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.
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.
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.
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.
[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:
- When their skill applies, you get an extra dice on rolls.
- 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.
- 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.
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