This is a game about those old scifi movies where earth space ships explore the unknown of the universe. Earth ships manned by earth crew and the occasional humanoid alien embark from earth space and travel the frontier of space. Take on the role as ship leader one of the five command branches: Command, Medical, Security, Science, and Engineering and let the stories unfold in spectacular technicolor. It is a LUPOS game.
You can find online playtest records of this game on the wiki here: These Are The Voyages.
First, you must define the ship itself. Starting with the GM, each player adds some particular asset of the ship in turn. Each asset is a general description of the capabilities of the ship. Once those assets are recorded, the group decides on the name of the vessel and its class. Here is a sample ship:
The GM then assigns two attributes to these assets. The GM picks one asset that is Notorious, meaning the ship has a reputation across the universe for it, and one asset that is Problematic, meaning it is likely to cause the crew difficulty during missions. The class can be any of: Monitor, Cutter, Corvette, Frigate, Destroyer, Cruiser, Battlecruiser, Flagship, Explorer, and Dreadnought. You can picture this as a scale of size and strength, from small to large. Normally the ships of the game fall into the range of Frigate to Explorer. If you want you could roll a d6 and take: 1, Frigate; 2, Destroyer; 3, Cruiser; 4, Battlecruiser; 5, Flagship; 6, Explorer. All ships also have a five part situation track, which counts the situations they experience. Each five situations gives them a moment, and this moment is a dramatic test that lets the ship upgrade further. The result of the dramatic test is one more asset for the ship to add to it's record.
Second, each player creates two characters: one officer and one second. The officer is the ship's lead officer in one of each of these sections: Command, Engineering, Medical, Security, and Science. There may be no overlap, so players must decide among themselves who will play each officer. The second is from another section, they can't be from the same one as player's officer. Each of these characters can be male of female, and are defined the same way. Each character has a name, a nickname, a rank, a look, an asset, and a vulnerability. The rank of the lead officer is usually Commander, except for Command which is Captain. Seconds can have the ranks of: Crewman, Ensign, or Lieutenant, except in Command which can only be: Lieutenant or Commander. The only level of rank that can't issue orders to another is Crewman. The asset of a character is just like the ship, a general description of something that is impressive about the person. The vulnerability of the character is a defect or flaw, physical or mental, that could be exploited and hinder the character's ability to take action.
All characters have five physical health squares, five mental health squares, and five confidence squares. Each character gets a special ability they may use in play as well. For the officers, these are fixed, but for the seconds the player may select from this list. Only one of these selectable powers can be in the game at a time, so players must make sure they don't overlap.
All characters also have a five part situation track, which counts the situations they experience. Each five situations gives them a moment, and this moment is a personal scene that lets the character develop further. The result of the moment is one more asset for the character to add to their sheet.
Third, the Captain selects another officer as their First Officer. The GM then selects a player that is neither the First Officer, or Captain, as the Foil. The Foil manages the details of the ship and the character's lives that the Captain and First Officer do not. They are the power trio of the game, and they manage the microcosm that is the ship. Note, the foil is a role at the table, not in the fiction of the game.
Outside the microcosm of the ship is the GM's territory, they control that part of the game universe directly. Lets show the process of playing the game in some detail.
The GM sets the initial stage as so: The enterprise moves into a high orbit above the barren world of Ceti Alpha Six. Then the Captain adds in mission details to the stage: Captain's Log: We are arriving at Ceti Alpha Six as scheduled for routine sensor calibration. After this the First Officer describes the crew's general readiness and attitude, The crew of the Enterprise, weary and bored, laze about the ship haphazardly. Even the Captain isn't immune from the humdrum monotony of these routine missions.
Now the GM returns to the forefront, creating an interesting scene that will set the play in motion. This is the hard part, as they have to take the cue from the Captain and First Officer's lead, including their details into this first setup scene. The GM may offer a general idea to the foil though, and let them set the scene instead. Normally the foil decides the details of the characters in play who aren't the player's officers or seconds, such as the other crew on the ship. The foil does not have control over character not of the ship however.
The GM sets the scenes, meaning location and intent and so on. Many scenes may not create situations, and instead just unfold the story in a way that will eventually introduce a situation. The Captain has control of the mission details, except they can't change established details unless the GM agrees. The First Officer chooses the actions of the crew who are active in the mission, and the Foil controls the rest of the crew outside that small number. The rest of the players can play choose to earn a die if they are nominated by the GM to play an Outsider, a character the GM controls that is present in the scene. Eventually though, a situation will occur.
In a acene the GM controls the characters that outside the ship, and crew that no other player controls. Each player can take on the the role of their officer or second, or another crewman of their choice. This should be handled organically, many the group decides who comprises a scene. Scenes aren't situations, so remember they don't fill a square on the situation track of the character.
