Wednesday, September 7, 2022

A Pinch of Salt: The Drain


The Drain

Author: Ian Yusem
Reviewer: Dan D.
System: Mothership
$4.99 pdf 
Run as Referee
General Disclaimer: I share a couple discord servers with Ian and we've chatted on occasion.

Part 0: The Introduction

I return to this post three quarters of a year after I first drafted it. I had hoped to get a second session of it played, but it was never to be. Say la vee.

Part 1: The Module

The Drain is a 16 page 0-level funnel for Mothership, where the players take the role of prisoners in a Bible-school reform prison tasked with recovering a relic from a collapsing colony habitat in exchange for clearing their remaining sentences. The habitat is presented as a pointcrawl on an inverted cone, which handily makes for a very nice looking map.

Pregen characters, blank sheets, and some mp3 files of creepy radio chatter are provided (alas, I wasn't able to use this last one). Character sheets have art by Evlyn Moreau, module art is Sean McCoy's instantly-recognizable scribble art, and map by Andrew Walter - it's all excellent.

The Vibes are strong here. Prisoners wearing tinsel halos. Horrible fucked-up meat monsters. The feeling of unease when you're driving a country road in mid summer and seeing signs about Jesus opposite houses that you can't ever imagine being new or whole or unrotten.

The writing is what you hope for in a Mothership module - tables, bullet points, bolded key terms.

Part 2: In Play

The opening of the module - unarmed prisoners disgorged from boarding craft into an open battlefield - is effective imagery but it works less well in practice. You're instructed to roll for two gas clouds per stretch of no man's land (three stretches in total), but it's unclear as to whether or not they were to be simultaneous, sequential, or choose 1. I had to fudge the first roll of the session because one of my players would have lost all four of their characters instantly to nerve gas.

I feel the influence of the first stage of Deep Carbon Observatory, but here it's just "You're in a trench, now you're making saves against gas, now you're in another trench, now you're making saves again". One cycle was more than sufficient, and by the third and final I was getting bored with the repetition. Not a good place to be for an opening.

Moving past the battlefield, the players reached an abandoned farmstead, where they found  a remote capable of shaping the nanite-infused soil of the station. Single sentence description, no mechanical interaction.

It swiftly became the highlight of the entire session. In the next encounter (an open field with a sniper up on a billboard) they were building earthworks for cover and raised a tower with a ramp to reach the abandoned VTOL hovering above the field. It was some fantastic tool-based problem solving, the sort of ideal RPG scenario.

The session ended with the players squeezing the surviving prisoners onto the VTOL, and which would allow them to cross the river into the ring. Unfortunately, due to scheduling issues among the players, I was never able to gather folks for the second half (and this post laid fallow nor nine months).

Had I played further, I would likely have started throwing in consequences for the time-cost of using the remote, but even then not too much - folks were having a great time.

As random encounters only occur when moving to a new area, I pre-rolled them and any supply caches earlier in the day, which made things nice and smooth (and was an entertaining enough way of wasting time at work)

Part 3: In Summary

In the time since I've played, The Drain has been expanded to a trilogy (alongside Inferno and Wrath of God). I have not looked into the other two parts (there is so much Mothership stuff out there), but I feel like I would check them out if the mood takes me.

Would I run it again? I would with a revision of the opening sequence - possibly adding some variable or choice for the players. Do you run for the shelled structure, or to the treeline? Something of that nature. But the rest of it was fun, I'd give it a thumbs-up.


  1. I do love me the opening of Deep Carbon Observatory, it is known

    1. If I remember DCO has multiple simultaneous events that progress as the players interact with each, and there's more events than stages, so it's kind of a continuous unfolding disaster instead of a cycle of event after event. Not sure if that's the difference?

      From your review it's unclear to me how much support The Drain gives for things like the turn keeping and pressure based on coming up with schemes and how linear it is?

      1) Is there anything to create time pressure or push back against extreme caution?
      2) Is it a map? A linear series of set scenes, or a depth crawl? If it's a depth crawl does anything that allows informed player choice about where they are going next or is it just a linear series of randomly generated scenes?

    2. Yeah DCO's opening is more complex this one, but it's the same style of "immediately throw the PCs into the middle of a high-risk situation", which is an opener I am fond of.

      There wasn't much in the way of maintaining pressure, but I found that it wasn't particularly needed - the briefing establishes that the goal is at the bottom of the cone, so that does provide direction.

      The map is sectioned off into zones - it's circular when viewed but in practice the inside of an inverted cone, so PCs can have a decent view of what lies beyond them.

  2. There's way more to a Mothership module than just tables, bolding and bullet points.

    I think it'd be best to actually run this before reviewing it too.

    1. Reading the first actual sentence of this review would provide notice that this is a review based on running The Drain. Not as many sessions as the author would have liked, but still this is a review from playing the adventure.


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