Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Planning for Mothership RPG: Player-Driven Antagonists

From the Cover Art of Mothership
Sci-Fi RPG by Sean McCoy;
©2018 Tuesday Knight Games
Right now I am working on making a Mothership Sci-Fi Horror RPG short campaign. Well the system looks a lot like eclipse phase, there are enough little differences that I didn't feel like I could review the system effectively without playing it a couple of times first. I thought it might be helpful to talk about useful tools and ideas that I will be applying to the design of this particular short series.

One of the biggest and most complex design decisions I have made has been the inclusion of human Player Character villain. For over a year, I have had a fantastic play test group to help me refine my various modules and rules designs. But, life has been getting in the way for a couple of them since the new year and we haven't been able to get together more than a few times. My cousin Kat, in particular has been struggling, thanks to a change of professions halfway through the last campaign.

Now aside from being a Family,  TTRPGs are a mainstay of our friendship. I taught her older sisters how to play Dungeons & Dragons in 1991 and it has become a fixture of their households as well. I ran her on her first role-playing game adventure in 1997, and it has been one of the things other than our love of heavy metal and family gossip that keeps us close.

However, despite her older sisters being hardcore gamers, she hadn't had much opportunity to actually play except with me on and off. So, when I invited her to play in my group in 2019 it was the first time she had played in an extended campaign. She took her thief Livia from a frightened prisoner with no weapons, armor, or memory to a cunningly talented assassin, and eventually a wealthy baroness and a diplomat who's acumen help that you're in a new era of prosperous trade between three different nations.

She always approaches the game with a learner's mindset, which is invaluable when you're otherwise playing with a bunch of Old Guard players who have a lot of preconceived notions about the game. When she had to leave the group earlier this year, it was a real loss. Everyone in the group was sad to see her go, and we would still be playing with her if scheduling hadn't made it impossible for her to keep attending my Monday night game. 

Needless to say, I really want to be able to find a way to include her... and I think I have.O

ver the last couple of years of heavily consuming RPG blogs I've come across the idea of having guest players run major monster encounters. They get to be the boss monster or the villain, so that the GM can be surprised by the outcome. And hopefully the guest player won't be tempted to pull punches against the PCs.

So for this game of Mothership I'm introducing a villain that is an evil artificial intelligence embedded in an alien artifact. The AI itself is aware of its surroundings through sensors, but cannot communicate and has no body. What it can do is take limited control over the local fauna of the dying planet that serves as the setting, hack the mining robots the player characters are relying on, and eventually possess NPCs.

Is my intent to let Kat make the plans for the AI. I will give her a list of resources, a list of abilities she could develop over time, and a set of clear goals.

I will let her either listen to recordings of the sessions, or listen invisibly at first, and write either plans or message me during the game with the alien intelligences actions as time permits.

Hopefully, by the time we are in the later chapters of the game her work schedule will have lightened enough for her to be able to actively communicate with the surviving crew members..

Assuming she is game.


  1. My favorite RPG memory is when I planned for an enemy NPC, an ogre-mage. I drew the PCs out of their keep with a proxy attack in the town they protected, then went in and slaughtered their retainers. I raised them all as zombies after shrinking them down to tiny size and placing them in bottles and jars around the keep. And then I cleaned up the blood and other battle damage, leaving no outward trace that anything had happened. The miniaturized zombie cook, armed with a paring knife, endlessly pounding the inside of a crystal water pitcher (with lemon slices) in the middle of the fully set dining table was a nice touch.

    The players were duly horrified by what they found upon returning to their keep, and vowed eternal vengeance. It set off a six month story arc for the DM. Mission accomplished.

    1. Remind me never to give you a reason to want revenge on me! That is next level Machiavelli meets Gilles de Retz stuff right there.

      Well done!