Thursday, May 7, 2015

White Star to Many Stars

Since Traveller, the sci-fi gamer has had more than a few choices of space-faring sci-fi, the kind with space ships and not time/dimensional travel. Unlike Traveller, most have been highly dependent on their setting, while the more generic the system, the less appealing they happen to be by the person passing by the game table. I bought White Star at the suggestion of Werdna, Scott Malthouse, and as usual with most of the stuff that he points me to, it was a very pleasant find. The game takes a step back from being solely setting driven yet it brings a nicely clear style to sci-fi gaming, which the tabletop dungeon-crawler might find entertaining for years.

Spahn works a lot with Swords & Wizardry, more specifically that OSR game's White Box edition. I think the "white box" means "now we're really getting down old school gaming--" this for a lot of old gamers is akin to how I feel when I break out Abba and ELO on Disco Saturdays. To keep things funky, multiple polyhedron dice are used to build a game system that fall subservient to the D20, but with an unadulterated infatuation with d4s and d12s. Before you start getting up your hopes that I am about to go into rule mechanics, stop reading this blog and go buy the publication already. Check out S&W while you're at it, it's a decent FRPG system as well.

The players of White Star can type themselves as an Aristrocrat, a Mercenary, a Pilot, and a Star Knight. If the player would like to play a non-human there are the Character Races of Alien Brute and Alien Mystic. The Robot as a character type is not forgotten either.  Not only does the author in one swoop get to Gary Gygax's "humanocentric" angle that he felt made role-playing games socially responsible or something, the author sums up 90% of every sci-fi TV show and movie ever made.  Not a small feat there, my hat is tilted here. Just for the polyhedron-chewer, I'll let it slip that each class has a chart with "+1"s and numbers like 160,000. Glibness aside, the character classes are easy for the casual role-player to jump into for a space opera setting.  Each of these classes definitely have unique abilities that the less casual table-topper will find crunchy.

Gamer crunchy bits, like equipment with ties to something called AC (anaconda corralling?) Saving Throws, Movement, and Combat are presented with quick paragraphs which nobody is going to read in a hurry, instead moving to the charts. Beyond that cluster special combat situations like "Negotiation"and invisibility get highlighted as well as glance at the upcoming Gifts and Meditations (PSYCHIC STUFF).  Reading through this, I found the multiple sections covering the more chore-like conventions of table-topping quite easy to read, with decent clarity with an eye to details that one would come across in sci-fi adventures. It wasn't even close to 100 pages long and no one went into star mass, gravity, kelvin, nor thousands of other things (including ice combat and roller disco) so some may be a bit at a loss here. The system is well-defined, but allows the GM to work out his, or her, take on the special things that will arise in the course of a campaign.

Spahn shows great skill at keeping his starship game very accessible. Space ships and vessel combat section was a special treat for me. The model presented for ship-to-ship combat takes up about two pages. Repair and staffing is boiled down to a couple paragraphs. Ship details get a bit entailed (more than a page), but the list of ship types makes things come together. Once again, as with the crunchy bits mentioned above, space travel (meaning the span of play) is left up to the game's referee. The Psychic stuff mentioned earlier defines the style of sci-fi that the player can expect by keeping the different types of characters, say Space Knights and Alien Mystics, in mind when filling the abilities out. As a dude that has designed his own sci-fi and Sphere Fantasy settings, I am impressed.

The encounters to be found, aliens and creature as they are called here, have am obligatory OSR format that only takes up a page or so explanation before the reader's eye is drawn to chart the numbers "1" through "20" are presented along with square brackets ( "[" and "]") really indicating numbers of dice. The Alien Descriptions though make the slogging there worth the effort though. The sixteen entries (17 if you count the Cyborg sub-class, but back to 16 if you discount a "Soldier" of any given species) are nice, succinct listing of popular sci-fi alien tropes as presented on TV shows, some movies, and in insular gamer publications (I didn't miss the wolf-faces from Palladium/TSR games). They are deconstructed a bit, so consider it a puzzle dear reader. But from Daleks to Reavers you got it here. Spahn knows his sci-fi and doesn't trip over trying to find an "ultimate" alien species, instead he has quick list, at least until compared to my thoughts on the subject, of species which players will find interesting and possibly familiar. The "creatures," meaning the beasts, of this section, is well worth the read, even if the treatise on the Insectus species would've been a better Alien encounter.

There is about a dozen pages of Advance Equipment which helps fill out the primer material of the rules where one can find their A.I. processor, Warp Gate, or Pheromone Spray as needed. This game really tries hard not to overlook a good yarn enhancer for sure. The campaign suggestions and the presented playable campaign is not throw away reading at all. There is a scenario at the end, which I haven't read yet because I am working on something myself for something else and don't want to be influenced by any particular in it.

The RPG White Star works for me. It works as both a read and as well as a playable game. It can be a framework for an enterprising GM/author to create some science fiction in role-playing that isn't just a publication licensed from a mega-franchise producing "game books." It has its appeal to the "OSR up to 11" that could very well turn it into long lasting fixture in this adventure gaming hobby of ours. The only drawback to me is the Lord Valentine's Castle/Dune/Star Wars monarchy in space angle incorporated in the character classes themselves, which isn't my particular taste in the genre. This hasn't stopped from watching movies based on the mentioned works, so it won't stop me from playing this game. James M. Spahn earns a Godzilla of a rating in my book.

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