A monster on the verge of eating an adventurer.

Review: Mothership Wardens Guide

by Ramanan Sivaranjan on November 28, 2022

Tagged: osr mothership

I have been reading the Mothership Warden’s Manual over the last week, the “DMG” for Mothership. I find a lot of dungeon master’s guides fall short. People manage to run D&D in spite of its rulebooks, not because of them. Mothership’s Warden Guide is superlative because it breaks down how to get the game you just bought to the table: it understands why these game master books should exist in the first place. There are very few books that pull this off well.

Mothership Prepare Your First Session

Mothership’s Warden’s Manual’s very first spread is a step by step breakdown of what you’ll need to do to run your first session. There isn’t any faffing about: you’ve bought this game and you want to play it, here’s what you should do to make that happen. There’s even pictures of an example notebook so you can see what sample prep (and how little you probably need to have fun) looks like. Mothership is a horror game, and so one of the first things the game master is going to have to figure out is what makes a horror game different than your typical game of D&D. Here Sean breaks things down in a very approachable way, with what he calls the TOMBS cycle. You can use Mothership to run all sorts of games, no doubt, but the Warden’s Manual helps frame the sorts of games that likely make the most sense, by walking you through prepping such games in its opening section. The advice on prepping a game also serves as an introduction to the game and genre itself.

The middle section of the book is what I think of as more typical when it comes to DMGs: what are the mechanics and logistics of actually running a game? (Here Sean also tackles what must likely be one of the biggest stumbling blocks for people coming to Mothership: when should you roll the dice?) Into the Odd has great advice on running the game and I think this section from Sean is of a similar pedigree. Sean also talks more about the sorts of scenarios that are likely to come up in a Mothership game: investigations and social encounters. Again, what he’s chosen to focus on in this book helps frame what the game is about.

Mothership How The Game Works

Finally the book concludes with how to start and run a campaign. Like the opening of the book, this section is concrete advice to get you going. Sean’s goal is to have you running a campaign quickly, not fall into the trap of prepping instead of playing.

Reading this book made me want to play Mothership again. I could do it better now! This book is likely so good because it’s written as if it was going to be someone’s first RPG. This is probably a ridiculous assumption, but the book is all the more accessible because of it. I’m a very experienced RPG player at this point in my life, but the sort of guidance Sean’s put down in this book is useful for everyone. For experienced players who are bringing their own baggage to the game, a book like this helps clear up assumptions and gets you playing all the more quickly.

As I said at the start, I think there are very few DMGs that are actually any good. LotFP’s Grindhouse Referee book was my previous high watermark for these sorts of books. Raggi wants you to play his game and its infectious. For all the edginess of the line, the Referee and Tutorial books are so weirdly welcoming. Raggi’s online persona has some real wrestling heel energy, but his books for new GMs are written from a place that feels really friendly and inclusive. He really included everything you’d need to understand what a Weird Historical Horror RPG was about. (There is even a section on how to recruit players for your game—weirdly dated in this age of online game.) Brindlewood Bay is another game that is written with such care for the player that will run the game. It goes into great detail about how to start playing the game as quickly as possible. What your first session should look like, exactly. That these are all horror games is interesting. A coincidence? Something for someone else to discuss.

If you didn’t back this Kickstarter what were you thinking? Be sure to grab this game when you can—like now.

Mothership Find The Horror


FMC cover by Gus, a skeleton on a d20

I’ve been looking forward to Marcia’s tidied up version of OD&D. It’s a straight up retroclone: she hasn’t tried to fix the gaps in the game, the gaps are the best part. Enjoy. It’s free!

If you haven’t read OD&D you should, it’s really wild what they thought was enough for people to play a game. And really, they were right. People figured it out and made amazing things.

I met up with Alex, Brendan and Paul last night from the #torontOSR posse. We tried to play through James’s The Cursed Chateau, but spent much of our time together drinking cocktails and catching up. Almost certainly inspired by this experience, Alex writes about one-scene adventures as another form of one-shot play.

Man, Twitter really does feel like a hot mess right now. And if we are all being honest with one another, it already felt like a hot mess, right? Warren from I Cast Light explains why you should be getting back to blogging: BLOG! Good God! What Is It Good For? When I started blogging (a million years ago) social media didn’t really exist as a thing, and people would share all the ephemera in their heads on their blogs. Some of your tweets are probably stupid, and should just disappear into the ether. Some of your tweets are probably worth simply posting to your blog: especially those that spark discussion. I wrote about “microblogging” here at Save vs. Total Party Kill some time ago. Anyone can start a blog and contribute to the wider RPG scene.

In a project that seems like pure madness, Patrick is compiling the entirety (give or take) of his blog False Machine into a book. It’s over 650 pages! Over half a million words! Bananans. You can back the project on Kickstarter right now. Go do that now!

Josh from Rise Up Comus almost lost 6 years of notes about his D&D campaign! This moment encouraged him to blog about how he went about building up the trove of writing and prep that went into running his megadungeon campaign. I love reading about the processes people go through to run games.

I suspect the death of Twitter is greatly exaggerated. No one pays 44 billion dollars for something only to drive it into the sun, though that’s honestly the best outcome one could hope for when it comes to Twitter. I’ve been on that site since the dawn of time—I’m twitter user 3,321—and I will be a little sad to see it go, but honestly not that sad. It’s been dreadful for many years now.

Just to get a little bit ahead of any exodus, here are a few places you might see me besides this blog:

At the end of the day, the OSR is about blogging, and I’m always up for more of that.

Sean has shared some interesting thoughts on player safety tools in RPGs, something that’s been on his mind as he writes the dungeon master’s guide for his game Mothership: Thinking about Safety Tools in RPGs. Here Sean frames safety tools as a form of hospitality.

DBS Cover

The first part of the infamous follow up to Deep Carbon Observatory is finally out, Demon Bone Sarcophagus. Time to buy while the Tories are demolishing the value of the British Pound! I’ve been reading the PDF on and off: there is so much going on it’s kind of bananas.

Into the Odd

I had been not so patiently for my copy of Into the Odd to arrive. Chris teamed up with Johan Nohr of Mörk Borg fame to produce this new edition of the game. They have made a really incredible book together, it’s really quite beautiful. My love of this system has grown slowly over time. Paolo published Wonder and Wickedness and Into the Odd around the same time, but I next to no interest in the game. The implied setting seemed wasn’t really to my taste. Also, I was all about OD&D at the time. Over the years, perhaps with the release of Silent Titans, I have become much more aware and interested in Chris’s works. He’s one of my favourite OSR game designers now, and Into the Odd seems like one of the more important and influential works to have come out of the OSR.