Necronautilus review

Last night, we played Necronautilus by World Champ Game Company, and I have lots of thoughts swirling in my head (almost all of them good). Essentially, you play soul fragments called “Death Agents”, swirling around planets in a sort of infinite afterlife doing the bidding of the blind god Death.

A person with many swirls of light around them of all colors
My sense of a character congealing from death gas onto a planet
Photo by Meryl Katys on Pexels.com

I have never played another game like this. Despite the death metal trappings, the game need not be particularly grimdark, and it becomes almost literally exactly as gonzo (or not) and horrifying (or not) as your group desires!

This does for me what Troika! does for a lot of other people, in part because of the aesthetic. The book calls it “stoner metal-inspired science fantasy”, although another reviewer wrote “melodic death metal Spelljammer”. The rules, however, are incredibly light. If you want to do a thing, just explain how either a Word of Power manifests (literal words on your character sheet) or a Memory relates, and roll 2d6. It’s extremely free-form and the entire group can can interpret the dice rolls and words as expansively as you all wish.

We played one of the planet suggestions in the book (an oceanic world called Ritual with lots of witches and funky herbalism). It turns out that the GM does need a couple of minutes of prep to flesh out the mission, complications, opponents, etc. The game relies more on the entire group riffing on each other’s words, memories, actions, and imagery, and when you’re done, you will have had a truly fresh play experience.

Necronautilus particularly lends itself to episodic play: just make sure that you finish a mission before the end of the session, and each will be self-contained. So if you decide on a campaign, it’s okay if the group composition varies slightly from one session to the next. Go through the procedures for space complications and ship adventures if you wish, or just land on the next planet, do the mission, and do the upkeep procedure at the end.

I recommend having a good anagram solver on hand and maybe some additional word lists if you want. The rules reference in the back cover are decent, but they could probably use some page references for those situations in which you want more detail.

A few questions cropped up for us in our first playthrough and I’ve asked the game designer, with apologies if I missed references in the text that answer them.

  1. Do Memories ever get erased? The rules reference at the back says they “fracture” when you roll equal to their value (like a Word of Power) but I can’t otherwise find that in the text. Since page 17 indicates that a player can have “up to 4 Memories”, what happens when those fill up?
  2. Can players move Words from their Collection to the “Power list” during a mission, or should they only do this when in the ship between missions? Otherwise, how do they have more than 3 Words of Power?
  3. When a four-letter word fractures, does the player just take 3 life and remove the word?

We’re looking forward to playing again in a few weeks (complicated lives and all that). I have started putting together some resources to ease online play, including a Google Slides-driven character sheet that I’ll release hopefully next week. Keep on jamming!

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