Monday, November 30, 2020

Playing RPGs Online 101

You've recently checked out some RPG actual plays and think it's about time you slay some dragons for yourself. Or maybe you've been struggling to secure a solid RPG group for years and feel fed up. Either way, this guide should offer some clarity to anyone floundering in the nebulous online ttRPG world. This guide turned out much lengthier than expected, so I'm including a summary at the bottom with the key takeaways.

My Experiences with Online Gaming

Feel free to skip this section if you're just here for the advice, but understanding my perspective should help you decide how to evaluate my guide for your own needs.

Several years ago I heard about Critical Role and watched a few episodes on a whim. I've loved fantasy novels, video games, and movies all my life, so getting into D&D seemed like a no-brainer. Trouble was, I didn't know anyone who played D&D.

I looked around online and stumbled on Roll20 and their looking-for-game forums. Cool, a public place to find games with strangers! Turns out, it was not cool. I spent months trying to join games only to watch them implode from constant flaking. The games I did manage to join were absolute messes of poor player and DM conduct--racial slurs, constant backstabbing and infighting, miserable DM ego tripping--the works. For years I endured this in the pursuit of D&D, until I finally realized that I wasn't having fun and it wasn't worth it.

Gamer Anguish

I looked into other RPG systems and other places that people play games online. I found Google+ and played a ton of wonderful games in diverse and exciting systems (Troika!, Mothership, Spire, oh my!) with cool people. G+ died and many of its users including my new friends moved to Discord. There, I continued to play and run fun games with cool people. I'm still doing that today.

Here's how you can skip over the miserable learning period and go straight to the having fun part:

Where to Look

Avoid public looking-for-game forums like Roll20's and Reddit's r/lfg like the plague. They're impersonal, indirect, and chaotic. They're the most publicly facing ways to find games online and are consequently flooded by clueless, flaky people with minimal investment in actually getting a game going. Finding a half-decent game here will feel like a job, make you miserable and want to quit RPGs. Don't do this to yourself.

Instead, find a Discord server for an RPG system you want to try out and try to join a game there. Official servers run by the developers of Indie RPGs are best, but you might have luck exploring a more general RPG server. Avoid servers with anything more than a few thousand members. I can personally vouch for the official Mothership server and the Melsonia server (for Troika) as great places to find games. I'll post invite links for these at the bottom of this post.

Why Discord? Smaller Discord communities feel intimate and personal. You can chat with people you might want to play games with to gauge compatibility. Even with user handles, Discord servers provide accountability for its users and feel far less anonymous than forums. People care about their reputation in a server will behave well accordingly. Further, users of a game-specific server tend to be experienced with that game and can teach you how to play. Indie RPG game servers also tend to uphold high standards for user conduct, and consequently you'll find most active people there kind and mature.

Don't Stress About System

You can lose yourself in painstaking research into the hundreds if not thousands of RPG systems on offer. Don't worry about finding the absolute perfect game, you won't be stuck with it for life. If you're new to RPGs, you won't know what exactly you want out of a system until you try some out anyway. Do some cursory research, pick anything that sounds reasonably cool and has a solid online community, join their Discord server and ask around for a game.

If you're new to a system, let people know. Experienced game masters will go to lengths to accommodate you. I personally tend to seek out inexperienced players so I can show them the ropes. When you find a game, familiarize yourself with the system but don't worry about memorizing it. If in doubt, ask your GM. Some GMs might require no prior reading whatsoever (like me), preferring to teach as they go.

Make Friends and Mentors

Be visible in your chosen community. Talk to people, play and run games, post cool ideas and ask questions. If you click with a particular group, play more games with them. Stick with people who seem like they know what they’re doing and learn from them. Eventually, you will make a group of core friends and live the dream gamer life of playing regular games with people you like.

Set Reasonable Expectations

Playing games online with strangers will never quite be the same as playing in person. Flaking players, miscommunication, microphone issues and other technical difficulties all come with the territory. I started to enjoy online games much more when I accepted all these realities and adopted a more laid back philosophy.

Click to enlarge. Trust me.

Be flexible and don't give people a hard time when they no-show or games fall through. Expect around 2/3 of players to show up for any given game, so plan accordingly. I prefer to wrangle 4-5 people for my games, expecting 1 or 2 drop-outs. If only a couple people show up for a game, either try to find a last-minute sub or let it go and try again next week. Enjoy the games that pull together rather than agonize over the ones that don't.

