Category Archives: Science Fiction

Review – Distress Signal Tundara

Distress Signal Tundara is a new adventure module for 3-6 adventurers of levels 1-2 compatible with White Star. After the cover, title page, one page of deck plans and the final page for the OGL, the rest of this 17 page PDF is the text of the adventure. In addition, it comes with two image files for the deck planes, one with a grid for the GM and one without the grid for the players.

There were only minor production issues. I noted was one typo in the first few pages. A description of a creature used yards, when the map is in meters. And the non-grided map makes reference to the scale of the grid, which is missing. Other things referred to feet using the apostrophe character, which is part of White Box information, so not a problem of the author.

Each referee will have to work out for themselves, whether to use English or metric units, and whether to convert White Box feet to meters. Where outdoor movement is in yards, this is easy enough to hand wave as meters. Feet can be crudely approximated to 1/3 of a meter. Personally, I prefer to use metric in a Science Fiction game, but having been raised on English units, I think in those units, so not a problem for me.

The author did his own graphics, with some open content. I like the cover and the deck plans provided.  It would be nice if the original and now damaged area of the ship were shown in outline, so one knew it’s original structure. But that is only my desire for a complete deck plan for future use. [One thing I wish I had was a 75% view of the ship. Not to detract from the module, but something I feel would be cool to show the players from their scans/view of the ship on approach. The burst of new ship types and graphics by some on the White Star community can help fill this want.]

The premise of this adventure is not entirely new, but is presented in a way that is clear, concise, and ready to run after a quick read and a few minutes to think of how to approach it.

The GM is left to determine how the players are in the area, whether as passengers on a ship, or a ship of their own. This is not a major issue, as it allow the module to fit into an existing campaign, or be a one-shot.

There is enough detail in each area of the ship, that curious and careful players will manage to find something in most rooms. However, there are notes that the referee will have to fill in things that he or she feels are necessary in their game. There are also hazards for players that are rash and forget that there are in space. The issue of explosive decompression of a hatch that is forced open is dealt with, as I was thinking about how I might handle it as I began the text, there it was a bit further in. Excellent!

Several NPC’s are suggested for various ways that the GM might impact the scenario. This gives maximum flexibility to work into existing campaigns, or ideas for similar adventures. There are also potential plot hooks that could lead to more adventures that can easily fit into an existing campaign.

This seems like a scenario that would be a good fit for a con, but I don’t know if it would fill a four hour slot. Still, it might be fun to try it.

There is a lot here for $1.00. I think that I would enjoy playing this as a GM or a player.

Funny: At first glance, I thought the title was Distress Signal Tundra. Tundra made me think of ice, and I thought of the movie, Ice Station Zebra. Now I have thoughts of a White Star scenario on ice. Now all I need is Snoopy….

AD&D – Appendix D – Random Generation of Creatures from the Lower Planes

Pages 194 and 195 of the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide present a few tables for generating random creatures from the lower planes, i.e. demons & devils.

There is a grouping of 21 tables for the appearance of such creatures that define the appearance of the head, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, overall visage, head adornment, body attributes, skin, color, and more.

Head adornment includes such things as antlers and crests. The head has options of bat-like, snake-like, etc. Ears can be dog-like. Eyes deal with color, and size/type of eyes and their number. Various similar suggestions are given for the nose and mouth tables.

The body attributes determines the type of torso, either bipedal, or quadrupedal/other.

The type of tail, if any, such as prehensile, and various body odors, such as blood, mold, vomit, etc.

One table for the texture of the skin and another for the predominant color of the skin/fur/whatever.

Is the back normal, hunched, spiked, etc. Are there wings?

How many arms/tentacles and what kind, and what are the hands like? Similarly, the treatment of legs and feet.

After all these tables define the appearance, then any attacks, and defenses, including special one and and spell-like abilities and immunities.

All these things give lots of ideas for mixing things up. These tables need not be limited to fantasy creatures, but can be used for any genre of creature, including horror and science fiction.

