Tag Archives: science-fiction

[WHITE STAR]: 5 Quick & Dirty Supplement Reviews

Today’s post is looking at five different supplements available from RPGNow, each of them no more than a few bucks. I’ve been enjoying the hell out of White Star. And one of the solid strengths of it is the amazing community and third-party support that is running with it.

Psionics

150990-thumb140Author: Matthew Skail
Cost: $1.99
Page Count: 11 (including cover  and license)

Psionics is what it says on the tin: a psionicist class for White Star. The “Star Knight” and “Alien Mystic” classes are fine for Jedi-style flavor, but I know in my particular home campaign I’m not really a fan of having them. Not to mention their meditations and gifts felt too much like D&D counterparts, which isn’t exactly what I was hoping for. I loved the “Psychic” class out of Stars Without Number, but it’s a bit beefy to implement in the liter rules of White Star.

So for an alternative, Matthew Skail gave us a class that acquires a number of powers (and a limited number of uses a day) based on level. The difference here is each power (called disciplines) is available to choose from level 1, and it scales by the character’s level.  Psionicists also get to choose a focus at level 1, which is an ability they can use that doesn’t spend one of their daily power uses.

What’s great is each discipline has a variety of uses, and even when you can only kick them off once a day they turn out handy. For instance: “Cellular Adjustment” provides a pool of d6’s equal to level. The duration of the power, however, is 1 hour. In that time, the psionicist can take that pool of dice and spend it how they want between themselves and others. Some of those dice can also be spent to grant a target extra saving throws versus poison or disease, and at max level can revive someone who was recently slain (but with some tolls put on them.

Other powers are what you would expect — mind assault, shielding, remote viewing, telekinesis, etc. But all of them offer an array of effects and aren’t just one time tricks that are spent and gone.

Pros: A damn fine alternative psychic-powered utility class that offers options but is mechanically sound for the lighter aspects of the system. Would even make a good class for fantasy-based games using Whitebox style rules. Artwork is pretty cool and appropriate.

Quibbles: The only cons I have about this are minor nags of preference: the flavor text still has this element of the fantastic, such as references to the “Akashic Overmind” and forming temples at higher level. This is easily remedied with hand waving, and isn’t terribly distracting. There’s also something not quite grabbing me about the choice of font and size, and I wished the tables and pictures ran alongside the text as opposed to being breaks between text and taking up their own real-estate — leaving a bit of negative space on the page. I’m guilty of these things in my own self-released games, though, so I really have no room to talk.

RPGNow Link

Drongo: Planet of Peril

151029-thumb140Author: M. A. Hunt / Leviathan Publishing
Cost: $2.99
Page Count: 17 (including cover and license.)

So I’ve established my home game is a bit more gritty science fiction, but that’s not to say I don’t have a special place in my heart for pulpy science fantasy. I’m a lover of Heavy Metal magazine, my dad raised me on old Flash Gordon serials, and Krull has to be one of my favorite movies. Drongo cites Burroughs and Howard as inspiration — and frankly if you don’t love those guys, I’m not sure we’re on the same level.

This is a world ruled by a powerful magician in a city that marries science and magic, who is ruthless and is described as being only steps away from godhood. This is a world of swords and rayguns, of nomadic tribes and futuristic armies (and at least one time traveler.) The booklet gives us a brief history, seven major factions, about seventeen regions/places of interest, descriptions on a handful of common languages, a couple pages devoted to the ruler Tiverrig, Tamer of Worlds, and finishes with a brief bestiary of six creatures. The artwork is thematic and kicksass, the font choice is crisp and looks good on my tablet. It’s gonzo without being overboard, and is a great example of a setting that can pull in things from other OSR games regardless of genre.

Pros: An awesome Gazeteer for an insane setting that fits the bill for those wanting to go more sci-fantasy/pulp with their White Star games.

Quibbles: No map provided, which is a bummer since we have all these cool regions offered to us. I’d settle for a plain global map, with blobs of regions just so I knew a vague concept of where everything was in relation to each other.

RPGNow Link

Hyperspace Messenger #1: Stunners

149695-thumb140Author: Bill Logan / DwD Studios
Cost: $1
Page Count: 10 (6 pages of rules, 2 covers + inside cover)

This tiny rules add-on introduces a mechanic for stunning opponents using a tweak to the Saving Throw system. From there, it provides a few new weapons and a couple pieces of defenses specifically around stun attacks.

Pros: Manages to successfully tack on stunning/knock-out system without having to track “bashing” hit point damage or adding an entirely new subsystem. DwD products have a nice layout for the digest format, meaning easy to read on a tablet.

Quibbles: For a buck it’s hard for me to say it’s a bit short, but I wished there was a little more to it.  Regardless, it’s a sound mechanic and at least the nice layout and formatting means I have no probs stuffing my printout for game night.

