I knew this was going to be a good session when one of the players signed into the hangout from a darkened car only to say they’d be back in 45 minutes. The rest of us got down to the business of reconciling the disparate timelines from the last two sessions on TRAPPIST-1e. This is Insomniacs, my cryoship road trip game.
Tackling the Problem
We had all three players from our last two sessions here tonight. One character, Majida Kol (a real PhD), was there for both sessions and experienced both versions of events. Weirdness! The anomaly on TRAPPIST-1e, a radioactive man in a business suit with blue for a face, was making progress communicating with Weyland (also a real PhD) before Majida Kol tackled him away from the entity. Craig Daniels (not a real PhD) was mesmerized by the blue and drawn closer to the deadly radiation without learning anything as Weyland had. Kol tackled him away too. Mechanically, these were partial successes and setbacks on the make contact move interrupted by successful survive checks.
Weyland, who had detected a pattern in the radiation pulsing from the man-shaped anomaly, attempted to exceed the specs of his plasma rifle and pulse it in response to the Man’s radiation. He failed at this and managed to turn his plasma rifle on permanently, sending a heat beam scorching across their escape shuttle. Weyland abandoned communication and decided to just shoot the damn thing. He swept the beam across the entity, which disappeared in a cloud of ions, and managed to friendly fire Kol as well, breaching her suit! The trio of hapless astronauts frantically boarded Sleepwalker-1 and blasted off for the Somnambulist, which was waiting patiently in orbit and totally wasn’t silently judging them.
In Insomniacs flying a shuttle triggers a move, but there’s no roll. Instead, when you operate a vehicle on a routine course, such as returning to dock with the Somnambulist, you choose a prompt and describe a scene. Kol was at the controls and picked voices from the radio, describing the radio chatter from the alternate Sleepwalker-1 flights, finally scrambling into a cryptic message. I decided the radio broadcast, along with the radiation pattern from the anomaly, could be something someone could research once they were back on board.
Victory Cigars are Great for Atmosphere Scrubbers
Once everyone was back on the Somnambulist, Kol and Daniels went to recover in the medbay while Weyland produced some cigars he had smuggled onto the ship. The crew bonded over this blatant safety violation, triggering both recover from injury as well as establish camaraderie. These moves clear your injury and trauma tracks respectively, but tick a Life Support track from fresh to stale as they do so. It was clear that the limitations of this life support mechanic feel really restrictive. The intention is to have some kind of pressure during shipboard activities so you still have to make choices about what you’re going to engage with, but a player is nearly always going to prioritize healing a wounded and unstable PC, especially if the recovery moves guarantee clearing your harm.
I decided we’d ignore that life support mechanic for now. Our fourth player joined us then and rolled up a navigator named Lola Chao. She was an instinctive navigator and a bad mother…, and I was pleased again at how fast character creation goes in Insomniacs.
With three potential exoplanets in their flight path, the crew had NOAH bring Lola Chao out of stasis and she woke up screaming. The wake up move provides an opportunity to reveal more about your character, to inject some horror, or to say stasis went fine, let’s move on. Lola’s player went straight for the “I need to make a trauma check and this is why” option. Her player regaled us with a story that I would not have forced on any player. Lola had pulled strings to get her family onboard. Their rack of stasis pods malfunctioned, and Lola woke up several times during stasis, paralyzed in her pod. Her family wasn’t so lucky – their pods never came back on and Lola was stuck, stuttering awake for a few minutes or hours at a time across decades as her family’s stasis failed and they died in their pods.
Lola came out with the trauma aspect sleep is the enemy, which ended up putting her at odds with both our dwindling session time as well as the whole “ignore the life support limitation mechanic” problem. Lola offhandedly made some course corrections to shave a decade or two off their flight path to the most promising exoplanet of the three options, but she didn’t want to go back into stasis. I’m not sure her player understood yet that it would take decades to get to the next stop.
Weyland stepped in here with the influence someone move once the conversation started going in circles. He got a partial success and chose the “carrot” option. Lola accepted and went back into stasis (although in a different pod, and only after drugging herself to the gills with sleep aids).
Onward to 43 Lyrae
I’m pleased that we’ll be able to start the next session coming out of stasis, which lets us continue play seamlessly with whatever players can make it. I’m still pondering whether I need a timer for shipboard actions. Allowing unlimited time to recover and research doesn’t mesh with my design goal where characters might “degrade” over time, at least with the way recovery moves work currently. Perhaps that’s the area I need to change. Perhaps life support strain is still a good idea but needs refinement.