Review: The Stars Are Fire (Cypher System)

Product: The Stars Are Fire (Print & PDF)
Author: Bruce R. Cordell
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
Summary: Expanding upon the “Science Fiction” genre chapter in the Cypher System Rulebook, this added supplement gives you all the tools to take sci-fi games in the Cypher System to the next level. It contains plotting advice, breakdowns of the genre, additional rules, random tables, adventure seeds, creatures, cyphers, and artifacts. The supplement ends with a full Sci-fi campaign setting, including one adventure and two Cypher Shorts. It’s a 224 page sci-fi framework.
Snap Judgement for Busy Wyverns: Running sci-fi of any sort in Cypher System? Get this book. It’s an incredible must have for sci-fi of any level, from retro-future, alternate history all the way out to galaxies far away with space wizards and interdimensional threats. We love this book, and feel it should be the gold standard for MCG White Books.

What is it?
This book is 224 pages, divided into three sections: 143 pages of Sci-fi Worldbuilding advice (this includes 110 pages of “cypherized” rules), 64 pages describing “The Revel” Campaign Setting, and an adventure and cypher shorts spanning 17 pages. You can pick up the pdf for $19, or the hardback for $50. A combo purchase runs $56. It does require the Cypher System Rulebook to use – it does not contain the basic Cypher System Rules.

Even before we get to Part 1, there’s Chapter 1 and 2 – general advice on how to play an RPG in a sci-fi setting. The advice for playing in a sci-fi setting is gold, top to bottom. We really feel we learned a ton from this book on playing in a sci-fi setting. Every section we were nodding our head….from “Exposition as a Tool for Good” to “Small Stories Remain Crucial”.

Then we really get going in Part 1, world building and expanded Cypher System rules. Start here when building a sci-fi campaign – really applicable to any system. The best advice is to really decide on your tech level – because everything else in this book divides things out into these technology tiers. Every listing will indicate whether the tech is Contemporary, Advanced, or Fantastic. We think this was a great choice – cutting down the decision space is crucial for worldbuilding, and really helps fight the overwhelming feeling GM’s can get. We get a few paragraphs for pretty much any sci-fi setting imaginable, from Accidental Travel to Virtual Reality. Many of them come with a short, micro-setting or adventure seed. Each just oozes with mystery and imagination. And then Chapter 5 is a 100 entry table for “Conflicts of the Future” – basically campaign seeds! These are amazing, and did not exist in Godforsaken. Chapter 6 is all about how things are “different” in space – we get tons of micro-ruling guidance for situations like zero-G or high acceleration, radiation or vacuum exposure. Optional rules for Hard and Harder Science Fiction – space is always trying to kill you. There’s tables for GM Intrusions in vacuum, space suit malfunctions, high-G maneuvers, space hazards and more – and then we get to vehicular and spacecraft combat!

Spacecraft combat is greatly extended here, with additional roles for ships operations, GM Intrusions and more. They’re detailed and interesting – we haven’t tried them, but hope to soon!

Another optional rule section covers Psionics, if your sci-fi setting veers into the Fantastic space-fantasy realm. Post-humans get a section, some additional minor/major effects tables…salvage rules from derelict spaceships….Black Holes! Solar Flares! Asteroid Belts! FTL malfunctions! Do you need ideas for handling soft, strong and post-singularity AI? It’s here! Kardashev levels are discussed, aliens or no aliens? On and on – absolutely every page is a gem. Everything is covered, including advice on putting all these facets together.

Vehicles & Spacecraft are next, all grouped by type and tech level. And then rounding out Part 1 – Creatures & NPCs. I won’t even go into these because this is getting long, but suffice to say – they are deeply interesting and imaginative creations.

Part 2 describes the campaign setting – The Revel. Without saying too much, the Revel is a future Solar System setting, where the Earth has become closed off due to “The Event”, the Moon is ruled by a strong AI, and FTL drives have just come onto the scene. Think something like The Expanse, but a little more advanced. You have descriptions of each faction (Luna! Venus! Mars! Outer Planets! The Big Five Megacorps! Far Flung Worlds!), their key NPCs, domains and motivations. Each faction/locale has some adventure seeds too. We found this campaign setting to be deeply compelling and interesting. We want to explore it, immediately. We want more of The Revel.

Part 3 is an adventure in The Revel, “Salvage over Saturn”. It seems to be pretty good, and is on my short list to run some players through. The Cypher Shorts are “Prison Break” and “Alien Planet” – both really good frameworks to run a quick adventure from.

What makes it good?
That was a lot of words to describe this book – what makes it good? A bit of everything. The book structure is excellent. The advice is fantastic. The toolbox materials presented are extremely useful. The campaign setting is imaginative and compelling – we feel no need to look elsewhere for one. The writing is clear, and we loved the inclusion of quotes from scientists, sci-fi writers, and fictional in-universe personalities. There’s some really cool, classic sci-fi creatures here – god-like AIs, Grey Goo, Space Whales, Terminators, and more. And of course, stunning art throughout.

How do I use it?
Since this is not a stand-alone, you’ll need the Cypher System Rulebook along with it. After that, create some characters and get going! Play in The Revel, or grab some other setting that intrigues you. This book can support anything from a retro-alternate-history setting like For All Mankind out to things like The Expanse or Star Trek…and then beyond into the fantastic like Star Wars or Starfinder. Maybe your players want to be a scrappy crew like on the Firefly…maybe they want to be ensigns on the Lower Decks of a Federation Starship…maybe they want to be searching for Jedi. File off the serial numbers and do it.

Honestly? After being moderately disappointed with Godforsaken and its little problems…We was beyond pleased with The Stars are Fire. Every page was interesting. Every part of The Revel was compelling. We came up with a dozen campaign ideas, and that wasn’t even including the really cool adventure seeds and campaign seeds included in this book. We’re sorry – we didn’t really find any downsides. (OK, not that sorry.)

Final Thoughts
There’s a number of reasons that transitioning from a traditional fantasy game, like D&D, to a fantasy Cypher System game is going to face speed bumps. The systems are just different enough to make certain things feel foreign or clunky, if you try to replicate them. Sometimes the best way to get a feel for a new system to play in an entirely separate genre from the one you’re most familiar or comfortable with. So play some Sci-fi, or space fantasy. Do a bunch of one-shots. Run a campaign. Fall in love with a crew, a planet, a fuzzy alien or a ship. Find your path among the stars, and remember – they can’t take the sky from you.

Recommend or Not?
Full Recommend. We love this book, everything about it. We wish we had a physical copy instead of just a PDF. We are a veteran of fantasy going way back, and never really played the giants of sci-fi roleplaying for very long. Stars Without Number came close to lighting our warp drive, but The Revel kicked it over into full Zefram Cochrane territory. We’re ready for First Contact.

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