The Skeletons in Space: A Very Short Playtest

The Scene

Being in Seattle early last week, in preparation for the Go Play NW 2016 game convention, my daughter and I were staying at my friends Ryan and Sarah's place.

The first few days involved our respective daughters getting to know each other, getting their daughter to bail on her previously scheduled summer camps, and me providing the kids only the best education that comes with summer break goodness.

Welcome to Capital Hill! Lyfting, Walking, and busing about the city.

Welcome to Capital Hill! Lyfting, Walking, and busing about the city.

Summer courses at Raygun Lounge University

Summer courses at Raygun Lounge University

The Premise

I discussed the premise on a prior blog post: Basically, run Jason Morningstar's The Skeletons story game, but in space, using space-inspired audio, and with a dash of Lego. I had already done a bit of work on the soundtrack, chose a small manicured set of Lego bricks in the appropriate old-school space blue, added a few dashes of color and various thematic computer screens, and a selection of miniatures (which is to say, Lego space mini-figures).

I brought it in case the opportunity presented itself at Go Play NW.

The victims

The prior year I had just introduced Sarah and Ryan to the modern world of board games, with a few small pieces such as Lost Cities, and some kid-friendly games such as Rat-A-Tat-Cat. 

I returned to find a whole shelf-full of all the craziness that the hobby encourages. Even more relevant, they contained all that enthusiasm that comes with this hobby.

We got around to the subject of role playing games (which is what Go Play NW is all about, and half the reason I was here). Although they have no experience with RPGs, Sarah remembers when we were neighbors growing up, and how we introduced her younger brother to Dungeons and Dragons and would play with him all the time. Unfortunately we never included Sarah, and in retrospect I'm not sure we aren't sure if it's due to the boy-girl rift, or some other reasons.

The daughters were tucked in, and the adults were free. Both Ryan and Sarah expressed an interest in playing, and I pitched them a number of options: A short Dungeon World session. A game of The Quiet Year. And the one we went with: The Skeletons.

The game

Setup was great.  We had a discussion of the scenario. I mentioned an example of "fungus creature taking over our brains", and Sarah was opposed to that due to: Triggers. 

I will stop here and say that I was remiss in mentioning triggers to the two of them prior to starting. There was no harm-no foul, since we were doing pre-game discussion, but how bad would that be if we were half-way through the game and I maneuvered the story to drop that bomb. Yikes! Extra reminder to self: X-cards and veils and lines-type discussion extra useful with any players you've never played with!

Sarah proposed a crystal-based alien that has somehow controlled us (details unnecessary at this point), and that was enough to start.

Using Lego bricks as lines, we sketched our spaceship: A larger central room, and two side alcove-rooms. We placed a few terminals. Our crystalline creature was prominent in the center. We all placed our space people in various locations. Ryan added a similar, but different, crystalline creation attached to the outside of the hull, which may be related, or opposed, to the main creature. Also undefined at this point.

At some point (possibly just a little later) we decided on artificial gravity due to this area being a tail end of a long, spinning, space station / ship.

We drew our skeletons, mostly with space suits being a thing, and were ready to start.



Audio engaged. Play unfolded. A few questions had to be tweaked (things that have an obvious old-fantasy feel that don't sound quite right in space), but those were few.

We got through the initial quiet period, then an intruder, and another quiet period, but not much more than that, as some of us adults were getting sleepy due to Adulting.

But damn, was that a blast. They both loved the experience, and were very engaged. I was very impressed with how quickly Sarah just dive bombed into the experience; you would never guess she isn't a regular RP gamer. Ryan had an initial trepidation with figuring out the parameters around this strange social hobby we have, but then started to jump into it. I can't help but think: Another 2 are born to the hobby.

Newborn RP gamers! Me in the reflection.

Newborn RP gamers! Me in the reflection.

The Synopsis

All said and done, the experience was great. Here's my summary:

  • I have confidence this could work to great effect, and am looking forward to more play!
  • Mental note: Remember the "lines and veils" conversation with unfamiliar players.
  • Gravity and air / vacuum should be part of the scene-setup conversation, if applicable (this could always be played out on a planet or other non-ship scenario).
  • I had enough time to review the playbook / character sheets prior to the game, and after this first test, I don't think changing them is necessary (at least until after a full game test).
  • Instead of literal skeletons (because we are going sci-fi), you could do more of a zombie-like scenario where the flesh is not fully decomposed. Especially because part of any mind- or body-control may include all sorts of strange preservatives or other mechanisms... robotic, biological, or otherwise. This means some questions need to be tweaked, possibly.
  • Audio was good, but mostly untested. We didn't find it distracting and it seemed to enhance our experience.
  • I think the title "The Space Skeletons" might be a better short-form. Maybe.