Now available: free quickstart edition of Return to the Stars!

The quickstart edition of Return to the Stars is now available for free at RPGnow!

Return to the Stars is a tabletop science fiction role playing game which helps players create their own stories in an optimistic space opera setting.

Return to the Stars is designed to allow the creation of characters that evoke the best elements of geek culture. In the far future hyperspace travel gave easy access to countless worlds, and humanity sorted itself into like-minded communities.  One such society was the Convention Authority, founded to celebrate the now classical arts of science fiction, fantasy, and gaming.

One day, without warning, the stellar beacon that illuminated hyperspace went silent rendering galactic travel impossible. The systems of the Convention Authority stayed connected thanks to a replica fleet of early starships. Now, after more than a century of effort, a long-range exploration craft has been built. Its purpose: to return to the stars and reconnect with lost civilizations of humanity!

We’re lucky enough to have some great illustrations in the game from artists such as Amy King (of the web comics Harlowe Vanished and the Muse Mentor), Yog Joshi (who has worked for Fantasy Flight Games and Alex Cutri, a colorist who has worked for Marvel and Image.

Download the free game today, and visit us at Pax East in booth booth #19135!

ship_bridge (1)


Compels and Aspects

A character’s trouble serves an important function in both Fate and Return to the Stars, it is designed to be compelled, which means the story gets more complicated and interesting, and also means that the player gets one of those shiny fate points, so they can be even more awesome in the future.

But it’s not just a trouble that can be compelled, any character aspects can serve that purpose.  One way to check and see if your character has strongly written aspects is to attempt to write examples of how they might be compelled.  As a bonus, you can share that list with the GM, so they have an easy reference for the type ways you’d welcome your character getting compelled.

Here’s an example of a 1920’s occult investigator, his aspects, and suggestions for how they might be compelled.

  • High Concept:  Wealthy Daredevil/Industrialist
  • Trouble: Manwe, his ward and sidekick
  • Calculatingly Ruthless Strategist in a Secret War
  • The Darling of the Press
  • Sorcerer of sympathetic magic with an magic amulet engraved with the words ‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” and incorporating a bone of from the tip of his finger.

Potential Compels

Because Parker is a Wealthy Daredevil/Industrialist

He might be publicly challenged to do risky things.

He has rivals.

He has responsibilities

It makes sense that he’d attempt a difficult challenge.

He is subject to the jealousy and envy of others.

His playboy lifestyle may have broken the heart of someone the party needs to interact with, or he may have had a liaison with an NPC’s girlfriend or fiancée.

Working class people might assume he can’t relate to them.

He might mistakenly assume that it’s easy for someone else to do something that that requires wealth and privilege.

Because Parker has Manwe as his sidekick

It makes sense that he’d be concerned about what the welfare of her people.

It makes sense that he’d want to investigate what the why the British Fascists From the Future had were-sharks as test subjects.

She would get into some hijinks.

She might be jealous when she thinks he’s paying too much attention others.

She can appeal to a sense of youthful idealism that interferes with his doing a ruthless but necessary thing.

He might be enraged if someone threatens her.

The daughter of the witch king might get dragged into an occult occurrence.

Her enemies are his enemies.

He might decide to provide a good example for her, despite it complicating things.

He might be surprised by how less resourceful “normal” kids Manwe’s age are.

Racists dislike him.

Because Parker is a Ruthless Strategist in a Secret War

The person the party is meeting interacting with might turn out to be a foe he defeated in the past.

He might be asked to confront something that normal people couldn’t deal with.

He might feel compelled to learn what the enemy is up to.

He might go overboard in his tactics.

He might show contempt for people unwilling to confront scary threats to mankind.

Because Parker is the darling of the Press

Crowds of autograph seekers might impede his ability to be stealthy, or chase someone.

The enemy might know he’s coming based on media reports.

People who want to avoid the limelight might be reluctant to interactive with him.

He might be recognized at the wrong time.

Because Parker is a practitioner of sympathetic magic

He might arouse superstitious fears or religious condemnation.

He might have a distracting opportunity to acquire magical power.

He might draw the attention of magical foes.

To the extent his powers become public knowledge, scientists and reporters might be drawn to “discredit” him.

A ritual might have an unintended consequence or side effect.


Project Update: Return to the Stars!

progress update

With the game draft completed, and copy editing in progress, a game designer’s fancy turn to layout.  Here you can see a 6×9″ format, which seem to work well in print and on a tablet, and is even reasonably readable on a plus sized smart phone.

We’ll be at Totalcon next weekend, playing Return to the Stars on Friday and Saturday. Saturday evening is completely booked, but there are still slots on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon!


