LETS PLAY: THE CALYPSO COMPENDIUM - A NARRATIVE SOLO GAME
The Calypso Compendium, written by Tam H., is a mashup of Powered by the Apocalypse mechanics with Lady Blackbird style character generation. In addition it provides a number of tools commonly found in other solo roleplaying toolkits (or “gamemaster emulators”, oracles, etc.)
Tam has written a number of games, many are written with the solo player in mind. One of the more fantastical tools is the Player Emulator with Tags - which flips soloing an RPG on its head; what if we emulated the players instead of the GM?
Naturally, when I stumbled upon a game Tam had written that mashed up two of my favorite narrative role playing games I figured it was worth a look.
While there’s no art in the book, it is exceptionally laid out and easy to read. The items in the table of contents are bookmarked to their appropriate places which is always a nice touch. Looking through the table of contents we can see there are the general rules of the game, several pre-built scenarios, what appear to be general guidelines for building characters, a tips section, some oracles, a bit on narrative structures, and closing with some optional rules.
For this Let’s Play, I think I’ll go with the Starfarer scenario (page 25) as it most closely matches the theme of this site:
“Explore the universe in search of: adventure • refuge • mystery • revenge • power • wealth”
The entire rulebook is 69 pages but it reads very quickly thanks to the text having plenty of breathing room on the page. Additionally a lof of those pages are setting material that can be skimmed or skipped if you aren’t interested in that setting. The core rules are only 4 pages so there’s very little time investment if you want to just get the gist of the system.
Having read the General Rules (Pages 4-7), I picked my scenario and I’m going to frame the rest of the review in the context of that because such a narrative game demands a bit more context for the way the rules work.
This is the “why are we playing this?” summary of your game, they are different for each scenario but are rather formulaic so it easy to create you own. For Starfarer we get:
Challenge yourself; ask difficult questions. Fill the hero’s life with risk and adventure. Play to find out what happens.
“Play to find out what happens” is an Apocalypse World mantra, a reminder that the game’s narrative should be reacting to player’s actions. The game world’s lore should be comprised of what the player has improvisationally created from the fiction being driven from the Dramatic Moves (or GM Moves in a group game.) The game narrative should also be the result of the compromises the player has been forced to make as a result of the outcomes of their moves. We are reminded to challenge ourselves and lean into the game’s narrative more assertively. In addition we are given a nudge to fill our story with “risk and adventure.” This is the way (of the Starfarer.)
Again, these are different per-Scenario but these are prompts to keep you on-track with the game’s Agenda. For Starfarer we get:
- Seek out the exotic and strange but interject the familiar.
- Be a fan of the main character, but make him prove he deserves the role.
- Nobody has plot immunity; nothing is safe.
- Build the world and mythos as you go.
- Be honest, even when it hurts; follow the fiction where it leads.
These are both reminds about the game’s structure but also how to emulate our chosen genre. For instance “seek out the exotic but interject the familiar” might seem contradictory but this is a common sci-fi genre trope. How many times in Star Wars do you see a bizarre looking alien lifeform doing something very common place in our own world: gambling, having a drink, etc. We can relate to them even if we don’t understand how they “work”.
This is character creation, it is built off the format used in Lady Blackbird. To start you build a sentence about yourself using some canned choices:
I am a war hero • secretly gifted • an orphan • the Chosen One • the sole survivor • the lost heir. I am in debt • unjustly exiled • an outlaw • on the run • barely staying afloat • on the hunt.
Rather than pick, I note there are six choices for each, so let’s bring out our friend the d6. I roll a 2 and 3.
I am secretly gifted and an outlaw.
Your Character will have several Traits and underneath each trait your character will have several Tags. What are these? Calypso gives us this:
Choose four Traits and 16 Tags split between those Traits; these are the things the hero is good at or that are part of him. If a Trait is in brackets you may take it more than once, specifying a new aspect each time.
Okay, that could use some further detail if you’ve never played Lady Blackbird. In Lady Blackbird Traits are fairly general descriptions of your character. “Wizard” might be too general for your game but “Wizard of Flame” is probably about right. Calypso does lean into the very broad traits (So, in our example, Wizard would be just fine.) I believe this is because in solo play, you can throw out about 50% of RPG rules that are effectively only there to help differentiate two or more players in a group so that each person can have their spotlight moments. If you’ve played Over the Edge, Fate, or Risus - then Traits should be really natural to you as Aspects or Cliches. You are a “Soldier”. Traits in game design commonly replace things such as Attributes (Strength, Dexterity, etc.) - they are not a 1:1 replacement, but a grouping of those attributes into a genre relevant label. If I’m Solider - than I’ve been basic training and I’m as strong as I need to be for that task. I don’t have to be a body builder though, maybe I’m more agile. This all comes out in the narrative.
While Traits are general, Tags can be highly specific. Tags might be skills, spells, powers, edges and feats from other games. A “Solider” trait might have “Fast” and “Guns” as tags so that I know fictionally what I can emphasize further in play.
Let’s build the shell of our character then. Generally, you start with four traits. The Starfarer scenario tells me that one of my traits must be “Future Human.” I’m not sure if this means I’m evolving into a Human or I’m a Human in the Future. I think for now I’m just to call this “Human” and assume that players/npcs would have a “Species” trait by default. Skipping over to page 27, I look through the traits to see what might help tell the story of my sentence. I choose Criminal to represent the “outlaw” part - it is on the nose but it’ll do. I think I’ll change it to Smuggler. “Off-Worlder” might also worked nicely if you wanted a more subtle outlaw feel. Secretly gifted seems it requires a Trait and the game does encourage to consider holding your starting traits in reserve. I think I’ll do that and let the play tell me what my secret gift is. Likewise I’ll hold 4 tags in reserve to use with that trait or others based on what emerges in play. You don’t have to balance tags (4 tags per trait) but it feels ideal leave roughly a quarter of the tags in reserve to assign later. I don’t see a clear weapons option under Criminal and decide to add “Blasters” as a tag.
