The Independents: Amidst Endless Quiet

In the Tabletop Gaming world you have your big names, your corporations, your bastions of the genre with a pedigree that spans decades and an unassailable claim to greatness.

And then you have the little guys and gals. The small outfits, the crazy geniuses, the little projects, the ‘Indie’ creators who are simply out to make a name for themselves and a game people can enjoy. Here at The Independents we aim to highlight some of these games, for a change of pace and a new (and great) experience!

Somewhere in the vast universe of the far future a sentient starship plies its trade, moving goods and cryogenically frozen passengers through the void to new worlds. This is such a feat that only extremely valuable cargo (material and personnel both) is worthy of being transported. Alas, disaster strikes, and the destruction of the ship is imminent.

One of you is the ship. You cannot be saved. But some of your cargo might.

The rest are the passengers. There is a single escape pod, room for one.

Are you the one who gets to live?

escapepod-672x372

Amidst Endless Quiet is an “American Freeform” game by Ben Lehman. In the game one person plays the part of the sentient starship Elios, while the rest play various passengers aboard the ship: an academic, a sculptor, a prophet and scientist, an experimental subject, and a courtesan. Each passenger is extremely valuable, worth the effort to transport them between the stars, but only a single person can be loaded into the escape pod and launched to safety. It is up to Elios to decide who is the most worthy of being saved, but time is running out: delay too long in choosing and none of the passengers will survive.

AEQ leans heavily on the role-playing aspect of an RPG: there are no dice to speak of, so the game is almost like an acting exercise for those more used to rolling a d20. It can be challenging for those new to the idea of RPGs, but a refreshing change of pace for those used to dealing with random dice rolls and hit percentages.

I was fortunate enough to play AEQ at GenCon 2014 thanks to the folks at Games On Demand, and ended up quite charmed by the experience. Elios knows very little about his passengers at the beginning of the disaster; it is up to his player to determine everything beyond the barest of details concerning their character, and reveal those details of their making as play progresses. Playing as Elios I had several options: I could Recall my interactions with a passenger when they boarded the ship, I could Research the passengers using onboard data reserves and news reports, I could Observe how the passengers interact with one another in their sleep state, I could view their Dreams, or I could wake them up and Discuss the situation with them. If I were to make a decision, I could Load them into the lifeboat. Then I could Launch the lifeboat, saving its occupant and dooming the rest to die with me.

These choices are not without hazards, however. Every one costs an action, and upon the completion of the 20th action Elios is finally destroyed, a victim of the meteorite that struck it. And if you wake a passenger up to Discuss the situation with them, you lose access to the Observe and Dream actions for that passenger. Elios is working with a strict time limit, and if it doesn’t time its choices well then everything it carries could be lost forever.

Upon choosing an action Elios prompts a player or players to participate, and this is what truly makes AEQ interesting to play. Aside from a few notes they might have made before the first action was taken the players have to make things up on the spot, each player working to convince Elios that their character is the one most worthy of being saved. Rarely do you find a role-playing game that emphasizes playing a role so heavily: choose the wrong role for your character, or play that role poorly, and you’ll likely find your character consumed in the fire of Elios’ destruction.

In my playthrough of the game (effectively GM’d by a Games on Demand member) I ended up with a prophet/scientist who knew much but who helped orchestrate hostile takeovers of planets, a sculptor who inspired others was but ruthlessly vicious with his work, an academic who dabbled in vile works to create an experimental subject out of her daughter, a daughter who held within her young brain the secrets to Faster-Than-Light travel salvaged from a madman’s memories, and a courtesan who got sucked out into space when the meteorite hit (we only had five players). Even better, the players didn’t make up all the details about their own characters: the academic pointed out that her daughter the experimental subject hosted the memories of the genius who had figured out FTL, but upon Discussing the issue with the prophet/scientist he pointed out that the genius in question had gone stark raving mad.

Every time you play a game like Amidst Endless Quiet you are going to get a different experience. The characters will be different, the stories will be different, and the end result will change. That doesn’t even consider what might happen if you add new players to the group. If you and your gaming group are looking for a desperate science fiction storytelling experience, with minimal rules and wide narrative control, you are going to be hard pressed to find better.

Amidst Endless Quiet is available as a two-page PDF at These Are Our Games at the always delightful rate of Pay-What-You-Want, and Mr. Lehman also has a Patreon account.

The ship is dying. Time is running out. A decision needs to be made. Who will survive?

Originally posted 2/2/15 on the Mad Adventurers Society!

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