Sunday, 7 June 2020

Magic is a Heady Wine: unsorted ideas for a Regency letter-writing RPG

Had some ideas over quarantine for a letter-writing RPG in a Jonathan Strange + Mr Norrell-type setting. You play as Regency-era occultists. None of the play happens in meatspace, it's all play-by-post. Literal post, as in tree-corpses letters. Each turn takes a month. You can write multiple letters in a turn, to the GM and other players.

The world is split into three Realms:
  • Society. Regency England: glittering lights, letter-writing, fox hunting, political intrigue
  • The War. The battlefields of Europe: artillery, naval combat, mud and smoke and blood
  • The Other Side. Faerie: brambles, heady wine, summer madness and magic
Things that happen in one Realm affect the other two. New developments in the War will change Society gossip; happenings in Society affect the Other Side (because of meddling occultists, and also because Faerie is strangely fascinated by the human world); Faerie politics change the battlefields of the War in strange ways.

By default, players can only influence Society at the start of the game. It's a big deal to send letters to the other two Realms.

Maybe there's like a Gazette or something, written by the GM? All the players get the latest issue every three turns. It's full of updates on what's happened in the three Realms since the last dispatch.

Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Mothership After-Action Report: Something to Burn // 01

2656-series Companion Unit. (Source)

First session of my new Mothership campaign Something to Burn. The players -- a ragtag team of 'cowboys' -- are the crew of IMV The Machine, an old blockade runner from the Franchise Wars, mortgaged by Matsundai Heavy Industries. The crew:
  • Florence Vassey. Teamster. Has nightmares from a hyperspace accident six years ago.
  • Synthetic Humanoid Starlight Companion Unit 2656, model Alpha 1.3 ("Alfie"). Android. Owes a birth-debt to Matsundai Heavy Industries.
  • Zhi. Scientist. Pathologist turned natural remedy enthusiast.
  • Jeremiah. Marine. Veteran of the last Franchise War, on the run.
    Thirteen hours ago, the crew arrived at the space station Needle's Eye to look for work. As soon as they left the airlock, they knew they'd made a mistake. Last week, the station was "franchised" (annexed) by Matsundai. That means that there's nothing much there for them anymore. The station's full of cowboys competing over the few jobs still available and trying to hitch a ride out. (I used tables from A Pound of Flesh to flesh out the Eye.)

    After waking up in a capsule hotel, Jeremiah decides to join the others at a bar on the other side of the station. A grainy sun/moon animation on wall-mounted CRT screens are the Eye's equivalent to a day/night cycle. They tell him it's early evening. It's February 15th, the day after St. Valentine's Day, and old plastic roses and flabby helium balloons litter the streets. There are also "Pick-Me-Up" vending machines, recently installed by Matsundai, stocking various drugs: stimpacks, pain pills, adrenalin needles for ODs.

    The bar's a dive filled with cowboys looking for work; there's one like it in every backwater station. This is the place to go to hire mercs. Everyone's watching the TV. It's an interview with this guy Kovacs, a cowboy who became a huge celebrity after he killed a Warmind. He's promoting his new book.

    As the crew regroup over Bloody Maries made with imitation tomato juice, they're approached by a Sinneslöschen coolhunter called Erika. (Each player made up a megacorp at Session 0; Sinneslöschen are the system's entertainment conglomerate.) Erika's job is to hunt down hyper-specific local subcultures and trends for the company to exploit for the artificial fad cycle. (If the PCs want they can do this too, but they don't seem interested.) Erika wants to use the crew as a focus group -- apparently chaebol runners are going to be the next big thing -- and they answer her questions with varying degrees of enthusiasm. As thanks, she gives the team hammer and sickle t-shirts (Bolshwave was last month's fad). Alfie puts his on on the spot, then covers it up with his flight jacket and says he's going to visit the local Matsundai rep to discuss his life-debt.

    The rep's name is Allan Mtene. In every way he resembles a Zulu warrior, except he's wearing an exquisite suit. He seems honestly happy to see Alfie. Mtene tells Alfie there's only 36 hours of work to go on his birth-debt to Matsundai, and asks if he'll stay with the company on the Accelerated Placement Plan. With his exemplary service record, Alfie could be overseer on a mining rig within the week. Alfie says he hasn't come to a decision yet. (Androids are usually created owing a debt to the company which built them. After spending years or decades working for freedom, most 'choose' to stay with that company.) Then Mtene asks Alfie to describe the other crew members for Matsundai records, which Alfie is more than happy to do. He proceeds to snitch on his teammates in remarkable detail: Vassey is an addict probably self-medicating from a Pick-Me-Up machine right now, Zhi might not actually be a doctor, and Jeremiah's done some shady stuff in the past.

    Meanwhile, the rest of the team heads over the bounty office on the Needle's Eye. There's an office everywhere there are cowboys, and they're all interlinked: you can pick up a job from one office, do the job, and collect pay from an office on another planet. Most of the jobs on offer are low-paying and booked-out; only one hasn't been claimed, because applicants need their own spaceship. It's a salvage-and-destroy mission: a research vessel called the Alexis has dropped out of hyperspace near the Eye with no signs of life aboard. It's drifting towards the space station, and Matsundai wants someone to destroy it to prevent a collision. Payment is whatever salvage you can take before blowing it up. The team sign for the job and take off.

    The Machine isn't jump-capable, so it takes a day to reach the Alexis. Vassey is in their cabin taking methadone they bought from a vending machine on the Eye. Zhi checks on them occasionally. The rest of the crew is in the common room teaching Alfie to play poker. Once Alfie learns the rules of the game, he's frighteningly good at bluffing. The humans are unsettled at how convincingly he lies.

    Eventually, Vassey wakes up screaming from their nightmare (Zhi: "Captain's up"), and the Alexis comes into view. Scans indicate dangerous and regular power fluctuations aboard ship. After some debate, the crew come up with a plan: they're going to try and board the Alexis.

    To be continued...


    • Like most first sessions, this one went slowly at first. I could have sped things up by skipping the preamble and starting with everyone on the Alexis, but I wanted players to get a sense of what 'normal' life is like for their characters.
    • I'm keeping the exact year vague, but I'm being specific about dates. Something something meaningful campaign, time records.
    • First impressions of Mothership as a system: it looks like a solid basis for a campaign, not too focussed on one-shots. The layout and information design are as good as everyone says. The playtest ship rules are much better than what's in the book. The Debt mechanic gets rid of fiddly bookkeeping and really captures that grimy Cowboy Bebop flavour.