I’m Josh Fox, wot wrote Lovecraftesque (with Becky Annison) and Flotsam: Adrift Amongst the Stars, and many smaller games. In real life, I’m a civil servant, smallholder and parent of two small folks.
The game I’m mostly here to talk about (but feel free to ask about others) is Last Fleet, which is essentially what Battlestar Galactica would look like if it was mashed up with the bad guys from Warhammer 40k or suchlike.
The elevator pitch is, you’re brave pilots, officers, engineers, politicians and journalists on board a rag-tag fleet, fleeing across space from the merciless alien foe that destroyed your civilisation. There’s action (space battles!) intrigue (infiltrators! politics!) and drama (feeeeeels) in this high pressure setting.
That’s probably it for now, so: done.
Thanks, Josh_Fox! The floor is open to questions!
Is this more like old Battlestar Galactica, or the new one?
Do you have a link for folks to have a look at?
Very much the new one, as TBH I’m not that familiar with the old one (have watched exactly one episode). It’s got the “they look like us” angle.
GOOD CALL danhunsaker:
The link is (Link: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/blackarmada/last-fleet-rpg-lastfleetrpg?ref=bo0iyr)https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/blackarmada/last-fleet-rpg-lastfleetrpg?ref=bo0iyr
Can you give us an overview of the tech level?
Sure. It’s mostly up to you, being a pretty player-led affair, but the standard canonical setting is pretty BSG-like. So you’ve got big spaceships with artificial gravity, FTL drives that involve jumping (through a weird other-realm called the tenebrium, where The Baddies live), weapons that mostly involve throwing chunks of metal through the air
at high speeds rather than lasers or whatever, and food that you grow or culture rather than replicators or similar.
I have played it with Star Trek-like levels of tech, but bearing in mind it’s effectively a post-apocalyptic setting, the tech breaks down super-fast.
Can you say a bit more about the Bad Guys?
Indeed I can.
Again, you can create your own and the game supports you to do that. But canonically they are the Corax. The Corax are an extradimensional fungus network, that lurk in the aforementioned tenebrium. They attack by opening rifts in space, extruding enormous tendrils, and then spewing out podships, some loaded with hulking Corax warriors. They have
the ability to strip down a living organism and absorb both its genetic and physical components, but also its psyche, meaning once you’re captured by the Corax, they know everything you know, and can create a duplicate of you at will, with all your memories and stuff.
Did they show up because humans started using warps?
If that happens to a PC, does the player then essentially switch sides, or how does that get played at the table?
Dan: it’s not defined in the setting material, but it seems likely. The interplanetary commonwealth where the game would be set if the Corax hadn’t destroyed it is three planets in relatively close proximity, so by implication FTL hasn’t been used a lot yet. But in other playtests we’ve had baddies found accidentally through activating alien tech,
and other routes in.
Is it strictly Humans and the Corax, or are there other sapient species as well?
danhunsaker: It would be a very hard move to have it happen to a PC (though I have done it myself once). The basic deal is, you can either become an NPC (boring!) or you can take the sleeper agent move (yay!). Sleeper agent means that every so often you have to roll the dice to find out what terrible thing you have done without knowing it.
Depending on how well you roll, you’ll maybe get some clues to what you did, maybe you’ll be able to prevent it or cover it up. Or: maybe not so much, in which case you’re going to be scrambling to figure out what happened and save yourself.
Dan: in the canonical background, it’s humans and the Corax. There’s no real reason you can’t involve other species if you like, either as a mod to the standard setting or by creating your own. The key thing is they have to be human-like as in, they can share a living space with humans, and they share emotional needs and broadly similar social
behaviours, ’cause the game revolves around doing those things in between dealing with battles and crises and so on.
More broadly, how common is life in general in this setting?
That’s a good question. I’ve so far not defined it in the setting write-up (maybe I should?), but by implication you either have cultured food, or you’re going to need to get your food from planets that have life on.
So in the latter case: pretty common.
I take it, then, that you don’t have any sort of bestiary of sample alien critters?
Correct. You’ve got some details on the Corax and the kinds of thing that they attack with, and that’s about it. The focus of play is much more on the action of keeping the fleet in one piece, worrying about factional infighting and infiltrators, and fighting big space battles.
There are some sample Corax critters, and the assumption is that they may be able to generate any number of weird other stuff, since they can effectively clone any life form they’ve ever consumed.
Oh? Can you give some examples?
Yeah, so it’s basically the Corax intelligence itself, which is defined mostly in terms of how it behaves through the other creatures; the Corax fleet, which is oriented towards disabling human ships and systems; Corax warriors, who just love to land on board the human fleet, paralyse anyone they find and drag them off for absorption; spores, which
get seeded onto ships and then potentially grow into something unpleasant; and infiltrators, who look human but aren’t.
