Guest Writer: Jason “Flynn” Kemp
“White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying” is the core RPG rulebook for science fiction gaming based on Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. Written by James M. Spahn and published by Barrel Rider Games, White Star is 128 pages of pure Old School sci-fi awesome. The book itself is divided into twelve chapters, the contents of each being well presented and easy to digest. The game itself is intended to reflect classic space opera science fiction. While it could be used to portray a hard-sci-fi setting, I think White Star is played best as space opera, and I’m personally okay with that.
The core of the White Star roleplaying experience is a streamlined version of Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, a retroclone of the original Dungeons & Dragons game, which makes it easy for many fantasy gamers to pick up the basics quickly. Chapter One discusses the classic six attributes common to such games (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, etc.) In this chapter, we see a heavy use of House Rule boxes to suggest common modifications that a Gamemaster could introduce into their game. I like this, as it shows many of the different rules people have introduced into their Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, and how it can inform your White Star game. Alignment is left intentionally vague and up to the Referee to formalize, if they even decide to use it.
Chapter Two is where White Star begins to stand out from its predecessor. This chapter describes the four core character classes of the game: Aristocrat (Charisma-based leaders and diplomats,) Mercenary (Strength-based warriors and soldiers,) Pilot (Dexterity-based starship crewmembers,) and Star Knight (Wisdom-based mystical protectors, aka Jedi). Three other classes are offered as options, pending Referee approval: Alien Brute (like Klingons or Wookies,) Alien Mystic (inspired by Yoda and Vulcans, I would imagine) and Robot (like Robbie the Robot or R2D2.) The core classes range up to 10 levels, while the optional classes are more limited. Meditations and Gifts provide White Star with a replacement for spells, and represent psychic abilities that the character has mastered. Given these classes, I could easily see running a campaign inspired by Star Trek, Star Wars or even Babylon 5.
Chapter Three covers equipment. The list of available miscellaneous gear, weapons, and armor is not overwhelming, making it easy to pick out gear during character creation and jump right into gaming. Also present is a discussion on calculating a character’s Armor Class, and two House Rules (one discussing starting characters off with a ship, and the other discussing descending, or classic, Armor Class versus Ascending Armor Class.)
In Chapter Four, we explore playing the game. In four pages, White Star discusses in-game time units, saving throws, movement rates (and the impact of encumbrance,) gaining experience, and hiring assistants. Under hiring assistants, there’s even notes on hiring class-based characters, but there’s no note if the costs are based on level or not. (I’d assume that’s the cost for a 1st level character, but that’s a personal ruling.) Very nice synopsis of the rules, but for those rare instances where a player is new to Old School D&D, it might be too concise. For the rest of us, though, I think it hits just the right amount of information to run the game.
Chapter Five explores personal combat. At the system’s core, it’s basically Dungeons & Dragons, which means it’s easy to run and adjudicate. I did notice that the House Rule for Strength in the Attributes chapter is an official part of calculating melee attacks in this chapter, a simple oversight, I’m sure. (And honestly, it’s how I’d run it anyway.) All the usual suspects are covered here: negotiations, meditations and gifts, invisible opponents, damage and death, healing and more. There’s even an example of gameplay at the end of this chapter for clarification.
Chapter Six is truly science fiction territory: starship combat. Ultimately, White Star describes starship combat as being very similar to personal combat, save for modifications as needed to represent ships in space instead of people on the ground. Topics covered include ship weapon ranges, cloaked starships, damage and repair, starship purchases, hiring a crew, and a variety of ship statistics and modifications. The inner workings of interstellar travel is left to the discretion of the Referee. The simple nature of ship combat pleases me, particularly in the way that it reflects the space opera genre of science fiction. Nicely done!
Chapter Seven describes gifts and meditations, those strange and mystical powers that Alien Mystics and Star Knights can bring to bear over the course of their adventures. Meditations seem to embrace a protective, nurturing, healing and divinatory role. In reviewing the list of meditations, it just feels right, and I think I could easily get into playing a Star Knight. On the other hand, Alien Mystics have gifts that seem more utilitarian and active, with a healthy dose of illusion mixed in. I can see how Gifts reflect a more aggressive or assertive psychic, but it has less of a consistent feel or direction. I have to admit that I’m not entirely happy with the list of Gifts, but that’s something I can change in my own White Star campaign.
With Chapter Eight, we start to enter the realm of knowledge intended for Referees only. Chapter Eight contains a selection of aliens and creatures that could be used in a White Star campaign. Stats for eleven alien races cover concepts from Daleks to Sand People, from Space Wolves to Klingons, and even Yoda and Rocket Raccoon stand-ins. This chapter also defines eighteen creatures, including stats for Alien facehuggers, the bugs from Starship Troopers, Dune’s sandworms, and even Godzilla. This chapter also points out that creatures from other Swords & Wizardry games can be used in White Star campaigns.
Chapter Nine, entitled Advanced Equipment, describes White Star’s version of magic items in the form of technological wonders and other exotic items. Cybernetics join the standard division of armor and protective gear, weapons, and miscellaneous items. All in all, I like what I see here, and just reading through the list sparks several adventure ideas in my head.
Chapter Ten describes White Star campaign concepts, which demonstrates the capacity of the game to fit numerous settings and game styles. “Rebels Against the Regime” carries strong Star Wars tropes, while “Explorers Among the Stars” is definitely a nod toward Star Trek. “Invasion!” reflects campaigns with a War of the Worlds or Independence Day vibe. “Brothers in Arms” leans toward Starship Troopers. “Just Keep Flying” captures the essence of Firefly, as well as the core experience of most Traveller games I’ve experienced. This chapter also encourages the Referee to think about how they present different worlds. Finally, there’s a brief discussion about blending White Star and Swords & Wizardry Whitebox, creating a science fantasy setting akin to Dragonstar or Starfarer.
Chapter Eleven provides a sample campaign setting called the Interstellar Civil War. Set in the Kelron Sector, we have a classic tale of the Resistance fighting against the oppressive Galactic Consortium. This chapter describes twelve worlds and space stations, most under the Dark Lord’s sway. Ice Pirates, secret research facilities, prison planets, and even a nod to the Cloud City of Bespin can be found in this sector. This chapter also includes a simple map to show relative locations of each of the described sites. In eight pages, Chapter Eleven provides a good example of a simple setting that Referees can use for their games, or as a sample to inspire their own settings.
Chapter Twelve, The Second Battle of Brinn, is an introductory adventure set in the Interstellar Civil War setting. The adventure is your standard search and recovery mission, the player characters being hired to retrieve secret data hidden in an abandoned asteroid base. Two other factions also seek this data, which creates a race against time for our intrepid heroes. The adventure site is effectively a nineteen-room dungeon, and provides an excellent introduction to the setting as well as the White Star rules. It wouldn’t take much work for an enterprising Referee to tailor this adventure to a setting of their own creation, which is an excellent touch in my opinion.
All in all, I am very impressed with White Star. While my first love for science fiction gaming has always been Traveller, it is more aimed at hard sci-fi than at space opera. I think I’d have a wonderful time running a White Star campaign. The system handles its preferred genre very well, and the rules don’t get in the way of the game. I would recommend White Star for any Old School gamer interested in exploring something outside the usual realm of fantasy games. Since it’s Pay What You Want, you really can’t go wrong with it. Check it out!