Traits & Tags:
Now I choose two Keys that “show what I value” - these are the primary way to earn “experience points (XP)”. It is not defined as a term anywhere but each Key also has a “buyoff” condition. Lady Blackbird tells us that “If the buyoff condition occurs, you have the option of removing the Key.” In the Advancement section we are told buying off a key nets us 10xp.
- The Key of the Daredevil - Hit this key when you take a risk that you don’t have to. BUYOFF: play it safe.
- The Key of the Goal - You have a specific, long term goal. when you try for it. BUYOFF: achieve, give up on, or refuse it. We’ll say my Goal is to “Own my own starship.”
Next, I choose two Secrets that “give me power or special abilities.”
- The Secret of the Hidden Ace - You always have an ace up your sleeve. If you need a small item on your person, a useful friend nearby, or a trick prepared yesterday, you have it, but roll a d6; on a 4+ it betrays you later.
- The Secret of Luck - You’re lucky, but you always seem to need to be. If you choose, add an extra d6 to a roll and drop the lowest die, but gain a Condition like unconscious, smitten or blind after the roll is resolved.
Next, I choose two ingrained Conditions that “hamper or otherwise define me.” I’m given a table, on page 7, that I could roll randomly on. I do feel my choices so far have influenced what these should be:
Finally, I start out with what appears to be a temporary condition. There are, I’m sensing a theme here btw, six conditions to choose from. Rolling a 2 I get:
Let’s give our new friend a name: “Horo Delste”
This is story setup stuff, your opening scene. Rolling a 2: I hit the bar.
Next I roll up my choice of a Habitat or Ship. Habitat seems to make more sense, and I roll a 1 and 3. “Arcology.” These are densely packed towers of residencies/businesses/etc.
I’m told that “I stumble over an Enigma and maybe a Person.” To roll up an Engima, I roll three times on Table 3.18:
- Where: High Place
- Danger: Attacked
- Function: Alter
Arcologies are high places, so maybe it is being attacked. Maybe I’m higher up in the Arcology and on my way to the lower levels. Perhaps while I’m at the bar? On the way to the bar? Let’s get a more detail by rolling up an attacker(s). A “superhuman” who’s motive is to “prove worthy of an honor.” Rolling the final two “Beginning” details I get a crime in progress and someone is being called out. Now I’m suppose to make a Dramatic Move and make things “go south, fast.” I think I have an idea about how this story starts now and it is a little different than my original assumptions.
Sidebar: “called out” has a few meanings but I’m going to say that the superhuman is confronting one’s misdeeds/behavior.
I roll on the Dramatic Moves Table 2.3 and get “Tempt or provoke a reaction.” To get an idea of what the Complication might be I roll one of those and get “You are forced to compromise your morals or ethics.”
I also wonder, does Horo know the “superhuman”? Let’s do an Oracle Move. Rolling 2d6, I get a 3 (2,1): No, and. In this case I think this a Strong No - Horo definitely does not know them so much so that what happens next is that Horo is simply caught up in some bigger than him.
We see a human, putting on a vest and then placing a blaster into their holster. They adjust a belt on their pants. They look out the window from the room they are in see a vast clutter of what appear to be living quarters and businesses co-mingled together - 1000s of balconies, windows, reaching into the sky and even some more levels down below. It is night but the are plenty of exterior lights giving every surface an orangish glow. A comlink bleeps and the human answers.
“Meet me at the Stubborn Sarlaac. I have work for you.”
“On my way.” and Horo steps into a turbolift heading upwards.
A fish-like alien sits across the table from Horo.
“So what’s the hustle, Zini?”
“I need you to make you good on your last job. The one you… botched. My bosses aren’t happy.”
“Hey, I ran into complications! Teracom was going to impound the ship. It was either the ship or the goods and the ship was worth more.”
“All the same, you cost them credits. Here’s the details on the job.”
Zini slides over a datastick but before their hand makes it across the table the room shakes. Explosion. Horo and several others run to windows. Horo looks down and sees smoke rising from the lower levels. Another explosion shakes the room. Horo turns back to the table.
Oracle Move: Has Zini fled? 2d6+3: [2, 3]+3 = 8. Yes, but. Zini has fled but in the confusion they’ve left their datapad. A valuable asset to a smuggler like Horo. Of course he could return it. I think this is our Dramatic Move - Horo can choose to return the datapad to Sini or keep it for himself. The risk is twofold - it is possible that Zini could use some help escaping whatever disaster is unfolding in the Arcology and should Zini survive, he’s going to want this back. Horo can risk stealing the pad and using the information but Zini may retaliate. Horo can also risk avoiding helping Zini but would have to live with the moral consequences.
Zini is gone but there’s a datapad and the Job datastick on the table. Horo grabs both and throws them into his satchel.
Oracle Move: Does Zini leave higher up? 2d6: [1, 1] = 2 No, and interrupt the scene. 2d6: [6, 3] = 9 “Show off-screen badness.” I’ll start a 6-tick clock called “structure collapse.” it already has 1 tick marked.
We cut to a hand pulling an explosive out of a bag. Pulling back we see a gang of woman, leather jackets, brightly colored pants. Spikey hair and chains. Parts of their bodies appear to be electronically augmented. They are placing the explosives on what seem to be massive structural beams. Charges set, they hop on to speeder bikes and zoom off. The four pillars in the scene then slowly turn into a fade back to Horo who’s running to a turbolift.
The Crumbling Tower
Oracle Move: Are the lifts still working? 2d6: [1, 3] = 4 No, but. I’m unsure what the but is and I don’t see a random table that’s useful in the Compendium. I pull out my Story Cubes and roll up a few. Bizarrely enough a space door is one of them - the elevator I presume. There’s several others but a phone/radio and a person on a rope stand out.