Is there any indication as to why the Corax have it out for Humans?
They just want to absorb everything, basically. All the humans that have already been absorbed will assure you that it’s actually quite wonderful being part of the Corax, so you should just surrender already so everyone can be together.
What kind of tech do the Corax possess?
The main stuff that’s defined in the setting is stuff I’ve already mentioned: rift tech that means they can appear out of nowhere (it’s functionally the same as FTL but actually the Corax haven’t traveled anywhere, they don’t live in our space), spores that can grow into Corax warriors or pods that will grow human clones inside or any number of
other horrible things, paralysing spores, one may assume corrosive spores too. It’s not really tech as such, but of course the fact that they’ve absorbed 99% of human life means they can also create and manipulate any human tech they like.
So their infiltrators are pretty great at computer hacking, bomb creation and so on.
How does ship combat come into play, then, if the Corax don’t have ship?
Oh they do! But they’re pod ships, they’re alive.
Ah, I see.
You can see how my wonderful artists have envisaged them on the cover illustration.
How can humanity flee anywhere if the Corax can appear anywhere they like?
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(I was hoping that would embed the cover image for you to see, I guess not!)
The link worsk.
Dan: it comes down to the fact the Corax don’t know where you are, so they can’t find you straight away. But a typical Corax strategy would be to seed spores that grow into a transponder. You want to get rid of that pretty fast.
Do the Humans possess AI tech?
Not in the canon background. Totally something you could include. I think it would mostly be interesting as a further source of paranoia: are you *sure* the AI is on your side?
How cinematic is space combat? Is it dogfighting in space?
(It’s maybe worth saying that stretch goals include a setting written by Gav Thorpe of Games Workshop fame, which will be quite different from the standard setting.)
Yes! Space combat is very much dogfighting in space, together with attack runs of the sort you see in e.g. Star Wars. The focus is 100% on the player characters and what they’re doing, with the wider battle abstracted out through the “doom clock” mechanic. So we see whether your PC pilot can shoot down that missile, or stop that ship from landing,
or protect that civilian ship from enemy fighters, and so on.
Do the Corax have the equivalent of the full range of human ships: fighters, capital ships, etc.?
They have a range of smaller ships, but their equivalent of a capital ship is the tendrils.
How would you describe the system?
It’s Powered by the Apocalypse (PBTA), but heavily tailored to the setting. I guess I’ll explain what PBTA means first: Essentially the player-facing mechanics are based on rolling 2d6 plus or minus 1-3 (depending on your stats), and very simply a 10+ is good news, a 6 or less is bad news and a 7-9 (the most fun result) is mixed, success at a cost,
that kind of thing. Each individual thing you can do is codified as a Move, which gives you prompts for what happens on each of those results, so saving the GM from having to constantly come up with interesting consequences for every roll.
Meanwhile the GM-facing side is diceless, the GM has a set of Moves they can make but they’re all defined in terms of the fiction so e.g. one GM Move is “kill their darlings”, where you have a beloved NPC die horribly.
The system has lots of individual components, all very simple and easy to manage, but hard to explain in one paragraph. But the core mechanic that ties it all together is Pressure.
Basically you accumulate Pressure in the same way other games would have you lose hit points or take harm, albeit you can take Pressure from severe trauma or emotional distress or suchlike, not just physical harm.
But importantly, you can choose to give yourself extra Pressure, in exchange for a boost to your die rolls.
Get too much Pressure and you hit Breaking Point, which means you do something dangerous or socially terrible.
Alternatively you can avoid getting to Breaking Point by taking socially interesting actions that have fun consequences.
So the Pressure mechanic kind of threads through the game and pushes you to do interesting dramatic things in exchange for yummy bennies.
One thing on which I’ve never been quite clear: are Moves the sum total of things that your PC can do?
Yes and no. You can do anything that the folks around the table agree you could do, and that might or might not involve a mechanical trigger, just like in any game. E.g. in D&D you can walk down the street without rolling the dice, right? A Move delineates a circumstance where the mechanics kick in and, nearly always, they create a risk of
interesting stuff happening.
So e.g. in Last Fleet one Move is “cover up” which kicks in if you try to conceal a significant bad thing.
But in some other PBTA game (e.g. Dungeon World) that wouldn’t be a move at all, or at any rate it would be a very different one.
Right, but is someone with that Move completely unable to conceal something?
(I take it you mean without)
So within most PBTA games, you have two broad types of Move: Basic Moves, which everyone has access to (but might be better or worse at), and Playbook Moves, which are unique to a particular character.
Cover up is a basic move, so everyone can do it.
