More Space Pirates – GenCon 2004 Demo

Space pirates are a popular genre in Universalis and this GenCon was no exception.  Our Tenet phase left us with a band of 5 misfit pirates on a faulty broken down ship in pursuit of the biggest score of their lives.  A quantum field collapser capable of generating infinite free energy forever.  The value of such a device is astronomical and all of the Big Energy companies in the galaxy are desperate to steal or destroy it before it puts them out of business.

The opening scene begins with disabling laser fire from the pirate ship towards their prey.  But they are not the only ones after this juicy target.  The Galactic Space Police is also present in a large number of one and two man patrol cruisers.  But they aren’t escorting the energy source, they’re attacking it.  It seems the GSP has been bought off by Big Energy after all.

Seven of the small patrol craft break off to intercept the pirates.  They’re targeted laser fire disables the engines and the craft move in, attach to the ship and begin to board.  The pirates will make perfect scapegoats for the destruction of the energy source.

On board the pirate ship, Dr. Bob the ship’s physician and sometimes mechanic rushes to the engine room to try and bring the engines on line.  He is accompanied by a second younger pirate known to the crew only as “Bob’s Helper”.  Bob’s Helper doesn’t say much but fortunately for the pirates he’s a genius mechanic because isn’t all that good with a wrench.

In moments Bob’s Helper has diagnosed the problem and knows just how to fix it.  But he decides not to tell Bob and make Bob figure it out himself, since Bob will just claim credit for it anyway.  After some struggle Bob does manage to bring the engines back on-line.  Sure enough he rubs it in saying “Stick with me, son, and soon you’ll make a half decent assistant.  But not yet, no not yet.  Now you’re just one step away from useless.  Hand me that spanner.

As the engine kicks on and brings the ship to hyper acceleration, the police cruisers docked to the hull are all ripped off and destroyed.  But unknown to the pirates, 4 of the police officers have managed to board the ship.

The demo ended with the misfit pirates back in pursuit of their prey.

Featured Effect, Narrating Complications:
One of the things new players have to get accustomed to in Universalis is that the Complication roll is not a skill test or a success or failure check.  It determines which players get to say how much and in what order about how the situation resolves.  The players are constrained to act generally in favor of the side that won or to the detriment of the side that lost but there is no absolute rule regarding failure or success.  The players in this demo had no trouble with this concept.


Repairing the engines was the only Complication in the story.  All of the laser fire and the police boarding was handled strictly through narration.  The Complication was initially between Dr. Bob and the broken engine (backed by the ship’s Faulty Trait and dice purchased for laser fire damage).  One of the other players invented Bob’s Helper.  With a little Negotiation it was agreed that “Bob’s Helper” was not a Role Trait but actually the characters formal name.

The player rolling for Bob’s Helper on behalf of the pirates fixing the engine rolled more dice and got more successes than Bob’s player.  In fact, without Bob’s Helper the Complication would have been won by the broken engine.

Armed with far more free Coins then Bob’s player had Bob’s Helper set about narrating many things.  We learn more about Bob’s Helper and his relationship to Bob as illustrated by the narration of their interaction during the Complication.  We learn more about the ship and the pirates and how the engines work.  All things that would be considered reasonably related to the task at hand.

But none of which actually involves succeeding at the Complication.  In fact, while the player of Bob’s Helper narrates that he does know exactly how to fix the engine, he specifically pays Coins for the Fact that he doesn’t fix it, nor does he tell Bob how.

The big winner of the Complication, spending all of his Coins without ever actually narrating a resolution to the Complication, leaving the resolution wide open for others to narrate.  Beautiful.

—Ralph Mazza


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