Note: this review is for the older PWYW edition, not the newer and far larger Galaxy edition
Similar to X-plorers (my review here), White Star is built upon Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. What does that mean exactly? In a nutshell, fewer rules, less confusion, fewer dice used (just d6 and d20), and a lot more improvisation and quick thinking required by both the GM and players. Upon a brief read, where would I place White Star compared to other sci-fi RPGs? It’s a bit rules-heavier than X-Plorers, but not by much. It has a far larger page-count (especially the Galaxy edition), but it is single-column 6″x9″ as well as having far more more material, classes, equipment, etc. than rules. It’s still quite a bit lighter than Stars Without Number (which also has fairly modular rules), and far lighter than Traveller, or anything larger and heavier (Eclipse Phase, Mindjammer, Shadowrun, and more).
On initial flip-through, White Star looks to be very easy both to read and reference. The default font is a little thin (fixed in the Galaxy edition), but the headers, sub-headers, tables, and asides all stand out (especially the asides, being white text on a dark gray background). The artwork is a bit sparse and small, but complements the game and doesn’t distract or try to overtake your attention (something far too many newer RPGs do).
Characters & Equipment
These two chapters deal with creating a character and preparing him or her for the game. In total it’s 22 pages, so not too long. Unlike the Galaxy edition, which includes all the optional classes, this edition has: Aristocrat, Mercenary, Pilot, and Star Knight. That last one is kinda a mix between a Jedi and a Magic-User, and in my games I wouldn’t use it at all. While the default race for characters in White Star is humans, there are a couple more options available, at the Referee’s discretion: Alien Brute, Alien Mystic (these I might allow very sparingly), and Robot.
Now it’s time to spend some of that initial money! We’ve got standard equipment such as clothing, med kits, and rations. For weapons there’s melee as well as missile/ranged weapons. Far too many games assume the use of guns all the time, whereas I would base at least many of my games around the players needing to grab an edged or club weapon at some point, whether due to lack of ammo, cost of ammo and maintenance, or such other circumstance which either prevented their use or strongly discourage their use (possibly detection of energy or even just the sound of firing).
Like Swords & Wizardry, White Star offers the option of either Descending or Ascending Armor Class. Urg. It’s time to let Descending go!
Rules & Combat
Like Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, White Star uses a single saving throw value. I have come to prefer this over the original 5-value system (strange-worded and overkill) and even the 3-value system (fairly logical, but still more complicated than needed). Everything else is fairly similar to other OSR games, including movement and hiring assistants. I like how for the latter it’s just one category, rather than separating hirelings, specialists, etc. Again, just another over-complication that’s not needed!
Combat is a very brief 6 pages, including a 1-page example. Initiative is either single- or group-based by GM preference. Again combat is pretty much the same as any other OSR RPG. Stick to ascending armor class to avoid having to look up table values. I do like seeing Morale included, and that it uses the saving throw value rather than another separate number. I must also note that I like the inclusion of several optional house rules, and I would personally include all of them.
Starships & Combat
This chapter was the one I was really looking forward to reviewing, as in my in-progress review of Stars Without Number starship combat is a bit more involved, and it’s taking my old grognard mind a bit to understand all of it. I think it’s a little confusing to have starship combat come before starship stats and listings, but as it’s not that many pages it’s not too big a deal.
White Star does note that for the most part starship combat functions the same as personal combat. In contrast to personal combat, I would probably go with individual initiative for all ships, except for perhaps fleets of similar ships in formation, such as a fighter squadron or command brigade. I find it interesting that a character’s Dexterity bonus is added to a ship’s weapon attack! I don’t know if I’d exactly run that as-is, but would perhaps consider that bonus as an equivalent to a Piloting and/or Weaponry skill. I am glad to see small stat-blocks for ships, as that makes it very easy to create custom ships. I like how for modifications the base cost is multiplied by the ship’s hit points; it’s very logical and one of those things that I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of! I would definitely include the optional house rule for immobilization, but not for pilot’s repair (as I don’t see a skilled pilot mean he or she knows anything about maintenance, repairs, etc.).
Gifts & Meditations
I skipped this chapter, as I don’t personally foresee using any of this in my science fiction games.
Aliens & Creatures
This is a somewhat-small chapter compared to other games, but it is more than what’s included in Stars Without Number, and the small stat-blocks again makes it easy to make up your own adversaries and allies. For the latter you’re more likely to use the first section, Aliens. The latter, Creatures, will certainly be gun and cannon fodder, although having one as a pet or such would always be an interesting twist.
White Star has a few remaining chapters, though I’m personally not likely to utilize them: Advanced Equipment, The White Star Campaign, Interstellar Civil War and Kelron Sector, and The Second Battle of Brinn. I do appreciate the inclusion of that adventure, however, and as always wish that ALL RPGs included one! After all of that is a 2-page character sheet (I would personally find or create a 1-page letter-sized sheet, maybe landscape-oriented). Finally is the OGL license page. While this game is based on Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox, and therefore had to be released under the OGL, it was under no obligation to itself be released as Open Content. However, looking at the OGL page in White Star I see that besides the names, logos, artwork, etc. as well as Chapters 11 & 12, everything else is Open Content. This is a huge boon for White Star, and I have to take a shot at Stars Without Number for not even being released under the OGL at all! I comment White Star author James Spahn for releasing the game as Open Content, as this will ensure not only more material created for the game (either for free or purchase) but that the game can and will exist far into the future will possible support from anyone who wants to.
I went into White Star with a somewhat cautious stance. Leading up to and upon its release it was hyped up pretty hard (honestly over-hyped) on several well-known OSR blogs and other websites. However, upon flipping through and reading White Star I have to agree with most if not almost all of James’ design and rules decisions. With the release of the Galaxy Edition, James has made the original release and its Companion pay-want-you-want, not only for PDF but for print as well! Although I’m not likely to use a lot of what’s in the Companion (and therefore what’s included in the Galaxy edition), I will still highly likely purchase the Galaxy Edition to thank and support James’ work. I do also appreciate that the Galaxy edition is available in premium heavyweight in both a paperback and hardback version, as I much prefer the former. I think this game along with Star Wars D6 Re-Up has re-kindled my passion for science fiction gaming and urge to put together some adventures!