Horo mashes the buttons nothing happens. The scene around him is a mixture of emotions. Some people continue about their business, others seem to be hurrying along. Those looking to leave this level are on their comlinks hastily making plans. Horo takes a moment to think about if he could call anyone. He remembers he also some gear in his satchel. He’d come into the possession of a grappling spike launcher some time ago: A device that launched a stream of liquid which solidified into tough yet lightweight cable. Having always used this device to go upwards Horo is quite sure how it’ll work heading down but decides to give it a shot as he’s quite self-assured he’ll figure it out.
I think using this gadget is done via my Ace Secret so I have to roll 1d6: 1 = 1 - no complications if I read the rules correctly. Strive Move: Horo will grapple his way down a level. The risk he’ll take harm from falling. The modifier is built from his Smuggler Trait (+1) and his Gear tag (+1). I think his Reckless Condition is (+1) but I’d said his temporary Afraid condition is (-1) so - we’re left a +2. 2d6+2: [1, 4]+2 = 7. Success at a cost. Daredevil Key +1 XP. There’s a couple ways to go but, I think this is the most fun…
Horo latches the hook onto a nearby bar and attaches the restraining clip to himself. He leaps over the edge aiming to head down to the next level but misses and heads down several levels. It works mostly as he expected but as he comes to land on his feet, he sees Zini standing nearby.
Oracle Move: Is Zini alone? 2d6: [6, 2] = 8 Yes, and. I think I need a motive here. 3d6: [2, 5, 4] = 11 “achieve power”. Well Zini probably wants that datapad back.
“Horo! We should leave this tower, I have a bad feeling about this. Hey, did you happen to see my datapad back there? I left it in the confusion.”
Horo is stone faced “Ahh, no. I… like you I think we need to get out of here.”
Oracle Move: Does Zini have family that should be saved? 2d6: [1, 3] = 4. No, but. It is a droid. It is always a droid.
“Shame. I should go back for it. Look, I need you to head to my loft and get my droid. Then we’ll find our way down.”
“The turbolifts are broken though. I’m guessing the ramps are packed with people. We should just go.”
Strive Move: Horo is trying to persuade Zini into leaving. Smuggler+fast-talk (+2). The risk is Zini pulls him into finding the missing datapad and they are stuck in this disaster scenario - and maybe realizes Horo is pulling a fast one on him so far. 2d6+2: [6, 6]+2 = 14. Homerun. Zini is afraid for his life. In fact, let’s use this to shift the “afraid” condition off Horo and over to Zini as losing a condition is one of the benefits from a 10+.
“Ok, you’re right. My droid probably has a good backup of the data anyway. We need to get my droid.” Zini turns and starts walking toward his loft. Horo follows and the two collect AR-D4, an astromech droid. It beeps with a devoted and willful tone.
This strikes me as a time for a lull in the action so we should make a Dramatic Move. 2d6: [2, 4] Promise future pain or inflict harm as promised. Complication: 2d6: [6, 3] Something breaks. I’m going to mark a tick on our “structure collapse” clock. (2/6)
We wipe up to the scene of the original explosions. There are raging fires and groups of people clearly in trouble. Some emergency personnel types are trying to put out the blaze but with little effect. Part of a floor gives way and the camera rocks a bit as things become more unstable. We slowly iris wipe to Horo’s face as the shaking of the disruption below reaches their level. The ramps leading downward have become a mass of people, creatures, belongings. It is slow moving. Occasionally a speeder-taxi rises up through the scaffolding to this level and grabs a few people before heading back down.
Oracle Move: Can the Grapple Hook hold two people? 2d6-2: [2, 5]-2 = 5 No, but.
Horo eyes a nearby turbolift its door is slightly ajar. Maybe there’s a service ladder inside. Horo eyes then turn to the the astromech.
“Zini, that thing have the rocket mod?”
Oracle Move: Did Zini spring for the rocket booster mod? 2d6+3: [2, 6]+2 = 10. Yes.
“Yes, of course. I spared no expense on this little bugger.”
“I think we need to force this door open and try to climb down - trying to get through that mess will take forever.” Horo motions to the mass exodus.
“Okay, if we can make it down half-way, I have a transport in the garage there.”
Strive Move: Horo wants to pry the doors open. Human+Assured+Stubborn - Horo isn’t a body builder but he’s unlikely to just give up if the thing is jammed a bit. Zini could theoretically help as well I just think helps justify a +3. 2d6+3: [6, 3]+3 = 12. Let’s take +2 forward.
The door opens with surprisingly little effort.
Oracle Move: Is there a service ladder? 2d6+1: [4, 2]+1 = 7 Yes, and. It is a decent ladder and the shaft is unobstructed down to the Zini’s garage level.
Peering down into the lift, Horo is relieved to see a ladder and a shaft not filled with debris, fire, or smoke. He motions to Zini to climb down with him. Zini instructions the astro mech to follow.
Oracle Move: Does the astromech have enough fuel to make it down? 2d6: [5, 2] = 7. Yes, and. More than enough.
The three make their way down to the garage level.
Dramatic Move 2d6: [4, 1]: Use the hero’s Traits, Conditions, or Secrets against them. This isn’t just any garage level. Half-way up is where starships can pull in and dock. There are many starships - nothing fancy but plenty that Horo could steal in the confusion and call his “own.” To ratchet up the urgency of making some hard choices about keeping the datapad, stealing a ship, etc I’m going to mark another tick on our “structure collapse” clock. (3/6) Oracle Move: Is this level “stable”? 2d6: [5, 6] = 11. Yes.
The garage level is not tainted by disaster yet. There are families boarding ships and several already in mid-air pulling out. Zini points down a corridor. “This way, my friend.” Beep, boop. The astromech has touched down and follows along. Horo starts to walk in line but the sight of all these starships has his mind spinning. Surely some of these must be… available.
