Thanks for checking out Ocean. This PDF is the free
version of the game. Feel free to pass it around and
share it. My name is Jake Richmond, and I designed,
wrote and illustrated Ocean. If you like the game
you can order a print copy of the book through the
links below. The money buys me free time, which I
use to make more games.
Jake Richmond
Atarashi Games
The indie rpg un-store
special thanks to
Michael Petersen
1st edition, June 2009. Ocean is copyright
2009 Jake Richmond. Visit our website at
Here’s the elevator pitch: We’re a group of
people trapped in an underwater research station.
We can’t remember who we are or why we’re there.
We don’t know what the monsters are that are
picking us off one at a time. All we know is that
we need to get out. We want to escape. That’s
what Ocean is about.
Ocean is an engine for creating a very specific
kind of story. What you’ll find in this book are a
set of suggestions, ideas, illustrations and advice.
If you follow these instructions, if you take my
idea and run with them, you’ll end up with a neat
story and role-playing experience. Something
that’s part story, part performance and part game.
Your results will be different from mine. Since
we’re different people who take different
approaches to telling stories, role-playing and
creating fiction, we’re bound to not only approach
Ocean differently but also get different results.
That’s totally fine. As you read through this book
you’ll see that Ocean isn’t really a complete game,
rules set or guide. There are holes that need to
be filled. The approach I take to playing Ocean,
to using Ocean to create a story, relies on my
previous experience as a gamer, storyteller and
artist. I can’t recreate that for you. You’ll have to
approach Ocean on your own and fill in the gaps
using your own experiences. That shouldn’t be
too hard.
This book is broken into three parts. The
Operations Manual has all the instructions. If
Ocean is a game, then these are the rules. The
User Manual has all my advice, and ideas for
creating a shared fiction using those rules. The
Afterword talks about what went in to creating
Ocean. There are also some comics. Those were a
lot of fun to draw.
Jake Richmond
March 2009
The Operations Manual contains the
instructions for staging Ocean. I’ve tried to
present these instructions as cleanly and
concisely as possible. You’ll find
commentary, advice and suggestions for
using these instructions in the User Manual.
Premise: You wake up cold, in the dark. You
are not alone. You can’t remember who you
are and you don’t recognize the room you’re
in or the people around you. You’re in the
ocean, deep underwater in some kind of
abandoned research station. Who are you?
What is this place and why are you here?
What are the strange, monstrous noises
coming from the abandoned parts of the
Station? What are the creatures that shuffle
and splash through the flooded halls and
corridors? How will you escape to safety? Can
you escape at all?
How do we play Ocean? Ocean is a story
that we’ll tell together. It has a beginning,
as well as rules and guidelines that will help
us reach its end. We’ll take on the roles of
desperate amnesiac survivors and work
together to tell the story of how we solved
the mysteries surrounding our situation and
escaped from a deserted underwater
research station.
Creating a story together is easy. The rules
and guidelines in this book give us a frame
to build on. We’ll start with our characters
and their desperate circumstances and build
from there. We’ll take turns suggesting
scenes to play out, describing the places we
explore and clues we uncover, and narrating
the truths behind Ocean’s mysteries. We’ll
each act out the part of a character, speaking
in their voice and describing their actions and
emotions. We’ll role-play with each other,
creating and exploring our characters’
relationships as we go.
You’ll need two or more participants for
Ocean, as well as some paper, a few pencils
and nine dice (six-sided) for each player.
Goals: Ocean has a beginning and an end.
To reach this end our characters will need to
complete two goals: solve the mysteries and
escape alive. These goals are the core of the
story that we’ll create. They’re what drive our
characters forward and force them to take
risks. We’ve finished our story and won the
game once these two goals are met.
Solve the Mysteries: Ocean has three central
mysteries: Who are the survivors? What is the
Station? What are the monsters? These
mysteries are purposely vague and spawn lots
of other questions. It will be up to us to define
the truth of each mystery. We’ll get to that in
a bit.
Escape the Station: At least one of the
survivors needs to escape to safety alive. We’ll
get to exactly what counts as safety in a bit
as well.
The three mysteries in detail: Since the
mysteries are central to the game, let’s take
a close look at each of them.
Who are the survivors? You can’t remember
who you are. You’ve woken up in a strange
place surrounded by strange people, with no
memory of how you got there or what your
life was like before. You still have a sense of
self, a feeling that you had a life and
personality of your own. You have flashes of
memory, vague recollections of people and
places that were important to you.
