AAR: The Haunting of Ypsilon 14

15 Oct, 2021 mothership fvtt

Survive. Solve. Save. Pick one.

Back in August, I had a game of Mothership for the first time in ages. Mothership (MoSh) is a sci-fi horror game that leans strongly on the style of the Alien films. Humans have spread among the stars, but it’s grimy, dirty, and technology is fallible. Space is big and scary, but you have to put up with it, to earn some money from The Man. The character classes are Scientist, Android, Teamster, and Marine; and don’t need any explanation if you’ve seen the films.

I honestly thought I’d written about it on here, but I bought a lot of MoSh stuff in ZineQuest 1 when Pound of Flesh came out, and wasn’t writing up my experiences then. After a frenzy of games (and getting back into RPGs in general), Mothership took a back-seat for me. I think I travelled through Gartner’s hype cycle on it - I played a few different games of it in rapid succession. There’s a lot I like about it, but after a while it does feel unfinished, and some of the rules stack a bit messily for me. For example, each class typically modifies the behaviour of rolls for players around them. So if you’re playing this with a 5e mind to a balanced team1

Very soon the promised final version is launching on Kickstarter and hopefully that will answer all the questions.

I ran The Haunting of Ypsilon 14. This blog will contain extensive spoilers! Also CWs for body horror and animal death.

The adventure

The rough story of Ypsilon 14 is that it’s a mining asteroid with a small group of miners, doing their mining thing2 but a xeno discovery being secretly investigated by a scientist is about to murder everyone. As with most Mothership modules, it gets vague in places. The actual root cause of the goo and the monster is not clear. Was the monster here all along? Is it a missing miner in his final stage of some metamorphosis? What’s the relationship between the goo, the monster, and the xeno pods in the mine?

Channelling the first Alien film: who cares? Kill it.

Setup

I had four players for this, and we played online over two 2.5 hour sessions. I used my Foundry server, which is an over-complicated way of doing it, but I fancied going all-in on set-up, in order to build some mood. I’m a big fan of setting mood in horror games, I think it really helps the RP.

Modules:

I decided to set up the MoSh sheets in Foundry, which took far too long. This involves defining a bunch of equipment items and then dragging them into each character sheet. Fine if you’re going to play a lot, as you’d only need to do this once. I wanted to see whether it was useful to keep everything in one place.

Well, the answer is “Not the way I play, no”. I’m always going back to the rules to check things anyway. No, I probably shouldn’t, ‘rulings not rules’ and all that. Yes, I’m going to keep doing it, at least in game engines I don’t know so well. However that isn’t a criticism of the game!

I also loaded soundtracks into Foundry to set some appropriate mood. This was very much worth doing, it absolutely gets people’s attention. I started off with per-scene sounds, so spaceship ambient when coming into the asteroid, workshop sounds in the space station. In the second session I just played the intro to John Carpenter films quietly.

For each room I found some artwork that set the right aesthetic and showed that as a gridless Scene in Foundry. Combat was shown as theatre of the mind, with tokens clumped to indicate melee but not any actual absolute placing.

VTT view with background image of a plastic-extruded kitchen
Foundry view of the crew mess.

The MoSh discord has loads of material for running this game. My two favourites:

Story

The party are doing a routine cargo run to Ypsilon 14, delivering water and food; and collecting minerals.

They land on the planet, and meet the miners (and their cat), run by Sonya. Joey refuses to help unload, he’s paid for security, not carrying. Everyone meets in the mess to celebrate the arrival of fresh food and visitors. Except for Giovanni who refuses; and Mike is missing. Swipe records indicate he’s still out mining. Some of the NPCs go out to check, and we hear on the radio quite how badly this goes for them. 💀

A panicked meeting in the mess ensues. Tempting though it is to leave, the Company will treat any over-eager retreat as dereliction of duty and forteiture of pay. The party split to fetch weapons, and also to do some investigation round the base.

Uh oh.

A monster attacks in the mess! It is mesmerising to behold. Don is blinded by it and can only hear the screams of the NPCs. By the time this wears off the party meet up again to find only Sonya is conscious; the others are dead or knocked out. They decide to invade Giovanni’s ship to see what he’s up to.

Joey and Sadie go in; Giovanni smiles at them, then starts attacking with a knife, whilst leaking yellow goo. Joey eventually kills him but Sadie is drenched. She screams and runs to the shower block, cannoning Don aside when he tries to stop her. He runs after to find her recoiling in pain from the water in the showers. Sonya challenges her, but she instead explodes in goo, covering Sonya. Don freaks; and seals Sonya in the room.

The three players decide “Fuck this” and leave for their ship, guns pointing everywhere. There’s a rattle in the workshop on their way, what’s that? Oh it’s just the cat 🐱.

Joey shoots it.

“It might have been one of them, we don’t know!”. Everyone is horrified. Nevertheless, they bundle onto the ship, and start prepping for launch. No, of course not, they force Don into the shower, who can’t not scream when touching water. This would get pretty awkward if the monster didn’t attack. It dodges most shots in the room, so in desperation they start throwing grenades, inside their own ship. This kills the monster but does no favours to the ship internals.

Tokens on a picture of a spaceship cockpit - the monster is glowing
Foundry view of the blinding monster.

Minami is able to fix things up though, enough for an optimistic jump outSystem. Don is put into a statis pod, maybe the infection can be treated at Head Office?

Lessons

This ran as two three-hour sessions. The first with four players, the second with three. Mechanically, I did not add enough stress, which meant the few panic rolls were easily saved. However the players RPed panic so well it didn’t really matter. Were they to have failed a panic roll I couldn’t have chosen more interesting outcomes!

One player didn’t get a single successful combat action in the whole game. They had a 35% chance and I don’t think there was a dozen combat rounds across the handful of encounters. MoSh combat is relatively short, after all. But for someone to notice and tell me as Warden (GM), they’re clearly a little disappointed. I’d hoped to set expectations of “entering combat means it’s going to go to shit” but I think I have to be more blunt.

Look at the dice numbers you need to hit; this is much less generous than 5e!

I read an interesting suggestion during running this game; that I’ve now lost. I didn’t like that marines end up losing initiative from their crap speed from the battle dress. I tried instead using different stats for different combat rounds:

  1. Speed
  2. Intellect
  3. Strength
  4. Strength…

I liked the idea that the marines warm up in a fight and then they can start to dominate it. And Scientists and Androids can have a brief bonus. It’s a bit fussy, but hey if I don’t remember; it doesn’t matter.

It’s been a while, I fancy playing it again. Can’t think why.


  1. Not necessarily correct in MoSh, you don’t need one of each class. Or rather, it might not help much. ↩︎

  2. Rock and Stone! ↩︎

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