Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Talking White Star Blues

I don't do many reviews of RPG products here, and I'm not about to start. But I do want to talk a bit about James Spahn's White Star: White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying, because there are some things worth talking about.

I think White Star was marketed poorly. It's slick and well laid out, and a lot of people in the OSR are talking about it in terms that glow more than the lens flare on the cover. There's already fan material and even a zine that I've already ordered. And that's all to the good, but clearly some people got the wrong impression, and some of the reaction to White Star has been pretty negative.

My impression is that the marketing, and the book itself, is almost too slick. Given what it is, White Star would be better off looking less polished and more "white box."

The game, as written, is not so much an adaptation of Swords & Wizardry: Whitebox as it is a reskin. It re-themes D&D magic-users as Jedi - "Star Knights" - who wield lightsabers ("Star Swords" that do all of 1d6+2 damage) and cast "Meditations" instead of spells. Fighters are Mercenaries, Thieves are Pilots, and Elves are Alien Mystics.

What really cements this is the experience system: it uses "credits" as the measure instead of gold pieces, but you get XP for killing monsters and gaining credits. Despite the back-cover claim that the game takes you "out of the dungeon and into the stars," when you read the sample adventure it's a space dungeon. And I mean, I have nothing against that; it's kind of a cool idea to have a D&D dungeon in space, and to replace your two-handed sword with a lightsaber ("Star Sword") and your crossbow with a laser pistol. But that is really what it's doing. The Star Sword does 2 points of damage more than a stick. The laser pistol does the same. Meditations are spells, period. Things work like they do in D&D, not like they do in Star Wars (or any other space opera). Because of the game's logic – really D&D's logic – you're basically going to be playing D&D in space.

Now, I don't think that's bad per se. The book has some cool science fantasy monsters and artifacts in it. And any game with Space Monkeys can't actually be bad. But I do think it's marketed wrong, possibly because it's so easy to bury the lede. This isn't Traveller, it isn't Firefly, and despite some trappings it's not Star Wars. This is Swords & Wizardry set in space dungeons.

This isn't a review, so I'm not going to answer the question of whether it's worth getting. A lot of the book is a reskinned restatement of Swords & Wizardry. The parts that are good, like the robot PCs and the 22 pages of aliens and creatures, are quite good. The parts that are lame, like the Meditations, are irretrievably lame. But hey, it does have Space Monkeys.


  1. Remove all the wannabe Star Wars elements fro the game and you have a very sim booklet indeed.

  2. Darn right it isn't Traveller...Traveller is a science fiction game! White Star is nothing you can't do by crossing out "sword" and writing in "lightsaber" and is woefully uncreative and unsuitable for science fiction gaming. It's space fantasy. Hint: just being in space doesn't make it science fiction. Star Wars being a prime example of space-set fantasy, not sci fi.


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