I’m playing Bucket of Bolts (BoB), a sort of world-building game in which I’m writing the history of a spaceship. I’m also using Ask the Stars (AtS) to help me flesh things out and maybe dig a bit into some of the vignettes in the history. If the ship grabs me enough, perhaps I might use it for something else in the future.
During this era, society is marked by upheaval unlike anything seen during the High Era. I imagine that many systems and worlds see rebellions presaged by the one in Ueda last time, and the criminal underworld rises to prominence as corruption runs rampant.
Using the “Person” table in AtS Intergalactic again, I get a “Carefree Traveller” whose style is denim and chrome; sort of a 1970s look in my mind. I’ll go with “a hotshot racer: audacious, cunning, and enchanting” for the captain type. Her name is Saera Enders and she’s in it to win it!
Describe the championship they lust for and their fierce rivals.
((Finding random name generators for races as contests of speeds rather than social grouping was not easy!))
Saera raced in the Antares Supership Cup, a regional but relatively high-profile competition circuit. She made a lot of custom modifications herself, overtuning the engines and performance until Starbucket became a force to be reckoned with. Her rivals included a pious racer who frequently prayed publicly for blessings on his ship and a quiet, laconic flyer who nonetheless did his level best to force other ships off course in an effort to win.
What, beyond the race, had them push you to breaking point?
Since I don’t really know where to start with that one, time to Ask the Stars: “The Eye (judgment, secrets) Entombed (memory, death)”. Saera must have been also taking work as a courier for a criminal syndicate, transporting information for them and outrunning both the law and whatever other parties were after her. The racing was, to some extent, a cover for her activities.
Starbucket had difficulty keeping up with the demands placed on its hull and engines, but Saera never stopped pushing. The alternative might have been death or, worse, losing.
Your Captain oversees a complete hull and systems rebuild—a labor of love taking months to complete. Change something as they reshape you to fit their ideals.
When BoB says “change something,” the game means “a Trait, a detail about the physical appearance of your Ship, a detail about something in your world, a response to one of your Ship questions.”
As part of Saera’s modifications, though, the ship loses its trait spacious in favor of nimble. The ship’s interior has a lot less room available for the people and cargo it transports, because the extra equipment and custom systems take up so much more space.
Before I envision the second captain, I wonder how Saera’s time with Starbucket came to an end: “The Child (learning, greed) Burning (honesty, pride)”. Perhaps her pride and desire to win at all costs led to her downfall, and she was eventually caught. Was it by law enforcement or, more likely, a rival criminal group? The latter seems more likely, given the era of strife, so she disembarked at some cozy prospecting station and never came back.
With that in mind, I think the ship must have rested alone for a year or two on a tiny airless moon, the sky filled with a giant planet, before the next captain came aboard.
Starship graveyard by Alan Wilson, CC-BY-SA 2.0
You are abandoned in a destitute junkyard on a bleak, backwater planet. What harsh climate makes this place so inhospitable and how are your systems affected?
The moon itself has no atmosphere, but the prospecting station failed due to some environmental hazard. Cosmic radiation from outside the moon had less effect than the radioactive materials in the moon itself that scrambled the ship’s computer and other electronic systems. Once the ship was recovered and repaired, it had an entirely new personality - at least, the computer did. But ship personalities are not so easily erased, going deeper into the core of the vessel’s identity.
I think I’ll change something again. The Starbucket loses the trait ubiquitous in favor of gritty. Over the years, erosion from micrometeorites and the subtle changes from the radiation have worn away the shine of the ship, such that it no longer looks like a copy of so many others of its model. The hull is streaked and scarred, giving it a look of age and experience.
This time, I get a “Humble Guardian” who wears a uniform and visor. This must be the “rebel leader: defiant, beloved, and uncompromising” captain type. Captain Jexa Kyris served in the Great Insurgency with distinction. Time to look at the questions.
Describe their ragtag militia and the freedoms they fight for.
The Great Insurgency might have been somewhat of an exaggeration, or at least an aspiration. The Stars tell us of “The Mask (persuasion, shame) Waning (desire, decay)”. The rebels fought for those who found themselves pleading for help in dire situations, and they had a significant propaganda arm to ensure that the people knew who to turn to - and to remind them who was ultimately responsible for their plight. The visor that Captain Kyris wore had practical uses, of course, but also served as a symbol that the faces of the rebels did not matter because, ultimately, they saw themselves as an extension of the will of the people.
