Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Review: White Star by James Spahn

Unless you are living in an OSR-free zone you may have missed the big release this week of "White Star" from Barrel Rider Games and +James Spahn.

BRG had made a name for itself publishing classes for "Basic" era D&D/Labyrinth Lord which is how I discovered them. Recently James has made the switch with some very successful products for Swords & Wizardry. In particular he released the White Box Omnibus to much acclaim.

White Star is a similar quality effort, but represents a serious step up in terms of quality and content from his previous efforts.  This is immediately obvious in terms of the quality of the cover art, but the interior really lives up (and beyond) that first impression.
White Star is Space Opera viewed through an old-school RPG lens. So think Star Wars.  Not the series of movies really, but just the first 1977 movie.
Starting with the basics the book is 132 pages, two pages of cover art, two blank pages and one page of OGL. As usual BRG is very permissive with the content of the books.  So this amounts to 128 pages of content (127 + OGL).  Not a bad deal really.
The book is divided up as expected.  Chapters on Attributes, Character Classes and Races (more on this in a bit), Equipment, Game Play, and Combat.  These chapters are more or less similar to what you might find in S&W White Box. Not a copy, but a re-write to accommodate the style and tone of the book.  The remaining chapters cover the important topics of SciFi; Starship Combat, Gifts and Meditations, Aliens and Creatures, and Advanced Equipment.  There are also chapters on The White Star Campaign, Interstellar Civil War and Kelron Sector, and the Second Battle of Brinn.
As my friend, Greg Littlejohn says, "just enough meat on the bones, yet room on the plate to add some nice sides."  That is 100% true.

Character Classes and Races
The classes of White Star are simple enough to cover a variety of character archetypes.  The classes include Aristocrat (think Princess Leia or Paul Atreides), Mercenary (Boba Fett, nearly every movie in the 80s), Pilot (Han Solo), and Star Knight (Luke).  There are also two race as classes, the Alien Brute (lots of examples), Alien Mystic (Yoda) and Robot. Each class is 10 levels and presented in the same format as S&W.  So one could easily move classes back and forth between the two games with ease.

Sci-Fi Chapters
The chapters on Starship Combat and Alien Creatures are really the star here.  Starship combat of course can be easily ported over to S&W as ship combat.  But there are a lot of really cool nuggets here.  It is also one of the chapters where the pure "Star Wars"ishness of the book fades a bit into some "Star Trek".
Alien Creatures covers a wide variety aliens. Nearly everything is here; Borg, Greys, Fluffy aliens, the lot.  Since everything is S&W compatible you can move anything back and forth from S&W to White Star. This little feature opens up thousands of creatures to WS.  

Gifts and Meditations covers the magical-like powers used by Star Knights and Mystics.  Many of these are re-skinned spells. You could add more powers as spells, but only carefully.  Some spells are not entirely appropriate for a sci-fi setting.

The last three chapters cover roughly a White Star campaign universe.  The Kelron Sector is given some detail. Enough to get you going and enough to give you a good idea of what is going and where you can take it your own.   If you watched any Sci-Fi in the 70s or 80s then you will recognize a lot of the pastiche here.

What can I say about White Star?  It is one of the best Sci-Fi games I have picked up.  The more and more I play, the more and more I like level and class based systems for space opera.  It seems right to me somehow.  I think it is because I discovered Star Wars and D&D right around the same time and to me they always go together.

IF I had one criticism it would be I would prefer Sword and Wizardry Complete rules or Labyrinth Lord. But that is weak-sauce on my part really. I could convert it if I wanted.   I can say it would be perfect for my "Greyhawk 3000" game I want to do.


Rhonin84 said...

I agree with you Tim, there is a lot to like and very little to not like. I will be doing races though similar to what was done in the white box. I am also dying to put together a "smuggler" class!

Rich Howard said...

And now I bought it. Thanks, Tim. Thanks so much.

ron65 said...

I bought it earlier this week and after reading it immediately got to work on a campaign star chart on a huge hex sheet. It's been quite a while since a game captured my imagination like that.

Kevin S. said...

I'm not necessarily crazy about the White Box as a basis for gaming, especially the vague hand-waving and leaving lots of stuff to the GM, but this game did make me want to design a campaign setting right away. It seems to do for late 20th-Century sci-fi what OD&D did for mid 20th-Century fantasy fiction: codify the cultural dreamspace into a diverse but expandable kitchen sink.

Unknown said...

While class and level systems may have been ok for the old standby of pseudo-medieval setting I can't see the desire to try to shoe horn other setting like scifi into such rules. I'll take my old Star Wars D6 system any day if I want that OSR space opera feel.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Having grown up on Traveller and Star Frontiers I would have agreed with you.

But it really works here.