Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Sunday 24 September 2023

Tales from Spaaace...! (Part One)

For fans of Tales from the Loop – Roleplaying in the '80s That Never Was and Things from the Flood, the roleplaying games based on the paintings of Simon Stålenhag, as well as other titles from Free League Publishing, there is the Free League Workshop. Much like the DM’s Guild for Dungeons & Dragons, this is a platform for creators to publish and distribute their own original content, which means that they also have a space to showcase their creativity and their inventiveness, to do something different, but ultimately provide something which the Game Master can bring to the table and engage her players with. Such is the case with Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One takes the kids out of the Loop and throws them into deep space. It takes the traditional stories of Tales from the Loop, which contrasts the wonder of strange technologies and mysteries with difficult, often fraught home lives, away from Sweden and Mälaröarna, the islands of Lake Mälaren, the site of the Facility for Research in High Energy Physics—or ‘The Loop’—to the west of Stockholm, and sets those tensions in an alternate timeline, very far from Earth. In this timeline, at the end of World War 2, Maximillian von Grau, a German scientist took advantage of the Nazi desire for more wonder weapons to develop an engine powerful enough to get a probe to Proxima Centauri. No one believed he succeeded, until pictures were received on Earth in 1977. There the story would have ended, but for eccentric entrepreneur billionaire Elton Dors. He offered to fund further research and development by von Grau. With the new engine, developed by the German and known as the Max Drive, Dors then built The Argo, the world’s first interstellar starship, capable of travelling to Proxima Centauri in thirty years, with its crew and passengers—the first two hundred colonists on a whole new world—in deep sleep. The Argo is regarded as the eighth wonder of the world and it is aboard this vessel that Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One begins.

The kids are the children of the crew and the passengers—or colonists—aboard The Argo. They and everyone else aboard the starship wake up and very quickly there is a lot of hustle and bustle around the children, though it is not immediately obvious why. They are quickly taken to the ship’s school room where their teacher, Miss Lovely, can keep an eye on them. It soon becomes apparent that The Argo has not reached Proxima Centauri, having stopped in deep space, and that one of the children aboard is missing. Could the two be related? Well, the answer is, of course they are. Exactly how is another matter, but the plot is relatively straightforward, whereas getting to solve it is not. The biggest obstacle for the kids is not the mystery itself, but getting round the adults to investigate the mystery, and then once that is revealed, solve the problem at its heart. The adults are preoccupied with the technical problems aboard The Argo, so will either ignore the kids or send them back to the supervision of Miss Lovely, who is definitely not as nice as her name suggests. The Game Master should have some fun roleplaying her.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is a solid one-session scenario. It makes use of a range of different skills, so every kid should have an opportunity to shine. If it is missing anything, it is advice on creating kids for this scenario. They would still use the same rules from Tales from the Loop, but some questions related to who their parents are aboard The Argo and what they think of travelling to another star system could have helped set the scene. Perhaps a set of pre-generated kids could help with that? The only real issue with the scenario is with its aftermath. Even solving the problem is underwritten, and by comparison, the cost of failure is glossed over. This is severely disappointing, since the cost of failure in Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is a tragedy that is very likely to be emotionally devastating for the kids as well as the adults. It may well be campaign ending were the Game Master to want to run the sequel to Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One.

Where Tales of the Loop captured the feel of Sweden of the eighties, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One instead captures the feel of positive, even homely Science Fiction of the period, whether that is Space: 1999 or Star Trek: The Next Generation. Yet, there is a sly dig at its retro-optimism with everything being a triumph of design over practicality and it is not too difficult to work out who Elton Dors is a parody of.

Physically, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is well presented, but needs a slight edit here and there. The artwork is excellent, whilst the overview of The Argo gives an idea of the layout rather than specifics.

Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One is undeveloped in places, but contains everything that the Game Master and her players have to roleplay a mystery scenario in space from their kids’ perspective. It can be run as the first part of a campaign or it would work as a convention one-shot. Overall, Deep Space Blues – Journey To The Stars: Part One proves that some things do not change, no matter how far you are away from home, it is just a case that the consequences of failure are bad—really bad.

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