Sunday, May 10, 2015

Review: White Star

This week saw the release of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying, by James Spahn, published by Barrel Rider Games. It has already become a bestseller at RPGnow, apparently shooting up to Electrum status (however many units sold that means) incredibly quickly. It's safe to say it's the most popular OSR product to come out recently.

What's all the fuss about, you might ask. The game's biggest selling point is that it faithfully recreates tropes from classic sci-fi movies from the late 20th Century, the time period when many old-school gamers were growing up. I use the shortened form "sci-fi" for a reason. The game's seven core classes owe a great deal to the original three Star Wars movies (now known as Episodes IV-VI), and that influence means there are a lot of low-level fantasy elements.

White Star is based on the Swords and Wizardry Whitebox Version, so it uses only a few classes, a few of which are actually races. The human classes are:
       Aristocrat (Princess Leia)
       Mercenary (no obvious equivalent among the Star Wars heroes, though one reviewer has suggested Boba Fett)
       Pilot (Han Solo)
       Star Knight (Obi-Wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker after finishing his Jedi training)

There are also three non-human classes:
       Alien Brute (Chewbacca)
       Alien Mystic (A less powerful Yoda)
       Robot (the droids, obviously)

The two alien classes are meant to be broad-based, so it's up to the player whether their hulking brute has fur or scales or a hard shell, for example. by contrast, the robot class is divided into three subtypes with specific abilities.

Both the Star Knight and the Alien Mystic gain powers (called Meditations for Star Knights and Gifts for the Mystics) that are prepared and spent like D&D spells, though the effects are all fairly subtle and small-scale. However, the GM can always eliminate these two classes to play a science-fiction game without magical or psionic effects.

There is also a brief list of aliens and creatures, who fill the function of monsters in old-school D&D. Most of the aliens are thinly disguised versions of races from sources like Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr. Who. The creatures are somewhat more original, though a few (like the sandworm) are instantly recognizable from famous sci-fi works.
Your opinion of this game will depend on how you feel about the rules-lightest of OSR offerings . If you're content to have many aspects of the game hand-waved with phrases like "whatever fits the style of the campaign," with little guidance on what campaign style considerations might go with what rules, you'll probably like White Star. If you need more guidance from a ruleset, you may want to try another game or look for supplemental rules systems from other sources. I find myself somewhere in between, loving the flav or of the rules and itching to design not only my own settings, but my own subsystems to fill in the gaps.

If you like the system, the core book also includes a short sample setting (including one reasonably detailed space sector) and a prewritten adventure, allowing you to jump into running a session right away. This kind of value added in the base product makes White Star a bargain at $9.99 for the PDF, at least for a certain kind of gamer.