RPGNow Link

Hyperspace Messenger #2: Robots

150020-thumb140Author: Bill Logan / DwD Studios
Cost: $1
Page Count: 16 (12 are rules)

This is substantially beefier than issue #1, and in a lot of ways is a steal. This book functions a mini-bestiary, I suppose, of NPC robots to use at the game table. It takes the assumption that PC robots are unique, cool, or stand out compared to normal everyday ones. That said, Bill has provided 9 fleshed out robots to serve as a basis for different uses (medic, scout, protocol, etc.) He’s also provided a variety of scanners, and each robot is listed with a cost should a player want to recruit the aid of one (or more.)

Pros: A robot for (almost) every occasion, fully statted out and ready to roll in your campaign.

Quibbles: Would have been cool to have some add-ons for PC robots, but once again for a buck who can complain?

RPGNow Link

Hyperspace Messenger #3: Aliens

150912-thumb140Author: Bill Logan / DwD Studios
Cost: $1
Page Count: 20 (16 is material, the rest is covers/license)

Bill’s gone crazy, folks. I think my comment towards issue #1 drove him mad, and now he’s pumping out high-value products for dirt cheap.

Aliens is all about creating new “race as class” Alien types tailored for your campaign (or completely made at random.) The first chunk of the supplement is an easy step-by-step guide to cherry pick or randomly roll up features and characteristics of the new alien race. When it’s all wrapped up, you tally up XP value based on the results. This is what it takes to reach level 2 for the character, and each level after doubles that value. Easy peasy.

But he doesn’t stop there — He then presents 5 sample alien classes, each one with a full page write up and full colored artwork by the incredibly awesome Khairul Hisham.

Pros: A really fun, random, old-school style method of generating new and unique alien races to populate your game. Once again, good layout and the artwork rocks.

Quibbles: The overwhelming sense of guilt I have for only paying a buck for this.

RPGNow Link

WHITE STAR: A Rambling Review

I have a curse where every time I say “I don’t need another OSR game!” I open up my wallet and acquire another one.

white-star-single-covers-frontWhite Star is written by James M. Spahn and released by Barrel Rider Games. The gist of it is they took the rules from Swords & Wizardry Whitebox and hacked it into their own super slick science fiction game.  Now, I’m already a rabid fan of Kevin Crawford’s Stars Without Number, and I was hesitant to toss $10 at a lighter, simpler game. Especially when SWN is a free pdf on its own, and is filled with some of the coolest toys in the sandbox.

But White Star hasn’t disappointed. Yes, it sticks with its white box roots pretty easily (matter of fact, it’s completely compatible with S&W Whitebox and suggests having your fantasy characters leaving their planet without any conversion necessary.) There’s only a handful of classes (Aristocrat, Mercenary, Pilot and Star Knight) and a couple generic “races as classes” (Alien Brute, Alien Mystic, and a Robot class.) It’s pretty straight forward, with only the classic six core abilities, a single “Saving Throw” rating, hit points and equipment (and maybe some spell like powers for the mystical classes.)

Where the Star Shines the Brightest

White Star caters to the pulpy, space-saga style games. As you can tell from the class name Star Knight, a particular movie franchise about wars in the stars is a major influence here. But its author has also made call outs to Flash Gordon and John Carter of Mars here. Spaceship combat is about as straight forward as personal combat, and keeping track of ship statistics isn’t anywhere near a headache. It may not have the random tables and setting tags that SWN has, but it does offer a nice broad-stroke setting with just the right amount of details for a GM to work with, leaving elbow room for them to expand how they want.

WS
Taken from the Barrel Rider Games FB page.

The layout is also formatted for a digest-sized, single-column style that has become a personal preference. I’ve been reading this book on my phone as much as my tablet or PC, and it loads fast and doesn’t hurt the eyes. It’s slick, with good font choices and decent artwork littered throughout. There are some typos and needed errata, but the folks behind it have been pretty frequent with the corrections. Once things are finalized, and the POD books are available, I do plan on purchasing myself one. But, in the mean time, I have no hesitation at the thought of printing out my own copy of the 127 page book on my home printer.

But what’s easily it’s greatest strength is the love and support it’s getting from the fanbase and third party publishers
already. The game is OGL, and released with its own compatibility standards. Hitting up the White Star Google Plus Community bombards you with tons of house rules and independently released products. Matter of fact, I’m going to probably do a future write up over the Hyperspace Messenger add-ons written by Bill Logan of DwD Studios.  The game stands fine on its own, but anyone who has followed me long enough knows I love games that encourage tinkering and DIY expansion.

TL;DR Version

White Star is a fun Science Fiction title that takes the modesty of whitebox rules and does a lot more than just adding lasers.  It captures a particular cinematic or pulp flavor, and doesn’t leave you referencing a bunch of tables or rules when aiming for the stars. It may feel somewhat simplistic compared to even other OSR-influenced space games, but it’s a solid foundation that is easy to build upon.

 

REWIRED Wednesday: Music to Gun By

This week’s REWIRED Wednesday caught me off guard, so my next supplemental article won’t hit the datasphere until next week.
In the mean time — how about some mood music? Spotify listeners can enjoy my REWIRED playlist:

If you’re needing more atmospheric, less intense background music for your games — I recommend this Cyberpunk playlist by James Wong. Over 38 hours of tracks have been collected (and he continues to add more!)

