This session happened in an alternate timeline to our “normal” second Insomniacs session. It’s not every day that I get to pull off a Groundhog Day in space, especially since one player attended both sessions.
- Majida Kol, PhD, an actual rocket scientist who underpromises and overdelivers. Even though she technically hasn’t gained an experience aspect yet, I let Majida keep her aspect Can’t Talk, Leaving! she added last time. Played by Letitia Wright.
- Alexander Weyland, PhD, a calculating astrophysicist who stays cool(ant) under pressure, his experience aspect from the first session. Played by Idris Elba.
I checked in with Weyland’s player to see if he wanted to do anything before going back into stasis following the intro session’s coolant leak crisis. Weyland used the ship’s terminals to check the status of a particular stasis pod, then he attempted to wipe his access from the logs. This was only a partial success, so it was still obvious that someone had checked on the pod. I liked Weyland’s mystery-building here, putting that unknown person onboard for later.
Wake Me Up Inside
Then it was time for the wake up move. Majida Kol opted to pass four decades in quiet oblivion, while Weyland dreamt of his family and the day they moved into their new quarters at the launch facility, sowing the seeds of more mystery. Did he leave his family on Earth? Were they on the ship as well?
There is a hidden cost to including people you know on the ship. There are only 1500 colonists. That’s less than 10 per country on Earth, so it’s completely intentional that bringing a loved one means your character has pulled strings or cheated somehow. Furthermore, you had better believe that the committee members or chairpeople got berths that could have gone to better candidates.
Last session we wasted a lot of time on unnecessary rolls trying to learn about TRAPPIST-1e, the Somnambulist’s first stop. For this session I came armed with a new move:
Arrive in a New System
When the Somnambulist enters orbit around a new exoplanet, decide why NOAH needs to wake human crewmembers:
* They must conduct a viability survey.
* An anomaly has been detected and requires further investigation.
* Human crew is needed for rescue, recovery, or damage control.
Give the players the exoplanet features and proceed with the away mission.
NOAH’s probes detected refined metals at several coordinates on the surface of TRAPPIST-1e. Weyland and Kol suited up and loaded the shuttle Sleepwalker-1 with survey gear, a portable lab, plasma rifles, and a Boston Dynamics D.A.W.G. unit. DAWG would be their pack mule, able to transport anything they found back to the ship.
Once the PCs were on the ground, things went smoothly. Weyland spotted another Sleepwalker-1, this one a burned-out wreck in a mud flat, and he and Kol investigated the wreckage. They found their(?) crewmate Ramirez dead inside, cooked by radiation. The players were rolling Discover quite a bit here, but this time there were clear answers and potential twists for failure. Weyland ended up with a plausible theory that a second seedship could have been constructed and sent hurtling past the Somnambulist at a higher percentage of c than their own vehicle, but being a partial success it didn’t explain why Ramirez was there.
I asked for trauma checks as the strange and ominous occurences started piling up and I have to say I enjoy how the “damage system” in Insomniacs is working so far. You have a track from 1 to 6, just like your Survive and Discover traits, which has Unstable on the low end and Stable on the high end. Each time your character is traumatized, your Unstable value goes up and you try to roll above your new Unstable value. The GM picks a condition if you fail, and you pick a condition on a partial success. On a full success you only take the numerical ticks on your track. Physical injury works the same way. Kol shrugged off the stressors as though she’d done this before, but Weyland rolled a partial success. His player opted for the most mechanical condition, simply another Unstable tick. Those add up, though, as you’ll see.
Majida Kol used exceed the specs to jury-rig the crashed Sleepwalker-1’s comm systems with Ramirez’s video feed and discovered yet another shuttle wreck, this one a bad landing that spread the Sleepwalker-1 across one of the rocky ridges crisscrossing the mud flats. Weyland wanted to check it out, especially since whatever killed Ramirez might still be over there. Kol wanted no part of that, especially since whatever killed Ramirez might still be over there. Although Kol’s player said he was just roleplaying Kol’s caution and fully agreed to go, I had Weyland try out the influence others move just to playtest it. This is pretty much ripped off from the carrot-and-stick social moves from other PbtA games, and it worked well. Kol gained an aspect die by going along with Weyland and together they trudged towards the third instance of the Sleepwalker-1.
The crew’s geiger counters started chirping as they neared the third crash site and encountered, like Daniels and Kol did last week, a humanoid figure in a black business suit with a blue glow where its face should be. This prompted another trauma check, which ended up costing Kol an aspect die as Weyland took on a trauma aspect, deja vu. The Man with Blue For a Face reached out towards them in welcome even though their suit readouts showed radiation levels were getting dangerously high.
Weyland reached out to make contact. This move turned out to feel fairly harsh on a partial success, and we talked about it some after the game. I’ll be rolling the most obvious picklist item into the default results for any success, then letting the player choose what they think is the least worst outcome after that, with a better success blocking more potential badness. As it happened, Weyland learned two things: the Man was/is/would be human and he recorded a pattern in its radiation, perhaps some attempt to communicate. He had to make another trauma check as fallout from his partial success – Weyland’s trauma track was filling up now.
Then Majida Kol tackled Weyland away from the Man. She rolled off of her crewmate to see Craig Daniels from last week’s session standing where we left off. The two timelines were converging and we called it a night here.
Playing out an alternate timeline was pretty fun! Roll20 was a lot nicer to us this time, and Kol’s player used the better rolls as roleplaying opportunities to have deja vu about the setbacks they encountered previously, like somehow knowing where they should land Sleepwalker-1 in order to avoid planting it in a mud flat.
The strangeness of having these converging timelines is also a nod to scheduling mishaps. Next session we’ll still be able to seamlessly integrate any players who show up – they were just shuttle crews from alternate timelines!
Mechanically, I’m happier with how this session went. Getting the chance to redo the transition from orbit to the surface of TRAPPIST-1e helped immensely, and finally getting a chance to try out make contact revealed some hiccups there. Luckily, I think we talked out a good fix for the move so it won’t be so punishing. Here’s the new version:
When you reach out for an anomaly or entity that defies explanation, roll Discover. On any success, you learn something useful or interesting. On a partial success, choose one. On a full success, choose two:
*You don’t have to make a trauma check.
*You influence what it learns in return.
*You can withdraw safely.
On a setback, prepare yourself. Things are going to get weird.
Insomniacs is painted with the colors of hard sci-fi, but my real inspiration is the impossibility of dreams. I feel like we’ve succeeded at that so far, and I look forward to resolving TRAPPIST-1e next time. We’ll be in completely unplaytested territory after that.
If you couldn’t tell from the headings I used, the films Groundhog Day and Coherence were big parts of this session. Rene Magritte’s “Pleasure Principle” is the inspiration for the Man With Blue For a Face (which I discovered after I thought of that look, but I minored in art history so it was probably in my subconscious already).
Featured image: “Crash” by VargasNi