Reading the last page with 5 tables on Random Humanoid Species Appearance Charts in the Outer Space Raiders, Vol. I reminded me of Appendix D as a supplement for White Star. One can easily make collections of nouns for various aspects of body types and associated body parts to come up with unique creatures. Take the stats from goblins or other well-known creatures to “re-skin” them for an appropriate challenge, as others have indicated they do so that players don’t know what every creature is or does by memorizing their descriptions.

I am not finding via a quick Google search the OSR blog(s) that discussed this a few years ago. I keep coming up with links about re-skinning creatures in MMO’s, or locating or painting miniatures.

In the case of White Star, one can have all intelligent aliens be humanoid, if you want to follow the tropes of most illustrations, TV shows and movies. Or you can mix it up, and have something that deviates from bilateral symmetry, and have something besides carbon and silicon based life. The movie Evolution has an interesting take on silicon based life.

Does the life form have DNA, or something that serves the function of DNA? If they have DNA, is it composed of a right or left turning structure. This is something I recall from a book I read in the 80’s, The Right Hand of Dextra [Aff link], with a cool cover illustration.  The idea is the DNA on Earth has a left spiral and the planet in the book, the DNA has a right spiral, so the wild animals native to the planet leave humans alone, since they can’t eat them.

One thing left out of Appendix D and from Outer Space Raiders, is communication method.

Communication Method – d10

  1. Vocalizations
  2. Pheromones
  3. Scents/Odors
  4. Color Changes (Chameleon feature, color and or pattern changes to the “face” or other body part.)
  5. Volume (Ability to expand like a puffer fish, but controls and varies the size in pattern or rhythm.)
  6. Empathy
  7. Telepathy
  8. Temperature
  9. Motion
  10. Combination

NOTE: Sound can be above or below the range of human hearing, and color changes can be above or below the range of human sight, etc.

Diet

  1. Herbivore
  2. Carnivore
  3. Omnivore

Carnivores and Omnivores could include cannibals that eat their own species, or scavengers that eat dead things they find.

Young d10

  1. Eggs – left to fend for themselves/guarded/warmed and nurtured by parent(s)
  2. Marsupials – Eggs/pouches
  3. Born – rapid walking/locomotion or months/years to moving on their own
  4. Sprouted from spores
  5. Budding from body
  6. Division – like a cell
  7. Regeneration – like a starfish
  8. Clones grown in a vat
  9. Robots/Machines that are built and programmed.
  10. Hybrid of the above.

Type d3

  1. Plant Based
  2. Animal Based
  3. Mineral Based

Temperature

  • Cold Blooded
  • Warm Blooded

 

Asteroid Mining

While thinking about a recent article on a company wanting to mine asteroids, I started this article. Then White Star came out and I decided to revise it touch specifically on White Star.

Mining an asteroid changes its mass and therefore it is likely, if not guaranteed, to change its orbit.

A permit system would develop for mining and shipping ore, water, etc. to ensure proper and safe orbits of mined and other asteroids. This would be most true in system with a sentient, space faring race(s). It might also be true of low tech systems watched over by the authorities, to protect the non-space faring natives from destruction, and so they can use the resources of their own system.

Pirate Miners – No permits and perhaps no eye to the safety of orbits.

Remnants of star systems, like a system that went nova, and far between other stars might be a haven for illegal miners, pirates, and other ne’er do wells. What ancient alien artifacts best left untouched might they uncover?

Asteroids

The asteroids that are nearest the Sun are mostly made of carbon while the ones further away are made up of silicate rock. The metallic asteroids are composed of up to 80% iron and 20% a mixture of nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, gold, and other precious metals. There are those few that are made up of half silicate and half metallic.[1]

Comets

They are composed of rock, dust, ice and frozen gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, and ammonia. Sometimes called dirty snowballs, recent studies have shown that the ice of a comet is covered by a crust. Comets also contain a variety of organic compounds as well as the gases already mentioned. Some of these are methanol, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, ethanol, and ethane. More complex molecules such as long-chain hydrocarbons and amino acids may also be in comets. Because of their low mass, comets cannot become spherical under their own gravity, and will thus have irregular shapes. [2]

Since comets eject part of their mass and are “unstable” as they warm up from drawing near the sun, mining would only be practical for “inactive” comets far enough from the sun to not be active. They would still be likely to react to an approaching ship that generated heat. Only places with a severe lack of water would resort to such dangerous mining.

