This article originally appeared in Issue #010 of the downloadable PDF magazine.
Adventures. Chris Birch and Stuart Newman
Cubicle 7 Entertainment Ltd. http://www.cubicle-7.com
632pp, hardcover, PDF
US$29.99 (at time of publication of this review)
AUTHOR’S DISCLAIMER: I received a complementary copy of Starblazer Adventures from the publisher after purchasing the PDF from Drivethroughrpg in exchange for this review because, I simply could not read a 632-page PDF and needed to have something to hold in my hands.
EDITOR’S NOTE: The decision to run this review rests entirely with the Editor, who takes the position that, as with Hyperlite or the 100 Plot Seeds articles, the product being discussed may be of interest to Traveller players as a potential source of ideas to mine. Publication of the review does not imply endorsement or futher support of the product by Freelance Traveller, and all reviews are solely the opinions of the authors.
I know, I can hear some of criticism/flamethrowers revving up, “&^#$*#$!! What in the blazes is ‘kafka’ doing reviewing a competitor to Traveller in a Traveller fanzine????”
In my defence, there are a couple points to consider. Traveller still remains a game system in whatever incarnations remains the closest to my heart–therefore, I come here to praise portions of Starblazer and not to bury Traveller. Secondly, the FATE system is an up-and-coming mechanic that Traveller already has a fan adaptation (called: Spirit of the Far Future) floating out there on the web; while this amateur effort should gain praise for its adaptation of FATE, it is still a fan effort not a professional production like Starblazer Adventures, lacking the playtesting and vigorous editing that accompanies professional productions. Lastly, I do believe that any game system that cannot graft on elements from other games or at least get inspired is a stagnant and decadent system not worthy to be played…and that Traveller is hardly that.
Starblazer Adventures, “the Rock and Roll Space Opera Adventure Game”, is a licensed game product produced by Cubicle 7 based on a line of a little known British comic books series published by DC Thomson in the 1980s, lasting a mere 281 issues (although, it has been a while since I read comics in fact not since the 1980s, I would say 281 issues is fair enough as Marvel Star Wars lasted only 107 issues)1. It featured several British comics talents such as John Ridgway and Grant Morrison. The art, therefore, is top notch, and very reminiscent of the work of the Keiths (you sometimes wish they could edit out the cartoon balloons and other times you wish you could read the rest of the story). However, if you do not like the Keiths, as even sometimes I don’t (being more a Blair Reynolds fan myself) – then you might find the same “constipated expressions” in panel after panel tiresome.
Starblazer Adventures, like Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, The Dresden Files, and an increasing number of new school RPGs, is based on the FATE system. Whereas Spirit of the Century is indisputably early 20th-century Pulp, Starblazer Adventures is based on the genre of Space Opera, which this book defines as “science fiction without all the detail that bogs you down... Everything from Star Wars to old school Star Trek is space opera…” Therefore, this should be a warning for those who— like myself—tend to play Traveller toward the harder edge of Science Fiction. However, as it has been endlessly debated, Traveller, especially in its Mongoose mode, is very much a Space Opera.
For like many of the underlying principals of Traveller, the foundations of Space Opera are unreservedly based on the cultural premises of original science fiction in the first half of the 20th Century, in that it sets up the heroes are defending a society very much like Western (white, European, American) civilization, exploring alien (non-white) territories and frequently clashing with the natives as well as trading baubles for huge tracts of land containing vital resources. Notwithstanding there is also an unspoken assumption of the premises of a more progressive ideal that would take eventually the place of imperialism—a belief in equality, science and progress, an emphasis on reason and a belief in negotiation before violence.
The Foreword starts off with a comic panel of a giant starship rising off into space, under this caption: “Steve Martin and the Last Warrior of Rhea blasted out into space to fight for justice and peace far out on the Galactic Rim.” And, I again, I cannot speak for others but I like when Traveller (as in MgT’s Prison Planet or GDW’s Hard Times) gives us purple pose to set the mood.
Chapter One: Introduction is the standard text in almost all RPGs over introductory concepts such as “What is Starblazer?” “What is FATE?” and “What is a Roleplaying Game or Adventure Game?” This was neither the best nor the worst example of said introductions. The author defines the RPG less as actual roleplaying (acting) than an Adventure Game or “mutual story telling experience” about the player characters might raise alarm bells in the purist roll playing camp. In further appraising the basic concept of the roleplaying game, the author is very engaging: “What’s most important is the story, always, forever and amen... The reason you’re all sitting around playing this game is to have fun, not to score, not to win, not to gloat... I want you to have so much fun playing Starblazer Adventures that all your friends wonder why you talk about it with such a gleam in your eye, why you’re always laughing about what happened, and eventually want to join in!”
