Ghost Ship: Draft now available to read!

Ghost Ship isn’t anywhere near complete – I don’t even think it’s playable – but as I put a draft together for some friends to look over I thought I might as well put it up here for everyone else to check out. If you’re interested, here’s the main book:

And here’s the Google Drive folder with character sheets and so on:

Ghost Ship

Quick Characters for Legacy

One of the things I’m hard at work on is a revised edition of Legacy. Part of this process is to identify bits of the original version that didn’t quite work in play: the one I’m talking about today is character focus. One common complaint is that with every player getting their own faction, games often devolve into players taking it in turns to have solo scenes interacting with their families. While I’m also working on structuring the game so that there’s more to push characters to work together, I wanted something to liven up those single-family scenes.

My solution for this was Quick Characters. If you want to play out a particular player character’s actions in detail but the fiction makes it implausible for the other major characters to be involved, the other players take control of members of the active player’s Family using simplified playbooks. These playbooks give some options to flesh out your character, but mostly inherit stats from the active players family.

Using these new characters, you play through the story as normal until it’s time to shift focus to another family or character. At that point, the group can choose – either each player can keep these minor playbooks in case focus returns to that family, or the playbooks can go into a group pool for anyone to pick up as the situation desires. If you’re familiar with Ars Magica’s troupe play rules, this is intended to create a similar effect.

Here’s the playbooks:

How they work

Quick Characters still use the Character basic moves, and have Force, Lore, Steel and Sway, but have simplified playbooks. They inherit a stat line, a move and gear from their Family, enabling them to be generated quickly.

We haven’t written up the family side of this completely yet, but here’s an example:

Enclave of Forgotten Lore Quick Characters:

Stats:

Add +1 to Lore or Steel.

Gear:

Take gear according to your Surplus investment (more on this later), +1 to Data or Outfit.

Inheritance Move options:

  • Radio Rig: Can sense when Tech is within a mile, and track it down to within 100 metres.
  • Pain Box: You have a device that causes intense pain in anyone within a few dozen metres (melee, nonlethal, area, hi-tech).
  • Survey drone: You can roll +Lore with Wasteland Survival, so long as your trail is visible from the air.
  • Hot Rod: You have an exceptionally fast vehicle (land-based, Might 1 Chrome 1 Brawn 0), and can move points between its stats with 15 minutes of tinkering.
  • Educated: If you give advice to somebody based on your knowledge of the Before, they take +1 Forward.

Ghost Ship: Attack of the Drones

While a ship piloted by Ghosts can react quicker, travel further and need far fewer resources than a human-piloted vessel, a physical presence is still required for a crew to perform most of the tasks people are willing to pay big money for. The game’s solution for this is drones. A robotic shell housing a modified Ghost core, each drone is precisely tailored for their Ghost and is much an extension of them as a living person’s hand. The core in the drone runs an up-to-date version of the Ghost, experiencing the world from the drone’s perspective. Their experience is streamed back to the Ghost’s main core back in the ship, which is in a trance as they incorporate the drone’s feed into their memory and personality.

Thanks to the delicately engineered link between the two cores and streaming algorithms that prioritise which sensations and thoughts to stream based on available bandwidth, the experiences of the drone core are seamlessly integrated into the Ghost’s mind. Meanwhile, the locally present Ghost core allows the drone to function well even when the signal back to the ship has been cut or the time delay back to the ship becomes too great.

From a design perspective, Drones to a few helpful things:

  • They give you a physical body, meaning that your interaction with the world isn’t limited to command prompts and communication channels.
  • They mean there’s a sense of risk and danger to missions that’s a step less severe than the ship blowing up.
  • They provide a means of customisation and personalization, helping the players express their character’s personality at the table.

Drone Frames

Your main choice when picking your drone is its Frame. This gives you the basic environment the drone is built for, and the particular actions it’s proficient at. Frames have three ratings of particular importance: how durable they are, how quickly they can move, and how dextrous their manipulators are.

At game start, there are three Frames available, but more will unlock according to events in the solar system.

Pictures by Juan Ochoa – support his patreon here: https://www.patreon.com/juanochoa

Humanoid

The squat, bulky Humanoid frame is impossible to confuse for a human, but still allows you to perform most human-scale tasks.

Pros: High manual dexterity, humans find it easier to interact with, can pick up and operate designed-for-human equipment.

Cons: Low durability, limited space for mods and extra functions.

EVA

Light weight and an array of thrusters make this frame perfect at manoeuvring in zero-g.

Pros: Can explore zero-g environments with ease, can run indefinitely on solar power, plenty of space for mods.

Cons: doesn’t cope with gravity, distance from human body plan means it’s not very good at relieving Discarnate stress.

Explorer

With a rugged chassis and the ability to walk, swim and dig, this frame is great for missions on or beneath the surface of hostile planets and moons.

Pros: High durability, can operate in most environments.

Cons: low dexterity, difficult to retrieve once dispatched to a planet’s surface.