What is the Station? You wake up to find
yourself in a cold, dark room, connected to
other rooms by a series of sealable hatches
and corridors. You appear to be in some kind
of underwater station. Strange machines sit
in the shadows, some humming with
electricity, others dead. Their purpose is
unknown. Lights flicker in partially flooded
corridors. Was this a research station? A
medical facility? A prison? Why were you
brought here? Or did you live here all along?
What is the purpose of the Station?
What are the monsters? Almost as soon as
you wake up you begin to hear strange noises
coming from deeper in the Station. As you
begin to explore you’ll catch glimpses of
movement out of the corner of your eye.
Strange creatures lurk in the shadows and
flooded halls of the Station. What are they?
Where do they come from? Do they want to
hurt us or help us? Were they created in the
Station, or did they come from the Ocean?
Get Started: We’ll start by creating our
characters. Remember, we don’t know who
these survivors are, where they are from or
how they came to the Station. It’s all a
mystery! All we know for sure is what the
premise told us: We don’t know who we are,
where we are, or why we were brought here.
All we know is that we want to escape!
Creating a survivor is pretty easy. Just follow
the steps listed below. I like to hand out index
cards to each player so they can keep notes
and write down the information about their
1. Start with age and gender. Roll two dice.
The result of the first determines your
survivor’s gender. High is female, low is male.
The second die determines your age. The
number on the die is the first digit of your
age. A two means your survivor is in their
20’s. A six means they’re in their 60’s.
Remember, your survivor won’t remember
exactly how old they are!
2. Each survivor wears hospital pajamas and
has an ID card around their neck with a name
on it. Don’t choose a name yet! We’ll get to
3. Each player gets 9 dice. Set these in front
of you in a pile.
4. Each survivor gets 1 skill. Choose a random
skill from the skill list (which you can find a
few pages over). This skill is a link to your
survivor’s previous life, a representation of
something they were good at, or maybe a
job they held. You can keep this skill a secret
or let everyone know about it.
5. Before we go any further we’re actually
going to play a little scene. We’re going to
describe what happens as each of us wakes
up. It doesn’t matter which one of us starts.
You’ll describe to us what you see and feel
as you wake up and look around. You’ll tell
us how you react and what you do. After
you’re done, the player to your right gets to
wake up. We’ll continue this till all our
characters are awake. As the characters are
waking up and looking around they’ll be
seeing each other for the first time, giving
each other confused looks or speaking in
hushed, hesitant voices. The purpose of this
scene is to give us a first impression of who
the survivors are. We should each try to do 3
things in this scene:
a. We’ll take turns saying a little bit about
our characters, saying what they look and
sound like and describing how they react to
waking up without memories in this strange
b. We’ll describe at least one detail of our
surroundings. This will help us establish
where we are right away.
c. We’ll get to describe one detail about the
survivor belonging to the player sitting to our
right. Since that survivor is wearing a name
tag, we also get to give them a name!
6. Our survivors may not know who they are,
but they feel certain connections with each
other. The survivor to your right is someone
you feel you need to protect. The survivor to
their right is someone you instinctively don’t
7. Each character is especially interested in
solving one of the three secrets. Choose one
of the secrets (or roll a dice to determine one
at random). This will be the secret you’ll try
to solve first. Think about why it may be
important to you. We’ll talk about this more
later. Don’t tell anyone! No one will
understand why this secret compels you!
Play: Our story starts when we wake up in a
cold, dark room. It ends when we solve our
mysteries and escape to safety. Getting from
the start to the finish is the fun part. We’ll
use the three steps below to tell our story
and reach our goals.
1. We’ll explore the Station by taking turns
describing locations and scenes.
2. We’ll explore until we encounter an
3. We’ll risk dice to overcome obstacles.
Describing locations and scenes: We move
through our story by exploring the station,
taking turns describing the new rooms we
discover. Description, narration and roleplaying are our tools here. Our understanding
of our situation, our surroundings and our
options rely on good, detailed description.
We should take our time and paint as vivid a
picture as we can. Descriptions will lead to
scenes of our characters exploring and
interacting with each other. We should ask
each other questions, share information and
try to help each other out. We can speak in
our characters’ voices or simply describe their
actions. We’ll keep exploring and describing
what we find until we run into an obstacle.
Encountering Obstacles: An obstacle is
anything that keeps us from reaching our
goals. Obstacles block our progress and force
us to either turn back, find a different way to
proceed, or risk dice to overcome them. An
obstacle can come in any form, and can
include physical obstructions like a flooded
passageway or sealed door, personal
obstacles like fear, exhaustion, or injury, or
obstacles presented by another person,
creature or animal.
