|Official art from the itch.io page. Art by Torben Bökemeyer
I was sort of late to RPGs. I didn’t start really playing them until I was already 30 and starting a hobby when you are 30 is very different from when you’re 20, or younger. I’m exaggerating a little because I did have some experience before this, but not much. My brother played D&D in the 80s and 90s, so I grew up in a house that had dice and modules and dragons in it. My brother is 10 years older than me though, so he wasn’t too keen on having his grubby kid brother stinking up the place.
I was lucky enough to play Vampire the Masquerade when I was about 17. My friend’s older brother has gone to university and joined the Vampire group there, which was a very large group. He’d come home and talk about their sessions, and we bugged him until he finally said he’d run a game.
We played as Camarilla enforcers and the game was set in our local neighborhood. He would pick houses and locations we knew to set our stories and we’d always end up doing real-life reconnaissance at these places. I could only imagine what those poor old homeowners were thinking when a group of teenagers spent an afternoon circling their house on bikes. We weren’t the most socially aware kids.
But when that finished, I didn’t look at tabletop games for 11 years.
This isn’t the story of my reconnection with RPGs, but I will tell that one day. This is about the ways in which I have recaptured some of those feelings and emotions I had way back when. When I really let my imagination run wild from the prompts of a game.
I have never felt more at peace than when I am completely surrounded by a fantasy world and making up stories. This happens at the table, this happens when writing, and it happens when playing solo RPGs. Solo RPGs are my new guilty pleasure. Since the Tiny Human arrived, I have not had the free time I was accustomed to Before Kids (BK). I know this is old news to anyone with children, but I’ll be the first to admit I was not prepared for the onslaught my time would face. Even now, I write this late at night while the family sleeps, stealing the small fragments of time I can get words down.
The solo RPG does not require scheduling, requires no one else to arrive on time, nor does it require Dave to order pizza, and it most definitely doesn’t need to work around other players not turning up. These RPGs are the ultimate choice for my currently wild and chaotic life because I can pick them up and put them down whenever it suits me. And Bucket of Bolts has been my latest obsession.
It is more storytelling, journaling, sort of a game, and there are no dice rolls. Instead, there is a three-act structure and prompts. Essentially you are telling the history of a space-faring vessel through the lens of its last three captains. Each captain has their own experiences and leaves their own mark on the ship, but the ship remains and outlives all of its owners. The captains and the ship create a history, a legacy, that once finished, becomes a story you can share, keep for yourself, or drop into another game.
I went into my first run-through of this game wanting a cool ship with some stories to throw at the table when we started a Star Wars campaign. Bucket of Bolts starts with the creation of the ship. I dove into research. Looking for the planets and systems that were known for shipbuilding. I found myself deep in the Wookieepedia archives reading strange excerpts from old Expanded Universe novels. There are many that make ships, and The Mon Calamari are one of them. Akbar’s own. I couldn’t resist.
JCVD80: A prototype transport ship built for speed, comfort, and protection.
|My shitty drawing of the JCVD80 transport ship.
The Captain’s and their stories came easily through the prompts, a long-lived love of Star Wars, and keen knowledge of the stuff my players like. I found myself digging deeper into research and looking for obscure references to pepper throughout each captain’s life. The three acts represent a different era, either of the world or ship or whatever suits the story you tell. In each era, there are four different types of captains to choose each with its own prompts. Each captain might make modifications and will have a major event that becomes the pinnacle of that captain’s life, but just another event in the ships. Over the course of JCVD80’s life, it had three captains.
- Captain Lohne Tai’Lubb, a long-distance hauler who was strong-willed, shrewd, and a deep thinker. She had a crew of Jawas and was quite sure there were eight of them. They moved all sorts of cargo, including a suspected Sith who booked the entire hold to transport one small box. In the end, the ship was impounded when Lohne reluctantly agreed to smuggle a criminal from Tatooine to Corella. She also had an AI installed on the ship, PCP3. However, it was a cheap purchase, and Lohne later discovered the AI was an interpreter droid with the ethics function removed. Cold and calculating. In the end, Lohne and the Jawa’s were caught smuggling and executed.
- Kota Gibbs, a Gran bounty hunter, liked to right himself off with spice. He’d host loud parties on board his ship for swoop bike gangs. For work, he’d usually take jobs that required him to transport the dead, as they were easier to manage. However, he got some infamous notoriety after capturing a Huttanese gangster and transporting it to Malastare. Gibbs installed onboard weapons and a secret self-destruct command that was lost to history when the ship was shot down over Ryloth. Gibbs died, but the ship lay in wait.
- Dok’tetu was a Twi’lek soldier during the Ryloth insurgency. He found the wrecked ship, repaired it, and used it to escape the planet. He spent years on the run in the Outer Rim before finally stopping on Tatooine. While on Tatooine he worked as a hauler freighting ice from Adriana back to the desert planet. He lived in secret, never letting those around him know of his past. He died of old age and his ship lays dormant in the underground hanger near his home, not far from Mos Eisley.
That is the story JCVD80 holds that my friends will get to discover over the course of our campaign.
In-between each captain’s life there is Rest for the ship and for you, the player (writer?). A bit of time to reflect and be still, much like the ship would be. This little piece of built-in reflection and meditation had a profound impact on how I felt during play. It’s game time to pause and think about the choices made and the direction the story should go and maybe, what the next captain will be.
‘As you pause, picture the halted craft—the gently creaking hull, blinking electronics, or the signs of wildlife encroaching.’
After completing my game, I found myself feeling content and at peace. I had spent time deep in the lore of an old favourite world, reflected on choices, and created a ship for my friends to use. One filled with history, secrets, and stories. The allure of this sort of game is exceptionally strong. In the post-COVID world, the solo RPG will be a shining beacon of hope and the progenitor of fond memories.
If you like spaceships and telling stories this is for you can get Bucket of Bolts here.