Asteroid mining is dangerous, but comet mining is downright foolhardy! Only the truly desperate, severely in debt, or adrenaline junkies will risk the dangers of comet mining. You can’t spend your money if you’re dead.

Asteroid/Comet mining
  • Water/ice Water ice is theorized to exist on some asteroids.
  • Metals: iron, nickel, iridium, palladium, platinum, gold, and other precious metals.
  • Carbon: What forms of carbon? Coal, graphite, diamonds, graphene, carbon nanotubes, buckminsterfullerene, etc.
  • Exotic metals – Adamantium, Mithril, Unobtanium, etc.

Of course, in science fiction, asteroids can contain anything you want. Unobtanium for powering ships, giant diamonds, other elements, etc.

Asteroids that are big enough might be re-purposed as generation ships, space stations, weapons or fuel depots, etc.

Would any asteroids use mass drivers to bring them nearer the inhabited planet(s)? [3] That is, part of the mass of the asteroid is ejected to provide thrust to position the asteroid in the desired orbit.

White Star – Space Travel

Travel among the stars has many varieties of technology.

Page 59 of the White Star rules tell us: “The details of how a starship moves from planet to planet should be decided by
the Referee.”

Below are some thoughts on space travel and various aspects of it. I am not proposing any rules or tables, just spit balling some ideas for future reference.

Can any of them be used when in orbit of a planet or star, or near another ship? How far from X must you be to use this type of drive? The White Star rules say you have to be out of combat, Rule 0 says, “Not in my game.”

  • Old & Slow (or just slow) – Less than light speed. Only generation ships, hibernation ships, or ships that are adrift in space, such as damaged ships or life pods, will be found between systems. Most such slow ships will never leave their home system.
  • Light Speed – Still years between systems. Trips would still tend to be one way, or use some sort of hibernation.
  • Faster than Light Speed (FTL) – Still in regular space using some technology to push or pull the ship or generate a warp field for it to ride. This would allow months to weeks to even days or hours between systems.
  • Jump Technology – Engines or Jump Gates that allow ships or other things to skip over vast distances. May use some controllable form of wormhole or other way of slipping between the seams of reality. Hyperspace is most often used to refer to the space outside of space/reality. Could be instantaneous, or still require some about of time in “null space”. Is it an instantaneous trip, or does it take a certain amount of time, like 1 round per light year, or some such?

Each of these types of transit will rely on different technology. 

Things to keep in mind: All of these devices require a certain level of technology. Some of the most “primitive”, such as chemical rockets, are very complex and prone to failure. Whereas, various nuclear powered devices would have few working parts and less complexity that results in far fewer catastrophic failures. More advanced and mature technology would be closer to airline or automobile safety and reliability, provided proper and adequate maintenance were performed over time.

  • Chemical and fission tend to be the extremes of slow. Other methods of slow travel within a system would rely on things such as rail guns and/or the complex math of celestial mechanics for gravity assists to speed up and slow down to minimize fuel use.  The crudest form of fission drive would involve a series of “warhead” exploding behind a ship with an immense radiation shield. This leaves a trail of highly volatile radiation that is very easy to track. Such methods would have to be far enough away from planets and other ships and habitations to avoid causing problems due to the IMP.
  • Solar Sails – Possible to attain very high speeds given large enough sail and enough time. Still sub light speed.
  • Ion Drive – Electric drive. Potential for high speed, still sub light speed.
  • Fusion – Might be enough to get something up to light speed. As with fission drive, the crudest form of such drive would involve a series of explosions of “warheads”.
  • Anti-Matter – Definitely light speed and perhaps more.
  • Dark Matter/Dark Energy – Would this allow jumps between the stars? (I have not read any current SF that delves into this.)

Distance

Would travel still be limited to a single galaxy, or is there something fast enough, or a shortcut available to make the long journey to another galaxy?

