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

mark_hackerfinal small

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


[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: New Lucknow] A damaged merchant vessel arrived with a cargo of cloning tanks, the crew reporting an attack by Galtian raiders. In political news, the Commissioner announced prototype testing origami engine stating: “We will play our part in ending the Great Silence.” Opposition leaders asked if it wise to spend limited resources on origami technology. Public outrage increases on social media.

[Dateline: Newcastle upon Eridanus] Eta Carinae selected to be as base planet for a gravitational observatory to look inside of Andromeda galaxy.

[Dateline: Shunyuan] The New Lucknow ambassador delivered a formal protest of Shunyuan’s control over the Flintarn belt saying “Stellar Opals always fuel conflicts. History is witness to it”

<Pop Culture Parade> Zero-point yoga literally twisting advocates and detractors out of shape. See what it could do for you and to you.


Character example: Belladonna Rose Esther Dahlia Ferncider

Belladonna Rose Esther Dahlia Ferncider (her friends call her Donna) grew up in a “traditionalist” agricultural commune. Well, traditionalist except that everyone had been genetically engineered to look like gnomes, halflings and dwarves of fantasy fiction. She is 3 feet tall with chibi-eyes, dagger ears, and hair like a fuzzy black lamb. She hated her rural life,and feels the space exploration will feed her wanderlust and take her far far away from the farm.

She’s a space pilot who breaks all the rules, fond of trick maneuvers in combat. Because of her appearance she sometimes has a hard time being taken seriously. She compensates by wearing nearly constantly wearing a flight jacket with emblazoned with patches from all the missions and expeditions she’s been on. She’s living the adventures she’s always wanted, so she typically has a broad smile and is happy and well liked, by humans and AIs alike.


  • High concept: pilot who breaks all the rules
  • Trouble: “Who needs backup?”
  • Aspect: need for speed
  • Aspect: button masher
  • Aspect: “What can I say, the AI likes me?”


  • +4 Piloting
  • +3 Acrobatics, Scan
  • +2 Blast, Intrusion, Making
  • +1 Cosplay, Might, Empathy, Networking


  • Trick Maneuver: when you succeed in evading damage using piloting, you opponent takes one stress, or two if you succeed with style.
  • Pecking, Ordered: In an unfamiliar social setting, you can immediately understand the power structures involved.
  • DPS: you can choose to at +2 to your melee attacks at the cost of you opponents inflicting +2 damage if they succeed in hitting you.


Character example: Gamal Bolívar Elnecash

Gamil Bolivar, starship engineer, is often seen carrying with a big wrench that he uses both to fix things and also to protect the weak.

He’s rather athletic, both enjoying the great outdoors and as the captain of a zero gravity water polo team.

He’s a shameless flirt, and seems to have a girl in every spaceport.


  • High concept: Starship Engineer with
    a Big Wrench
  • Trouble: “I protect the weak.”
  • Aspect: “Wait, I have another idea…”
  • Aspect: zero-gravity water polo champion
  • Aspect: a girl in every starport


  • +4 Making
  • +3 Survival, Combat Arts
  • +2 Blast, Acrobatics, Scan
  • +1 Cosplay, Might, Intrusion, Science (Physics)


  • The Great Outdoors once per session, you may reduce a moderate consequence to a minor one, by luxuriating in the great outdoors.
  • Not OSHA Compliant +2 to attacks you make in fights that take place in engineering related settings: workshops, factories, etc. Create an aspect to note the dangerous element of the setting giving you this edge.
  • Training montage once per session you can prepare for you next combat, gaining +1 to all melee skill checks in that scene