Obstacles can be introduced by any player at
any time, although it’s best if we deal with
just one obstacle at a time. We’ll introduce
obstacles as we explore the station as part
of our descriptions. Obstacles are always
about choice. When confronted with an
obstacle, we need to be able to choose
whether we want to risk dice to overcome it,
or turn back and look for another path. We
should never use obstacles to force each
other into taking specific actions. Instead,
we’ll present obstacles that challenge each
other to make difficult and interesting
Risking dice: We can overcome obstacles by
risking dice. Risking dice is dangerous, but
it’s also the only way to reach our goals. Take
a risk by telling us what you’ll do to overcome
the obstacle.
Before you roll your risk dice, the player you
don’t trust will decide what’s at stake if you
fail. Once you know what you’re risking, you
can go ahead and roll your dice.
You can roll up to 3 dice to win a risk. You’ll
need to roll at least one five or six to win the
risk. We’ll talk about how we narrate the
outcome of the risk in just a minute.
If you win a risk, all dice that came up five or
six are given to the survivor you need to
protect. These are called bonus Dice. You’ll
keep any dice that came up 1, 2, 3 or 4.
If you lose a risk, if none of your dice come
up five or six, you’ll give one of your dice to
the survivor you don’t trust. This is also a
bonus die. You’ll discard the rest of the dice
you risked.
Describing success and failure: Risks are
never safe. Because you’re risking yourself
to reach your goal, even a success will come
at the cost of scrapes, bruises, exhaustion
or worse. Failure guarantees that you’ll be
mangled, mutilated or otherwise injured.
Don’t take a risk unless you’re ready to get
If you win the risk, you get to describe what
happens. Tell us how you overcame the
obstacle, and what happens because of your
actions. Because winning a risk involves
losing some dice, tell us how you hurt
yourself while overcoming the obstacle.
If you lost the risk, you don’t get to describe
the result alone. The character you don’t trust
got to decide what was at stake if you failed
and you’ll both work together to describe the
harm that comes to you as a result of the
risk. Whether you win or lose a risk, you
should use your description to further our
story and push us closer to our goals.
Hurt and Dying: Our dice represent how safe
and healthy our characters are. When we risk
dice what we’re risking is ourselves. We’re
putting ourselves on the line to take horrible
wounds, to suffer from sickness and
exhaustion, to even die, so we can get past
an obstacle and get closer to our goals. Once
we lose dice we’ll never get them back!
When we lose dice in a risk we’ll use this chart
to determine how hurt we are.
9 Dice = unhurt
6 Dice = hurt, exhausted or terrified
3 Dice = very badly hurt, near the limits
of endurance
0 Dice = dead
When one of us dies our bonus dice and items
are divided between the surviving characters.
It’s up to us to work out how the dice and
items are divided.
You can still participate in the game after your
survivor dies. You’ll still need to help describe
scenes and create obstacles. You’ll still need
to decide what’s at stake when the survivor
that doesn’t trust you takes a risk. If you gain
bonus dice from another survivor’s risk, you
can either pass them all on to the survivor to
your right, or buy an item and narrate how
one of the survivors finds it.
Taking risks against other survivors:
Sometimes you may want to take a risk to try
to hurt or kill another survivor. If you win a
risk with the intent to hurt another survivor,
you can reduce their dice down to the next
level. So you could knock a survivor from
unhurt to hurt, or from hurt to very badly
hurt. If your intent is to kill another survivor
then they will be reduced to 0 dice if your
risk succeeds.
Solving the mysteries: Our story has three
central mysteries. Who are we? What is the
station? What are the monsters? We’ll need
to solve all three of these mysteries to win
the game. Each of these mysteries is
purposely vague, and you won’t find any
definitive answers or truths in this book. It
will be up to us to create the truth behind
these mysteries. As we tell our story we’ll
gather clues, and each clue will give us a
chance to narrate a larger part of one of the
We solve mysteries buy buying clues: Clues
are bought with bonus dice. You can buy a
clue at any time as long as you have enough
bonus dice. What this means is that your
character has discovered something, or
remembered something, that sheds light on
one of the mysteries. Buying a clue lets you
describe part of the truth behind one of those
mysteries. You get to decide what’s really
going on. Are the strange creatures that hide
in the submerged sections of the Station
really aliens? Is the Station really a time
capsule meant to preserve the last surviving
humans? Are you and the other survivors
actually imprisoned spies who have had their
memories erased? While buying a single clue
doesn’t allow you to determine the entire
truth behind a mystery, it does let you lay
the groundwork for that mystery and
establish a single truth that must be
recognized by the other players.