Chapter Two, logically titled “How Do I Play This?” gives this game’s version of the FATE system. Consistent with the “story emphasis” Starblazer Adventures calls the Referee as the “Story Teller” and NPCs as “Extras”, important NPCs are “Named Characters”, bad guys may have “Minion” extras while the PCs have named “Companion” characters who are still described with simpler stat blocks than PCs. The game goes straight into presenting an example character on page 20 with a fairly detailed stat sheet. It then goes over basic rules, similar to but not quite identical to standard FATE systems such as in Spirit of the Century. In which, one rolls one d6. Then you take a different color d6 and subtract its roll from the first roll. This yields a range of +5 to -5. (Ed.: This produces the same curve as a roll in Traveller of 2D-7) To this you add your character’s relevant stat, which is graded on an “adjective ladder” where different grades of ability are given game ratings, ranging from -3 (Abysmal) to 0 (Mediocre) to +8 (Legendary). This roll with stat gives a result that is usually compared to a difficulty which is itself based on the ladder—so if the difficulty for your task is Fair (+2) and you have an Average (+1) ability for the task, you succeed as long as your roll result is at least +1. Each point of success over the difficulty is a shift, and shifts can be used to further enhance the result of the task (called shots, stopping the warp core breach in 5 minutes instead of 10, etc.).
Each player has a certain number of Fate Points that can be used in various ways: as a generic ‘invocation’ to give +1 to a die roll, to use a “Stunt” based on one of their skill trees, or to invoke Aspects. Aspects are, well, aspects of a character, an environment, or pretty much anything that could be given an aspect. PCs get these in character creation to refer to certain character hooks (like ‘Girl in Every Starport’). They might also guess the Aspects of an environment or NPC from Story Teller/Referee description. The thing about Aspects (and why they’re so cool in storytelling terms) is that they have to be defined as double-edged swords (the ‘girl in every starport’ being a great example) such that the player can spend a FATE Point (FP) to invoke his Aspect to add to the roll OR re-roll the task, BUT he can also have the Aspect ‘tagged’—that is, invoked by another character or the Story Teller/Referee. In such cases the tag forces a compel on the PC such that the hero has to act under its strictures (like getting captured because you’re a ‘Clumsy Ass’). For going along with the drama, the PC gets a FATE Point. He can always choose to avoid the compel, but that requires spending a FATE Point rather than gaining one. Characters can always tag an Aspect of an NPC if they know it or can guess it. A character can discover or create an Aspect by changing the scene or inflicting a condition on a character, in which case his first tag of the Aspect is free (and other characters can tag this new Aspect for the standard Fate Points cost). Likewise guessing a “Hidden” Aspect allows a free first tag.
Inflicting conditions on characters - either as the result of physical action or social interactions- creates stress levels on characters, and in most cases a PC can take 5 Physical or Composure (mental) stress levels before being "Taken Out" due to being killed, panicked or whatever the Story Teller decides is appropriate. To forestall losing these Stress Levels, a PC can take consequences that can be tagged as Aspects until the character is able to recover- anything from a cut eyelid to long-term shell shock.
Chapter Three, Character Creation, is actually foreshadowed in the last part of Chapter Two, which gives a quick PC generation process (come up with up to five Aspects, get 10 Fate Points minus any Stunts bought, and come up with a pyramid of 10 Skills where one is Great, two are Good, three are Fair and four are Average).
Proper character creation, is a group activity. It is made up of up to five phases, depending on how experienced the Story Teller needs the PCs to be (a ‘Gritty’ game has three phases of character creation, ‘Standard’ is four and ‘Heroic’ is five). The first phase, Training, is when the PC first starts developing skills. The player writes a brief character history for the events of this phase and comes up with two Aspects that he would have picked up at the time.
