Friday, November 3, 2023

Game Review: Autonmnijobs: Small Jobs for Unimportant People

Beth Crane
Publisher: Battle Bird Productions
Marketplace: Gumroad
Engine: Lasers & Feelings

Beth Crane and I don't share the same taste in RPGs, but I admire the hell out of my creativity. I first came across her work while hunting for a new science fiction podcast and discovered We Fix Space Junk, and instantly fell in love with it.

WFSJ is set in a far future where humanity lost most of its digital data due to catastropic solar flares in 2088. One of the only surviving financial instutions was a predatory student loans service that kept its intrusive accounts records sealed in lead boxes in an underground facility. The company was able to allow other financial institutions to recoup some of their losses by selling their data. 

The lending company quickly became the most powerful financial institution in the galaxy. This emergent  megacorporation, now called Automnicon, finds desperate people (usually desperate because of the terrible conditions they create on space colonies in the first place) and offer them loans to for medical or travel expenses. These loans come with ludicrous interest that makes the debtee into a slave of the company. Failure to do the jobs assigned by the company leads them to shut off life support in whatever starship or space colony the recalicitrant employees are located. 

The podcast follows Kilner and Samantha an odd couple of deeply indebted repairwomen who are sent from planet to planet doing menial repair jobs in often psychotically dangerous and volatile situations by a company that couldn't care less if they live or die.

We Fix Space Junk is exactly the kind of dark comedy I love the most, and I have been binging it for days.

When I heard that Beth Crane had made an RPG based on her setting, I decided to grab a copy as much as a way to shoe my appreciate of her podcast as to try to experience the setting myself.

The System

Autumnijobs: Small Jobs for Unimportant People is a modified version of Lasers & Feelings by John Harper, a game I have both discussed and hosted here on the site.

The system is fairly simple: your character has a race and personality randomly rolled on a pair of d6 tables, and single stat that represents two extremes. In Lasers & Feelings, that is a number between 1 and 10 representing the character's position on an extreme between being technically inclined and emotionally intelligent. Any roll is made on a d10. Tasks requiring technical skills must get over the PC's stat. Skills requiring social skills, empathy, and intuition must be rolled under the stat. If the character's personality or species might gve them special expertise, they roll two dice and get to pick the best one. If the character rolls their number they succeed and  gain a flash of intuition that allows you to ask one question about the situatuion of the GM that must be answered honestly.

 Automnijobs uses a d6 instead of a d10, and the number represents extremes of Brain and Brawn ins stead of technical skill and emotional intelligence. The character species are mostly references to specific characters in the series such as a hybrid alien Wasp/Human/Cow and an AI in a robot body. In fact, much of the game is a series of jokes that only make sense if you have listed to at least the first series of We Fix Space Junk and the spin-off Marilyn's Diary.

Automnijobs also has a debt rating for the party that starts at -500 credits.  PCs must pay for food, tools, and supplies, and may pay money to gain extra dice. However, if the debt goes to low, their air gets shut off.

Automnijobs has multiple d6 tables to generate a job that feels as deranged and lethal as the jobs in the podcast, giving an action such as repair or monitor, a thing, a planet, a warning in the briefing, and a danger tat the PCs aren't being told about. All PCs have a secret generated on a d6 that might also cause mayhem over time.

The PCs are aiming to clear their debt and get free from debt to Automnicon. I played the game using the Mythic GM Emulator for a job to kick the tires. 

What I Loved

A Profusion of Modules

One thing I findthis project is that it was clearly not a one-and-done creation: there are a profusion of modules for the game, all PWYW with an asking price around £1 that tie in to pieces of lore and characters explored in the series. The game is still well supported.

Strange and Darkly Funny

Automnijobs definitely captures the weird, dark feeling that We Fix Space Junk has created. My own characters were sent to a planet falling into a black hole where the previous inhabitats spoke through dancing. Libraries are dance studios full of humanoid robots that perform various books... and I was sent to find out why some of them have stopped obeying their programming.

Along the way my PCs were waylaid by a member of the crew of a previous ship that had been abandoned when that ship had fallen into a black hole. He attempted to leave my PCs stranded to be consumed by the black hole while he flew off in my ship. Meanwhile, a terminally bored AI (the most common type in WFSJ) has been hacking into the library dance bots to turn them into a robot army, and decides to terrorize us with a robot apocalypse of killer dance bots.

The game definitely has the right chemistry to rereate WFSJ scenarios.

Definitely Encourages in-Character Role-Play

I found even durin solo making up a lot of imaginary interactions... especially when one of my two PCs was forced to come clean about acidentally falling asleep at the stick and dropping the previous ship into a black hole, then making an impassioned plea to her partner to help her instead of leaving with the old crew member.