It takes three clues to solve a mystery. The
player who buys the mystery’s third clue gets
to wrap up the mystery and establish its final
Clues always reveal something about one of
the survivors. Our survivors are connected
to the mysteries, and each clue will shed light
on that relationship. When you buy a clue
you’ll decide if it sheds light on the survivor
you need to protect or the survivor you don’t
trust. You get to describe what the clue is
and what it reveals about that survivor. Use
your clue to connect the survivor to the
mystery and introduce new ideas into the
Remember, each of us is interested in solving
a specific mystery. When you buy a clue, you
have to spend it on that mystery. Once that
mystery has been solved, you can spend your
clues to solve other mysteries.
If you don’t have enough bonus dice to buy
a clue, you can ask other players to donate
bonus dice. You can get up to two extra
bonus dice in this way. The players that
donate the dice get to contribute to the
description of the clue.
As we play and create our story we’ll come
across all kinds of discoveries that will let us
speculate on the truth behind the three
mysteries. It’s important to remember that
only the clues that we buy with bonus dice
are established truths. Everything else is
speculation, and may or may not be true.
By buying clues and narrating their
importance you are telling the rest of us what
story elements you are interested in and how
you want our game to proceed. Remember
Escaping the station: In order to win the
game at least one of the survivors must
survive and escape to safety. What exactly
qualifies as safety will depend on the story
we’ve told, although it will almost always
involve escaping the station. In some stories,
safety will be finding an abandoned
submarine and sailing toward land. In others,
it may involve being rescued by the navy,
finding our way home, or making contact with
aliens. If the survivors reach a point where
they are no longer in real danger, where they
can rest, treat their wounds, or communicate
with other people that don’t want to kill them,
then they’ve probably found safety.
Remember, only one of us has to survive to
win the game!
While you don’t have to wait till after you’ve
solved the mysteries to find safety, you won’t
be able to earn any more bonus dice after
you’ve escaped. So remember, it’s a bad idea
to escape until you’ve already solved all the
mysteries or have enough bonus dice to buy
the clues you need to solve them.
Bonus Dice: You gain bonus dice when other
survivors take risks. You may also get some
bonus dice if another survivor dies. These
are the only ways to get bonus dice!
We keep our bonus dice separate from the
nine dice that we get at the start of the game.
They’re different kinds of dice that do
different things. Bonus dice never count
toward the number of dice you have for
determining how hurt you are. There are
three things you‘ll use bonus dice for:
1. Buy clues. Each clue costs three bonus dice.
2. You can always add a single bonus die to a
risk roll. If this die comes up a five or six
then it counts as a success and you’ll give it
to the character you want to protect. If not,
just discard it.
3. Buy items. Each item costs one die. Discard
your die and draw a random item from the
item list. Your discovery of the item should
be narrated into a scene as soon as possible.
Items: The station is full of discarded items
for us to find. While we may pick up all kinds
of stuff as we explore, items that have
mechanical benefits like those described
below can only be bought with bonus dice.
Items are always selected randomly, and
usually don’t last long. After you use an item,
roll a die. On a five or six you’ll keep the
item, otherwise it’s used up.
Aspirin: Gain one bonus die
after your next risk.
Flashlight: Roll an extra die
in risks involving being in
complete darkness.
Pistol: Roll two extra dice in
risks against monsters or
other characters. Gain 1
bonus die by giving this item
to the survivor you need to
Keys: Roll an extra die in risks
involving locks.
Knife: Roll one extra die against
monsters or survivors. You only need
to roll a three or better keep this
Energy Drink: Re-roll your next Risk.
Old Journal: Gain a Clue.
Shotgun: Get one automatic success
in risks against monsters or
survivors. Gain two bonus die by
giving this item to the character you
need to protect.
Cigarettes: Roll one extra die in any
risk except against monsters or
Manual: Gain a new skill.
Bullet Proof Vest: When you lose a
risk keep one bonus die instead of
giving it to the survivor you don’t
trust. If a survivor tries to kill or hurt
you, you’ll only lose one die.
Skills: Each survivor starts with a skill. Skills
are half-remembered, left over bits of our
lives that we can use to explore the station
and survive. We’ll draw a random skill at the
beginning of the game. Skills let us roll extra
dice in certain risks.