Encounters/Events

Realistically, in the vastness of space there is little difference to the type of encounter, whether within or between systems, as there is a lot of space between any two points. The relatively less huge distances within a system would be more conducive to rescue or a landing on a habitable planet than an incident between systems.

Intra System – In System Encounters

The Kuiper Belt begins at about 50 AU from the sun, out to about 200 AU. The gravity of the sun affects objects at a distance to about 1.87 light years, about half the distance to Alpha Centauri, the nearest star. [1] It is a bit under 30 AU between Earth and Neptune. [2]

  • Nothing would be most likely.
  • Asteroids, comets, or other space rocks
  • Other ships – merchant/bureaucrat/derelict/probe/pirates/renegades/aliens/enemy warship
    • Distress Signal
    • Collision – This would be very rare. Only likely if trying to dock with a ship in distress or attacked by another ship.
    • How likely/easy is it to track and follow another ship using this method of space travel? For example, in some universes, there can be no fighting in hyperspace.
  • Events –
    • System goes out – Weapons/life support/navigation/drive/communications/scanners/tractor beam/etc.
      • How well it is designed and manufactured and maintained and any extraordinary wear and tear or battle damage will affect the likelihood of this.
    • Illness  – Individual, small group, large group, or most of ship – Dues to: Disease/Radiation Sickness/Poisoning
    • Fight/Rivalry/Feud – Between crew members, between crew and passengers, between passengers, etc. Families, clans, races, gangs, etc. that don’t get along.
    • Murder/Assassination – could relate to illness or a fight.
    • Plot – could relate to the above.

Inter System – Between Systems Encounters

  • Nothing but the vastness of space would be most likely.
  • Other ships – merchant/derelict/probe/pirates/renegades/aliens/enemy warship
  • Events – System goes out – Weapons/life support/navigation/drive/etc. Basically the same events that can happen to ships travelling within a system.
  • Rogue planets & planetoids – Perhaps there is an asteroid like field between stars that is the remnants of a system or two from stars that went nova and have since burned out.
  • Brown Dwarfs – i.e. ancient stars that are nearly burnt out.

Communication

How to talk when Light Speed and FTL ships can outrun radio waves? Subspace or Superspace communications? Would communication be faster than ships? That is, could the players rob a bank in one system, and get to another system before word reached that system? Is communication only faster than in system travel? This would make it likely that a patrol on the outskirts of the system might be able to get word and intercept or chase the party. This does not necessarily require a complex table or mechanic for resolution. A simple statement about the speed of communication vs. the speed of travel within and between systems will let players make informed decisions of their actions.

Any large empire would need a reliable means of transport, even if slow, and loyal and dedicated people to administer far flung systems. The British Empire of the 1700’s required a few weeks to cross the Atlantic and a few months to get to India, yet it held together. The quicker communications and travel became, the better the control and taxation became.

Scanners

Neutrino Scanners would be the most sophisticated. Neutrinos pass through “everything”, so with a neutrino detector, one could see all the things it has passed through. Would this allow tracking an FTL ship?

How scan ahead of your ship if it is travelling FTL?

Can planet based scanners track FTL ships like an airplane with radar, or is it only “radio” communications.

What is long range vs. short range scanners, and what information/level of detail is available to each?

Orbit

When going into orbit around a primitive planet, does a ship drop communication buoys in geosynchronous orbit to avoid blind spots?

Without a means to see the other side of a planet, entire armadas could hide from a single ship. Unless there is a neutrino scanner that “sees” through the planet.

Gravity – One need not become a master at celestial mechanics, that is beyond overkill. Just keep in mind that everything with mass is attracted to everything else with mass, and that the “biggest”, more correctly, the most massive object “wins”. Loss of propulsion will mean that something is attracting a ship. If between systems, it would have to be beyond 2 light years for a yellow star to not win. Trapped in an orbit of thousands of years would be an eerie tomb…. Orbits that passed closed enough to planets would be altered. Some alterations might lead to entering the orbit of a planet, or crashing into a planet, or being shot into a new orbit that ends in the sun.

Can escape pods within a system reach a high enough speed to get close to a habitable planet? Think about their range and limitations.