Phase Two, Starblazer Legend, is the character’s first “legend”, equivalent to his first appearance as a character in the Starblazer comic book. This requires coming up with an appropriate and cool Space Opera title for the story, but the story doesn’t need to be described beyond summary level. Phases Three and Four, “Guest Star”, are where the group interaction comes in. The Story Teller takes each character’s legend title, shuffles and hands titles to the group so that each has another character’s legend. The player who made the legend in Phase Two and the player who got dealt that title have to decide how the second player appears in the first player’s legend. At each step you write down two new Aspects that tie into the events of the story. Step Five is basically the same thing, or it might be a group adventure involving all the characters. This has great advantage of encouraging group cohesion but the drawback that it is difficult to do as a solo activity and unless you already have a gaming group it becomes hard to just do a one-shot without becoming bogged down in Chargen but that can be true of any RPG.
Skills are bought with points, with a Gritty game yielding 15 points, Standard 20 and Heroic 35. They cost according to their bonus (so Average +1 is one point and Superb +5 is five), and still have to be arranged in a pyramid, such that you must have at least one more skill than the level above (so you can’t have a Superb skill until you have at least two Great, three Good, four Fair and five Average- which incidentally requires the full 35 points for Heroic level). Any skill not actually bought defaults to Mediocre (+0). Characters also get three, four or five Stunts depending on starting level. Starting equipment includes free access to any equipment on the list of Mediocre or lower cost. Getting something better requires rolling against the item’s cost level, against the Resources skill. Thus, if you want such gear, get the Resources skill with your skill points. The skill list appears on page 35. The equipment list is in Chapter 5.
Chapter Four, Careers & Character Types, goes over optional career types that can be used in character generation to bring to life a PC’s experience, and also give specialized Stunts that define the character’s abilities. These examples also give a little detail into how Stunts actually work.
For instance, the Explorer path starts with the Stunt ‘Maps’ (has
access to alien territory maps). He can also get the Scout Corps Gear
Stunt (+1 to Resources checks once per game). Maps is a prerequisite for
‘Interesting Location’ (where the character knows the location of an
interesting place, which is a guaranteed story seed). Scout Corps Gear
and Interesting Location (and thus, Maps) are prerequisites for Scout
Ship (the character has his own little one-person ship).
Chapter Five, Equipment & Gadgets, provides the equipment catalogue. Again, requisitioning equipment requires a Resources check. And given that most goods are a “Good” price or higher, you again want Resources to be one of your statted abilities. Especially if you want weapons. For a major purchase (namely a starship) there is the option to set up credit payments. Starships also have maintenance costs, which add to the credit payments and mean that major ships are usually outside the resources of a single character or PC group. There are also stats for various combat and non-combat items, and a long shopping list of items from the original Starblazer comics that are left as options for the Story Teller to develop or allow or not.
This chapter also contains the rules for engineering/gadgeteering, which requires the “Weird Science” stunt for really special modifications, with even more strange results requiring Weird Science as a prerequisite for “Mad Science”.
Chapter Six, Aspects, goes over how Aspects are chosen and used. The
Aspects system is the FATE system’s main strength. Whereas other games
would require you to define the details of your character abilities in
rules terms, FATE games just have you pick appropriate character hooks
and use the Aspects rules to invoke the details of them, either for or
Chapter Seven, Skills, likewise goes over how Skills work, giving a master list of skills on page 98. As with Resources, some of these encompass what other games would define as traits, characteristics, or advantages. Mechanically, while an Aspect can be invoked to modify a skill roll, the character’s skill rating is his base modifier for the skill before Aspects, Fate Points, or other modifiers are applied. Thus, you might have a character with an Aspect making him as strong as a “Mandroid” but unless you buy the Might skill at a decent level, you’re not going to have any more physical prowess than an average human before the Aspect is applied, and the Aspect can only get you so far.
Some skills can be used for assessment, where investigation of a situation allows the player to discover a temporary Aspect of the environment—or they can also be used to make a declaration, where a character’s Knowledge skill can allow the player to instantly create an appropriate Aspect of the environment, as with an archaeologist using his skills to declare that the civilization that built a tomb would have placed a secret compartment in a certain spot, or a criminal using Burglary skill to “case” a scene and assess a useful Aspect of it.
Chapter Eight, Stunts, lists Stunts that link to certain Skills and are essentially specializations of skills. That being the case, the book advises that the character not take a Stunt on a skill that he has not bought up to at least Average. “Put more simply, Stunts allow the usual rules about Skills to be broken – or at least bent.” Some Stunts are powerful enough to require the spending of a FATE Point, have a prerequisite Stunt (thus creating a Stunt tree) or even a prerequisite Aspect.
