Solitaire Storytelling: Laser Beams Like So Many Stars

I am a huge fan of mechs and their amazing pilots. I love to watch their heroics on the news; I visit when pilots come to my town; I own multiple letterman jackets emblazoned with mech pilots’ insignias. I’m burdened with the dream of piloting and eclipsed by the fear that I will never be more than a spectator. I love that which is unfathomably above me, as they exchange Laser Beams Like So Many Stars.

The Brimstone Balesfe typically pilots Neon Tempest Blade into battle alone, but there was this really large group of lunar pirates raiding the orbital stations, so he teamed up with Shifu Ace Quhaye and Big Glitter Danger. Unfortunately it kind of ended in this big media scandal for The Brimstone – he left Big Glitter Danger facing down three pirate mechs on its own to take out an unarmed pirate freighter, and the journalists started blasting him as “ruthless” and “cowardly”. I don’t really care, though. I just felt triumphant watching those pirates go down, even if Big Glitter Danger got banged up a bit.

What will happen to Nomarch Katydid Ivarin’s territory when they die has been a hot topic of discussion on the boards for a long time now; since inheriting the territory from their mother, they’ve courted no one and declared no heir. Until now, anyway. “Saint” Ngopi is apparently a former cleric, and pilots a mech simply called Harbinger. The Nomarch has declared him to be their squire, with every indication that the Saint will be the next nomarch. Only one of their missions has been captured on camera so far, but I was in awe of how well coordinated Hyper Element Storm and Harbinger seemed to be already, even though their pilots have only been working together a few weeks. There’s already one less warlord in the outer reaches.

Khan Lyza Trindosa took Laser Dark Heart out to a territorial duel, and chose Shifu Quhaye as her second. Pretty typical stuff, there’s always some upstart noble brat who thinks they can expand their territory through their family mech. Trindosa and Quhaye won, but Big Glitter Danger took a rocket barrage to the core module from their opponent’s second. BGD will be in the repair shop for a while, while the Shifu recovers in the hospital. The Khan was super grateful, and actually gave Quhaye half of the territory she gained for winning the duel, which is nice, but I’m pretty bummed about the whole thing. Teamups are awesome, but the Shifu has gotten burned twice now in as many months, so I don’t think she’ll be up for another one.

Khan Trindosa put her new territory to good work pretty fast. Turns out the reason that the upstart was such a problem in the first place was that they’d built this crazy mech R&D facility under their estate, and when the Khan took it over she found the design for a Reality Displacement Engine. That’s the official term, apparently, but all the boards are calling it a portal gun. Laser Dark Heart was already one of the coolest mechs, but watching it rip a hole in space time, jump through, and fire its plasma lances at point-blank range – it’s a moment of pure joy, for me.

Nomarch Ivarin and the Saint both deployed to orbit after an asteroid strike damaged one of the orbital stations and sent it descending towards the planet’s atmosphere. It was scary stuff, honestly. Ten thousand people on the station, some of them already dead in the strike, and the station was big enough and still intact enough to really ruin the day of anyone it landed on. Which very well could have been me. Hyper Element Storm and Harbinger managed to latch on and accelerate the station enough to get it back into its orbit, and then the Nomarch let the Saint take charge of making repairs and organizing relief supplies, which he handled really well.

I’m… still kind of stunned. The Brimstone Balesfe is dead. Zamantha Derez finally brought Zephyr Falcon out of hiding and attacked the capital, claiming it was a territorial duel with… everything at stake. When the tanks and fighters were all left burning, Neon Tempest Blade was the only thing in the Falcon’s way. Derez proved why the bounty on her head got so high after the last time, firing those sonic cannons without a care and leveling a huge swathe of the city before The Brimstone could get in close with his energy falchion. By the end the Falcon was so badly damaged that Derez had to flee before reinforcements arrived, even though they were only conventional forces… but the Blade’s cockpit had been pierced by the Falcon’s vibrotalons. There’s no talk, yet, of someone assuming ownership of The Brimstone’s territory or mech. For now they’ve left the Blade where it fell, as a monument to its pilot’s sacrifice.

