(Dear ENnies selection committee, call me maybe and let's do lunch)
With that in mind, I decided to review something for the first time. It's a good excuse for me not only to stay active with the blog, but also to stay on top of things within the OSR community. So that's why I decided to buy and review Sean McCoy's Mothership, a Science Fiction Horror RPG.
Don't let the disco logo fool you.
So I will start this review with a very important declaration: Broadly speaking, I hate science fiction. I have certain exceptions, however. For example, I greatly enjoy Dune (at least the original novel) and Star Wars, although I see them more as science fantasy and adventure, respectively. The only other sci-fi I genuinely and regularly enjoy falls into the subgenre that overlaps with horror. The original Alien (1979) film is superb, and one of my guilty pleasures is the 90's cult classic, Event Horizon (1997). Both are set in space and deal with horror themes.
Note that I could also include the films The Thing (1982) and The Fly (1986) but those are slightly less relevant. The point is, couple space sci-fi with a horror of the unknown and I'm way more likely to be emotionally invested when compared to an episode of Star Trek.
Enter Mothership. I purchased this at my local game store for $15 although it's also available as a pay-what-you-want PDF (link). My version came printed on very nice paper with a cardstock cover along with four collectible monster cards, with stats and descriptions for each monster pictured. More on this below.
First off, I love a lot of the presentation here. The typeface is a clean Helvetica (or similar), with good use of bold emphasis. After many sections is a note telling you where more relevant content can be found (e.g., "For more on combat, see p. XX"). With a lack of an index, this is quite helpful if something is left unanswered by the end of the paragraph. However, I've noticed that the PDF has no document links if you try to click on these. Hopefully that's something that will get worked into a future revision.
But probably the best bit of design is the character sheet. Holy shit, do I love the character sheet for this game. It literally walks you through the entire process of creating a character by effectively making it a flow chart. You can see it on mothershiprpg.com so you know what I'm talking about. The concept is brilliant - just follow the arrows and you will cover all of your character creation basics. This minimizes time spent looking through rules. I have played some RPGs where entire sessions were wasted on character creation. For a game that isn't simply a variation of D&D, Mothership is efficient even by OSR standards.
The artwork is also quite good, although the style seems a touch inconsistent at times. I do have to give Sean a big kudos as he also did all the artwork, according to the credits.
As for the system, the game only uses d10's and the d10's which increase in multiples of ten. The latter is denoted by an underline, i.e., d10. This sometimes comes in handy for the massive amounts of damage some weapons can do, for example. The four stats are determined via a roll of 6d10. (expected value = 33.) This gives you a stat you often must roll under. So statistically speaking, you should succeed at things 1/3 of the time. Compared to Traveller's target number of 8+ on 2d6 (41.7%), Mothership seems to lean more difficult. However, there's also a skill system. Each skill you have can raise your stat check depending on what level skill it is.
In a mere 40 pages, there's also a stress/sanity/panic mechanic, rules for mercenaries, a bunch of space guns, and rules for building spaceships.
Let's talk about spaceships. In my experience, they're hard to incorporate into RPGs. There are either not enough options, or as is more often the case, they take forever and a day to design. Instead of the usual hassle, Mothership kind of treats spaceships as big characters, which is a smart move. The ship even has its own worksheet similar to the character sheet. A ship can be statted out fairly quickly, even if you don't immediately know its layout. However, the game provides you rules for drawing your ship's plans using the results of the worksheet. Undoubtedly a fun activity to do between sessions.
But there's one major thing that's missing from this game, in my opinion: what to actually do with all this stuff. I mean, I can appreciate the timeless tactic of simply coming up with things on the fly, but we're left with no ideas on what sorts of things to try with these rules, especially given the fact that it's a horror game. (You don't want to accidentally make things a cakewalk for your players.) There are plenty of examples demonstrating individual mechanics in action, but no sense of the game itself in action. I'm sure that once I came up with a good adventure idea, I could probably run this, but I have to admit it's a bit difficult to get my brain gears turning with the rules as they are. The mosnter cards that came with the print version definitely help, although you don't get these with the PDF.
To put it a different way, I'd hate to set out to run a Mothership campaign only to have it end up feeling like a Traveller campaign.
I'm curious to see the future of this game, especially since it's branded as an Alpha release. I expect that the developers will be refining and further developing the game in the future.
The good stuff:
- Layout and readability.
- Available as a pay-what-you-want PDF.
- Uses only d10's (I love d10's )
- most mechanics seem simple yet intuitive
The bad stuff:
- Typos and errors in the print version
- Not much guidance for the GM (or "Warden")
4/5 stars because that's what everyone does for everything.
More information to come if I actually playtest something using the game.