Monday 1 June 2020

VOIDHEIST - Inspiration

VOIDHEIST started life from my enjoyment of two quite different games.

Mothership is a sci-fi horror game by Sean McCoy.

Blades in the Dark is a fantasy heist game by John Harper.

I think both of these games have a lot to offer, so check them out if they sound at all like they'd appeal to you. They've both earned more praise and awards than I could ever hope to achieve, and there's truly no greater compliment from me than having your game hacked to bits to see if I can make it work for dumdums like myself.

So first I'll talk about each of the games in question with my opinionated game-design hat on, pointing out the bits I love and the bits that don't appeal to me. At the risk of repeating myself I'll stress that my goal with this process isn't to proclaim improvements that could be made to the original game, but instead to pinpoint the specific parts of the buffalo that appeal to my niche and consider how to extract them for my own uses.

In conclusion: This is not a review. These games are both great. I chew on them because I enjoy the taste.

With that disclaimer out of the way I hope you'll forgive a little hyperbole in my like/dislike of each element.



  • The character archetypes tell you everything about the setting. You're always either a:
    • Teamster - Working-class everyday space folk
    • Marine - Barely contained trained killers
    • Android - Unsettling artificial humans
    • Scientist - Somebody that knows too much
  • I love that any of the choices above bring their own flavour. They're broad, but don't feel generic in the way that a "Soldier" might, or even a "Specialist". 
  • They combine in interesting ways. Two Scientists and a Marine conjures a different story to a lone Teamster surrounded by Androids.
  • Equipment has a similar jolt of flavour injection, from the weapons down to the patches and trinkets.
  • There's a focus on "only roll when it really matters" that I know Sean is going to expand on in the Warden's guide.
  • Stress is given as much focus as physical harm, and there are some fun Panic effects when the Stress gets too much to handle. This all links back to the characters where certain combinations can chain-react off each other creating memorable "Game Over, Man!" moments. 

  • It has that WHFRP thing where a lot of your rolls are going have a less than 50% chance of success even for stuff you're meant to be quite good at. This fits the horror theme, and absolutely works when you lean into the "only roll when it matters" thing, but it still doesn't sit quite right with me. If I'm the Xeno-Botanist then it sucks when we finally find some moon-weeds and I tank my roll to know anything about them. 
  • I found myself longing for a bit of distillation when it comes to mechanics. You've got Stats, Saves, and Skills that all act slightly differently. Then you've got different mechanical meanings for Resolve, Sanity, Fear, Stress, and Panic. They all work together, and I imagine most players don't have any trouble keeping them apart, but I'd like to tighten it up a bit.
  • I love that the skills tell you about the setting, but I've got an aversion to this sort of large skill-tree. When you're dealing with Skills so narrowly defined that you've got Geology and Planetology as different things I'd like them to do a bit more than +10% here or +15% there. They could go in either direction of "more broad" or "more impactful" and I'd be happier.



  • The core system of "roll a pool of d6s based on your skill in that Action, take the highest. 1-3 is fail, 4-5 is partial success, and 6 is success" is great. It just feels solid to me. 
  • In addition to that vague good feel it's great for Heist-type scenarios where you want the group to be progressing, but leaving lots of loose ends and mess in their wake.
  • There are lots of nice little addons to this core mechanic that create interesting situations. The Devil's Bargain and Pushing Yourself come to mind. 
  • Clocks are just a really useful way to build up tension in this sort of game. For anything vaguely heisty they're a no-brainer.
  • Character classes really guide the players towards a certain style of play. I think even a brand new player would get into the role of a Cutter or a Slide more quickly than they might a Fighter or Thief in D&D. 
  • Oh, they come with nice flavourful equipment too.
  • Some of the class abilities are great for creating dramatic moments. I will now name the objectively best special ability for each class.
    • Cutter - Not to be Trifled With (Spend a resource to either do something with almost superhuman strength or fight a gang as if you're a gang yourself. Great example of an Ability that feels impactful and rule-breaking)
    • Hound - Sharpshooter (Sort of a shooty version of the above, spend a resource to do something awesome from a short list)
    • Leech - Venomous (You get to be immune to one poison and now you can even secrete that poison yourself)
    • Lurk - Reflexes (You always act first. Big impact in just a few, very easily understood words. Impactful doesn't have to mean complex.)
    • Slide - Like Looking in a Mirror (You can always tell when somebody is lying to you. Love it. I've even got something very similar somewhere in Electric Bastionland. This class has a lot of cool Abilities, so this was a tough choice)
    • Spider - Hmmm... see below.
    • Whisper - Compel (Summon a ghost and have it do something. Great stuff.)
  • There's a lot of fantastic advice for running the game. One of the best books I've read in that area. 
  • I like the preparation phase before the job, getting your plan together and gathering information. I've got some positive feeling towards the flashback mechanic, but also some more mixed feelings (see below). 


