Insomniacs: The Reverent Between

The Reverent Between is what the Somnambulist’s AI called the gulf of stars between the crew’s last stop at 186 Herculis and their fruitful colonization prospects in the constellation Lyra. I’m also deep in Insomniacs’ editing and layout process, and that is its own sort of thoughtful journey.

The Pillar of Contemplation

The Pillar was the second anomaly my playtest crew encountered, a vast artificial complex of quasi-diamond reaching up from the surface of its dead world. One PC, Weyland, brought a shadow of the alien AI onto the Somnambulist. On the positive side of things, he used its knowledge (and the relatively-new research moves) to make improvements to the ship’s stasis systems to alleviate the worst potential consequences from the decanting procedure.

The Moebius Rainbow

The next stop wasn’t even a planet. The crew woke to find themselves in a vast, thick, multicolored nebula. NOAH, the ship’s AI, needed their help with some system glitches it had noticed. That’s when the two PCs, Dr. Alex Weyland and Dr. Majida Kol, encountered Weyland’s clone in the maintenance corridors and the resulting mental trauma filled PC-Weyland’s trauma track.

Lying to AI

Weyland’s mental state was a great opportunity to playtest what happens when a character fills their trauma track, the measure of their mental stability and ability to cope with the horrific and alien. I don’t want players to immediately lose their character. If NOAH confirms that your character is unstable in this fashion, it will keep you in stasis until you can get appropriate help, which won’t be until a viable colony is established, which ends the campaign. I wanted NOAH to be helpful in the fiction, to want to keep its crew safe, while providing this game-level threat where you have to seek help or hide your symptoms before NOAH decides to “help you” on its own.

We chose “Am I a Clone?” as Weyland’s trauma aspect. The PCs didn’t even know NOAH could clone people, which just compounded Weyland’s distrust of the ship’s AI. Plus he had this remnant of the Pillar of Contemplation inside his head, and what was worse, Majida Kol found a branch of NOAH a long-dead crewmember set up hidden in an air-gapped enclosure deep in the bowels of the ship. It was named NAAMAH and clone-Weyland agreed to tell Kol and PC-Weyland everything he knew if they agreed to help him avoid NOAH’s surveillance and get his stasis pod into NAAMAH’s chamber.

We ran out of time, leaving the crew with a potentially glitchy ship AI, a second mystery AI created for an unknown purpose, and a third alien AI fragment in an unstable crewmember’s mind. Dr. Kol plugged clone-Weyland’s pod into NAAMAH but locked down the stasis pod so only she could decant the clone.

Read a Person

“Read a Person” is a move from Apocalypse World that’s been ported into several other PbtA games over the years. It’s a good move and the last few sessions, I’ve wondered if Insomniacs needs one like it. The main issue is that the current social move in the game, “Influence Someone”, is about persuading someone to do what you want, and you roll Survive, not Discover. Meanwhile, getting someone to answer your questions seems like it should be a Discover roll. “I made a scientist, I’m inquisitive, I want to learn why this is happening, why am I bad at getting this person to answer me when everything else I’m good at is about getting answers?” There’s a dissonance between the moves I’ve got so far and the player’s expectations.

One solution is not to change a thing. You want to persuade someone to do what you want, and what you want is “answer your questions”? That’s influence someone, roll Survive and suck it up.

One solution is to write a new move that’s very close to influence someone but pulls more from AW’s read a person or something similar, and base it off a Discover roll.

I think, after a lot of waffling, I’m going to go with option C: include more examples in the rules of actual play situations and what moves they might trigger. You can say getting answers is influencing someone, but the basic Discover move covers this as well – “when you want to learn something specific about the story, say how you get the information and roll Discover”. It’s up to each table how draconic they want to get with the triggers, but in our session I let Weyland roll a basic Discover action to question his clone. The difference is that the clone was being fairly helpful – if he wasn’t inclined to answer, then yeah, influence someone would have been more appropriate.

Next time, we’ll play to find out if Weyland can get some help and whether the wonders of the moebius nebula they discovered will entice them out of the ship or if the hard lessons they’ve learned across so many exoplanets will see them bid the astronomical garden a hasty goodbye.

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