Replacing the Sanity system in Mothership

NB: I am not writing this post to criticize or complain about these types of systems. The thoughts here simplify reflect my own experiences, particularly recent ones, around issues of mental health and trauma. Additionally, I have no expertise in mental health or psychology, only my own lived experience and what my friends and loved ones have shared with me.

Context

Over the last year, I’ve started to move away from horror as a theme in my gaming experiences, largely for personal reasons. Mothership is explicitly a “Sci-Fi Horror RPG” and I respect that. However, the “horror” in the game interests me far less than the “Sci-Fi” parts: the “used future” seen in Star Wars, The Expanse, The Outer Worlds, Dallas & Robo, etc. The community and other aesthetics in the play culture of Mothership also have so much appeal for me, and so I find it worth investigating improvements.

Mothership has two related saves (Fear and Sanity), as well as Stress and Resolve stats. These interact in such a way that players will sometimes roll on a Panic table with various effects like “hallucinations” or “psychotic”. A number of friends have told me in private that some of those results really bother them because of their own past experiences around mental health (including PTSD as well as other issues). Mental health crises in my own life also mean that I don’t want to spend my time simulating the very things that have led to so much trauma. As others have stated, nothing in a game is more important than the people who play it.

Design

I have considered whether to write another game taking inspiration from the rest of Mothership I like: combat, skills, ships, etc. That would almost certainly require a much simpler game engine underneath it and I don’t know if it would really remain truly “Mothership-compatible”. Ultimately, that would probably just lead to playing something like Any Planet is Earth or Cosmic Highway in 2400. This option always remains on the table, if for no other reason than I like designing simple rulesets for their own sake. As noted above, though, I’d really like to remain within the Mothership ecosystem, as it were.

This leads me to focus on replacing that “module” in the larger system. Quadra has taken a stab at this with a Calm system, but they have different design goals, and thus the system ends up with the same issues I have with the vanilla design.

As a quick and dirty approach, I could remove the Panic table in favor of guidance to the GM and, more importantly, the players about how they might consider playing their character. I don’t think I’m really qualified to write this, though. Luck could also replace Sanity as a catch-all: when things are going really bad and the other save types don’t apply, save vs Luck to mitigate the consequences. This has some genre implications, not to mention that it could end up being useless compared to the others if most things can be classified under Fear or Body.

I prefer instead to replace one or both of the Fear and Sanity saves with other saves. In this approach, Fear becomes a Resolve save: the GM should call for a Resolve save when the character is confronted with a desperate situation or a conflict in their own moral principles. On a failed save, the character just falters and is unable to take the intended action. That more or less replaces Fear.

Sanity, however, is the one that really motivates this changes, along with Stress and Panic. Rather than use Luck, I’ll split the Body saves into two. Vitality saves resist consequences like disease, weakness, or anything that requires fortitude and constitution (more or less the physical equivalent of Resolve). Agility saves cover dodging and moving quickly to avoid or mitigate danger.

So in the end, we throw out the (current) Resolve and Stress statistics, along with the Panic Table. The four save types become Resolve, Vitality, Agility, and Armor, focusing on the positive: these attributes help the character mitigate consequences. In the current system, it’s a little mixed up: Armor helps the character, Body might, but Fear and Sanity are negatives (as words: the saving throws work the same as the other two.

Feedback on this proposal is welcome!

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