Interview with Sean McCoy (compiled from the NSR Discord)

Sean McCoy hosted an AMA on the NSR Discord on March 29th, 2024 between 9:41am and 9:46pm Central Daylight Time.

It’s been compiled here with the permission of Sean McCoy. The questions and replies are attributed to anonymous NSR Discord members (so I don’t have to get everyone’s permission). It is presented in semi-chronological order, grouping answers/replies to the same question together.

The only alterations to messages were to remove the identities of the users who Sean replied to.

The original AMA can be found here: Discord

1 Like

Sean McCoy:

Hey gang,

I’m Sean and I’m the cofounder of Tuesday Knight Games. I co-designed Two Rooms and a Boom with Alan Gerding and I’m the creator of Mothership.

I’ll be here doing an AMA on Friday, March 29 all day during CST (UTC -5) hours. Looking forward to it!

NSR Discord member:

You ever read the 3 Wraith Squadron books? Pretty good right?


I haven’t! They were on a spinner rack at the Albertson’s by my house when I was a kid. I always wanted to read them but they felt like they were too grown up for me. I eventually ended up reading Young Jedi Knights: Jedi Under Siege (because it had lightsabers on the cover) and got it signed by Kevin J. Anderson. I also had dinner Michael Stackpole once at Origins maybe 12 years ago. Should I read them??


They were at the top of the list you asked me to make! :stuck_out_tongue:


Please forgive me :sob::sob::sob:


I keep a list of all the books I get recommended, and I read them in order, and it currently takes an average of 3 years for a recommendation to get read. So I’d have to be a pretty big hypocrite not to forgive you. :stuck_out_tongue:


Holy shit. Now I need to find this list.


lol my man Sean out here heading off the MoSh shipping questions at the pass. onto the question:

In your experience, what’s the biggest lesson or innovation the board game world has adopted that you think would be great in the TTRPG space as well? What’s the biggest lesson the TTRPG world has adopted that you think would be great as well?

bonus question: where can i get that dope playmat with the range bands? :eyes:


In general, I think board game designers know more about the logistics and business of making a game than rpg designers? But I think this is partly because the barrier to entry is higher. Board game designers tend to need to make prototypes so they start engaging with the manufacturing process sooner. Board games are stealing from RPGs left and right, mostly by making campaign play more prominent (Risk Legacy / Gloomhaven, etc.). But honestly I think it should still be more common! Games like Thunder Road (one of my favorites) would imo do great with even a minimalist campaign setup.

I think more RPGs need to get into creating custom components where they make sense. Part of what’s great about RPGs is that you need very little to play. But also, the components are fun! People love minis and maps and dice and screens and tokens etc. So I think if you can make your game easier to play or understand by adding in a component, you should strongly consider it. Even our small change from rolling Panic with 2d10 to creating “the Panic Die” which is just a yellow d20 (or 1d20 if you’re using the NY Dice Notation Standards :joy:) changes the tactile feel of the game at the table. Highly recommended.

I also think we would have more interesting RPGs if more designers played more boardgames. NOT because rpgs need to be like 4e or whatever (that would be fine) but because boardgames are really good at dropping you thematically into a very specific place and designing around that space. It would be cool jam to take a board game (like Brass or Lords of Waterdeep or whatever) and say “okay how much would we need to change this to make it an rpg?” Just asking yourself like how much do I need to bend Battletech to get the Mechwarrior RPG?


Thanks for answering! Another one, if you have time:

When it comes to marketing Mothership, what sort of advertising have you seen the most success in terms of return on time/money invested?


100% Backerkit marketing and in particularly their pre-launch lead generation program. This is expensive and you need to have some success before you jump into this, or a great sort of product/plan (like I wouldn’t just throw a random retroclone at it) but it really is the reason the Mothership kickstarter was 1m+. I’m gonna write a newsletter that goes into the nitty gritty of how we do this sort of thing and what the details are. That being said, I think we were also lucky! We had won a Best Game ENnie, we had sort of the last g+ era OSR hype. A lot of people were interested in what we were doing. We’re going to keep investing with backerkit, but we’ll know more about whether that’s a stable source of advertising over the next few books.

