Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dawning Star Ten Years On

So for the past few weeks I've been working on rewriting the history for Dawning Star while noodling around various bits and pieces of Fate Core to see where I want to go with it. When I say rewriting I don't mean making huge changes; the core story is the same, I'm tweaking some things here and there to make the setting make more sense. I made contact with the velin happen earlier, changed the nature of what kept the settlers on Eos close to the planet, etc. For the most part minor stuff. The big new stuff has been additions to the setting as we're moving the timeline ahead five years and introducing a whole bucket of new stuff to the setting; stuff that takes Dawning Star in new directions that that I think are much more interesting than the previous version. I think I've actually ended up putting political allegory into my game about humans trying to survive on another planet.

So some background with those not familiar with Dawning Star, it originally was a d20 Future setting about a cold sleep evacuation ship from 23rd century Earth ending up on a distant planet, Eos, after getting separated from the rest of an evacuation fleet fleeing the destruction of Earth by a comet. The fleet was separated by an alien stargate type device built by a long dead alien civilization that threw the fleet across the galaxy, and the Dawning Star ended up near the capital planet of that dead civilization. The game was sort of a pulp mashup of Firefly and D&D; mixed high tech and frontier tech, riding horses with laser guns, and exploring ancient ruins looking for hyper-advanced tech from the previous inhabitants of the planet. The sound track would be a mixture of Johnny Cash and Afro-Celt Sound System. It was a pretty morally clear game; there were good guys, there were bad guys, all pretty black and white. As an example it turns out there was a group of human-ish aliens on Eos called the velin that were pretty much stone age tech, and instead of abusing them as usually happens with indigenous people, the colonists of Dawning Star were fair with them all the away around. I guess you could say humans learned something in the centuries between now and then, but a Western scifi game with a Native American analog that pretty much plays into a lot of Native American stereotypes...well, not exactly the best plan in hindsight. I don't know if it counts as cultural appropriation since they're purple skinned humanoids who ride lizards, but if you look at the setting their place in it is pretty clear. They're about two steps from Tonto-ing it up.

As the setting expanded through the second sourcebook, Helios Rising about the other planets in the system, this mashup nature was maintained and every planet sort of had it's own genre + science fiction mashup. If Eos was Western scifi, C'thalk was Samurai scifi and Thres was Fantasy scifi, etc. Dawning Star was very much a product of where I was at the time and the influences present in my life, which was almost ten years ago now. I had just started working freelance full time and had big plans for it being awesome. I was writing for realsies now. I was elated to have moved out of New York City after three years (did not like the city, dearly loved and miss the friends though). But now I'm working on Dawning Star and its coming out very different. Everyone's motivations are more suspect. No one's totally a good guy. Self interest is everywhere. This is explicitly spelled out by characters in in-play writings, such as admitting the evacuation fleet brought nukes in case they had to take a new home world by force and wipe out some other species. That sort of hard edged realism and pragmatism has crept into a lot of the game; the idea that people in the setting sleep better at night thinking they're the good guys, but are totally ready to do terrible things if they have to in order to survive. It's a game about numerous species on the edge of extinction, so this seems apt. The faction-camps in original Dawning Star were human settlements that were nebulously up to no good and plotted against the Dawning Star Republic, the main human settlement on Eos, because...they were bad. Pretty much. Their motivations were terrible. Okay, one is being mind controlled by an alien relic, but the rest had no real motivation. So they've become sort of self interested libertarians who are motivated by a desire to escape the government of the Dawning Star Republic and its growing and corrupt bureaucracy. They're right in that the Republic is flawed, but theire alternative may be no better.

As I said, original Dawning Star was pretty much Firefly plus D&D; this version is becoming more District 9, BSG, and Mass Effect. One of the big events in the moving of the time line is the introduction of a second human evacuation ship to Eos along with an alien ship carrying millions of refugees from dozens of alien species, the two ships having spent the last five decades together fighting their way through hostile alien space to get to Eos. Now a colony that could barely feed it's own people has millions more to worry about, some of which they can't communicate with and don't even breathe the same air. The tension meter has been cranked way up as the Republic gives the newcomers citizenship, but the newcomers will be able to completely dominate the upcoming election through sheer numbers. Political parties have formed on both sides of that question. All of the aliens are the last of their people, so there's a moral imperative to save them, but when there's just not enough food and resources to go around what do you do? Who can you trust out of all these aliens and their strange religions, philosophies, etc? Especially since many of these new human colonists are actually more loyal to the aliens they've been fighting alongside for fifty years then the humans who were just chilling on Eos during that time. That's a big question in the new Dawning Star. The Dawning Star Republic is not just some settled, high tech place the players can go back to after raiding an alien dungeon; it's a overcrowded, dirty city surrounded by ghettos and camps with every variety of inhuman creatures lurking in the corners just looking for some organic material they can actually digest or another methane capsule before their breather dies out.

Sure, there's still ancient alien threats to face, strange intelligences from other dimensions, and all the other fun stuff that was in Dawning Star, but there's a lot more weight to it now. I'm hoping I can stretch this out through all the setting, though I do think the other planets had more complicated societies to begin with. It feels like now I'm writing from a very different place than I was on original Dawning Star. I've moved several times, almost gone bankrupt, become a father, seen more of the conflicts that are part of human nature. Have vs have nots. Racism. Never ending war. Government surveillance vs privacy. All those have much more part in Dawning Star, in addition to changes to reflect how science fiction has changed in ten years (the lack of any real transhumanism elements in the original game is sort of shameful now). Hopefully it makes it better.

Not sure why I felt the need to write all this, but it's been nagging on me since I got started on the revisions. I guess I just wanted to warn people that Dawning Star is going to be different, but hopefully better.   


  1. The Velin kind of bothered me, so I am glad they are getting a bit of a change. Most of the other additions to the setting sound welcome as well. The faction camps always felt a bit odd - most human societies, even colonies in hostile lands, aren't really organized that way. Just having them be space libertarians doesn't add much either (and I apologize if this sounds super-critical; that is not my intent).

    It sounds like where you may be going with the faction-camps is in a different direction: maybe these are the proto-parties formed by the different peoples from the two incoming evacuation ships. Some might be entirely alien (for those aliens who can live on the planet) but I imagine a number might be species-mixed. So you'd have a core city with the original settlers, and then rings of camps/ghettos with different newcomer groups. I imagine that some Velin might settle in these ring suburbs too, at least in small numbers.