On Running Games

Here I'll outline how I recruit players for my games with some insight into my choices. Take this as an example more than a model--you'll have to devise your own method.

I advertise sessions in the game server's LFG (looking-for-games) channel. I tend to have the most success when trying to schedule games about a week out. Shorter and you might not find enough players, longer and people tend to atrophy. Here's a list of good things to include on your LFG post:

  • The system you're using.
  • A brief description of the session's content. Hook players with something fun and informative so they can decide if the game seems right for them.
  • The time and day you plan to run the game. Include your timezone. Give a range or a few options of game days if you're flexible and willing to navigate different people's schedules.
  • How long the game will last. Include an estimation plus a hard cutoff. 2-3 hours tends to work best for me.
  • How many players you're looking for.
  • Where and how you're going to run the game. I highly recommend keeping things light and not using a virtual tabletop like Roll20. The fewer avenues for technical difficulties, the better. My players keep their own character sheets and roll dice however they like (online dice roller or physical dice). I run my games exclusively using discord's voice chat.
  • A content warning and any safety tools you plan to use. Playing with strangers can be delicate, particularly if your game has the potential for horror or graphic content. Laying out boundaries and expectations for player and GM conduct before a game is essential. Just mentioning things like content warnings will help deter unsavory folks who might otherwise ruin your game with inappropriate behavior. You might wish to formalize your safety measures with tools like those outlined in this helpful resource and toolkit.

Once I have a group of interested players, I make a private Discord group chat for the game. I introduce myself in the chat and provide additional detail about the game if necessary (character creation stipulations, a longer scenario introduction, etc.). I explain the safety tools we'll be using, if any. I solicit questions and answer them to the best of my ability. I prefer players generate characters in advance so we can jump into the game faster come game time. I provide pre-generated characters for anyone who wants them.

After a game, I try to get feedback on how things went and de-brief the players a bit. It's nice to hang and chat after a game if you have the energy, particularly if you're trying to make new friends. It's good practice to keep a list of all the cool people you've gamed with so you can reach out for future games. I highly recommend posting session reports (even extremely brief ones) to the server you found your players in. Building a reputation for running games will make it easier to find good games in the future.


This is by no means a comprehensive guide to playing RPGs online. I'm not an authority on the subject, this is just one perspective on enjoying online gaming. I was deeply discouraged when I was first getting my start in the RPG hobby and found no useful advice for joining online games. I hope this advice spares someone the heartbreak and anxiety of hunting for online games without any guidance.


  • Avoid public looking-for-game forums like Roll20's and Reddit's r/lfg.
  • Choose a system you're interested in and find games in that community's Discord server.
  • Approach the inconvenient realities of online gaming with a relaxed attitude.
  • Entrench yourself in gaming communities. Make friends and build towards more stable campaigns.
  • Develop a personal methodology when recruiting for games. Be informative, be flexible, be kind.

Invite Links

As promised above, here's the places I've had success fining games to run and play in:

The official Mothership RPG server

The official Melsonian Arts Council (Troika RPG) server

Monday, November 16, 2020

Running Star Trek in Mothership

While quarantining I've taken my first steps into the world of Star Trek since watching occasional re-runs of Voyager on TV as a child. I've made it through the original series, TNG, and am currently halfway through Deep Space 9. As much as I've enjoyed the shows, the crews' lack of failure has always bugged me. I've decided to turn to RPGs to fulfill my fantasy of reckless command decisions not always turning out alright in the end. I had a blast running the mini-scenario included in this post and firmly believe this mashup worthy of exploration.

The Goal: Take the world of Star Trek and Trek-typical situations, but adhere to more grounded sci-fi horror tropes rather than pop television tropes when resolving them.

Genre Rules


Phaser: DMG Instant death or 1MDMG (Kill) or Body Save [-] or fall unconscious for 1d10mins (Stun) / S 20m / M 200m / L 500m / Infinite Shots / Special: Two Settings (Kill or Stun)

Communicator: As Long-range Comms and Locator

Tricorder: As Bioscanner, Cybernetic Diagnostic Scanner, Field Recorder, and Medscanner


Use one of the corresponding classes when making characters: Engineering = Teamster | Science/Medical = Scientist | Command/Security = Marine | Data = Android. If your players are running main characters from a given series, consider generating level 10 PCs. When playing a non-human character or an infamous redshirt, use one of the following classes:


Intellect +10

Fear: 35
Sanity: 85
Body: 40
Armor: 20

Biology, Mathematics, Computers, +3 points

Vulcans Panic whenever they fail a Sanity Save.


