Stalker: Mists of Mosney is an action/horror roleplaying game set in Ireland. It focuses on narrative over ‘rules for everything’, but has a fleshed out d100 combat system mostly cribbed from Dark Heresy. My aim is to give you the tools to generate your own world with your friends or by yourself. The game is focused more on ‘doing’ than ‘having’ gear.
Making your game:
At a very high level, get your setting – start small and spiral out. Keep it vague to begin, run a short session where you raid a player’s abandoned family home. See what you like, add more. Get rumours. Get opposing factions. Have a destination – it’s a gold rush!
More in depth setting creation
Pick somewhere you or your players know, or think is really cool. This is your first layer. This gave the players a motivation to save something they thought was important about Ireland. Good examples to add to your Zone(s) are your home town, your college town, your business park, a holiday resort, a summer camp or an industrial estate. Another thing that helps is to limit the size of your area to a county – whole nations consumed by the Zone would be apocalyptic! What also helps is defining the physical barriers like rivers, mountain and seas that may block entry to the Zone. Even better if these are historical barriers like ancient county lines or walls. For us in Dublin, Ireland, it was the Pale: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pale
You need a catastrophe that creates your initial Zone and renders it mostly uninhabited by humans. This could be a natural disaster, something man-made like a reactor meltdown, or something more supernatural like an alien visitation. This is the second layer that should provide you with a setting, some factions and maps. The idea is to take the familiar and make it unfamiliar. Now give it a decade or two of time to marinate and decay – your party should not be the very first in the Zone, after all, they need to learn from someone else’s death where not to step.
The next development is the impact that has on the locals – how does the average family react? Local businesses and politicians? The wider government, army and multinationals? A big part of the game is that the world is not immediately ending, and the players are mostly here by choice. What drew them to the Zone, and what took them from being ordinary people to being stalkers?
The last twist is the supernatural element to the Zone – this creates your anomalies and artefacts and layers the horror over the setting. I recommend ripping them straight from Roadside Picnic and the Stalker games to begin with. This fourth layer also creates a theme: for Mists of Mosney it was constantly changing weather, especially mist and fog. W
What worked well – mechanics
- All players liked the rules light element. At a high level, it’s a d100 system, rolling under your characteristic which ranges from 0 to 100. The standard human is 35. There are no skills or talents, but anything your character can reasonably do like use a common gun, swim, treat a wound or navigate an anomaly field, they can do.
- Players can take 1 full action or 2 half actions per turn, but only one can be an attack action. Most common actions are divided into a rough time frame: move for a half action, move twice for two half actions, go on overwatch for a half action, shoot a single shot for a half action, aim for a half action, reload for a full action, apply first aid for a full action, prepare a weapon for a half action, close distance with a charge and attack in close combat for a full action, run all out for a full action. This will make sense in play.
- This also avoids players saying things like “I use the special move “Bandage” and instead gets them into the action as they describe themselves doing the action in first person. ‘Advanced’ skills like reading a schematic for a circuit, scientific research or laying traps for animals comes from your character background. In that respect, it’s similar to the FATE system. You invoke your background for a +10 or +20 depending how relevant it is at the GM’s discretion. I was generous on this as I felt the players should be a bit special, and I wanted to avoid the skill bloat that plagues Dark Heresy.
- I really enjoyed not having to look up rulebooks to see what a certain skill did – my next version of the rules will have everything on the player sheet or a single reference sheet.
- Props like the rusted bolts for Zone points, and the small player tokens made of a screw added to the atmosphere.
- The screw served a dual purpose of ID and measurement – you can move about 4 times the width of your piece as a half-action.
- Giving every player 10 wounds when a pistol/melee attack does 1d6 damage, and a basic rifle or shotgun does 1d10, min 2 or 5 damage respectively, made human enemies feel very threatening. The players did not rely on their armour to tank hits, but found ways to minimize their exposure to fire and cleverly win. This went well with the theme of average joes against the odds. It also worked well with the themes of horror and loss. As the game continued, I did change the rules somewhat at session 3, as death at 0 was too harsh.
- Negative wounds mitigated the harshness of this – you died at -10, but going below 0 wounds meant you would die in 1d6 turns unless someone healed you back to 0. When you went below 0 you were knocked out and dropped to the ground. Players could “wake up” by succeeding a Fitness or Willpower roll and act normally, allowing them to stabilize themselves at their current wounds, even negative wounds, if no one was around, or make desperate fighting actions if needed. But the consequences of enemy attacks could easily be fatal. If you took further hits while in negative wounds, you would suffer permanent injuries like lost limbs, eyes and 1d10 reductions in your characteristics. The infamous Dark Heresy Critical Damage tables are a good resource for this.
- I added a large melee option that did 2d10 damage, figuring that any player that risked enemy fire to get in melee should be rewarded. Hand to hand combat is usually very thrilling and produced some standout moments in the game for me and the players.
- Rule of 3 everything – and ask ‘why’ to at least 3 levels.