Ship to Shore Transport

  • Shuttles – Both Passenger and Cargo, as well as mixed purpose.
  • Ship can land on planet.
  • Portion of ship can land on planet.
  • Military ships will be able to use drop ships, or have men in mech like armor that can drop. Orbit is the high ground, but landing ships and troops would be at a disadvantage for part of their journey.
  • Transporters – Range?
    • Ship transporter bay to special planet based transporter bay.
    • Ship transporter bay to anywhere in range.
    • Ship  – Anywhere on ship to anywhere in range.
    • Portal like a jump portal?

Ground to Orbit Transport

Is there a shuttle that takes passengers, crew, and cargo to a space station for subsequent loading/transfer to a ship?

If players don’t have a ship that can land and return to orbit, how is it handled?

Railguns for launching cargo to orbit?

Space elevators?

The above topics are a lot to consider. The bare bones of it is just having an idea of the relative speed of ships vs. communication, and methods to get to and from a planet and its orbit.

In most instances, a lot of this can be hand waved, unless something in the situation that has arisen through GM plan, actions of the players, or the roll of the dice. For example, what if the players start with a ship and somehow it is impounded, disabled,  or destroyed and they need to get into orbit, or down to the planet quickly?

Review – Star Temple of Saturgalia

The first(?) available third party adventure for White Star, Star Temple of Saturgalia is a six page PDF, that after the cover and OGL leave four pages for the adventure.

This was billed as an introductory adventure. Nowhere in the PDF does it indicate that is is for low level characters. It is obvious from a reading of the text that it is for a group of low level characters.

The method of handling encounters almost guarantees that there will be three space encounters en route to the planet. Instead of a 1 in 6 chance of there being an encounter, there is a 1 in six chance of no encounter. The odds of the encounter ignoring the players or being friendly combined are 50% or greater. So even if there is an encounter, it does not guarantee a chase or fight. The intent of the designer is to have tension. If one is playing up to the tropes of the genre, this is understandable. However, the GM is free to handle this his or her own way.

Once on the planet, there are two encounters, potentially competition from an NPC party, or natives are the greatest possibility. A natural disaster or a creature encounter are also likely. The use of bumble dogs, or a new creature, the gindo, introduced at the end of the module.

This is a very basic outline of an adventure. With the near guarantee of one or two ship encounters, plus two encounters on the way to the temple, it will stretch out the adventure. If you go by the roll of the dice, and there are no space encounters, and the planet side encounters are neutral or friendly, this could be a quick one maybe two hour one shot.

It is an interesting idea, and has enough meat on it that an experience GM could make an evening of it. If you don’t have a list of natural disasters, you will need to make your own table, as the author only gives a couple of suggestions.

The temple itself is a basic dungeon crawl, and it an interesting twist. The map is he standard square rooms and passages, which server to get the point across. The fonts used for the room numbers are not clear, so that some numbers look like each other. I assume that the rooms and areas are numbered in a clockwise fashion, so it is easy to make sense of it, but it still takes a moment to be sure of this. There are also a few grammatical errors, indicating that the text needed a quick review by a new set of eyes or to sit for a few days before finalizing. A suggested description of the natives of the planet, if not a new race, would be interesting.

At one dollar, the items, tables, new creature, and other ideas presented can make an interesting one-shot introduction of the rules to new players, and a skilled GM can easily expand it to be something more substantial in their own campaign.

If you need some help for prepping last minute, this module only needs a few things to be ready to play on short notice.

Review – DayTrippers Planet Generator

DayTrippers Planet Generator, is a section pulled from the DayTrippers GM Guide.  DayTrippers is an RPG game by Tod Foley of As If Productions. I had not heard of this game, but this is one piece that many complain is not in the White Star framework. It is a nice piece to have if you don’t have another ruleset to borrow from, or don’t wish to create your own tables. It is a system agnostic method for generating star systems from the size and type of star, to the number and size of planets.

This six page document is 4 pages of tables for system generation and half a page of converting character abilities, skills, and difficulty levels to other systems. The first page being the cover and last half page being split between more information on Day Trippers and blank space.

