We’re keeping the interview train rolling along with an in-depth look at the creative process behind Distress Signals, a Sci-Fi horror anthology of adventures for MOTHERSHIP.
DAI SHUGARS: How would you like to introduce yourself, Reece?
REECE CARTER: Um, giday everyone I'm Reece Carter you might remember me from such things as Dead In The Water for MOTHERSHIP, some terrible entries in the Gongfarmers Almanac by the DCC community, and just being around in some RPG spaces (like Dissident Whispers, the arpia awards and ennies)...
Um, how does that sound, actually fuck it why am I asking you mate Jarrett will edit me later and make me sound good.
DS: No worries, I just always like to give people the chance to present themselves as they see themselves.
RC: Oh no, I mean to have that left in.
DS: We can do that! Your module Distress Signals is pretty aptly titled: a collection of adventures and story hooks, each kicked off by a message the players receive in the darkness of space. What was your inspiration for designing it this way?
DS: It's a brilliant idea, and something I'm a little shocked hasn't been done before—the official MOTHERSHIP discord has always had a "Distress Signals" channel where people can create their own short adventure hooks, but to my knowledge nobody has ever thought to put them together into an anthology like this.
RC: I was thinking about the little adventures I had been running for my home group and realized early on that a distress signal was a perfect opener. It contained everything: the basic outline of what the adventure would be, a clock that it forced upon the players for them to make a decision, and most importantly the social contract that exists in these types of environments (space, water, and land) where if you hear one of these distress signals you go out to help because next time it could be you.
The only thing I noticed I was missing when doing these is tying it into a larger story wasn't always easy to do on the fly, so I made sure when writing this to include connection to the larger world of other MOTHERSHIP adventures (thanks again to everyone who let me play with their toys!).
RC: Yeah mate I agree, it kinda feels like low hanging fruit but at the same time something that no one is doing. Did you know I have actually stolen one from in there? Well, Clint's a fucking top bloke and his idea was amazing. I asked if I could expand upon it a little and make it a thing and he said yes to me, I am forever thankful for that.
DS: the MOTHERSHIP community is great for this. I actually had the same thing happen with one of my ideas—I made a post about a strange blue meteor that was turning people insane, and Ian Yusem asked me if he could take the idea and run with it. A few weeks later, Moonbase Blues was released.
RC: That's wild mate, but it just goes to show that there are some absolute gold in the “Distress Signals” channel and that mining it for ideas is absolutely something that anyone can and should be doing.
I'll say it now, doing this writing stuff isn't super hard, it's people like Jarrett and Roz (who edited Distress Signals) who make you sound good, all I've done is provided a bunch of shit ideas and tied them together, the editing, layout, and art teams are the people who really make your work good.
DS: On the topic, I love the full-spread illustrations that introduce each adventure. It's an art style I don't see very often in TTRPGs, and remind me of the sort of concept art you'd see for Aliens or Star Trek. How much of that was your original idea, versus letting the artist do their own thing?
RC: The full spread with each ship and having the details of each ship and the distress signals was something I had envisioned for this book early in the development process, I wanted it to be the perfect player handout and also I want the players to see the amazing artwork in the book.
Holly is a fucking rock star, she took my terrible drawings and ideas and made them into amazing pictures of each ship and the floor plan too. I was showing my partner the difference between what I drew and what Holly had done and she goes to me "you haven't paid that bird enough to turn your bullshit into that amazing art" and I whole heartedly agree.
DS: It's really a thing of beauty. I'm partial to the shadows on the medical station Chiron.
What's your favorite adventure in the bunch? What would be your personal choice for introducing new players to the game?
RC: It's kinda hard to choose my favourite, if we go by the one that had the best "horror" reaction from my players it's the Chiron, if we go by the one that I've ran the most it's the Firebird, if we go by the one that I had the easiest time refining my idea it's the Argosy, if we go for the one that went through the most refinements and changed because of play testing and idea/scope creep it's the Prevenge, if we go for the one that had the easiest time being written down and everything just fell into place it's the Terus Maju, if we go for the one that has the best ship name it's the Prevenge, if we go for the one...