I’ve kind of soured on the whole thing, to be honest. I mean, yes, the mechs are cool, the pilot nobles are compelling, but the lives at stake are real. The costs are often pretty high, and The Brimstone’s death only stands out from the many that perished in the Falcon’s attack because he was an active and willing participant.

It is making me think, seriously this time, about becoming a mech pilot myself. Someone has to rise up to take The Brimstone’s place. But… I don’t think following along with the news and acting like it’s a sport is going to be something I’m doing anymore.

It’s too real for that.

Laser Beams Like So Many Stars by Taylor Curreysmith/Whimsy Machine is a game that explores a world of giant robots not from the cockpit but from the perspective of a civilian bystander. Originally written for the Emotional Mecha Jam on, the game is actually very modular in terms of who can play it and how. Obviously it can be single player, but it would work just as well as a multiplayer game. It could be a silent thought experiment or a journaling game as presented here. It could be an asynchronous letter-writing exercise, or you could grab the idea of a mech fan board and play in a Discord server, or it could be a live roleplay as you and your fellow fans ‘spectate’ the events. Either way, this one has a lot of potential uses and playstyles.

Anyway, let’s see how it actually works. The only thing you need to play is a standard deck of playing cards, sans jokers. Before beginning play, you come up with the names of four pilots and a mech for each, either by yourself or by drawing cards and consulting a pair of tables like I did. Each pilot/mech team gets assigned to a card suit. You shuffle any cards drawn for this reason back into the deck, and then draw a number of cards and put them facedown on the table. This is your Event Deck, and how many cards you draw determines how long of a game it will be. 12-24 is recommended, I lowballed it for the purposes of keeping things reasonable for this article. The non-Event cards become the Hold Deck, which will be used in a few different ways, such as naming new characters that enter the story.

Events are simple: you draw a card and its value will tell you what kind of Event is happening, and the suit tells you which pilot/mech team is involved. They might accomplish a victory against a great evil, go AWOL on a distant mission seemingly without a trace, or see their mech destroyed beyond repair. How to interpret those events is really up to the player(s), but the game urges you to be varied – a loss suffered could be a mission gone awry, or throwing a publicity fight for the narrative weight of it, or a personal tragedy made public, offers the text. These events could happen in whatever time frame you want – they could be rapid fire, or across an entire lifetime. 

Now, the Events are pretty bare bones, so there’s an optional chart for pulling cards from the Hold deck to choose an emotional keyword for the Event. It could be anticipation, or nostalgia, or love, or anger, or hope. If the emotion doesn’t seem to match the Event, that’s alright – the game reminds you that you’re working from the perspective of the fan, not the pilot, which is why when The Brimstone got caught up in a media scandal the fan above still felt triumphant at the pirates’ defeat.

The final Event is pivotal. It either “cements your dedication to the world of mechs and pilots (and your identity as a fan), or dissolves your relationship with the aforementioned forevermore.” It could be a spectacular and epic occurrence, it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back, or it could have more to do with what’s going on with the rest of your life. In any case, give yourself some room for an epilogue and to leave the characters behind. Maybe plan another game’s campaign set in the setting you just described, or draw some fanart, or go watch another mecha show!

Since the setting only determines that there are mechs and that you’re a fan, you sort of get what you put into it. Since there’s an entire column of the pilot name chart that is made up of titles, I pictured the pilots as kind of… neofeudal lords, I guess? I thought it was pretty neat. While it is technically optional, I personally found the emotional keyword chart vital, since it gave me more to go off of than ‘I’m a fan of these four pilots and mechs’. I think that as a solo effort I might’ve found a longer game to be repetitive, since there are ‘only’ thirteen events, but I suspect the 24-card game would do just fine with multiple players to bounce ideas back and forth with. Now that I’m thinking about it again, while I enjoyed playing this solo and would highly recommend doing so, I think the multiplayer ‘play in a Discord server’ idea would be awesome for this.

Laser Beams Like So Many Stars is available in PDF form on for the very reasonable price of $5.

Sometimes, it’s kind of fun to put your mind into the perspective of someone watching two giant robots smash each other to bits. After all, that’s what mecha genre fans are in real life anyway, right?

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