Dangers

Early experiments with Ghosts found that a physical presence resulted in a substantial improvement in psychological health and wellbeing. This close connection can have its downsides, however, especially when a mission stops going to plan. Here’s a selection of things that can go wrong with a drone:

  • Its memory buffer becomes too full, meaning that some memories are erased.
  • It gets destroyed, preventing the transition back to ship-Ghost from being cleanly managed.
  • It gets isolated, such that it starts operating independently of the ship-Ghost.
  • It can’t be retrieved, meaning you must go the rest of the flight without incarnation.

Legacy: Family Example of Play

The part of Legacy I get the most questions about is the interface between the Family and Character levels. We’re working on ways of making this more flexible in Legacy 2e, but for the current version I try to stick to two ideas:

1) The Character has de facto control over the Family’s operations.

2) All Family moves should begin with the Character asking Family members to do things and end with the Character being informed of the results.

This way the player’s role in the fiction is maintained and doesn’t cause dissonance. It does have the weakness that it limits what role the Character could have in the Family, but you can still create rebels and apostates by saying that this Age the player only has control of the wing of the Family that actually pays attention to the Character – or just ignore the Family layer if it’s completely irrelevant to your current character.

Getting Started

The situation: Isolde and Karl’s expedition into the wasteland of the robot-filled metropolis discovered a functional power plant – a source of strength and sustenance for the robot hordes. If they can take it out, they have a shot at increasing the size of their Homeland dramatically. Now, they’re back with their families and trying to put a plan together.

Players:

Alex

Family: The Last Battalion (Lawgivers). A surviving remnant of the pre-Fall military, dedicated to protecting the survivors in the territory around their bunker.

Character: Isolde (Sentinel). A battle-hardened tactician, in charge of the Battalion’s Special Forces group.

Chris

Family: Reclaimers (Enclave). A scattered mystery cult who teach secrets of the World Before to those members who successfully hunt down and dissect the aberrant robot beasts.

Character: Karl (Hunter). A rising star in the Reclaimers whose hunts have brought him fame but who takes too many risks for some of the cult’s elders.

Preparation

GM: Let’s start with you, Chris. Which settlement are you heading to?

The Reclaimers are Dispersed – they maintain bunkhouses/workshops in most of the Homeland’s settlements.

Chris: Let’s say I head to the South Circle. It’s the closest to where we left the Wasteland and I know they’re willing to fight.

South Circle was the grand park’s Metro station, and with the tunnels barricaded up, it’s well-defended and sheltered.

Chris: So Karl kicks open the door to the Reclaimer house and drags the dead bot in. Big entrance, you know?

GM: You see two of the Acolyte-Engineers – Skols and Warren – are here. They rush over as they see your haul and start poking the machinery and arguing over what different bits are for. Get 2 Tech from Holding Back Another Fall as they disassemble it.

Chris: I’ll leave them to their fun and head to the terminal to talk with the rest of the Reclaimers. I need to get plans of that facility if we have a chance of shutting it down, so I’ll put some of scouts and scavengers on the search.

GM: Ok, roll for Reading the Wind.

The Reclaimers have a Reach of +2, and added to the dice get a result of 9. Chris gets to pick one thing to learn about the power facility.

Chris: Let’s go with “The perspective of its neighbours” – I want to know the legends the scavengers tell about it.

GM: So your scouts come back having found some hermits in the wasteland and got their stories. There aren’t many willing to go near the plant, but they say its activity has peaks and troughs. During the day, the place is quiet – though still enough bots to be deadly. During the night, though, it lights up and there’s a strange humming noise, and bots from far and wide pour into it and leave at dawn.

Chris: I guess we should strike during the day, then. Wait, An Eye For Details gets me an extra question – what sort of power plant is it? How can we shut it down?

GM: Alright, one of the scouts took down notes of numbers and icons stencilled on the building. After a few days of research, a scribe of the order presents you with their findings. They say it’s a design that creates a self-sustaining fusion reaction that can be throttled up or down but never stopped – if you can disrupt the reaction at all it’ll be super difficult to start it up again, though the reaction chamber will be full of radiation.

Chris: Interesting, interesting. I’ll start planning out an assault.

GM: Ok, let’s move over to the Battalion. Alex, what’s Isolde up to?

Alex: Arming up. The Reclaimers can help us with the whole hi-tech stuff, but to take this territory we need strength of arms. You said Karl’s scouting took a few days, right? So once she got back to the bunker and briefed the colonel on the plant she’d have got to work requisitioning arms and vehicles for the Special Forces unit. I’m activating Tooled Up and Looking for Trouble – I’ll exhaust Surplus: Weaponry, Transportation and Reconnaissance, getting me three hold.

GM: Going all in, eh? Ok, so you’re on the parade grounds looking out over your forces. Three dozen soldiers standing proud in haphazard armour they’ve painted to look like uniforms, two jeeps rigged to run completely non-electrically, a half-track with a mounted gun, and a whole heap of weapons. The Colonel’s there with you to send you off. She turns to you. “Looks like a small party, Sergeant. Are you sure this is enough?”
Alex: “I’m quite confident, sir. And there are people out there counting on our patrols – I can’t justify the risk of leaving them undefended.”

GM: She nods and motions for the compound gate to open. She looks back at you. “And, Isolde?”

Alex: “Yes?”

