Introduction to Star Army – a bespoke play-by-post universe
Star Army is a play-by-post roleplaying game using a phpbb forum. The game consists of dozens of plots, all taking place in the same shared universe. They have about 80 regular members who write and roleplay for the site, and has been going since 2000.
I spoke recently with Wes Davis, creator and administrator of the game, and he was able to answer a few questions about Star Army.
Tell us about Star Army
Roleplay primarily focuses on military starships and their crews. We’re just coming out of a multi-year metaplot that was war-centric, so we’re starting to shift focus onto independent adventure plots on the dangerous frontiers of the major empires and improving the diversity of plot types and character types.
Star Army is a space opera setting with faster-than-light travel, aliens, space navies, and post-human construct races. Major themes include questions about what makes us human and what is worth fighting for. In Star Army, the galaxy is in the aftermath of an epic series of wars.
Emerging from the ashes was the Yamatai Star Empire, a diverse and militaristic coalition of star systems with futuristic technology. Yamatai’s theme is reminiscent of Japanese anime like Macross, Nadesico, and Ghost in the Shell. They have brain-uploading technology and much of their population has genetically-engineered bodies, including their all-female legion of cat-eared clone soldiers, the Nekovalkyrja (pronounced “Nay-ko-wul-ku-ree”). Yamatai is the most popular faction on Star Army and has the most plots in it.
In contrast, we have the gritty cyberpunk nation of Nepleslia, which broke away from Yamatai five years ago. Nepleslians are naturally-born (or sometimes, cloned) humans. Nepleslia is famous for its megacities, gang warfare, and rowdy space marines. It’s a tough, manly faction. If you like Warhammer 40K, or the Aliens franchise, you’ll probably like Nepleslia.
There are several other important factions that players can make a character for, and an ever-growing variety of alien races out there too. And since the Star Army is user-built, you can always create your own if you want.
What’s happened recently in the story?
We have 22 roleplay campaigns running right now, so I’ll just cover what’s happening in my plot, the YSS Eucharis.
The captain, Hanako, bought some salvage and/or pirated goods from some shady dealers who placed it on an uninhabited planet. Among the random grab bag of items we discovered cryogenically frozen Occhestian man who had been captured an enslaved in a civil war that was indirectly caused by a fling the captain had in the past.
Hanako’s relationship with the Lorath species has been dangerous. She was there when the species was subjugated. She was there when their diplomat was shot. She was there when the evil Mishhuvurthyar almost destroyed the Lorath homeworld. And on one visit Hanako had been tipsy and got seduced by the queen of the Lorath and slept with her, taking her virginity, which had been reserved for her betrothed. An ensuing coverup resulted in conflict between Lorath. One of the Lorath castes, the Occhestians, openly rebelled and war broke out.
Now years has passed and when we came across the Occhestian man, Hanako decided, against the advice of her intelligence officer, to travel to the frontier in search of the Occhestian Separatists’ colonies. What we found was war and genocide. Vengeful Lorath had glassed the Occhestian Separatist worlds and we accidentally wandered into a Lorath minefield, and the Lorath are demanding we turn over the refugee and chased us into Gartagen space.
At the same time, we have been fighting alongside Gartagen forces against the threat of the very evil Mishhuvurthyar on the ice planet Ether, where a Eucharis infantry away team has fought their way into an old cloning center. The away team’s shuttle has been stolen and one of the team members needs medical attention only available deeper inside the enemy facility…
How much control over the story do your players have? How much of the universe are they allowed to change?
In military plots, higher-ranked NPCs are often controlled by the plot’s Game Master, which gives the GM some control over what mission the player characters are on. In this way, Star Army resembles simming groups from the Star Trek roleplaying community. However, player characters control the direction and flow of the story and if and how the mission is accomplished.
So for characters just starting out, they are probably a grunt along for the ride. As they rank up, the training wheels come off and they’re able to make their own ships and become GMs.
Your game uses a wiki and a forum, how does that work?
The wiki is for all members. When a new member signs up and creates a character, part of the process is making a wiki page for their new character. We have a form for a character biography that automatically adds wiki formatting, which allows players to skip the initial hurdle of learning the wiki syntax. Most articles must pass through an evaluation and approval process before being considered Star Army canon; those that have not are tagged with a notice. The wiki is a vital asset to us, allowing any player to add to the history and lore.
The forums are where roleplay threads are posted and, along with the IRC channel, are the heart of the community where members get to interact with one another.
Could you explain your member application process?
After registering an account, new players are encouraged to introduce themselves and to create their first character using our guides. We have a New Players Guide that describes the process of becoming involved with the site, and a Creating a Character section that leads to guides for the various species of Star Army. As the player navigates through the guides, they are able to fill out a form that will automatically add the wiki code needed for their character’s page. Once the make their wiki page, they post a link in the New Character Biographies forum and our team of character approval moderators will check it out and either stamp it OK or give helpful advice on how to improve it. From there it’s a matter of posting in the RP threads at the next opportunity. The process usually takes under 48 hours, and is our form of quality control.
Part of the character creation process is selecting preferred plots. To facilitate this, all plots are required to post important information on their wiki pages such as posting guidelines (expectations of how often to post), type of RP (play by post on the forums or meeting up at certain times and writing together on Etherpad), and what types of characters are most wanted (usually by occupation).
Star Army has been around for over 12 years, so you must have a lot of story by now. How important is it for new members to learn the previous history in the game?
You don’t have to know everything, just the basics of your current plot and faction. In the character creation guide, we actually put in there that reading the whole wiki is unnecessary because, if you tried, it’s huge and can be intimidating at first. As of this interview, there’s 8,773 articles in there and 6,591 media files (lots of art!). But when you do need to know something, it’s easily searchable or you can ask other members. There’s a “Your Questions Answered” forum just for questions about the RP and the IRC channel is also a good place to get quick answers since there’s always people in there. Star Army has outlasted most of our competitor communities because we’ve got a really good group of people who are not only willing to, but eager to, accept new members.
Thank you, David, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to share my community’s story with you.
I used part of this interview in a more recent article about time distortions which you can see here.
If you’d like to feature your roleplaying game on this blog, just let me know by using the contact form here.