  • Much like Mothership, I feel like there's just a lot going on here, mechanically. It's like looking at a timepiece full of intricate cogs and arms all ticking away in harmony, when most of the time just need to know that it's midday-ish. Again, looking at each piece as part of the whole I can see a lot of thought has gone into the design. 
  • There's a big emphasis on "fiction-first", which I like, but I think if you truly embrace that philosophy when running the game then you might not need all of these mechanical supports in place. 
  • There are eight Actions, and you're likely to have points in roughly half of them. I think they're pretty well defined buuuut...
    • There's a focus on allowing the players to declare their action by name. "I want to run up and stab this guy so *checks character sheet* I'm using Skirmish".
    • This in itself isn't bad, but when I've played I've always felt like I'm just bending the fiction to match my mechanical strengths. Again, this doesn't break the game but it kept pulling me out of the fiction.
  • I'm really torn on the Flashback thing. It makes your characters look smart, and there's been a lot of hyperbole about how it ruins the central challenge of a heist (it doesn't), but I'm still not totally sold that it delivers more than it asks in return
  • While I really liked some of the class abilities, some of them felt a bit passive to me. Quite a lot of "Get +1 when you do X". This might be there to allow for simple choices for new players, but I like special abilities that really break the rules and shake things up. I will now name the objectively worst special ability for each class as a contrast to the last list.
    • Cutter - Mule (You can carry more stuff)
    • Hound - Survivor (+1 Stress Box)
    • Leech - Analyst (Advance projects more quickly during Downtime)
    • Lurk - Ambush (+1d when springing a trap or attacking from hiding. I feel like in a game full of sneaky thieves you should get +1d for this sort of thing anyway, certainly not as part of some specific special ability)
    • Slide - Trust in Me (+1d vs a target you have an intimate relationship with. I like the idea of this one a lot, but I feel like it could be a lot more impactful)
    • Spider - Jailbird (Bit unfair here, as a lot of them are downtime-focused, which doesn't appeal much to me. Instead I chose this one as it only really triggers when you get Incarcerated, so feels like it would sit gathering dust on my sheet for most of the campaign. Don't really like anything available to this class, but I suspect it's jut not for me)
    • Whisper - Iron Will (+1 to Resolve rolls)


Could I take the bits I like from these two games and put them into one? Horror and heist?

Maybe not. The end result is a lot more like "BitD-style Heists in Space with some of Mothership's Flavour Tricks".

The next post will be a full rundown of the game. For now you can see the work-in-progress document.


  1. Jonathan Syson1 June 2020 at 14:04

    Didn't choose 'Cloak & Dagger' as the best Slide ability, the one that lets you dramatically throw off your disguise and get the drop on someone. Incorrect. 0/10 article.

    For real though, this was interesting, and as someone playing in Mothership atm, and who's run an absurd amount of BitD, it's cool reading your in-depth take on it. I definitely agree about the Spider in Blades, and about the murkiness of certain mechanics in Mothership.

    1. Cloak and Dagger was a close runner-up!

      I enjoyed playing with it, but I also feel like throwing off a disguise should grant you the element of surprise on an attack anyway, so it feels a little superfluous. It definitely helps the player see that as an option, but decided that the other ability just pipped it to the post.

  2. This sounds great! I have similar feelings about both of these games, and smashing them together sounds like a marriage made in heaven! Looking forward to seeing what you come up with.

  3. I'd playtest this with you :)
    Voidheist looks fantastic. I do love Mothership, but have to agree with your critique of its weaker parts. Haven't played Blades yet...

  4. Have you checked out Sean McCoy's heist game called Heist?

    I like his approach to running heists; how to prep and handling the fun part of the planning phase, instead of skipping it completely and using flashbacks instead.

  5. This entirely matches my feeling about both these games. All the reviews I kept reading raved about the simplicity of BitD and when I ran it I felt a lot of friction: lots of little exceptions and things to take note of and possible sources of bonuses or penalties. It made me feel like I was going mad a bit. I'm curious to hear what your issues were with Flashbacks.

    Also, no love for the Load mechanics in BitD?

  6. Very intrigued to follow the development. Though it ought be called Motherheist, obviously.