It is reminiscent of what I recall from other science fiction games back in the day, most likely Traveller, but perhaps also Star Frontiers. At 50 cents, it is hard to say no to this.

If you need something to get your juices flowing with ideas so that every system is not the same, this can do the trick. If you don’t want to invest in a complete rules system just for these tables, it is a great value.

Review – Outer Space Raiders Volume I

+Chuck Thorin of Magic Pig Media has produced Outer Space Raiders, Vol. 1, an interesting set of 6 new classes compatible with White Star. At $1.49 it is very affordable.

In 20 pages are packed 16 pages of information. Unlike many small PDF’s, this one includes clickable links in the table of contents. While not necessarily needed in so few pages, it is much appreciated!

The classes presented are alien, astromancer, engineer, lost worlder, scoundrel, and warp ninja.

Aliens are a generic class to cover any kind of alien you can imaging. 8 abilities are suggested, from which the player picks one. There is also an option to convince the GM to let you make up an ability. These would also make good generic NPC aliens.

Astromancers remind me a bit of illusionists, but have some very interesting “Quantum Formulae” that they can use. Many of the names of these re-worked spells give a science fiction flair to otherwise standard and well known spells. There are a few new “spells” here, along with some interesting abilities.

Engineers read like a cross between MacGiver and Mr. Scott. With abilities that allow them to do various kinds of “save the day” things. I really love the techno-babble chart for generating random terms, such as “quantum radiation capacitor”.

The lost worlder is a “barbarian in spaaaace!” The don’t use high tech gear, but have a chance to randomly push buttons to make something work, with an equal chance of catastrophic failure. One of the abilities is extra resistance to disease and poison, with a bonus on such saving throws. I am reminded of Leela from Dr. Who, and similar such characters.

Scoundrels are an obvious homage to Han Solo, and other stereotypical characters in all manner of fiction. One of their skills is “know a guy”, giving them a chance to know someone, not necessarily friendly. This single page sums up what most of us envisage a scoundrel to be.

Warp Ninjas are an interesting idea. It takes ninjas and crosses them with a dash of science fiction, and uses a black hole to power their abilities. Two of their abilities are dangerous and actually cause damage if used. They are powerful, but a bad roll could mean it’s time to roll up a new character.

Finally, the last page of game material is a set of charts for Random Humanoid Species Appearance Charts, for skin color, hair, ears, eyes, and miscellaneous features. These charts use a d6, three of them use a d8, and a d20, so 5 dice, if the d8’s are specified, can roll a random creature quickly.

The simplicity of each class fits right in with the overall theme of White Star.

If you want more classes, or ideas for modding or making your own classes for White Star, or Swords & Wizardry White Box, this is a good start!

White Star Ripe For Modification To Cover All Ranges of Science Fiction

There is an interesting discussion on White Star over on the G+ Community.

White Star is a basic framework. I agree that its presentation with a strong homage to Star Wars helps to understand how it works.

I also see that as a basic framework, it supports any variation on anything that can be considered Science Fiction. From the hardest of science fiction, to the softest and vaguest hint of SF.

I think it is the simplicity of White Star that opens up so many possibilities. With such a simple tool box, different GM’s can go in different directions and each come up with something cool, that others can also use. There is no limit.

If you are comfortable with that simplicity and like to fill in the “gaps” that you see, it is perfect.

One could easily add in comic book heroes, it would take some tweaks to abilities and more tech, but it could be done. Any book, short story, old radio serial, TV show, or movie setting can be done using White Star. Some may take more work by the GM to make it happen, barring a supplement, but it can be done. However, it won’t be long and you will have lots of material, based on the rate at which new classes and ships have hit the community.

RPG’s that try to define “everything” end up being more about the rules and having the right book or supplement, than about doing what you came to do – play.

 

 

Device Silences Unapproved Speech

Interesting Science Fiction turned reality, bad for freedom of speech.

Gun” that prevents people from speaking.

I can see despots and those who don’t truly believe in freedom of speech using this.

