All posts by Peter R.

I have been blogging about Rolemaster for the past few years. When I am not blogging I run the Rolemaster Fanzine and create adventure seeds and generic game supplements under the heading of PPM Games. You can check them out on RPGnow. My pet project is my d6 game 3Deep, now in its second edition.

Taking a Look at White Star

I am working on a number of projects at the moment and in an effort to make them as good as I can I am also looking at a lot of other peoples work. I like to look at really good examples and then see what I can apply to my own work. To that end someone recommended that I read the White Star rules.

This is the first D&D 0e clone I had read cover to cover. I can see why people like the concept. I haven’t played that sort of game in several decades but felt I could pick it up and run with it in minutes. The single volume rule book contained everything from character creation, GMs only section to starting adventure.

I am a huge fan of minimalistic games and to that end I liked how accessible White Star is. I also quite liked the caveat that the game is not intended to be complete and you are almost required to add more rules, change existing rules and generally make the game your own.

As an aside I have spent the last few years blogging about just one system. I have published 256 posts all on the same game. I have posted adventures, new monsters, book reviews, house rules and essays about what the system does well and what it does badly. To finally get to talk about different games feels slightly like an infidelity. To now try and talk about another game and not compare it to the system I know and love so well is really difficult.

I am not going to play White Star. For me it comes so close to achieving what it set out to do and that is to be a light weight, fast to learn and play set of rules and something that can be tweaked to fit any science fiction setting but it lost my sympathy by page 16 of the rulebook.

One of the cardinal sins in a pen and paper RPG is to say “You cannot do that!” If I wanted to be given a set of limited options to choose from then I would play a computer game. In a rpg you should only be limited by what you character knows and the reality of the situation they find themselves in. On page 16 the rules told me exactly what weapons an aristocrat may use and that they cannot use shields. Sorry but if I was an aristocrat setting out for a hostile world I would damn well make sure I had a shield if they existed! Each class or profession in White Star has a list of weapons they can use and for some reason a Star Knight, think Jedi, is prohibited from using a club. Surely that is the most basic of weapons and in a game with so few weapons and types of combat defined the club is going to be the default stand in for a bar room chair, a beer bottle and everything else that you just grab in a cantina brawl, but not Star Knights, apparently they either do not get to go to that sort of establishment or they escalate from throwing slurs against your mother to drawing a dagger. To me that says they probably have anger issues, either that it that is the reason why they do not get invited to the cantina for a drink very often.

White Star does cover itself by saying that all rules are there to be changed and that you are supposed to create house rules but if you start by changing every character class/profession before you even start that is a slippery slope. Where do you stop?

White Star uses the D&D six characteristics and 3d6 for each one. I guess they did this to make it feel as easy to digest for the D&D and Pathfinder players. These make up probably 90% of all players out there so making it an easy transition makes sense. 3d6 for stats has very few merits. It does not scale well to percentages. One point of stat is not 5%. 3d6 tempts people into 4d6 drop the lowest. Why do you need characteristics that go 3-18 anyway, neither the upper or lower bound have any particular resonance, surely 2-12 is sufficient or if you want more variation try 2-20 that at least scales well to percentage and d100 and still has an average of about 11.

You see as soon as you start saying house rule everything you don’t like then you open a can of worms. In my opinion ‘house rules’ frequently equates to ‘untested’. Not all house rules just fiddle around at the edges. I could say that all classes can use a club as a sort of lowest common denominator. I could say that anyone can use a shield after all it does say they are just built into the collars of cloaks or capes and worn around the neck. Why cannot everyone use them? The answer is game balance I guess but it could just as easily be class differentiation. It cannot be that the instructions for switching them on are written is six languages, none of which you speak, and are too complicated to figure out as they let fighters [mercenaries] use them.

I can see the simplicity and elegance of White Star disappearing very quickly as it becomes deluged with house rules and then ore house rules to fix issues introduced by the first house rules. A bit like the lady who swallowed a fly, I don’t know why she swallowed a fly but I do know she died.

I think if I was 12 again and had just seen Star Wars for the very first time and someone gave me this game I would be as enthused as I was when I got my very first D&D box set. I know that all systems have short comings that we forgive and overlook if we love the game but White Star is not one of those games, for me. The problem is that I out grew my D&D basic set and White Star does not do quite enough to make me want to forgive it its short comings.

“Please allow me to introduce myself…”

This is my first post for Stargazer’s World. Some readers may have seen my comments on Michael’s and Sunglar’s articles in the past. Like most of us I guess I have been playing RPGs since the early 1980s starting with D&D basic set (red box in my case). I am a long term advocate of Iron Crown’s Rolemaster system but I also love really simple d6 systems.

Michael suggested I use my first post as an opportunity to introduce myself but writing about yourself is hard. If you start listing stuff you have done or written then it sounds really egotistical and if you don’t then you end up with a rather blank resumé. So I will just say that I have done stuff and I will probably mention it in passing in my future posts. So that is quite enough about me and now I will move on to RPGs which is why you are here in the first place and is not something I feel awkward writing about.

This year’s #RPGaDAY has had a lot of questions about game design, from a physical product point of view, the quality of the writing, the quality of the page layout, the art and so on. One of the things I do do is I run a fanzine. This means I am writing and publishing stuff for other people to consume every single month. During #RPGaDAY it was really interesting to take a long and critical look at many of my favourite games to see how they measured up against games being released today. I reached the conclusion that great design can make a game look so good that you want to play it even if the actual rules are not really either new or engaging.

It helps to have great art but it is not essential. For some game systems art can make too many suggestions about how things should be. My orcs and goblins could be very different to yours. RPGs take place in the mind’s eye and you do not need a picture for everything. On the other hand if you are looking for a Star Wars RPG then you want to see pictures of X-wings and light sabres. There, having the right art makes you want those things, it sells the setting.

For me one of the best presented games I have ever seen is FATE. Ironically, I think FATE is a terrible game and not one bit of it appeals to me. Maybe I just don’t get it? Not everyone can like everything, after all.

So is good visual design important? I think it is if we want to encourage new players into the game or if you are looking to revive and out of fashion game. Good page and book layouts can make rules easy to navigate and make play at the table run faster. Great art can enthuse readers into wanting to run the game even as a one off to give it a go. If you litter your game with iconic images from a particular time people will buy into it. Imagine a ‘modern day’ RPG and it is littered with images of Chopper bikes and Atari games consoles and it screams 80s. That lends itself to cold war intrigue. Take the same rules and game mechanics and add some psychedelic designs and flared trousers and a red and white Gran Tourino and you are in for a Starsky and Hutch campaign. Show me helicopter gunships hovering over the jungle and I am up for a rolling up a Vietnam vet as a character.

An example of this StarFinder. Same old rules but new imagery, new looking books and you have PathFinder in space. Is it any good? That is a matter of personal choice. Does it look good? It sure does. Will people give it a go? Of course they will. Who doesn’t want to battle space pirates?

Do I want to play it? Not really but on the other hand where is that bright red Gran Tourino? That is a game I would be interested in seeing!