A downloadable game
Every bug you ever stepped on is here, breathing the same noxious air as every star that ever burnt out, in this eternal post-life planetary system. And yet, against all odds, on each planet's surface new life is breeding, spawning endless creatures, plants and people to inhabit Death's domain.
Through their emissaries, the blind god Death oversees the galaxy and its denizens—they stave off power-hungry lords, catalogue the ever-expanding planetary system, track those who would evade their inevitable fate and maintain the proper order. These tasks are executed by soulbound clouds of toxic gas: the Death Agents.
Necronautilus is a tabletop roleplaying game for a Gamemaster and 1+ players. In it, players act as souls bound to clouds of noxious gas called Death Agents, exploring a universe outside of time consisting of planets full of creatures who ended up there when they died. While using their Words of Power to act on behalf of the blind god Death and maintain order in a post-death galaxy, they’ll see their powers grow and splinter while exploring the corporeal life they left behind.
made possible by backers on Kickstarter in summer 2020. Physical edition: 80 page hardcover book with black & white interior, available at worldchamp.io/store.
For online play, check out this character keeper using Google Slides created by Kyle Maxwell!
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I'm curious, how do we handle a player running out of a collection? Can they still roll, and just don't get a new memory?
I just got this game at Origins 2021, and I am excited to dive into it. I have not had a chance to really dive into all of it yet, and I have read more reviews for it so far than in the book. One concept I had was, what if there is a planet and the dead beings on it developed a way to communicate, like hand signs, and its their only way to communicate, but the method is still in the living world, and has not died out yet. Then the Death Angels would have a moral choice, to destroy the only means of connection these peoples have together, or to overlook it, or maybe some third choice... like destroying the planet... as an act of mercy instead of leaving them without a means to connect.
I need to read up I know, but this game has my mind working overtime.
I dig it big time. I was very curious how I could approach non verbal language and decided I was not the one with the knowledge or skills to do so in an appropriate way but I would really love to see some of those considerations implemented into the game!
Yeah, I am not sure if how I would do it would be an appropriate way either, just an idea. I like that the first conflict of it was an internal one as the players choose how to deal with such an issue, and then an external one as they put their plan into action.
If they are just cold agents of death, this shouldn't be an issue for them, but it could be if they have the right recovered memories.
I really need to read more of the book. :)
This game sounds rad! Was there some inspiration from Jeff Vandameer’s dead astronauts? I love that book and the description + cover give off a similar vibe.
Really curious how folks are handling the materialization of Death Agents on a planet. Do they stay in their gaseous form as long as possible? Do they like to appear as local lifeforms? Can they switch between forms at will? What has been fun for your groups?
(If there’s a better place to discuss this, like a WCGC Discord or anything, let me know!)
im also excited to see some answers! I don’t have a discord so this is a great place :)
Been wondering this too! I plan on running an arboreal planet occupied by birds soon, and having the Agents get to choose what type of bird they'd like to adopt the form of feels like a fun addition.
I let them stay clouds but take momentary shapes and limbs as needed for narrative flavor. If they want to have a mechanical effect from it, it needs to come from making an item, a word, or a memory, but otherwise I let them shift their form as they want on the planet almost like unconscious facial expressions.
Hi there! I played through Necronautilus with a couple of pals last week and everyone loved it! Just one question - when fragmenting a Word of Power it says correct spelling doesn't matter. Is that the only circumstance where spelling doesn't matter?
great question! I would say overall spelling does not matter, I definitely don’t want that to be a barrier for players or have people feeling the need to dig through the dictionary before playing. I’m sure I’ve spelled words wrong on accident while playing and just went with it, nothing bad happened and other players probably don’t even notice!
I think an honest attempt at the start of play is valuable though. Like starting with the word Lazerswoardbarrrronesss and using fractures to then those extra letters into Life or otherwise abuse it to come up with weird words later is against spirit of play (clever as it might be to plan ahead like that!)
Luckily nobody had that degree of foresight! That about covers it, thank's for the help! As a general comment it's a fantastic game, and the playlist you put together for it is awesome accompaniment. Can't wait for the next session!