Of all your missions together, which felt the most desperate?
After consulting with the Stars once more (“The Hand Exiled”), I believe that Kyris flew the Starbucket in a daring rescue with almost no chance of success when senior members of the rebellion were captured and imprisoned. In fact, one of the members was family to Kyris, making the mission that much more personal for her.
The rescue took place when the Starbucket (and several other supporting craft) intercepted the transport at a stargate in a sacred system, revered by the authoritarian government that never imagined anyone would blaspheme in such a way. The government put out its own explanation of what happened, accusing the rebels of vile crimes in a holy place, but as they’d already lost so much credibility, no one believed them.
I wonder how this captain came to leave this ship, willingly or not: “The Legion Waning”. The rebellion failed, as most do, and she was captured, imprisoned, and eventually executed for sedition and treason. This time, the authorities left her in a graveyard of ships, where she waited for decades for a new captain.
The graveyard was located on the night side of a tide-locked world, so that the ships were as well-preserved as could be hoped for. Officially, they were a sort of reserve fleet; unofficially, the command of the “field” was considered to be a career-ending position, reserved for those who had failed their empire in some way but for whom simply drubbing out of the service was not enough. And so they would be assigned here as a humiliation.
You are picked over for parts by roaming scavengers. What crucial system must your next Captain replace? What will never work quite right again?
The salvagers who eventually found the place after the empire had forgotten it even existed sought mostly custom parts. The “Bright Mendicant” design was for a time so ubiquitous that the stock parts might last forever, but the changes made earlier by Sarae Enders were not that common. And while the next captain would replace the fuel injectors and cryofusion reactors, there would always be a slight hiccup when the engines restarted.
Society is on a decline. Whatever faults the earlier authoritarian government had - and they must have been many - it kept some semblance of order and progress, but that ended long ago.
The new captain for the Starbucket is an “honorable smuggler”. Is that truly a thing in this age? Anyway, that changes what I had in mind, but in this case that’s good and results in a change of pace. I read this as compatible with “a pirate gang: a motley crew, united only by their insatiable avarice”.
One thing I notice right away is that this isn’t an individual captain, but an entire gang or crew. Like the ancient pirates in a long-ago golden age, they have a roughly democratic approach, and so while one among them may in fact have the title of “captain”, truly the ship belongs to none of them and all of them.
Describe their hunting grounds and their wretched leader.
I guess they have a leader of sorts after all. He is, as noted, a smuggler, and perhaps “wretched” in the eyes of whatever authorities chase him and his tax-evading crew. His personal style is carbon mesh covered in dust; Starbucket frequently lands on some desert world to trade in illegal goods, and the captain’s uniform is a bit worse for wear.
But I want to lean a little bit silly tonight, so the crew calls themselves the “Star Buccaneers” based on the name of the ship itself (even if they did steal it from the old ship graveyard).
Taking inspiration from Blades in the Dark, the “hunting grounds” in this case will refer to cargo types in which they specialize. I’ll Ask the Stars for some inspiration, keeping in mind that whatever they do involves often landing on desert or at least very dusty worlds: “The Child Entombed”. The Child is associated with greed (and learning but that seems less relevant), and Entombment is associated with memory and death. Actually, I can in fact link them all together: they transport illegal Virtual Intelligences (VIs). Some of them may even be patterned on individuals who have died, but (at least in this polity) anything like a VI is highly restricted.
What was the juiciest prey you seized under their command?
Smugglers certainly aren’t above a bit of theft, so they likely stole some cargo rather than attacking another ship. Still, I need to figure out what kind. I’m going to Ask the Stars again but with closed questions instead.
Was it a VI (likely)? Yes, but… Is the caveat that it was a VI that was patterned after a famous person (likely)? Yes, but…
Who was the famous person? “The Child Waning”. The Child is associated with learning, and Waning is associated with decay. I think I’ll go with a famous scientist who died in a tragic accident. The VI was patterned after her, and the smugglers stole it from a rival gang who had been hired to steal it from the scientist’s estate. (For what it’s worth, Github Copilot suggested that interpretation, which I liked quite a bit. I didn’t expect that from a coding AI that usually just finishes my sentences.)