Other NSR member:

Mausritter started as a Mice & Mystics campaign! Board games are a great catalyst for design, and one that I’ve been neglecting because a lot of them end up feeling very similar to me. What are your top recs for board games with novel design? (broad question I know)


I’ve been thinking about Diplomacy a lot because of how well it just works. I love Plato 3000, an out of print gin rummy with powers game. I love Flamme Rouge and I always try to play Thunder Road if I can. Oh and I think Tragedy Looper is pretty awesome as well! The best way to learn that one is to go in cold and have someone run it for you who has played before. Top ten gaming experience for me. I’ve been out of playing boardgames for awhile, but I’m hoping to get back into them. Alan is a much more well versed board game player and designer than I am. Oh and if you’re into RPGs definitely check out Plaid Hat’s new Freelancers. It’s made by a friend of mine, Donald Shults with art by Sam Mameli and its slept on in the RPG world imo. Highly recommended.


Hey Sean!
I have seen MoSH in different circles variously described as a OSR, NSR, OSR-adjacent and Not OSR. What are your own feelings as to the game and its relationship to these various communities/cultures?

Quick bonus question: what’s your personal favorite piece of gear or weapon in MoSH?


I think there’s a lot of different ways to use these terms. I think a lot of time it’s mostly just used as like a curation / marketing term. Like “if you like X type of game you’ll like Mothership.” And I think that’s true. I learned my rpg design chops in the OSR space, so Mothership is informed by those design principles at that community. If OSR specifically means like old school d&d play (which is a fair definition imo), then obviously Mothership isn’t that! We counter a lot of d&d brain type stuff, so there’s an adjustment.

My biggest gripe in design right now though is the prevalence of design dogma. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but at the end of the day for me, this design discourse needs to lead to something. Better games, better play. I’m all about theory, I talk about it all the time with the people I collaborate with. But it’s always to solve some problem with the work we’re doing. It’s not just into the void. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being a design theorist, it’s just not what I’m good at. I’m a publisher! A lot of the issues I’m facing are now business related. You’ll see that reflected in my writing on my newsletter.

My favorite loadout is teamster loadout no. 9. Favorite weapon is the laser cutter.


Some popular third-party material for Mothership seems to de-emphasize the horror in favor of the lo-fi sci-fi that the system also models. What are your thoughts on how Mothership fits into the overall universe of sci-fi TTRPG systems if it’s not just horror?


Hey [NSR]!

Great question. I think Mothership aims to be a great sci-fi game as well as a great horror game, but there’s some give and take there. This is part of what I like about having a healthy 3pp scene is that you can serve more niches more effectively. But my hope is that over the life of the line, you’ll be able to put together a compelling Mothership campaign without much horror if that’s what your table wants.

In terms of where we fit in, I think Traveller is the goat and SWN is always in the equation. I think our place is in a game that gets people to the table and playing quickly and my hope is that our legacy will be that we helped trained and prepare new Wardens to run RPGs in a way that I would have loved when I started gaming.


That’s interesting because I think of the stress system as at the very core of the game mechanically. I had a group play through the Desert Moon of Karth with it and it went fantastically and we had a great time, but managing that stress was of course the major concern as we went.


Yeah I think if you rip out stress and panic you have a sort of deadly d100 game that doesn’t penalize you for rolling too much. Which is fine! But I think you could play an Apollo 13 mothership game if you just changed the panic table to be more mundane (even just like panic means you’re at disadvantage on rolls for 1d10 hours and that’s it).


Hey Sean!
When creating a system such as you did here and through your past ventures, what advice would you give to aspiring game creators when it comes to balance of local mechanics interacting with one another? By this I mean mechanics that are grouped together/ dependent on one another which makes it difficult to balance.

In my experience it normally ends up with me severing the tie between the mechanics and using them separately but would like for them to be connected. I hope you understand my question lol


Yeah this is a good question. So there’s a pretty standard piece of art advice which is basically like: if it’s good, it’s good. Meaning like you can approach design a lot of ways as long as in the end it’s cool. So with that in mind, let’s dive in to how I personally approach this stuff.

