Friday, February 7, 2014

on Ashen Stars (pt1)

If you wandered in here off the Internet and are wondering about the last two posts, well it's all about the Ashen Stars RPG I'm running right now.  The Pioneer poster is a hack on some content from the Pulp-O-Mizer all slicked up to provide some theme for the adventure I'm running.  The News Net Nine feed is some feedback and more theme for the same.  Just like all the other little story snippets you see on here from my characters or the session notes I post.   I think it's a good way to provide some extra oomph for the games and I'm going to continue to do it.

I did however want to break a bit from the vanity press shtick and write a bit about the Ashen Stars system and the things I'm liking about it.  First thing, I really like the game and I like it more now than when I started liking it.  I played a one shot and then I ran a one shot and then I agonized over using Ashen Stars out of the box.  I thought about trying to tack the things I liked about it onto a Mongoose Traveller game or something.  I even looked a bit into the Traveller 2300 AD material they put out so I could avoid dealing with some of the deeper depths of Traveller.  I admit I was hesitant to run a longer game in Ashen Stars even though I liked the basic concept.   Mostly I was worried that the Gumshoe system was too simple to handle a decent fight and too 'meta' to let the players loose themselves in the story.  In the end I decided to stick with Ashen Stars as presented and I am glad that I did because both those apprehensions were mis-apprehensions.

Combat, it turns out, seems to work just fine.   It is dangerous and so the characters are motivated to interrupt it after the first punch gets thrown or avoid to fights altogether and thus the combats seem much more fluid and natural than the big production numbers you find in some systems.  The point spend mechanic isn't getting in the way and I don't notice players hording their points.  The NPCs certainly don't have a problem, and I've found that having the points lets me control the NPC reactions to a much finer tune - having an NPC be calculating or cautious or desperate is a simple matter of spending accordingly.  I don't feel I have to pull punches or make tactical errors like I might in a d20 system -I can just do acting.   I can have a NPC throw out a couple points and a roll as a cautious feint, or load up the points if they are out of control or perceive themselves to be in dire situation.

Also, the setting material is much better than it seems.  The Ashen Stars setting material is a deliberate homage to a lot of mainstream sci-fi tropes and that might seem a bit goofy when you are reading the material.  But it isn't goofy at all in actual play.  Players pick up the tropes and benefit from all that associated material without bumping into objects in the mirror or stumbling over canons.  I can load up a alley with a press gang of Tavik, and it is easy for the players to feel like they are in a dangerous place without making jokes about Klingons or any of the other baggage that label entails.  Same for the technology, everyone gets tethers and NLD mode and osmotic punches right away.  It works because we are all thinking about klingons or tricorders and hyposprays, however the name has been filed off and everyone is free to have them act as the campaign requires.  It's the sci-fi analogue of the Elf/Dwarf/Halfling thing is so represented in fantasy.  The setting therefore feels fresh and new, but still very familiar and there is less time needed to set up things for the payoffs.

I wanted to get into the economic system but I think this post is too long already now.
So this is now a two part review of Ashen Stars.


  1. Obviously I agree on the whole Gumshoe thing. I think it's a simple system that very cleverly generates story. The point horder phenomenon doesn't really become the issue people worry about. In fact, it kind of helps make sure that everyone gets their turn to shine. If player Ned used up all his gun skill points on the encounter with the morphobot, then Fred gets the opportunity to be the action hero and use his points in the next firefight.

    The setting is great. Easy to get into and lots of room to move. The only thing I wasn't sure of was the name "LAZERS". I thought it was too 80's cheesy. Now I like it.

    1. Lazers is a great name. Especially Lloyds Lazers - now those guys have it going on...