Mothership: Player's Survival Guide

Posted 16 Apr 2021 to Sci-Fi

Space Horror, rules light.


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 3
Sessions as Player: 0

I Used

44 pages PDF. "Dead Planet" and "Pound of Flesh" adventure modules.


I wanted to run a full-length sci-fi campaign, and wanted something rules-light. The campaign was going to be about flying around a star system, doing jobs and scraping by in a Firefly way. We created characters and ran an initial adventure. The campaign ran for 15 sessions, but I switched to a different RPG system (Stars Without Number) after 3 sessions. Mothership felt calibrated for one-shot or con games, and some things didn't work for my longer campaign idea. Nevertheless I adore their adventure modules (all of them) and have used and re-used them with other RPG systems.


The Good

  • Short punchy writing style is really effective. Its easy to read, understand and play. The game assumes this is not your first RPG, which is fine by me.
  • Small form booklet layout is really great. If you're tired of long tomes, this game is focused on getting into play quickly.
  • Character classes are interesting: Teamster, Android, Scientist and Marine. Each handles Stress in a different way. Our group had 4 players, one of each class.
  • Famously, the character sheet also includes all the character creation rules. You follow a flowchart that leads you from stats to skills. You can hand out the character sheets and be playing in 10 minutes. No exaggeration.
  • Art style is unique and awesome. Crudely drawn objects and monsters allow the imagination to fill in the blanks.
  • Strong reliance on random tables to generate flavourful content, like d100 Trinkets. I like these OSR-style tools.
  • The Stress system is the central mechanic in the game. When the PCs encounter something scary, they gain Stress. Sometimes they make a Stress check and if they fail, then they roll on the Panic Effect table. Downtime can cure Stress.
  • The system for designing ships is decent. You can add modules, calculate the ship's hit points.
  • The adventures are brilliant. Exemplary even. So easy to use at the table, and full of ideas. I think I will need to do a separate post about them, because they warrant it.

The Not-So-Good

  • Damage and Hit Points
  • Weapon damage and monster hit points felt out of whack. For example, 2 PCs cornered the claw monster and attacked it with wrenches and melee weapons. Their weapons did 1d10 damage. The monster had 270 hit points. It took forever. A pistol does 3d10 damage. A shotgun does 2d10 x 10 damage. Guess what weapon everyone carried thereafter.
  • It took us 10 rounds of combat between 1 alien and 2 PCs. And I halved the alien hit points because I got bored.
  • There are some house rules, recommended by the writer of Mothership, which slightly modify how PC hit points work. They are intended to save PCs from one-shot kills when those x10 damage weapons are used. We used the house rules, but they didn't really apply in our sessions.
  • Combat Wasn't Scary
  • Some people on the Mothership Discord group go on and on about how lethal the system is and how players ought to have backup characters ready. I didn't see that. PCs have somewhere between 60 and 80 hit points. A handgun does 3d10 damage (average 15), pulse rifle 5d10 (average 25). So that's several rounds of combat before you go down, assuming you fail every armor save and the enemy never misses.
  • The Alpha Gaunt, the biggest scary alien in the Dead Planet adventure does 2d10 damage (average 10). In our session, players seemed to quickly catch onto this, and their tactics pivoted from defensive to all out attack.
  • The Economy
  • The economy didn't work well for a campaign play. Ship fuel costs $10k per day. Per day! Hiring a mercenary costs $600 per month. Per month! A shotgun costs $1400. Repairing 1 hit point of ship damage costs $100k.
  • As GM I wasn't sure what an appropriate reward was for a mission. I mean, the guy hiring you to go check out that abandoned space station needs to at least cover your fuel costs, with allowance for a bit extra. If they do that, and the players negotiate 50% upfront payment (which is logical), or sell excess fuel from their tank, then they will certainly gear up with a squad of expendable mercenary hirelings and top-tier gear.
  • Now this economy isn't a problem if you're running a con game or one-shot. You just start the story in media res, with pregen characters. You control what gear they have. Nobody is going to find and sell an abandoned space ship, or drain its fuel tank. But I could see the prices as listed were going to be a problem for the Firefly-style game I was aiming for. Perhaps it was a mismatch of expectations.



I am not likely to play this again. Maybe as a one-shot for the hell of it, if someone else was going to run it. Other groups seem to be playing the hell out of this system and having a grand time with it. Perhaps one of them can educate me on how to do it justice.



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