Stellar Beacon Digest #8


[Dateline: Hulon IV] Contrary to reports, a spokesperson for planetary authorities offers assurances the colony ship Ambrosias is not under a sustained state of mutiny.

[Dateline: Senior House] Scientists say they are one step closer to developing an cure for Oakeshott’s Affliction, a disorder of the brain’s ability to process novel stimuli.

[Dateline: Курск] This planet has no inhabitants; simply robots running, maintaining and extending a vast subway system modeled on the Moscow Metro.

[Dateline: Mossav II] Gargg music voted the greatest export of Mossav culture. Electric pipes now mandatory training across the board. Purists outraged.

[Dateline: Third York] Seven ways to improve and upgrade your cyberware cheaply without cancelling your warranty or frying your brain.

<Zek’s List> Mercenary team and black ops dropship available at a 1 hour’s notice, no questions asked, full plausible deniability implied.

Stellar Beacon Digest #7


[Dateline: Chapin] The Imana of Ishin has now been transferred into the Governance of Thar. All supplicants must now receive their datamind through the KoR.

[Dateline: Shinyuan] Ministry Notification: “The Gluch pirate vessel has been sold at auction. Each family of deceased miners will be given compensation of 10 REu from the proceeds, with the remainder of the funds being allocated to the system defense fund.”

Civil disorder strikes the puppeteer planet.

[Dateline: Ningyō] Explorers report that the puppeteer planet has descended into near anarchy because everyone suspects hidden manipulators.

[Dateline: Denub] Another Black Nebula pirate attack off the Denubian cluster costs passengers of Cyberian luxury cruise arms legs and more.

[Dateline: Leerhew] The second reading of a bill banning space debris because of the threat to orbital navigation of Kessler collisional cascading

Early stellar probes traveled at sub-light speeds!

<history> Historical mid-21st century probe now half way to Kepler 62e. Thanks to the end of the Great Silence we can be there in 600 years to greet it!

<Pop Culture Parade> Dark Matter festival planners claim latest a complete success. Authorities on the lookout for less than three hundred missing attendees this year.

Stellar Beacon Digest #6


[Dateline: Throt] Galtean pirate ship reportedly destroyed while attempting to slingshot around a gas giant in a desperate attempt to escape outriders from the CAS Mary Shelley.

[Dateline: Shinyuan] Foreign Minister Gaoba issued a statement “We are shocked to know that pirates who slaughtered our miners are from Gluch, once a paradise planet. We are establishing a REU bounty on Gulch ships.”

[Dateline: Roubaix] According to explorers, this society banned anti-aging technology, saying it goes against their beliefs. Now that interstellar travel has been restored, those who reject societal norms are desperate to leave

[Dateline: Convention Authority] Unusual stellar “structures” detected deep in Andromeda galaxy according to a new finding released by the Eta Carinae Observatory.

Interest in Everettian quantum mechanics increases dramatically by students in secondary education

[Dateline: Petram] Vatican officals announced the charity auction of a cybernetic implants once belonging to St. Chim of Dundas VI. Properly accredited buyers can bid on the relics next month.

[Dateline: Senior House] Celebrations of the anniversary of terraforming on Gliese 667cf included an activated carbon sorbet. As you may recall, the reshaping of the planet began with removal of thick blanket of carbon dioxide.

[Dateline: Haris] This small station orbiting a moon, inhabited entirely by androids since the Great Silence 120 years ago, is starting a bordello and casino, open to all. Early reports indicate extensive uncanny valley issues.

<Zek’s List> Selling one biosecure ticket for the Jask Ehorn concert at the Perrian Colonade. Regenesis required to integrate ticket into your microbiome.

Sports and Competitions in tabletop RPGs

vampire cheerleader cosplay
We’ve got evil spirits, yes we do!

Sports and competitions are significant parts of culture, from this weekend’s “Big Game” to the Olympic games of ancient Greece. Ōllamaliztli, the Mesoamerican ballgame not only had religious significance, it is speculated to have been a proxy for warfare, and later to have involved human sacrifice. And, famously, soccer was played in the trenches during Christmas Truce of the First World War.

Christmas Truce memorial
Christmas Truce memorial featuring a football

Sports and other competitions have often been featured in tabletop roleplaying games and in the stories of your characters. RuneQuest introduced “Trollball” in their ’82 supplement devoted to that race. It is sometimes played LARP style at cons, and was published as a standalone game in 2008, to support the Tentacles convention. Quidditch is sometimes played live, even though there is no official tabletop RPG.

Live action Trollball

Tunnels and Troll’s solo adventure Arena of Kazahn (1979) is one of many games focused on gladiatorial combat. From the roman Colosseum to giant mech sports battles, this has been a continuing staple of the genre.