GM: “Come back safe, alright?”

Alex: I nod. “Yes, mother”. Then I motion the convoy to head out.

GM: You drive out, the gate guards saluting as you pass.

Alex: The convoy’s going to head south, swinging by South Circle. Karl, you coming?

Chris: Yeah. Though – we may need to do some way of dealing with the radiation. Do the Reclaimers have anything that would work?

GM: Not particularly – it’s not a common hazard in the robot hunting line of work.

Chris: The Hammer of Thorium still owes us a favour for stopping their meltdown, right? I’ll call that in to try and get some of their protection suits.

In an earlier age the Reclaimers showed a group of A-bomb worshipping cultists how to make the warhead they worship ‘safer’ to live around, and so gained 1-Treaty on them via their Alliance Move.

GM: Sounds good. How does that look?

Chris: I’ll send a local acolyte over to their stronghold, saying that we need the blessing of Thorium for our battle against the False Men. I think that’s their lingo, right?

GM: Sure, roll Access.

A Reach of +2 and a dice roll of 7 gives a result of 9.

Chris: Ugh, not quite enough. I’ll spend that point of Treaty and bump it up to an 11.

GM: That works. So your acolyte makes it out of there with four radiation suits, having had to hand back the holy sign of Thorium your grandparents won from them last Age.

Chris: Ok, less than I would have liked but better than nothing. Want to get this show on the road?

Alex: Sure. You bringing anyone along?

Chris: Yeah, Karl will bring a few other hunters and some Acolyte-Engineers – Skols and Warren, wasn’t it? We’ll hitch a ride on a jeep.

Alex: Alright, let’s get going.

Into the Ruins

GM: It’s many day’s travel to the Plant and it’s hostile territory – especially with three loud vehicles. What’s the plan?

Alex: Let’s go slow and quiet until we’re almost upon the plant. I’ll draw up a route given what we saw last time we were here.

GM: OK, give me a Wasteland Survival roll.

We’re temporarily going back into Character moves – Isolde is leading the expedition and is a dedicated navigator of the wasteland so the GM thinks that makes the most sense. Another option would be to roll Hold Together to see how well the unit handles the trip. It’s perfectly fine to read the fiction and see in that moment if the Characters as leaders or the Family as a group is the most important entity to focus on.

With Isolde’s Steel of +2 and a dice roll of 6 Alex gets a result of 8 – she must pick two out of staying out of danger, staying well-supplied and keeping to the schedule. After some consideration, she selects ‘you don’t get into danger’ and ‘you don’t get delayed’.

Alex: I figure we have to push the jeeps to their limit to get through this terrain and escape the occasional rogue bot. You ok with that supply loss removing one of my Tooled Up hold?

GM: Sure.

Attacking the Plant

GM: So the sun’s dawning as you reach the plant’s perimeter and it’s as the Reclaimer’s scouts described it – almost completely quiet, with a few bots wandering around chewing on power outlets.

Chris: No reason to wait, right?

Alex: Yup. I make sure the squad’s ready and equipped, and start moving on the compound. First up, I don’t like the thought of fighting room by room. I nod to my heavy weapons guy, Frank, and point at the biggest window I can see. I’m spending 1 Tooled Up hold on ‘force your enemy out into the open’.

GM: Alright – Frank nods, hefts his rocket launcher and fires a missile straight through the window. There’s an explosion that shakes the glass from the power plant’s windows and a loud droning noise starts up as insectile robots pour out of the plant. You see one in particular striding through the horde, towering over the others. Electricity keeps jumping from it to the other droids in bright blue arcs, and the electrified droids seem to be entering some kind of frenzy and smoking.

Alex: I don’t like the look of that. I make a motion at the unit’s sniper to target it. Spending 1 hold on ’Take out a specified target immediately’.

GM: Hah! Ok then, a shot rings out and the thing crumples to the ground, its giant capacitors exploding in a shower of sparks and lightning.

Alex: That should have softened them up. I signal the charge. Chris?

Chris: The Reclaimers are ready to back you up – I’ll let you deal with the straightforward attackers and try to shut down the ones that try anything weird.

GM: Alex, you’re taking the lead, so you roll +Grasp on Claim By Force. Chris, roll +Treaty with the Battalion to help out.

Chris has a +1 forward from his Reading the Wind about the plant. He adds that to his Family’s Treaty on the Lawgivers of +2 and his roll of 5 to get an 8 – the Reclaimers add +1 to the Battalion’s assault but are exposed to danger, retribution or unforeseen consequences.

Alex adds her Grasp of +1 and Chris’s bonus of +1 to her roll of 8 to get a 10. She succeeds at taking the plant, but has to choose a cost.

Alex: Thanks, Chris. I don’t want to get wounded or make more enemies, so I’ll pick that our hold on it is tenuous.

GM: So I reckon your assault is enough to completely drive off or destroy the robots that were squatting here, but more will come tonight if the power’s still flowing. Karl, as the battle’s raging a suicide bot flanked the unit as was about to explode when Warren jumped on its back and tore out the detonator. He stopped the explosion but was crushed when it rolled over – he didn’t make it. Meanwhile, Skols caught a bit of shrapnel to the temple and is still woozy.

