Death in Space: Interview with Plogfors and Niblaeus

Death in Space is a beautiful digest sized holographic hardcover RPG in brilliant yellow and darkest black with splashes of other color and with two ribbons, one red and one black. Details, rules, and random table sprawl from end paper to end paper and fill the pages in between. Christian Plogfors and Carl Niblaeus were kind enough to talk to us about this mutating, decaying, war-scarred RPG that is succinctly captured in this well made, beautiful tome. I also want to thank Free League Publishing for sending me a copy which led to this interview.

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Charles Dunwoody (CD): Please tell us a bit about the possibilities for tone and setting for Death in Space and how players help the GM bring their campaign to life.
Plogfors and Niblaeus (PN):
An important goal for us was to introduce tone and setting in all places possible in the book. This means that every single table entry, art piece and text paragraph should ideally help you understand the tone we’re after and set off your creativity, giving you ideas for things you want to do in the game. We also like when players can be a part of creating the setting, and one example of that is during character creation. As you roll up your characters and start discussing the game, it’s great if the whole group can help with defining your version of the setting, and decide how to interpret any details that might come up. For example, if you roll up a character with a background as an “isotope coder”, the idea is that the player has the freedom to decide exactly what an isotope coder is at your table.

CD: The rules for Death in Space fit on two digest sized pages. Could you recap those rules?
PN:
Sure! The core rule used whenever you attempt something risky is the ability check. It consists of a d20 roll where you add one out of four ability modifiers, picking the one relevant for the situation. Abilities typically range from -3 to +3. You want to hit 12 or more on the check to succeed. On a failure, you get a void point. This point can be spent on another future ability check to get advantage on the roll (rolling two dice and using the better). Later in the game, void points can also be spent activating cosmic mutations. These are special powers that your character can use, physical manifestations of the void. However, if you fail that roll where you spent the point, you risk void corruption, as the void creeps into you. There’s also a system for repairing objects, since an important aspect of the setting is that things are never new and instead repaired over and over with parts from salvaged and broken objects. When you use an object, there’s a risk that it breaks. If it does, you need to gather spare parts to be able to repair it. In addition to the above, there are some more rules in the book, like some more specific rules for combat, and a system for spacecraft confrontations.

CD: The Void looms large, things are old and used requiring repairs using spare parts, gear degrades, and the PCs will mutate. Combined, these elements present a unique universe. Please tell us more about the guiding principles of Death in Space.
PN:
We want to present a universe where technology is broken and dirty, where people are desperately trying to rebuild their livers after a meaningless war over precious gemstones. The default setting of the Tenebris system is a pretty bleak place, but one important thing we also want to convey is that you have a family in the form of your crew. Your crew might be the only ones you can really trust in this stellar system filled with corrupt company officials, old warlords and space pirates. At its heart, Death in Space is mostly about ordinary folks and the jobs they end up doing in order to get by. Hopefully they can end up with some extra rewards in the process.

CD: I particularly like risky attack (possible extra damage but risk a counterattack) and PCs with poor ability score getting a starting bonus. Do you have a rule that you feel fits the theme and setting well?
PN:
Apart from the repair rules mentioned in a previous answer, one small but fitting rule is about initiative in combat. The rule there is that anyone who starts a hostile action starts the initiative order, and the tension that results from this is something we feel fits well into the theme of the game. There is an uncertainty in interactions with others, and at any time, someone could pull a gun on you and turn a discussion into a fight. And they get the first shot.

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CD: Are you working on anything new you are ready to talk about yet? Honestly, I’d be curious what an RPG called Plogfors and Niblaeus the RPG was all about if you’re looking for ideas.
PN:
We’re working on some adventure pamphlets right now, to use in your campaign. We have lots of ideas for things we want to make, it’s just a matter of finding the time to do them. In many ways, we made the game as a platform for ideas we have and things we want to create. We’ll be focusing mainly on content you can plug into or use in your own campaigns. Adventure modules, locations, generators and more. And we’re also really curious about what kind of game Plogfors & Niblaeus the RPG would be! Maybe a game about a law firm somewhere in deep space?

CD: Many readers of EN World are D&D and Pathfinder players. What would you say if they asked why they should try Death in Space?
PN:
It’s a good option if you want a gritty sci-fi game heavy on atmosphere, where you can let your creativity roam freely and let the whole group help in filling in the gaps left in the setting description. It’s also good if you want to try something a bit more rules-light, where combat is fast and lethal, and character generation is quick but full of flavor, and gets you started with the game in minutes.

