In this detailed RPG review, I will be taking a chapter by chapter look at White Star White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying Galaxy Edition. This is a generic OSR sci-fi RPG designed to let you play rules-light games in any sci-fi setting.
This is a follow-up to a couple of reviews that I posted on this blog back in 2018 that took a look at the original edition of White Star, a much smaller book (Part 1 | Part 2). As part of this follow-up review, I will also be looking at the differences between this edition and the older one.
Disclosure: James M. Spahn was awesome enough to send me a review copy of White Star Galaxy Edition after reading my review for the original game. No other compensation was provided. Some links in this post are affiliate links. Using these links doesn’t cost you anything extra and it helps support this blog and podcast. As an Amazon Affiliate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
What is White Star Galaxy Edition?
White Star White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying was designed and written by James Spahn with layout by Jason Paul McCartan. It was published by James’ company, Barrel Rider Games, in 2015. This newest version, the Galaxy Edition, came out a couple of years later. It was also published by James via Barrel Rider in 2017. This new edition credits additional production staff including, Arthur Braune, Thomas A. Novosel and James Shields as well as Jason Paul McCartan.
White Star is an OSR (Old School Revival or Old School Renaissance) roleplaying game based on the Swords & Wizardry White Box: Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game. Swords & Wizardry White Box is itself an OSR retro-clone of the original Dungeons & Dragons (OD&D) (aka the white covered boxed set originally produced by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson).
The goal of White Star was to create a rules-light, rulings over rules, generic sci-fi RPG that could be used to recreate many of the popular sci-fi genres and tropes at your game table.
All of the contents of this book are compatible with the original White Star and everything published for it as well as everything published for White Box. This book strongly suggests stealing monsters and adventures for one to use in the other. Technically you should also be able to combine all of this with OD&D though that’s an edition of D&D I don’t own so I can’t verify that.
Physically, White Star Galaxy Edition is a digest-sized hardcover book that is very well made and bound. I don’t expect this book to be falling apart any time soon, if ever. It’s 332 pages long including things like the credits and character sheets.
This book features an excellent and detailed table of contents but sadly no index. To me, that’s a big omission that makes the book a bit hard to reference at the table. They did provide a Table of Tables though (as an old school style RPG there’s a lot of tables in White Star!), as well as a Table of House Rules.
Inside White Star Galaxy Edition, you will find black and white text and artwork. It uses a single-column layout with significant white space that makes it easy to read. In addition, there are call-outs with optional rules (called House Rules) that don’t break the flow when you are reading.
The artwork is quite a mix of styles featuring work from ten different independent artists, including Tamás Baranya, Mark Huffman, Konrad Kolinowska, William McAusland, Jeremy Mohler, Jeff Preston, Shaman’s Stockart, James Shields, Carlos Nunez de Castro Torres and Maciej Zagorski.
Overall the writing is good, though despite being a second edition there were a few spelling and grammar errors to be found, and some sections got repetitive as they were obviously copy-pasted. This is especially true once you get into the rules for starships, vehicles, and mecha. What I didn’t see was anything that would impact the actual gameplay. With any errors that I found, it was obvious what was actually intended.
The mechanics here are very much old-school roleplaying, based on the systems from the first-ever roleplaying game published. The game uses a combination of D20 and D6 rolls and no other “funky” dice are needed to play White Star. You won’t find any percentile charts here.
What follows is a detailed chapter by chapter look at White Star Galaxy Edition, followed by a comparison of this new edition to the original. I then finish off with my overall thoughts on this book and the system in general.
A chapter by chapter look at White Star White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying Galaxy Edition
Introduction and Chapter 1: Attributes and Serials
A big part of the OSR movement is a DIY element. The players are encouraged to make this game their own, and all of the rules in the book are meant as suggestions. If there’s a rule you don’t like, toss it out or modify it. Throughout the rules, you see this at work with call-outs suggesting optional house rules which the designer presents for you to use if you want.
This isn’t like a modern D20 RPG that’s designed for tournament play where every table the world over is expected to be playing by the same rules. This, like the Original Dungeons & Dragons White Box it’s based on, is all about providing a toolkit and not a hard and fast set of rules.
