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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Space Wizard's Companion

This last year has proved to be a highly successful for White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying. Based on Mythmere Games’ Swords & Wizardry and published by Barrel Rider Games, the Science Fiction RPG has constantly remained in the top twenty best selling titles at RPGnow for the last twelve months. Successfully combining a clean, stripped back style and a set of influences clearly worn on its sleeves, White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying is the charming, fun Space Opera RPG that we never had in 1977. Yet it was not quite perfect, since its lack of technical and scientific character Classes meant it could not be quite the encompassing and flexible Science Fiction RPG that it had the potential to be. The good news is that Barrel Rider Games has published the White Star Companion that sets out to rectify this lack and provide much, much more.

The White Star Companion includes eight new Classes, rules for vehicle combat, new vehicles and spaceships, a skills system, new equipment, new alien races and creatures, a whole new setting, and more. The eight new Classes include the Bounty Hunter, a capable combatant and tracker who can also subdue a target; the Deep Space Explorer possesses good survival skills and can identify the basic features of any newly encountered species; the Freed Assimilant has several innate pieces of cyberware, never sleeps, and can block incoming laser fire; a Man of Tomorrow is a good in a brawl, can shrug off Critical Hits, and once per session, has Uncanny Luck; and the Novomachina are robot survivors of a civil war each capable of of transforming into a particular vehicle. The Plucky Kid takes Inspiration whenever another player rolls a natural twenty to hit in combat, can inspire others when they attempt Saving Throws, and can mimic the ability of another character if he sees them use it; the Two-Fisted Technician is good at destroying robots, can quickly learn to use alien technology, perform temporary percussive maintenance, and temporarily improve a weapon’s damage; and Yabnabs are cute, adorable, and typically underestimated. For the most part, the inspiration for these Classes are obvious, Transformers for the Novomachina, the Ewoks for the Yabnabs, Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager for the Freed Assimilant, and so on. Others are less obvious.

This octet of new Classes is a nice addition to those in the core rules, expanding the range of choices available to player and GM alike. The choice enables the GM to better tailor the Classes to his campaign. So for example, if the GM does not want to run a Star Wars-like campaign, then he might not include the Star Lord or the Yabnab. Notably, all of the eight new Classes are given as Classes rather than Races, though this is what the Yabnab really are. Accompanying the eight are rules for Multi-Classing, which allows a player to pick multiple Classes and their features but at a cost of having a acquire a whole lot more Experience Points per level.

New rules in the White Star Companion add vehicles and vehicular combat, so that the player characters can now travel and fight down the gravity well as well as up. Essentially the new rules for vehicular combat are the same as those for starship combat, but with a couple of extra options, including vehicles being immobilised if their Hit Points are reduced to zero rather than being destroyed and allowing the Pilot Class to add its Level when determining the number of points of damage repaired. The new rules are supported by a selection of new vehicles, the inspiration for which, much like many of the character Classes, are fairly obvious. So the Assault Springer, Assault Strider, Skybike, and Yabnab Glider are inspired by Star Wars. Others like the Hover Tank are more generic in origins. To this are added new starships, including the Orbital Battle Station, Orbital Shuttle—whose illustration looks like the Far Merchant from Traveller, the Scout Ship, and the Stunt Bomber. There are also cinematic rules for inflicting the effects of minor, moderate, and major damage when a vehicle or starship is reduced to three-quarters, half, and a quarter of its Hit Points as well as details of the Ion Grappler and Planetary Laser, new modifications to fit onto the Orbital Battle Station and other larger vessels.

The White Star Companion also provides a simple skill system using just Athletics, Interaction, Knowledge, Larceny, Medicine, Navigation, Survival, and Technology. Each is rated between one and five and associated with an attribute and one or more Classes, such as Interaction with Charisma and the Aristocrat and Star Knight Classes and the Navigation skill with Intelligence and the Pilot Class. Each character starts with three skills, one of which must be an associated skill, and they can be modified by attribute modifiers also. These rules are quick and dirty, but cover most situations, for example the Technology skill covers computers, Faster-Than-Light engines, robotics, and more, including hard science. So now a player can create scientist character or a better engineer for example. By broadening the types and proficiencies of characters that White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying allows, it also widens the types of Science Fiction that the RPG can do.

