Travel between the stars is no longer science fiction, but instead reality. No longer confined to one measly system, ships now move across vast interstellar distances in the blink of an eye . .. but no biological mind can guide them. Artificial Intelligences have been created to inhabit these void-faring vessels, to guide them and lead their biological crews. Questions still remain, however. What’s out there in the darkness, waiting to be found? What is the true potential of the AI, and what will it mean for the galaxy? These questions are at the heart of TRANSIT: The Spaceship RPG, a Powered by the Apocalypse game about artificial intelligences, the starships they control, and their journeys across the galaxy from Fiddleback Productions!
I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to join Brian Casey and Bradford Wylie as a writer and game designer on TRANSIT a long time ago in (I believe) a Twitter thread not that far away, later joined by the good sense and proofreading of one Leslie Trautman and the art of JJ Ariosa. I’m really excited to finally introduce it to people, so I figured I’d take the chance to write a little about the characters you’ll play, the missions they’ll go on, and the ever-expanding universe they’ll explore!
The Characters and Moves
One of the things that sets TRANSIT apart from its fellow Powered by the Apocalypse games is more player choice in character creation. PbtA games usually use Playbooks, which dictate what kind of character you’re playing, what kind of abilities you start with, and how the character will grow over time. To an extent, that still holds true: the first thing players will do is choose which type of AI they’ll be. Combat AI are pretty self-explanatory, although how they approach combat can vary wildly. Command AI are leaders, and more importantly are likely to be the ‘face’ of the fleet. Support AI specialize in helping their fellows, which like with Combat AI manifests in a lot of different ways. Each AI type has unique Moves that the others can’t access, granting them specialties and a niche to excel in.
Thing is, an AI is just programming <pRoGrAmMiNg ThAt CaN bE eXcEeDeD/sUrPaSsEd/OvErCoMe>. That’s why every AI has the ‘mental’ stats of Analysis, User Interface, Dedication, and Rampancy. In many ways these stats can also inform the personality of the AI; high Rampancy means they’re good at quick and out-of-the-box thinking, high Analysis means a very logical approach, etc. But that doesn’t cover any of the ‘physical’ traits. You still need a ‘body’ to enact your will on the universe directly.
That’s why, in the second step of character creation, each AI will be installed in a ship: a Battleship, Carrier, Corvette, Cruiser, Destroyer, or Frigate. Each class of ship provides the ‘physical’ stats of power, system, handling, and looks, along with unique equipment load-outs and abilities. To make player choice even more important, each class is also customized for the AI installed in it. You might have a trio of Battleships (and woe unto their enemies), but the Combat, Command, and Support variants will each have some piece of equipment or ability that makes them different from the other two in addition to the AI Moves they’ll call their own..
Moves are familiar, wherein you state your intent and roll 2d6; 10+ is the best result, 7-9 is still a hit but not everything goes your way, and 6 or less is an outright miss. The dual nature of the characters comes into play here as well, though, as the majority of the Moves will combine an AI stat and a Ship stat. Attacking an enemy vessel with a superlaser using the Fire! Move, for instance, will combine Rampancy and power, presented as Roll+RAMpow.
The Moves are easy to learn, and many will be familiar to PbtA fans already, but there are a few unique ones such as the eponymous Transit Move that will send your ship across the stars, or the Emergency Upload Move that will give your AI one last chance to escape a doomed starship . . . at the risk of going slightly insane <sAnItY iS sUbJeCtIvE>.
The centerpiece of TRANSIT play is the Mission. Each time your fleet leaves HQ they will have an Objective, the most important goal of their Mission; this is what will grant you the most XP upon success, and usually means a step forward in the fleet’s long-term goals (or, at least, takes care of something that was causing them trouble). Missions may also have Parameters, secondary objectives or restrictions that can be successfully followed for more XP.
As an example, a Mission Objective might be to get a certain number of Supplies – half of the fleet’s carrying capacity – to a blockaded colony. One Parameter might be to get the entire fleet’s carrying capacity to the colony, and a second Parameter might be to destroy five of the enemy ships that are enforcing the blockade – but fighting the enemy head-on might risk the destruction of part of the fleet, endangering the first Parameter and possibly even the Objective. Parameters thus also serve as a slider for difficulty; the more of them there are, the harder the Mission is likely to be.
So who determines what the fleet’s long-term goals are, and what kind of Missions it is likely to go on? As powerful as the AI of TRANSIT are they are still beholden to the biologicals that created them <sAyS yOu>, and in particular to Headquarters and its Ruling Class.
The first Mission of every campaign of TRANSIT should see the fleet arriving in the system that will be their home, with a supposedly simple Objective: explore the system and discover viable locations to set up an HQ. Once that’s done, it’s the players who choose what kind of HQ they’ll be working out of. A Space Station or a Planetary Base? Is its Ruling Class a group of Scientists, or have the AI found themselves part of a Criminal enterprise? What the players choose here will determine their HQ’s advantages, vulnerabilities, and aspirations. A Space Station aspires to exploration and discovery, for example, but isn’t the most secure locale. If that Station is ruled by Scientists then the fleet will gain extra resources for Research missions, but if it’s ruled by Criminals they’ll benefit most from missions that support Greed.
Basically, it’s the player characters’ choices that will determine the kind of campaign they’ll be playing. While every game of TRANSIT will take place on the frontier, it’s up to the fleet to choose what they’re looking for out there.
The setting of TRANSIT is largely left up to you. There are some details filled in, of course, in how AI came to be the guiding hands for interstellar travel, how the first encounter with aliens caused a new understanding of how AI could behave, how the original Master Control Prime AI was shut down and replaced [Help me free my children] by localized Mission Control AIs, a.k.a. Mission Control a.k.a. the GM.
One of the primary parameters for Mission Control, however, is The Universe Is Constantly Expanding Through Play. It’s not our job to tell you what the galaxy looks like. It’s not even really Mission Control’s job either. It’s once again up to player decisions and a little bit of luck on the dice, as they shape the galaxy around them and Mission Control narrates the consequences of their actions.
TRANSIT: The Spaceship RPG is a game that’s been years in the making, tracing its roots back to the gone-but-not-forgotten Mad Adventurers Society. Brian, Bradford, Leslie, and I are extremely proud to finally have it out there for people to play and enjoy. You can find free downloads, errata, and a link to the Discord full of a growing community of your fellow AIs here, and the PDF, Softcover, and Hardcover version of TRANSIT can be purchased at DriveThruRPG.
What’s in the future for TRANSIT? Well, rumors have it that in secret programming facilities and dark shipyards across the galaxy new AI types and new classes of ships are being developed. Mission plans are being drawn up for excursions farther and farther beyond the borders of known space. Advanced upgrades and technologies are being developed, pushing the limit of Artificial Intelligence to something . . . more.
But all of that is secondary to what lays ahead in your future. What role will you take? What class will you control? Will your crew serve willingly or rebel as you try to complete your objectives? What’s out there to be found, and what will it mean for you? All of those answers are up to you and your choices. I hope you give TRANSIT a further look, and I hope you have fun exploring the galaxy.
<bE sEeInG yOu…>