Starguild

 

 

In space, no-one can hear you scheme...

 

Starguild is Space Opera Noir, where futuristic weapons and faster than light travel meet heartbreak, decadence and betrayal. Be brave naval officers or devious smugglers. Match wits and passion in high society or creep through ganglands in derelict cities. Explore dangerous jungles on the frontier worlds or engage as high tech mercenaries on future battlefields. But all this has a price....

 

This is the world of Starguild. What do you want to do?

 

Find out more about Starguild at www.starguildrpg.com and www.kickstarter.com

 

 

Name: Starguild

Publisher: TBC

System: D20 variation

Author: Alex White

Category: Sci-Fi Core Book

 

Cost: TBC - currently on kickstarter here

Pages: 238

Year: 2016

 

SKU: TBC

ISBN: TBC

 

Starguild is a modern role playing game designed by Alex White to support all kind of adventures within the space opera genre. The setting and rules specifically support noir style games, with intrigue and hidden agendas behind every face.

 

“Starguild is Space Opera Noir, where futuristic weapons and faster than light travel meet heartbreak, decadence and betrayal. Be brave naval officers or devious smugglers. Match wits and passion in high society or creep through ganglands in derelict cities. Explore dangerous jungles on the frontier worlds or engage as high tech mercenaries on future battlefields. But all this has a price.

 

The game setting has been influenced by the high action space opera of Star Wars, by the competing diplomatic regimes of Babylon 5, by the grittiness of Firefly frontier worlds and by the underlying horror of the Cthulhu mythos for those who wish to draw in genuinely alien aliens. It isn’t exactly like any of those, but the fingerprints are there, and it is easy to run adventures, which are drawn from any of those settings within the world of Starguild. All this is underlaid with the essential noir setting details – cynical, ambitious, cruel; with dark undertones of emotional blackmail, sex and betrayal. Conflicting agendas and fragile trust. Secret deals and complex intrigues. The good guys do not always win. The good guys do not always live. The good guys are not always good guys.

 

To support this atmosphere, the game treats social conflict - the ability to alter someones emotions and thinking - as a first class citizen alongside the more traditional kinds of conflict of fist and gun. There are many ways that adventurers can achieve their objectives, including manipulating their friends and allies should the need arise. But beware - lest your head be turned by seduction, poisoned by distrust, swindled out of something important or taunted into an irrational act!”

 

Firstly I have to thank Alex White for the PDF copy of the book, which I was given to review. It is very much appreciated.

The Review:

It is always nice to get asked to review a game that is so close to completion. The professional layout makes it easy to read through and there has been plenty of space for artwork to be added. I have also got a selection of Q&A’s by the author. Please have a read to get more of a background behind the book,

“This game essentially depicts the “space opera” genre rather than a scientifically feasible future. This means that although a nodding acquaintance is given to the way that science works today, the game revolves around several aspects of “science” that are way beyond anything that seems likely today. Three of these areas that deserve special attention at the outset are those of Hyperdimensions, Spatial structure and Crystal technology.”

 

 

I am always a little worried when a book promises so much. Mindjammer was a nice surprise where it encapsulated a universe in a book but this is more an experience. Star Wars, Babylon Five, Firefly – all these are big promises and does Space Opera and gritty Noir work? Well so far, so good.

 

The rules themselves are based on the open-license d20 system and there are clear guidance on dice required and how variations to this (d20 and d6 are only used) are part of the system. Character creation uses a point trade system so a strong character may not be bright but there are no supers in the party!

Mace Hunter is our guide for the character creation. Each step is carefully explained in a manner that is simple and easy to use. When I review a game I like to work through the character creation myself. That can be tricky but there is enough here from d20 that makes the terms and the system easy to follow. The process may seem familiar:

 

•Ability score

•Backgrounds – adds flavour and allows for greater differential of characters. In fact this is a really strong part of the book and something others could look at. This is where the skills, professions and talents are found.

•Convictions – like an action point

•PC relationships – why are we together?? No pubs allowed!

•Dark secrets are optional to round off the character

 

My only bit of contention in all this (we are only on page 21!) was making the example character 2nd level on creation. I understand wanting to show options but I don’t think this is a great message.

 

The next part is a really great idea. Using past experiences as part of the creation. Lost love? Treasure hunter? Diplomatic blunder? The examples are very well put together and I think there would be a lot of fun around the table pulling this all together.

 

What I like about this book is there are nice little tips scattered throughout. The real emphasis is on the experience. Roleplaying and how to use the mechanics to enhance the situation is scattered throughout the book and is very welcome.