Arena of Khazan

There’s an entire “powered by the apocalypse” game called World Wide Wrestling. Sports team management is a popular video game genre, but it rarely occurs in tabletop.

In our game Return to the Stars there are cosplay competitions, which include genetic engineering, because it’s a 27th century space opera, and maker challenges for skilled engineers. Anyone have any examples of less traditional contests–from chefs facing off in a kitchen stadium, to informal axe throwing contests in the local tavern or the like?

About the Stellar Beacon

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Science fiction roleplaying games want to give players a shared understanding of their setting so that it is easy for gamers to tell interesting stories together. Traditionally designers have accomplished this by issuing large books filled with details about the worlds they’ve built, or by the expedience of licensing a popular fictional franchise.

With Return to the Stars we’re adding an additional element to the mix: pushing out daily “news headlines” from the science fiction setting of the game on our Twitter feed: @ninja_festive and digesting them every week on our blog (on the web at, and our Tumblr and G+ account.

These headlines go out every day, so you can learn more about the setting in bite sized chucks on social media. Short and suggestive, they illuminate the themes of the game and make good story prompts for a gamemaster.

If you are GM who wants to take things a step further create your own campaign news account on Twitter, and retweet headlines from the official feed that that could be relevant to future adventures (or which might be intriguing red herrings!) Write your own headlines to foreshadow future developments or deepen player understanding of NPCs and organizations. Alternatively, any player can create a news feed as a campaign log of the party’s exploits and adventures.

Add the hashtag #SciFiNews to help other gamemasters and players find what you’ve written and retweet into it their game’s news feeds.  Feel free to tag @ninja_festive to let us know that you’ve started a campaign feed.  Who knows, maybe we’ll retweet you, and you’ll become part of the expanded news universe of Return to the Stars!

Within setting of the game, the Stellar Beacon is sent out by Senior House encoded as carrier wave on the weekly Beacon signal that illuminates hyperspace and allows Origami Engine travel. (Potentially, characters can learn relevant news every time they have opportunity to jump. Gamemasters can tease an upcoming session to players jumping home at the end of a successful scenario.)

Although news is broadcast by Senior House instantaneously across the area covered by the Beacon, they can only compile information as they receive it, and because of the arbitrary nature of galactic travel, some news can be quite dated by the time they’ve received it.

Here are some examples of news headlines from the Stellar Beacon:

[Dateline: Petram] Vatican officials condemned the practice of making statues out of genetically engineered human exoskeletons, “The human body is made in God’s image, and this type of cosplay is an affront to the creator” noted the papal spokesbot.

[Dateline: Shinyuan] Authority cruiser CAS Bradbury has tracked and captured the killers behind the attack on the mining ship Axkl: a pirate vessel of the Dank Lords of Gulch. The surviving pirates have been delivered to Shinyuan to stand trial.

[Dateline: New Lucknow] The Commissioner announced prototype testing origami engine stating: “We will play our part in ending the Great Silence.”  Opposition leaders ask if it wise to spend limited resources on origami technology.  Public outrage increases on social media.

[Dateline: Saitama Prime] The Diet debates the potential of clone overpopulation: real or imagined? How will society deal with millions of obsolete replicants?

[Dateline: Convention Authority] Shipments of fragment cedar arrive across the systems of the Convention Authority as gamers and geeks prepare their saunas for the R³ Festival, when they reflect critically on the media they love, and prepare for renewal and transformation in the coming year.

[Dateline: Senior House] Scientists successful in achieving quantum entanglement over 5 astronomical units. This opens up possibilities for instantaneous near stellar communication.

[Dateline: Third York] A.I. dyssynchronization virus causes problems for people with cybernetically enhanced limbs purchased from Xeracorp Industries. Right hand does not know what left hand is doing. Nor does it want to.

Stellar Beacon Weekly Digest #5


[Dateline: Convention Authority] Authority cruiser CAS Bradbury has tracked and captured the killers behind the attack on the mining vessel Axkl: a pirate vessel of the Dank Lords of Gulch. The surviving pirates have been delivered to Shinyuan to stand trial.

[Dateline: Newbury] Horde of naked androids reported roaming the outland steppes. Puritan regime at a loss regarding how to combat, asking for help.

[Dateline: Prospero Incline] Contact restored with deep space research station Xylio. Comm breakdown blamed on dark matter leak from station’s singularity reactor. Replacement crew on route.

[Dateline: Petram] The Vatican Chief Exorcist reported an increase in reported possessions, which he attributed to overindulgence in holoplays.

[Dateline: Exonym] Recent genetic enhancements of cyanobacteria improves typical terraforming speeds by 2.7%

<Pop Culture Parade> Couresse Ambassador repeats firm statement that no live mammals were consumed at the recent arts gala at the consulate.