Kevin C. Wong

RPG - Mothership: Player's Survival Guide (2018) [+]

Mothership is an OSR science fiction horror RPG that has been inn beta for several years and is finally going to have a first edition boxed set currently on Kickstarter. The Player's Survival Guide is a 44-page digest-sized basic but complete rule system covering character generation, skill resolution, equipment, combat, starship design and starship combat, and experience. It's damned well written, easy to understand with lots of examples. Nice art throughout and good layout.

Character sheet fits on a regular piece of paper and has enough information to create a character right from it. It's a d100 system with four action attributes (Stats: Strength, Speed, Intellect, Combat) and four defensive attributes (Saves: Sanity, Fear, Body, Armor). There are about three dozen skills split into Trained, Expert and Master skills with the latter two types having pre-requisite skills. The skills are laid out in a skill tree so it's easy to see what the pre-reqs are (you only need one of the pre-req skills to get the next tier of skill). You have four Classes (Teamster, Scientist, Android, Marine) which really just provide you with starting Saves and Skill and a special rule for Stress & Panic.

Action resolution is d100 equal to or less than your Stat. If there's an appropriate Skill it adds a bonus (+10%/+15%/+20%) and there can be other modifiers in the -20% to +20% range. Finally, if you have Advantage roll twice and take the best result and if you have Disadvantage roll twice and take the worse result. If you roll double (e.g. 22 or 77) it's and a success it's a Critical Success or if your roll is a failure with doubles it's a Critical Failure. If you're doing opposed rolls then highest rolled number success wins (if you both fail it's just a failure).

The starship design system is simple yet you build a modular ship where modules take up Hull points and at the end you have to calculate how many engines and fuel you need for the ship size. Then you get to draw your ship on a ship form which will help place your characters and see what happens when modules are damaged during ship combat or when a xenomorph is on the loose.

There is very little innovation in the game and I guess the closest is Stress and Panic. You have a Stress score starting at 2. Failing a Save increases Stress (usually by one point) though there are other ways to gain Stress (such as during a Crisis Check where you require several successes to complete an activity and you can re-roll a failure by gaining d10 Stress).

Strangely I thought you could take Stress to reroll any action check which then becomes a resource decision: make an important roll but then have a higher chance of panicking at a bad time? But I think I got this mechanic from Free League Publishing's Alien RPG which also does science fiction horror though in a specific universe.

Critically Failing a Save causes a Panic Check. Panic Checks are 2d10 and if you roll more than your current Stress you are fine. If you roll equal to or less than current Stress you roll on the Panic Effect table (2d10 + current Stress). Really low Panic Effects actually help you out by focusing your mind (you gain Advantage on all rolls for a few minutes). But the effects quickly become with hesitation, mental conditions and even Heart Attack.

If Mothership were my first science fiction RPG I'd be quite happy with it. It's small and complete and still has enough crunch to feel complete. First edition boxed set will add a GM's book and a monster book (and dice).

But Mothership would not be my first science fiction RPG. I think both Traveller and Star Frontiers are better RPGs and a big reason is they have established universes with supplements and adventure modules. Mothership captures a bit of the horror part with fairly low success chances plus the consequences of failure tending to be unforgiving, and with its Stress and Panic rules.

In the end I'm impressed with the system and presentation but at best I think I'd use any Mothership adventures with a different system, maybe grafting the Stress and Panic rules.