In combat it states that attacks aren't rolled for on the GMs part but the players instead use their skills to evade damage. Can anyone elaborate on what is meant by skills and how that would transpire? Are words used? Are there other skills I skimmed over and didn't make note of?
good question! while words of power are the main thing used, memories, and luck would also work and I used the term skills to encompass all of them but can see how that could be confusing
Awesome thanks so much! Follow up question if its not too much trouble. Coming from a dnd 5e background i noticed there isn't anything fully resembling initiative. Any tips for how to keep track of combat order or any example you can give that could assist in me understanding none numeric turn based combat?
sure! this game doesn't have any kind of initiative system, its intended as a sort of free for all. as GM, I usually will effectively let all the players act once in whatever order they choose, then have the enemy/s attack, unless its a bigger and badder enemy then I'll attack every 2-3 turns. this usually lets players come up with clever combinations, like someone freezing a combatant and another player attempting to shatter them, and the whole system is intended to really encourage players being super creative and weird and coming up with the wildest uses of their skills that they can, so anything I can do as GM to encourage that is good!
if you wanted to introduce a more rigid initiative to ease players into the more freeform style, I would go in order of LIFE, with most LIFE acting first and descending, then using the unfilled portions of an enemy clock as their initiative (so starting at 8 would likely attack early, but as they're beaten up they would act further down in sequence).
I have never played another game like this. Despite the death metal trappings, the game need not be particularly grimdark, and it becomes almost literally exactly as gonzo (or not) and horrifying (or not) as your group desires!
We played one of the planet suggestions in the book. It turns out that the GM does need a couple of minutes of prep to flesh out the mission, complications, opponents, etc. The game relies more on the entire group riffing on each other’s words, memories, actions, and imagery, and when you’re done, you will have had a truly fresh play experience.
Necronautilus particularly lends itself to episodic play: just make sure that you finish a mission before the end of the session, and each will be self-contained. So if you decide on a campaign, it’s okay if the group composition varies slightly from one session to the next. Go through the procedures for space complications and ship adventures if you wish, or just land on the next planet, do the mission, and do the upkeep procedure at the end.
I recommend having a good anagram solver on hand and maybe some additional word lists if you want. The rules reference in the back cover are decent, but they could probably use some page references for those situations in which you want more detail.
We’re looking forward to playing again!
This game is so damn good and evocative. The ideas here can bring such a deep and connected game. I definitely dig all of it
Do Memories ever get erased? The rules reference at the back says they “fracture” when you roll equal to their value (like a Word of Power) but I can’t otherwise find that in the text. Since page 17 indicates that a player can have “up to 4 Memories”, what happens when those fill up?
Can players move Words from their Collection to the “Power list” during a mission, or should they only do this when in the ship between missions? Otherwise, how do they have more than 3 Words of Power?
When a four-letter word fractures, does the player just take 3 life and remove the word?
Apologies if I missed references in the text that answer these!
thanks for these!
1. Memories don't get erased, the long-term intent is that since their inherently easier to use than Words of Power, that players will shift to chasing their memories and through using them, continue adding details to them and gaining life, pushing them towards that 30 Life limit where they no longer are Agents. That mentioned, an unwritten thing I do which definitely should've been addressed is when a character would make a new Memory when there aren't open spaces (same for words of power really), I allow them to remove an old one in favor of the new so it keeps things more interesting narratively. Also, I'm learning a lot abuot how this was designed for the way I play and doesn't accommodate all, for single-session play I'd keep the cap at 4 Memories but for campaign, I'd say there is no ultimate limit but keep it to 4 newly generated Memories per planet.
2. Yes, this one is in the book but its easy to miss, in the Character Sheet explanation of your collection on page 16, you can do this at any time at the cost of 1d6 Life, and that Word of Power begins with a value of 6.
3. Correct! There are a handful of mechanics in the game that are meant to generate Life, it is often a choice but in instances like this it isn't. Life as a meta-resource is easy enough to understand, it measures your character's vitality and place on the spectrum between nothingness and self, but in-fiction, I consider Life like a drug, it is considered contrabrand by Death but it feels good to compile and some characters will shift focus heavily to getting more at any cost. Moments like a four-letter word fracturing and turning into Life are meant to entice the players to make that number keep going up.
Hello from Italy!
I'll post some questions too...
1) on P. 28, after a Rush, you erase the word of power with the highest value.
Then on P. 47, it states that, once back on the ship, you must purge a word of power and gain life consequently, if you previously experienced a rush. Is that a SECOND word of power? Is it mandatory?
2) a "spirit" question: in my language, the word SALUTARE means both "healthy" and "to say hello". Can you...play with things like that? I mean, use the word in both contexts, if the situation arises?
Thanks in advance. I'll go back to Hawkwind...
oh interesting catch on that erasure! It should happen when you experience the rush, not when you return to the ship, that was meant as more of a reminder to upkeep but instead comes off like you mention, a double penalty, and that’s my mistake!
As for #2, yes that’s a major function of play! Using words that have different meanings is very good especially in other languages, that was a deliberate intent of the design, letting players decide what a word means in the moment they need it.
I’ll also say I do kinda like losing words twice, since the second only occurs in campaign play (since you wouldn’t do upkeep if you weren’t going to play again) BUT I’ve heard from a few play groups that they’re depleting words faster than the dice statistics were meant to, whether through bad luck or trying to power game (sort of against the spirit of play on page 15 but I get it), so some bandaids are needed to make sure players have enough words to choose from at all times. I’m considering making some patch notes this year for bugs like these!