Argue: Roll an extra die in risks against
Climb: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
Computers: Roll an extra die in risks that
involve computers.
Sabotage: Roll an extra die in risks to break
or ruin machines, weapons, locks or other
Fight: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
First Aid: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
administering medical aid.
Hide: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
Hold Breath: Roll an extra die in risks that
involve being underwater.
Jump: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
Mechanic: Roll an extra die in risks that
involve machines.
Pilot: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
Run: Roll an extra die in risks that involve
getting away.
Strength: Roll an extra die in risks that
involve moving or lifting things.
Continuing the story: Our story doesn’t have
to end after we solve our mysteries and
escape to safety. Maybe the safety we’ve
found is only temporary? Maybe we’ll escape
the Station to find ourselves surrounded by
new mysteries and dangers! If we decide we
want to continue our game we’ll need to
establish two or three new mysteries, as well
as a new setting. By this point we’ve solved
the original three mysteries, but there’s still
a good chance that we have a lot of
unanswered questions!
As we start our new story the survivors from
our last story can each select a new skill for
free! Since they’ve had time to heal and rest
they can also spend any left over bonus dice
to buy back normal dice! This is the only time
they can do this!
Players without characters can create new
survivors. They probably won’t be amnesiac
escapees from an underwater station, but
otherwise the process for creating new
survivors is the same as before.
The User Manual contains advice,
suggestions and ideas for staging Ocean. You
can take this advice or ignore it. There’s no
right or wrong way to approach Ocean. My
hope is that this section will provide some
insight into my own approach to using the
Ocean engine. This is the stuff that I think
will lead to a really solid and fun story telling
and role-playing experience.
I’ve arranged these thoughts as loose
paragraphs, in no particular order. What
you’ll read here is pretty much what you’d
get from me if we sat down and had a
conversation about how to use Ocean. I
suggest reading through it all and marking
the parts that you think will be useful. Ignore
anything that sounds like it might not be fun!
Attitude and taking an open approach to
play: Ocean is the kind of thing that only
works if you actually want it to. If the premise
of Ocean doesn’t appeal to you, if you aren’t
interested in the story of amnesiac survivors
trying to solve the mystery of what happened
to them and escape with their lives, then you
really shouldn’t participate. If that sounds a
little harsh, consider that if we’re going to
tell the best story we can and create the best
experience possible we need to be totally
enthusiastic about what we’re doing. If we
want Ocean to work, if we want to explore
our characters and these mysteries, if we
want to tell this story, then we need to be
willing to approach these ideas with a
willingness to invest ourselves. If we can’t
do that, our story will likely run into some
Thankfully, investing ourselves isn’t as hard
as it sounds. The important thing to
remember is that we’ll get out of this
experience what we put into it.
Tone: It’s important to talk about the tone
of the story before you get started. I think of
Ocean as a survival/mystery story, and the
approach I take focuses on creepy
environments and slow building tension. You
may want to play Ocean as straight out
horror, full of gore and nastiness. Someone
else might want an explosive action story, or
a subdued drama. Other participants might
want to add in some comedy or romance
elements. Talk about what you want to get
out of the story and make sure everybody is
on the same page before you start playing. If
you find that what you want conflicts with
what someone else wants, you’ll need to
reach a compromise. That’s important. Don’t
agree to disagree, and then try to force the
story in the direction you want it to go.
Instead, consider why the other person wants
to take a different approach then you. Ask
yourself if taking their approach will still allow
you to enjoy the story. If the answer is yes,
then that’s the path you need to take.
Compromise is fun!
I really, really think that talking about tone
and setting expectations for what kind of
story you want to tell is the best way to ensure
a good storytelling experience. Don’t skip
this part!
Getting from the beginning to the end: The
rules in the Operations Manual provide a map
for getting from the first scene of the story
where our characters wake up to the end
where they make their escape. Because we
all have different ways we tell stories and play
games, we’ll naturally have different
approaches to using these rules and following
this map. Here’s how I do it.
Break the events of your game into different
scenes. Set a scene by describing where the
characters are and what they see. You can
do this by yourself or with the help of other
players. Once the location of your scene is
set in everyone’s mind, explore the scene and
see what’s there. Open doors. Walk down
halls. Touch and see as much of the scene as
you can, and take turns describing for each
other what you see and find. Description is
important! Ocean is all about describing
things. The more you describe, the more real
and interesting your story will be.
Present an obstacle. Once the scene is
established, present an obstacle that keeps
the characters from their goals. A door that
won’t open. A password protected computer.
