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Sunless Skies Come to Tabletop: An Actual Play of Skyfarer

On Saturday, September 22nd, Failbetter Games launched Skyfarer, a tabletop RPG tie-in to Sunless Skies, their steampunk literary RPG video game. Available exclusively through TabletopGaming.co.uk, this promotional tool hypes the video game franchise by bringing it to the world of tabletop. The day it dropped, one of the members of my gamer group - a fan of the PC version - downloaded it, read it, and learned the rules, so we put aside our regular game and slung dice in the world of Sunless Skies on launch day. What follows is a recounting of that game.

To read a review of Skyfarer's gaming system, click here.

After discussing the setting, we ran through the system (you can read about the setting and the rules here), then built our crew:

  • Vinnie: Our lying Engineer.
  • Terry O. Pat: Our anti-nonsense Navigator.
  • Declan O’Roark: The other no-nonsense character, this time a sneaky Gunner.
  • Baal Shem Ra: An intimidating and grizzled Marine. (A homebrewed Profession.)
  • Zelda: A fun-loving Chaplain. (Another homebrewed Profession.)
Moving into the prologue, as crew members, we were on the flying locomotive, The Orphanage, intent on delivering “precious cargo” to Port McKay. The job was fully arranged by our NPC captain who held the cargo in his quarters. Three days into our journey, the ship was attacked by three other sky locomotives, they strafed us, but we dived into dense mists below, safe for the moment. That was the preamble.

When we gained agency in the game, the captain was dead, and we were stuck in the mists with the three enemy vessels above us, dropping bombs to flush out our flying locomotive. Any self-respecting party of murder hobos would have checked the unknown “precious cargo”, but we decided to save that for later as we were trapped like a submarine beneath destroyers. Do we fight or flight? The enemy engines were lightly armored implying they’d be faster than our ship but not as good in a fight. Without a captain to lead us, we voted the attack. Rising from the concealing mists, my navigator roll was significantly higher than the enemy’s/GM’s result granting us sneak attacks on two of the three. To make the advantage sweeter, our gunners rolled absurdly well on their Iron Stat check against the enemy’s Hearts Stat defense, and we knocked two of the ships out of the sky before they could fire on us. The third faced off with us but it was overmatched.

Where Skyfarer shines is during any locomotive combat or action sequence. Each player has an important task on the ship: The engineer made rolls to deal with damage and prevent engine failure, the gunners fired, and my navigator attempted to dodge and, later, keep the locomotive level so we could board the enemy. Everyone having a role and roll in managing the ship kept the entire table invested.

With the third ship no match, they maneuvered to run, but we decided to impale it with a narratively-unbreakable-grappling-line. Then, as you do in RPGs, one of our steamPCunks tried to shimmy over to the enemy vessel, mid-air, without announcing they’d secured themselves to the grappling line. As happens at the table, no amount of coaching would move him to tie himself off. So, yeah, that action will not come back around ever. Ever.

Landing at the hole blown in the side of the other locomotive as it strained against our narratively-secure-cable, the steamPCunk found the last remaining enemyneers and repeating rifled them repeatedly. But, he rolled below his Peril (a measure of how likely actions are to cause complications, not necessarily failure, just unexpected results). In this case, the consequence was an explosion that ended the third ship and blew him out of the hole and into freefall because - you guessed it - he did not secure his line.
Defying any sort of physics, we power dived the locomotive beside the falling PC and one of the other characters makes his Iron Stat check to pull him in because... The rule of cool? Is that acceptable at your table? It is at our table.

Concurrent with those events, we spotted a cloud of giant flying lightning squid darting toward us. With the enemies gone and them coming on, we left the area. We got only so far away before democracy gave everyone a say as we (3-to-2) decided to turn around and investigate the wrecks. We picked through two of the three downed locomotives finding that (SCANDALOUS!) the ships were dispatched to attack us specifically. Apparently, our “precious cargo” was worth dying over. Oh, and they have an experimental engine that survived and we, as you do, hooked it to our engine.

When we approached the third ship, low and behold, three giant flying lightening squids had taken an interest in that downed engine. Before we could investigate, we had to draw them off toward a body of water. We learned that they did not react well to water from a successful roll based on one of the characters being Book-smart. By the by, that bit of trivia did not come into play in the final outcome. The short version of what followed was shot one, ran, all three chased us, used the experimental engine to stay just ahead, shot them one at a time, on two rolls we maxed the results and they swallowed the shells and died. Over the water that we planned to lure them into we fought and blinded the third one, which equals no need for water.

Returning to the third ship, we plundered it. Then, finally, broke into the captain’s oversized safe using dynamite, as you do, to find a battery that we… Does it need to be said? What would you do with it? Yes, in-game you’d strap it to your best friend since the crib and flip it on if you thought it’d provide a +1 to your Kleenex Origami check! Hooked to the engine, we took off toward Port McKay. Of course, the battery charged until we picked up speed and pasted into a blasphemous white light to encounter a 500’ tall higher being. Here’s where some “serious” roleplaying came in. Most of us were, “500 feet tall? Is our locomotive even a roller skate to him?! Are we auditioning to be his ant-army?!” While the majority of us were out of useful ideas, one of the crew was the ship’s chapel and she spoke to this higher being. She answered his questions, which placated him, and he returned us to steampunkspace headed on to wherever we wanted. The culmination of the session was talking our way out of a bad situation.

Was it fun? Yes. Was it fun because of the system? Yes, the game gave us all moments to shine. The GM felt the rules were ideal to use with new players. If you’re interested in Failbetter Games’ universe, or looking for a good narrative ruleset to use for your own homebrew ship-based RPG, Skyfarer is an excellent choice. Easy to comprehend, quick to setup, and fast to play, this game is an excellent addition to the world of Fallen London, Sunless Sea, and Sunless Skies.

This article was contributed by Egg Embry as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
Egg Embry



ok but will there be a civilization of (semi)intelligent apes like in sunless sea, cuz fighting privateering space apes sounds like the dream I never knew I had.

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