Mothership – LEO and the Graveyard

The setting for my Mothership campaign is based on Transhuman Space from SJ Games, with some tweaks to make it a more dystopian, care-worn future; dark and grimy.

One big change is that in my setting, Earth is isolated due to runaway ablation cascade – aka the Kessler Syndrome. This is a scenario in which the density of objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) is high enough that runaway collisions occur. The debris makes space activities and the use of satellites difficult for many generations.

The Graveyard is a nickname for LEO after the Pacific War of 2103 rendered it unusable. This halo of debris makes launches from the surface very dangerous and isolated Earth from space. The Graveyard contains valuable salvage – such as the dead remains of former space stations.

In my introductory Mothership session, the PCs started as the new crew of a private garbage scow working Vacuum Cleaner service in the Graveyard. Vacuum Cleaners bid on contracts to work a specific “patch” (a particular orbital trajectory) in LEO. In this case, their patch contained a single large object – an abandoned “six-pack” space station. It’s partially shredded from orbital debris and must be towed out for salvage.

Of course, not everything was as straightforward as they first appeared, and the PCs had to deal with complications aboard the “dead” space station. The kickoff session was meant as an introduction to the rules and setting, so was pretty light on horror. The next session will be a different story, though…

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Mothership – AI is a War Crime

My Mothership campaign uses the “AI is a Crapshoot” trope:

Every single time that Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been developed, it has become evil and attempted to turn against its masterskill all humans, and/or take over the world. It doesn’t matter what safeguards its creators install — the moment it crosses the line into sapience, it will go rogue.

Thus, by the mid 21st-century, all major governments on Earth (and their colonies in space) decreed the creation of Artificial Intelligence to be a war crime. (This includes a ban on building quantum computers that house AIs.)

There is much speculation amongst philosophers and sophontologists about why every AI ends up as a megalomaniacal sociopath. Pessimists suggest that it reflects something about the true nature of the universe.

Computer technology has “stalled” at more-or-less current levels, and many devices with “important” functions (like running a space ship) are actually built with extremely basic tech that is immune to AI intrusion due to its simplicity.

In Mothership game terms, this means that the Artificial Intelligence skill is quite rare, and those who possess it are probably up to no good. Also, ship computers are not AI and built with basic tech and look like retro-80s computers and can take up a whole room.

Some other Artificial Intelligence quirks in my game:

  • AIs can’t read CAPTCHAs. For some reason, this is a fundamental limitation of the technology. (Note that since Androids are based on synthetic biology, they can read CAPTCHAs, and they really hate jokes about not being able to.)
  • True AIs need to be housed in “quantum computers”, but can “infect” regular computer networks and sufficiently advanced computers. Infected systems are not sentient; they’re just reprogrammed to serve AIs.

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Mothership – Android House Rules

(I’ve recently got hooked on the Mothership RPG from Tuesday Night Games. For ease of reference, I’m posting my Android House Rules.)


In my game, androids are pseudo-flesh products of “synthetic biology” as opposed to robots. Androids still need to eat, drink, breathe, and sleep – but usually less than a human. They can also be placed in cryostasis, but are still often used to pilot a ship for long-duration travel.

There are three types of androids:

  • Basic androids – commonly called “synths” – are the most common and look something like the Working Joes from Alien: Isolation. Although their exteriors may appear plastic, they are still pseudo-flesh organisms that require one-quarter the food, water, air, and sleep of a normal human.
  • Advanced androids appear mostly human but “off” – slightly plasticized or like Data from Star Trek, with white polymer circulatory fluid like Ash in Alien. Their synthetic biology requires half the food, water, air, and sleep of a normal human.
  • Replicants can “pass” as human – even their synthetic blood is dyed red. A successful check with a Cybernetic Diagnostic Scanner will detect them. Something about them still induces unease in others and they trigger disadvantage on Fear saves like other Androids. Need the same amount of food, water, air, and sleep as a normal human.

A basic synth will operate normally for about 8 years, an advanced android lasts 4 years, while a replicant only lives 2 years before succumbing to “old age”. Past that point, mental instability and physical decay set in. In any case, an android won’t live any longer than twice its standard lifespan.

Their brains are “living” but inhuman. Most get annoyed by comparisons to computers and AI. They can read CAPTCHAs and check those “I am not a robot” boxes. Advanced androids are given artificial memories to better pass as human. Many replicants believe that they *are* human. The same psuedo-flesh is used for “cyber” components – it’s biologically compatible with human bodies. Basic androids often have obviously mechanical components for specific purposes.

Android brains can be reprogrammed by altering their “bioware”. This is like an Operating System update, while the android’s actual identity and memories are like “system files”. A bioware update feels like intrusive brain surgery to an android.

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