Backwater Fiction: “Mantra”

Backwater Fiction: “Mantra”

Backwater’s web fiction, which consists of various vignettes, is not meant to drive an over arching plot. Instead the goal is to provide inspiration for your stories, and as such will explore several genres. The over arching story will be told through the living campaign, which we will reveal details for as we get closer to launch, and driven by the players. 

 by Alex Wirges

System: Alpha Serpentis

Planet: Serpentis – B

Planet Class: Terraformed Salvage

One. Last. Job.

The words echoed in my head as I approached the rusty aluminum trailer. The bandana covering my face filtered most of the swirling red dust. If only it could filter the stench created by three star systems worth of garbage. The first sun had already set, but a hot glare still reflected off the trailer.

One. Last. Job.

I repeated those words to myself as I slowly reached out and knocked on the trailer door.

“Scotch! My man! Git yer ass in here! How ya been?”

A large boisterous man swung open the door. A gap-toothed grin adorned his face. I reluctantly entered the trailer, kicking beer bottles and trash out of my path. His messy cot seemed an afterthought to the dozen terminals jammed in here and there, haphazardly networked together. An arsenal lined the walls.

Perhaps, I thought, it’s probably for the best that we only know each other by our nicknames.

I also didn’t have time to hear about his grandkids today. “Cut the niceties, Landlock. I want a job off-world. What ya got for me?”

The old man stopped, facing away from me, and became very still.

“Oh, kid. Ya know I don’t have anything off-world, and ya know I don’t get jobs that pay enough for ya to travel, off-world. Plus, yer the best driver on this shithole. Always in demand. “

A moment of silence passed, broken only by the flick of a lighter and faint crackle of burning cigarette paper. He turned to me, exhaling his first drag.

“Why would ya wanna leave? Tell ya what, it’s none of my business. I’ve got a client lookin’ fer someone dependable. Think of it as a job interview ya get paid for. It’s dangerous, dirty work. But if ya do good, It may land ya opportunities off this rock. What do ya say?”

One. Last. Job. And I can finally get off this planet so backwards that even the Gods themselves never bothered to forsake it.

Landlock wasn’t kidding – this job was beyond dangerous. The assembled crew all had reputations for being good at what they do. Given these circumstances, that usually indicated a willingness to do the unsavory if necessary. There’s a certain amount of “unsavory” I am accustomed to. But at the first sign of trouble, I found myself an unwitting accomplice to murder, running from the Peacekeepers.

I glanced at the rear-view mirror. In the backseat, a lanky kid I only knew as Skeeter fumbled with his reloading.

I shouted at him. “What happened out there?! What did you do, Skeeter?!”

I doubted I could drive fast enough to get away from the flood of blue and orange lights. The second sun had begun to rise, and this rig’s fusion drive would not withstand any additional stress.

“Ah Hell, Scotch. It ain’t nuthin. I didn’t know that woman was standin’ there when I decoupled the gravwell stabilizer. If it makes ya feel any better, she probably didn’t suffer too much,” Skeeter said.

It did not make me feel better. One. Last. Job.

“Well now we got the fuzz on our tail, and we’re quickly approaching the meet point. What do you think the rest of the crew is gonna do when we show up with the heat? Huh?” I replied.

I enjoyed the look on his face right now. Fear. I know fear well. Skeeter was scared of getting caught. Scared of facing consequences for his actions. Scared my driving would kill us.

“Get that gun loaded, Skeeter, and get back to shooting. I need a gap. I don’t care where.”

Skeeter began firing at the wall of ‘Keepers trailing us. I slammed the magbrakes, followed by kicking the fusion drive into reverse.

“WHAT THE HELL ARE YA DOIN’, SCOTCH?” Skeeter’s voice quivered, for good reason too. This would be a death sentence for a lesser driver.

I maneuvered through a temporary opening in the wall of orange and blue lights, and turned us around. Cursing a few choice illegitimate animals, I slammed our ride into max gear and gunned it in the opposite direction. After a few klicks, I took a sudden left down a dirt road that ended at a scrap yard where we ditched our ride. We waited until the sirens faded to stillness. From there, we continued on foot.

Skeeter and I arrived at the meet point. Late, but intact. The crew waited with our mark. As we entered the barn, I saw the transport truck, its unconscious crew tied to chairs. Tinker worked to open the locked cargo hold.

“Any idea what was so important that it’d have a Peacekeeper escort?” I asked. I approached the truck and saw that that the door panel bore Belle Energy’s corporate logo. We’d made a very powerful enemy.

Tinker didn’t look up from her work. “No idea, and it doesn’t seem like it’s very important to our employer. As far as they’re concerned, we completed the job,” she said.

“Too bad, ya’ll won’t find out either,” Skeeter’s voice crept up behind me, and I felt the warm barrel of his gun pressed against my skull.

The nervous rattle was gone – this was planned from the beginning. I slowly raised my hands. “You can have my cut of what ever is in that truck, Skeeter, if you put the gun down and let me walk away. I’m not here for anything more than what I’ve already been promised by our contractor.”

I heard Skeeter click his tongue. “This ain’t about money, Scotch. It ain’t personal either – only one of us gets the gig off-world, and I’ve had as much as I can tolerate of this shit-rock.”

I heard Skeeter pull back the hammer, then squeeze the trigger.

One. Last. Job.

Welcome To Backwater: Your World, Your Story

Welcome To Backwater: Your World, Your Story

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