What artists do you listen for your cyberpunk role-playing? Feel free to recommend some noise in the comments!

(REWIRED WEDNESDAY) Recalibrating Perks

Perks in REWIRED were intended to help players flesh out their characters in more detail. Sure, there’s a bunch of cool combat-assisting augmentations and psychic powers, but there’s also plenty of perks that focus on specialized roles or giving a character an edge in their surroundings. In this RECALIBRATED article, I break down the basic guidelines for Perk design, provide some new perks as examples, and hopefully give you some ideas on how to custom build or tweak your own. Remember this, though: these are just guidelines, and even in the core game you can see examples of how I strayed off the path a bit.

image by Mark Hoekstra. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-NC
image by Mark Hoekstra.
Licensed under CC-BY-SA-NC

Most perks in REWIRED were intended to be single ranked, giving one of the following:

    • +4 to a Skill roll under a particular circumstance
      Intimidation: Receive a +4 to Influence rolls when attempting to intimidate, bully or interrogate another character.
    • Give a bonus to a derivative stat (+2 on Defensive stats, +4 or +1 per Ranked)
      White Hat: The hacker’s knack for cybersecurity grants them +2 to their Firewall rating
    • Allow a character to change a die roll to “6” on a particular action once per scene.
      Windfall: Once per scene, you may change one of your die results on a Wealth roll to a “6.”
    • Grant a “free” maneuver or action, either per session or scene.
      Fortune’s Favorite: Once per session, the character may ignore a successful attack against them without spending Edge.
    • Granting some kind of advantage within context of the setting (like Garage, Off the Grid, etc.)
      Fake Identity: The opposite of Off the Grid, the character has a full-fledged alter-ego, with legal papers and everything. May be taken multiple times for multiple identities.

 

Augments behave in much the same way, usually putting in some sort of limitation to use but with a bonus that could be stackable with a natural perk (for example: Enhanced Audio with Alert can grant a +6 bonus to listening based awareness checks.) One thing that should stand out is how Augments may also grant bonuses to attribute-based skill rolls. Muscle Augments, for instance, can add their rating to any Chrome based skill checks – it doesn’t add to the attribute itself, it just modifies the performance of related actions.  Augments also allow characters to interface or do things that naturally no human can do (Interface Jacks for plugging into electronics, cybereyes recording video feeds or seeing in infrared, etc.) A last benefit of augments, of course, is that (if the GM allows the rules at the end of the Equipment booklet) they can be bought. The cost is usually hefty, of course – either being a strain on a character’s Funds or a pain in the ass to find a trust-worthy surgeon who isn’t going to botch the job or give you third-rate parts.

Ranked perks, whether augmentations or otherwise, are intended to give a gradual boost for the sake of game balance. Stuff like boosting the initiative rating, or enhancing melee attacks (which leads to increased damage) felt like things I needed to rein in – the system is deadly enough, I wanted to ensure some survivability! Ever since WYRED, I’ve seen even the littlest weapons like a simple knife in the hands of a slightly augmented opponent practically disembowel a PC.

Free Form Perks

Using the guidelines above, a player (with GM approval) may scheme up their own narrative flavor to define a perk bonus. Optionally, a GM may ditch the core Perks entirely for this approach. It can be particularly handy for expanding the game on the fly, or even re-skinning for a different genre in a jiffy.  For instance: Let’s say we wanted to play in a bit more high-tech setting. Timmy wants to be a “fully converted cyborg cop” concept. He may jot down perks like these:

  • Hardened Alloy Frame: +2 to Toughness (he wanted +4, but the GM gave him a fat OH HELL NO.)
  • Enhanced Articulation: +2 to Wires based skills.
  • Motion Sensors: +4 to Awareness checks when detecting movement.

Another option is to tie in character background detail in defining a free form perk:
Grown up in the enclaves, programmed by authorities — +4 to Corporate Policies knowledge rolls to cite exact regulations when enforcing authority. 

 

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Enjoy the article? You can download the PDF for yourself here:


REWIRED REVISED is out!

ArmSallyThe revised edition of my “Quick and Dirty Cyberpunk RPG” is officially out today! I’m really stupid happy with the outcome of this revision, really in love with the new booklet format and the overall flow of it. I hope everyone enjoys the changes (which you can read about on the previous blog.) Feel free to leave any thoughts, comments, criticisms, tokens of gratitude or hatemail in the comments.

If you really enjoy this game, feel free to share the love.  It’s released under Creative Commons, so feel free to redistribute and share among your gamer circles free of charge. Any reviews, reposts or retweets to boost the signal are highly appreciated.

Zip file includes:

  • Core Rules PDF — Perfect for any mobile device or laptop
  • Print Copy (booklet format — just print front and back!)
  • Revised Character Sheet
  • METROPLEX BURN setting PDF — official setting of the REWIRED playtesting crew.