Starset: the Great Dimming – A Grimdark Tabletop RPG System

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CROWDFUNDING NEWS – In high school and college I spent a lot of my free time playing Traveller, a science fiction role-playing game (RPG).  As it turns out, Traveller is one of the inspirations for Starset, a new RPG written by Josiah Mork that is currently being crowdfunded on Kickstarter.  The setting style is known as grimdark, a sub-genre made popular by Warhammer 40k that is described with phrases like “dystopian, amoral, and violent” and “fiction where nobody is honorable and might is right.”  In the Starset universe, the Supreme Republic of Man has sprawled across the solar system and finally arrived at the Kuiper Belt, and then the Oort Cloud collapsed.  It’s a difficult time for mankind.

The science fiction in Starset is intended to be realistic in nature, not idealistic; in many ways it’s the antithesis of Star Wars. In this game, “the solar system ultimately is huge, and your life is small.  You are a simple citizen caught in the blasting light of titans.”  It sounds like playing will be a real challenge, and gamers will have to carefully weigh their options if they hope to survive.  What fun!

I had an opportunity recently to talk with Josiah about his game and ask him a few questions.  What follows is a summary of our discussion.  Josiah is a senior at Liberty University majoring in strategic communications.  After college, he hopes to work in the areas of graphic design and branding, helping companies to establish relationships with their customers through their brand.  Josiah has played several RPGs including the omnipresent DnD and BaG, an earlier game that he wrote.  As I mentioned, he was influenced heavily by Traveller, particularly its character creation system, and by Wrath and Glory Warhammer 40k, especially for the way it used dice to resolve the use of character skills.  He was also influenced by the first three Dune books, for their politics, and by the Warhammer 40k books, for their grimdark setting.

When I asked Josiah what would be the coolest part of Starset, the thing that will make it stand out from other RPGs, his answer was the players’ connection to their character.  Character generation is neither quick nor easy but filled with hard choices that determine how the character responds to conflict, how he will survive in a difficult universe, who his friends are, and what his place is.  It’s like saying “backstory” only on mega-steroids.  Josiah also hopes that players will find his particular blend of game mechanics and the grimdark setting to be compelling.

As noted on the Kickstarter page, the game is not yet completely written.  When I asked him what were the most challenging parts remaining, he replied finishing the plot points for character generation.  The generation system is full of details from every phase of a character’s life.  These are the events that have happened, the choices that were made, and the consequences from them; these define the character.  There’s a lot of work required to keep these details unique and interesting for every character.  Additionally, Josiah said more play-testing is required for the skill resolutions system.  The core mechanics of the dice pool system is completed, which is what allows for skill resolution to happen.  Every other type of resolution in the game is based upon these mechanics, even character generation, and these are what need more play-testing.

When I spoke with Josiah, there were no immediate plans to include an introductory scenario or a larger campaign with the system.  Apparently, several people, myself included, provided the feedback that these would be helpful to have, especially for game masters who don’t have the time to create their own.  In one of the updates on the Kickstarter page (#4), he noted that an introductory scenario would be added a stretch goal, and this goal has already been met.  Nice!

While the theme of this game is dark, Josiah wanted to make it clear that there’s something about it that sets it apart from other dystopian books and games:  Hope!  Though everything is falling apart for mankind, the emphasis of the game is finding hope, hope when characters find the good in people, hope when they can rely upon their community and hope when they trust in God.  Obviously, there’s some parallel here between Josiah’s game and the real world, and he hopes that people who play Starset will connect with other people and with God and find hope.  That’s an amazing goal for a role-playing game, and I hope that it happens for many of the people who play this game.

(Full disclosure:  My daughter, Emilee, is an editor for this game, and my son-in-law, Ryan, is an artist for it.)

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