I have some mechanical questions and thought I'd post them here so everyone can benefit.
- What is the maximum number of Words of Power a single DA can have? The number of spots on the sheet?
- During character creation, Words have to be a minimum of 4 letters. Does that apply when a word shatters with a critical success? We had a player shatter "port" and I ruled that they just get 3 life back and lose the word entirely.
- When rolling a ship module with 3/4 clock slots filled, do players roll 1d6 or 2d6? As written it's 1d6 but that seems a little odd?
- For the purposes of rolling a ship module, is Ship Condition considered to start at 8 or 0? 8 makes the most sense (otherwise ship rolls are guaranteed failures) but an empty clock that you fill as the ship takes damage makes that a bit counter-intuitive
- If a player doesn't have words in their collection, does that mean they can't generate a memory when they use a Word of Power?
I’ll wing some answers!
1. Correct, you can have words of power equal to spaces in the sheet.
2. words have a minimum of 4 letters at any point.
3. It is 1d6, it’s meant as a last ditch effort sort of, you’re risking the last use of a module so the odds are more in your favor than normal
4. You’re right, there’s some dissonance between conduction as a positive connotation and damage as negative since were using a clock here. It is meant to start at 8 and deplete.
5. There shouldn’t ever be a point where a player doesn’t have any words in their collection, the gm should be passing out new words to players as or more often than they’re being used for any overcoming of obstacles or victories in battle, managing that is just sort of a new thing to be aware of during play for a gamemaster
Perfect! That helps a lot.
On that last point I'm finding that my players are consuming words really quickly in a single challenge clock. I guess you're saying that players should be receiving words during a challenge, not just upon completing it.
maybe! players burning through words is not something I encountered at all during testing so thats a surprising issue to come up, but yeah it'll just take a bandaid of your own making to solve which might either be starting with more words before the scenario or finding excuses to give them words during exploration/between challenges?
Thanks for taking the time to help us out. This makes me think I'm missing something really important. I swear I read the book!
Here's a brief example in the context of my players encountering a hostile Iron Porcupine (3):
1st word consumed: Iron Porcupine (3) attacks to start the encounter. A player uses a word of power to avoid the damage, and generates a memory. **this actually raises a couple of other questions I've had - do hostile creatures attack the entire party, or a smaller number of targets, or is it GM's choice? Can one player act to protect the entire party or does each DA have to act individually to avoid a negative outcome?
2nd word consumed: A player then uses a word of power to engage the Iron Porcupine (3) and succeeds, filling one portion of the encounter clock and consuming another word from their collection and generating a memory.
3rd word consumed: Understandably angry, the Iron Porcupine (1/3) does a dangerous thing, and a player uses a word of power to guard against it consuming another word from their collection to generate a memory.
etc until the challenge is overcome. By my count that gets us to a possible 6 words consumed in one challenge, where the reward is one new word by default. Is it that my players are overusing their words?
haha no worries, you are running it as written but I think I have a few broad notes. aside, Creatures attack whomever, since gamemaster doesn't roll dice it is up to the players to react instead, so a player protecting everyone or each person rolling to avoid would both be acceptable.
This isn't explicit in the book but I would make sure players are starting with at least 3 Words in their collection when they land on the planet, not counting words that are used for any planet generation on your way to start the mission. Those generators at start of play I usually consider words (lowercase w) instead of Words (the game currency).
From your examples, it sounds like they're succeeding a lot more often than I expected, so they're having tons of memories early on! Since a Memory's starting value is higher than a Word of Power, that's meant to entice players more to use those so they don't just use Words, especially with successful Memory rolls granting you more Life. Of course, thats a choice, and it makes sense for a player to be more interested in their Words especially early in play.
For a band-aid answer, I'd just start them off with more than 3 at the beginning of play. The other potential fix that's not in the book but is how I've come to like when running the game now is instead of making them spend a Word from their Collection to inspire Memory, instead make their Memory derivative of the action they just took. Like when you fire a laser cannon and hit your target, it prompts the memory of firing artillery in the Thorned Wars or something.
You could combine this with GM giving immediate-use words on successful rolls, so in that example, I as GM would give the player the word Artillery and they could choose to immediately use that for their Memory or stash it and use something else from their Collection, which feels like a nice average of how the book works and how to patch it!
Necronautilus is melodic death metal spelljammer. Or maybe afterlife-punk farscape. You play as agents of the god of death, in a dead post-death galaxy, and you both carry out death's will and work against your role and fight to return to life.