The group could have chosen to Claim by Force as soon as they got to the plant, but the Battalion’s precision attacks meant that the fictional consequences they suffered were much better than they could have been otherwise. Positioning yourself in the fiction to minimise your risks is a powerful tool!

Chris: Ah crap, I was relying on them to shut this place down.

Shutting it down

GM: Without the experts, you have two options. You can try to remotely shut down the reactor from the control console, but that’s been rewired and probed by generations of hungry robots. Or you could head directly into the reactor chamber to turn off the reaction manually, but you’d have to trust in the radiation suits.

Chris: Sure, we’ve had casualties, but this is why the Reclaimers came along. I’ll put the suit on.

Alex: Isolde takes a brief break from securing the plant to come and talk to you. “Are you sure you want to do this? We’ve done the hard part of flushing them out – we can hold this place long enough to get support in.”

Chris: Karl pulls the battered and patched helmet on, and through the helmet’s faceplate you can see he’s determined. “C’mon, Sarge, we both know you don’t have enough ammo to last that long. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.” He grins. “And they’ll have no choice but to make me an elder if I pull this off!” Then I pass my bow to Isolde and head to the airlock. “Look after that, alright?”

GM: As the airlock cycles and opens, the room’s filled with a blinding blue light. The bad news is it’s Harm 4 – good news is that your suit’s 2 Armour against this.

Chris: Ouch. I’ll mark off ‘On the Defensive’ and ‘Blood-soaked’. Can’t stay long here. What do I see?

GM: There’s the reactor assembly – a globe suspended in the centre of this huge, multi-story room. It’s glowing bright blue and the light’s pulsing painfully. There’s all sort of cables and pipes going in and out of the sphere, attaching to various places on the room’s walls.

Chris: I mutter curses about those superstitious idiots and their shoddy protective gear and start working out what needs to be sabotaged.

GM: So you only have enough time for one approach: do you want to break whatever you can, or work out a controlled way to shut it down?

Chris eyes his Force of +2 and Lore of +1.

Chris: The second one… probably sounds better for everyone involved. Let’s give it a go.

GM: Ok, roll for Defuse with Lore.

A Lore of +1 and a roll of 3 is not enough!

Chris: Well, shit.

GM: Yeah, it’s not good. You’re scanning over the pipes and cables, frantically trying to find a way to shut it down, but you’re getting woozy and it’s hard to focus. You find yourself staggering and stumbling. Take another 2 Harm. Maybe you have time to get back to the airlock?

Chris: No, I don’t think so. Even if my lore has failed me there’s always smashing. I’m going to mark my Dead box – even as I die I make one last strike, destroying whatever killed me.

GM: Yeah, that’d do it. Want to describe what happens?

Chris: Sure. I always have more weapons, right? There’s a blast arrow still in my back quiver – probably shouldn’t have brought that in, but too late now. I tear open the suit, grab the arrow, and start climbing the cables. I climb on top of the reactor, and smash the arrow into it where the cables and supports are holding it up. I’m thrown away by the explosion, as the reactor falls to the floor and crumples apart in a second blast.

GM: Alex, how’s Isolde taking this?

Alex: I’ve been watching tensely on the plant’s monitors. As Karl starts climbing it I’m already running to the airlock and I’m putting a radioactive suit on as the explosion happens. I try and open the airlock – maybe I can still help?

GM: The generator’s gone – the airlock isn’t working. Maybe you could push it open with Force?

Alex: No, I can put two and two together – if there’s no power he succeeded and he wouldn’t want me risking my life for nothing. I say a prayer for Karl, then go to the roof and launch a flare so the Battalion know that the mission’s succeeded.

GM: Yeah, you’ve definitely seized claim of this plant and this territory.

Alex: Good. I’ll leave the troops to secure this place and head back to the farmland – I have to deliver Karl’s bow to the Reclaimers.

Chris: Thanks – I’ll pick that bow as Karl’s Relic.

With a section of the city made safe and the Homeland greatly expanded, the group decide it’s time for a Turn of Ages…

Any questions or comments? Want an example of another mechanic? Let me know!

What Ho, World! – now on Tabletop Simulator

What Ho, World! is a game that really benefits from the physicality of cards – you’re flipping them over, passing them around, stacking them and discarding them. But a large amount of roleplaying is done over the internet these days, which has presented me with a bit of a quandry. I’ve tried writing versions of the game that play in your browser (see Trying Twine) but as it turns out there was a much easier way – Tabletop Simulator.

If you haven’t seen this before it’s a game on Steam that’s focused on simulating the board game experience as accurately as possible – you can pick up and chuck about game pieces, flip tables, chat to the other players and so on. Importantly for my purposes, it’s very easy to make custom decks providing you have the art assets to hand. I’ve made a Steam Workshop entry for What Ho, World! – if you have the game, go check it out here:

https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=846197033

It’s not the most recent version of the game – I don’t have card images ready for that yet – but it should be enough to test if it’s something people would be interested in. If so, I’ll keep it up-to-date and current with the physical version, which (fingers crossed) should be heading to the printers very soon.