For instance, the Alertness skill (which is normally used to determine combat initiative, in addition to making perception rolls) has a “Reflexes” Stunt tree. Buying the “I’m On Top Of It” Alertness stunt allows the character to spend an Fate Points to go first, although the action cannot interrupt a declared action. I’m On Top Of It is prerequisite for “Ready For Anything” which effectively adds one to the character’s Alertness for determining initiative, thus breaking ties, and can be taken multiple times. Ready for Anything is prerequisite for “Cut Off”, which allows a character to stop an enemy’s defensive ‘spin’. Cut Off is prerequisite for “Run Interference” which not merely interrupts an action, it allows the character to hold an action and spend Fate Points to have a target truthfully declare his action, allowing the character to Block that target out of order, if the target attacks him.
So that leads to Chapter Nine, Fate Points. What do they do? Again, they are used to power Aspects (either invoking or tagging them) or some Stunts. You can also spend an Fate Points to create a “generic” adjustment of +1 to a roll; usually Aspects will be superior (+2), but your Aspects may not apply to the situation. You can also spend an Fate Points to “make a minor declaration” and hope the Story Teller accepts it (like ‘Dramatic Editing’ in Adventure! ). The book informs the player (and Story Teller/Referee) that the request is more likely to be accepted if it plays with one of your Aspects. Fate Points refresh between adventures, at a rate equal to ten minus the number of Stunts the character has. Otherwise they are earned by having a character’s Aspect used against him, which again is called a “compel”, as in it compels the character to some direction. And he can of course refuse the compel but that costs an Fate Points instead of earning one.
Then that leads to Chapter Ten, How to do Things. This is basically more detailed analysis of basic task resolution that was first gone over in Chapter Two, with other chapters going into even more specifics (like Starship operation). In doing things, dice are rolled only where there is “an interesting challenge with meaningful consequences”. There are three types of die rolls: simple action roll, a contest between two characters (opposed rolls) and a conflict, which is like a contest but “where resolution is not as simple as a contest”. Combat is an obvious example of a conflict. In running a conflict (which could be a combat, negotiation or what have you) the Story Teller/Referee has to frame the scene, which includes detailing any scene Aspects the characters would notice, the area of the scene (loosely defined in ‘zones’—where you can punch somebody in the same zone, throw something at another zone, and shoot something two or maybe three zones away), and establish any groups, given that character companions and minions can help their patrons in a conflict. Next, initiative is determined by Alertness score (Empathy skill in social contests). In both social and physical contests, you can attack (which in the social context means using your social skills to put the target at a disadvantage) or manoeuvre (the game, like the source, uses British spelling), essentially changing the combat conditions to set up a more advantaged attack. The manoeuvre itself is either a simple action or attack. It can be used to set up a temporary Aspect on either the target or the scene (like firing into a fuel can to create the Aspect ‘On Fire’). Fortunately pp. 224-25 have useful examples of manouevres and how they work.
Normally you can do a certain number of free actions (like shouting a warning), full defense (+2 to defenses), hold an action or block. A held action must be taken after your normal initiative but cannot interrupt someone else (except in special cases like the Stunt tree described above). A Block is usually declared in advance for oneself or another character; he rolls the skill he’s using to block as “block strength” and any attacker going on the blocked target has to do an opposed roll of his attack vs. the block strength. A supplemental action (like a simple action to draw a weapon before an attack) is a -1 to the primary action roll. There is also the factor of combining skills, which is similar to the Complementary Skills rule in HERO (a secondary skill here granting +1 to the primary roll) but there is also the concept of restrictive skills, where for instance you need to perform a certain extended task and also make Endurance rolls to avoid taking a penalty for fatigue. On that score, an attacker may try to draw out a conflict to force an opponent to use restrictive skills to keep going.
Again, an attack result plus shifts causes a certain number of physical or mental stress boxes, and usually a PC can only take 5 in a category before being “Taken Out” of the contest in whatever manner is appropriate (if the contest was a gambling bet, the loser cannot give up his mortgages to the winner if that was not a condition of the bet). A consequence can be taken to shave off a number of temporary stress boxes, the price being an Aspect that disadvantages the PC until he can recover. This is on a scale where a “Minor” consequence like Dazed would take off 2 stress and wear off in a few minutes and an “Extreme” consequence can take off a full 8 boxes but will cause a potentially permanent Aspect change like being branded a traitor or having to be rebuilt as a cyborg. The decision is tricky given that stress normally wears off in a few minutes after the consequence anyway, so the question is what the PC wants to sacrifice for the sake of the contest. Note also in this setting that advanced science and medical resources can speed healing of relevant consequences.
