Monday, July 15, 2024
Coming SoonTabletop

Stardust, a transmedia sci-fi saga, enters its final week on Kickstarter

Stardust is a transmedia sci-fi property from Sublight Games, an independent American studio founded and led by trans women. This project is nearing its Kickstarter goal but needs help to get over the line by Tuesday, July 16th!

At its core, Stardust, is a Newtonian tabletop space fighter wargame reminiscent of BattleTech and Blood Red Skies. This wargame is in beta playtesting right now, and can be picked up for free via Tabletop Simulator.

Two other pillars of Stardust exist: the Story Module and the RPG Module. Together, these three connected Stages comprise the stacked rocket that allows Stardust to become a fully crowdfunded tabletop property.

Ashlee Rinn Jensdottir lives on the edge of society, and of space. Facing discrimination and hardship at the hands of a transphobic culture on the ground, Ashlee resolves to embrace and protect the skies. It’s a dangerous and unpredictable profession with zero guarantee of surviving to see the next payday. When she and her crew of misfits stumble across a pilot in distress, their world suddenly gets a whole lot bigger… and far more perilous.

Ashlee and the crew of the interdiction vessel Windsong set in motion a series of events that will permit the daring to roam the stars. In other words, she is the vanguard of a new generation of Voidfarers. Yourself included, should the stars be your destiny.

Stardust serves as the first glimpse of a vast transmedia universe including a trilogy of novels penned by Faith K. Falkner, full-cast audiobooks and audio dramas, 3D animated shorts, and tabletop and digital wargames.

The current Kickstarter campaign funds the Story Module, also called the First Stage. At this time, the team are offering limited-run hardcover and paperback novels, a full-cast enhanced audiobook complete with sound effects and music, and animated skits that set the Stardust universe in motion.

For those fans who wish to become Voidfarers—either as a Kickstarter reward tier or for a $5/month membership—there are additional awards for assisting the team in their push to polish the wargame. Tabletop products are meant to last, and the team want to get it right the first time.

To find out more about Stardust, I spoke to the Narrative Producer, Faith (she/they) about the project:

Robin: What was the inspiration for the story and desire to produce a tabletop game?

Faith: The narrative seeds of Stardust were planted six years ago now, as I watched three-hundred-meter-long freighters pass in and out of the Duluth Harbor Canal. These ships came from as far away as the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, shuttling all sorts of raw materials: wheat, corn, iron, limestone, etc., in bulk. Such a sight gave me new perspectives on human progress; namely that trade (for all its political faults) is a form of cooperation, and that it’s only by the grace of integrity and reciprocity that humanity rises to face its greatest challenges.

At the same time, I was fighting my own demons. I had struggled with my gender identity from adolescence. My fears about coming out were well-founded—it was about the time that right-wing politicians were setting their sights on transgender people for daily scapegoating. I had long-standing medical concerns that made me doubt I could even have a shot at becoming who I really wanted to be. That is, who I could only be. These were early inspirations for the story.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, after coming out as trans, I teamed up remotely with Rosalind Muchmore (she/her), now Lead Game Designer on Stardust. She had a prototype for a game I really enjoyed, but wasn’t sure how to make an entire world out of it. We began talking, founded Sublight Games together, and the rest is a history of creative drive and hard work.

Why was it important for you to feature a transgender lead?

As a writer, I feel it’s important for me to try my absolute best to represent the vast fabric of humanity positively. LGBTQIA2+ characters are so often subject to the “Bury Your Gays” trope of Hollywood-led pop culture. Very often, queer characters are made to not matter to the grander story, so that their queerness can be cut out for certain authoritarian markets, global and domestic. This is much less of a problem in indie circles, but it persists.

The story of Windsong and her captain is a story of a found family. Ashlee undergoes a unique journey that sees her become one of the most powerful non-player characters in the world of Stardust. By making Ashlee’s transness a key component of the story of Stardust, we are claiming trans relevance in storytelling itself. Not in afterthought franchise spin-offs, but in a main, throughline story arc everyone will witness. For queer representation to reach some kind of parity in media, queer people must be allowed to run the show.

At the table, Stardust is not a queer game. It’s a tactical tabletop roleplaying game. It’s difficult to make a queer game mechanic. But we are signaling to the playerbase and the market at large what our values as a small business are, and what stories we want to tell (and soon enough, hear from our fans).

We want to be unambiguous about this: transgender characters exist because transgender people have and will always exist. Implied transness is well and good, but it’s just not enough when facing down a deluge of animosity from some political corners. We need explicit representation. People need to know we have the same hopes and dreams they do, and that we are in this together. We are all stardust, spinning on a little rock in a vast void. Not every example of entertainment needs queer representation, as if there’s some mathematical formula to be met. That would be boring. But where it makes sense, and where it would be welcome, we should have our own heroes to celebrate.

What steps have you taken to ensure authenticity in your storytelling, particularly around the experiences of the trans lead character?

The three leads at Sublight Games are trans women, as are a few of our beta readers. I harness my own experiences, but also do quite a lot of research and outreach. I gather up as many anecdotes on lived experience as I can. There’s no one way to be trans, although in the end you will read about Ashlee’s own way as she finds her footing and navigates interplanetary politics.

And she’s not the only queer character you will meet. As normal as they are for a bunch of misfits, the whole of Windsong’s crew is queer. Ash isn’t even the only trans or non-binary character in the plotted trilogy.

I feel an immense responsibility in crafting plausible and grounded characters. Even most of the bad guys have something to motivate them beyond blind prejudice. Where necessary, I always have my beta readers do sensitivity reading for me. The universe of Stardust is a dark and brutal one, but it’s speckled in hope. It’s important that our fans walk away with their heads high, renewed and ready to face challenges. As Ashlee says in our trailer, “Every day is combat.” Not every day will be a victory, but we must approach every new day with vigor.

Head to Kickstarter now to back this amazing work!

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