Hits: 3

Strength +5
Combat +5

Fear: 50
Sanity: 20
Body: 40
Armor: 45

Theology, Military Training, Close Quarters Combat, +1 point

When a Klingon dies, every friendly nearby player gains 1 Resolve.


Speed +15
Intellect +5

Fear: 15
Sanity: 30
Body: 25
Armor: 20

Rimwise, Art, +3 points

Whenever a Ferengi succeeds a Save, every friendly player nearby gains 1 Stress.


Hits: 1

Combat +1

Fear: 20
Sanity: 20
Body: 20
Armor: 20

Military Training

Whenever a Red Shirt succeeds a Panic Check, they level up.

Mini Scenario: A Bad Day for the Enterprise

Series: The Next Generation

The Enterprise receives distressing orders from Starfleet command while senior officers navigate mild personal crises.

Warden Notes

  • I wrote this for a one-shot with players running main characters (specifically Worf, Riker, and Data). Leave all of the show's main characters open, though adjustments to the scenario is advisable if choosing characters like Picard and Troi.
  • If a player runs Picard, secretly deliver them the encoded Federation transmission.
  • If running this with "below decks"-style rank and file PCs, focus on the stress and tension of bizarre and terrifying orders coming from on high.
  • Use Side Plots to foster paranoia and suspicion, but don't overload your players with red herrings.

The Situation

The Enterprise is en route (3 days out) to negotiate a neutral zone standoff between Federation colonists and Romulans.

  • Establish the PCs in their daily routines, give them space to explore Side Plots.
  • On the second day, Counselor Troi begins experiencing debilitating headaches and an overwhelming sense of dread. Shortly after, the Enterprise receives a priority one encoded message from Starfleet command--for the Captain's eyes only.
  • The Transmission: Cut communications with all other Starfleet personnel. Change heading to intercept the USS Lexington (2 days away in the opposite direction) and destroy her on sight. Trust no one.
  • All Starfleet ships reject hails. Subspace is dead except for distress signals from dying Federation ships.
  • Many Enterprise crew have friends and family on the Lexington, including senior officers (Beverly's sister, Guinan's childhood friend).
  • If the Enterprise destroys its target: The commanding officer faces general mutiny from their crew.
  • If the Enterprise refuses its orders: Starfleet command labels the Enterprise a traitor and sends 2 ships to destroy her.

The Truth

A Federation splinter group opposing the Prime Directive attempts a coup in Starfleet. Both sides go radio silent to avoid recruitment by the other. The coup will fail after 1 week of fighting and confusion.


  • Fleet movements from the last few months indicate an abnormal number of missions to primitive planets assigned to certain ships, including the Lexington.
  • Disciplinary action against Starfleet officers has trended up over the last year.
  • Frequency of security code changes recently increased threefold.


  • Starfleet loyalist. Briefs senior officers on Starfleet's encoded transmission after 1 day. Reluctantly follows Starfleet's attack order unless intervened upon. Stubbornly unwilling to compromise, resulting in lose-lose situations when given options.
  • Tactics should the crew turn against him:
    • "This was all a test! You passed."
    • Pretending to rouse from alien influence/possession. "I'm myself again."
    • Feigning remorse then savagely attacking when guards lower.

Side Plots

  • Picard fiddles with an intriguing artifact recovered from an archeological dig.
  • Geordi can't seem to fix a replicator bug that's printing everything green.
  • Beverly's gotten really into this new fantasy adventure holodeck program to the detriment of her neglected patients.
  • Worf won't stop carrying around an ancient looking bat'leth.
  • Data starts using contractions.

Concluding Notes

When I ran the above scenario for my players, they had a ton of fun chasing ghosts and self-destructing over poor choices and risky calls. Mothership's Stress system does a lot of the work converting Star Trek to a sci-fi horror genre. Turns out, all you need for things to go really wrong in Star Trek are some flawed people making sub-optimal decisions.