Earlier the chapter mentions groups. Minions are usually bad guys who take a certain level of stress (up to three depending on quality) and who gain a certain benefit on team actions (+4 for up to ten minions). Any overflow damage goes to the next minion, allowing the PCs to take out one minion “character” in true cannon-fodder fashion. When a mastermind attacks with his minions he gets their group attack benefit to his own rolls, and they also “soak” any stress applied to him. This means the minions no longer attack independently, but soaking is “more or less their job”. Companions are named characters who are usually loyal sidekicks or lieutenants whose main function in combat is to soak a number of consequence stress levels by being taken out of the conflict. Given that these characters are often taken hostage by bad guys, the game recommends also buying them as Aspects, so as to get Fate Points benefits for having them tagged.
Then the chapter gets into the concepts of overflow and spin. Again, an example of overflow is when an attack does more damage than is required to take out a minion; the game specifically allows overflow to hit another minion in the group. When this is not possible, or after doing overflow on a “name” character, the overflow basically allows the attacker to take a non-offensive supplemental action. “Spin” is a type of overflow that occurs when the character gets 3 or more shifts, which he can use as a +1/-1 factor on the next action used by anyone in the scene (explaining how the character’s followup either assists him or hurts an attacker).
Chapter Eleven is about Running the Game. Starblazer Adventures’ operating principle in requiring die rolls is that the Story Teller/Referee be able to consider the results of both success AND failure. That is, “You want to make sure that both outcomes are interesting, though interesting doesn’t need to mean good”. This means the Story Teller needs to consider the difficulty level of the roll on the adjective ladder, given that ‘shifts’ determine how well the roll was made and give additional benefits that the Story Teller has to determine. Requiring any roll at all implies some chance of failure, but the book advises keeping difficulties low, “so that the number of shifts a character generates on a roll becomes the yardstick you can use to frame how something turns out. The bottom line is that every roll should be fun, whether it succeeds or fails”. Thus setting the difficulty for a player’s assessment or declaration is likewise scaled for whether the results would be interesting, whether the assessment is correct or not. For example if the proposed declaration is amusing, proposes an interesting course of action and has interesting consequences if wrong, a Mediocre difficulty is appropriate.
This chapter also has a time chart, which is important when roll shifts would allow a character to accomplish his task in less time than usual. You can also go up the time chart to get bonuses for taking your time, up to 4 levels for +4. The chapter also has the environmental rules for fighting in Zero G, vacuum (exposed characters ‘suffer a consequence every turn they are exposed to vacuum’), diseases and radiation (‘In the world of space opera, radiation has bizarre effects unlike the real world’). There is a good deal of detail on explosives, but it basically boils down to the fact that a character who gets caught in an explosion has to find some cover or suffer critical-to-deadly injury. “Choose very carefully before allowing free and easy use of explosives in your game.”
Chapter Twelve, Character Advancement, shows how to change or advance a PC’s abilities. After every game session the Story Teller awards each PC a Skill point. Each bonus in a skill costs 1 point, so you can either buy a +1/Average skill or save to buy up an existing skill, although you are still required to maintain a “skill pyramid” where you must have at least one more skill at the lower rank, which means you have to rearrange as you buy up lower ranks. Each player may then do one of the following in addition to getting a Skill point: Replace an Aspect that’s not working out, modify an Aspect based on play (so that ‘Hounded by Space Monkeys’ becomes ‘Space Monkey King’), swap two adjacent Skills in the skill pyramid or change one Stunt. At the end of an adventure arc, the character gets to do one of the following instead of the other options: Add an Aspect, add a Stunt, or add one to his refresh rate. Remember, the character refreshes Fate Points at a rate equal to ten minus the number of Stunts he has, and he can have a maximum number of Aspects equal to his refresh rate plus Stunts—thus Heroic characters who start with five Stunts also start with ten Aspects, and once you increase either refresh rate or Stunts by one you can later get a new Aspect.