But the question is a good one: if Cover Up were a playbook move, and you didn’t have it, then of course you’re able to try and conceal something.
Just, you don’t roll the dice for it.
Instead, the GM says what happens. You probably won’t like what the GM says, but they aren’t there to just shit on you constantly, so what they say will probably be interesting rather than merely horrible.
(Mind the language, please. Family-friendly room. 🙂 )
No worries. 🙂
Does the game address matters of scale at all?
How do you mean?
Well, I mean the difference between a fighter attacking another fighter and a fighter attacking a capital ship, for example.
Ah, yeah, ok. That is something that is specifically covered, because it’s such a major part of the game. It is kind of down to GM discretion based on the specific circumstances, but you would not normally be able to attack a capital ship with a fighter and have any chance of destroying it, or indeed vice versa (since the fighter is way too fast
for the capital ship’s weapons). What you’d typically do instead is, the GM might say something like: “that big ship has a fat turret just spewing forth ordnance and the _Agamemnon_ is really taking a pounding – if you could get through to it and blow it up that would make a big difference, but there’s half a dozen fighters between you and it”, and
then you’d trigger a sequence of moves where we find out if you can destroy or get past the fighters, and if you can then maybe you can attack the turret, and you make some more moves to see what happens there. At no point does the question of your destroying the capital ship come up.
Phew, that was long-winded
No problem! Understood.
There’s not really a set of mechanics to address scale, it’s more dealt with through common understanding of what you can and can’t do (but with ships specifically that’s defined a but more in the game)
* ~Dan nods
Do you address combat between capital ships?
Mostly no. But sort of yes too. The game uses doom clocks to track general badness going on in the background and one example is the battle clock. As a battle proceeds, you fill in the battle clock, and every time you do, the fleet takes more damage. The GM describes that however they’d like. But if the fleet takes too much damage, then something
big happens, and the GM describes what. One option would be to say “oh no, one of those missiles got through and blew out the main fighter bay… wait, wasn’t your friend Gustav working there?”
There’s also the Officer Move.
Oh? What does that do?
If you are an Officer, then in each battle you get a limited supply of points you can spend on doing big interventions, which can include pushing back the tide of the battle, helping other people, and so on. That represents any number of orders you might give from CIC, including “turn the main battery on that ship”, and so on. So that’s one way a
capital ship can come into play.
Does weapon damage matter, or is that simply abstracted?
In principle you could also get into a situation where an Officer literally uses their capital ship to Strike a Target (another move) or Repel an Assault, but that would be bad.
Weapon damage is more-or-less abstracted: there’s a move you make when you take serious harm, and it tells you whether it was just a flesh wound, or something more serious. We don’t worry about whether it was a pistol that hit you as part of a boarding party, or a shell that hit your fighter, it all works the same way.
But if you somehow contrived to be hit by a fighter shell outside your fighter, we wouldn’t roll to take serious harm, you’d just die.
So that’s another example of scale coming into it.
What kinds of actions relieve Pressure?
Listening to Queen?
There’s two main ones (plus a whole bunch of playbook-specific stuff): Let Loose, which is where you go and get drunk, or have a boxing match, or whatever; and Reach Out, which is where you go and talk about your feelings to another character and hopefully strengthen your relationship with them. Let Loose is wild and uncontrolled, and essentially
always results in drama of some kind, while Reach Out is much more controlled but creates a vulnerability because the pressure gets locked up in the relationship, so if that character dies or cuts you off socially, the pressure all comes back in one big bang.
Moxiane: I think listening to Queen with the volume on REALLY HIGH could be Letting Loose ;D
This game sounds like Night Witches in space. Setting the lore aside, are there any differences in mechanics?
Night Witches is one of my inspirations for the game, so you’re on the money there.
Is it possible to negotiate with the Corax or otherwise interact with them?
The mechanics for LF are very different from NW, but they do result in a pretty similar feel, because they have similar design goals.
I can’t point to a single mechanic that’s the same between the two though!
How do you think LF stands out from other sci-fi games?
Dan: The infiltrators are the main way to do that. You can have a conversation with them and they could even be player characters. There’s also one playbook, Pisces, that has a semi-supernatural link to the Corax (or whoever the bad guys are in your game) which might open up a different kind of conversation. The Corax effectively are a giant fungal
supercomputer with all the humans they’ve ever absorbed represented as avatars, so Pisces could find themselves talking to the Corax through their dead lover, or other such fun trauma.
Dan I’d say it’s chiefly the focus on pressure and interpersonal drama that makes it stand out, in my mind. I’ve not played every SF game obviously, but the ones I’ve played were often very focused on action and problem solving. LF has that too, but the mechanics push you to always bring it back to that human element.
Do you have a soundtrack recommendation for playing LF?