I want things that interact in an interesting way. So like in Mothership I knew I wanted failures of rolls to lead to gaining stress to lead to possible chance of panic. I wanted the classes to interact a little bit with this via trauma response. Basically I wanted the game to always be on a downward spiral: rolling is bad. From there I wanted to create interesting ways to rest and recover and that’s where we hit on the idea that stress is basically XP (via the shore leave system) which created a cool push your luck element to gaining stress. It could go very bad, but if you survive, all that stress becomes something useful (increased stats and saves).

Some of this came about organically, through play or between editions, some of it was intentional. I say be wary of trying to be too clever. There is a real temptation as a game designer to fall in love with your design and how the probabilities and tables really click into place and are satisfying to you but sort of mean shit all at the table. Your system isn’t mean to sit in a museum, it’s meant to be used by real people. Sometimes inelegant solutions that don’t fold into everything are simply more useful. Sometimes you just need something functional.

So this comes back to – you need to play your designs. You need to play them and you need strangers to play them. Otherwise you’ll get too obsessed with the fun of tweaking your designs until they feel really satisfying to you. And then you’ll play them and go “oh uh, this sucks actually but I can’t change anything because of my game loop or my core mechanic which I am in love with.”


Super appreciate that! I figured a lot of it will come down to play testing, as with most things haha


And specifically just like – play early and often. There’s only so far you can get with designing in a room. I’m sure it’s not the most appealing part for most designers, but just being faced with like “oh this is boring” immediately is a real awakening moment for a designer.


Oh for sure on the boring side, through playing my own system I found I needed to keep track of the things the Player needs to keep in mind while playing, helps a lot for myself to jot these down and keep in mind.


Hi Sean, thanks for doing this AMA here. You’ve been very transparent in TKG’s processes and plans for the future and I think a lot of indies in the scene have appreciated the openness of information you’ve presented. I do have a couple questions.

You’ve been very adamant about the need to write more adventures/modules instead of systems, and I believe a large part of Mothership’s success is the thriving 3rd party scene. Mork Borg and Mausritter are two other games that have a lively 3rd party scene.

What are some other games that you wish had a more engaged 3rd party adventure/module scene?

What can game designers looking for this kind of support do to encourage this kind of development, beyond SRDs, cross-promotion, and good example modules?


All the games I like have really great 3pp scenes honestly. The Mountain Witch is an indie game that I loved and had a KS kinda crash and burn, but I wish that there had been a lot more written for it. Into the Odd has had a great scene for sure, but I’ve bugged Chris for something like “The Great Odd War” which would be a huge like wwi/industrial (my like imagined ItO space) campaign. But Chris is more of like a “the game is the game” kinda designer, where he puts out a book and moves on (and this has worked for him!).

I think you’ve nailed it. The biggest thing, which is the hardest is you make a game that is popular enough that its worth 3pp putting in the risk of their time and money on the chance they’ll make a profit designing for your game. “Be good and popular” isn’t great advice, but that’s where it starts. Troika and the GLOG have had success by having heavily templatable aspects that are really almost like prompts for design (templates/backgrounds/classes, etc.) which see a lot of success in the blog/itch world.

A lot of times when we talk about 3PP internally we’re talking about like “where could we lead and set an example of the kind of stuff we want to see.” Like when we did the shipbreaker’s toolkit one of our concerns was like “if we do this right we’ll create a good template for 3pps to go and follow and just put out tons of ships.” That hasn’t happened yet, but that was our thinking.

I think your first focus as a designer should be making a great game and then as a publisher you need to make good business decisions. Once those things happen and you start picking up steam, then start engaging in the 3pp scene.

I think the other thing that maybe also goes unspoken as that I spend a decent amount of time working with publishers personally. I’m pretty open to our community for anyone who wants advice or mentoring, so I’m investing some time in publishers and our 3pp community to help them with any questions that they have as new publishers. It’s not like a set it and forget it kind of system. It’s like a more involved AAA baseball farm system in some ways where we’re engaged and working with those creators and hiring them, etc. If you don’t have the bandwidth or that skillset that might not be the way you go. But long term we have plans around like online cons specifically for our 3pp publishers to give them more training, more advice, previews on what our strategy is for the next year so they can coordinate and time their releases. Just anything we can do to help make them more successful. Because the more successful they are, the more successful we are.