Chapter Thirteen, Basic Scaling, addresses the concept that “Size Matters!”. To address the galactic size factors of space opera, Starblazer Adventures creates the Scale mechanic which is not dissimilar from the scale idea in the d6 version of Star Wars. The Scale scale resembles the adjective ladder, starting with Tiny (1) being anything smaller than a human, and Galactic (10) being anything larger than a solar system. Generally “combat-capable” equipment and characters can attack anything within two size scales of their own, such that a Small (2) human could attack something Tiny up to Large (4). Otherwise the attacker in question has to have a special stunt, like an Enormous (6) capital ship having special targeting support allowing it to attack things on a building or character scale from orbit.
Chapter Fourteen gives us Alien Races & Mutations. Again, coming up with a “package deal” for such simply means creating the right Aspect or set of Aspects, (like ‘Veteran of Psychic Wars’). Chapter 32 gives a sample list of races. Here there are guidelines for exotic powers. These usually require taking both a Skill for the special ability (like ‘Fly’) and a Stunt that uses the Skill. Each special ability also requires a “weakness Aspect” as a drawback over and above his quota; examples of such are having no manipulative limbs or double stress damage from a certain source like cold attacks. A character may also take certain racial background Aspects like “Hated by the Centaurans”. It’s also mentioned that PCs could be mutated by radiation in the course of the game (Yay!) and gain Mutant Skills starting at Average/+1 level.
This leads to Chapter Fifteen, Star Monsters & War Machines. These are sorta like aliens. But a lot larger. A great example would be “The Doomsday Machine” from classic Star Trek or similar Ancient device gone amok. Starblazer Adventures describes these entities as Threats. Mechanical threats like automated war relics would use Starship Aspects and Stunts (see below). All Threats can take character special abilities from Chapter 14 in addition to special “Monstrous” special abilities in this chapter. These traits can become truly exotic and varied, mechanically speaking: For instance a sufficiently large monster could basically have a character sheet for each limb (much like how certain video games require you to take out each tentacle of the sea monster before taking out the main body) and have a weakness Aspect of a “Weak Spot” where the creature can be attacked directly.
Then you have the similarly epic-scale Chapter Sixteen, Star Empires & Battle Fleets, which details not only getting characters involved in organization-level scenarios (e.g. characters in the military) but possibly running organizations as characters. For such, you start with the Scale rules (where Tiny is a village or organization up to 100 people and Scale 9 is a ‘Star Empire’). An organization gets Aspects times Scale rating and Skill points equal to four times Scale (so an ‘Enormous’ continent-level nation would have six Aspects and twenty-four Skill points). There is also a factor called Scope: the ‘reach’ or sphere of influence of the organization, which is independent of standard Scale, such that a small-Scale organization of assassins could have a Scope of 6 reflecting a range across the galaxy. Aspects include the likes of “Don’t Turn Your Back On Them” and “Technopriesthood” while Skills are those appropriate to operations, like Arms (armed forces), Unity (internal discipline) and Trade (trade skills). Some organizations have special skills that cannot be used at default level and must be bought, like “Assassination”. Skill points can also be used to buy the organization’s property as Holdings, with invested points going towards special qualities like fortification or size.
Just as organizations have character-like Aspects and Skills, they also have stress levels, equal to 5 plus the relevant Skill (physical Stress being equal to 5+ Security or Arms). It’s just that the consequences of conflict are on an appropriate scale. Physical consequences would be things like losing a war or armed revolts, while Composure/social stresses could cause riots or internal coups. Likewise conflicts themselves are resolved with organization skills like Assassination or Arms (or Diplomacy). These options are also extrapolated for mass combat rules, with further options for players using their Leadership skills on an organizational level, or even helping to create conspiracies between organizations the way they help devise each other’s PCs.
Hover Cars, Robots and Mandroids is Chapter Seventeen. “What space opera game would be complete without a bunch of anti-gravity patrol cars, lumbering war machines, killer robots or android replacement parts for your heroes?” As in designing an alien character, becoming a “Mandroid” is basically a matter of picking the right Aspects. Like “Shiny body parts make me look sexy!” These can be added to an existing character (akin to a mutation or ‘radiation accident’) and each body part replaced with cyborg/Mandroid units gives a “free” Mandroid Stunt, but each extra Stunt reduces the PC’s refresh rate. If this causes the refresh rate to go to 0 the PC becomes an emotionless “Extra” (NPC). You can also use character rules to create actual Robots (although robots with a Scale over 2 are built with Starship rules). This leads to the description of Vehicles, which again work somewhat like limited characters, having speed ratings on a ladder (which is on a higher scale than character speed) and the potential for vehicle skills, skills in this case including traits like Armour and Manoeuvre.
