This is the first in a line of Design Diaries for Backwater by creator and designer Alex Wirges. These design diaries will share insights into the process of writing and designing the game – while sharing updates with you. 

A crew enjoys the rewards of a successful job. Art by David Hammond

I’m excited to share with you Pine Box Entertainment’s first original intellectual property. We began discussing the prospect of our own gaming universe early in 2018 – and I jumped at the opportunity. With everything the community had given us, I wanted to create something to give back. That creation is Backwater.

I wanted to create a setting anyone could sink their teeth into and find their own stories within. With Doomtown we’ve told you our story, and I felt it was your turn to tell us a story. So from day one, Pine Box Entertainment’s signature organized play support needed to be integrated.

Using this as a foundation, I decided the best way to introduce our players to a new universe, was through a role-playing game. From there, it was vital for you to feel like this new universe was your own to settle and explore, following two simple axioms:

1: Familiar, but Alien

2: Your World, Your Story

A Rigger, Trainwreck, and Driver are approached by a Coalition Peacekeeper during a playtest session.


Backwater is a Science Fiction Role-playing Game in which Humanity has begun expanding into the stars. The Coalition of Terran Enterprises, a group of all powerful mega-corps, has planted the seeds of civilization – and more importantly industry – everywhere they can, and we’re just getting started.

The furthest edge of this expansion is referred to as the “Backwater.” This is where your story takes place. Players take up the lives of the blue-collar everyday inhabitants of these planets. Many of those people can trace their lineages back through multiple generations on their planet. Those planets have become their home just as Earth is to us. Yet, there is always an underlay of restlessness and discontent.

Space travel is still expensive and thus impractical for ordinary folks – so going off-world will be a challenge in and of itself. The struggles of the inhabitants of Backwater are akin to many of us – a daily slog through a boring dystopia. Terraforming is hard, backbreaking work that doesn’t pay well. Thankfully, with new worlds come new opportunities, many of which are questionable in both their morality and legality.

Backwater’s goal is to ground the more fantastic elements – aliens, arbitrary technology, interstellar relics, and all your favorite sci-fi tropes – in something familiar. This allows you to be flexible with the genre of your story, as does the Terraformation system.

A “Trainwreck” Squares off with an Unwelcome Peacekeeper during a Playtest Session

At the heart of Backwater is the Terraformation system. In order to truly tell your story, it was important to me that first we learn about your world. You and your group will generate a planet during character creation, populating the universe with diverse life, cultures, and worlds. These worlds are considered Canon – and shareable with other players and groups through our organized play system.

The Terraformation system allows playgroups to place resources, connections, and opportunities throughout the planet. You will be able to select Biomes, the type of star system it resides in, etc. Each decision made during this process will populate industry, factions, and more – to create a dynamic back drop for your story.

These mechanics are tied directly to the organized play system- which I will discuss in greater detail as we approach the game’s release. Living campaigns with consequences that can permanently alter the course of the game world will be an integral part of the Backwater experience.

We look forward to expanding this universe and hearing your stories beginning in late 2020. And look forward to more Design Diaries as development progresses. 


Final Product Subject To Change

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