Mutating Roleplaying Games — Daybreak -2250 A.D.

Daybreak

(Original Title: Star Man’s Son, 1952)
Author: Andre Norton
Publisher: Ace Books
Reprinted: 1965
Page Count: 182
Purchase on Amazon: Price Varies

Daybreak – 2250 A.D. by Andre Norton was originally published in 1952 under the title Star Man’s Son. The novel used either title throughout its published editions. Goodreads.com lists 27 different editions of the novel. The edition I read was the Ace Books unabridged trade paperback, printed in 1965. This science fiction novel is very important in the history of roleplaying games. It had a large influence on role-playing’s first post-apocalyptic game, Metamorphosis Alpha by James M. Ward. Many of the literary elements in Daybreak -2250 A.D. find there way into it.

Daybreak – 2250 A.D. begins with our protagonist Fors, a young man of the Puma Clan, who wishes to become a Star Man like his father. To be a Star Man was an honored place among his people. The Star Men of the tribe explored the dangerous regions beyond Eyrie, the mountainous home of the Puma Clan. They would brave the dangers of the Lost Lands to map new paths and return with knowledge and artifacts from a time before “The Great Blow-up”. It was Fors only want in life, but he was born a mutant, an outcast in his tribe. During his six years of eligibility to become a Star Man, Fors was never chosen to enter the Star Hall to take his place as a novice.

Fors didn’t look different from the others in his tribe, except for his silvery white hair, a sign of a mutant. His true mutant powers were something his peers could not see. Fors possessed the ability to see exceptionally well in the dark and his hearing was extra keen. Rejected six times and now over the age limit to join as a novice, he waited for his father to return to the Eyrie from the Lost Lands. But his father, Langdon, died at the hands of the Beast Things while looking for an old city of lost knowledge. Only Langdon’s shoulder bag marked with its star badge and his maps inside, found in the fields by his lifeless body returned to the Eyrie.

Fors was heartbroken when his father didn’t return. His last chance at becoming a Star Man was lost for his father was a great instructor of the Star Man and taught his son the necessary skills. It was Fors hope that Langdon would have petitioned for his son’s acceptance. Distraught, Fors chose to break tribe rules and leaves the Eyrie to prove he could be a Star Man. Before leaving, he visits the Star Hall and steals his father’s pouch where it hangs with his father’s maps nesting inside. He vows to himself to find the old city and come back with artifacts before “The Great Blow-up” to show he is worthy of the honor of being a Star Man. With him on this journey is his puma-sized Siamese cat, Luna. A large cat that Fors is mentally bonded to; Luna grants him the ability to communicate, not with words, but with a telepathic link; a common trait among his clan and a requirement to becoming a novice.

With Fors’ determination and Luna’s excellent hunting skills, the two set off on an adventure into the Lost Lands to finish his father work and to gain the respect of his tribe. Along the way, the two meet other societies, animals, mutant creatures, and beastly things. The rest of the story I am going to not spoil. Daybreak – 2250 A.D. is widely available online through used booksellers for you to read.

The novel is not a great work of literature but it’s a fun story to read. Though examining the story and applying current sensibility, certain attitudes deemed acceptable at the time of its writing would not be today. Ms. Norton calls out racism and war but critics of this work and others point out the lack of women in her stories. If you wish to delve into the symbolism and a critical look at the novel, a simple internet search is all you need. I’m not going to go into that.

Daybreak – 2250 A.D.’s influence on Metamorphosis Alpha is clear. Both take place after great disasters destroying an advanced technological society, leaving ruined cities and wiping away their history and knowledge. The future inhabitants of these civilizations, like in the novel, learn about their past by exploring the decayed ruins and through the oral stories passed down through the generations. “The Great Blow-up” in the novel was clearly a great war involving atomic weapons. It referenced no-go-areas known as “blue areas”, places where radiation exists at deadly levels. It’s not surprising as the story came out of the Atomic Age. Metamorphosis Alpha uses similar no-go-areas where radiation still lingers, though an evil game master won’t reveal that until it’s too late.

A common theme for beginning characters who start in a hunter and gatherer society in Metamorphosis Alpha is a rite of accession. A rite to gain adult status within the tribe. The rite requires training youths to leave the safety of their homes and travel into dangerous lands to return with artifacts of the ancients, similar to Fors and the Star Men of the Eyrie, traveling into the Lost Lands to collect artifacts and knowledge of the past. When they return with artifacts from ancients times they become full members of the tribe.

By the end of the novel, no one person could say if they were the same as the original inhabitants or were all mutants. In Metamorphosis Alpha you know. It’s part of character creation and half the fun. Mutants powers and abilities are throughout the novel. Luna and Fors communicate through telepathy. Fors encounters small lizard folk who display higher than animal intelligence when they apply strategy, tactical maneuvers, and the use of tools to defend their home. The Beast Things that live in the old city, though they were once human are horribly mutated, though how is never fully described. Lastly, though this might be a stretch while traveling in a “Blue Area” void of water, Fors encounters a plant that walks on its roots to drink from a puddle of water left by the rains.

Daybreak – 2250 A.D. wasn’t the sole inspiration for Mr. Ward’s creation. He pulled from many other sources as well, as Gary Gygax did for Dungeons and Dragons. He cherry-picked the best parts and took inspiration from it. Daybreak – 2250 A.D. is a great tale of a young man determined to prove to his peers that he is just as good as they are and deserves to be treated as such, even if his outward appearances look different.

~Stephen Pennisi

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