As you can see there's a few different choices in there. The one I would use to introduce new people to the game would have to be either a modified version of the Firebird or the Chiron or Prevenge as they are. I think that's kinda the big thing that mothership is missing right now, it's that perfect onboarding game that you tend to see a bit of in other spaces, specifically D&D 5E, but the bit and pieces of another big hunt that I have seen has quelled this opinion a little.
DS: I do think that, despite the success of Star Wars and Aliens and Star Trek and the like, sci-fi doesn't have as much of the "cultural language" as fantasy does.
If you pick up a D&D game, you know you're in for dwarves, dragons, and magic swords, so it's a bit easier to make a game that onboards people for that. Sci-Fi is so varied and covers so many different subgenres that it can be difficult to design a single module that fully incorporates all those disparate elements and makes them accessible for new players to grok.
RC: Yeah I agree, I think that fantasy has some much going for it that everyone kinda just gets it, modern era stuff too is easy because you can say things like "yeah so you all have 3310s for phones and internet cafes are still a thing." Sci-Fi is kind of hard a little. How I tend to go with it though is to root everything in reality and bend things from there; what's that famous quote by that bloke "any technology sufficiently advanced enough is indistinguishable from magic", so I use that and then add words together Star Trek-style to give things a better verisimilitude.
The other reason I like to try and root things within reality is because over my past few lives I have managed to gain a bunch of different skills that has given me a broad knowledge of how some things work, then it's just research and adding onto or taking away from it as required. Not everyone has to be an award-winning writer to get their point across or explain how something works, but everyone knows how magnets work and that you need air to breathe. <ake the small things work and the big things will fall into place.
DS: That's a solid design philosophy—make the small things work and the big things will fall into place.
What's your ideal use case for Distress Signals? Do you see it as something that GM will pick up and use in-between other adventures, or do you see the story hooks as jumping-off points for larger stories? How do the multiple modes of play for each adventure factor into this?
RC: My ideal use case for Distress Signals is just people using it, I know it's kinda a cop out saying that but really I don't make these things to tell people what to do with them, I make them for people just to use them. I personally will be using it a either a campaign starter or in-between big stories to set up for the next one, which is the whole point of the "continuing on" section of each adventure.
DS: Can you tell me any stories from your table that took place during a Distress Signals adventure? What's the craziest or coolest thing you've had a player do during a session?
RC: When I was running the Firebird, to nail down the timer period, one of the players said that the last time they played the didn't get to "save" the android and as such they don't feel like they know the whole story of what's going on. I tried to explain that this is part of the adventure and that not knowing is just sometimes something that happens, but they cut me of and said "Fuck you Reece, we are doing both, and you can't stop us" so they attempted to rescue the humans and the android, they were all mid-rescue of everyone and then the timer goes off causing a TPK.
"You fucking asshole, why didn't you say that this could happen" I get yelled at me by one of the players, to which most of the table turn to them and go "he spent the entire session saying we have a count down and that if we are still nearby when it goes off then it's basically a TPK." They weren't stoked at hearing this and when I explained the story and what's going on to them they were happy.
I still think the timer is a bit short on that adventure, but that can easily be modified by the Warden when they are running the game themself. Another one was when one of my players realized where I had gotten some ideas from and hit me up after the game and said that they were stoked to actually get to play through that situation and happy with how it all went down.
DS: Never underestimate a player’s ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
If people are interested in your work, where can they find you online?
Those are the true workhorses of my stuff, they are the ones you should follow. People can hit me up on Discord I guess; Scarius#3776.
That’s it for this transmission, thanks for reading. Stay tuned for our next newsletter, where we’ll be talking to Cade Crites about their Troika! setting and pointcrawl supplement Garden of Corda!