White Star Revisited

White Star Cover

Marcus over at G+ asked what was so good about White Star:

[…]I feel left out and don´t quite understand why White Star is so exciting for a lot of people. This is not meant as a troll post or some such. I am genuinely curious. I usually like OSR games. The likes of Beyond the Wall, books like Red and Pleasant Land, Into the Odd etc. […]

I already wrote a gushing article about the game but perhaps it was a bit too superficial.
So, here are some further thoughts about James Spahn’s White Star (aff) and whom it might appeal to (and whom not).

The most important thing to remember is that White Star is an adaption of Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox and 100% compatible.

What does that mean?
It’s purely old school D&D gaming. WhiteBox is a retro-clone of the original D&D from 1974. Thus, the rules are a bit arcane and sometimes weird to newer gamers. Heck, when my good friend Fabian tried to get my gaming group into the OSR, I really didn’t like the rules at first. Some of the stuff is obscure and feels outdated.
Concepts like race-as-class, descending armor class, prime attributes with XP bonuses, no skills, the limited class choice etc. may put off gamers accustomed to newer D&D games.
I came to embrace these quirks and now I enjoy old school games for their simplicity but if you can’t get used to this concepts, White Star might not be for you.
The good thing about WhiteBox and White Star is that you can use the alternative ascending armor class system which makes it much easier for a younger audience. Plus, they get rid of the weird (but flavorful) 5 saving throws (Breath Weapons, Poison etc.) in favor for a single saving throw. This makes things even more easy but eliminates one element where classes were different.

As far as I can see modifications to the basic game rules to make White Star more suitable for (heroic/pulpy) sci-fi were not made in order to maintain compatibility to WhiteBox. White Star relies one the flavorful classes and the rules for space combat in this regard. This especially becomes obvious when we look at the rules for death and healing. Therefore, gameplay can feel a bit more gritty than preferred. Old school D&D is not known for its heroic/cinematic gameplay.

White Star’s inspiration leans towards Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy and heavily towards Star Wars. This goes so far as including the Star Knight as a class which screams Jedi at you. Likewise, some of the races are more or less knock-offs from Star Wars: Uttins = Jawas, Odays = Yoda’s species, Fluffs = Ewoks. Additionally, the example setting feels very much like Star Wars with the series numbers filed off.
There are other influences and some people have argued that the Star Knight might as well be inspired by Paul Atreides from Dune.
Be that as it may, I don’t see the Star Wars influences as a problem. Heck, most people convert any (sci-fi) game to Star Wars anyway. Still, it had to be said.

Now, after all this reasons why it might not be suited for your table I still love the game and think it’s worth the 10 bucks for the PDF. I’m definitely gonna buy the print version.

So, who might this game be for?

Folks who

  • love old school D&D and want compatibility to S&W WhiteBox (and other OSR games)
  • love Star Wars, Star Trek and similar space operas and pulp sci-fi
  • love simplicity
  • like a (more or less) complete game in one book with a simple framework to work with
  • like an OSR ruleset which works out-of-the-box

Still, if you’re not sold on White Star, what are the alternatives?

There are tons of generic or sci-fi games out there so it’s not possible for me to point them all out.

If you don’t like old school D&D and want to play Star Wars, I can recommend Star Wars D6 from West End Games. There is a free fan-sourced 2nd edition (check out the Star Wars D6 G+ community folder) or take the generic PWYW Mini Six (aff) and slap on some sci-fi. Open D6 has the advantage that it is pretty cinematic.

Then there is the Firefly RPG (aff), based on Cortex+. This is more of a “modern” narrative ruleset. However, it sets you back at USD $19.99 (sale in May: $16.99). Review by Tommy B. here.

Obvious alternatives in the old school D&D vein are Hulks and Horrors, Stars Without Number and X-plorers.

X-plorers has a free no-art version and a full version with art (aff) for USD $5.95 (title marked down in May to $5.06). Erik at Tenkar’s Tavern wrote two articles about X-plorers in comparison to White Star: here and here.

As to Stars Without Number: again, there is a free no-art version and a full version (aff) for USD $19.99 (reduced price in May for $16.99).
Stars Without Number (SWN) has a slightly different base system. It’s old school but doesn’t emulate a specific version of D&D. Instead, it uses the same base (6 attribute scores, class-and-level-based system, descending armor class etc.) but adds some elegant twists like how attack rolls are made and also includes a well-constructed skill system. White Star (WS) doesn’t have a skill system but gives each class some “Knacks” and advantages.
SWN’s space combat system is a bit more complicated (and clunky). SWN has rules on how to create starships, includes Mechs, Robots and Psi powers and is more encompassing than WS.
Generally, the game feels more like hard sci-fi than the space opera approach of White Star. There was some kind of apocalypse, the Scream, which destroyed the previous technological achievements of humanity to a certain degree. Still, you have starships and A.I.s but also backwater worlds.
At its core, SWN is a sandbox system. The GM gets tons of excellent tools on how to create star systems, worlds, factions, adventures and more. For me, it’s a treasure trove (great toolkit) and nightmare (too much to prep) at the same time.
The game is much more exhaustive than WS and clocks in at around 250+ pages.

Hulks and Horrors is available as a free PDF.
System-wise it’s most similar to B/X. Setting-wise it’s classic sci-fi from the 70s and 80s. Out of all the games mentioned here, HH is the closest to dungeon-crawling in space. Players are explorers and treasure hunters who stake their claim so they can raid ancient tombs and space hulks.
The writing style is humorous and there are some very neat ideas presented. For instance, the game adds formidable rules for how science works and also has some interesting classes and alien races. Furthermore, there are extensive rules on how to build starships. HH is a good ruleset if you go for its premise. It could use some art and the system could be streamlined a bit more for my taste but for free it’s a nice game.

Edit:
A suggestion from Noah Stevens: Star Frontiers

You can get Star Frontiers free with little trouble – hard sci-fi and fairly chunky in places but maybe as an alternate alternate.


Links:
White Star (aff)
Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox
Star Wars D6 REUP
Mini Six (aff)
Firefly RPG (aff)
Xplorers: free and full (aff)
Stars Without Number: free and full (aff)
Star Frontiers

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