Imagine, if you will, that you are an escaped convict from an intergalactic prison. You and your fellow escaped convicts have managed to take control of a spaceship of mysterious origins. You are now wandering alone in the vast universe with no one but with other conflicts you might not trust, searching for a place where you can be safe, a place you can call home.
That is the basic premise of Vast and Starlit, a role-playing game that basically takes up four large business cards if you include all the expansions. No game master is required to play, which is something of a theme for the games that I have been looking at lately, but you will need plenty of imagination and the ability to collaborate.
Vast and Starlit uses a Troupe System, which was first described in Ars Magica. It means players take turns being the focal character in a scene while everyone else handles the setting and all the other characters. So, you could call in GM by committee. It still means that one of the biggest reasons to use a GM-free system still applies, no one has to spend hours outside of the game setting everything up.
Like Astrorobbers by the same designer and The Name of God which Vast and Starlit helped influence, a scene ends when there's some kind of tough decision that needs to be made, particularly when someone could get hurt. One of the players sets up the consequences of that choice and you move on to a new focal player and a new scene.
Which isn't a bad core mechanic. It keeps everyone involved and encourages creativity. It also, interestingly enough, doesn't involve any random elements, like rolling a die or drawing a card. I've gotten to the point in looking at quirky RPGs where I take that in stride.
But that's not what makes Vast and Starlit interesting. Oh, no. The system has a whole bunch of smaller systems to help you develop alien races and worlds and technology, as well as handling long term conflict and relationships.
Which is kind of impressive, considering how short the whole thing is.
The various world building mechanics are really what is interesting for me about the game. It takes a very round robin approach. For instance, when creating aliens, players will take turns choosing animals and cultures while other players choose aspects of other players' choices. Not design by committee but refinement by assembly line. It's a system that shouldn't get bogged down and should come up with something interesting.
I really like the idea of world building like that. There is a definite process, so you're not just all sitting around, hoping to start brainstorming. It gets everyone involved but no one gets to veto anyone else. That last bit is big. Ideas keep getting built up, not torn down.
Vast and Starlit definitely has some potential. I can even picture being able to play it as a campaign rather than as a one shot, even though I'm not looking for campaign play right now. The theme reminds me of the start of Blake's 7 or the first couple seasons of Farscape but there's a lot you can do within it. When the universe is your cold and uncaring playground, the stars are the limit.
That said, I'm more interested in trying out The Name of God. I think it has a tighter structure and more tightly interlocking systems. When so much of a game is free for, what structures you do have are very important. But that's just me.
Vast and Starlit opens up a lot of creative doors in just a few pages.