The attributes in White Star are Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma, all stats people should be familiar with. As expected from an old-school style RPG, you generate your stats by rolling 3d6 in order, though the game does provide some optional house rules for using other methods.
Each stat does something to modify the mechanics of the game including the very old school idea that each class in the game features one or more attributes as specialities. If a character has a high enough number in a speciality stat they get bonus XP. I haven’t seen that mechanic in a long time, maybe for good reason.
Other than the XP bonus, the stats generally do things we’ve seen before. STR gives you a bonus to hit and to damage, CON gives extra hit points, CHA sets your base loyalty and max number of assistants, INT gives Alien Mystics the ability to use gifts, WIS lets other classes use meditations.
Unlike most modern D20 based games, attribute bonuses here only range from -2 to +2, with the majority giving no bonus or penalty.
A completely optional alignment system is presented. This is a system that is obviously based on Star Wars rather than the traditional D&D alignments, with a scale that goes from Star to Nebula to Void with Void being “The Dark Side” and Star being “The Light Side.”
Characters get some starting credits to buy gear and then players have the option to use what James’ calls Serials. This is a system you can use to give your characters some background information and involves rolling on charts to determine things like a character’s homeworld type, family background, events of the characters youth, their first adventure, any established adversaries or allies that the character has made and a critical event in their past.
I really like how this is tied to the idea of the classic sci-fi serials like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. Each of these rolls do not only give you story prompts but also gives your character some kind of mechanical bonus. For example, if the character’s home planet was destroyed they get +2 to saving throws against fear as they’ve already lived through the worst.
Chapter 2: Classes & Skills
Chapter 2 of White Star Galaxy Edition starts off by diving right into character classes. There are twenty-five character classes included in this edition of White Star, way more than was included in the original edition. Classes are broken down into standard classes, which are expected to be available in every White Star Campaign, regardless of setting, and optional classes that can be added to specific campaigns to emulate specific sci-fi genres and character types. The optional classes are further split to also include a handful of mystic classes that can use this system’s version of “Magic” in the form of Gifts, Meditations and something called Chitterlings.
Each class is presented with an XP chart that shows the class’s Hit Dice at each level (like the game it’s based on, every class and every monster rolls D6 for hit points and not every level gives a full hit die), a BHB or Base Hit Bonus which is a number added to all attacks, and a Saving Throw number. White Star has just one saving throw number which is based on your class. You won’t find any reflex saves, will saves, etc. There’s just one generic catch-all saving throw. Along with these statistics, each class will present a number of special abilities. Some of these abilities you get at the start and others unlock as your character gains levels.
The standard classes include:
Aristocrat – A space noble with abilities like Powerful Speaker and Silver Tongue, who build a growing retinue as they advance in levels.
Mercenary – Weapons specialists that can form their own mercenary company at higher levels.
Pilot – The best class to have in the cockpit with skills like Space Ace and Jury Rig.
Robot – Because Droid is copyrighted. This class, in another old school call back, can only advance to level four but have a number of special abilities to make up for that fact. These abilities include things like scanners, built-in weaponry, large skillsets and the fact they can be repaired instead of healed. There are four different types of Robots you can choose from including Combat, Diplomacy, Mechanical and Medical.
Star Knights – Defenders of the galaxy who have their Star Swords, follow “The Way” and can learn powerful Meditations.
The optional classes include:
Alien Brutes – These humanoid creatures come in a number of forms like Falcon Men, Procyon, Qinlon, Wolflings, Space Ducks and Rawrarr (I bet you can guess what that last Alien Brute is based on)
Bounty Hunters – Combat specialists that can do subduing attacks.
Brinlings – These are sci-fi halflings with uncanny luck.
Combat Medics – Healers who can get the most out of medpacks and can even bring someone back from the brink of death at higher levels.
Cyphers – Netrunners or Deckers for those that want some cyberpunk hacking in their sci-fi games.
Deep Space Explorers – Pilgrims and scientists who are great at surviving on foreign worlds and excellent xenobiologists.
Freed Assimilant – Hue or Seven of Nine anyone? You will learn more about Assimilants in the Alien and Creatures section later.
Gunslinger – Firearms and pistol experts for that old west style sci-fi feel that you can’t take from me.
Man of Tomorrow – This one goes back to those sci-fi serials and things like The Rocketman.