A monster blocking the only door to the
submarine bay. Make sure the obstacle blocks
something that the characters actually want.
Offer them a choice. They can take a risk and
get closer to their goals, or they can look for
another way to move forward. Remember, any
of us can present obstacles, but it’s important
that we take turns. If someone else is already
describing an obstacle give them their space
without interrupting. If you’ve just described
an obstacle, let someone else have a turn.
It’s okay to ask everyone if you can take a
turn. In fact, it’s better to ask then to just
jump in!
Scene -> Descriptions -> Obstacles -> Risks
Always move toward your goals. Your
character wants to solve the mysteries and
escape the station. Remember that! If you’re
not sure what to do, look for ways to move
closer to your goals. It’s okay to use your
own narration and descriptions to push
yourself closer to your goals.
The flip side of that is you need to be
providing the other players with ways to do
the same thing. Create scenes and obstacles,
or add details to scenes and obstacles created
by other players, that provide the characters
opportunities to reach their goals. Again, if
you’re not sure what to do, provide another
player with descriptions and obstacles that
push them toward their goals!
Engaging characters: We want to solve the
mysteries. We want to escape. These are our
characters’ goals. When we describe scenes
and create obstacles we should keep these
goals in mind. Does the obstacle keep the
characters from reaching their goals? Does
the scene lead the characters closer to their
goals? Description is our tool for creating
story and engaging characters. Our
opportunities for description are pretty
Creating scenes is all about description. This
is where we can add the most detail into our
story. Use your scene descriptions to
introduce interesting elements that we can
explore to reach our goals.
Obstacles are all about pushing characters
toward their goals. If an obstacle is overcome
the characters will be closer to their goals.
Use your descriptions of obstacles to
encourage the characters to take risks.
Use your descriptions of risks to create new
plot and push the characters closer to their
goal. Don’t just describe the success or
failure of the risk, tell us what interesting
things happen because of it. Use the
description of the risk to set up the next
scene or obstacle.
You can grab a character’s interest by
creating story around the things that matter
to them. Each character is especially
interested in one of the three mysteries. Each
character has a character that they want to
protect, and another they don’t trust. Each
character is worried about their own survival.
They want to escape the station. They want
to live! These are your components for
creating interesting scenes and obstacles
that the other characters will want to engage
Obstacles and risks: Risks are about choice.
You should never force a character into taking
a risk. Don’t describe how a giant, tentacled
monster bursts from the floor and then
declare that the characters must fight or die.
Confronting an obstacle should be an option.
The characters need to be able to choose to
not take the risk, and instead find a different
way to reach their goals.
Characters will find obstacles where you least
expect them. When a character says they want
to do something, when they want to open a
door, swim down a passage, kill a monster
or translate a language, what they’re doing
is asking your permission. We get to decide
if what they want to overcome is actually an
obstacle. If they want to swim down a flooded
hall, does that count as an obstacle? If we
think it’s hard, if we think it’s something that
the character would struggle to do, then yes,
it’s totally an obstacle. The character needs
to risk dice to do it. If a character wants to
do something that will let them reach one of
the goals, that’s a damn good time to throw
an obstacle in!
The characters need to decide how to
overcome an obstacle. If they decide to take
a risk, it’s up to them to decide what that
risk looks like. The character can certainly
try to fight the monster. Or they can take a
risk to try to escape from it, hide, outsmart
it, trick it, or just sneak by it.
Risks aren’t always personal. Sometimes a
risk affects more then just the character that
takes it. You can take a risk to sneak the
entire group past a sleeping creature, or help
another character climb up a ruined elevator
Stakes should be harsh. You’ll always decide
what’s at stake when the character that
doesn’t trust you takes a risk. Mechanically,
all they can lose is the dice that they risk.
But that’s only part of it. It’s your job to make
sure that the risk is actually a risk. You’ll
decide what’s at stake, what they could lose
if they fail the risk. A good stake will make
the character reconsider their risk. A good
stake puts more than the character’s own
health and safety in danger.
The dice economy: You need bonus dice to
win the game. Bonus dice buy clues and clues
let you solve mysteries, so the only way to
beat the game is to get a whole bunch of
bonus dice. The only way to reliably generate
bonus dice is to take risks.
The dice economy will start slow. At first no
one will have any bonus dice, and it will take
a few risks to get things doing. The more
risks we take, the more bonus dice we’ll have
available. That doesn’t mean we should take
suicidal risks just to generate more dice. But
we shouldn’t be afraid of risks either. Our
characters will have to take some chances if
they want to make it out alive.