You pulled off an incredible heist, recovering a prized asset from the clutches of an entrenched warlord. Why was your Captain so driven to retrieve it? What cunning or daring ploy bypassed the formidable security? What wild maneuver did you pull off to escape?
This will likely require a good bit of oracle usage. The first thing I want to know isn’t even directly asked there: what was the asset? “The Eye Crowned”. Something to do with secrets and ambition… I imagine some information that could be used to engage in further crimes, or perhaps embarrass (or worse) someone powerful. The leader of whatever faction that the Star Buccaneers had loosely associated themselves with wanted this back, and that’s why the crew wanted it so badly. It might have reflected on them in some way as well.
But then we need to know how they got it: “The Mask Bowed”. A persuasive scheme, and while “bowed” could indicate mercy, it also is associated with submission. That’s what made this so daring: they literally just talked their way in, bluffing and infiltrating, and walked out without anyone noticing until it was too late.
And now… time passes. Maybe just a year. The captain lost the ship gambling, and even though it wasn’t (strictly speaking) his to lose, the winner was another powerful warlord that the crew decided wasn’t worth crossing.
Plating rusts, alabaster bulkheads fade to flaxen yellow, lights flicker and burn out. What about you is most strikingly antiquated compared to new ships coming off the line?
Looking back at the Starbucket’s current Traits, she is gritty, nimble, and armed. But most of that was a long time ago, and her weapon systems certainly won’t be as powerful or accurate as those of a modern ship, sort of like seeing an old-fashioned musket compared to an advanced assault rifle.
This is a good opportunity to change something, namely dropping the armed trait in favor of something more appropriate: outdated.
The last captain in this arc is a “professional traveller”. The Bucket of Bolts pamphlet has an entry here for “a tour operator: cheerful, tasteless, and obnoxiously loud”. I think he works for the warlord who won the ship, perhaps showing off the wonders of the local estate to the warlord’s guests and clients. Captain Blaike Adrana has no moral compunction about working as a lackey for this boss. He’s just happy to have a job.
Describe their clientele and the tawdry sights you cruise past.
The guests could be anyone from fellow warlords (or, more likely, their envoys) to business partners who generally work in legal industries but don’t mind selling or buying on the black market, or maybe just are paying the criminals for extra muscle. In some cases, I even imagine that Blaike’s boss is inviting guests to send them a message of his power and influence.
Much like cartel leaders in our day, the warlord likely has an impressive estate with lots of treasures and luxuries: marvelous crystal fountains, megafauna, palaces with all sorts of illicit pleasures, and the like.
Which one of your former Captains features in the advertising?
Certainly it won’t be the Star Buccaneers! More likely, Saera Enders; the fact that this was once a famous racing ship likely has some niche interest among folks who are into futuristic motorsport. Perhaps they’ve done the ship up again in the livery it had when it was on the Antares circuit.
Your Captain and crew, returning from a planetside excursion, found themselves ambushed in the docking bay. Were they debtors, rivals or worse? Could you escape?
While taking the ship out on a cruise, the Starbucket lands at the worst possible time while some of the warlord’s rivals were carrying out a reprisal attack. Blaike himself is killed, but worse… the Starbucket is destroyed. A series of explosions are set off, or perhaps some sort of munitions fly across the landing field, and the ship that flew so proudly is now a smoking ruin.
I feel pretty good about this. Originally, I had the idea to take this ship into a Stars Without Number game, but after thinking it over, I decided that’s not the next game I’m going to play anyway.
Using Ask the Stars as an oracle really enhanced the game for me. I’m hopeful that Chris McDowall revisits this system at some point, even if just to polish up what he already has and put it all together in one place.
And of course, Bucket of Bolts is just a beautiful game. In a few places, it made me genuinely sad. The prompts and the extra content I have on hand (e.g. specific tracks to listen to during the rest phases) really helped me get in the right mood.
In terms of a longer solo campaign, I’m vacillating on several things (e.g. SWN, as mentioned above), and discussions in various Discord communities are informing that. If you’d like to chat about solo games with me, I’m always in the NSR Discord where we have a #solo-and-gmless channel, so come say hi!