CD: Where can fans go to find your work?
PN:
Our website is www.deathinspace.com, we have some links to content for the game there, like character sheets and rule cheat sheets. There’s also a great online character generator, found at https://death-bbs.makedatanotlore.dev, that lets you quickly roll up a new character in case your previous one should suffer an… accident. There’s also an official soundtrack for the game, with atmospheric electronic music inspired by the game’s principles and setting, available at most music streaming services (search for “death in space”). Otherwise we try to post updates every once in a while in our social media accounts (the usual suspects), and we have a fairly active discord, you can find an invite link to it on our website.

CD: Thanks for talking with us. Any final comments you’d like to share with the readers of EN World?
PN:
Thanks for your interest in our game, and have a nice death in space!
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody


GMMichael

Guide of Modos
CD: The rules for Death in Space fit on two digest sized pages. Could you recap those rules?
PN:
Sure! The core rule used whenever you attempt something risky is the ability check. It consists of a d20 roll where you add one out of four ability modifiers, picking the one relevant for the situation. Abilities typically range from -3 to +3. You want to hit 12 or more on the check to succeed. On a failure, you get a void point. This point can be spent on another future ability check to get advantage on the roll (rolling two dice and using the better). Later in the game, void points can also be spent activating cosmic mutations. These are special powers that your character can use, physical manifestations of the void. However, if you fail that roll where you spent the point, you risk void corruption, as the void creeps into you. There’s also a system for repairing objects, since an important aspect of the setting is that things are never new and instead repaired over and over with parts from salvaged and broken objects. When you use an object, there’s a risk that it breaks. If it does, you need to gather spare parts to be able to repair it. In addition to the above, there are some more rules in the book, like some more specific rules for combat, and a system for spacecraft confrontations.
Well, that was one page right there...

. . . Honestly, I’d be curious what an RPG called Plogfors and Niblaeus the RPG was all about if you’re looking for ideas.
Funny, I stopped in to find out what a Plogforsandniblaeus was. Found out about a cool game as a result. Thanks Plogfors and Niblaeus and Dunwoody!
 

J.M

Explorer
Another recent game that presents the setting not with lore but with tables. Honestly, I like this trend because it leaves room for people to bring their own ideas and supports the GM and players without asking them to study up on a lot of "canon".
 

TheAlkaizer

Game Designer
I backed the Kickstarter. I received the book; it is gorgeous. The quality really is there. It's a beautiful product. I do not regret pledging at all and I can't wait to play it.

However, I'm still a bit salty that while the kickstarter backers were waiting to receive their product, it was announced that other customers could pre-order through Free League. Carl promised that the kickstarter backers would receive their books before the pre-orders would go through. I still found the exact same book on the shelves of my local game store a whole one to two weeks before I received my pledge.
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
However, I'm still a bit salty that while the kickstarter backers were waiting to receive their product, it was announced that other customers could pre-order through Free League. Carl promised that the kickstarter backers would receive their books before the pre-orders would go through. I still found the exact same book on the shelves of my local game store a whole one to two weeks before I received my pledge.
I think the fault for that lay more with the distributor, Free League, than the KS creators. Not that it isn't still annoying, but I don't think Carl and Christian are to blame - I'm sure they fully intended the backer's books to go out first, but then Free League fumbled the ball. I think fulfillment in US vs UK vs the rest of Europe vs the rest of the world factored into things as well.

I still find Free League to be a reputable publisher, despite the DiS snafu. I've ordered multiple Mork Borg products from them, and they shipped quickly, and emails with corresponding PDF links are sent almost immediately.

(Full disclosure: I missed the Death in Space KS but did the pre-order on the Free League site. I got my books a couple weeks before they were supposed to be released even for pre-orders and, based on comments in their Discord, before some backers had received their books yet.)
 

Sir Brennen

Legend
ANYWAY...

I like Death in Space alot, though I haven't run a session yet. Watched a couple of live plays and read a fair number of reviews. It's definitely oozing with flavor and idea-inspiring descriptions.

One criticism of the system I've seen and agree might be an issue for some GMs: As a rule-light sci-fi game, there's very little of the type of crunch you'd typically see in similar settings for other games. The game master will have to do a significant number of judgement calls on "how things work." For example, if you want detailed computer hacking rules, you're not going to find them here.

So, for GMs who might not be comfortable improvising technical and technology-related details about their game on the fly, this might not be the best game for you.
 

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