The Mecha Jock – Mech battles are something new in Galaxy Edition for those who like Battle Tech, Robotech or Pacific Rim, White Star can now do them all!
Novomachina – Sentient transforming robots that are more than meets the eye.
Plucky Sidekicks – This class has some really cool abilities, such as “I believe in you.” which buffs another member of the party.
Rock Star – This class had to be included because the Rockerboy is the best character class ever. Thank you Cyberpunk 2013!
Two-Fisted Technician – These tech experts get the aptly named ability “Bang on it with a hammer”.
Yabnabs – This class is obviously inspired by the furry bear-like creatures from a certain forest moon.
Finally, we get to the optional mystic classes which include:
Alien Mystics – These aliens use spell-like gifts and come in the same types as the Alien Brutes in the last section. This class is for your guardian, sage, and mentor style character.
Star Pilots – Pilots who use meditations to be even better at flying their ships. This is your space ace who can use The Way.
Star Squirrel – This class is a bit of an inside joke. James, the designer of the game, has a thing for squirrels and back in the G+ days a bunch of us encouraged him to put a squirrel race into his game. While he didn’t do it with the original edition, The Star Squirrel which is included here is the end result. Their weapons and armour are made of natural materials but somehow produce science-like effects. Star Squirrels have small Star Swords and Acorn Ships. They have mastered a special version of The Way and are able to use Chitterings, a special type of Meditation. There are even Star Squirrels that have turned to The Void. These so-called Black Tail Star Squirrels are the perfect, unexpected, enemy for any White Star group.
Untrained Initiate – A character that can use Meditations but doesn’t actually understand how they work. Also used for characters with inexplicable special powers of any type.
The last part of Chapter 2 is a totally optional skill system.
Note that the game that White Star is based on didn’t have any type of skill system and even predates the proficiency system that was included in some early editions of D&D. What we have here is a really basic system with a fairly small number of skills that can be rated 1 to 5 and that are affected by ability bonuses (each skill has one of the six stats tied to it).
Trying to use a skill results in a simple D6 roll where if you managed to roll the skill rating or lower the skill works as intended. Like many parts of White Star when skills can be used and exactly what they can be used for is up to the GM. While this system is super light, I still appreciate the attempt to include a skill system at all and I found during play that it worked surprisingly well.
Chapter 3: Equipment
It starts with a pretty typical list of gear, prices for that gear, weight ratings and short descriptions of the items on the list. This is followed by tables for Melee Weapons and Missile/Ranged Weapons. Interestingly every weapons’ damage rating is based on standard D6s. With most weapons doing just 1D6 damage. Ranges for ranged weapons are given in feet. The weight rating is for a totally optional (thank you) encumbrance system.
The weapon types here range over all kinds of different tech levels, including primitive tools like rocks and clubs to the powerful Star Swords wielded by Star Knights. Some of these weapons also have special rules, for example, lassos can entangle, ion weapons do extra damage to droids, etc.
Armour and shields come next and each is presented with two Armor Class values. The reason for this is that the to-hit system that White Star uses pre-dates even THACO. Here lower armour class is better and to see what you need to roll to hit you need to reference a to-hit chart. Thankfully James gave in to pressure and also included an optional system for ascending armour class for those of us ready to move into the next millennium. Both systems are presented next to each other any time AC is referenced in the book including here.
Chapter 4: Playing the Game
This chapter features a big mish mash of rules in no discernable order that I could figure out. Here you will find rules for all kinds of stuff that will come up during play that aren’t covered in other sections of the book.
The first thing that is discussed is time. Here White Star Goes back to the original one-minute round and ten-minute turn, something I always found a bit odd in older RPGs. One minute is a long time, and getting your head around that and making sure you are describing a full minute’s worth of activity each round takes work for most of us used to more modern, shorter turn-based systems.
Detailed rules for Saving Throws are also presented. As mentioned earlier, Saving Throws in White Star are based on a single class-based number and are used for avoiding all kinds of things including manipulation, area effects, resisting Meditations, collapsing corridors, bridge fires, etc.
Making a Saving Throw is very simple, you just roll a D20 and hope to roll your Saving Throw number or less. Exactly what happens when you pass or fail is based on what’s happing to your character at that moment and in most cases is open to GM interpretation. Remember White Star is more about Rulings than Rules.
