Thursday, 19 May 2022

[OSR Review] Warpstar!

What is "Warpstar!" ?

  • "Warpstar!" is the science fiction counterpart of "Warlock!", which was an RPG implying that they were neocloning Warhammer fantasy roleplaying first edition, but with a more unified system, and a similar setting, feeling the same but not infringing on games worshop's copyrights.
  • Warpstar wants to do to warhammer 40k, what warlock did to warhammer (and warlock was good, hence this buy).

What was I expecting?

  • A simple, unified, and twist-able system, based on a skill and career motor, with a D20 for resolution (and none of that percentile system from WHFRPG which I dislike so much).
  • A system for Sci-fi "magic", or psi powers, something like that, but I had no preconception of what I wanted, I just knew it needed to be gritty to fit with the universe.
  • A sparingly described universe, mimicking the desperate and fascist sci-fi of warhammer 40k at its beginnings. Something like 40k but with a really developed universe, not just with filed down serial numbers (doing to 40k the kind of unification and homogenization of the background they did in Warlock with the WHFRPG lore)

What did I find?

  • A simple system, to my taste, based on skills. There are not even attributes (and since they are not needed, you could wonder why you ever use them in game design). There are a lot of careers and advanced careers in the book, enough to cover all your basics but no 3rd level careers (my mind burped, they do not exist in Warlock either). Each basic career has 2 random tables to help build the character's background, and these are well done, introducing a lot of background - more details than the "universe" section afterwards.
  • A really dirty and gritty warp-glyph system with dire and mutagenic consequences for those than dabble too often in this corrupting power. I liked what I read: short, simple, and atmospheric.
  • The basis of a universe description, but nothing really deep. Larges axes are described: The Autarch is the sole ruler of the universe through his military, the Hegemony, and his monopoly on the Cadence, a substance that allows those ingesting it to get addicted but also living eternally, as long as they take it regularly; a very big merchant's guild; noble houses governing their planets in the name of the Autarch and bickering among themselves; a gigantic technological consortium that creates warp engines and miraculous tech (but their stuff is rare and not available to everyone). From what I read, they are not enough details to start a campaign without doing some heavy lifting and the stuff is vague enough that you could play in the universe of Dune without changing a lot. It's also vague enough that the universe could be collaboratively refined during a session zero. But it IS well written, concise and I felt compelled to order the other "warpstar!" books while i was reading this part of the book.

Advantages of Warpstar!

  • As I said before, it's well written. Simply, clearly, and with a will to keep it concise and dense, on the information value's side. The GM's tips part of the book is in my opinion the weakest, addressing a public of first time GMs but not going into enough details to be interesting (in my opinion). Still it's the only RPG book that I have read cover to cover in the last 5 years (last one was Mutant : Year Zero).
  • I liked the format (6'' x 9'' Hardcover), which is a bit like A5. It's easy to transport and light enough to be read in bed.
  • Art is black and white and very OSR-ish, pens & ink style that reminds of the illustration of the game books like fighting fantasy, and often full page.
  • Layout is simple but effective, no stupid background that impairs reading. It's not simplistic, though, and does serve what the book wants to convey.
  • It's nearly a all-in-one, as was WHFRPG back then, an adventure is all that i think is missing. But you have all careers, rules (including starship fights), a universe description, a bestiary, magic, and technology (quite expeditively covered - no details, but enough to be able to make rulings on the fly).

Disadvantages of Warpstar!

  • It's only available on print on demand, and I really fear what amount of import taxes i'll have to pay when it arrives (probably 7$ + 5% of the ordered amount - but if the toll declaration mentions game instead of books, they will probably ask for 7$ + 19% of the ordered amount and that would be a pain in the wallet).
  • There is no adventure / scenario in the main book, only a page trying to explain how to write one (which I did not find interesting because too theoretical - in this matter, Warlock! took more time and pages to explain how to prepare a scenario, doing a better job at giving us ways to ponder the fact, that no scenario was included).
  • The gaming universe is barely described. Inspirationally described, but really shallow. On the other hand, anyone having read a lot WH40k will be able to easily fill the blanks. Still, I have now great expectations concerning the background books that I have ordered. If it is as good as this book, i'll certainly adapt a campaign I'm planning to this sector.

IS it OSR?

Well, that's a difficult question.

  • If for you, OSR needs to be based on D&D, then no.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be fantasy, then no.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be gritty, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be lethal, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be rulings, not rules, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be player's skills, then maybe not (depends on your style, I'd say).
  • If for you, OSR needs to be an invitation to go adventuring, then maybe.
  • If for you, OSR needs to be Black & White art, then maybe.
  • You're adult enough to know if you have enough maybes to call it OSR in the end (there are so many definitions of OSR anyway).

Also another point: Warpstar tries to give us an alternative to what WH40k RPG would have been, if it had been released with the philosophy behind WHFRPG 1E, back in the days. But there was no such book, the first WH40k books are much newer. So it's kind of funny to have a neoclone of something that did not exist back then. Still, it is believable and emulates the genre well, so i'd say, job done ! In my book, you are OSR and deserve that title (but I know that I'm lax with this terminology)

Would I recommend it, and to whom?

  • Clearly, if you want to play in the universe of WH40k, the system is much easier to learn than the fantasy flight games systems set in this universe (dark heresy, rogue trader, ans so on). It's a real good alternative if those are too complex, or not unified enough, for your taste.
  • For "on the fly" Sci-Fi gaming, with no preparation and commonly created universe, it would work too. There are no tools to help in this shared creation, though, so you'll need an imaginative GM, able to ask a lot of questions. Only warp, warp motors, and warp powers are anchored in the system, so it's really versatile and acceptive of stuff on top (maybe use the oracles of Ironsworn Starforged? [given you don't like it's system, because Starforged is excellent for this kind of situations]).
  • To those that want to use the game engine and pack their universe and campaigns on top, i'd say go for it, that's what I intend to do myself.
  • If you are really crazy and want to tinker a bit more, I'm sure there is a here an engine which would word with the universe of Starfinder. Add some stuff from Warlock! and you should be good. Playing Starfinder without having to spend weeks to re-learn D&D 3.x, what a dream😉.

For those that have read Warlock!:

  • Same engine, really. Even the books are organised very similarly. Should be easy to learn and use.
  • The main book is bigger than Warlock's and includes stuff that Warlock would have in the companions. You see that the editor's skills were better when he started this project.

What I intend to do with Warpstar!

  • Depending on how enthusiastic I am about the extensions, I would tweak a campaign to fit in a sector described in said warpstar extensions (I ordered Warpstar-Omoron & Warpstar-Caldera). Something that was in my head for a while and never found the system / universe I wanted to settle it in.
  • The campaign would be very similar to the SyFy show "Dark Matter": All characters wake up in a stasis pod while their ship is being attacked. But they have no memories whatsoever. They'll have to investigate to learn that they were really bad apples (not always by choice, or what they first discover is not even necessarily true). So will the reset of their memories allow them to reset their way of life and become a force of good?

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