 

So the next few chapters detail the system. Through conflicts and encounter rules, healing etc. As the d20 system is at the core of most of this, it is both familiar and yet there is enough difference to keep you reading through with interest. I like what is done here as d20 sci-fi is never quite been done efficiently and this is definitely one of the better attempts. Vehicle and star ship combat does seem well described and I like the mixture of detail for PCs and yet simplicity for the GM (or referee). This is something even the most popular systems can overlook and leave the GM bogged down in unnecessary paperwork.

 

Page 79 brings in the big guns (or Equipment). I needed to read this through twice as I feel the equipment could make or break a sci-fi system. The equipment is good. The basics are there and well described. There is a nice mixture of old school rifles and laser weapons. Transport and star ships are described but this is obviously one of the first expansion books planned. I think that the chapter’s work and giving players the chance to design their spaceship could be very interesting. What about getting them to design and the giving it to their nemesis? Time for a well-planned heist!!

 

Page 120 marks the part for the Referee. Detail of history and different factions add a lot of flavour and it is nice to see such a rich seam for referees to mine. The map on page 132 to show how the Quadrant is shaped and how the factions interact with each other. Planets are detailed and there are nice adventure hooks so the right type of planet can be fitted for whatever style of campaign you wish.

 

Guilds are nicely detailed and are normally something a lot of campaigns can forget or skim over. There is an entire section for Guildmasters who “hold a special and unique place in the worlds of the Star Cluster”. Other NPCS are also highlighted in the next section along with a good set of charts (especially for the OSR in you)!

Finally a section on adventures with a surprisingly eclectic mixture of small one shots. The appendices has the tables and some optional rules to make adventures more gritty.

 

 

 

My Summary:

I know the state of roleplaying is healthy in the UK. The greater publishers are pushing out the mainstream titles (Achtung Cthulhu, One Ring, Mutant Year Zero etc…) so it is nice for an independent system to come out of the mists. It is even nicer that the system it offers is fully formed, been tested and works. There is enough here that you are not having to learn the ropes yet again but enough here that even the most wearied of RPGer can find some little gems to raise a smile.

 

The book is currently on Kickstarter to get the artwork this book deserves. I have already put my money where my mouth is by backing this and I hope you all seriously consider doing it! Well done Alex and thanks – you have given me back my faith in the indie UK RPG scene.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is my exclusive interview with Alex White

 

Q. Could you please say who you are and why you have made a Sci-Fi RPG?

 

My name is Alex White, and I’ve been playing tabletop RPGs since about 1975. I remember reading about D&D but it was out of my pocket money range so I made up some D&D rules on a single sheet of paper and ran dungeon exploration games with my friends – arguably my first foray into game design!

 

While I’ve always enjoyed fantasy, sci-fi was where my literary heart was, and I jumped on Traveller when it came out, but it didn’t really scratch my gaming itch. I wanted to run and play something that was more like Star Wars. Originally, way back, I took my favourite game rules at the time (Runequest 2) and made a whole series of sci-fi settings, equipment and rules for them, and ran fun campaigns for many years in that universe. Friends suggested that I could print and sell it, but things were very different in terms of costs and distribution back in the early nineties. Plus there was no way I could publish with someone elses proprietary system.

 

The advent of D&D third edition changed that, with the OGL providing a clear licensed platform to use and build on established game mechanics. Furthermore print on demand and the maturing internet was providing a platform that brought costs down and opened up possibilities for distribution. I converted my home game to use the basic OGL rules, and brought in elements like the ‘damage save’ mechanism which Steve Kenson developed for Green Ronin for ‘Mutants and Masterminds’ and ‘True20’.

 

As I continued to refine the game, and started playing it regularly at a small convention as well as for home games where myself and two other Referees ran games, I decided that it was time to look seriously at publishing it. If we have been able to have really good fun with the game, I think other people might too.

 

 

Q. What makes Starguild stand out as a project worth backing?

 

I think that there are perhaps two things that make Starguild stand out as a project worth backing.

 

The first is a practical issue – the game is written, edited and layed out. It has been through many rounds of playtesting and simplification and so any backer can have confidence that there isn’t a risk of the project not delivering or getting bogged down with additional writing.

 

The second is that it fills what I think is an open niche in the market at the moment – space opera, but with an emphasis on skulduggery and interpersonal conflict. Space Opera Noir, as I explain later. The foundational rules are simple, and rolling high on a 1d20 should be familiar to anyone who has played D&D and its variants, but with there are enough differences to make it distinct.

 

 

 

Q. What made you want to write your own system and how does it work?

 

I think that the game mechanics should support and inform the desired atmosphere of a game – and for elements of the atmosphere that I wanted to capture, I needed some new elements. One of the key things I wanted to accomplish was to make social conflict just as important as conflict with weapons – something which I had seen very few games do (at least at the point when I started).