Reaching Zini’s ship we see the astromech maneuver itself towards a door and as the doors slide open we wipe to a field that has looks of hastily made landing strip. A bunch of dart-shaped starships are being boarded by the same gang of women from earlier. The ships are stylized with a matte black paint job and glowing pink chromed lines. They begin to lift off and form up into groups heading towards orbit it seems. We wipe up and Holo is moving a hovering repulsor palette from a storage unit over to Zini’s ship. It has a couple of crates on it.
Dramatic Move: 2d6: [1, 6]. Take something or someone away. I need an Actor here: 2d6 People Table: [3, 6] Alien. 3d6: [1, 1, 4] “protect home.” 3d6: [4, 5, 3] “find the truth”. I’m encourage to get the Temperament of an actor. Emotion 2d6: [2, 2] apathetic. Target 2d6: [4, 4] wealth. Degree 2d6: [1, 1] traces. Meh, not an entirely useful result - I think perhaps she can’t be bribed?
Walking up to Horo is a Hilak Security Bureau official. “Stop, we need to scan those materials.” Horo stares at the official. He’s not entirely sure what’s in Zini’s crates but is caught holding the bag all the same.
“Um, I’m just trying to get out here, Mam. A friend is giving me a passage and he wanted these bits out of storage before we left. Do you have a ride out?” Horo does his best to make his eyes sparkle. “We’d be happy to give you a lift.”
Strive Move: I think Horo wants to charm this person. I’m not immediately clear that his charms will be effective. The risk is she detains him for being obstructionist. Human+Attractive (+2) and +2 forward. 2d6+4: [1, 1]+4 = 6. Earn 1 Failure Currency. That failed stupendously.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you to remove your hands from the goods and I’m going to scan them now.”
Oracle Move: Are the goods contraband? 2d6+2: [4, 1]+2 = 7. Yes, and the are explosive in nature.
Horo removes his hands from the crate. Mentally he works out an escape route and the timing to get to his blaster. The scanner beeps and the Security official pulls her weapon on Horo.
“Hands up and no games.”
Strive Move: Horo pulls his blaster and attempts to shoot official. Smuggler+Blaster +2. Reckless -1. 2d6+1: [3, 3]+1 = 7. Success at a cost. Interrupt scene with a Dramatic Move: 2d6: [3, 1] Put someone in a compromising, bad, or high-stakes position. Complication 2d6: [1, 1] You suffer harm. I’m going to mark another tick on our “structure collapse” clock. (4/6)
Horo is fast and shoots the official first. She crumples down to the ground. The blaster noise is loud on this level and Horo has failed to account for the official’s partner coming to her rescue. A blaster rings out and Horo is grazed in the right leg. It burns and Horo takes cover behind the crates.
Horo Harm track moves to “grazed”. Strive Move: Horo wants to use the crates as cover. The risk is Horo is shot again in the open. Smuggler+Evade+2, -1 grazed. 2d6+1: [2, 4]+1 = 7. Success at cost. 2d6: [1, 3] Reveal an unexpected danger. 2d6: [5, 2] Something you did yesterday comes back to bite you.
“HORO! You sleeze.” shouts a voice. Horo glances up. Damn. The Security Official’s partner was Horo’s girlfriend 14 galactic standard hours ago.
Quirks Table: carrying a child
Horo got her pregnant but didn’t want to take responsibility and left last’s night date in hurry.
“This is officer Chasidy Wyse, I need backup and assistance. We have an Officer down.” Chasidy moves her attention back to Horo. “Drop the blaster, Horo. You can do the right thing, for once.”
Oracle Move: Does Zini go looking for Horo? 2d6+1: [5, 3]+1 = 9. Yes, and. Zini probably heard the blaster fire, so he’s come prepared.
Three quick auto-blaster shots ring out.
Strive Move: Zini fires on Chasidy. The risk is this fails, and the backup arrives instantly. I didn’t really roll up traits but, I imagine they can handle themselves with a blaster. 2d6+2: [4, 2]+2 = 8. Success at cost. Chasidy is pinned down but backup is starting to arrive.
Horo and Zini position themselves close enough to hear each other.
“We’re about to be outgunned Zini and what the heck is in these crates? The security official went ballistic when she scanned them.”
“What the hell did we need an entire crate of thermal detonators for?”
“Your job, kid. We were hired to take down the Dirtgirls compound.”
Dirtgirls. Horo sighs. A gang of cybernetic ladies who’ve been terrorizing the corporations setting up the arcologies.
“Zini, we’re going to need a distraction to get out of this garage and… this looks like a crate full of distractions.”
Strive Move: Horo wants to persuade Zini to use a handful of detonators to cause a distraction so they can escape. It is reckless because if it fails it could… literally blow up in their face. Smuggler+Fast-talk but -reckless. 2d6+1: [2, 2]+1 = 5. I’m going to mark another tick on our “structure collapse” clock. I figure these failed rolls are just time ticking down. (5/6)
“No way, kid. That’s the sorta dumb thinking of yours that’s get us a botched job.” Zini pulls out his comlink.
“I need you to jam communications in this area, AR-D4.”
Dramatic Move: 2d6: [4, 6]: Offer a hard bargain or an ugly choice.
“Attention: stand down. This is the Hilak Security Bureau. We have you surrounded.”
Oracle Move: Is Zini the “live to fight another day” type? 2d6: [6, 4] = 10
“Kid, I got connections - we’re gonna get out of this.” Zini moves to his blaster down and raise his hands.
Horo thinks on it. If that droid has managed to jam comms maybe Horo can still shoot his way out of here. There’s only what 3-5 of them at most?
Hidden Ace Secret: Horo has a smoke grenade. 1d6: . The item betrays me. Perhaps the smoke doesn’t last as long as Horo thinks it will. It is a 4 tick click “smokey room” but it is half-full already. Each turn it ticks.
Horo drops a smoke grenade and makes a run for it. There’s still plenty of ships to steal. Including Zini’s.
