“All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.” (Galactic: introduction and Session One)

I’m really not going to be able to do the Galactic game justice with an Actual Play report.
First, we’ve had four sessions now and I haven’t done a report yet. The first one was back in late November, and the details are a bit hazy.
Second, a ton of stuff has gone on, and inevitably, I’m going to forget some stuff.
Third, I want to talk a bit about the mechanics in the game, so that’s going to color things a bit, and there’s a lot of that to talk about.
I’m going to give a shot, though, because the game deserves the thought and discussion.
So let’s start from the beginning.
In Session 0, we had too many players. That’s all right, because (a) one guy wasn’t going to be able to stay with us for the whole run and (b) with a few extra players, we were more likely to have enough people to play even if someone couldn’t make a session.
These are the characters we came up with. We each also had to come up with one planet and one faction that’s active in the setting, and you repeat that between each of your three quests, also, during the first session, every Captain comes up with their own cliffhanger for the first quest to start with. They also pick the world the quest will feature. The player on the left picks a faction that will be prevalent. The player on the right comes up with a central NPC for the quest.
So there is a lot of communal world-building going on throughout the game, which means that each game of Galactic is very different in tone, elements, and story than any OTHER game, despite the “main” story being the same. (Even the Scourge itself is different in each game.)
Now, on the surface, Galactic looks like the kind of game where no one can miss a session. The reason for that is the way character creation works. Everyone makes up a starship captain, and then we sort of ‘meet’ each captain in turn, and everyone else at the table (except the gm) makes a crew member for that captain. Captains and their ships can run the gamut from an officer of the Concordant Navy to the captain of a commercial cruise ship to the leader of a ragtag group of scavengers — it’s all good. Thing is, it seems like “if someone doesn’t show, then that crewmember isn’t there on every captain’s scene, and so forth”, but as long as you make the ‘minimum’ number of players (which might be three plus the GM, maybe, but which could work with just two players, short-term), you’re good to go.
The basic background of the setting is that mankind, after creating the huge Galactic Republic, was wiped out by the mysterious Scourge. One colony ship escaped the genocide, and founded a new home on a nasty, brutish world at the end of nowhere. They finally returned to the stars, found out about their lost history, and are starting to explore and colonize back in the direction of the “Core” — the home of the original Republic. On the way, they run into lots of alien races who were once part of the Republic (and who often revile or worship humanity, by turns), as well as the ruins and abandoned technology of their own ancestors.
And then the Scourge wakes up.
The game is about how these captains (working alone for the most part) try to stop the thing that no one could stop the last time. It’s got a strong feel of the new Battlestar Galactica for me, both in the story tone and in the mechanics and interplay of crew and captains.
MECHANICS
This is basically how the conflict works out.
A scene opens with a captain. We set up what happens and we play. At some point in there — maybe right away, maybe later — we get to a point where either I or the Captain say that something happens that other one says “no” to, and that’s where and when we go to the Conflict system.
The conflict system works like so: in true Firefly- or BSG-style, there’s two sides to every conflict — there’s “what the conflict is ostensibly about” and “the relationship between the Captain and one of the crew that is either going to be strengthened by Trust or weakened by Doubt as a result of what happens.” It’s important to understand that Winning or Losing the Goal happens INDEPENDENTLY of the Trust/vs/Doubt thing with the crewmember. You can totally get your ass kicked in the epic space battle, but the crewmember who is “on the hook” for that scene could trust you more at the end, because of the WAY things happened. Or vice versa: you could kick ass and take names, but your actions fill the crewmember with Doubt.
Anyway:
1. You figure out what the Conflict is about, and which crewmember is ‘on the hook’. (This is my term for it — not the game’s.)
2. Then, the Crew who are involved take the one dice that they get to contribute to the conflict (there are painful and dangerous ways to contribute more dice — sometimes a LOT more dice — using what I and the author call the “leaf on the wind” mechanic) and decide if that dice is going to help the Quest or the Crew side of the conflict.
3. Then, the GM decides where he is going to allocate his dice in the conflict — is it mostly going toward weakening the crew’s resolve, or to resisting the Goal of the quest? Maybe an even mix? The GM has a budget of dice he can use on each captain (plus any Doubt the crew has in the captain), so I can’t just crush them every time with as many dice as I want.