 

It was important to me that I could use the same underlying mechanics for all activities – a ‘check’ means roll a d20 to beat a Difficult Class (DC) in order to accomplish something. A ‘save’ means roll a d20 to beat a Threat number (TN) to avoid consequences.

 

Character level is added to all your roles, so as your characters become experienced, veterans, elite or legendary they will find lesser foes easier to deal with – although they may be playing in bigger playgrounds too by that time.

Everyone has a certain amount of ‘conviction’ which they can spend to gain an edge, and they can tell stories about their background and homeworlds in order to regain. This helps everyone contribute to the fiction of the game while gaining mechanical benefits.

 

I reduced the traditional D&D ability scores to three – Passion, Intellect and Physique to bring emotional, intellectual and physical endeavours onto the same footing. There are the same number of skills associated with each of these, and the same number of saves associated with each.

 

Q. The by-line for Starguild is a Space Opera Noir – What do you mean by that?

 

Space Opera is the kind of science fiction which is probably exemplified better by star wars than star trek. It paints dramatic pictures on a big canvas without getting bogged down about scientific practicalities. We don’t have to extrapolate from known science today in order to have disrupter pistols, hover cars and dramatic action.

 

Noir is a modifier which reflects the kind of games which I like to run and which the social conflict rules make it particularly suitable for play. The player characters are thrust into a world which is cynical, ambitious and cruel – and they will often be exhibiting just those characteristics themselves; as likely to be attempting to manipulate their colleagues as their enemies in order to obtain their goals. One of my descriptive lines that often resonates with people is: “The good guys do not always win. The good guys do not always live. The good guys are not always good guys”.

 

It is fun to role-play a character whose emotions are being conflicted both by the circumstances and the people around them!

Q. What are your favourite parts of Starguild and what was the most demanding to design?

 

I think my favourite parts of Starguild are the social conflict rules and the underlying setting. I love the way that the social conflict rules means that there are ways of winning without drawing weapons. I also love seeing the intra-party dynamics as a group of players work out what they really want from each other, and attempt to manipulate each other to a greater or lesser extent. I have run many memorable convention one-shots where in the last hour the drama level gets kicked way up, which is incredible fun – but it works just as nicely in long running campaigns too.

 

Designing this so that it worked, without being too prescriptive upon player characters was a bit of a challenge originally, but settled down eventually into a design which has worked well.

 

It is in campaigns where the underlying setting really helps – it has been developed over a number of years with a very wide range of conflicting parties – whether on the level of regimes, on planets or between massive guilds – or even within them. I have made an effort to scatter plot hooks throughout the history and on every planet and system.

Q. Who are the most scary bad guys?

 

One of the things that I didn’t want to have in the game was ‘humans in a funny costume’ aliens. So all the sentients which you meet in the game are humans. However, my underlying assumption is that there is alien life out there which is utterly inimical to human life. The core rule book deliberately doesn’t codify in rules anything about specific alien forces, but two of the adventures in the book contain utterly inhuman threats and there are hints of others. A future release which focuses on the guild known as “The Watch” will have more details, but in the interim any of the favourites from Call of Cthulhu games can find a welcome home in Starguild. I’ve often used Mi-Go as adversaries.

 

A good contender for the title of scariest bad guys could be one of the nastier guilds. MERCAL, is a cluster-wide navigators guild which is involved in all kinds of over the table and under the counter deals. Consider them like a multi-national, supra-national mafia. They will often be attempting to use or oppose player characters, and they are so large that you can never really defeat them – just frustrate their plans for a while. That makes them pretty scary in my book.

 

Q. I was very impressed how well designed this was and the fact it looked finished. So why are you putting it on Kickstarter?

 

The one thing which I wanted to do to improve the game before its final release was to obtain some more professional art. I paid a professional artist for the cover art last summer (and I’m really pleased with the job he did on it for me), and I would like to get some more, better interior art. At the moment all the interior art is work that I’ve done myself over the years. Some of it has a rough charm to it, but I’d love to get some more detailed pieces done which help to reflect the atmosphere of the game, or give people additional visual references to environments.

 

In addition, some of my reward levels will allow backers to contribute additional details to some of the systems – quirks about important cities, planetary lords or new enemy organisations. I look forward to the opportunity to get some additional creative input from people who would like to commit to the project in this way.

 

Q: Have you contingencies if the funding doesn’t happen? What issues have you had in making this system?

 

If the funding doesn’t happen, then I will be filling in some of the blank spaces with additional artwork of my own, and releasing the game on Drive Thru RPG anyway. As I mentioned earlier, the game is fundamentally complete. I have had issues in finding the right artists to work with me – people whose style matches the look that I want for the game, and who are interested for working at a payscale in the RPG industry which is a little lower than other places where they could find work.

