Originally Published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/09/07/tabletop-review-starblazer-adventures/
At 632 pages, Starblazer Adventures is an intimidating book, even in PDF format. Based on the classic British sci-fi comic book Starblazer- Space Fiction Adventures in Pictures, which I must cop to having never read, Starblazer Adventures is subtitled the Rock and Roll Space Opera Adventure Game. That is a whole lot of modifiers for a game to deliver on. Girded by the famed Fate System, Starblazer Adventures is a whole lot to wrap your brain around.
I figure there are three kinds of people who will seek out Starblazer Adventures. Fans of the comic book series, fanciers of the Fate System, and players looking for the ultimate Space Opera RPG all have reasons to check out Starblazer Adventures. The only group of people guaranteed to be disappointed are fans of the anime series Star Blazers aka Space Battleship Yamato, which has nothing to do with this project. My dreams of a campaign based on the music videos of Daft Punk will have to wait.
Starblazer Adventures is, as previously mentioned, based on the Fate System. Fate is a fairly light rules system. All player actions are resolved via a pair of opposed d6s with modifiers. This system is modified by plain language descriptors, like ‘Good’ or ‘Great.’ By using each character’s own attributes and prior experience as adventure hooks, the Fate System is a more common sense system that strikes a nice balance between dice rolling mechanics and more storyteller style games.
For fans of the comic book, there is a treasure trove of material here. Even without an intimate knowledge of Starblazer, I can tell this is the work of fans. There are multi-page spreads from Starblazer, which do a better job illustrating the Rock and Roll Space Opera aesthetic than any wall of text could ever communicate. From stony faced men of action to curvaceous spacecraft, the art of Starblazer Adventures is evocative and romantic. This is a canvas of stars waiting for legends to be written across it. In short, yes, I do quite enjoy the art. Starblazer fans will also be happy to find stats included for some of the more well-known heroes from the comics. There is even an issue by issue index of the comics, which might come in handy for those who are suddenly interested in Starblazer after this book.
Fate System players have a couple of reasons to check out Starblazer Adventures even if they do not plan on using the material in its entirety. There are rules for generating alien races, starships, worlds, robots, vehicles… Basically, if you are using Fate to play science fiction, Starblazer Adventures has enough rules material to justify a purchase. While the overall utility may not be there for campaigns that are not science fiction, this is the best and most flexible execution of the Fate System I have run into. Were I to use Fate without the Starblazer setting, I would be inclined to use this iteration of Fate as my base ruleset.
Space Opera is a genre that has been given several RPG treatments over the years. There was the classic Space Opera from Fantasy Games Unlimited, which I never played. Traveller has been described as such, but I always found it to be more like Heinlein-style hard SF than Space Opera. In the 80′s, FASA published the very awkward Star Trek RPG, which I never could get much fun out of. TSR even got into the act with Star Frontiers, a fun little game that they made open source after the demise of TSR. Due to cultural relevancy, the most played Space Opera RPGs are hands down the Star Wars games, be it the West End Games classic I favor or the Wizards of the Coast edition I am unfamiliar with. Heck, the Space Opera game I have played most is probably GURPS with the classic Lensman sourcebook. Does anyone even read E.E. “Doc” Smith anymore? Even with all of these books, there has been a lack of an easy to use, flexible Space Opera book.
Starblazer Adventures is that book. The default settings, there are three, are a solid starting point for those who want to build a setting from scratch or adapt a setting from another source. The Trailblazing Era; or ‘Space Cowboys & Smoking Lasers!’ represents the early days of human interstellar transportation, with humanity hanging out largely in our own solar system. This type of setting is most often used in Hard SF instead of Space Opera, but there are plenty of adventure hooks given that defy that expectation. The Era of Expansion; or ‘Fortress Earth and the Thermal Wars’ is the most common modern Space Opera setting. This is the Space Opera of Firefly and Enterprise, with humans travelling across the galaxy and encountering aliens. For me, this means putting together a Cowboy Bebop campaign, but Outlaw Star or Mass Effect would be just as easy to adapt. Finally, there is the Cosmopolitan Era; or ‘Who Elected the Guy with Two Heads?’ This is what I would call High Space Opera. Technology is inseparable from magic, aliens and humans live side by side, and intrigues can span the galaxy. When I think of Space Opera, this is what I think of. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Lensman are the touchstones here. If I was able to find the right players for it, the Cosmopolitan Era would be perfect setting a campaign based on the Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5ecret 5tar 5ystem movie.
Between the ease of the Fate System and the creation tools provided in Starblazer Adventures, there is enough of a skeleton to hold up just about any Space Opera setting you could imagine. Out of the proverbial box, the default settings are interesting enough that I can easily imagine running them using the material in the book. Going in, I did not expect to fall in love with the Starblazer setting. Having no point of reference, I expected it to be dry and old-fashioned. Instead, I found Starblazer to be good, pulpy fun with a healthy dose of cheese.
The final question is a simple one: should you purchase Starblazer Adventures? The answer is equally simple: maybe. If you are planning a Space Opera RPG campaign, or even a one-off, with the Fate System, then Starblazer Adventures is a must buy. Ditto if you are a fan of the comic book series. For more general science fiction or Fate System fans, the answer is less emphatic, but still a ‘yes.’ The only group of people I cannot, in good conscious, recommend Starblazer Adventures to are Hard SF fans looking for an RPG ruleset. Traveller is still the answer for Hard SF gamers. Between the fantastic art, drawn from the comic, the elegant rules, and the thoroughness with which the material is covered, Starblazer Adventures is as close to a definitive word on the Space Opera as I can imagine.