The movement rules in White Star are based in feet and meant to be somewhat abstract though they do give a system for using grids if you want to. Characters have three different movement rates, a slower one for when they are being careful, a standard rate, or they can pick up the pace by running. As noted in the equipment section there are encumbrance rules that affect movement but they are purely optional.
You will also find rules for surprise, concealed and secret doors, and environmental effects in this chapter.
This is also where you find rules for Experience and leveling up. Just like the older games it’s based on, characters earn individual experience in White Star. Experience is mainly awarded for defeating opponents, with less XP awarded if combat is avoided and a foe is defeated by roleplaying, submission or by avoiding the conflict. I’ve got to say this is the worst rule in the book as it encourages the players to murder everything that comes in their path and penalizes them for not doing so.
James does make up for this, in part, by providing a system for rewarding non-combat experience for things like good roleplaying, acts of heroism, helping others and making everyone at the table laugh. I would have liked to have also seen XP awarded for progressing the plot or completing story based goals.
This dated XP system is one of the first things I think I would personally house rule in any game of White Star that I run.
Another trope of old-school gaming is the ability of players to hire hirelings. This was actually the norm years ago, where most adventuring groups would consist of a number of non-player characters who would travel with the player’s characters. This is something you don’t really see anymore. I can’t remember the last D&D game I saw that had more than just the PCs in it, maybe with an animal companion or familiar, but never a pack of soldiers, a scholar and a torchbearer.
In White Star hirelings are called Assistants. Players are encouraged to hire all kinds of different Assistants ranging from engineers and soldiers to translators and animal trainers (you need someone to look after that Rancor after all).
Chapter 5: Personal Combat
Combat in White Star is d20 based. It uses the very familiar system of rolling a D20 and adding your class-based Base Hit Bonus plus any other modifiers while trying to meet or beat the target’s Armor Class.
As noted earlier there are two systems presented here, one that uses descending Armour Class, with a to-hit chart, and another that uses ascending Armour Class. If you make your to-hit roll you deal damage. Also noted earlier when talking about equipment, all damage is D6 based.
Initiative can be rolled by side or by individual and is also D6 based. Most interesting here are the rules for ties, which will be quite common when only using a D6. In this case, action is considered simultaneous which is abstracted in the fact that anything that takes lethal damage still gets to act and is out at the end of that round.
Other than those unique items, this is pretty typical D20 combat. There are rules for negotiation and diplomacy here, as well as a note towards Mysticism that is discussed fully later, House Rules for critical hits and failures, moral rules, rules for healing, and more. Again all stuff you expect in a D20 combat system.
There are some interesting callback optional rules here as well for those who really want an old-school feel, such as everyone having to declare their actions before the initiative is rolled and the potential for actions to get interrupted.
The chapter finishes off with a short example of play.
Chapter 6: Starships & Starship Combat
The combat system presented is rather abstract. Things like ship positioning is narrative and statistics like speed are only used to compare relative speed between ships. You won’t find any hex grids here or any detailed rules for playing in three directions.
The initiative, to-hit roles, ranged attack modifiers, and hit points are used in the same way as in personal combat. Additionally, most starships have shields that reduce damage and go down by one each time they absorb part of a hit. Shields come back by one point at the end of every round. Starships also have targeting systems that modify to-hit roles.
One part of the Starship combat system that I particularly liked was an optional rule called Damage Report which has some random charts to roll on for when a ship gets hit, creating additional effects instead of just a reduction in the ship’s hit points.
Here you will also find rules for cloaking devices, repairing ships and buying ships. This is followed by detailed statistics for different ships ranging from the Acorn Fighter to the Stunt Interceptor.
Next, we get rules for modifications that either come with established starships or which you can add to established starships or that you can use to create your own ships. There’s all kinds of stuff here including things like Advanced Shielding and FTL drives, or installing a Brimling Galley, or converting your Cargo Bay into a Performance Cargobay for your Rock Star to give an in-flight performance.
Finally, there’s a bit of info on XP for starship combat (which again penalizes characters for not destroying their opposition, boo!) and Space Travel which is handled purely narratively. No tracking fuel and resources unless the GM adds that part in themselves.