It would be great if during a true debate that the moderator could silence one party while the other party completed their statement, to enforce civility, but that’s a whole can of worms right there. We only seem to have true debates in structured settings that will never fly in the world of politics.

There’s a few people I know that won’t let you get a word in edgewise. This would be good for the DM to keep each player quiet while the one who had the turn to speak had their say.

However, this is yet another invention that excuses bad behavior, and instead of teaching people to share the floor and let others have their say, someone will get to decide who gets to have their say. Who gets to decide who can or can’t use this device?

While I think the world would run smoother if everyone else did certain things my way, I am smart enough to know that that would not be a viable solution. There are certain things on which  I disagree with others, and definitely things I don’t want to hear from others, but that is a selfish and isolating way to live. Many things that I like, I can’t do or create on my own, so I need people who are different from me.

If no one had the chance to say, ‘No.’; or to point out problems, or make suggestions, how soon might we regret that?

If you really don’t want to deal with the rest of the world, move to the wilderness, and unplug from all media.

Personally, I think this technology should only be used in the realm of science fiction and RPG’s. People should be held accountable for their words and actions, not denied the freedom to use their words and actions as they see fit. People will find a way to be a jerk, if that’s what they really want to do.

 

White Star – White Box SF RPG

White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying, by +James Spahn of Barrel Rider Games is all the rage at the moment. It has a vibrant and rapidly expanding G+ Community. It also has its own compatibility logo!

Appropriately enough, it was released on May 4th, for Star Wars Day.

I am a big science fiction fan and my first love in reading was science fiction over fantasy. I have played Metamorphosis Alpha, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, Traveller, plus various board games such as Imperium, and several video games. I tended to be the one who ran Metamorphosis Alpha and Gamma World, to give my brother a break from DMing AD&D.

However, my days of playing/GMing science fiction RPGs faded and have not revived like fantasy based RPGs, like AD&D or recently DCC.

I recently bought the Metamorphosis Alpha PDF and printed it out and read it through, with plans of making my own version of the starship Warden, perhaps for a Roll20 campaign.

All the hoopla about White Star is contagious, and I bought the PDF.

I had plenty of interruptions trying to read the PDF. This whole working for a living thing interferes with all my fun.

The art, maps, and layout make it easy to read. The system is designed to be totally compatible with Swords & Wizardry White Box, so any creature or item can easily traverse the two genres. Like the AD&D DMG discussion of combining Gamma World and AD&D, or Boot Hill and AD&D.

The original six standard abilities and 3d6 make it quick to pick up and play.

Rules are presented with a framework, and a clear Rule 0 reference that the Referee can make any changes they want to games in their world.

If you need a lizard man/reptile man in space, you have them stated in Sword & Wizardry already. Take any creature and “re-skin” it by changing its description, and any creature found in S&W is ready to go in White Star.

That is one powerful thing about all the clones and play alikes in the OSR. I have not specifically played Swords & Wizardry, but I “get” it, and since I am used to it, it will not require a lot of effort to run it.

I like how ship to ship combat is a simple abstraction from regular melee combat, with AC, HP, etc. for ships. While certain details are nice, I know that some SF RPG’s are so “crunchy” with rules for every little thing, that the rules get in the way of moving on. Combat can take way too long even in some “rules lite” systems. I’ll have to whip up a couple ships and have them fight it out.

The rules as presented are a sufficient framework to get playing quickly. This framework is familiar to so many, that it is easy to add house rules, ideas from other games, genres, etc., that one can make White Star their own.

Any SF sub-genre could be crafted with this, a generation ship scenario like Metamorphosis Alpha, post apocalyptic like Gamma World, space opera, exploration, war, space pirates, etc.

Race As Class

One thing that others complained about, and I didn’t like at first, until I thought about it, is race as class. In most fantasy worlds with retro-clones or AD&D, demi-humans have level caps. I don’t like that. Also with OD&D clones, there is race as class. I don’t like all aspects of that in fantasy, or in Science Fiction, but I see it making sense in a planet hopping scenario.

