I’ve had the pleasure to run three new systems in the last year or so, and I’ve collected some notes here.
- Character creation is as easy as the character sheet makes it look. It was great for new players and they picked up the percentile system quickly.
- It is much harder to GM than it looks and I don’t think I did it justice. Coming from dungeon crawling games, I made a few mistakes:
- You can’t foreshadow every encounter. Combat can start before players have a chance to run, without them necessarily doing anything “wrong”.
- Remember to ask for saves. In a “normal” game, the players find a body and roll for loot. In Mothership they find a body and roll a save.
- Familiarize yourself with the players’ tools or be ready to improvise. When players scan behind for signs of life, do undead show up? Do androids? Insects? Big insects? In D&D, I’m familiar enough to know what detect magic can and can’t do (or I can look it up for a whole page of detail depending on edition), but Mothership suffers doubly from being a genre I’m less familiar with and from still having such a brief rulebook.
- The game has no “fallback” mechanic. If an action isn’t covered by stats, saves, or skills, then you have to come up with a consistent resolution on your own, and it’s just light enough that this is likely. If a character hides, you can have a negotiation about it or roll under the enemy’s instinct stat, but it would be nice if the game gave you some guidance.1
- Make snacks. Figs can be quartered with a honey sauce to make xenomorph eggs, and green jalapeño jelly on chèvre looks “biological”. We had some more mundane snacks also, and for dessert, a chocolate olive oil cake with green matcha frosting.
- Impromptu reviews of Oneohtrixpointnever included “I feel like the music is attacking me.” Ambient sounds were more constructive.
The players all said they had fun, so I’d try it again, but it definitely still feels like it’s in beta.
- Character creation is quick, but some players were a little miffed at their backgrounds. (We had to really emphasize that gremlins are purely malicious.)
- Free form skills are a lot of fun, because they encourage players to really try anything and not worry about what they’re “good” at. Skills learned in the first session included jar fighting and high-fiving.
- Free form skills also distract from existing skills that players might not know about. For example, none of the players had etiquette already, so it didn’t occur to them that they could rely on the skill instead of their role-playing when they were stuck. A list of skills can equally serve as a generator for ideas and a limitation.
- Blancmange & Thistle is a nice little adventure that showcases Troika! very well, but the direction is loose. My players ascended the hotel and heard some calls to adventure at the rooftop feast, but there’s not a lot of momentum towards any of them.
- Troikan initiative is a lot of fun in practice. For playing online, there is Dave Schiuridan’s tool and a Discord bot, or you can list the initiative tokens in a numbered list and roll an arbitrary die (shrinking it by one side after every roll).
Fifth edition is the easiest game to get a group together for. Because of this exposure, I’m sure I won’t say anything groundbreaking here.
- If you don’t limit character choices before players start making characters then they will use anything they can find, and they can find a lot. Our party has a warforged, a tabaxi, and an artificer, so I'm mostly just letting them tell me how their characters work. The artificer was difficult because it's not always clear to a new player when things you find online are homebrew.
- I had been warned about the power level and amount of magic, and while these things are higher than previous editions, I don’t think they’re game-breaking. It just gives everyone lots of different tools to interact with the environment and stronger assurances that they probably won’t die.
- Some things that make sense to me (coming from older editions), and look fine at first glance, do not make sense at all to new players:
- The step-by-step “building a character” section only works for that character. For more complicated characters, you will need to do the steps out-of-order and jump back and forth and add steps. When you’re finished, only about half the character sheet has been filled-in.
- A lot of terminology is not explained. An “ability modifier” does not modify your ability score, but a “racial modifier” does, and then can indirectly change your “ability modifier”. When I write sixth edition, I will call the modifier a “bonus”, and scrap the score altogether.
- Similarly, levels and spell levels have always been confusing. It’s not helped by every class having its own casting rules. I will call them “spell circles” when I am benevolent dictator of the next edition, as in “magic missile is a first-circle spell”.
- The index is awful. In the space that it takes for “temporary hit points” to direct me to “hit points, temporary”, it could have given me the page number. The whole thing is like someone copied the style of an index without understanding it.
- I think the GM tools are probably lacking, but I borrow liberally from everywhere, so it’s hard for me to judge.
There’s a lot of fun to be had with 5e, but I’m never sure how much is just the inherent fun of RPGs. Still, I think it’s got an undeserved reputation in some places.
1 There is a Warden’s (GM’s) guide planned, in the future. I hold out hope that book does for the GM what the survival guide does for players, but I’m less sure given the Twitter thread. There was definitely room to own that some parts of the rules were just less finished than others, but also everyone says dumb stuff on Twitter.back