry.
  4. Undetectable nanomachine swarm, targets programmable by demographic.
  5. Jump drive powered sniper rifle, mini-wormhole optics for target acquisition up to Jump-5.
  6. Finely tuned EMP device eliminates human trauma suppression, triggering perfect recall. Intolerable.
  7. Chemical reactant triggers solar supernova within 1 day.
  8. Clonesuit: Liquidates deceased inhabitant, rapidly regrows clone from fetal state to full development inside sealed suit within a few hours. Psychological deterioration an accepted side effect.
  9. Universal Android self-destruct tone.
  10. Near-infinite range homing beacon for once-unstoppable alien threat.

Future Horrors

Trapped in a cold and austere cage, handled indelicately by beings who care not for your comfort, you suffer daily indignities and tortures while you bide your time to escape.
  1. Served more food than you can possibly eat. Force-fed to the point of bursting.
  2. Medical procedures involving total disembowelment, skin entirely removed, etc. Always put back together in a seemingly correct order, but something feels off.
  3. Impossibly complex cognitive tests with painful negative reinforcement for failure.
  4. Forced, confused historical reenactments: Moon landing crossed with American continental colonization.
  5. Repetitive busywork fueled by increasingly powerful drugs.
  6. Brain enhanced to match alien capacity, then reverted. Agonizing loss.
  7. Simulated escape attempt. Convenient opportunities, lucky breaks, then crushing reality.
  8. Stretching exercises devised with poor understanding of human anatomy. Pops and snaps.
  9. Android benchmarking and overclocking to dangerous extremes.
  10. Fight provoked between the crew. Last one standing receives the cure for a fictitious deadly infection.

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Moonbase Blues

Dai Shugars of GMDK posted an excellent prompt for a Mothership scenario that I couldn't help but follow up on. Initially I just wrote up the Light Hazards table, but eventually I fleshed out a whole scenario around that concept. Here's the prompt:

Outpost on an asteroid or small moon. Players wake up from stasis to find themselves in a blockaded security room and a cheerful computer voice detailing their daily tasks. Logs show that things were going normal up until a week ago, when a strange blue meteor showed up and drove everyone crazy. The meteor makes a pass every 7 hours, and the PCs must find a way to get off the station or somehow block the light from entering (restore power to shutters? gouge eyes out?)

Without further ado, here's what I came up with:

Moonbase Blues

Map Key

  1. Drop pod. Contains [# human PCs] Cryopods, empty.
  2. Habitation. Crew quarters and galley. Signs of struggle. 1d5 Meteor-Mad Colonists. Scattered with blue therapy lamps that attract Mad Colonists. Binoculars stashed in a toilet in restroom B.
  3. Observatory and Science Bay. 1 Mad Colonist, piles of bodies.
  4. Security room. Blockaded off from Habitation. PCs wake up and begin scenario here. Functional computer: logs describe normal operations until the Blue Meteor arrived 7 days ago. See: Corporate Messages.
  5. Greenhouse and Medbay-Solarium. Undamaged.
  6. Solar panel array. Base's only source of power.
  7. Garage. 1 rover, in disrepair. Remaining sane colonists, in total darkness and out of supplies.
  8. Satellite. Damaged by meteor. Base's main communications array.
  9. THE BLUE METEOR. Passes every 7 hours, visible from base for 1 hour. Causes Meteor Madness.


Every hour, 50% chance encounter 1d5 Meteor-Mad Colonists.

Apologies for my artistic talents

Corporate Messages

TONE… Your friends at Mars Instruments would like to notify you of a meteorological event. Please stay calm and avoid windows while performing your corporate issued dutIES:
  1. Unclog the toilets in Habitation restroom B.
  2. Perform routine maintenance on solar arrays 3 and 4.
  3. Replace the rearmost axel on the rover stored in the Garage.
  5. Make the beds in Habitation Barracks. Messy, messy!

Light Hazards

For each meteor cycle, roll 1-3 times for active light-related threats. Or, use all of them at once.
  1. Metal storm shutters, open. Actuated via password protected keypad.
  2. Half-dome skylight. Partially obscured by torn-out book pages and tape.
  3. Bullet holes filled with translucent sealant.
  4. Solar panel mirror array on surface pointed directly at habitation. Magnifies meteor effects, pierces the smallest of cracks.
  5. Scattered reflections from satellite and debris in orbit. Produces low-level Meteor effects from hours 3-6. 
  6. Fully glass greenhouse. Contains only remaining food on the station.
  7. Telescope automatically tracks meteor when in range. Light reflects from eyepiece.
  8. Meteorite fragment in Science Bay. Trail of particulate from main airlock to bay. Produces constant, but dulled meteor effects.
  9. Corpse nailed to wall conceals small porthole from sight. Does not block light.
  10. Survivors stranded in distant housing unit. Radioing for help--besieged by 1d10 Meteor-Mad Colonists in Vaccsuits.

Meteor Madness

Stage 1: Claustrophobia, memory loss. Disadvantage on Intellect checks.
Stage 2: Blue obsession, delirium. Every hour, roll Body Save. Failure: Black out, violently incorporate BLUE into your person. Take 1 stress each minute until you do, then recover senses.
Stage 3: Become a Meteor-Mad Colonist. The warden plays your character.

Roll Sanity saves as appropriate when directly or indirectly exposed to the BLUE METEOR. Use Disadvantage/Advantage to reflect degree of exposure. Progress 2 stages if directly exposed or watching an event through the telescope.

Meteor-Mad Colonists

They have seen the light and it is good.

Combat: 40%   Speed: 25%   Instinct: 50%   Hits: 2 (25)
Damage: Rigging Gun 2d10 OR Hand Welder 1d10 OR Tranq Pistol 

Special Abilities

Erratic Movement: Ranged attacks against it at Disadvantage without computational assistance (smart-link).
Blue Zealot: Inured to pain. Immediately takes an action after taking a Hit.
Tactics: Forcefully compels the unenlightened into the BLUE GRACE. Prefers live prisoners.

Meteor-Mad Characteristics

  1. Half-swallowed a therapy lamp. Jaw broken to accommodate the tubular bulb still jutting from mouth.
  2. Eyes slowly track the path of the asteroid, even though the ground. Unblinking.
  3. Naked, unevenly covered with blue paint.
  4. Open chest wound, stuffed with android component pumping blue lubricant.
  5. Veins ruined by gouges and stab wounds. "RED? RED!? IT WAS BLUE!"
  6. Prisms jabbed into eyes.
  7. Pinned down with foam. Eating its way out.
  8. Counting down the seconds until the next event. Passive unless count disrupted.
  9. Floating, giggling with childlike joy.
  10. Apparently sane. Coldly treacherous.