Legacy: Character Example of Play

One of the things I’ve often been asked for with Legacy is an example of play. It’s been a while, but I finally made time! This example focuses in on character mechanics and combat – I’m also going to write up some family-level play.

Machine dawn

Here’s the initial situation. Our party of characters is travelling through the wasteland, here a ruined city that stretches from horizon to horizon with only the parks and greens a safe zone from the mechanical nightmares that feed from the city’s power grid. After a long day’s journey they find a reasonably safe place to camp – an overgrown public square, with good sightlines on the surrounding buildings and a still-functional fountain providing fresh water. Aware of the threats night may bring, they’ve set up a guard rota to keep watch.

It’s close to dawn. Isolde, a Lawgiver Sentinel, is on watch.
GM: Isolde, it’s about halfway through your watch. What are you doing?
Alex, playing Isolde: Hmm… I put my camo netting up over the camp at the start of the night… can I have used Citadel of Dust at the same time?
GM: Sure.
Alex: Ok. Now I’ve got everything in place I’m probably trying not to draw attention. Let’s say I’m sitting a short distance away from the main camp, keeping an eye out with my binoculars.
GM: Right. So you’re sitting there, scanning the surrounding city, and as the light of dawn hits a building on the west side of the square you spot movement.
Alex: I take a closer look with my binoculars – what do I see?
GM: The first thing you see is some solar panels, rotating towards the sun. As they lift up you can see they’re welded like wing cases to a beetle-like body, easily two metres long. As the machine leaves its dormant state you see a camera array push out of the front of the body and start glancing around.
Alex: Shit. Does it see us?
GM: Not yet – the camouflage seems to be working. But you spot its cameras focus on something else – an overgrown shape a few dozen metres from you. You hear the drone of rotors starting up…
Alex: Can I quickly move to the shape?
GM: Yeah, it’s still warning up. You’ve got time.
Alex: Great. What do I see?
GM: Brushing away the vegetation it looks like an old junction box. There’s a faint light of LEDs behind a battered panel.
Alex: Ah, crap. Right, I’ll try to shut this down – maybe if there’s no power this thing will leave us alone. I pull of that panel and start tearing out cables.
GM: OK, sounds like a Defuse with Lore.
Alex rolls, and gets an 8 – she’s bought some time. She picks ‘It’s only a temporary reprieve’.
Alex: Well, that’ll give me some breathing space. I quickly head back to the camp and start waking up the others. I’ll start with Karl.
Chris, playing Karl (an Enclave Hunter): Huh, what?
Alex: I bring him up to speed.
Chris: Karl mutters an oath to the Good Machine and picks up his bow – no time to get armoured up.
GM: There definitely isn’t – as you pick up the bow you see a flash of electricity from the junction box and the sound of buzzing rotors immediately fills the square. The bug-machine launches itself from the roof and into the air.
Alex: Has it seen us?
GM: Not yet, but it’s pretty much certain it will by the time it gets to the junction box.
Alex: OK, I’ve got a plan. Karl, get into a good position for a shot.
Chris: Karl nods and quickly climbs a tree.
With A Shadow in the Wind there’s no risk of Karl being spotted doing this.
GM: OK, as the bug comes down to land you see its camera-head focus on the camp and it suddenly changes direction. It’s coming straight down through the trees towards you. What do you do?
Alex: I prepared for this. I’ll spend one of my hold for Citadel of Dust to blunt an enemy assault, stopping it in its tracks.
GM: Cool, what happens?
Alex: Remember that nanofibre rope I found a while back? I strung it through the trees, and as the bug comes flying down I reach down and yank it taut creating a web to catch the bug in.
GM: Hah! Okay, so the bug smashes into the rope. Branches and machine parts rain down, and then the machine falls to earth with a crash. It quickly rights itself, but you can see one solar panel’s been torn off. Its camera swings around, searching for its foes. What do you do?
Alex: I’ve got to keep it contained. As its cameras swing by us I’ll lift up my shield to catch the light and draw it to me.
GM: It takes the bait, and its rotors roar as it surges towards you. Holding Back the Tide?
Alex: Yep.
Alex rolls +Steel (with a +1 from her shield). She gets an 11.
Alex: That’s two options then. I’ll go with no harm coming to me, and no harm to those I defend. I’ll leave it to Karl to actually fight this thing off.
GM: Alright, you’re able to parry away its mechanical limbs as they rain down on you, though you can feel your arm going numb. Karl?
Chris: I’m in place, I’ve got a good shot, I’ve prepped my arrows. Time to destroy this thing.
Karl’s bow has the tags Ranged, Silent and Hi-Tech. As he’s definitely established his ability to engage with this enemy in the fiction, he can roll Fiercely Assault with the intent to hurt the enemy. He rolls +Force and gets… a 5.
GM: Your arrow flies down, and Isolde raises her shield just in time to not be blinded by the flash as it fries the thing’s circuits. But somehow the bug isn’t stopped, and while you’re recovering, Isolde, it surges forward and pins you to the ground.
Chris: Wait, it’s still confused from my attack, right? I’ll use Call For Aid – even on the ground, Isolde should be able to capitalise on that.
GM: Yeah, alright. Isolde?
Alex: Alright, I’ll stab up into its guts with my taser (melee, nonlethal). Roll +Force… that’s an 11!
Chris: Brilliant, that’ll raise me up to the 7-9 result. As Isolde hits it from below I’ll use the explosive arrows to just devastate this thing. Let’s go with ‘Savage, terrifying harm’ – I want this thing dealt with.
GM: OK, it’s completely mangled! For my two picks, I’ll go with… taking harm appropriate to the enemy, and the situation is destabilised. Isolde, it got a few good hits in while you were pinned – take 3 harm – and those explosions aren’t exactly subtle so other things in the city will start moving towards you.
Alex: Ouch! Even with my armour that’s 2 harm. Let’s go with… Bruised and Angry. I need my energy for whatever comes next…
Chris: Yeah, let’s tear down the camp and get out of here.