Hi Sean, thanks for the AMA! I completely understand if you are not ready to share anything, but what’s next for Nullhack?


I’ve been working on it a lot recently as a palette cleanser from Mothership 1e. Luke has been testing our character creation rules a bit too. I’ll be working on that in the background while we focus on the next Mothership book (Wages of Sin, our bounty hunting toolkit), Werewolf in the Dark (our party game of werewolf meets hide and go seek), and Fatherfog (Alan’s fairytale horror rpg).

It’s coming together really well though! Character creation is more intense than Mothership and uses tarot cards to build up relationships and starting contacts so that immediately your characters are a part of the city and neighborhood. In Mothership your characters can feel disposable. In Null.hack we want them to feel so embedded in their community that you really feel the loss when you lose a character.


Hi Sean,

TKG has worked hard to foster a big boom in 3rd-party content to support Mothership, and your ability to make wholesale purchases of 3rd-party releases was what convinced me the numbers could work if I committed to my first print run for a game. (And they did!)

Other than to simply make a game that inspires people, do you have any advice for what indie RPG publishers can do to help support and encourage 3rd-party creators for their new games? Particularly if they don’t have the funds to support 3rd-party releases directly through wholesale purchases?

(Of course, someone asks the same question minutes earlier haha)


So yeah I think in regards to your specific question “what if I don’t have the funds.” We didn’t at first either! So your first goal is to get to that point. 3PP I don’t think is going to turn your game from a nothing to a success. You have to be the success that leads the way. You’re sort of pointing to the oasis and people will follow. The big incentive (outside of a fun cool game) is financial! 3PPs are publishers with bills etc and it’s not just a passion project for them, it’s a real source of income. So until you can prove that your game is a safe bet, it’s going to be harder.

Other people have done it (the GLOG is the notable thing here where there’s not even a product), but then the knock on effect is that most of the stuff for the GLOG isn’t products either, it’s blog posts, etc. (Which is great!).

But once you can afford to run your own shop and start purchasing 3PP’s wholesale, I think you now have a shot at investing in that sort of leg of your business. If the 3PPs are good, then you’re selling them for a retail markup, which is good money! This will also encourage you to really work with your 3PPs to make as good of stuff as they can (since as the seller, you’re invested in their outcome).


I’d love to hear how you think about and implement information design in Mothership and ttrpgs at large. It would be great to hear about determining placement for information in rulebooks, separating advice or time dependent events such as the Warden Educational Support in Another Bug Hunt and Phase Alterations in A Pound of Flesh, and anything else you’d like to about graphic design serving the text.


So this is a big question, so I’ll answer it as best I can and if you want to dive deep on a specific topic please fire away.

So there’s a couple things we’re talking about here: the way we present information (like it’s order and format) and its aesthetics (the look of the book).

Let’s start with how we present information, talking first about the Warden’s Operations Manual. This one was the trickiest nut to crack but it’s indicative of the types of problems you’ll run into when making a book like this.

So like, what’s a good example of a DMG? Right? The 1e AD&D DMG is the classic. Apocalypse World’s MC stuff is great as well. I really enjoyed lotfp’s Referee’s guide from their Grindhouse Boxed set years ago. There aren’t a ton of these. And then like, what’s the right way to order the information?

At first we started with just like table and resources. Random planets. Random NPCs, etc. Really useful gameable stuff. Then we thought about like oh what if it’s just advice? Like essays on how to do this and how to do that. There was stuff from both categories that was really important to me. So how do we get where we want to go?

We started by dividing things up by topic. Economics. Ship stuff. Combat. What’s the best order? I worked on this for a few years honestly between other projects

Ultimate it hit me that I wanted to imagine the read was someone who had never ran an rpg before. Maybe they’d played in one, maybe they were brand new. But my thought went “everyone is getting their information on how to run rpgs from 5e or Critical Role or some other AP and mothership is different! We have to train our own wardens and just can’t rely on them picking up this information through osmosis.” In essence we need to rapidly onboard new wardens and equip them to get out there and start running games. The more wardens, the more games, the more games the more players, the more players, the more books we sell. Your referees are basically your front line evangelists for your game. If you’re not equipping them, you’re not supporting them, you’re letting basically your volunteer salespeople go out there without any help. It’s a bad strategy if you want to grow your game.

