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ORBITAL gives us airlocks and control panels, pensive faces looking out into the cosmos, improvised fixes for critical systems, military-sponsored subterfuge, warm embraces in the cold vacuum, frantic struggles in zero-gravity and unknowable ancient technology, asking WHAT DO YOU DO NEXT?
Imagine an all-consuming interstellar war, spread across a vast galaxy and involving trillions of willing and conscripted participants. Then imagine a lone space station, floating in the cosmos, that is somehow set apart from this conflict.
Through significant effort and fortuitous circumstance this place has remained unaffiliated and relatively peaceful, providing a sanctuary for the lovers and thinkers who refuse to side with the two warring powers.
But this hard-won neutrality is not secure, not even slightly. There’s always someone offering vital resources in exchange for a little influence, or plotting to displace our leaders, or smuggling military equipment into forgotten corners of the station.
Holding off these myriad threats is an informal network of dependable sorts, each with a stake in the continuing vitality of the station. These characters; politicos, artisans, brokers and so on, may not be officially recognised leaders—but their influence is felt strongly across the community.
They might not get along — they might not even like each other. But they are united by their belief that the station is a cherished place that must be protected. The question is: when the pressure is rising, can they put their differences & personal motivations aside for the good of the community?
NO BUT LIKE, WHAT IS ORBITAL?
ORBITAL employs the No Dice, No Masters system, utilising the core structure & mechanics from the wonderful Dream Askew by Avery Alder. This means two main things:
There are no dice —players use tokens when they want their characters to take action, making 'moves'. Strong moves, which show the character at their best, require a token to be spent. Weak moves, which show the character's flaws or worst impulses, earn you a token. These tokens help you to weave dramatic arcs for your characters with far more control and simplicity than capricious dice, and make it easy for just about anyone to jump in and start playing.
There are no masters—each player controls both a character and a share of the role of game master, taking responsibility for all of the NPCs and narrative pressures within one aspect of the setting (for example, THE INTERSTELLAR WAR or THE SCUM & VILLAINY). It's more like you're all taking turns playing the antagonists & introducing complications, rather than playing a game entirely without a GM.
Also drawing from Dream Askew, ORBITAL is a game of Belonging Outside Belonging. This means it focuses on stories on marginalised, precarious communities working to live independently from a dominant culture.