The group quickly packs up and heads out into the city. Another day in the wasteland begins…

Want to see more?

If there’s any other mechanics you’d like me to cover, or have any questions about this post, let me know in the comments below!

Ghost Ship: Marking Time

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

One of the big barriers to human space travel is just how long its astronomical distances take to travel. All but the most die-hard explorer is likely to blanch at spending years or even decades in a tiny tin can barely protected from the void of space.

As a Ghost, many of the standard issues of long-term travel don’t apply: you don’t need food or water, cosmic radiation can’t do anything to a properly shielded circuit, and it’d take a truly catastrophic level of damage to the ship to stop you functioning. Still, it’s not completely plain sailing – that time takes its toll, as you have to cope with mind-numbing tedium and the solar system changing outside of your control.

In Ghost Ship, you won’t be tracking the passing of time with fastidious bookkeeping. All we care about is the magnitude of time passing, tracked as sweeps. A 3 sweep journey is a matter of days, Earth to Luna for example. 7 sweeps will take you from Earth to Mars over a length of months, 9 sweeps will cover the years it takes you to travel between the planets of the inner system and Jupiter, and journeys past Saturn or even to the fringes of the Solar system take even more.1

As it’s only the order of magnitude of time we’re concerned with, calculating the duration of a trip is very simple: just draw a line between your start and end point on the system map shown below and take the highest number you pass through.

Click to see the large version.

The number of Sweeps gives you how long the trip will take, but what matters is how you spend it. To see what opportunities the trip provides, you:

  1. Take a number of d6s equal to the number of sweeps.
  2. Roll them.
  3. Group them according to the value on the dice (all 1s, all 4s, etc.). These are your action sets.
  4. Group all dice that show unique values – this is your scrap set.

Example: you’re travelling from Mars to Mercury (7 sweeps), so you roll 7 d6s and get 2, 2, 3, 4, 5, 5, 6. This gives you two action sets (two 2s and two 5s) and a scrap set of three dice.

Using Sets

Your sets guide the events of your trip:

Action Sets

Each of your action sets buys you a downtime action, with the action’s effectiveness determined by the set’s size. With these actions you can:

  • Research your destination.
  • Talk to your portside friends and contacts.
  • Bond with your crewmates.
  • Repair the ship and modify your equipment.
  • Hack into your own AI substrate to unlock new capabilities.

Scrap Sets

The group’s scrap sets, on the other hand, bring misfortune: either someone chooses to take a scrap set’s size in dice in Quiet stress 2 or the set is passed to the GM. They can spend these sets to:

  • Cause malfunctions in the ship.
  • Create complications at your destination.
  • Give you bad news from back home.
  • Reveal unexpected threats – meteorite showers, solar flares, or even assault from unexpected forces.

Activating Sets

The group goes around the table taking it in turns to activate an action set and declare an action until all action sets have been used. They must also activate their scrap sets, however, and there’s strategy in pacing this. Group them all together and they’ll compound their effects, so you want to make sure you keep Actions in reserve to deal with problems before they escalate. Working against that is the ability of Scrap Sets to make downtime actions harder, so if you really need to succeed at something you should try to do it before any crises happen.

Shifting your chances

Memories and Aptitudes also play a part, just as they do in more immediate time scales.

  • A high Acuity helps you effectively multitask. If your number of sets is less than your Acuity, you change one scrap die to match your smallest set. If you have no sets, change it to match one of your other dice.3
  • A high Focus lets you really concentrate on your chosen tasks. If your largest set is no larger than your Focus, change one of your scrap dice to be a part of it.
  • Once you have your sets, a relevant Memory lets you do one of two things: combine two sets together into one giant set, or split a set containing 4 or more dice in half. Either way, if you stretched the memory outside its subject or context4 take Glitches equal to the size of the larger set.
  • Lastly, if a Memory gives you a relevant Skill, treat the set you’re using for that action as if it were one dice larger.

And finally…

Time isn’t only passing for you; as you reach your destination, you’ll find all sorts of changes have taken place in the system’s different settlements. More on that next time.


