While much hubbub has been made about Barrel Rider Games’ White Star, there has been another sci-fi RPG around for awhile and is equally worthy of attention: X-plorers. Also modeled after Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox, X-plorers features a very low page-count (39!) and sparse rules, all to encourage the GM and players to utilize their creativity to fill in the blanks and create exactly the game they want.
I compared this game to Stars Without Number. Both have a D&D rules-base, though for Stars Without Number it’s closer to B/X rather than OD&D; still easy to learn, but definitely more on paper. I could have also compared it to Starships & Spacemen, but as I noted in my review I didn’t really find anything of use for my own games. Starships & Spacemen is definitely made for a Star Trek-style of game, while Stars Without Number is closer to something like Firefly with a dash of Star Wars. If I want to play something more like Star Trek, I’m likely to use Fate Accelerated anyways.
X-plorers offers the choice of four classes: Scientist, Soldier, Scout, and Technician. While these are fairly broad categories, they’ll cover pretty much any type of character you’d want to play in a sci-fi universe. Stars Without Numbers does include a psychic class, while in X-plorers it’s presented as an optional rule near the end. What’s nice about X-plorer’s method is that it’s a potential add-on for any PC, rather than its own class. I can still include any inklings of mental capabilities if it’s needed as far as story goes.
Next is equipment, which in X-plorers is pretty short and succinct, though it does include vehicles and robots. In contrast Stars Without Numbers’ list is quite a bit more pages, but it does include far more descriptions as well as starships. X-plorers talks about starships later on, which I can agree with as I really doubt any starting characters will have anywhere near enough money to buy their own; they’re gonna be hitching a ride on a travel cruiser or volunteer to work on a mercenary or military ship.
Since X-plorers is roughly based on S&W Whitebox, it doesn’t take many pages to describe the rules for travel and combat. Stars Without Number has a few more pages, but surprisingly not much more complicated. In both games combat is quite deadly and should really be a last resort. One area that X-plorers does succeed is starship combat; in Stars Without Number it’s quite a bit more convoluted, and from what I understand an alternate system is available in a supplement. Does that really matter to me? Not really; I don’t plan for the PC’s themselves to be involved in space combat, leaving that to the mercenaries, military, and alien marauders. What my PC’s will need to worry about is just if their ship will survive to make it to a space station or land on a breathable planet nearby!
X-plorers also has a short section for the GM; it hits most of the points needed, but like S&W: Whitebox it’s not going to be very beginner-friendly; however a creative group just won’t need very much to start with, and can handle the creation and management of their universe just fine. In Stars Without Number, before the GM section there’s one for the included setting, and honestly my eyes glazed over it; I’m gonna use an existing world such as Firefly or Star Wars, or create my own. X-plorers does have a short section at the beginning to give some foundation, and for me that was more than enough to build on if and when I wanted to. The GM section in Stars Without Number is a little longer but does give a little more advice that is nice and definitely beneficial to beginners. Before getting to NPCs and creatures, Stars Without Number does include a couple more sections to help with world building and faction creation; the former is something I definitely appreciated, while the latter, like the setting history section, is something I doubt I’ll ever use. There’s even MORE sections at the end of the book to help the GM with coming up with names, clothing, cuisine, NPC traits and quirks, corporations, religions, politics, architecture, and room dressings! So even if I go with X-plorers as far as rules go, you can bet I’ll still have a copy of Stars Without Number to utilize all of these juicy tasty details!
Next we have to create the NPCs and creatures. In X-plorers yet again we have a system of rules that’s very short and easy to follow along with. In X-plorers NPCs and creatures share the same stats, and there’s a few examples listed; otherwise you’re on your own to come up with what you want. In Stars Without Number aliens and xenobestiary get their own sections, and each have their own rules and charts for creating them. It’s not as complicated once read, and the flourishes for both does help lend details for your created universe and when it comes to describing them to the players. Again, stuff I’d still use with the X-plorers rules.
X-plorers does include a very short (1 page) section on The Grey, presenting aliens after the crash in Roswell. I personally don’t understand the inclusion of this, as there are plenty of other aliens and creatures I can create. I don’t need the stereotypical UFO and gray aliens.
While my initial link near the beginning is for the full version of X-plorers, there is a full art-less PDF that can be had for free; I applaud Brave Halfling Publishing for offering this, although for me personally it was the free Cleopatra Station adventure that sold me on the game. It’s exactly the kind of adventure I would write and would want to run and/or play in. It also, to me, seemed to give off an almost Mutant Future vibe, and I really wish Goblinoid Games had written a sci-fi RPG closer to this style either in addition to or instead of the Star Trek-styled Starships & Spacemen. Why buy the full PDF instead of just sticking to the free version? Because it features the artwork of my 2 favorite OSR artists, Peter Mullen and Steve Zeiser! It’s also available in print, but at 39 pages I will just print it out myself.