Strive Move: Horo wants to run for it. The risk is he unable to make a clean escape. Smuggler+Evade+Smokey -grazed (leg). 2d6+2: [1, 2]+2 = 5. Harm+. Advance smokey room (3/4)
Horo tries to move but in the smoke he’s having trouble seeing and failed to take into account a barrier that he runs smack into. Blaster fire rings out through the smoke and catches Horo in the shoulder.
Harm track: bruised Strive Move: Smuggler+Evade+Smokey -grazed (leg). 2d6+2: [5, 6]+2 = 13. +2 forward. Advance smokey room (4/4) - the smoke clears.
Horo picks himself and again tries to run for it. This time he manages to break away and darts behind some starships. He’s being pursued by (1d6: 1) official. Horo can make out the shape of Zini’s ship down the garage. He pulls out the grapple hook, it is a mostly clear shot to the ship… maybe he can pull himself towards it, perhaps taking a blow but still getting himself inside before the official can close on him. His grazed leg is starting to cramp up now.
Strive Move: Horo wants to grapple pull himself towards the starship’s ramp. He’ll risk being hit by something along the way or even misjuding how fast or slow the grapple will pull him at this distance. Smuggler+Gear, -1 reckless, +2 forward. 2d6+3: [5, 4]+4 = 13. Horo slams a stimpak into his shoulder to reduce the Harm condition track from bruised to grazed. (I think I’ve missed some Reckless Key XP along the way. Oh well.)
Horo attaches the grapple to his blaster and shoots at the ramp. It attaches and Horo slides across the smooth surface of the garage towards the ramp. He runs up the ramp. Blaster fire rings out behind him.
Strive Move: Horo wants to pilot the ship out of the garage. There’s going to be a bit of traffic so he’ll need his reflexes to do this smoothly. He’s also being shot at. The risk is perhaps the ship takes harm from the blaster fire or Horo even runs into another ship trying to get out of here. Pilot+Reflexes. 2d6+2: [1, 5]+2 = 8. Complication 2d6: A path is closed or barred.
The ship pulls off the ground, ramp closing. The astromech beeps and bleeps. “No, Zini got caught. Just you and me bud.” The astromech is too dutiful to leave Zini behind though and works their way off to the NavComp to interface with it. The ship’s computers power down but Horo switches things over to manual.
Strive Move: Horo wants to blast the astromech. The risk is he’ll take his eyes off piloting for too long and hit something or maybe his blaster fire misses and shots something critical. Or perhaps our structural integrity is finally at its end. Smuggler+Blaster +2, -1 reckless. 2d6+1: [3, 2]+1 = 6. Reckless Key + 1 XP
Turning around Horo pops a shot off at the astromech. It misses. Just then a massive explosion from underneath him - Horo can still feel it ripple inside the air even though he’s not on the ground. The astromech is whirling forward with a stunning attachment pointing out towards him. Meanwhile, chaos in the air as ships are dodging left and right.
Strive Move: Horo wants to punch it, and get out of this structure. The risk for sure this time is he’ll run the ship into a piece of falling build or another ship. It is pretty chaotic in the sky. Pilot+Reflexes 2d6+2, -1 reckless: [5, 5]+1 = 11. +2 Forward. Reckless Key + 1 XP
Horo jams the throttle forward and as the ship lurches forward, the astromech slides backwards. Horo dodges ships and pieces of the building and find himself in the atmosphere. He turns around to shoot the droid for sure this taking his aim.
Strive Move: Smuggler+Blaster, +2 forward (no reckless, as he took time to aim at least.) 2d6+4: [3, 3]+4 = 10.
The droid squeals as the top of the astromech’s dome is sheered with a blaster. It shivers and shuts down. Horo turns back to bring up the NavComp but as he does so
Dramatic Move: Reveal an unexpected danger.
A squadron of dart shaped starships is actively pursuing him.
The Dirtgirls Ride
“Probably should’ve gotten the droid to work out the jump sequence first.” Horo drops his head to the console and bangs it on their a few times. We wipe to a pair of fingers drumming alongside the steering controls of the interior of a starship. Loud electronic rock music is playing in the background and as we pull back we see Horo’s ship slowly be lined up in the crosshairs of the ship’s onboard targeting controls.
I could play this forever but I think this enough flavor for a review. An immensely fun system that indeed drives narrative play even without a dense set of moves or playbooks. The Scenarios do a bit of that heavy lifting by reminding of you of the necessary tone. The random dramatic moves, complications, and motives are pretty good story engines on their own. I do think you’ll still need some outside tools, such as Story Cubes, random setting tables, etc to make sense of things - but the Compendium is fairly close to a standalone solo toolkit.
- This might have been a fun game to try an experiment with “Secret Clocks” but I can only juggle so much new stuff a time.
LETS PLAY: M-SPACE - D100 MYTHRAS-DERIVED SPACE OPERA
M-Space, written by Clarence Redd and published by FrostByte Books, is pitched as “d100 Roleplaying in the Far Future”. Let’s build a character and solo play a random space encounter to see how it works.
M-Space is a d100 system based on Mythras Imperative from The Design Mechanism. Mythras itself is derived from previous work on RuneQuest and Basic Roleplaying. The base game resolution mechanic is rolling your skill value or less on a d100. Mythras/RuneQuest have a reputation for particularly flavorful and deadly combat but I believe we’ll find M-Space provides some different levels of flavor in terms of how this might work within a fantastical “Space Opera” atmosphere. It is also immediately clear from M-Space’s Table of Contents that this is a “toolkit” RPG book. You’ve got “Alien Creation”, “Starship Design”, and “World Building” to give you a flavor of what we’re getting into.
At their core M-Space characters have characteristics, attributes, and skills.
The are seven core characteristics: Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity, Intelligence, Power, and Charisma. M-Space defines several ways to assign your characteristics: Roll and assign in order, Roll and assign the numbers as you see fit, Roll a dice pool and pull the necessary dice together per characteristics to assign values as you see fit, and a Point-based build. Of course, it also notes that a Gamemaster (GM) may derive their own methods for character creation. This seems like an obvious thing to point out, but you’d be amazed on how “rules as written” is treated as dogma by some folks in the roleplaying community whom, I guess, don’t enjoy having fun.
