I’ve spent the past several days experimenting with other types of games, and one that landed my attention was Bucket of Bolts (BoB), which I backed on Kickstarter a while back. BoB isn’t a role-playing game, strictly speaking, but sort of a world-building game or writing exercise in which you create the history of a medium-sized freighter that is itself nearly a full character on its own, in the vein of the Millennium Falcon or Serenity. (The Rocinante comes to mind as well, although that ship wasn’t a freighter of course.) During the course of its history, the ship passes between different eras and captains.
At the same time, I’d been thinking about a space game and how much I’m enjoying bashing things together. Eventually I settled on using Chris McDowall’s Ask the Stars (AtS), which he’s made freely available for now. The core idea there is to use the oracle in a minimalist solo style, but in the first link he’s added some additional tables and guidance for playing in a science fiction setting.
My concept is to use BoB as the overall framing device in which the ship is the main “character”, but then use AtS and some additional tables from Stars Without Number (SWN) and Any Planet Is Earth (APIE) to play through each act or captain. I also used the Futuristic Names generator from Fantasy Name Generators to generate some names for the people I’ll write about.
In homage to the two base systems here, the ship is named “Starbucket”.
You were constructed by a team of starship engineers—describe them, their design principles and political affiliations.
An immediate chance to Ask the Stars: “The Traveller (wandering, chance) Reflected (reversal, vanity)”. So the original ship designers were a set of engineers who never had the chance to go out into adventurous locations themselves, but the ship they built was intended to roam the stars and handle whatever came its way. Their political affiliations were mixed, but generally they believed in humanity’s destiny among the stars. Their intentions were not based on corporate profit but on fulfilling a dream of exploration and discovery for all of humanity.
Add three Traits describing your Ship then draw it. Sketch out the layout of modules and its silhouette, considering the materials used.
The traits are:
Generated by DALL-E
Give your Ship a model name and simple factory designation.
I don’t think “Starbucket” is a very good model name, so I roll on some tables in APIE for inspiration. I get 2-1 “Bright” and 4-4 “Mendicant”, which is as good as anything I would have come up with. So the model name is “Bright Mendicant” and the factory designation is BM-5160. Other than the ship name, I don’t think I’ll answer the other ship questions now. Instead, they will be answered while playing through the acts.
Before I find the first captain for the Starbucket, I want to reflect for a moment on the name of this act. The title for this act reminds me of the High Republic in Star Wars, during which the galaxy had a period of peace, prosperity, and relative stability. Other science fiction has had something similar, like the time of the Federation in Star Wars or the Citadel and the Council in Mass Effect. It doesn’t represent a utopia by any stretch, but rather a period in which society is not undergoing tremendous upheaval or widespread war.
As I play through BoB, please note that the quotes are from the game itself, reflecting the questions it asks in various sections.
I want to start with a Person from the tables in AtS Intergalactic. The result is a “Paranoid Explorer” who wears overalls and a stab vest. The closest captain type in this era is “a renowned mercenary: capable, steadfast, and world-weary.” De-emphasizing the paranoia a bit, and rolling for some other characteristics and names, I imagine Captain Rylan Kimra.
Now for the questions:
Describe the motley crew of professionals they travel with.
I’ll use AtS Intergalactic again, and get a “Proud Drifter” and a “Humble Bruiser”. This group sounds like some ne’er-do-wells. What’s the vibe like? The Stars say “The Wings (freedom, nature) Colliding (change, violence)”. That fits the descriptions, as they’re free spirits who often find themselves in a fight, whether due to professional assignments or personal reasons.
Which of their victories left you in the most critical condition?
“You” is the ship, so what sort of combats might have left the ship in this condition. Back to asking the Stars, which indicate the fight was against “The Council (opposition, cycles) Rising (growth, possibility)”. This was some sort of corporate-sponsored action, such as a hostile takeover in a literal sense. Two energy-producing corporations squabbled over refueling platforms high in the atmosphere of Leighton V, a gas giant, and the Starbucket took fire.