Likewise, the new rules for Serials enables the players to flesh out their background by rolling for their Homeworld, Family, Youth, First Adventure, Allies, Adversary, and Critical Event, though the latter is optional. Just six options are given for each, so similarities in terms of results between player characters could be used to forge links between members of a party. Our sample character originally appeared in the review of White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying and is here further developed with the new rules in the White Star Companion.

Pooma Mupoo, Level 1 Star Lord
Str: 10 Int: 13 (+1) Wis: 17 (+2)
Con: 12 Dex: 15 (+1) Chr: 13 (+1)
Hit Points: 6 Save: 15 (+2 vs. Meditations & Gifts)
Armour Class: 7 Ascending Armour Class: 12
Experience Bonus: +20%
Skills: Interaction 3, Medicine 4, Athletics 2
Languages: 3
Equipment: Star Sword (+1), Light Armour, Energy Shield, 60 Cr

Serial
Homeworld: Cosmopolitan (+1 Charisma, -1 Constitution); Family: Most of your family is dead or missing; Youth: Delinquent (Successfully pickpocket on a roll of 1-2 on a 1d6); First Adventure: Captured by Outlaws (Pick mechanical locks on a roll of
1-2 on a 1d6); Allies: Street Rat—A street urchin in a major metropolitan planet calls
you his friend (Automatically know the criminal activity on one specific sector of a planet in the galaxy.); Adversary: Void Knight (A terrible Void Knight is searching the galaxy for you); Critical Event: Located a previously undiscovered hideout, known only to you (You now have a secret base that no one else knows about, such as an abandoned space station or undiscovered planet.)

There is also new items of equipment—weapons and armours mostly—and new aliens and creatures. The White Star Companion continues its plundering of the genre, for example, Wellsians are floating tentacled brains who arm themselves with death rays; Alureans are green skinned and charismatic, so very Star Trek-like; and the Rawrarr are tall, lean, and fur covered who use a mix of technologies and live in treetop cities, so very Wookie-like. Then there are the Space Ducks…

Random Encounters provides the means for the Referee to create star sectors and planetary systems, to create the backdrop for a game. The rules are designed to be quick and easy and to provide cinematic, somewhat pulpy settings, particularly in the form of Exotic Traits, such as abandoned societies, crystal landscapes, flying islands, and so on. The suggested natives are drawn from both White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying and the White Star Companion. The chapter finally lives up its title with a set of tables for rolling up encounters in both space and on planet.

Rounding out the White Star Companion is a description of the Sterling System. It expands upon the setting of the Kelron Sector described in the White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying, but where that was set on the frontier and full of mining space stations, abandoned planets, and stellar dangers, the Sterling System lies at the heart of the Galactic Consortium, full of secrets and mysteries. Divided by Adlar’s Wall, a dense belt of asteroids, the sector is ruled with an iron fist by Supreme Lord Adlar, and might be ripe for rebellion…  This setting is not as interesting as that of Kelron Sector and does feel as if the author is trying just a bit too hard. Of all the entries in the White Star Companion, the description of the Sterling System is ever so slightly disappointing and not quite so useful in comparison.

White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying was one of the best Retroclones released in 2015, being a great toolkit for running a Science Fiction genre Old School Renaissance game. Nevertheless, there were tools missing from that kit that meant that it was not the all encompassing treatment of the genre that it could have been. With the release of the White Star Companion, the absence of those tools—of technological and scientific abilities for characters, there was no skill system, and no means to create planets, all things that a good, generic  Science Fiction RPG needs—has been addressed. Which means that  the White Star Companion makes White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying the superb Science Fiction retroclone and toolkit that it was meant to be.