Taking risks doesn’t actually get you any dice.
You’ll rely on the people to your left for that.
Since the characters that want to protect you
and don’t trust you will give you dice when
they take risks, you should do your best to
describe conflicts and plot that will encourage
them to take those risks. That’s your job! The
more you push them toward their goals, the
more bonus dice they’ll give you.
Pace: You may have noticed that the game
can end as soon as you collect nine bonus
dice. That’s all you need. What this means is
that once you reach a certain point you can
pretty much end the game at any time. This
doesn’t mean you should rush to an ending.
Instead, pace yourselves and let your story
build to a satisfying conclusion. If you get to
the point where there are plenty of bonus
dice to go around but you’re not ready to
end your story, don’t be afraid to buy some
items or spend some dice to supplement your
If you decide you want a shorter or longer
game you can always adjust the number of
bonus dice needed to buy clues. I wouldn’t
suggest reducing or raising the cost by more
than one die either way.
Getting hurt and dying: Overcoming an
obstacle always involves doing something
dangerous. When you take a risk, you’re
saying that you’re willing to trade your safety
for a chance to get closer to one of your
goals. Whether your character wins or loses
their risk, they still lose dice. They still get
hurt. The difference is that if they win they
get hurt AND get what they want. The risk
was worth it!
Our health and safety is measured by our
dice. We start the game with nine, and the
more we lose the worse off we are. Here’s
the chart again:
9 Dice = unhurt
6 Dice = hurt or exhausted
3 Dice = very badly hurt, near the limits of
0 Dice = dead
As long as you have seven or more dice,
you’re pretty much fine. You may be tired,
bruised and bloody, but you wouldn’t call in
sick to work. Once you get down to six dice
you’ve been hurt or exhausted. You won’t
die, but you need medical attention. You
should probably be in a hospital. At three
dice, you’ve been hurt very badly. If you don’t
get medical attention fairly soon you’ll
probably die. Maybe you took a big dose of
radiation. Maybe you lost an arm. Maybe you
have been floating in the ocean for days and
are dying from exposure. When you lose your
last die you’re dead. That’s that.
When we describe the consequences of our
actions we need to take into account how
many dice we lost and where that puts us on
the chart. If I risk a single die and am reduced
to eight, we can describe the injury from my
risk as a minor scrape, twisted ankle, or some
bruises. If I lost 3 dice, we need to describe
the injury in terms of broken bones and major
Very likely one or more of us will die. Maybe
all of us. That’s fine. It’s probably a better
story if a few of the characters don’t make it
out alive. Remember, death doesn’t end our
participation in the game. Instead, it lets us
focus on describing scenes and obstacles. If
it looks like your character might die then
go ahead and give them an awesome death.
Go out in a blaze of glory. Make a noble
sacrifice. Betray your friends and pay the
price. Make your death an interesting and
vital part of our story. That’s what we’re here
for. To tell a good story.
Authority: Ocean doesn’t have a game
master. No single player is in charge of
creating our story or deciding whose
contributions are valid and whose can be
ignored. We work together to tell our story.
Each player has the same amount of authority
and the same responsibilities. This means
that sometimes we’ll disagree. Sometimes I’ll
introduce an idea into play that you don’t
like. Sometimes you’ll insist that my character
shouldn’t be able to do something that I really
think they should do. We need to remember
that we’re trying to create a story together.
It’s better to compromise then argue. It’s
better to accept and work with each other’s
ideas then to reject them.
The other side of this is that not everyone
will use the same amount of authority. Some
players will emerge as the game’s leaders,
stepping forward to describe most of these
scenes and obstacles and reveal the truth
behind most of the mysteries. Other players
won’t want much authority at all. They’ll play
the part of their characters and be happy to
follow the leads the other players give them.
Each approach is fine, and I think most of us
will fall somewhere in between this.
Maps and index cards: I like to draw maps
as I play. I put an index card in the middle of
the table, and fill in rooms, hallways and other
features as we tell our story. I think this helps
give the Station a real presence, and it
definitely makes it easier to navigate. I try
not to be a map hog either. Everyone should
be able to add notes, sketches, and new
rooms to the map.
I also like to hand out index cards to the other
players at the beginning of the game. I always
suggest that we fold them down the middle
and set them in front of us, with our
character’s name facing out toward the rest
of the group. Like a school name sign? We
can write down our character information on
the back.