Chapter 7: Vehicles & Vehicle Combat
After the rules for starships, we get something new in White Star Galaxy Edition which is a full set of rules for vehicles and vehicle combat. This includes ground vehicles and atmospheric flight. In the original game, vehicles were meant to be a story tool only. Now you can actually play out some “Mad Max”-like vehicle combats as well as in-atmosphere dog fights.
This chapter is almost identical to the one on Starships, to the point that you can tell that most of the actual combat rules are just copy/pasted from the last chapter. You won’t find shields and targeting computers here but the standard to-hit, AC and damage rules are the same.
What you will find in this chapter that we didn’t see when talking about Starships are rules for Ramming Attacks as well as Explosive Damage rules for how much damage the passengers will take if the vehicle they are in is destroyed (with Starships if this happens everyone inside is considered dead without GM intervention).
There are ten vehicles presented in this section starting with the Assault Springer and ending with the Yabnab Glider.
Chapter 8: Mecha & Mecha Combat
One of the unique rules, that only applies to mecha, is a system of damage reduction for when a Mecha is attacked with personal weapons or by vehicles as well as rules for attacking non-Mecha targets with a Mech.
The Explosive Damage rules for Vehicles also come into play here with pilots not necessarily dying when their mecha is destroyed and the Targeting rules for Starships come back as mecha give their pilots a to-hit bonus.
There are four different mecha models presented (Light, Standard, Heavy and Air) with an example of each type fully statted out.
There is a House Rule for including Transforming Mecha that are obviously based on Robotech Veritechs as they can only swap between Mecha and Skyboosters (a type of flying vehicle). These rules are simple enough. When they are a vehicle they follow the vehicle rules, and when they are a mecha they follow the mecha rules.
One of the things you can do with Mecha in White Star is to upgrade them. Here we get into a Battletech-like system of hardpoints that can be filled with weapons, programs that can be used for better targetting or to fire weapons automatically and chassis modifications like thrusters and advanced cockpits.
This chapter finishes off with a number of example Mecha, nine in total, ranging from the Eclipse Class Light Mecha to the Tornado Class Air Mecha.
Chapter 9: Mysticism
Once we get done with all the various combat systems, the rulebook gets into Mysticism which is the “magic” system in White Star. Like the game it’s based on, White Star features a few different types of Mysticism with different abilities broken out by level.
As characters who can use mysticism advance in level, they gain Mysticism slots that they can fill with specific abilities and these are spent once the ability is used. A number of the classes also have additional abilities they can use by spending mysticism slots (a nice modern mechanic I was happy to see).
Star Knights, Star Pilots and Untrained Initiates use Meditations that they get from following The Way. Star Squirrels get Chitterlings, a mysticism that is unique to this race, and Alien Mystics have access to Gifts.
There are a significant number of these mystic abilities listed but not nearly as many as you would see in a standard fantasy D20 game. For example, there are only a total of twenty-eight Meditations split over four levels and even less of the Chitterlings and Gifts.
These Meditations do all kinds of effects. Most are based on long-standing spells that existed in the games White Star is based on.
Meditations include things like Charm Person (“these aren’t the droids you are looking for”), Healing Meditation, Detect Thoughts, Speak with Animals, Protection From Missiles (which only works while wielding a Star Sword), Telekeisis and more.
Along with these, there are House Rules for Drawing Down the Void, which can be used to inflict damage or to reduce attributes or saving throws. Drawing Down the Void has a cost and doing it too often can have characters turn to The Void and become NPCs.
Chitterings are specific to Star Squirrels and include the ability to hibernate, speak with fellow rodents, gnaw through any object, and cause tech to malfunction.
Gifts remind me of a mix of Cleric and Druid abilities and include a number of non-combat abilities like Light, Purify Food & Drink, Levitate, Alter Time and Fly.
One thing I really liked about this spell list is that except for the house rule of being able to call on The Void there aren’t any direct damage spells to be found anywhere. Who needs fireballs and lightning bolts in a game with blasters and plasma cannons?
Chapter 10: Aliens & Creatures
Chapter 10 of White Star is all about the adversaries and allies that the GM can put in the game. This is considered the start of the GM section of the book and isn’t meant to be read by the players (which is another dated concept in RPGs that you don’t find as often today).