  1. Astronomy and/or Kerbal nerds may spot I’ve based these on Hohmann Transfer times – the simplest and most fuel-efficient way to travel between two bodies. Hasty pilots can exploit slingshots or burn more fuel to get places faster, while thrifty pilots can save fuel at the cost of adding sweeps to the time by exploiting the Interplanetary Transport Network.
  2. As the tedium of space travel puts strain on your mental health
  3. This means you always have at least one set no matter what you roll unless your Acuity has been dropped to 0.
  4. See the previous post.

Ghost Ship: Character Basics

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Ghost Ship‘s characters are in the rare position of being purely virtual entities, which means that they don’t have many of the stats that characters often do. Instead, their abilities are defined by three things: the intrinsic strengths of their mind, their background and memories, and the stresses they have come under. The first two are determined by the backgrounds you take in character creation, and the third accumulates during play.

Backgrounds

There are a bunch of backgrounds to choose from, falling into 3 categories.

There’s your anchor: the living person who your character feels the strongest connection to. Examples: your children, your mentor, your brothers in arms.

There’s your embalming, which is the reason why your character went through the scanning process. Examples: you were wealthy enough to book a scan, you have memories someone wants to make money from, you stole someone else’s place and are now pretending to be them.

And finally there’s your unfinished business: the reason why you’re out risking your afterlife in space instead of making do with whatever simulated paradise you ended up in. Examples: you have dependants that still need your help, you have a drive to explore, you can’t stand being confined.

Each background gives you a point in two Aptitudes and a Memory – see below.

Aptitudes

Ghost minds are measured on four Aptitudes, rated from 1 to 5:

  • Focus: your ability to maintain concentration over long periods, spot fine detail, and remain committed to your goals.
  • Acuity: your ability to quickly process new information, adapt to changing circumstances and multitask.
  • Knowledge: your ability to understand the world, remember pertinent information and make inferences from observations.
  • Empathy: your ability to understand others, predict what they’re going to do, and make an agreement.

When your character acts in the world, you pick the two most appropriate Aptitudes (Example: Focus/Knowledge to study fluctuations in Sol’s magnetic field, or Empathy/Acuity to keep an exploration party happily working together). Then you pick the higher, roll that many d6s and look for the highest value. A 6 is a full success, 4-5 is a partial success or success at a cost, and a 3- is a complete failure.

Memories

While Ghosts have an academic knowledge of the events of their life, they only have the processing bandwidth to keep a handful of memories fully vibrant, alive and emotionally meaningful. These memories are the cornerstone of a Ghost’s identity and a powerful tool in their arsenal, but also their greatest weakness.

Each memory has four elements:

  • A [SKILL]. The memory should evoke one of the game’s skills, though you shouldn’t feel the need to use that particular skill’s name as the verb of your sentence.
  • A Context: Something important about the environment you were in – place, time, etc.
  • A Subject: Someone you were doing the thing for, with, or to.
  • An Action: Something you were doing.

Examples:

[FIX] I remember repairing my son’s house after the hurricane tore it apart.
[DECEIVE] I remember hiding finance data from my sister so she wouldn’t realise I’d run our company into the ground.
[PILOT] I remember piloting down the first colonists to land on Mars.
[PREPARE] I remember packing as many of my family’s possessions as I could into a bag before the tsunami hit.

Memories have three levels of application:

  1. When their skill applies, you get an extra dice on rolls.
  2. When you’re dealing with the subject of a memory, or a situation that’s a memory’s context, you add the two Aptitudes together to find your dice pool instead of taking the higher.
  3. When you’re dealing with something that reminds you of a memory’s subject or context (your call), you can stretch the memory to give you the second effect at the risk of gaining glitches in the memory.

Take enough glitches and the memory becomes corrupted – its context, subject, action or tone can all change, though only ever one at a time. You may find yourself fighting alongside your sister instead of your brother, healing them instead of fighting, or even fighting against them.

Stress

Finally, there’s the psychological toll your new state takes on you. Stress accumulates in three categories: Self, Discord and Quiet.

Self stress is gained as you begin to realise you’re not the person you used to be. Causes include finding evidence your memories have been corrupted, coming up against another instance of yourself, and casting off the memories of your life and instead prizing your new state.

Discord stress is the dysphoria caused by the conflict between your human mind and your digital state. Going without a physical presence for too long, suffering the destruction of a drone you’re currently inhabiting, and hacking into your core code can all cause Discord stress.

Quiet stress comes about less from being a Ghost and more from the rigours of long-distance space travel. Going years without new experiences and only interacting day-to-day with the same small group of people gives you Quiet stress, but too much stimulation can too – whether it’s diving too quickly back into the frenzy of society or hooking yourself up to a whole planet’s data feeds.

Stress builds up over time unless healed by the actions of your crewmates. As you cross certain thresholds you pick up Quirks – semi-permanent maladjustments that affect how you interact with the world. These are tied to the stress type that caused them: too much Discord stress could convince their character that the drone they’re inhabiting is, in fact, human flesh and blood. An excess of Self stress, on the other hand, could have a character doubting that they were ever human, or grow paranoid about which of their desires are theirs and which were programmed in.

Too much stress and your Ghost unravels, unable to hold its fragmented mind together. This is as close to death as Ghost Ship characters come and even after dissolution reactivated backups can gain stress as they come to terms with the lost time.

