An Astrogonzo Trip: A review of In the Light of a Ghost Star.

There’s a song by El-P called “Deep Space 9mm” that I’ve always loved, but it’s not just the music, it’s the title: far out space with a bit of gritty reality. It triggers something in my imagination. I get the same feeling from Nate Treme’s “In the Light of a Ghost Star”.

Like Mutants of Ixx (reviewed previously) this minimalist game contains the bare minimum elements to create a kind of narrative chain reaction: a dose of setting, some very simple mechanics, and tone. In this case, I’m going to call the tone astrogonzo.

See, the sun burnt out and now the Earth is covered in a pancake stack of dead civilizations and relics. From Treme’s introduction:

“This setting is loosely based on real science. Most likely, the sun will eventually burn up all its hydrogen, then expand into a helium-burning red giant and eventually become a dim white dwarf. A white dwarf will burn forever, well, at least for longer than the universe has existed so far. This timeline is kajillions of years long and any number of technological and evolutionary changes could happen in that time. So let your imagination run wild, get real weird with it and have fun.” It’s a 16-page Numenera by way of Maze Rats.

You play explorers and salvagers recruited from the masses huddling in the reactor core cities below Mars, and you progress by bringing home salvage. You have three traits: Fighter, Explorer, Scientist and you start with three dice to split up among them – a d4, d6, and d8. Want to do something risky? Use the die from the appropriate trait and roll a 4 or higher. That’s it. Character progression can increase your dice, so for instance you end up with a d12 Explorer. And you can boost your rolls with equipment.

I’m a fan of profession-based traits (I always thought Warrior, Rogue, Mage deserved more attention) because I think they do a great job of efficiently sketching out a character’s expertise while still leaving room for broad interpretation (are you really good at science because you’ve got genius pattern recognition? Or are you a walking wiki? Are you dumb about everything else in life, but gifted at numbers?”).

In the Light of a Ghost Star includes a sample hex crawl and dungeon crawl, and this is where the gonzo kicks in: there’s a black lake full of piranha dogs, clam mutants haunt an abandoned aquarium, there’s an astro-lich, and you can use a random location generator that might result in, oh, something like this: An obsidian pyramid occupied by posh talking apes seeking to sing to a strange deity.

I love that shit.

The salvage is a great combination of the mundane and the insane – from time bending Rewinders to tooth brushes – and it’s all valuable back on Mars because: ancient. The salvage was what made “Deep Space 9mm” pop into my head, and quite frankly a deep space 9mm (whatever that is) would be right at home in this game.

In the Light of a Ghost Star is an OSR LSD tab for your table. It’s weird, it’s fun, and it’ll last a few hours. And like acid, it’s cheap.

It’s worth taking a trip.