This chapter gives you full statistics for all types of NPCs the players may encounter, both friendly and not. It starts off with a small section of rules that explains how to figure out an NPCs to-hit bonus, hit points and experience value. In most cases, this is based on its hit dice number. Some aliens and creatures have abilities that make them tougher than their hit die number. These have a Hit Dice Equivalent rating, which really reminds me of D20s effective levels.
These rules make it very easy for GMs to adjust allies and enemies on the fly and makes it very easy to add variety to encounters by providing simple modifications for making tougher or weaker opponents.
From here we are presented with just under thirty different Aliens, some of which, like the Crocodila, have multiple entries for different subtypes. The chapter also lists thirty-four different Creature types.
You will find that most of these monster manual style entries are based on well-known sci-fi licences. Entries like the Cannicks, which are like upside-down hovering garbage cans that like to say OBLITERATE in a tinny voice, and the Assimilants, who it may be futile to resist
The chapter ends with a chart and rules for creating your own aliens and creatures. In addition to using what is presented here, it is also pointed out that you can freely use any monsters or creatures from any other White Box RPG. This not only includes the Fantasy version but also things like Operation White Box a World War II themed game. Many of these outside sources are available at a very low cost or for free (and there’s a lot of White Box stuff out there).
In addition to this, you should also be able to use monsters from Orignal D&D and any game based on it, though I haven’t tried this myself and there may be some conversion required.
Chapter 11: Cybernetics, Etchings & Advanced Equipment
The Cybernetics rules are pretty simple. The players can buy expensive replacement parts and get some kind of in-game bonus for it. There are optional rules for limiting the amount you can buy but nothing as detailed as the humanity based systems in Cyberpunk or Shadowrun. I was pleased to see there aren’t any penalties for buying cybernetics except for the high cost.
There is a broad range of options like Brain Boosters, Cybernetic limbs (with various optional upgrades), Cybernetic Eyes, Digital Reflexes and more.
The Advanced Technology section provides the equivalent to the magic item section of a fantasy RPG and includes things like Powered Armour, Personal shields, and Star Sword Gems.
You will also find a couple of relics which are basically artifacts. One of the relics is obviously based on The Masters of the Universe, a pair of swords, one created from Star and the other created from Void, that are rumoured to unlock great power to anyone who can join the two together. Then there’s the Key to the Kosmos that was obviously inspired by the cult classic Nelvana animation, Rock & Rule.
Finally, we have Etchings which are a form of tattoo magic unique to YabNabs and Star Squirrels. These are divided up by level and can be taken by a member of the appropriate class instead of gaining a new spell slot when they level up. I thought these were rather neat though I’m not sure why they weren’t included in the Mysticism chapter.
Chapter 12: The White Star Campaign
The next chapter of White Star Galaxy Edition is The Whitestar Campaign which presents a number of possible settings for the game all obviously based on popular sci-fi licences. For each of these pre-made settings, James suggests which classes are most appropriate to use and describes the expected tone of each setting.
The settings presented here include Rebels Against the Regime, Explorers Among the Stars, Invasion!, Brothers in Arms, Just Keep Flying, A Thousand Thousand Worlds, and White Star and Swords & Wizardry (suggestions on how to best combine White Star with the fantasy game it’s based on).
In addition to these settings, James also presents an interesting and very modern House Rule called Deed’s Dark and Daring. This is a resource system that adds points to a pool of daring deeds. This pool is calculated at the start of each game session and the points can be spent by the players to do things like potentially affect the ongoing narrative, automatically succeed at a roll, prevent death, or have an ally turn up in a timely fashion.
This is a basic version of a system like Fate Points in Fate RPGs or Bennies in Savage Worlds. What you won’t find here is a point economy. There is no way, as written, for the GM to give out more Daring Deed points or spend them on their own. Instead, each session they reset and when spent during that session they are all gone.
Chapter 13: Random Encounters
In this chapter of White Star Galaxy Edition, meant for use by the GM, we have a large number of tables for determining things like the details of a sector of space, planetary details, random space encounters and ground encounters.
