What is Insomniacs?

Insomniacs is a cryoship starcrawl game that evokes existential horror and cosmic wonder in equal measure. It’s built from a meatloaf of Lasers & Feelings, the third attempt at Unknown Armies, half-eaten PbtA leftovers, and the parts of Cthulhu Dark your kids left out on the table before running to catch the bus.

You play the crew and colonists aboard the Somnambulist, a colony starship fleeing known space in search of a new home. You will contend with the dangers of space travel, alien horrors, ancient mysteries, and your increasingly unstable comrades. We will play to find out what you are willing to sacrifice to shepherd humanity through its long dark voyage.

The fancy back-of-the-box text

Not Today, Satan

Insomniacs is game design as exorcism. I need to expunge this psychedelic space horror road trip from my brain. Luckily, I’ve had some generous and friendly people help me playtest it along the way. The basic mechanics are pretty solid at this point, but the questions that are left are, ironically, more existential.

What shape should the game itself take? How concrete should I make the various planets and encounters? Right now, Insomniacs is a custom system married to a loosely-planned campaign setting that I would run, but to know how to package it, I need to run it first.

Will running a longer-form Insomniacs playtest in the new year purge my drive to work on it as a usable game? I’m hoping for the opposite, that more extensive play focusing on the setting elements rather than mechanics will prompt more useful hooks and fruitful, wondrous encounters.

Design #Goals

Mothership released while I was waist-deep in Insomniacs. It’s at the same party but it’s eating at a different table.

I want fast character generation. You pick a name, a look, choose a number between 1 and 5, then invent two freeform traits that I’m calling aspects because everyone I can think of that I’d possibly play this with knows how Fate aspects work.

I want characters that change and suffer rather than simply die and get replaced. I considered the benefits of character funnel play for a long time, but in the end I’ve got to support my preferences and focus the game towards that.

I’m interested in introspection and exploration. I love fight scenes in rpgs but for once this isn’t the place where violence is a first-class citizen.

I want it to be easy to play Insomniacs online. This goal coalesced during playtesting – I’m more likely to find interested players and time to run a game among my online friends. Better to play the big maps-and-minis games with my local group.

I’m trying to paint with the colors of hard sci-fi but not be constrained by the realities of science. My touchstones here are Atomic Rockets when you’re in space and Roger Dean when you’re planetside. Just enough lip service to science so that it’s jarring and obvious when we mess with it later.

Wonder is my white whale. I’m striving to make a game that makes it easy for your group to awe each other. I want you to experience the vastness of the task before your crewmembers. Most of all, I want your crew to safeguard the hope of a better future in the face of overwhelming bleakness. You are the tiniest specks of something in an endless, deadly, uncaring nothing. You have no choice but to do the best you can.

With my feet upon the ground
I lose myself between the sounds
And open wide to suck it in
I feel it move across my skin
I’m reaching up and reaching out
I’m reaching for the random or
Whatever will bewilder me
Whatever will bewilder me
And following our will and wind
We may just go where no one’s been
We’ll ride the spiral to the end
And may just go where no one’s been

Tool, “Lateralus”

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