Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Five or So Questions on Impulse Drive

Today I've got an interview with Adrian Thoen, who is excited to tell us about Impulse Drive, a Powered by the Apocalypse space opera hack about misfits and spaceships that's currently on Kickstarter. I hope you enjoy the interview below!

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The Impulse Drive banner with silver text on a blue and purple starry background, reading Impulse Drive: A roleplaying game about misfits and spaceships, Powered by the Apocalypse
Tell me a little about Impulse Drive. What excites you about it?

I'm a huge fan of all sorts of space opera books, movies, games, and shows. From the late Iain M. Banks' Culture novels & Mike Resnicks Santiago: a myth of the far future to shows like KilljoysFarscapeAndromeda, and Dark Matter, and games like Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect. Space Opera combines commentary on society and the myths we tell ourselves with pulpy romance, melodrama, and action in delightfully weird settings.

Impulse Drive is an expression of my joy for these melodramatic, heartfelt stories about volatile but endearing misfits.
a dark-skinned person with curly hair angrily working with a piece of tech
What do players (and characters) typically do in play in Impulse Drive? What "drives" the game?

It's the players job to create and play an interesting, active character by taking risks and embracing the consequences. Players describe their character, what they think, say, and do. Players look for when Moves apply to the situation the group is describing, and when their characters Hooks affect the situation or bring fraught relationships to the fore. Players are directed to think cinematically, like the game is a pulpy space opera movie or TV show.

Characters are misfits with simple motivations, but live in a world that complicates things. The characters have tense, fraught moments with each other and take dangerous jobs or missions that lead them into conflict and adventure. Lots of flying too fast, indulging too much, pissing off the wrong people, and getting into fights & shootouts.
A robotic character sprawled on the floor, injured, in a room full of crates
What are the characters like in the game, and how do they function mechanically?

Characters are volatile and bombastic. They're competent badasses with a lot of luck on their side - until that luck runs out. They rely on their unique strengths, skills, and gear to get them out of sticky situations. But their character flaws and complicated pasts & relationships mean there's always more trouble around the corner.

Mechanically, the core function of a character revolves around their Approaches (5 modifiers ranging from a score of -1 to +2 at the start.) and their Moves, discrete chunks of rules made up of a trigger (usually fictional) a process (usually rolling 2D6 and adding a modifier) and an outcome (usually fictional). Impulse Drive is Powered by the Apocalypse, so it's mechanics are very similar to games like Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, and Masks to name a few.

The five approaches (Volatile, Calculating, Slick, Stalwart, and Alien) describe behaviors more than they describe physical or mental prowess. I wanted the names for the Approaches to be flexible and evocative. Slick means being kinda charming in an unreliable, slimy way, but it also describes pulling off a fancy maneuver. Slick is being quick, responsive, and hard to pin down. Volatile is about passion, but also unpredictability and violence. Calculating is being logical but also cold, you can't be thoughtful or empathetic with Calculating. Alien is being weird and touching forces beyond your ken. All of the Approaches have a mildly negative connotation - except Stalwart, which is for being resistant, solid, but also reliable and dependable.

Orbiting Approaches and Moves, characters are made up of the Gear they can use, the Harm & Stress they can take, and two elements that complicate their lives; Hooks and Calamities.

Hooks are an opportunity to define their character through flaws and fraught relationships. There are some default Hooks on each Playbook that players fill in mad-lib style, but they're an opportunity for players to describe the challenges and struggles us want to watch their character. Hooks give you an opportunity for interesting roleplaying but also earning more XP by increasing the chance of failure. Hooks are always activated at the Player's discretion, so they can choose when they want a higher chance for complication and XP, or a higher chance for success.

Calamities are a finite list of mechanical changes and fictional events that happen to the character if they take 5 Stress. The last Calamity in each list is an exit for the character from the main stage - they'll either retire to safety or go out in a blaze of glory. It's always fun to see which players try to manage their Stress frugally, and which players jump in and aim for certain Calamities because they think they're cool. I've never seen a Warhorse who can resist an opportunity for a great victory, at the cost of a part of their body.

The Calamity options
What's it like in the world of Impulse Drive? Where do characters live, and how does that influence the tone of play?

The "World" of Impulse Drive is an array of space stations, ships, and worlds that the PCs visit in their ship. The Galactic Community is made up of societies and civilizations with populations that count in the billions. Technology ranges in sophistication and style between these civilizations, but most are on par with the crew of PCs. The particulars of the societies that the PCs come into contact with is determined by the group, led by the Space Master. This ensures that the themes the group is interested in exploring will be embodied by the societies they are on the fringes of.

The parts of the galactic community that we generally see in Impulse Drive are the fringes, less settled areas where conflict, corruption, and crime are commonplace. Law and corporate interests encroach on these spaces and culture varies greatly from society to society, but the status quo teeters on a knife-s edge, waiting for the crew to come along and disrupt it.

The Space Master uses Strains, similar to Fronts & Threats from Apocalypse World to track and advance these volatile situations towards a climax.

Strain character sheet detail
Components of Strains
Climaxes, Fuses, and Burn details
How does being a misfit really impact one's place in this space opera world? 

Being a misfit is all about how you don't conform to the status quo for society, how you disrupt and challenge what the majority sees as 'normal'. It's about being different, and having society at large be passively or actively suspicious and hostile to you.

PCs in most RPGs do this by the very nature of the rules of the games, but also how players generally embody characters who do this by default - whether that is desirable or not. The PCs have lots of mechanical tools that irrevocably change a situation once they interact with it - for better or worse.

Along with this, the game tracks how certain important groups or NPCs relate to the crew of PCs using Disposition. There are 5 states of disposition that describe how someone is likely to react to the PCs within the fiction, but also has a modifier attached to interact with certain Moves that deal in broader social or transnational situations. While the galaxy in general may not even register this one little ship and its crew in the fiction, in terms of the game we relate to NPCs by their relationship to the crew members.

NPC Disposition


This is open information. The players know how the various interests in their corner of space feel about them and what to expect when they dock at a station in a hostile faction's territory. Even the positive dispositions Friendly and bonded come with strings attached or caveats.
The PCs being misfits is mechanically encouraged by one of the XP triggers in the end of session Move. Your PCs earn XP if the crew made a new enemy, or thwarted an existing one. This encourages the characters to find organizations and societies that deny their individuality and stand against them in a way that gains their animosity.

A group of characters with varying body types, races, species, and gender, all looking a little out of place together

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Thanks so much to Adrian for the interview! I hope you all enjoyed it and that you'll check out Impulse Drive on Kickstarter today!



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