So then the order of operations became really clear. What do you need to know if you’re going to run this game? You need to prep a session, run that session, then prep your campaign, then run your campaign. Now all the information had a bucket to go in. What do you need to know JUST to prep your FIRST sessions. You don’t need economics, you don’t need ship repairs or whatever. You just need like the bare minimum advice to get a game up on blocks.

So once we hit that framework, the WOM fell into place. For your book, whoever you are, I think you need to be asking yourself who is this book FOR and who is it NOT FOR? Who is your ideal reader, what problems do they have? What information do they NEED out of the book and how soon do they need it? Don’t let other books set a template for you if they don’t address these questions. The framework that helped me was to say: imagine a close friend texts you like “hey lol i bought mothership and some friends are coming over tonight, uh how to I run this?” What would you text back? What are the essential things they need to know? It’s probably not “here’s how to run a west marches campaign,” its something like “make every roll punishing. teach them not to roll.” And THAT’s what guided our process of presenting information.


Explaining it through the WOM works great! Now that the WOM and Another Bug Hunt is out, how do you see similar advice being implemented into future adventures, if at all? Do you think there is need for warden tips or any other side bar information that makes the adventure easier to run, navigate, or help keep connected information easy to reference in adventures?


This is why I’m glad we started doing the WES thing. I think warden advice is going to continue to be a part of all our adventures going forward. And hopefully when we update the core books to hardcovers later on down the line we’ll be able to create an expanded WOM.

But yeah I think having that sort of editorial WES/tips in adventures is going to be a standard thing for us. There’s always some context we have from playtesting or whatever that just makes sense to explain rather that to be coy and hope players figure things out by divining our intentions. You don’t need to follow our intentions but giving you some insight can help you make better rulings I think.


SEAN! You removed levels from Mothership some time back. What feedback have you gotten since then? How are folks engaging with long-term campaign-play without “numbers go ding”?

Also, what’s the board game side of the business looked like in recent times? I knew y’all for RPGs first and found out recently my dad found y’all the opposite way through “Two Rooms and A Boom” first (he had a blast, haha).

Last one, did you ever get around to using stopwatch duels? That’s one that’s been collecting a bit of dust for me, curious if it saw any play or development on your end :slightly_smiling_face:


Not as much as I’d like! But the big thing is I haven’t gotten hardly any pushback (since I first announced it, there was some back then) which makes me believe “okay this was non essential.”

I do think this kind of gameplay requires a lot of support and training. I don’t think it’s easy to go like “well just follow the fiction! If you buy a castle in the fiction then like you have a castle!” Because its sort of an example of “fuck you design” where you tell the referee to “draw the rest of the fucking owl.” I think that is a fun part of judging and running games, but also I have two small kids. I don’t have hours on a weekend to just like prep games – I’m buying your book, help me out a bit! So the caveat with our removing levels is we have to release more books and guidance on how to create campaigns where the players grow without making wardens scratch their head and go like “what now?”

We’ll have all of our games back in stock for the first time since the pandemic starting when Mothership ships. That’s huge for us. We’re also about to launch (late april/early may?) our next party game, werewolf in the dark. Which is werewolf meets hide and go seek. We’ve got a lot of boardgames coming down the pipeline to counter balance our rpg stuff, but rpgs are kind of alan and my first love so that’s a lot of where our focus is going for the future.

I didn’t! Sorry I didn’t respond to your initial outreach, I just got so swamped with Mothership stuff. Honestly I think that system is amazing and I would use it in a samurai game. My big thought for it wasn’t to make more stopwatch mechanics (because that one is perfect), because I felt like it would water down what was so special about it. But instead to find other point of conflict in a samurai game where you needed a mechanic and build an entirely bespoke thing from the ground up. Keep the stopwatch super special and super rare rather than making it a core mechanic. Huge fan of yours though, love reading the blog.


Hi there,

Mothership led to the Panic System, which is now being used by other games (ex: Ruination Pilgrimage, Cloud Empress). When/how did using the same system rules for non-MoSh games become an idea and when/how did you develop a plan for that process?