4. Once the captain sees where the crew are putting their effort, and what forces are arrayed against him, he puts out his own dice, which can be quite numerous — he has multi-dice ‘archetypes’ that can be brought to bear, as well as the ability to utilize any Trust that he’s earned from any of his crew (like any captain, he can put the crew’s Trust to use, though that puts that Trust at risk — he can lose it). Finally, he can decide that whatever he’s doing might put innocent bystanders at risk, and the bigger those potential Consequences are, the more extra dice he can bring in. They are BIG dice too, those Consequence dice, so they’re very tempting.
When it’s all said and done, the dice are all arrayed against each other, and there is rolling, and comparisons a lot like the old dice game “War”, and narration of that round happens, and then folks might have lost, or they might ‘give’, or they might rally and go into another round and keep battling until the whole thing is resolved. At the end, the Captain has either won or lost their goal, and one of the crew members has either gained Doubt or Trust in the captain (and the same crewmember can totally have both Trust AND Doubt in the captain, over time, which is awesome.
Once that scene is done, we do it all again with the NEXT player; we switch to a new captain, everyone switches gears to playing a new character, and off we go.
So… that’s kind of what happens in play.
STORY/GAME STRUCTURE
This is a very set kind of story arc. Each captain plays through three quests. A quest is over when the captain wins three conflicts having to do with that quest. Now… that might be three wins in a row, or 2 wins, then a loss, and then a win; or maybe five straight losses followed by three wins (which would be kind of cool). Doesn’t matter — at some point, they get the three wins, the quest is accomplished, and they move to the next, then the next. (Unless they die — they CAN die, and there are provisions in place for that.)
Once the third quest is done, we move to the Last Big Quest, and at the end humanity is either saved or it’s wiped out by the Scourge. The end.
Right now, we’re about four sessions in, and pretty much everyone is done with their first quest.
Session 1 (Chris, Tim, Dave)
We started with Tim’s Captain Nils, the captain of Isabel’s Dream, which is ostensibly a cruise ship, but is also a neutral ground for diplomatic meetings and happens to be armed (definsively!) to the bloody teeth.
Tim had a great cliffhanger set up, and I was looking forward to it, but I also wanted to make sure we were ‘getting our roleplay in.’ Matt Wilson is a great game designer, but in playing his other ‘big’ game, Primetime Adventures, I’d noticed that players got wrapped up enough in the mechanics that they didn’t… you know… “just roleplay” — they only did with regards to the Conflict — making for very focused, but very short scenes… maybe only a few lines of dialog and lots of narrative. That’s partly Matt’s playstyle (as I understand it), but I wanted to make sure that we were taking the time to roleplay just for the sake of roleplaying as well.
Also, this “who is the ‘featured’ crewmember” thing was kind of new to everyone, so I took a page from BSG and started the ‘show’ with a scene between the captain and the crewmember-of-note. In this case, that was Dave’s college student, working as an assistant purser on the ship.
We opened the scene with Tim’s captain briefing the purser on the seating arrangements for a big banquet that evening on the ship. This was an impromptu thing, but Tim really rose to the occasion, rattling off page after page of detailed “do’s” and “DO NOTS” about everyone attending the party — who couldn’t sit next to who, and why, and which group’s hated which other groups, or who needed special treatment, or practices, or food, or greetings — while the harried and utterly overwhelmed purser trailed along in his wake, nodding and trying to take notes. The scene really illustrates how good Nils is at his role (which is largely an act) and how new to the whole thing Dave’s purser is.
So now the cliffhanger, which is simply this:

During the banquet, as the Dream comes into orbit over the planet of R___, the mysterious black box in Captain Belinar’s room (passed down for generations in his family in readiness for ‘when the Scourge return’) begins to beep. The captain is called to his suite, and he and a few select members of his crew enter. As soon as they do, the box emits every more beeps, and the ship shifts perceptibly. The helm hails the captain, and informs him they have just lost all steerage control, and the ship has moved into a landing pattern with the planet’s surface.