- Enemy factions that were dynamic and shifted from neutral to enemy to ally and back depending on how the players interacted with them. Keep your factions hostile to each other, but keep them talking, negotiating or threatening in ‘safe zones’ that factions meet in.
- Making reputation and rumours persistent and critical to survival stopped murderhoboing and stupid RP. Having the NPC factions able to have leverage on the players stopped a ‘violence solves everything’ attitude. Players and their allies had hits put out on them by the Bandits. Also built the theme of the stalker clans and a return to a tribal Irish society where honour and alliances are everything.
- A small random monster table I could roll on that would spawn monsters when I wanted to change the dynamic of a fight, or add/remove pressure.
Setting and campaign planning:
- Starting small and spiralling outwards built the setting without too much work for me. ‘Here be dragons’ evokes much more than detailed map. Especially when setting a game in a place you know it well – you should not be afraid to change things up.
- Setting the game “20 minutes into the future” in 2028 gave the players a link to the setting while and weapons they were familiar with, while also letting me get a mad science vibe.
- Getting player input and 4 rumours each really builds your pool of ideas and makes it easy to hang adventures on.
- Having a sandbox game with a very defined goal: get from Clontarf to Mosney, made things easy to plan. Players were never lost.
- Following a ‘Western Marches’ approach where you had a pool of players, and all you needed was a minimum of 3 players for a session. This overcame my previous issue when some people were not available due to work, which eventually killed the campaign. If people don’t show up, they don’t get the fun, but as the game is focused on ‘doing’ and not ‘having’ is not a huge gap between experienced players and newbies in stats, so they can still contribute.
- Designing each adventure as a self contained 5 room dungeon worked well to build structure and escalate the story.
- New players joining, even for one session, needed an “in” for why they were in the Zone, and how they knew the players. They also needed a nickname, which often changed at during the session as they did something notable. These 10 minute intros were very fun.
- Strong names for characters helps RP, and distinguishes them from simple goons. NPCs with real motivations helps.
- GM is merely the facilitator.
What didn’t work:
Radiation poisoning rules because of book keeping and lack of a meaningful effect. I gave the players ‘Pins’ or radiation-reducing artefacts early on and skimmed over much of the radiation effect, instead treating it like a direct damage area when I felt they exceeded the protection of their suits and artefacts. To put it simply, I had 3 levels of contamination. I said in x hours/ x minutes / xseconds at this distance you will move up a rank in radiation poisoning and take damage and a -5/-10/-20 to your stats. I did not get into sieverts/grays as nobody has time for that shit.
Who went in what order was a challenge to decided, I usually went clockwise between players, but later on, alternated players, NPCs and enemies
Bleeding rules again because of book keeping and meaningful effect. As the players had so little health, I wanted to avoid a death spiral where one unlucky hit could outright kill a player. Bleeding was a ‘nice idea’ to make mutants more threatening, as they commonly did d6 or a flat d10 damage. Most mutant encounters were fairly straightforward. But I found it harder to implement with the small health pool.
Reward was challenging to do – it was hard to find a monetary value to artefacts. It was equally hard to assign monetary values to equipment. The party also set up an organisation to use artefacts to manufacture things like healing bandages and sell them. I used that to give them a free resupply per game, and I figured that would cover their food also. Later on, I simply allowed them 1 rare item, or 3 common ones, if they had made a good haul last game. If it was a bad haul, 1 common item. I think in the next season I will abstract this further.
Advancement was quite challenging to do. I had some characters pay for training their fighting (€500 for a +5 increase) but money became quite meaningless because of the above challenge in valuing items.
Strong solo monsters were weaker than expected because of action economy. For each turn the monster took, the players had a go each. I balanced this somewhat by making the boss mutants ambush predators. I had some luck making the Burer a challenge as I set him up in a dark tunnel flanking the players and throwing them into an acid bath, while he was sometime able to cast a psychic screen that stopped bullets.
Anomalies! A key element of the book/ film and game are these lethal traps. I kept them confined to definite areas and had potentially beneficial effects as well as lots of damage. But it was hard to give the lethality I felt the setting required without having a “save or die” moment. In the games, you can simply reload the save, but you don’t have that luxury in pen and paper RPG. I try to avoid killing players meaninglessly.
Zone points – players were reluctant to use them for re-rolls, and used them most often to save themselves from death. I only gave them 1 as a rule. I liked how they could force me to re-roll a dice . I would love to increase tension by having a mechanic where I could force them to re-roll. Would add them to the theme of when the Zone gives it also takes.
Changes to the V2 Rules:
More uses for Zone, and more Zone points in general that have stakes attached. Egs
- Your next hit makes it, but with consequences.
- Your crazy plan works but…
- You start with x amount of Zone and this never replenishes.
- You can re-roll your dice, but the GM also gets a re-roll.
I might read Apocalypse World to get some more ideas. I don’t think my players liked a full “theatre of the mind” game, and liked at least a rough map of the area they were in for immersion.