Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Review - Starblazer Adventures

As part of the New Year's sale at DriveThruRPG, Starblazer Adventures by Cubicle 7 was available for a mere $10, so I bought it out of curiousity. For those unaware of this game, it is slightly-pulpy, FATE-based space opera game based on a '70s-era British comic book series. The game setting is enormous, weighing in at over 600 pages, yet still manages to feel a tad light on crunch. I think this may be a function of the modified FATE system used in the game. Actions are resolved by rolling 2 d6s, one designated as a negative die before the roll. The positive and negative dice are added together to give a result from -5 to +5, with the highest probabilities being the closest to 0. Added to the result is a modifier resulting from skills and other factors. This modifier will typically range from +1 to +3, although higher modifiers are possible. In addition to skills, characters also have stunts and aspects. Stunts are a lot like feats (or in some cases, class features) in the d20 system. They typically allow you do something with a skill you wouldn't normally be able to do, or give you a positive modifier to a skill under certain circumstances by accepting a negative modifier on other skills.

Aspects are rather less well-defined. They are brief phrases that describe motivations, personality quirks or background information of a character that can be used under certain circumstances to cajole the GM to allow some benefit. Alternatively, the player can use an aspect to his character's detriment, in order to earn fate points. Fate points are at the very heart of the FATE game system. Spending fate points allows a player to temporarily take control of the story. They can be used for a variety of things from adding an additional +1 modifier to any dice roll to powering some stunts to compelling a negative result from an opponent's aspect. While GMs do have veto power over the use of fate points, they are encouraged not to use it unless doing so would cause serious problems for the story.

Not surprisingly, Starblazer Adventures borrows heavily from the Starblazer comic books, incorporating story arcs, recurring characters and technologies from the comics directly into the game setting. The setting itself is divided into three eras, although other settings are possible. The three main settings are the Trailblazer Era, in which mankind first takes to the stars (think Enterprise or Star Trek), the Empire Era, in which a human empire battles across the galaxy with other great alien empires (more like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Babylon 5) and the Cosmopolitain Era, in which a galaxy-spanning empire made up of many races including humans maintains the Pax Galactica (best analog might be the Old Republic era of Star Wars).

Overall, the game is pretty good, especially if you are looking for a bit of pulp or campy feel to your space opera campaign. The FATE system tends to encourage a bit of whimsy on the part of the players, so serious or gritty campaigns probably won't work as well unless the GM and the players are all on the same page. I would never use the FATE system for my space horror campaign setting, but if you're looking for "a wee bit o' fun", this might be just the thing.



A Paladin In Citadel said...

Did you say 600 pages?!

I can hardly stand having to read more than 64!

I'm not familiar with Starblazer, was this something you read in your youth?

Rognar said...

Admittedly, the bulk of those 600 pages are descriptive; aliens, monsters, planets, spaceships, adventure hooks as well as many pages of illustration reproduced from the comic books, but yes, it's quite a read. I have barely gotten through a quarter of it. I have mainly concentrated on the system so far.

Can't say I ever heard of Starblazer until a few months ago. I'd heard good things about the game and I'm always on the lookout for a good space opera game. Still, I'm not much for the FATE system, too loosey-goosey for my tastes, so I likely would not have bought the pdf were it not so cheap.

Jay said...

Rog, thanks for posting your review--I got this too a few weeks back when RPGNow was having a sale and haven't had a chance to spend time on it yet.

I agree the page count can be intimidating, but I'd paged through a print copy at my FLGS and it's just a wonderful book. If I can pick one up used I will. As you said, it's filled with lots of setting and great illustration from the series. I'd not heard of it previously either so the publisher is doing something right!

I don't plan on using the system as I'm leaning more X-plorers or Star Frontiers at the moment, but there are mountains to mine there!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rog,

Thanks very much for reviewing "Starblazer Adventures" - we're really glad you liked the game!

You're bang on about the page count - although the core book is 600-odd pages, there's lots of background and artwork from the original comic books, and enough material which in lots of other games would be distributed across another splatbook or two. The absolute basic rules are summarised right up front in about 8 pages, then expanded in the first 200 or so; then you get full rules for starships, robots, organizations (playing the Federation or the Galactic Empire, etc), planets, and lots more. We wanted it to be a *very* complete rule book, and it also works pretty well as body armour ;-)

Incidentally, although the core book is very pulpy and space opera-ish (operatic?), you may want to take a look at our new "Mindjammer" setting (www.mindjammer.com) if you're interested in doing some much more serious scifi with the rules - Starblazer's certainly capable of it. Mindjammer is a full transhuman, far future scifi setting, with sentient starships, hyper-advanced tech, cool gear, loads of planets, rules for "culture conflict", and a full mini-campaign. It's a more "modern" take on space opera, and can be played very gritty if you want to (I tend to play it like Star Trek meets the Bourne Identity ;-D ).

Thanks again for reviewing Starblazer Adventures, and we hope you have a great time playing it!


Sarah Newton (Cubicle 7 staff writer)

Rognar said...

Thanks for the reply, Sarah. I have noticed the Mindjammer setting you mentioned. I shall give it another look.

Rognar said...

You're exactly right, Jay. Even for someone not planning to play Starblazer Adventures as is, there is a ton of inspirational material in this book.