First, the GM must establish the parameters of the situation. This is done with keywords. First the GM decides if the situation is going towards resolving the mission, if so its a mission situation. Next the GM attaches any of the following: dangerous, harrowing, unknown, dramatic, or shiptied. Each of these changes some of the rules of the situation. A dangerous situation is one that will, once per round, create a threat to the characters present. A harrowing situation is like dangerous, but when an action fails there is a threat roll in response. An unknown situation has a strong element of mystery which can be resolved for dice. A dramatic situation has tension between characters, which could result in a battle or other confrontation. Shiptied situations involve the ship itself, perhaps in addition to the action or perhaps that is the sum or it. The latter means a bridge scene with everyone playing their officer. Handling situations, keywords, and so on is explained more in Black of Space GM's Toolbox.
After you setup keywords, you establish advantage for the situation. Advantage are a pool of red 10 sided dice in play. When a situation starts, each officer present creates one advantage, so one is placed into the pool. If it is shiptied, the advantage pool grows one for each applicable asset of the ship, as decided by the GM and Foil (roll off if agreements can't be made).
The First officer can bring in up to three crew into any scene that are mission active, for the cost of one advantage. The Foil can bring up to three other crew as the GM allows, if an alert status is set these crew can be active as the Captain wishes. The captain can set an alert status (any type) for the cost of one advantage for shiptied actions, but gains a die in return. When an alert is set, the captain goes first in each round and then the first officer.
The threat of a situation is the result of a die roll. This ranges from one to five, as all rolls do. A threat roll result means loss of a character's mental or physical health squares, you just fill them in. When a character has all five filled of one track filled, they are disabled and are considered badly hurt or mentally unfit. An officer may elect to change the nature of a square loss when they are hit, once per hit. All medical characters can stabilize with rolls, removing their roll result from the character's health loss (open the square). Command may elect to sacrifice one advantage to cancel a threat roll against any character, but only before its made. An office that is not disabled may discard their action to catch their breath and regain a health square.
When a roll is needed the GM calls for it and the player makes it. They roll a single d10, plus other dice as they can earn. If their character is an officer and their area applies, they earn a die. If the character has a fitting asset, a die is earned. If the command allows, advantage may be spent as bonus dice. Players can add their dice to a roll as well, but keep in mind these are six-siders and much more valuable (likely to create outcome). If a character chooses to act without hesitation, they earn a bonus die, but they also suffer confidence threat if they fail and possible other issues (there are only sometimes that the fleet rewards such brazen actions). The player takes the best result of all dice rolled. The outcome of a roll is the amount shown on the dice, except only five may be earned. Dice that come up six or more don't count at all for earning outcome.
After the success of the character's action is determined, the GM rolls nothing for easy actions or situations. They roll 2d6 challenge dice for hard situations and 2d8 for even worse ones. They take the highest die, and compare that to the character's outcome. If that is higher the action fails to earn any result. If both dice are higher than the action, that triggers a threat roll or worse: a staggering blow!
The situation is resolved when the players earn five outcome total against it, as each fills in a situation square. However, for each player beyond one in the situation, give it two more squares. If all characters are disabled before it is resolved, the GM describes how that situations ends badly and then sets an even worst one in motion.
The medical officer and science officer can create features for situations. These are helping or hinder details that give or take dice away from the rolls made against it, as the creating player sees fit. A helping feature always gives a die, but only when the creating player chooses. A hindering feature always takes a die, but only when the creating player chooses. Why would they choose to hinder? Simple, these dice all come from a feature pool. When each feature is created, one die goes in this pool. When a hindering feature activates it puts a die in this pool, and when a helping one activates, it takes one from the pool. A sort of balance must be maintained.
This is the true power of the Foil. Attributes are fictional details that enrich the game and engage the imagination. These are concepts applied to characters and the ships that spark the imagination. The ship already has Notorious and Problematic attributes, but the Foil can create them for any character. They do this at their whim, but never creating more than one per session of play. An attribute for a character could be like “cassanova of the galaxy” for instance.
This is the job of all players, but a lot rides on the GM. First they need to use the power of attributes. Bring the game to life by creating fiction from an attribute. Take the ship's notorious attribute and decide how that might spark an interesting situation, and so on. When an attribute is embraced by the GM this way, situations get an extra advantage, but they don't get the use of the attribute. Second the players need to read and learn parts or all of the Earth Fleet Officer's Handbook which describes standard operations (and game rules for these operations) of the earth fleet.
As officers progress, earning their moments, they also earn new abilities. They may take on ability listed from any other officer, but only ever one from each. They may also elect to take one from the following list. If they elect to take an ability, they do not earn an asset as well.