Actual tables include things like the number of suns a system has, special traits for a system, planetary atmosphere, primary planetary terrain, exotic terrain types, native sentient species, native species technology level, planetary encounters broken up by level, stellar phenomena, nebula types, and a table of interstellar travellers.
While I appreciate these charts being here at all they don’t give a lot of detail. You won’t be able to just roll on these and instantly have a playable encounter. These charts are instead meant to be prompts for the GM to use when building their own encounters.
While I’m certain GMs with enough improv experience and system familiarity could probably use these on the fly, I think they are more meant to be used as part of your game prep.
Chapter 14: The Interstellar Upheaval
This setting and overview is very obviously Star Wars inspired, with heroic Star Knights battling evil Void Knights that are under the control of the mysterious Supreme Lord of the evil empire.
Four different sectors of space are detailed including a hex map for each and descriptions of all of the features on these maps. These include asteroid belts, orbital space stations, key NPCs, details on a number of worlds and their inhabitants, a cluster of black holes called the Tenebrae Nebula, orbital processing facilities like Brinn Alpha, barren worlds like Svell which obviously hide some secret for the players to discover, and more.
Interestingly, there’s no actual adventure included. That’s something that was in the original edition of White Star that I personally really miss. I think every RPG should always include a sample adventure that shows off what the designer expects you to do with the system. Sadly you won’t find that here.
What is new in White Star Galaxy Edition?
Before I get into my personal thoughts on White Star Galaxy Edition I want to highlight exactly what’s new in this edition of the game vs. the original White Star that I reviewed back in 2018.
In general, The Galaxy Edition of White Star includes all of the rules from the original edition as well as the rules from The White Star Companion. It also includes all rules and classes from the class supplements that were released.
One thing that was cut from the old rules, and that you won’t find in the Galaxy Edition, are multiclass rules. These have been dropped entirely due to being fiddly and against the rules-light nature of the game.
Along with this new edition of White Star gathering all of these old rules together in one place, there are also some new additions. First off, there are a half dozen new character classes including the Mecha Jock, the Rock Star, and the Star Squirrels.
As noted earlier in this review, all of the rules for vehicle and mecha combat are completely new. With these new rules came a bunch of new example vehicles and mecha as well as some new example starships.
The entire chapter on Cybernetics, Advanced Tech and Etchings is completely new. The Mysticism chapter features a number of new Meditations and Gifts along with the Chitterlings which are new to go with the addition of the Star Squirrels as a playable class.
The setting material in the back of the book was significantly was expanded, but as I just mentioned above, the sample adventure was cut.
Actual rule changes are very minimal. Due to this, the games are completely compatible. Everything published for White Star can be used in the Galaxy Edition. The most significant change is that ability modifiers now go from -2 to +2.
One thing you will find more of in this book are James’ suggested House Rules. The Galaxy Edition offers far more optional rules and many of these add some welcome, more modern, mechanics to this old-school game.
In summary, what you get with the Galaxy Edition of White Star is the original core book combined with the original official Barrel Rider Games supplemental material plus over 100 pages of new material
Final Thoughts: Is White Star Galaxy Edition worth picking up?
My first thought after receiving White Star White Box Science Fiction Roleplaying Galaxy Edition was that this is a really nice solid little book. I dig the digest size of the book and it’s very well bound. It looks great, even despite the fact it has a black and white interior. To me, the black and white layout just adds to the old-school feel. The rules are well laid out, easy to read and clear and concise when they need to be.
The actual mechanics in White Star are pretty tried and true and I think they match what this game is trying to do. The goal here is to emulate the feel of some of the first RPGs ever published. Games that had a focus on rulings over rules and featured a Do It Yourself mentality. Games that encouraged the players to think of the rules as a set of guidelines that they were free to modify and make their own.
Added to this was something I personally appreciated, and that was the addition of some modern touches that made the game more current and relevant to modern gamers. These included things like ascending armour class, alignments being optional, and a plot point-based player resource for affecting the story.
I was also very pleased to see that, despite being an old school game, the concept of GM as an adversary was never presented.
When I ran White Star with my home group our sessions had mixed results.
The main problem my group had was getting everyone at the table into the old school mentality. Especially in regards to the fact that your group probably shouldn’t just be the player characters, but should also include assistants. The regular use of henchmen in RPGs is just something none of us really grew up with.