For the purposes of reviewing this product, I’ll just go with “roll and assign in order” as my method. Additionally, let’s give our character a name. Using Donjon’s Space “Terran Male Names” random generator we get: Teve Arner.
Teve’s characteristics after rolling:
- (STR) Strength, 13
- (CON) Constitution, 10
- (SIZ) Size, 15
- (DEX) Dexterity, 12
- (INT) Intelligence, 14
- (POW) Power, 9
- (CHA) Charisma, 14
While there are great explanations of how to use these characteristics in the game, it is not clear what a “good” or “bad” number is. Most stats were rolled with
3d6 so the 10 and 9 stand out as average/below-average skills for sure. I’m not interested in power gaming but I do think the cool thing about randomly rolled stats is that they make up a story about who your character is for you. Teve’s (CON) health/hardiness and (POW) soul/spirit appear to be, meh.
Now we get a bunch of attributes that are generally derived from your characteristics.
- Action Points: 2 (M-Space notes that everyone gets 2 and that this deviates from Mythras)
- Damage Modifier: STR+SIZ gives us a 28, which on the Damage Modifier table (pg. 12) provides us with +1d2
- Experience Modifier: Our CHA score of 14 grants us a +1 experience modifier
- Healing Rate: Our CON of 10 grants us a natural healing rate of 2 hit points recovered per day/week/month depending on the nature of the injuries
- Hit Points: Our CON+SIZ of 25 assigns us a Hit Points per location table on pg. 14. M-Space takes this time to note we can also choose to play without Hit Locations.
- Luck Points: Our POW of 9 grants us 2 luck points that can be spent to reroll the dice, mitigate narrative nastiness or gain an edge. These refresh every game session.
- Power Points: Our POW of 9 can be spent on utilizing psionic powers - this seems unlikely for our character though
- Movement Rate: As we are a standard human, we get a 6 meter movement rate
We are told that there are Standard Skills and Professional Skills. Further, at character creation we are told a novice character gets 100 points to assign to skill pertaining to the Culture they grew up in, 100 points relevant to our Career skills, and an additional 150 points to “round out” our character. We are told that Professional skills must either by obtained at character creation or via a “teacher.”
Skills build upon your characteristics, so Athletics starts with a base of your STR+DEX. Remember, this is a d100 roll under game, so out of the gate Teve can succeed on an Athletics check 25% of the time. The book provides paragraph length descriptions for every skill and clear explanations of how they will typically apply in play. In a few cases there is some guidance that a general skill requires a specialization but the character sheet doesn’t seem to align. Navigate/Navigation stands out as an example.
Now we can use our first batch of 100 skill points to build out Teve’s profile. M-Space says there are three basic cultures: Orbit, Rural, and Urban. We get some notes about what each culture represents and then a list of Standard and Professional skills characters may use their first 100 points on. It is noted that a character should only select three of the Professional skills at this time. Still this gives your character the first real chance to build out their backstory.
Not knowing which culture applies to Teve, I roll a 1d3 (1 Orbit, 2 Rural, 3 Urban) and get a 2, Rural. The rural section notes I can take a relevant combat style from a combat style package but provides very little guidance as to what this might be given that every setting is different. Some examples would’ve been handy but I did find that Clarence had posted a few over on the Basic Roleplaying forum. I don’t mind doing the creative work but I do find not understanding the terminology makes it hard to do so.
I decide that Teve is going to be Luke Skywalker-esque type kid (without the Force powers.) Teve knows his way around fixing droids and the moisture evaporators around his Uncle’s farm. Teve doesn’t really understand or care about farming though. He’s excited when he gets to pilot his Uncle’s speeder into town for parts or supplies. Since barbarians are common out in the rural parts, Teve knows how to handle a common blaster.
- Standard Skills
- Athletics 10
- Endurance 10
- Drive 10
- Locale 10
- Perception 20
- Ride 10
- Professional Skills
- Combat Style [Blaster] 20
- Mechanics 10
Similar to cultures we are given 100 points to spend on a package of pre-selected skills from a career. The careers are very general and you’ll have to use your imagination to fit them to your setting but there’s plenty of variety to allow you to flavor them to your needs.
Teve seems like he’s a “Colonist” so we’ll continue building out our skills with that in mind:
- Standard Skills
- Professional Skills
- Commerce 20
- Mechanics 10
- Navigation 10
- Pilot 30
Finally we can apply 150 points to the skills we’ve already picked up. After that, here’s where all of our skills stand (including the ones we chose not to spend any points on):
- Standard Skills
- Athletics 60
- Boating 23
- Brawn 28
- Conceal 21
- Customs 28
- Dance 26
- Deceit 28
- Drive 51
- Endurance 45
- Evade 24
- First Aid 26
- Influence 28
- Insight 23
- Locale 48
- Native Tongue 68
- Perception 63
- Ride 31
- Sing 23
- Stealth 16
- Swim 23
- Willpower 18
- Professional Skills
- Acrobatics 25
- Acting 28
- Art 23
- Astrogation 28
- Bureaucracy 28
- Commerce 43
- Comms 28
- Computers 28
- Courtesy 28
- Craft 26
- Culture 28
- Demolitions 23
- Disguise 28
- Electronics 26
- Engineering 28
- Forgery 26
- Gambling 23
- Knowledge 28
- Language 28
- Lockpicking 24
- Mechanics 76
- Medicine 23
- Musicianship 26
- Navigation 33
- Oratory 23
- Pilot 66
- Politics 28
- Research 23
- Science 28
- Seamanship 24
- Seduction 28
- Sensors 23
- Sleight 26
- Streetwise 23
- Survival 19
- Teach 28
- Track 24
- Combat Styles
- Combat Style [Blaster] 60
Passions are a way to mechanically represent plot hooks for your character. They remind me of “backgrounds”, “cliches”, “aspects” or other similar freeform narrative attribute concepts you’ve seen in other games. Beginning characters may have up to 3 and there’s a descending bonus applied to each + a base score derived from two attributes which you can map your passion’s focus (“person or family”, “concept or ideal”, etc) to. Teve’s passions:
- Desire to leave planet 63 - Teve desperately wants to get off world. He’s seen the starships leaving the big starport in town and daydreams about what it is like to traverse the galaxy
- But, Mom! 53 - I want to fly my landspeeder through the canyon - Much like the kid who’d rather play video games than clean their room, Teve isn’t terribly interested in doing the family farming work.