There are a few seconds of silence, and the captain comments, “It’s unfortunate that we’re not atmosphere capable.”

The goal for the conflict was “Get control of the ship away from the box, before we enter the atmosphere.”
I’d love to give a play-by-play, but it’s been months, so here were the key bits:
* Dave’s neophyte-purser character was at some level mind-melded with the mysterious black box.
* Chris’ security chief/ship’s chaplain was a pain in the captain’s tuchas.
* The captain kept the ship from entering orbit by cutting all the main power in the ship (including things like the gravity control) and using on-board nuclear missiles (!), fired at the planet (!!!) to introduce enough counter-momentum to get back into a shaky low-orbit.
* Dave’s character, as a college-level historian, was shocked that the captain targeted the planet randomly to induce the right thrust for the ship, ignoring the fact that he was targeting key bits of the local ruins, such as the famed “Third Pylon”, but the captain’s plan paid off : the planet’s highly damaging Acid Raid (which actually shouldn’t have been falling during that phase of the planet’s weather) damaged the missiles enough that they didn’t damage anything of any importance on the uninhabited planet — several didn’t even fire.
We then switched to Dave’s character, Allysande Daen, who’s main goal is to track down her father, a former navy admiral, and find out what happened to him and What’s Going On.
We join the crew making planet fall on Ando III, a cool-temperate planet with a vaguely oriental flavor, on which “Zeno”, Daen’s father’s former XO, is living… in a well-heeled asylum.
Tim’s crewmember Bosley, Daen’s personal ‘batman’ is the crewmember on the hook. Chris is playing “Smoke” the stoner-mode mechanic who keeps Daen’s “Heart of Darkness” working. Daen and Bosley are heading to the Asylum. Smoke is heading to the local bazaar to scrounge up some supplies.
Bosley, who knows Daen well, is quietly talking with her during the mechanized rickshaw ride to the asylum. They’re discussing things like “Are you prepared to tell him how your career is doing?” (It isn’t: she left the navy to pursue this personal quest.)
Dave’s cliffhanger setup was the next bit:

Daen and Bosley walk into the public “sun room” where Zeno and a number of other patients are sitting around doing various sun-room activities. He looks up and recognizes her. She says “Hello, Commander. I’m looking for my father, and I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”
The old man nods and says “I was afraid of that.” Then he and EVERY OTHER PATIENT IN THE ROOM pulls guns out from under their lap blankets and open fire.

The goal for the conflict is essentially “Win the firefight without killing Zeno.”
((A word about conflict goals: they are best when they have interesting failure options built into them. “Survive the fight.” is boring, but “Survive without killing Xeno” is cool: you can LOSE the conflict, but that could mean lots of things. Maybe you lose the firefight; or have to flee; or the police arrive and arrest everyone; or you win, but you shoot the one source of information you have… or a dozen other things. Setting up a good conflict WITH INTERESTING FAILURE OPTIONS is a key part of not just Galactic, but any game. Losing should be just as interesting, if not more so, than winning.))
So there’s a gunfight. Meanwhile, Smoke is in the bazaar, and only a few seconds after the shots start in the asylum, some guys jump him in the bazaar and he’s running for his life and shouting for help from the Captain as well. (His crew-dice were in on the side of winning the Crew conflict, not the Quest one — how well she handled Smoke’s problems would build Trust with Bosley. Bosley was ALSO in on the Crew conflict, not the quest.)
Again, I have only a few bullet points.
* The captain took a few bullets in this fight. Dice that get knocked out of a conflict stand the chance of being “impaired” – made unavailable for the rest of the quest. A LOT of Daen’s “Warrior” archetype dice got impaired during the fight, so that’s how that was narrated.
* Dave went to a lot of work to protect both Tim and Chris’s dice from getting knocked out — lots of shouted commands and shoving Bosley out of harm’s way and suchlike.
* Some ‘deep cover’ agents from the organization that Daen is working with a lot showed up to help out (use of her Connections trait, which allows (or forces) rerolls)
* Dave ended up winning the conflict, and closes in on Zeno, who’s run out of bullets. He agrees to talk, and then goes into a violent seizure (seizures being one of the “Scourge traits” in this version of the game.
