Our First Ten Years: The Stars Are Fire

In this series of articles, members of the team here at MCG look back at products we’ve released over the past decade and talk about their personal experiences in their creation, and the influence the titles have had on them as gamers, professionals, and just, well, people. It’s part of our celebration of Monte Cook Games’s first ten years. In this post, Designer/Editor Dominique Dickey talks about one of their favorites so far: The Stars Are Fire.

You can read other articles in this series here.

Dominique Dickey

An AI, illustrated in The Stars Are Fire—one of Dominique’s favorite illustrations from the book. Art by Scott Purdy.

As a kid, I was never good at playing pretend. I’ve written about it in detail before: I wanted games with clear markers of success. I wanted rules with selective randomization. I wanted to feel assured that I was making the right choice for the story. What I really wanted was an RPG with a Game Master.

RPGs gave me the structure to play with my friends in ways I never felt comfortable with as a child but always wanted, even into adulthood. I started playing RPGs so that I could curate an experience for myself and my friends. I wanted to play in the purest sense of the word, while satisfying the part of me that still holds so tightly to structure on its own territory. I wanted to learn to tell a fluid story, guided by the actions and reactions of people I trust.

I started writing RPGs because I was new to the field, overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of options in the indie space, and had no idea how to find games—on shelves, on Drive ThruRPG, on itch.io—that would lend themselves to the experiences I sought to create. I’ve always been a writer, though I started with fiction. I’ve always been stubborn about doing things the hard way. For a time, it truly made more sense to hack an existing system or setting into unrecognizability than to dig through titles that may or may not serve me.

And then came The Stars Are Fire

Another favorite. Art by Michele Giorgi.

The Stars Are Fire by Bruce Cordell was released in 2019, during my internship with MCG. I fell in love with this Cypher System supplement immediately: here was the vehicle to tell the stories I’d always been the most curious about, the most driven to explore. I’ve always had a soft spot for hard sci-fi across all media types. The Stars Are Fire let me bring those genre considerations to my own table, supported by the Cypher System’s simple mechanics and customization. It was, in a word, perfect. I wanted to play it. I wanted to write content for it. The Revel was my first time reading a pre-written setting and wanting to play in someone else’s sandbox as it was written, rather than bending the worldbuilding and mechanics to fit my sensibilities. (This is not to suggest that other RPGs aren’t good enough, but to highlight the fact that I was overwhelmed by the number of shiny choices, and unpracticed at the art of finding games that I could easily fall in love with.)

Without The Stars Are Fire, I wouldn’t have written Heist on Miracle IV, which I credit as the adventure that legitimized me as a game designer. With copious support from the MCG team, Heist was the first RPG content that I created for an audience, rather than just throwing together notes and images for my home table. Writing Heist was a learning experience, and it left me hungry for more. It made me want to create systems and modules for the sake of it, driven by love for the medium rather than by frustration or disappointment. Heist made me the designer I am today.

Additional art from The Stars Are Fire—just a small taste of the book’s fantastic imagery.

Roughly three years after my internship—three years of playing in Bruce’s hard sci-fi sandbox—I’ve returned to MCG as a designer and editor. None of this would have been possible without The Stars Are Fire.

Dominique

The Stars Are Fire, by Bruce R. Cordell, was funded as part of the Your Best Game Ever Kickstarter campaign in 2018 and released in 2019.

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