There are no less than five chapters devoted to starships. Chapter Eighteen, Starship Creation, starts with the ship being created with the same collaborative process as a PC, with players designing their ship’s Aspects over the course of its history, which may even lead to PC Aspects, like “My Girlfriend Married a Bad Guy Because of This Damn Ship”. Page 310 lists a range of starship types, each with a Scale ranging from 3 to 7, stress levels (3 to 5 in each category), a skill pyramid, and Aspects. Chapter Nineteen, Starship Systems, Skills & Stunts, parallels the next phases of character creation. Much like regular characters, starships use Skills to simulate innate traits like Manoeuvre (turn mode, etc.) and fighter bays. Some of these “skills”, like Shields or Ablative Armor, can take consequences in battle in order to avoid stress to ship systems or structure. Unlike most character Skills, if a ship does not have a Starship Skill, it does not default to Mediocre; either it has a specific system or it doesn’t. (Likewise, character skills used for ships, like Starship Piloting, are highly technical and do not default; however these skills assume a certain amount of ‘cross-training’ such that a character who has one of these skills can roll another Starship use skill with -2 to the roll.) In this context, Stunts are variations applied to ship systems (Skills). For instance, Cargo Hold is considered a Skill for this purpose, and its Stunts include Cargo Jettison Plates, Stasis Pods, etc. Chapter Twenty, Starship Aspects, is self-explanatory. Examples include “Cantankerous Old Git” and “Who in God’s Name Painted it Pink?”. Chapter Twenty-One, How To Do Things With Starships, of course parallels Chapter Ten. Ships require crews (usually Extras) or they take a penalty of -1 for “autopilot” actions. Actions take place in zones, but these zones can have a potentially intergalactic scale. Examples are given with little hand-drawn maps. In conflict resolution for space battles, the normal sequence starts with framing the scene, as usual, but also requires a detection phase before initiative is determined (any ships still undetected by this point automatically win initiative if they take action on the first exchange). Actions during an exchange include special options like boarding parties, damage control, etc. Electronic warfare (EWS) attacks can be used against ship systems rather than structure (akin to using a social skill to attack another character’s Composure). Ranged attacks use a ship’s weapon as an opposed roll against the defender’s Starship Piloting or manoeuvering. Damage is usually taken to a ship’s stress but will be absorbed by defensive Skills as mentioned above. A PC also has the option of spending a FATE Point to take a consequence for the ship, reflecting some shipboard event like an explosion that injures the character. Losing all Ship System stress renders the vessel an inoperative hulk. Losing all Structure Stress means the ship actually breaks up or explodes. There are of course rules for disengaging, and evacuating a doomed ship. Or if the ship survives engagement, there are rules for repairs. Thankfully, there is an extended example for how ship combat (a PC ship against pirates) actually works. Finally, Starship Templates, Chapter Twenty-Two, gives detailed examples of starcraft of various sizes and purposes.
Chapter Twenty-Three, Collaborative Campaign Creation, is a natural extension of the FATE games’ concept of collaborative character building. It includes both the idea of players “brainstorming” on a sheet of paper to create new elements on a campaign map (thus showing what setting elements the players want to see) and creating a campaign area like characters, where the galaxy or a particular star empire can be given its own Aspects under the phased process like PCs.
Chapter Twenty-Four is Plot Stress, as in plot actions that affect the campaign, group or certain characters. For example, a game based on “Spacestation Theta 9” has a set of stress levels, and when each layer of stress is exhausted, it creates a level of consequence (Minor consequence being the shield generators go out, Extreme consequence being that pirates take advantage, board the station, and set its reactor to explode). Stress boxes are taken out for player actions like tagging setting Aspects, investigating the saboteur on the station, etc. The players are not actually aware of these stress levels; they serve as a guide to the Story Teller/Referee for how to run the plot. The book says that the simplest way to design such a chart is to add up all the encounters the Story Teller/Referee has planned for the campaign and equate that to campaign stress, so that if there are going to be seven pivotal encounters, that's 7 boxes on the plot stress track.