And cut to the next guy.
Captain Argon Slash is docking his ship, the Legion, on “The Drift” — a massive space-station in the middle of uninhabited space, comprised of hundreds if not thousands of different ships crushed, bound, and welded together. Each captain has his own ‘flavor’, and Slash’s is a kind of mix between Firefly and an anime where the characters often make Super Deformed angry-faces. The crewmembers for this part of the quest are Sonja, Slash’s ex-wife and the ship’s negotiator; and Jake, who’s sort of a young, crazy, gun-ho shootist (and Slash’s fifth-cousin).
Slash, who collected crazy Solar Republic artifacts (and then tries to integrate them with his ship), has discovered a weird pyramidal object. He’s not sure what it does, but he’s heard a rumor that at the heart of the Drift are ships that date back as far as the Solar Republic — ships that still WORK. His ‘plan’ is to find a way into the core of the gang-turf-controlled Drift and plug the device in… and just… see what happens.
Which is his approach to most ancient tech.
The three are heading toward a meeting with a contact on the Drift who controls the territory they need to get through when they’re jumped by members of the neo-luddite, anti-expansion “Blue Sky” faction.
Slash holds them off — thermal detonator in Jabba’s Palace-style — with a Mysterious Ancient Artifact (or two). Jake is waiting (and eager) for orders to shoot. Sonja is verbally sniping at everyone. The following verbal exchange takes place
Sonya: “Listen to the man — I was once married to him, and I can assure you it’s dangerous to get close to him.”
Blue Sky: “Silence! We would hear nothing from someone who has succumbed to the sin of divorce!”
Sonya: “Excuse me?!?”
Blue Sky: “Quiet!”
Sonya: “All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.”
And that’s when the shooting starts.
* Slash was pretty much conning the Blue Sky folks all the way through.
* Jake’s crew dice where very hot — he was shooting all over.
* Sonya was saved from ‘knock out’ by Argon’s love of tech. She takes a shot and the chest and Slash cries out, running over to her and pawing at the hole in her clothing. She protests that she’s fine — and he reveals he was just checking to see if the armor weave that he put into her jacket (without her knowledge) held. It did! Slash is happy — Sonya is pissed.
I put a LOT of dice against the Crew aspect on this fight, cuz I wanted Sonya to have Doubt in Slash, but the group banded together and held me off — Sonya, although she doesn’t *like* Argon very much, does *trust* him… at least she trusts his instincts with technology. (Ironically, it’s turned out that Sonya is the only crewmember who DOES have trust in Argon… maybe the other’s don’t know him that well?)
The Blue Sky scatters, and Jake runs off after them, whooping and hollering. Sonya storms off back to the ship. Argon is left by himself.
Back to Captain Nils
The goal of this conflict was not very good on my part — simply “Get Control of the Ship back from the Box.” It was a FUNNY conflict, to be sure, but not a good one — failure would have resulted in nothing much happening, which sucks. Luckily, they one.
What happened.
* The box used some kind of lightning on Chris’ guy… then sort of mind-controlled him. Nils had to incapacitate him with some other ancient family-heirloom widget.
* Dave’s character was the box-translator most of the way through this. (“No, no, using the blue lightning against the Reverend is BAD!”)
* The box was receiving a signal from the planet, telling it to come down to the planet. The Signal is on U-space frequency … ironically, from the just-saved-from-destruction Third Pylon!
* Nils is able to control the box by speaking commands to it in Trilatian. (The Solar Republic version of the /sudo command.)
And Allysande Daen…
With Zeno having seizures and possibly doing himself serious internal harm, SMOKE has to talk the Captain through dosing the man on something that will bring him out of the seizures and subdue him… without killing him. Luckily, Smoke is something of a ‘pharmaceutical expert’.
* Smoke gives quick, professional medical advice and actually shouts at Allysande when she hesitates at one point.
* She trust him and follows his instructions.
* Bosley now really trusts her for her success and for supporting her crew. (Though I think we awarded Trust wrong here…)
… and that was the end of session one. I’ll put another post up for Sessions 2 and 3 combined, and a third for Session Four, which is where we are now.


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