My players were also shocked by the lethality of the system, something that’s definitely changed over time with most RPGs. While this system may only have one saving throw, it can often be used for all kinds of Save or Die moments determining if a character survives falling rocks, a Void Knight’s choke attack, explosive decompression, or getting hit by a particle beam pistol. Having your character’s fate come down to one D20 roll isn’t something my group is accustomed to.
Along with this, it took a bit to realize just how fragile low-level characters are. Hit dice in White Star are based on D6. Damage is also based on D6. This means that at first level a single shot from almost any weapon in the game could lead to an instant death.
This style of old school play isn’t going to be for everyone, and while White Star is meant to be a toolbox that you can modify to fit your group, once you start modifying a game too much you are often better off just moving on to another system that better suits your tastes. However this game is targeted at the OSR and players who enjoy a game based on older mechanics and old-school mentality, so I do think most people picking this up do know what they are in for.
Another issue I found with White Star is the fact that it’s meant to be generic and cover all types of sci-fi. While this is cool, and I do appreciate the attempt, what this also means is that it’s not particularly good at showing off any one genre. While you can play Star Wars in White Star, with it’s Star Knights and The Way, that’s not the same as playing a game with a fully detailed set of rules for Dark Side and Light Side points where you can call on The Force to improve your efforts. Similarly, I don’t think you can really capture the feel of Star Trek without a detailed skill system and non-combat-focused character classes. While White Star does have a couple of classes like Pilot and Two-Fisted Technician, you won’t find things like Science Officers, Botanists, or Ship’s Counsellors. Having recently reviewed the ALIEN RPG Starter Set from Modiphious, I can’t see ever playing an ALIEN game without detailed rules for stealth, radar blips and a system for panic.
Yes, I do realize you can take White Star and play around with it and house rule it so that it can do all of these things and more but I think if you really want to play an RPG in an established sci-fi universe you are better off picking up a game meant to emulate that specific sub-genre.
That said, where White Star does have an advantage over those systems is that it’s much more rules-light, and those rules are very quick to implement and use at the table. Also once you learn White Star you can use it to create all kinds of different things without having to learn a whole new system. Swapping between an Expanse inspired game of White Star to a Star Wars-themed one is going to be much easier than swapping from the official Expanse RPG to Star Wars Edge of the Empire.
Overall I was impressed by White Star Galaxy Edition. This is a very solid OSR style ruleset that’s rules-light and pretty simple to learn. While White Star does stick to many of the old-school tropes there are a number of modern optional house rules tossed in there that help make the game more relevant to modern gamers. Character creation is nice and quick and the gameplay flows well. The fact this game only needs a D20 and some six siders to play is also a bonus.
I think White Star does a good job of being able to facilitate nearly any kind of sci-fi RPG. A drawback to this is that it suffers a bit for not having enough genre-specific rules. This is countered by the fact that this game is meant to be a toolbox and you are encouraged to make rules like this on your own.
As for comparing the Galaxy Edition of White Star to the original, this is the book you will want to pick up. This new edition of White Star completely replaces the old edition, while still being compatible with everything that was in the original and released for it. What you are getting here is a number of older books combined into one as well as over 100 pages of new content. If you are thinking of getting into White Star this is now the place to start.
As for whether you should check this game out or not, that depends on what you are looking for. If you dig the feel of older style RPGs like Original D&D and Star Frontiers and want to recreate that feel with a slightly modernized version of those mechanics then you should definitely check out White Star. It will probably be perfect for you.
If you are looking to recreate a very specific sci-fi licence or genre, while White Star will probably work, you may be better off finding a game about that specific setting.
If you want a versatile sci-fi RPG that’s great for handling pretty much any type of sci-fi story, that will let you swap between genres without having to learn a whole new ruleset, then White Star may be exactly what you need.
There you have my detailed, chapter by chapter, look at White Star Galaxy Edition. If you enjoyed this review format be sure to check out my other RPG reviews like my review of the ALIEN The Roleplaying Game Starter Set or my detailed look at Shadows of the Demon Lord.
Do you enjoy Sci-Fi RPGs? What about old school retro-clones like White Star that are trying to recreate the “good old days” when everyone was just discovering RPGs for the first time? I would love to hear about your favourite system in the comments below!