Chapter Twenty-Five, Plot Generator & the Adventure Funnel, starts with a series of tables for plot elements, not dissimilar to the random plot generators used in some 5th Edition HERO sourcebooks, but considerably more extensive, including NPC types, locations, “Space Hazzards” and escaping asteroid fields. The Adventure Funnel (credited to Dr. Rotwang!) is another brainstorming tool, where you write down the adventure goal and then think of ways to complicate it. The example is where the goal is to deliver a rock band’s album to a buyer on a distant planet, and the complications include a government coup that banned rock music, and the little fact that the copies turn out to be counterfeits.
Chapter Twenty-Six is the Planet Generator. Self-explanatory.
Chapter Twenty-Seven, Twisted Tips, is simply the Story Teller advice chapter. One interesting example is, “Don’t read the rule book during a session. I’m serious. ... Remember this is an adventure game, not a maths lesson”. As in SotC, there is a basic plot formula given and explained, including elements like the Certain Doom, surprise Twist (your kid brother is the villain) or Breakneck Escape. As in some TV series, the formula is a base to start with and can be moved away from once you’ve become familiar with things.
Chapter Twenty-Eight, Starblazer Settings, actually goes over the comic series setting used by the game system, which is not terribly consistent, but the stories are supposed to take place over a vast period of galactic time, such that several eras and forms of government come and go. The book breaks the period down into three eras, The Trailblazer Era of Earth’s first explorations, the Empire Era of Human-led government clashing with aliens, and the Cosmopolitan Era, or “Who Elected the Guy With Two Heads?”, where humans are just one race in the main galactic civilization.
Chapter Twenty-Nine, Starblazer Worlds, is basically a “galactic gazetter”. Planets named in the comics are described along with the issue(s) where they appeared.
Chapter Thirty, Starblazer Legends, gives summaries of plots from the Starblazer comics for use as campaign ideas, such as “Deathwheel”, taken from a Starblazer issue involving a sort of Cold War infiltration mission to investigate the advanced starfighter design of an enemy empire.
Chapter Thirty-One, Starblazer Heroes, gives basic histories (no stats) on actual characters from the Starblazer comics (including a Space Marine commander named Steven Martin).
Chapter Thirty-Two, Alien Races, gives templates for alien races, including major examples from the comics. This includes suggested Aspects and examples of how they work. For instance, the Laama are a race that actually exist in a faster-than-light dimension, accessing our universe through advanced technology. Their “Super Tech” Aspect can be invoked to figure out any other technology, while it can be compelled to make the character reject using ‘something as primitive as this’.
Chapter Thirty-Three, Monsters, Minions & Mad Scientists, gives rules for various threats, including creating traps as characters (remember, ‘In Starblazer you can treat everything as a character’) using either physical stress to disable them or investigative skills to overcome their “Secrets” (as opposed to Composure). There are also writeups for threats from the comics like Arcturan Killer Robot, the Megaloi race, the Drifter of Darga and the “Really Bad Guy” Algol the Terrible.
Chapter Thirty-Four, Adventure Seeds and Campaign Starters, goes over advice for starting a Starblazer campaign, creating starting PCs, and running a sample scenario. Then there’s a long list of various adventure ideas.
Then there are the appendices: Appendix One, Starblazer Issues, reviews the comic series as it started in 1979, giving a list of story/issue titles per year. Appendix Two is the Rules Summary, with a very useful list of references including the basic rules with “the ladder”, the time chart, and shifts rules in sidebars. Appendix Three, Useful Tables, is sort of an appendix to the last appendix, including extensive lists of the various Skills, career types, etc. Appendix Four is a copy set of Sheets for a character, a vehicle, an organization, and a much-needed sample organization sheet for the Star Patrol. Appendix Five is Maps. Maps going to what, I’m not totally sure. But they’re maps. Then Appendix Six is the Design Notes, or “what the hell was I thinking when I said yes to writing this!”. Finally you have an Index which includes a “How Do I...” reference list before the more conventional index reference.
Is Starblazer Adventures worth the $49.95 price tag, other than bullet stopping bludgeoning device (I have no complaints regarding the binding). For it contains an RPG, making it a fine bargain much like the main rulebook of Traveller, it a vast toolkit filled with many useful ideas. Is it a replacement for Traveller? Sadly, unless you are younger (which includes young-at-heart aspect) than me then no. However, it’s fantastically well done, from the inspiring artwork to the helpful presentation, and I wish all of my RPGs were as expertly crafted.