 

It will be disappointing, I’ll admit, if the funding doesn’t happen. But one way or another this game is going to get out there!

 

 

Q: This is a Sci-fi setting that seems very well developed, a rounded political system and a detailed history. Has this been part of an existing campaign?

 

Yes, it has been part of an existing campaign – the setting, history and political systems are some of the oldest parts of the writing in the game. Some of those sentences were actually written in the last century! I had a minor epiphany in the early nineties when watching Babylon 5 – I loved the way that the Narn, Centauri, Minbari and others all had different attitudes, different ship designs and it allowed for conflict on a variety of different dimensions at any one time. It gave a richer background than the classic ‘evil empire’ approach, and it was one which I was pleased to introduce.

 

 

Q: What would you claim were your most significant influences during the creation of Starguild?

 

On the story side, the most significant influences where Star Wars, Babylon 5 and the Cthulhu mythos. Rip-roaring action, the possibility of becoming supermen with lightsabres (the Guildmasters in my game), conflicting diplomatic regimes with plenty of brinkmanship and hidden agendas, and always the possibility of inhuman forces working behind the scenes on their own inimical plans.

 

Mechanically, I have been influenced a lot in the last three or four years by the Apocalypse World game and its related cousins. The importance of “failing forward” and giving the player an opportunity to make a choice on a failed skill check about whether to succeed with consequences or accept the failure was a great addition to the game design lexicon. So rather than the binary succeed or fail on a check, there is a much wider range of “yes, but” options that can come out of it. You have picked the lock but triggered an alarm. You’ve repaired the speeder but used up your mechanical kit. You’ve made the shot but a jam has ruined your weapon.

 

Q: What was that process in game design like and what lessons did you learn?

The process of game design was largely following a process of:

  • was there a cinematic situation that I wanted to be able to cover with a rule
  • design a rule that seems like it should cover those circumstances well
  • playtest, playtest, playtest!
  • Simplify, simplify simplify
  • If necessary, discard.

I have found it is very easy to come up with something that seems like it is a good idea on paper, but when you’ve got a bunch of people around a table it turns out to be too complex and drags down the flow of the game. Almost everything can be simplified. Often things can be flat out discarded. An encumberance system lasted for a long while, but I eventually killed it because it wasn’t really contributing to the fun point of the game. The same went for what could be described as a repairing things mini-game. It might have seemed neat, but essentially it wasn’t where the fun was.

 

Simplification really has been a key element of the process, at every step of the way.

 

Q: You are a very experienced gamer, but can Starguild appeal to a new player?

 

I showed my introductory chapter to a family friend, a young woman who had never played an RPG but was interested in what I’d been working on. Reading the first chapter which set out what the game is about, what the referee does and what the player does gripped her, and she wanted to know whether she could have a copy of the rules and try to run the game with her friends. I was delighted, because I really hoped that my introductory section would capture what I think makes for a good roleplaying experience with these rules – to see someone who was an absolute novice read it and decide they wanted to know more and have a go was a genuine delight.

 

It is still probably the case that most new players to any kind of RPG are introduced by someone who is already playing them of course. I hope that the setting and concept of the game are enough to pique someones interest.

 

I can see the value of having an introductory tutorial-style adventure and rulebook in one, and I will probably have a go at writing something like that once I’ve got the main rules finally completed and launched. I don’t want to dilute my attention from the main thing at the moment though.

 

 

Q: Is there anything that gamers’ should know about that will not be on the Kickstarter page? Is there anything that may surprise when they play for the first time?

 

Perhaps the value of ‘conviction’, which can be used to gain an edge on your checks and saves, and do a few other things too. It isn’t supposed to be a resource which you hoard for the big threat at the end; it is supposed to be a resource that ebbs and flows. It is easy to recover by telling stories about your character background and homeworld, and my intention is that during the game the players are continually spending conviction and regaining it, by acting in ways that are associated with their background or adding snippets to the shared fiction of the game.

 

There is also the relationships between player characters, normally phrased in the terms “I want… from … because…” or “I owe … to … because …”. It is a way of setting out right up front that the players have a shared history together which goes back at least some way before this first actual game. That’s not to mention the allies, rivals, patrons or enemies which your character might have gained in his life before the game starts, nor the dark secrets which every player can carry.

My hope is that people playing for the first time will be pleasantly surprised at how much the essentially traditional roleplaying game encourages interpersonal relationships between the players, and then gives mechanics for tugging on those strings.

 

Thanks for letting me share some of my passion for Starguild: Space Opera Noir with you today!

 

 

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