If the humans are the dominant group and the “aliens” are tagging along, the level limits will exist because the aliens don’t fit well into the culture, architecture, and design of the human controlled worlds, buildings, and ships. When a handful of aliens are among a huge number of humans, their uniqueness only gives them so many advantages. The hindrances of being surrounded by human sized items, furniture, doorways, etc. will limit how well they can improve their skills among humans. For example, a creature that breathes methane will require special equipment to travel with humans. For aliens that are humanoid to the point of being indistinguishable from humans apart from outward appearance and interior biology, such limits would not be as severe. A ten foot tall alien, however, would have major limitations on space travel.

If the situation is reversed, where a few humans are among a bunch of aliens, surrounded by alien technology, then the humans would have the same issues. I can see someone building a campaign where the humans are a tiny minority in a vast alien empire. If the humans have to have special equipment to breathe while travelling on a ship, it will limit how well and how long they can function outside any special accommodations on the ship added for humans.

Non-humans on their home planet would have advantages that humans would not have.

Humans could have variations leading to sub-species, such as those who inhabited a high gravity planet and get a bonus on their strength when on lower gravity planets and ships.

Rule 0 trumps race as class. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. Problem solved.

Forget Rule 0, There’s A Problem

One minor thing is buying bullets for firearms in preloaded magazines. I don’t know why that minor lack of verisimilitude bugs me. Handgun ammunition is usually available in boxes of 50 and shotgun and rifle ammunition is often in boxes of 20. Detachable magazines are usually reusable. In fact, I am not aware of any firearm for which magazines are not reusable. Of course, Rule 0 and all.

High tech firearms in the universe could be different. People are separated from manual drudge labor, to the point of not having to load magazines. What do you do with the empty one? Turn them in for a magazine deposit? Like bottle deposits in Michigan?

Also a pistol with ten rounds – is it small and easily concealable, or bigger and harder to disguise? Is it ball ammo, hollow point, etc? Can I rack the slide to chamber a round and drop the magazine and top it off to carry 11 rounds? It is all too easy to get hung up on little details and need a rule for it. There is always something that we know from our personal experience that makes it seem like a good idea to add complexity to handle it. Rule 0 still accommodates this. If I really wanted to get down to it, I could build rules for different calibers, revolvers vs. semi-automatics, hollow points vs. ball, ceramic/metal/polymer/combination, breech loaders vs. muzzle loaders, etc.

I don’t have a problem with how computers and other technology is presented in games, so why should this bother me? For example, I know a lot about computers, but their functions are so abstract in the internals and have changed so much since the first computer my parents bought in the early 1980’s that I can handle computers being small and powerful with interfaces much simpler than today. The whole touchscreen “revolution” has changed a great deal about interacting with computers. Voice recognition is better and primitive voice interfaces exist with smart phones, such as, the well-known Siri for the iPhone. The whole exposure to the idea of computers in movies, TV, and the written word have shaped our thinking to allow the devices we use every day to still hold some mystery that makes it easy to ascribe special powers to them.

Aliens & Creatures

Chapter eight on creatures leads with an explanation that specific details about color, activity, and diet is left to the Referee so that their imagination is not restricted.

There are a great many aliens and creatures to fill all the desired tropes of science fiction.

Campaigns

There are several ideas for types of campaigns, plus a campaign based in the Kelron Sector.

Adventure

There is a short sample adventure at the end to get things started. It is an interesting scenario with many familiar ideas from multiple movies, TV shows, books, and stories.

Art

The artwork of the cover and interior is awesome. Maps by Matt Jackson are cool too!

Ideas

Even if you don’t specifically play these rules, there are ideas in here that can be used in any variety of science fiction and other genres of RPG’s.

Editing

There are a few oddities in the flow of words and a few misplaced commas, and some other minor things. If you plan to print this out, I would wait for the update to the PDF. These errors increase towards the end.

I think that I will buy this in print, hopefully the textual issues are resolved quickly.

Other than the few issues in the text, the layout is well done, and it is easy on the eyes.

Other

I let my reading this jump ahead of reading and reviewing the White Box Omnibus also by James Spahn, that I won on the Happy Jacks Podcast for Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day.

I have heard good things and after reading White Star, I am sure I will find something good!