Like most modern games, M-Space isn’t terribly interested in having you track Equipment all that closely. Still some guidance is given for starting credits, a weapon, career tools, clothing, etc.
- Clothing that generally protects Teve from the harsh heat of the desert planet he lives on
- 5000 Credits
- A Blaster (Damage: 1d8, Range: 10/30/120, Fire rate: 1, Load: 3)
- Droid caller keyed to the farm’s droids
- Macrobinoculars used to survey the moisture farm
- Laser Torch (1d6 damage when used as a weapon but mostly used for repair work)
- Fusion Tools - M-Space’s idea of a general droid/machine repair kit
And with that, we’re done. Teve is ready to grumble about the daily list of farm hand chores. To get this party started I’m going to use Sine Nomine’s Sixteen Stars: Creating Places of Perilous Adventure random adventure generator. Teve’s probably in setting most similar to a “Colonial Outpost”. I roll up some starting details but not too much as I prefer as many “unknown unknowns” as possible.
Teve gripped the controls of his land speeder and kept his eyes on the horizon. While Teve’s onboard sensors occasionally blared a collision alarm he knew Erryne’s Canyon like the back of his hand and there wasn’t much need for electronics to guide his choices.
“I’ve got you this time” barked a voice over Teve’s comlink
Starting In Media Res as they say, this seemed like a good time to explore M-Space’s “Extended Conflict” rules. We’ve got ourselves a Driving Chase here and we’ll contest the driving skills of local landspeeder racer Johnne Clezal vs. Teve. Each starts with a conflict pool of either their DEX or the average of their vehicle’s Speed+Handling. I’m doing to assume that similar to US Stock Car Racing that the stats of the vehicles aren’t terribly interesting, it is the driver’s own skill that matters so we’ll build pools from each character’s DEX. Teve gets a pool of 12 and Johnne has a pool of 7. Johnne’s Drive Skill is a 46 while Teve’s is a 51. Teve’s pool is higher and so he has the initiative. As a note, I rolled Johnne’s stats randomly, used M-Space’s opponent rating guidance for his driving skill and did a Mythic Stat Check on that number to derive the final value.
Teve laughs “You always say that!”, the first critical maneuverer comes up as Teve has to bank hard right around a rock pillar.
Teve rolls an 80, a failure while Johnne rolls a 37, a success. Teve takes 1d6  damage to his conflict pool reducing it by half to 6. This triggers the all conflict checks are made at a Hard difficulty rule for Teve. Not looking good! Teve has the option to withdraw at this point but decides to press his luck.
Teve kills the accelerator and slams on the controls to bank around the pillar but his timing is off today and he scrapes the edge of his vehicle against the canyon walls. Johnne pulls ahead and is in the lead.
“Didn’t know we were eating wall for lunch, Teve!” jokes Johnne.
Shaking off the dust, Teve pushes harder on his accelerator and dials a few knobs hoping to eek out just enough additional engine performance to make the difference.
This time Teve rolls a 21+20(hard), while Johnne rolls a 79. Johnne will take 1d6  damage to his conflict pool reducing it to a value of 5 - not halved yet.
Teve’s adjustments pay off and he pulls even with Johnne’s speeder.
“Yeah, yeah, should I save a spot for you at the cliff buffet too, Johnne?”
“Not necessary, Teve” boast Johnne as the two hit a steep drop-off in the canyon that can trip up even the most seasoned of racers.
Teve rolls a 20+20(hard), while Johnne rolls a 98 - nearly a fumble. 1d6  points are taken from Johnne’s conflict pool which reduces it to less than half to 1. Johnne has the option to withdraw so we’ll ask Mythic: Does Johnne withdraw from the conflict? Chaos factor is 4, and the odds are… 50/50, and a Yes would favor Teve. Mythic tells us that Johnne withdraws.
As the two speeders leap over the cliff, Johnne’s spins out wildly. We see Johnne slam his fist against the controls of his speeder as Teve pulls away.
“Yaaaaawhoo! Hey, refreshments are on me Johnne - let’s grab some real food.” says Teve who waits for Johnne to gather himself and make it out of the canyon. The two head over to the local space cafe, The Last Asteroid.
I don’t know what type of place The Last Asteroid is exactly, so we’ll use the Cantina Creation rules in “Wretched Hives of Scum and Villainy” from West End Games to piece together some background. Additionally I roll a 12 on the “Cantina Encounter Table” and get “A Barroom brawl suddenly breaks out”.
Teve and Johnne share a beverage and some food in the dim lights of The Last Asteroid. A crowd has gathered around a set of Holo-Game stations and they are actively cheering on some sort of contest. Suddenly loud shouting and pushing breaks out from within the crowd.
“THAT’S MY CRED STICK CHUMP!” gruffly shouts a Krunni -a native humanoid alien with thin tentacles dangling from its face.
The sound of glass breaking rings out through the bar. Teve stumbles underneath the table he was eating at as Johnne stands tall to try peer into the crowd to assess the harm.
“Yeah?! Are you gonna cheat your way into stealing it from me like you just stole that game?” responds another person that Teve can’t no longer see. Teve places his hand near his blaster.
“Johnne, Johnne! Get down man.” warns Teve.