LaggingDice I feel like my earlier answer wasn’t very satisfying. Let me say a little more. Night Witches is very deadly. LF is rarely deadly to PCs (though you can die), and typically instead puts NPC’s lives at stake instead. Death is common but a big deal when it happens, especially if it’s a PC.
Night Witches has mechanics for building relationships and creating interpersonal drama, and LF doubles down on that, strengthening those mechanics and making them more central.
And Night Witches gives you a lot more options – you can play a pilot, sure, but you can also be an officer, a politician, an engineer, a journalist. You can in principle make the game entirely about politics and investigation rather than battles.
danhunsaker: I am the world’s worst person to ask about soundtracks, for that you need my partner Becky. An obvious option is the BSG soundtrack, which I love. I also really like the Vitamin String Quartet, who make instrumental versions of bands like Marilyn Manson, Nine Inch Nails, System of a Down and suchlike: it creates a lovely action feel
without getting distracted with shouty lyrics.
I can’t handle shouty anyway, so that’s a good group to know about.
Looks about time for my favorite question.
What’s your least favorite thing about Last Fleet?
That’s a great question, I expect you won’t be surprised that I need to think for a moment.
I’ll try to be honest rather than give a trick answer.
Usually more interesting that way.
So two things. First, the one thing that can be a bit challenging with Last Fleet is, the characters are in this very high-pressure, life-or-death situation, but you want them to pause and interact with each other in interesting ways. That requires a certain amount of GM judgement to know when to say “something explodes” and when to keep quiet and
let them enjoy talking. The game has a specific GM principle that says (something like) “give them space for interpersonal drama”, but it’s totally a matter of judgement and it’s not something I’m that great at. (I’m really looking forward to seeing my other half Becky run LF on The League Presents, as she’s very good at that stuff.)
The second thing is, because the game gives you a lot of freedom to play a wide range of characters, the inherent pull of being in the same unit that exists in e.g. Night Witches, doesn’t exist here. You could find the characters don’t interact at all, but go around doing their own thing. The game works hard to help with that in a number of
different ways, but it’s as much a “same page” thing as anything: you have to be invested in playing a game where your characters want to interact. Even if you’re the Admiral and I’m this low-ranking engineer, we need to create characters who are old friends, or in love, or who hate each other, and then lean into the mechanics to create dramatic
interactions. But every so often you find a group who don’t naturally do that, and then it can be hard work to get them into it.
I like to think the game does a really good job of helping with both those things, but they are things I find difficult sometimes.
You can see why that’s my favorite question.
It’s a mean question!
As to your first point, I think that issue exists with any social-heavy game. I ran whole sessions of my online Buffy the Vampire Slayer game in which the PCs just talked to each other.
I am glad I don’t have to do a job interview with you danhunsaker
danhunsaker: “Give me three examples of how you suck.”
If Corax were dinosaurs, what kind of dinosaurs would they be?
Dan you’re totally right, but I think the higher the stakes the more heavy-handed GM intervention can push people into a terrified crouch where they don’t want to waste any time talking that they could be spending hunting vampires or Corax or whoever.
LaggingDice the Corax are dinosaurs, they absorbed them 60 million years ago.
So the canonical answer is maybe “all dinosaurs”
Math checks out.
But if I have to say one, maybe velociraptors as portrayed in Jurassic Park?
Josh_Fox: In the time remaining, is there anything we haven’t covered that you’d like to bring up?
Well we did touch on it, but one of my favourite things in the game is that you can start play as a sleeper agent. And the game lets you do that while sincerely believing that you’re a hero, and acting like one. That’s a thing I really love about the game, because I don’t really like backstabbing my friends, but I do love playing a traitor despite
that. (It’s the Scorpio playbook, should anyone wish to dive in and play that.)
Usual reminder: If you’ve enjoyed this Q&A and would like to treat me to a coffee or two, you can do so at (Link: https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe)https://www.ko-fi.com/gmshoe . Anything’s appreciated!
Thanks very much for joining us, Josh_Fox!
We also didn’t get into the faction politics angle, though it’s an important component of the game. There’s always a set of opposed factions, united by the desire to not die, but having differing goals and so forth, so that’s fun.
Cool, thanks for inviting me!
How would you rate crunchiness of the game on a scale of 1-10, 1 being rock-paper-scissors and 10 being Shadowrun?
After you answer LaggingDice’s question, I’ll get the log posted and link you. 🙂
(No worries, LaggingDice!)
(It is right there in your name that you’re lagging a bit…)
LaggingDice: that’s a very wide scale. I dunno, probably a 5 or 6? It’s among the simpler RPGs, but it’s still got quite a lot of moving parts.
* ~Dan chuckles