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’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.
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.