December 30, 2019

Apollo 13 #ifthiswereaTTRPG

Today’s #ifthiswereaTTRPG post comes from one of my favorite movies: Apollo 13.

As fascinating as it would be to see the entire film played out as a tabletop role playing game, today’s blog post comes from a critical moment not in space but back in Houston.

There comes a moment in the movie when the three Apollo 13 astronauts realize that the carbon dioxide levels in the ship are approaching life-threatening levels. The challenge put to ground control? Quickly invent a way to make the Command Module’s square filters work, fit, and operate with the Lunar Module’s round receptacles. That process is the subject of today’s post.

#ifthiswereaTTRPG, the GM would inform the players playing astronauts Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise that the CO2 levels were not far from being dangerously high in the spacecraft. Naturally, the players relay this information to ground control with the ask: what do we have on-board that can act as a makeshift CO2 filter to keep us alive?

The GM would have the player(s) playing as ground control make three separate yet equally critical rolls:

  1. Perception
  2. Science
  3. Craft

The Perception roll would be to simply identify, find, and gather the materials that are objectively on-board the Odyssey spacecraft. Not an incredibly difficult roll given the overwhelming expertise present and access to materials. The player(s) pass this roll with flying colors.

The Science roll would be to ideate what NASA engineers ended up calling “The Mailbox”: forming the idea that one could “join the CM canisters to the LM’s cylindrical canister-sockets by drawing air through them with a suit return hose.” This is a seriously difficult roll under pressure with quite a high DC. There’s some drama in the moments leading up to the roll but the player(s) are able to pass this one too. Whew!

With the materials present and the idea established, the player(s) playing as ground control would then have to build a working model. This Craft roll is a clutch, make-or-break roll. The GM stares down the player(s) while the players playing the astronauts look on nervously: the ground control player(s) roll and pass! “The Mailbox” is complete and the player(s) successfully relay the “how to” guide to the astronauts, getting the crew successfully to the next dilemma.

If you haven’t seen it, Apollo 13 is an absolute gem. It has tension, drama, and a beautiful series of examples of human beings coming together, defying the odds, and saving the day. Give it a watch and try and see it through the TTRPG lens while you’re at it…you’ll be glad you did!