Let me know if you found this post useful, I'm thinking of doing some more genre-shifts for Mothership in the future. On the menu: Atomic age sci-fi monster mashes and 2000s xtreme haxor absurdity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Mothership 3rd Party Directory

There are a TON of 3rd party modules available for Mothership spread across different storefronts, so I figured it would be useful to collect them all in one place.

This list contains all currently published 3rd party content for Mothership. I'll try to keep the list accurate and updated, but please post a comment or send me a message on Discord or Twitter if I missed your piece or you want me to link to a different store.

The list is sorted by release date, with newest content at the top.

Last updated February 24th, 2022.


Zine – Adventure

Disciples of a Cracked Skull

Pamphlet – Supplement

Dead in the Water

Zine – Adventure

Rane in Blood

Zine – Adventure

Object 25

1 Page – Supplement

Defiant Tectonics - Arcology Alpha

Zine – Adventure


1 Page – Supplement

Rimward Classes

Pamphlet – Supplement

Here Be Dragons

Pamphlet – Adventure

Soul Seller

Pamphlet – Supplement

Alone on the Farm

Pamphlet – Adventure

The Fold in Space

Pamphlet – Adventure

Defiant Tectonics - Corporate Dossier

Pamphlet – Supplement

Gods of the Deep Frontier

Pamphlet – Supplement

Familiar Faces Issue 1

Zine – Supplement

Locomotion of a Matephage

Pamphlet – Adventure

Yucatan Tech Co.

Zine – Supplement

Alien Armory

Zine – Supplement

What We Give to Alien Gods

Zine – Adventure

Bumpy Ride at Bore IX

Pamphlet – Adventure

The Inferno Trilogy

Bundle – Adventures


Zine – Supplement

Rogue Brood

Pamphlet – Adventure

Plant-Based Paranoia

Pamphlet – Adventure

Wrath of God

Pamphlet – Adventure

Meat Grinder

Zine – Adventure

The Mole On Pirad One

Pamphlet – Adventure

Delayed Transmission

Pamphlet – Adventure

The Earth Above

Zine – Adventure

The Burning of Carbex

Zine – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

Dying Hard on Hardlight Station

Zine – Adventure

The Horror on Tau Sigma 7

Pamphlet – Adventure

Chunky Cheese's Eateria

Pamphlet – Adventure

People's Soil

Pamphlet – Supplement


Zine – Supplement

Fractal Station

Pamphlet – Adventure

Desert Moon of Karth

Zine – Adventure

The Drain

Zine – Adventure

Not Even the Bones

Zine – Adventure

Crush Depth

Pamphlet – Adventure

Picket Line Tango

Zine – Adventure

Mirror Image

Zine – Adventure

The Stars Will Not Break Me

Zine – Supplement


Zine – System Hack

Kill Screen

Pamphlet – Adventure

Crowded Stars

Pamphlet – Supplement

Black Swan

Zine – Adventure

Nirvana on Fire

Zine – Adventure

The Third Sector

Zine – Supplement

Echoes in the Graveyard

Zine – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

Dinoplex: Cataclysm

Pamphlet – Adventure

From Nightmares

1 Page – Supplement

Terror Zone of the Astral Creep

Zine – Adventure

The Last Nebula

Zine – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

ALCOR Station Fuel & Services

Pamphlet – Adventure


Zine – Adventure

Welcome to ERF

Pamphlet – Adventure

Lone Star

Zine – System Hack

Fear Factory V

Zine – Adventure

Dissident Whispers*

Anthology – Various

Green Tomb

Pamphlet – Adventure

Blood Floats in Space

Zine – Supplement

Diminishing Returns

Zine – Adventure

The Black Pyramid

Zine – Adventure

Moonbase Blues

Pamphlet – Adventure

Vita Nova

Zine – Adventure

Feynman’s Mining Station

1 Page – Adventure

On the Frontier

Zine – Supplement

The Black Heart of Paradise

Zine – Adventure

Unhinge Your Soul

Zine – Supplement

*Published by TKG, but noteworthy enough to include here. Includes 11 Mothership adventures:
Emerald Horizon, Escape from the Violet Death World, Ghost Ship, Incident at Muto Station, INDIGO TENDRILS OF THE ZOMP-MACHINE, Pandora's Hunt, Silo-15, Station 472, Toru's Maw, Vontrey Colony 17, Your Sunny Paradise