Starblazer Adventures

2009. Cubicle 7 (C7). Designed by Chris Birch, Stewart Newman, David Donachie, Douglas Nicol.

Starblazer Adventures owes its name to the UK comic Starblazer (1979-1990), which published a great deal of routine space adventure for young adults during the 1980s (including strips written by Grant Morrison and John Smith). Despite this unpromising licence, the game is distinguished by an interesting set of mechanics influenced by the tradition of independent role playing game design. The system employs the technology of FATE (Fantastic Adventures in Tabletop Entertainment), a freely available set of generic rules created by Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue of Evil Hat Productions in 2003 based on an earlier system called FUDGE (originally an acronym for Freeform Universal Donated Gaming Engine). FATE's designers made a number of innovations in role playing game design, with the intention of emphasizing collaborative storytelling over the simulation of imaginary worlds. Most notably, they characterized individuals using freely defined "aspects" (which can represent social status or personality traits as well as physical abilities) rather than the more traditional "attributes" (which typically model such corporeal features as strength and agility), as well as making the process of character creation a shared one in which players tie their generated personas into each others' backstories and the world they inhabit. In Starblazer Adventures, these mechanics are developed further, with aspects being used to define planets, starships and entire societies.

The game's original milieu was derived from its licence. (While the stories published in the comic were not part of a true future history, many of them shared characters, locations and societal details, making it possible for the designers to reconstruct a loose space opera background which could be used for the game.) Another possible setting was later released as Mindjammer: Starblazer Adventures in the Second Age of Space (2010 C7) designed by Sarah Newton. This work draws heavily on both Iain M Banks' Culture and Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind; the conception is, nonetheless, original. In the far future, a highly developed but declining civilization which believes itself to be at the end of history controls Earth and a few nearby solar systems. Salvation from terminal decadence comes with the unlooked-for discovery of a faster than light drive, which allows this ancient culture to recontact the multiplicity of human civilizations which occupy a galaxy settled long ago by generation starships, vessels with crews in suspended animation, and other sublight craft. Many of these cultures seem deviant and barbaric to the sophisticates of Old Earth, with their cosmopolitan mix of genetically engineered humans, uplifted animals, androids and hyperintelligent software. In the heartworlds of Earth's Commonality, democracy and religion are illegal and censorship is mandatory; power is exercised by a loose association of self-perpetuating oligarchies unified by a generally humane approach to governance. This post-democratic civilization perceives the worlds of the wider galaxy as dangerous sources of potential cultural contamination which must be manipulated into union with the Commonality as swiftly as possible; memetic warfare is widespread, and is modelled by a detailed set of game mechanics.

Meanwhile, the milieu's titular starships weave the worlds of the Commonality into a single web, constantly updating every solar system's local copy of a civilization-wide virtual reality known as the Mindscape. This space functions as a kind of shared subconscious which holds the memories of the dead as well as skills and information which can be downloaded by the living. It also serves as the basis for abilities resembling psionics, here delivered by implanted communications technologies which enable a kind of telepathy as well as forms of teleoperation and remote viewing. This conceit is indicative; various details of the setting are formed from (not always happy) marriages between elements drawn from modern hard sf and ones derived from an older tradition of space opera. Thus blasters and disintegrators – justified as hand-held particle accelerators and space-time distorters – coexist with radically altered human subspecies created to survive in the many harsh planetary environments colonized by Earth's early starships. Ultimately, Mindjammer's universe is an ingenious and novel one, despite its occasional awkwardnesses of tone.

Related works: Legends of Anglerre (2010 C7) designed by Chris Birch, Sarah Newton is a sword and sorcery role playing game which uses the same core mechanics as Starblazer Adventures, and whose titular setting is taken from fantasy stories published in Starblazer. Mindjammer (2011), by Sarah Newton, is a novel set in the author's own eponymous milieu. This work could be said to employ the language of generic adventure fiction in the service of a rather more sophisticated vision; there is much discussion of uploading and the nature of human identity.

web links

  • Starblazer Adventures:
  • Mindjammer:

All Contents Pseudonymz Ltd unless otherwise noted.