For this Preview we were given a playtest build by the developers.
One of the biggest hurdles I’ve found when it comes to being a player in tabletop RPGs is getting someone else to bite the bullet and be the GM. The role is inherently intimidating as it puts all the pressure on you to the make the game fun. And while it can be a rewarding experience, it’s a bit like learning to swim by jumping off a boat. Black Armada came up with an interesting work around for this though and if you’re new to the hobby, or want to build up the courage to get into GMing then this one’s for you.
“In Flotsam you play outcasts, renegades and misfits trying to make their way in a world where poverty and gang conflict sit alongside alien technology and supernatural weirdness. You play through their lives, their interpersonal relationships and small-scale drama against the epic backdrop of space.”
Flotsam: Adrift Among The Stars is what Black Armada describe as a GMless role-playing game but that title is a bit of a misnomer. Flotsam isn’t GMless, it’s more of a communist RPG in which everyone gets a say. Each player controls their primary character, with whom they interact with the world; their situation, with which they affect and mould the world through pressures and questions; and secondary characters, which they play when their primary isn’t in a scene and their situation doesn’t feel applicable or when they just want to vary it up.
Throughout a single play session, players will create multiple independent scenes that hone in on characters and situations to show a slice of life in “The Below”. Sometimes these scenes will be benign and simply show an aspect of someone’s primary that they want to share with the group. Other times they introduce strange and wondrous elements into the world and this is where Flotsam’s “GMless” tag comes into play. Whenever you want to introduce a new character, location, custom, or rumour, you ask another player a question like “Who is the most violent criminal in The Below?” and they create a character. This means everyone has to engage and create and (in theory) takes much of the anxiety out of the process. If it’s dropped on you and you have to create something quick, who can blame you?
Therein lies Flotsam’s contentious mechanic; you are never fully in control. For some groups this will work perfectly and allow for the creation of something beautiful and real and organically detailed. For others (and the cynic in me says most others) there will be arguing, there will be silly jokes which ruin the flavour of someone’s experience, there will be blood. As Jean-Paul Sartre famously wrote, “Hell is other people” and if our experience is anything to go by… As I said, some groups will have a better experience with this than others.
The setting for Flotsam is left up to the group with the guide book providing ideas and inspiration rather than a concrete description. The only solid points Flotsam gives are that you are on a space station, you live in the shitty lower part, gangs are a big part of life, and there are societal problems. And it confuses me because I can clearly picture half a dozen examples of this, Black Armada gives a few examples themselves, and yet it’s relatively untouched. Sure, Necromunda hits similar marks on a conceptual level as do any of its descendents but none of them focus on the lives of people, just the violence. Perhaps it’s because a game that focuses on life like this could only exist in today’s climate of social awareness, indie publishing, and crowdfunding. Which is where it is just now.
Flotsam is an interesting idea that provides an environment for discussing what science fiction thrives on; “What if?” What if religious zealots took over the engines of a starship in order to chase a comet. What if we grew tired of the status quo and fought to overthrow those above us? And that makes it a very useful tool for fledgling GMs, writers, and even just empathetic folk who want to explore and inhabit these characters and situations. Much like This War Of Mine, Flotsam reflects modern societal issues but like most good sci-fi stashes it under a layer of abstraction. And while we didn’t have the best time with it, it is still objectively a good game, just make sure you have the right group for it.
At time of writing Flotsam: Adrift Among The Stars is 150% funded on Kickstarter with 2 weeks to go. Find it on Kickstarter HERE
Featured Image by Anna Landin
In-Post Image by Claudia Cangini