Debt and Self-Improvement (Individual Debt Rules)

10 August 2020 ☼ Mothership

Not all Mothership characters are lucky enough to own a starship. Some end up taking on massive debt just to learn how to scratch out a basic living, and are now stuck taking dangerous jobs to try and make the interest payments.

Having trouble motivating your players to stick around in perilous situations? Not sure what to pay your players for missions? Want to keep some bite to your campaign’s economy while glossing over a lot of the finer details? Slot your credstick and read on.

Getting Into Debt

Debt is a new rating that represents a character’s financial obligation to the Company. A character might still be an employee of the Company, or they may just owe them for their initial training and equipment. Your character’s Company might be the same as my character’s Company, but it’s not a requirement.

When you initially create a character, note what their highest stat is. Their starting Debt is equal to their highest stat divided by 2. Debt cannot go higher than 301, so if your character’s Debt would begin above 30, it’s just 30. Lucky you.

The long-term goal for a character is to reduce their Debt to 0. If that happens, they can retire from the kind of hazardous jobs that frequent a Mothership campaign and live the rest of their life doing quiet work somewhere. They might not own much, but they won’t be owned by anyone else anymore.

Getting Paid

Debt tracks big” income and expenditures. Most contracts that a crew takes pay out in the form of reducing their Debt. A good rule of thumb is that a job that would take a session to complete should pay down 1 Debt for each crew member. Particularly dangerous or lucrative missions could pay down even more, but rarely any more than 5 Debt apiece.

Characters interested in supplementing their income should keep an eye out for data, objects, biological samples, and other artifacts that would be of value to the Company. While transporting these sorts of extras can be difficult, particularly good finds could knock 1 or more points off of a character’s Debt.

Big” income aside, characters still track little” income and expenditures: they are responsible for purchasing their own equipment, finding lodging/provisions, getting medical attention, and paying for any mercenaries they hire. Thankfully, a few credits always trickle over into their account after the Company takes their share of any reward. Whenever someone reduces their Debt by X amount, they may take pocket money” in the form of (Xd10 * 500cr).

On The Job

A couple things change significantly while playing with Debt…

Instead, character development and Stress relief are linked to Debt.

Additionally, when players attempt a particular save during play, they should make a check mark next to that specific save’s value. It will become clear why a little later on.

Deeper In Debt

Though the aim is to eventually get out of Debt completely, characters improve and decompress by taking on additional Debt. The Company is happy to extend them additional credit, to a point. Some of the functions characters can take advantage of include…

R&R (Relaxing and Reflecting) [+1 Debt]

When you take R&R, either reduce your Stress to 0, or remove 1 phobia or addiction.

Then, you may choose to improve one of your character’s saves that has a check mark next to it by 5. If you do, erase that check mark and increase your Stress by 5. You may do this multiple times.2

Skill Training [+3/5/7 Debt]

A character can take on more Debt to receive training in a new skill: 3 Debt for a Trained skill, 5 Debt for an Expert skill, and 7 Debt for a Master skill. Characters must meet all the prerequisites for a skill they train. This also doesn’t happen immediately: the player and the Warden should consider how much time will pass in order to accomplish this training.3

Time Keeps on Skipping

Whenever a character takes on more Debt to improve themselves, consider embracing a narrative time skip. While a stint of R&R could be as brief as an evening or two, it could also take place over a more extended period. Depending on the skill, training likely takes weeks, if not months and years.

If possible, the entire crew can take their time off at the same time and then work with the Warden to determine how the time away has changed them, and what has changed when they return to action. If not all the players plan to take on additional Debt simultaneously, the ones that do should consider rolling new secondary characters to play while their original ones are away! You might even grow to love them more than your primary character.

Of course, as long as they have greater than 0 Debt, none of them are truly free.


One thing Debt cannot be taken on for, however, is raising a character’s Resolve. Instead, a player earns Resolve by accomplishing certain meta-tasks (or achievements”). Once you’ve accomplished a particular task, any future character you play starts with +1 Resolve, to a maximum of 5 Resolve if you’ve managed the whole list. Good luck!

These rules were inspired by a recent post over on Sean McCoy’s blog, along with my own previous take on Debt rules.

  1. If you like symmetry as much as I do, try implementing this rule: Stress cannot go above 30, either. If a character takes enough Stress to bring them above 30, their Stress is set to 30. If a character with 30 Stress would take more Stress, they automatically panic instead. And probably have a heart attack.

  2. The intention here is that players can safely” improve their saves by taking on 2 Debt any time they get out of danger: one R&R to improve, and then a second to zero Stress. If they do this every session, however, they are going to slowly slide deeper into Debt. The only ways to actually crawl out of Debt are either to go back into action with some amount of Stress, or to put oneself in greater danger in the field to earn higher payouts. This is the exact tension I’m looking to create.

  3. Of course, you could also let players voluntarily take on additional Debt at character creation for more skills!