“Don’t get so jumpy, fights are always breaking out in here.”
Teve looks behind him to remind himself of the distance to the exit. A loud thud snaps Teve’s focus back to in front of him, even he can’t see what’s there. More scuffling sounds and then more glass breaks.
“The only stealing going around on here is what your people take from mine!” the same gruff alien from before retors.
Teve wonders if this is a mining dispute. Ever since the Numa Industrial Corporation had set up a mining operation on Corva, the local Krunnis had taken offense to the encroachment of the mines on what they see as their own land. In the last week several terrorist incidents at the Numa mine have brought this conflict to a head.
“Johnne, we need to get out of here… I’ve got bad feeling about this” as Teve pops his head over his table.
Fate Check: Does Johnne feel the urgency to leave? Chaos 4, Odds 50/50, Yes favors Teve: Yes.
“Alright, let’s get out of here.” Johnne backs up to Teve. The two make their way to the door.
Fate Check: Is the exit clear? Chaos 4, Odds 50/50, Yes favors Teve: No it is not. Adventure Crafter: Action Theme Plotpoint: “Heavily guarded”. Well, then. This oddly enough ties into an antagonist I had rolled up from Sixteen Stars.
“ATTENTION: THIS IS THE CORVA SECURITY FORCES. SURRENDER YOUR WEAPONS AND STAND DOWN.” blares a Corvian security official from outside.
“Damn, what are we caught up in, Teve?” hisses Johnne who doesn’t look quite as confident as he did moments ago. Teve looks around and trying to asses if there’s another way out. Corva had taken a bit of a no-nonsense policing policy of late in attempt to snuff out any sort of civil conflict over the mines.
Feels like a perception check, Teve rolls a 63… his perception is a 63. Lucky. Not having a detailed map of this place, I roll some story cubes. A set of crates stands out to me and feels equivalent to Teve’s roll… it is something, but it is barely useful.
“Johnne, we can hide in those…” Teve motions to some durasteel crates with some foodstuff sacks lying round them.
Does Johnne want to hide? This could be a Fate Check as Johnne is a GM NPC, but let’s try out M-Space’s opposed roll. This feels like Teve’s Influence (28) vs. Johnne’s Willpower (36). Additionally, we can use M-Space’s Passions to represent how badly Teve doesn’t want to get caught and jeopardize his “Desire to leave planet 63”. 1/5 of that would be 13 (rounded up). This brings’ Teve’s Influence up to 41. Teve rolls a 56 and Johnne a 7. Johnne’s not hiding.
“Teve, we did nothing wrong - let’s just walk out of here with our hands up.”
Teve pauses for a moment. His instincts are to run, to ensure that nothing gets in the way of his chances to get off of this burnt rock. Maybe Johnne’s right, the security folks will rough them up a bit but probably let them be on their way. Teve reluctantly joins Johnne and they begin to make their way to the front door.
Fate Check: Do Johnne and Teve make it to the front door without being caught up in the barroom brawl? No. There are a million ways I could determine who is roping them into this brawl, but I decide to use M-Space’s Alien Creation tables to pull out a few inspirational ideas. I end up getting an alien with a hammer-shaped upper body wearing a coarse woolen cloak who is Fast and prefers to Grapple their opponents with a pair of tentacles tails they have. M-Space combat seems… pretty detailed compared to what I’m used to, so I’ll probably mess up a rule or two here.
Rolling initiative: Teve 23, Alien 22, Johnne 16
Fwhap - a tail slaps against a nearby load-bearing post near Teve. Teve turns to see a fiesty Zorga’s tail whip back towards their body, he readies his blaster and sets it to stun. The Alien tries to outmaneuver their foes.
Outmaneuver is a series of opposed Evade skills. The Alien’s Evade is 60 and rolls a 32, Teve’s Evade is 24 and he miraculously rolls a 14, Johnne’s Evade is a 38 and he rolls a 37. The powers that be are with our heroes.
Johnne charges at the Alien and the Alien counterattacks with his tail.
The Alien rolls a 95 against his Combat Style [Tail Attack] of 60. Johnne rolls Evade (38) and gets a 98. Both are failures. New Turn.
Teve carefully aims his blaster at the Alien while the Alien readies a dagger pulled from his cloak. Johnne having closed the distance between him and the Alien attempts to punch the Alien in the face.
Rolling Combat Style [Fist] 60, Johnne rolls a 17. The Alien rolling Evade (60) rolls an 81. This is 1 level of success difference so I think this means Johnne selects a special effect. He’ll pick “Choose Location” so he can target the Alien’s head (which has 4 hit points). Johnne rolls 1d3+1d2 and the Alien takes 3 points of damage to the head.
The Alien is shaken and Teve choose this moment to rip a blaster shot off at them but before doing so yells to Johnne to duck.
Teve’s rolls a 24 against his Combat Style [Blaster] 60+20 (aiming) and the Alien moves to take cover behind a nearby table. The Alien rolls a 99 against his Evade 60. Earning Teve 2 special effects. Teve will choose Pin Down and Duck Back for his effects. Stun damage works a little differently - CON+SIZ/2 forms a conflict pool rather than using hit location. The Alien’s Stun Pool is 14. Teve rolls an 8 on a 1d8 and reduces the stun pool to 6. Pin Down is resolved as a Willpower skill test. The Alien rolls an 89 against their Willpower of 30 and are now pinned down. Teve meanwhile Ducks Back to the nearby cover of a table.
Fate Check: Does the Alien withdraw from this battle? Yes.
Pinned down, facing two foes and feeling a bit dazed from Johnne’s punch the Alien crawls away. Teve and Johnne make their way for the door and hope the Corvian Security Forces treat them kindly.
This is probably enough of playthrough to get a feel for things. Combat required an extensive amount of page turning to determine what happened. Everything else was rather straightforward. Overall, enjoyable and I think the hiccups with understanding combat would be resolved with regularly experience with the system.