Other Character elements

That’s pretty much it as far as character mechanics go. There’re other details like your name, the characters mentioned in your background and memories, the type of drone you prefer piloting and the form your avatar takes, but those are mostly fiction-based rather than mechanical.

Altogether, this gives you a character sheet that looks something like this:

 

Next Time: Interplanetary travel and the march of history

Announcing Ghost Ship

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With What Ho World and Wizards Aren’t Gentlemen out to backers for reading and playtesting I’ve started working in earnest on one of my backburner concepts.

My next game is one I’m calling Ghost Ship. Here’s the pitch:

It’s the near future. After your death you woke up in a computer, a brain scan activated posthumously to say goodbye to family, turn over crucial information, or as a condition of your will. Once the flurry of bereavement and bureaucracy died down, you were given a choice – request deactivation or spend eternity in a simulated paradise. You took a third way.

Humanity’s interstellar ambition has faltered and stumbled in the face of the sheer hostility of space towards life. But you’re different. You don’t need to breathe, and power is much easier to provide than food or water. Out there in the black, you can find a new purpose, even as you explore how your simulated state is changing you.

Ghost Ship is a game about crews of uploaded minds piloting ships through the solar system, hoping to find fortune and a second life out in space. In part, it’s about the adventure of travelling through the void – the strange hazards of deep space, and the amazing surprises you find on the way.

It’s also about how the experience of ‘dying’ changes you. Your memories of life before the upload give you strength when you draw on them, but as you strain them they can be twisted and altered: you might find yourself remembering your husband’s marriage proposal instead of your wife’s, or even swap a memory with another character.

Finally it’s about how humanity adapts to the stars. As you run missions the solar system will change with you – new colonies will be founded, resources discovered, technology discovered and wars waged.

Inspirations

My fiction touchstones are The Expanse, the San Junipero episode of Black Mirror, and most importantly Elevator Music by The Indelicates.

Gameplay-wise, I’m looking at Torchbearer/Mouse Guard’s adventure/town phase divide, Psi*Run’s memory mechanics, and the way Invisible Inc uses a power economy to make ability choice meaningful.

If you’d be interested in tracking the game’s development, follow this blog or discuss it on our Facebook page!

The Fifth Season and a perpetual apocalypse

I’m currently reading NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season – winner of last year’s Hugo Award – and it’s excellent if exceptionally grim. The basic gist is that it takes place in a land constantly wracked with extreme geological turmoil. Society has been shaped by the constant pressure to survive, such that people count the regular eruptions that make the world uninhabitable for months or years at a time as a fifth season that just happens a bit less regularly than the other four.

Every bit of civilisation is geared towards preparing for the next Season, from constant maintenance of food stocks and fallow land within a settlement’s walls to strict organisation of the population into castes so that everyone knows and is prepared for their role. Inexplicable artefacts from long-gone DeadCivs scatter the landscape, underlying how long this turmoil had been going on for.

Reading this, I couldn’t help but think of Legacy. It wouldn’t take many edits to replicate this setting in-game: the main thing that would need to change is the idea that each turning of age represents another step towards building a new civilisation. In a Fifth Season-inspired game, each Turning of Ages would instead be a Season of turmoil and danger in which each family has to retreat to safety and trust in their supplies, and there would be no question of escape from the Fall.

There’s another thing the book does structurally that for me really underlines the constant danger of this world. Its story jumps between three different time periods, and in each you know that the safety and community the characters find won’t last as you’ve seen that it’s gone in the later periods. I’m still tossing around ideas for how you’d create a similar effect in-game, but you could maybe jump around at each turning of age rather than progressing linearly forward. After one age you might look a few centuries back, after the next age a couple of generations later.

Now this does cause issues for things like homeland map keeping and a sense of achievement/advancement, but there are some ways around that:

  1. Start with the assumption that the map will be wiped clean after every Age, except for the artefacts of the Before that you uncover.
  2. Assume that knowledge gained can be lost, and knowledge lost can be retained. That way you can advance your family and take those stats into the next age even if it was chronologically far in the past – it’s simply that your family in the present is rediscovering old glories.
  3. If the Apocalypse is ever-present, I’d give everyone a new basic move based on sensing its movements to demonstrate that awareness of disaster is a constant part of their mindset. For example, people in the Fifth Season have sensing organs in the brain that let them detect tremors in the earth and incoming eruptions before they happen (with the implication these were engineered in when things had only just started going south). You could add something like a hyper-awareness of astronomy if your problem was solar flares, or the ability to, say, read the psychic maelstrom that occasionally ramps up and drives outsiders to madness. In The Fifth Season some people can use the sensing organs to manipulate the earth and shape volcanic activity – maybe rewrite some moves of the Remnant in your game to fit the tone of the apocalypse.
  4. Focus your play agenda on either experiencing all the different ways communities have tried to survive or coming to an understanding as a group on the cause of the Apocalypse and a way of fixing it. This may help provide some direction, even as you jump around the timeline.
  5. Maybe don’t decide when you start an age where it falls in the timeline – let that grow organically as you pick through the ruins of prior ages and create the things later generations will find only fragments of.