Unpacking the 3 mysteries: Let’s talk about
the possibilities surrounding each of the
mysteries. The scenario described in this
book is one that I find personally fascinating,
and I had some very specific ideas in mind
when I chose the three mysteries. In the end
it will be up to you to determine the truth
behind these mysteries, but maybe I can give
you a few ideas.
Who are the survivors? The name “survivors”
implies that the characters have survived
something. But what? Were they brought to
the Station or have they lived there all their
lives? Are they scientists, doctors, and
researchers who have fallen victim to some
kind of amnesia inducing accident? Are they
the subjects (willing or otherwise) of some
kind of memory manipulation experiment?
Are the survivors really people at all? They
could be androids or some other kind of
artificial life form, clones, aliens or malignant
AIs in a virtual reality program. If they are
people, where did they come from? Where
they kidnapped and brought to the Station
against their will? Did they come to the
Station seeking safety and refuge?
What is the Station? I’ve pictured the Station
as looking like the inside of the drilling rig
in The Abyss, or like the interior of a naval
ship. It’s clearly a manufactured place, and
it’s definitely underwater. But what is it for?
Has it been long abandoned, or was it fully
functional until just recently? Was it some
kind of underwater research station, and if
so, who were the researchers and what was
their subject? Maybe the Station wasn’t a
research center at all, but a fallout shelter of
some kind, or a prison. Maybe it’s a place
set up specifically for making contact with
the monstrous creatures that live in the
ocean? Maybe it was built to be the first
contact platform for an aquatic alien race? Is
the Station really in the ocean? Is it really
underwater at all, or are the flooding
corridors and water filled portholes a trick
to keep the survivors from trying to escape?
What are the monsters? There’s something
really scary lurking in the corridors and
airlocks of the Station. Something not human.
My initial idea for the monsters of Ocean were
strange, shadowy, tentacled creatures that
were at least somewhat human in
appearance. Of course, they could look like
and be anything you want. Are they mutated
humans, or maybe the victims of cruel
experiments? Are they the product of
alternate evolution, hidden deep in the
ocean? Are they members of a lost
underwater civilization? I like this idea quite
a bit. The real question isn’t what the
monsters are, but what do they want? Are
they mindless creatures out for blood and
flesh? Do they want to suck your human
brains out with their tentacles? Maybe they’re
intelligent, but previous contact with humans
has made them wary and hostile. Maybe
they’re aliens searching out the last humans
on the entire planet, the survivors locked in
suspended animation deep in the ocean!
Of course, the monsters don’t have to be
monsters at all. Hostile soldiers with guns,
creepy ghosts, strange hallucinations, evil
scientists and even zombies are all viable
options. Go nuts!
Using clues to solve mysteries: Each clue
is a chance to reveal a chunk of one of the
mysteries. We need 3 clues to solve a mystery.
That means each mystery is made up of three
parts. You get to describe part of the truth
behind the mystery when you buy a clue, but
there’s good chance you won’t be the one to
buy all three clues for a specific mystery. The
smart approach is to take into account the
ideas other players have already introduced
into the game and use those to create your
clue. It’s counterproductive to use your clue
to try to contradict a clue that someone else
has already introduced. Remember, we’re
creating a story together!
It’s okay to ask for help: This is my last bit
of advice. If you’re not sure what to do or
where to go, it’s okay to ask the other players
for help. If you want to buy a clue but don’t
know what to describe, ask for help. If you’re
not sure what stakes to set for a risk, or if
you’re not sure how to describe a success,
go ahead and see what everyone else thinks.
It’s okay to ask for a time out and have a
little group-think table discussion. We tell
better stories by working together.
Where did Ocean come from? There’s
something about the ocean that has always
frightened and fascinated me. When I was a
little kid we used to visit my grandparents
on the coast, and I had nightmares about
strange men crawling out of the tide,
dragging people from their bedroom
windows and taking them off to… it was never
clear where they were taken to.
Ocean was pretty heavily inspired by Yuji
Iwahara’s excellent manga King of Thorn,
James Cameron’s film The Abyss and several
different Playstation games in the survival/
horror genre.
Creating Ocean: Ocean was my attempt to
fully create a new game/story engine in a
single month. The idea was that I’d design,
write and illustrate the entire thing in 30 days.
It didn’t work. It took almost twice that long.
I had the idea for Ocean for a few months
before I actually sat down to work on it. I
worked out the text and typed it up the night
before Go Play SE Portland #19, and played it
for the first time at the event the next day. I
spent the rest of that month reworking the
text, testing the game and working on the
Why comics? It’s better to show then tell,