There is definitely something about the strangeness of the characters that encourages one to play them to the hilt, at least for me.

Growth Points

It's the Wrong Engine

To Automnijobs' credit, it does a great job of adding to the Lasers 7 Feeling game structure to make something uniquee. Unfortuneately, it is really the wrong fit for the setting. We Fix Space Junk never establishes a dichotomy between brains and brawn: in fact, one of the things that makes the show funny is that Kilner has both, and Samantha has neither. Likewise, there is a lot of talk about danger to life and limb, and the need to perform surgery on onesself and even build one's own cybernetics to avoid being billed, and yet that doesn't appear anywhere in the mechanics.

Honestly, using an engine closer to Troika's would have felt far more sensible given the structure of the show. Characters had definintely varying levels of general competence and self-possession, as well as clear personal luck, and things like hunger, damage from exertion and lack of atmosphere, etc. all are better taken into effect using a system like it.

Honestly, if I were to run a game set in the We Fix Space Junk universe I would be taking the engine from Death in Space or Mothership and playing it in a tongue-in-cheek fashion. The mechanics of Lasers & Feelings just don't match the narrative themes of WFSJ quite right.

The Economics Needs Tweaking

Part of the funniest, yet bleakest element of We Fix Space Junk is the idea that the PCs can end up thousands or millions of credit in debt, and can never be free until "their debt is paid or their natural deaths, whichever comes second." And that the lower the debt, the more the company risks their life and limb. Employees who are nearly debt-free are often sent on suicide missions.

The air get turned off if you don't work.

By comparisson, Automnijobs gives PCs a starting debt of -500 and a has a list of things they can spend, and a list or rewards they can earn in otder to try to work off their debt. If debt falls to -1000 the PCs are suffocated... a task that in true PARANOIA fashion is very easy to do. In fact one lost limb is enough to end the campaign.

This just doesn't make sense. First logically, because the company wants the PCs in debt. Second, it doesn't trap them in a grind.  If you are playing a one-shot, this works, but it doesn't quite make sense if you want more than one game. Also, it doesn;t catch the ridiculous and staggering numbers that kkeep showing up in WFSJ.

What might have made more sense would be to have a debt, and a long list of things that incur more. When debt is low, the PC's morale is high and they have some bonuses... but also there is a mounting level or peril, with more deadly job tables to roll on as the PCs appraoch financial solvency. This even creates a perverse mirror of the D&D leveling system.

The Tables Feel too Small

We Fix Space Junk is a rich setting with an endless string of strange and bizarre jobs and place. It feels odd that so much is crammed on D6 tables. For some things, such as job locations, subject,s and comlications a d66 table woul add so much more and do th series justice.

You Really Need to Know the Show

Some things in the game really make no sense at all without the show. Automnijobs is definitely a companion piece and not a stand-alone product. Honestly, because buying it lets me support a podcast that has instantly landed in my top 10, I don;t mind that, but it strikes me as hard to round up three friends who are all a fans of the series to run a game.

Give us Hype and Lore

Especially given the dark commentary on capitalism and marketing, I think that Automnijobs misses a beat in presentation. I would have loved to see a page dedicated to the new Automnicon employee briefing we hear frequently on the podcast. I would love to see sponsor bot shilling the podcast and the mech in speech baloons. And I would have loved to see some of the art from the merch scattered around.

We Sell Space Junk is such a rich story setting, I would love for the manual to have just a few more pages to invite us to dive into it.


Automnijobs: Small Jobs for Unimportant People is a simple, fast game that has just enough weirdness and dark humor baked into it to give you a couple of hours of the kind of fun that I enjoy from the podcast. Ultimately, it misses a few beats by not hyping the podcast more and giving us some more setting lore to play with, Beth Crane's imagination is a very fun place to visit, and I woul have liked a deeper tour. The game engine is a tried-and-true system for a lightweight story game, but it doesn't quite give you the same sense of both menace and quirky character skillsets that are found in the game. It sacrifices some of the central tensions of the podcast for the sake of using a light and easy engine.

I could definitely see using the job generation tables here as a great jumping-off point for a dark comedy Sci-Fi game in another system like White Star as well. There is definitely some tools and ideas worth stealing.

That said, as a way of showing my support for an incredible podcast, and encouraging a writer and gamer I appreciate, I can't go wrong with it. If definitely gave me a couple hours of fun,  structured daydreaming this morning. There's nothing like looking for a way to say "Thank You" and coming home with another TTRPG... and it happens to me strangely often.

(And reviewing it lets me cheer WFSJ twice!)

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