Playbook Focus: The Authority

As the Voidheart Symphony kickstarter ticks along, I’ll be writing in-depth analyses of each of the character options you have available to you. First up, the Authority!

The Authority

Building a better kingdom.


The Authority knows that they’re not just up against individual bad apples – they’re fighting a pervasive system of oppression and control. That’s more than one person can fight, so they’ll need a movement. And if there’s a movement, someone needs to build it, guide it, lead it. Only temporarily, of course.

The Authority’s strengths are leadership, control, and insight into other’s actions. Their weakness is that their abilities largely benefit their allies instead of themselves – isolate them from their followers and supporters, and their ability to resist the castle drops dramatically.

Inspirations: Morpheus in The Matrix, King Mob in The Invisibles, Makoto in Persona 5.

The Authority and the Crew

Like every playbook, the Authority has three options for their crew covenant, all focusing on the question: what does the crew mean to them?

The Emperor

If you pick The Emperor, you’re in some way a formal leader of the group. Indeed, at least one of the other rebels works for you in some way!1 The Emperor gives you plentiful tools to help the others, so long as they accept your authority. When they spend time with you, you can offer them the support of your organisation to aid their projects, giving you some measure of control over their project’s outcome. In the city, you can keep the castle’s influence at bay, so long as you are willing to reject all the ways society has defined you. And in the castle, you can give up an opportunity to hurt a foe in order to blunt their claws and control their actions.

Pick the Emperor if: you want to guide the other rebel’s actions and be an insightful leader.


If you pick Justice, the group is instead your tool to redress great injustices and bring the powerful to account. Even before your story started, you had helped at least one other rebel escape an injustice – or bring vengeance to one who had wounded them. As a part of the crew, you give the others insight into the pulse of the city. When they spend time with you, they can look through cases or meet those experiencing injustice, and learn more about the actions of their opponents. In the city, you can appeal to the better nature of those sworn to protect society – forming an empathetic connection to them instead of relying on your status. Finally, in the castle, you can pull your group together in a collective effort, using an adversary’s crimes to spur your fellows into action.

Pick Justice if: you want a set of tools to help you uncover injustice, and set the world to rights.

The Hierophant

Finally, if you pick the Hierophant, your authority is spiritual, philosophical, academic. You provide advice and support to the others, and when they hang out with you and ask for your advice they’ll find it extremely helpful if followed. As a Heirophant, you’re a member of a prestigious group – maybe a think tank, an order of clergy, an artist collective. When you use this group to open doors in the city, it helps you overcome slander against your reputation, though failure here can harm the group. And in the castle? You’re far better able to understand the metaphysics of that place and to understand what the artefacts there mean to the Vassal, and you gain insight into the castle’s layout every time you use your will to reshape it.

Pick the Heirophant if: you want to be respected and respectable, acting in an advisory role.

Moves and Powers

Once you defeat your first Vassal, and seize their power for your own, you’ll have moves to pick from. This is another chance for you to define what kind of authority you’ll be. Will you concentrate on augmenting your ally’s actions by knocking the foes off-balance with First in the Fray and making effective plans with Tactical Genius? Will you instead exert control over your opponents, guiding their actions and laying traps with And Next You’ll Say…? If you do so, remember to make your predicted action something that’ll benefit you in some way so that their choice is lose/lose for them and win/win for you. Or, will you be a generalist and grab Inspiring Healer, passively benefiting your allies whatever you succeed at whatever else you were doing?

And as you gather shrouds and raise your Shadow, what will you then become? Your Shadow look will help you define what the ideal of authority looks like to you – a divine intercessor? A cosmic scholar? A being of elegance and beauty with mirrored eyes and haute couture? Feel free to define and redefine your image of authority, as your shadow waxes and wanes.

And then there’s Shadow moves. The Authority who leads from the front will get plentiful use from War Cry to stay in the fight, and the Authority who enjoys commanding the battle can use Just You and Me to trap the opponent and Heroic Intervention to disrupt their ability to hurt the other rebels. Finally, Voice of Command lets you flip the castle’s minions to serve you instead – fighting alongside you, helping you offscreen, or acting as sacrificial armour. You may note you can only use this ability once per delve, but it says nothing about the minion stopping serving you if they happen to survive. Whether they fade away with their Vassal’s defeat, or linger as your own minion from that point on, I leave as a matter for you and your Architect!

The Mundane World

Finally, there’s who you are in the mundane world. Across your options for your role and your contacts, there’s a tension – you are certainly in control of something, but you’re very likely not in definite control of it. You may have rivals trying to undermine your authority, greater powers offering you training or power so long as you serve them, students and apprentices seeking to learn from you.

And as for your particulars – are you scrappy and overworked? Pristine and authoritative? Ruthless and waving your authority round like a badge? What challenges will you face as an authority marginalised because of their gender, sexuality, race, religion? Or, alternatively, what challenges will you face as an authority trying to push against society’s orthodoxy when you’re precisely the kind of person it supports?

As you play, try to work out what it is that you’re building. Is it a movement? A school of philosophy? A corporation? An organisation? How will you feel the call of the Void, as more and more people owe you their fealty? How will you nurture the World, if doing so means accepting that your authority is specific and limited and you need to learn from others?

Wrapping Up

So, that’s the Authority – the different directions you can take the playbook, and the questions it’ll ask you as you play. Remember that you can check out the Kickstarter here, and download the newest release of Voidheart Symphony from my page.

Tune in next time, when we’ll be looking at the chaos to the Authority’s order: The Heretic!

1: It’s important to note that the questions you ask the others when picking your crew covenant can be answered by more than one rebel!

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.