It was a little organic and started with my friend Jeremy Childrey working on his game Gordinaak. He wanted to sort of do his own thing and we didn’t want all these systems coming out saying they were mothership 3pp when they weren’t super compatible with the broader vibe of Mothership. I don’t think the Panic Engine is gonna take off like PBTA or anything, but we’re developing an SRD for it and hope to make it its own thing when we have a little more time. I’m of two minds about like re-skinning systems. On the one hand, it’s not my like thing? Like if a game is a pbta game in a new setting, that’s a small barrier to overcome for me because it carries with it the baggage of all the other pbta games I’ve read or played that I didn’t like? It’s hard for me to separate that feeling out? Whereas if it was just “a game” which happened to have pbta mechanics and other stuff I’d probably come into it with a clearer more open mind. On the other hand, like use whatever system you need to get your game to the table, you know? Mothership isn’t a super unique system. It’s a fairly bog standard d100 game. So I don’t want to be too precious about it either. I think that was the driving force behind making the panic engine something more concrete. Just like if you want to start here, please do! But take it and run with it. It being a “panic engine” game isn’t going to sell copies, so it’s all on you.


Question: what’s the design intent behind Mothership’s narrowing skill tree?

Many other RPGs with skill trees (both tabletop and computer RPGs) have skill trees that sprawl as they branch: there are more higher-level skills than there are lower-level skills. Mothership took the opposite approach and has decreases the amount of skills as characters specialize: 16 Trained skills, 15 Expert Skills, and 11 Master Skills.

Is this narrowing skill tree an attempt at giving lower-level characters greater competency, an attempt at discouraging specialization, or something else?


I started down this road when I found this blogpost via courtney campbell’s blog. I really intrigued me and I started working with this tier list.

Where I differed of course was this idea of like a skill tree, which was pitched to me by Tyler Kimball, one of our OG devs and who is working on a Mothership book for us called THE WIFE OF LOT, which I’m excited about.

So the skill tree isn’t meant to be inherently narrowing – we want and encourage wardens to add as many specialized skills as they want. That’s why we leave blanks on the character sheet. Rather, what’s important to us is that each skill that is MORE specific has the better skill bonus. So you can get “guns +10” but you can’t get “guns +20” you have to specialize. You can get “sniper rifle +20” etc. If you WANT to be the gun toucher guy you need to specialize in a lot of different guns, which takes a lot of time and money. So basically our philosophy is that:

Very few people are hyper competent in “generalist” things. You almost always specialize in something. So when a problem falls more into your niche, you have better mastery. My dad is an electrical engineer, but most of his work is in digital signal processing. Over the past couple of decades he’s learned a lot more about like predictive modelling and that kinda thing.

Additionally, in Mothership there isn’t a lot of upward mobility in terms of skills. You tend to stay where you are unless you invest game-world time (years) in getting new skills. We didn’t want the thing where like a level 20 character is good at everything. We didn’t want everyone taking piloting and firearms. We wanted to make each skill and each specialization an investment. And then encourage wardens to “use the skills as a wishlist” to design games around the skills the players had.


Sean, what is your dream D&D campaign these days?


I’m a forever DM but what’d I’d love to run (and play) is a campaign megadungeon where the players are highly invested in “what’s going on.” Meeting people and making the dungeon their own in a sense. I’d like to do more stuff with like real world logistics with a group that was interested in tracking all of that stuff. I like the idea of a delve as like an expedition in the shackleton sense. That it’s a real endeavor and undertaking. And then combine that with the mythical underworld. When I work on my megadungeon (which I haven’t gotten to play since kids) I’m always thinking about like even the basics of like getting a door unlocked, finding a key on level 2 for a lock on level 1 and that being exciting. Occasionally I get really interested in wilderness games. Mike’s World by Geoffrey McKinney is an unsung top ten adventure for me. But mostly I just want to get back into the dungeon.


Sean, do you think you’ll return to your blog post on designing mystery games? I’d love to see you write more about that!