With your Captain’s flash flying and steady aim you destroyed a symbol of oppression. Describe the encounter. How did it all come down to one last, desperate attack run?
First, let’s figure out the settlement and how it’s governed, using AtS Planetary. Ueda is a farming community governed by academic totalitarianism. Perhaps the academic institution ruled the area ruthlessly, using the local agricultural industry to feed its own population. In that sort of situation, elitism and classism must have been rampant. What sort of symbol could they have destroyed? The Stars say “The Wings (freedom, nature) Twinned (intimacy, dependency)”.
I keep thinking of a statue, so in that case we can take this both literally and metaphorically. The statue showed two individuals, a man with broad, extended wings, standing atop a regular man whose wings are folded in. The statue was viewed by the locals of that settlement as a symbol of the oppression they suffered under the academic totalitarianism. During a riot, the academy called in air support from law enforcement or even the military to suppress the uprising. The Starbucket was called in to help the locals, and during the battle the statue was destroyed.
Ship Question: Your customized systems allow for a unique maneuver that many of your Captains have attempted. What it is, and what does it come to be called by tale tellers and imitators?
The “Rylan” is a maneuver that involves flying the ship on a dangerously low approach to evade anti-ship fire and drone pursuit, then pulling up at the last possible moment to redirect the incoming fire over the actual target.
Eventually, Rylan Kimra’s time with the Starbucket must come to an end. What happens? The Stars answer: “The Traveller (wandering, chance) Burning (honesty, pride)”. I think Captain Kimra was eventually recognized and joined a larger fleet, perhaps even in a navy or military. But the Starbucket didn’t go along - it’s a freighter, properly speaking, not a destroyer or cruiser. So the Starbucket was sold to a new captain, and Rylan Kimra went on to bigger and better things.
No time passed between captains; this was a normal transaction. The next captain was an “Ambitious Traveller” whose style included carbon mesh and patches. This doesn’t sound like a galactic senator, so the captain type is “a long-distance hauler: bullish, forthright, and protective.” So I’ll imagine Captain Maianna Ozcar as I answer the questions.
Describe their family, blood or otherwise, who live aboard.
The Stars yield “The Legion (unification, identity) Rooted (stability, plenty)”. That sounds somewhat militaristic at first, so I decide these were veterans who served together, then continued to work together when they completed their service. Captain Ozcar must have inspired tremendous loyalty for so many to continue to follow her even after they were no longer required to do so.
What was the most valuable cargo that filled your hold?
AtS Mercantile has some tables for this! First, though, I want to Ask the Stars (using the yes/no oracle) whether this was a passenger rather than regular cargo: “no, but…” What’s the “but” related to? The Stars say “The Elder (authority, tradition) Reflected (reversal, vanity)”. I decide this means that they transported the human remains of someone very important, a revered figure. The tables tell us that the person was a “Professional Explorer”, perhaps someone who discovered and charted many new worlds. The remains were transported to their home planet for a proper burial.
Emergency klaxons jolted the crew awake but, before you could escape, raiders boarded. What did they intend to take? Could your Captain and crew drive them off?
The cargo that the Starbucket carried at the time was luxury armor, which was being transported to a pretentious investor in a corporate market. The raiders wanted the armor for their own use; when the crew received a mysterious demand for the cargo, they ignored it, only to find themselves being boarded. However, the raiders didn’t expect the ship to be crewed by experienced former military who knew how to fight together, and they repelled the boarding action easily.
The result was, according to the Stars, “The Ship (direction, struggle) Entombed (memory, death)”. The crew of the Starbucket ended up fully destroying their attackers and leaving the attacking ship adrift in space.
Thus, the end of Captain Ozcar’s time with the Starbucket. Regarding how that came about, the Stars tell us of “The Wings Waning”. Eventually, the crew fell apart, as all families (found or otherwise) do. Captain Ozcar didn’t want to continue on without that crew, so she walked away from the ship. It took almost no time to find a new captain.
Next time, I’ll play through acts II and III using more or less the same method. I want to take some time to reflect on the Starbucket before that, though. This is turning out more entertaining than I though.