The PDF is 43 pages, with a layout style that is expressive and experimental and stops just short of going full Mork Borg. There's a lot of excellent art, and sometimes the line between what is layout, what is text, and what is art gets blurry, but it all makes for a fairly cohesive effect. Also the body text is quite readable. The only page where you have to turn your head to the side to read it is a chart of words of power.
Words of power are, incidentally, the mechanical backbone of the system. Every character has them in place of skills, and they're as open-ended as you could wish. There's still dice, but you roll your dice under the value of whichever Word Of Power you're currently deploying. Succeed, and in addition to your success the word grows more specific. Fail, and the word grows more powerful. Crit, and the word loses a letter.
There's two more kinds of things you can roll on, Luck and Memories, but I've never seen anything even remotely like this in a system. It's fresh as heck.
Plus, in addition to the stuff you can roll, you also carry a secondary stockpile of non-powered words that you can use to affect the narrative, permanently world-building parts of the galaxy or bolting modules onto your party's organic ship. Creating a planet or a bank of turbolasers is as simple as spending some words.
Perhaps for this reason, lore-wise, there's a *lot* going on in Necronautilus. Apart from the trippy cosmic situation, there's bits of weird and bizzaro fantasy, as well as pulp and raygun gothic and biopunk and a whole lot else. The book sometimes tells you things in a way that hints that maybe you shouldn't believe everything the book tells you, but the general quality of the writing in book is fantastic.
I went in expecting this to be good, but even still I was caught off guard.
In fact, one area where I was not expecting a lot of innovation---and where I got completely bowled over---was the design of the character sheets.
In Necronautilus, each piece of a character corresponds to a piece of a skull, and each skull-piece has unique mechanics and plugs into the game's metaphysics in a way I wasn't expecting. For example, you have a limited number of items per mission, and those are made out of your own soul-stuff and creating one crosses off one of the skull's teeth for a mission. Or for a more lore-based example, your HP sits in the skull's right nostril, and the higher it goes, the closer you are to defecting from your mission.
Essentially, Necronautilus characters start as memoryless cats' paws of death, but as they grow so do their senses of self---expertly mirroring the way player characters grow at the gaming table.
My only real critique of the book is that I think it's worth noting that Necronautilus' intended style of play is not gritty-crunchy, blow-by-blow, tactical combat against small groups of skeletons. It wants big situations that resolve slowly. So, think Shadow Of The Colossus, or the God Of War boss fights, and make those what a typical combat looks like. Each fight significantly mutates the players' stat blocks during the course of it, so small speedbump or placeholder fights are strongly disincentivized. Death is also not much of a mechanical threat (you just get back up after being killed,) so the real tension is more in how you change than in what you die for. This also means that you have to rely on the GM and the group to build atmosphere, because the complexity and risk in combat isn't really the game's sell.
In terms of GM resources, there's a *lot* that are provided, with everything from random tables to advice on how to run and adventure and listen to your group. Someone who's GM'd a bit before, no matter what they've GM'd, should be able to pick this up no problem. However someone totally new to rpgs might get a bit overwhelmed if they were hoping for more complex math and computer-game-style structure.
Still, this is a heck of a book, and if you like fresh dice systems, weird-but-grounded fever-dreamy settings, doom-y tones that are somehow philosophical rather than oppressive, and a lot of creative freedom to tell wild stories using mechanics that emphasize change and self-examination, Necronautilus is for you.
-Page 16, Words Of Power and Words in Collection are two separate things, right? Words Of Power don't get used up when deployed? I had to read this section several times to figure this out, and the similarity of the terms makes it tough to understand.
-Page 17, Memories, this says that there's more information on page 24, but it's 25
-Page 25, Memories, Are these expended when you use them? What happens if you overflow the character sheet?
I just saw someone post the sweet play map and other Kickstarter stuff, and now I am jealous! Is there anywhere to get those extras, post-Kickstarter?
I have leftover posters that are going with the books until they’re gone! Stellar Remnants zines and a few sizes of shirt leftover will go up at worldchamp.IO/store at the end of the month
I'm glad I was able to get in on the Kickstarter for this and got my book last week. It's even better than I expected so kudos to Adam for this amazing game!
I was wondering: where's the best place to ask questions about some of the rules?
thanks for the kindness! Here is a good place for rules questions in case other people have the same one and wanna see the answer.
I was lucky enough to playtest this game, and it was so flexible and fun. The mechanics are simple and moody enough that, even if you're not into the excellently dripping aesthetic, it can easily be hacked for any setting/genre where people operate under unclear orders, harboring hope & rebellion in their hearts.
So glad I had the opportunity to try out this game! It's incredibly fun and creative. Would recommend to anyone looking for an RPG that will really capture their imagination.
Can we have the game in single pages, not Spread?
Thanks a lot