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Mothership (2024)

Mothership is the RPG that convinced me that zines were not just an excellent delivery system for RPG material, but that they are perhaps the BEST one, at least in terms of putting out and refining a project in progress. The original was released as a “beta” in the videogame development parlance and immediately inspired a robust third-party community to design for the game. It’s a science fiction horror game with a nice panic mechanic, inspired by Alien, Event Horizon, Dead Space and so on. Folks were keen for the crowd-funded formal first edition. I was too, but I didn’t expect any surprises — I already know the system and have played the game. And yet, here I am, not just surprised, but a little in awe.

I know the system. It feels cleaned up and polished and refined, but nothing jumps out at me as dramatically different from the beta (except the novel death mechanic, in which “mortally” wounded characters don’t know their actual status until someone checks on them, and the death save die is revealed). As a package, though, this thing is fantastic. Cleanly designed, expanded. The Deluxe box is gorgeous. There are standees, dice, a manual for ships, a book of monsters. The screen art is atmospheric. It’s worth the price of admission, and the wait (which, wasn’t that long).

The thing that bowled me over though, and will take some time to fully digest, is the Warden’s Operation Manual, a booklet that not only teaches you how to mechanically run Mothership, but also how to handle players a table, to think about horror, to cater to character roles, to respect agency, to mete out meaningful consequences. This is a deeply thoughtful musing on not just Mothership, but tabletop roleplaying generally. And, on top of feeling important to the hobby in that way, it also manages to be welcoming in a way very few games are. The message resounds throughout: anyone can run this, anyone can play this, being murdered by horrible aliens is for everyone!

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