For anyone who is wondering, I think you’re talking about My Small Rant about Investigation in RPGs. And yes! A lot of this thought process is going into my cyberpunk game, Null.hack and my paranormal investigation game, SPIRAL. Mysteries are near and dear to my heart and I think we could use a lot more tools into like functional mysteries with clues and failure being a real option present on the table, as interesting as maybe death is in an OSR game.

Other NSR member:

Hot damn I love these

Third NSR member:

Holy shit man. This design!


Hi Sean! I believe Mothership is widely regarded as an OSR style game. Is there any of the established OSR philosophy you especially don’t agree with, or that don’t mesh well with Mothership?


Yes definitely! I think in general OSR discourse just tends to be too obsessed with dogma. That’s just the nature of discourse. But I think the big one I disagree with is this idea that like narrative is bad in rpgs.

Now I agree that narrative largely happens in retrospect. But “mysteries” are also narrative. And I don’t think OSR designers should cede “story” design space to other approaches. Instead, we need more people doing the hard work around “what is GOOD lore?” The post I’m always looking for is like “okay I want to design a megadungeon with a rich history and mysteries to uncover. What’s the bare minimum prep I can do for that to not paint myself into a corner, but still have satisfying payoffs when/if the players learn more about the world?”

This is stuff that I tend to work on and it’s something I think about a lot. So my suggestion would be like examine the piece of dogma you feel most strongly about and then say like “what if I didn’t believe that, what kind of game would I make?”


Hi Sean!

I love that TTRPG box sets are making a comeback. They’re where our hobby started, and feel like a good way to have shelf presence without having to make a 500-page bloated monster.

What would you say was the biggest challenge developing the Mothership 1E box set? Any words of wisdom for those considering making a game in a similar form factor?


Me too! We caught the wave I think on that one, but it’s because I really just do love boxed sets. The specific challenges to Mothership 1e were largely personal!

  • We had our second child a month after the KS funded. I cannot describe how unprepared I was for my life to shift. I had been a stay at home dad for 2.5 years already and I thought I had a good thing going. I did APOF while my wife was pregnant with our first born and GD while he was 1.5, so I thought I had it figured out. I was wrong! Matt from Exalted Funeral called me and was like “hey man, you need to hire a customer service person and I’d start delegating immediately.” Matt and Cristin have been just super helpful in that regard.

  • Figuring out the format of the WOM being “prep your first session / run your first session / prep your campaign” was a linchpin in the whole thing and once we solved that everything else made sense.

  • Shipping and VAT are complicated and you need to account for them very early on.

  • As much as you can, get all content written and illustrated ahead of the kickstarter. If you can ship basically after you fund, you’ll generate a ton of good will. Even though Kickstarter is meant to be a crowdfunding platform, it’s viewed by backers as a pre-order platforms. There’s no use fighting against this expectation. You should be able to get ALL your numbers down before the kickstarter (manufacturing, development, art budget, shipping, taxes, etc.) on spreadsheets before you launch.

  • Set a scope of work and stick to it. Good today is better than perfect tomorrow.


Sean - what is it about Mothership that encourages/enables players to embrace and enjoy awful/fatal things happening to PCs? How might other games do a better job of this?


Some of this is about the tone of the genre. People expect people to die in horror games, but not in fantasy games. The OSR has a hard time with this because like most of the literature is not “hero steps on rake and dies” which is imo a lot of low level OSR play. Fantasy (even sword and sorcery) is largely heroic!

If you want death to be fun, it needs to be fun! We put in stuff like gnarly wounds tables and a fun like death cup thing lol to make it more exciting to die! I think if you want players to embrace it, then you need to put some work into communicating with your players to set expectations but also making it as fun as rolling a critical hit. Rather than like “oops lol well, uh roll up a new character.”


First, love your work and community you helped create, Mosh is my favorite system for years now and the 3pp and your discord is an awesome place.

And for the question: will you ever put out a designer commentary for Mothership? Your insight, design decisions and comments on discord why you changed this and that in rules are true gold. And it given me a lot of insight on how to play it and grasp it.


Thanks so much for the kind words! I love talking about this stuff so I’d be interested in a design commentary. Who does good ones? Are you thinking like the stuff [Chris McDowall] does? We could definitely try something like that once things calm down.