Wednesday, December 19, 2012

FATE Library: Starblazer Adventures

Anubian Ambassador Conniption

This is the third post in our FATE Library series, in which I am looking at the FATE RPGs that I own, have read, and have used. The first post in the series was a review of Spirit of the Century. The second was a review of Diaspora.

Today, we are taking a look at Starblazer Adventures, a massive, lavishly illustrated tome of FATE-inspired rock and roll space opera.

(You can download a free 40 page preview of the game here.)

First, my rating system:
  • Book Condition? My copy is in excellent shape. It is a huge, very solid hardcover. The binding is  intact after being roughly 3.5 years in my possession. Slight corner rubs. Best of all, it did not kill the Anubian Ambassador when it slid onto her sleeping form. However, it certainly did get her attention!
  • Actually Read? Well, any tome that has 629 pages of text is going to be read-as-needed, rather than read-through from cover-to-cover. At least in my house. I have read A LOT of the book (it has 34 chapters and 6 appendices), but I am always discovering new worlds within; there is always more of Starblazer to read and learn. I am most familiar with the sections on character generation, careers, skills, stunts, equipment and gadgets, aliens and mutants, robots and vehicles, and starship design. Practically every time I use the book, I  also consult the Basic Scaling chapter, which is only one page of text, but an essential reference for this implementation of the FATE Fractal.
  • Ever Played? I have used Starblazer Adventures to run Fading Suns, and am currently using it to playtest my forthcoming generation ships supplement for Modiphius Entertainment, which is called Project Generations. I also use Starblazer Adventures for the FATE SF posts tagged with the Label "SBA". Many of these are for a sandbox space opera setting called "the Empire".
  • Science Fiction? It was the first FATE science fiction roleplaying game. The game's subtitle is The Rock and Roll Space Opera Adventure Game. The game takes its title not from the anime "Starblazers" (although, believe me, you could use Starblazer Adventures to run adventures in "Starblazers") but from the British comics magazine Starblazer - Science Fiction Adventure in Pictures published by DC Thomson & Co., Ltd., from 1979-1991. Grant Morrison wrote for Starblazer, which is enough for me!  The interior art is most definitely 70s-SFnal; it is all from the "Starblazer" comics and is certain to hit the sweet spot for fans of art in the same vein as Chris Foss and Terran Trade Authority books. So, a game based on SF comics of the late rock and roll era, as well as a rock and roll game in the sense that it is a perfect toolkit for running fast-paced sandbox space opera inspired by Perry Rhodan, original Star Trek, Star Wars, either Battlestar Galactica series, Babylon 5, or even Firefly. Hell. Planet of the Apes. Kamandi. Forbidden Planet. Planet of Vampires. Asimov, Heinlein, Frank Herbert's Dune - mix and match or anything of your own design. Rock and roll.
Some intellectual projects are very tightly focused on the exploration of the implications of a few key discoveries; this is what Diaspora is like. Other intellectual projects explode in every direction, exploring ever expanding chains of discoveries in multiple directions simultaneously; this is what Chris Birch and Stuart Newman's Starblazer Adventures is like. This was the first FATE game to explore the full potential of FATE for scalability at different levels. The FATE fractal they discovered can model anything from a human to a vehicle to a starship to a galactic empire to a galaxy.

That makes reviewing Starblazer Adventures a little bit like trying to review of the Bible. "In the beginning..." gets you started, but after that, there are so many different books and chapters, and numerous directions that one might explore.

But let's start at the beginning. 

Starblazer Adventures uses 1D6-1D6 as its core dice mechanic. It was the first implementation of FATE to do so. The resulting distribution for 1D6-1D6 extends one number higher and lower than the distribution for 4DF, and the amplitude of the curve isn't quite as high at and around zero. It's a bit swingier than 4DF but feels fine in play.

On to creation.

Characters in Starblazer Adventures are created in collaborative Aspect-generating phases similar to those in Spirit of the Century (SOTC). PCs have 10 Aspects. There are 32 skills, most of which are closely based on SOTC. There are a few new skills, including Starship Engineering, Starship Gunnery, Starship Pilot, and Starship Systems. However, there are also Alien/Mutant skills, and Psionic skills which expands the potential skills list by another 15. Dozens of Stunts fall under the specific "normal" skills. There are also Stunts associated with Alien/Mutant skills and Psionic skills, as well as special Stunts that are accessible for Aliens/Mutant characters based on novel uses of 8 normal skills. 

Players can create characters belonging to ten different science fictional careers ranging from Diplomat to Explorer to Pirate/Rebel to Sci-Tech. Each career also has unique Stunts that are outside the normal Skills-based Stunt menu. No one has to create PCs using the Career Types, however. You can create PCs completely without using them. Career Types just add a little more specialization and flavor Skill- and Stunt-wise, and provide a bit more directionality and inspiration for someone trying to select Aspects for their PC.

Characters have two stress tracks, one for physical Stress and one for Composure Stress. Weapons add to the shifts you do in a successful hit, while armor reduces hits and in some cases takes Consequences. 

As I mentioned before, there are rules for creating Aliens and Mutants, as well as robots, which are essentially only another variation in character type. Here is one of my creations, the Witchfinder-class Android. The book gives you a huge number of descriptions and stats for all sorts of creepy space overlords, aliens, mutants, monsters, robots, etc. from the Starblazer comics. You can use these out-of-the-box, or use them as benchmarks for creating your own aliens, robots, and creatures.

Starships have Aspects, Skills, Stunts, and Stress Tracks that are structured almost identically to those for characters. This is the FATE Fractal at work. There are 24 templates for space vehicles ranging from Scale 2 Sensor Probes and Scale 3 Fighters, all the way up to Scale 6 Fleet Carriers and Scale 7 Orbital Military Bases. There are rules for building your own space vehicles. I built the Flying Fist of Judah Heavy Fighter in about 15 minutes or so. The space combat rules give any player with a relevant starship skill a chance to do something interesting during space combat.

Additional variations on this theme of the "build X like you would a character" are found in the rules for statting up creatures, organizations (everything from space-chivalric orders to vast galactic empires), and planets. You can play out conflicts between different organizations and groups, just as you can with the Company rules in Greg Stolze's REIGN.

There is a very fun planet/system generator. Here is an example of the Prison Planet that I created using that tool. The book describes numerous worlds from the Starblazer comics.

There are rules for collaborative setting generation. They are more focused on creating distinct setting-zones in a solar system or in a larger region of space - places that the PCs can help develop bring to life by creating interesting names and Aspects for those parts of the map. These rules aren't as developed and tightly axiom-driven as Diaspora's Cluster generation system, but they point in directions that are equally interesting, especially for the creation of sandbox space opera settings.

Some of the ideas presented in the game haven't even been used elsewhere in FATE, such as the ideas of Campaign, Group, and Character Plot stress: "Essentially each one is a stress track that is affected by player character failures, specific player actions and trying to escape death. As the stress damage builds up various "plot events" happen which lead to change in the characters' lives or experiences" (p.387).

For me it's not a question of Starblazer Adventures OR Diaspora OR Bulldogs!  Each one is a unique implementation of FATE and they each fill a certain niche in SF gaming. 

Starblazer Adventures fills the niche of being FATE's space opera sandbox toolkit. It blows the niche wide-open into a swirling galactic vortex. So avoid the Space Sargasso! Watch out for THAT android! And get your blaster ready! There's more to come for Starblazer Adventures

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