Hopepunk: Optimistic SF Gaming

Return to Stars optomistic indie rpg

In dark times games can fill us with joy and hope.

Return to the Stars is a narrative tabletop role playing game designed to make it easy to tell stories of exploration and adventure in an optimistic space opera setting. It is a game where you can paint a better future in bold primary colors.

There is a surplus of dystopian science fiction games and media.  Putting aside fiction, simply watching the new provides stories of  political conspiracies, mega-corporations, and fascist mobs.

We need to face hard truths  but we also need stores that show how humanity can be better in the future.  That enlightenment values, reason, cosmopolitanism, diversity, and humanism are a path forward.   As NPR pop culture critic Linda Holmes said of the movie Arrival: “There is great faith in these stories that the more we know, the more we grasp, and the more we turn around and communicate to others, the better off we are — and the better we are, too.”

The genre is Return to the Stars is hopepunk. It is a game where you can paint a better future in bold primary colors.

To quote Sun Ra:

“In some far off place
Many light years in space
I’ll wait for you.

Where human feet have never trod,
Where human eyes have never seen.
I’ll build a world of abstract dreams
And wait for you.”


The Dank Lords of Gulch

Prior to the great silence, Gulch was a paradise planet created to cater to every whim of an ironically named “collective” of merchants who were based there. When the Great Silence came, they certainly proved incapable of collective action, and their pleasure planet was reduced to a desolate wasteland in struggles for dominance and control.  Petty warlords led nasty, brutal and short lives preying on each other.

Unfortunately, they hadn’t quite managed to kill each other off before galactic travel was restored. Starships of the original merchants were fitted out for raiding, and a scourge of pirates set out to prey on an unprepared galaxy.

Galtian Trooper

The Science Skill

Return to Stars science

Science is the skill you use to find things out using detailed observations and experiments.  When you choose science as a skill, you should also choose a field of specialization such as biology or astrophysics.  You receive a bonus to your skill in you specialization and a penalty outside of it.  Science also implies a knowledge of scientific literature.

You can use science to do things like uncovering the cause of a disease, understanding when a supernova is likely to explode, or analyzing a crime scene for clues.

Sample Science Stunts

  • Technobabble you can use your scientific knowledge as a social attack (rolling against Will) to persuade or deceive others when they can’t evaluate your bogus explanation
  • That’s Funny once per session you can use science to succeed at failed attempt at notice.  Create an aspect that describes the scientific anomaly that drew your attention.

The setting of Return to the Stars!

1810670The Climate Wars of the 21st century nearly ended life on Earth. Humanity survived thanks to planetary engineering techniques and genetic enhancements that increased people’s intelligence, empathy and curiosity.

Peace, increased human capabilities, and optimism from overcoming the challenges of a century of conflict and environmental devastation led to a global renaissance in culture, science and technology.

Humankind soon spread through the solar system: terraforming Mars and Venus, and modifying and enhancing life to thrive in varied environments.

The development of stellar drives enabled the exploration and colonization of the Local Interstellar Cloud. Second generation drives extended that reach considerably, but the impact of these technologies was dwarfed by discovery of hyperspace topology and origami engines. A hyperspace beacon, built at enormous effort out the planet Mars itself, enabled near instantaneous navigation through folded space. The entire galaxy was in reach, and a galactic civilization was born.

With easy access to countless worlds and untold resources, humanity sorted itself into like-minded communities, with novelty relishing traders and tourists moving freely between them. The game starts in one such community, a collection of nearby systems known as the Convention Authority, founded to celebrate the most important pop cultural works of the 20th and 21st centuries: science fiction, fantasy, and gaming.

Suddenly and without warning, the stellar beacon at Mars went silent, rendering every origami engine ship inoperable instantaneously and ending galactic civilization.

The systems of the Convention Authority were able to stay united and in contact, because fans had maintained a replica fleet of early starships.

After a century of effort, a long range starship has been built. Its purpose: to return to the stars, and reconnect with lost civilizations of humanity.