Poor Amongst the Stars is a setting for Malandros that takes the players below decks on a generational starship. It’s written by myself and is now available on DTRPG.
The core of the game is setting up the generational ship that the characters will live and die on. To flesh this post out more from being a three sentence advert, I’ll talk more about the design decisions I made when writing the ship setup guide.
My first decision was to avoid fixing the nature of the ship. In my experience, player investment in a game is increased the more input they have when building the world their character inhabits. Building my own scenario would involve taking that away from my audience and then having to spend time telling them about what I’d created. The other extreme would have been to have provided nothing which would have made for an empty book.
Why the ship is out here colours every other decision the players will make in building the ship. In choosing between Discovery, Colonisation and Evacuation the players define the key values of the ship’s populace. Is it all about preparation for building a new civilisation on a distant world or is the survival of the species in doubt? Additional options I discarded included Pilgrimage and Invasion. I felt pilgrimage was just a subset of Colonisation. The ship being a military expedition intent on battling a far off threat was rejected because I wanted the game to be focused, like Malandros, on the interactions between characters rather than a looming external threat.
When talking about the ship itself, I wasn’t interested in its actual dimensions or shape. The game is mostly going to be taking place on just one deck, so the important thing was how the ship feels to the characters and how that influences personal interactions. Is the ship made of narrow corridors packed with people? Is it a huge flying dome with vast empty spaces to get lost in?
I made technology important but decided to keep the details vague. Ideally, technology shouldn’t be a solution to a Poor Amongst the Star’s character’s problems, as with Malandros it’s through interaction with characters that the story progresses. The only point of detail I chose to make was the gravity. Scene setting and character movement descriptions can be given a nice science fiction flavour if gravity isn’t the same as on Earth.
Needs and Scarcity
Talking about how the needs of the ship’s inhabitants are met does two things. Firstly it helps the players to form ideas of what jobs (if any) their character might have aboard ship and what roles important NPCs might have. Secondly, it helps with small talk and scene details. Player immersion is improved by a character flavouring their protein paste at the start of a meal or searching for a particular named luxury.
When detailing the resources available, I original had a further level of hardship titled Hold Your Breath. Beyond just rationing food and energy, this ship has problems supplying breathable air. I removed it as I felt the near constant threat of asphyxiation would distract from a character driven narrative.
The player characters aren’t important members of the crew. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t interact with the people that keep the ship working. What matters most here is how the crew are organised and how they interact with the passengers. A crew that has sovereign authority over the passengers will lead to very different relationships compared to slaves under command of a civilian council. With Poor Amongst the Stars about the far below decks, who the captain actually is is almost incidental. Their existence is included because like all forms of government, their polices will affect the poorest of society the hardest.
If you’ve any questions about Poor Amongst the Stars or suggestions for ship setup questions, please leave a comment.