Monday, October 23, 2023

Game Review: White Star Galaxy Edition

: James M. Spahn
Publisher: Barrel Rider Games / Gallant Knight Games
Marketplace: DriveThruRPG, Gallant Knight
Engine: OSR Compatible (Swords & Wizardry)

As I have been rounding up my reviews of old school Science Fiction TTRPGs and the New OSR Games (and Storygames) that do them justice on game really caught my attention in part because I had never heard of it (which is unusual,) in part because it was based on the White Box edition of Swords & Wizardry (S&W: Complete has been my OSR game of choice for a long time), and in part because it looked like the right kind of pulpy fun for my household at the time.

We have been in a dark time in the Rideout household, one family member diagnosed with a life-long challenge, and I still in limbo trying to figure out which of a handful of possible life-altering degenerative conditions I have. Bringing the mood in the household up has been my first and greatest priority for awhile. And what better way than a crazy, Star Wars parodying romp through a universe of bad 1970s scifi pulp after binging the worst the genre has to offer? White Star seemed the perfect investment for something fresh for me.

And it worked. I have seen people smiling, laughing, and excited for the first time in a long time. I hope you will indulge me if the review seems to be very positive, accordingly.

The System

White Star is based on the White Box edition of Swords & WIzardry. Unlike the S&W Complete Ed., which I discuss frequently on this blog, S&W:WB didn't include many of the classes, material, and alternate rules that were added to OD&D in the Men & Magic, Strategic Review, and Greyhawk materials. It was purely what you could find in the original 1974 Dungeons & Dragons "white box." Which means all classes get a d6 for hit points, and all weapons do a (possibly modified) d6 for damage. Out of the kind of legal caution characteristic of early OSR retroclones, White Box made some minor changes: slight adjustments to the experience table, turning saving throws into a single roll-over value instead of the classic five, and giving classes an apropos bonus, and measuring weight of gear in pounds instead of coins.

It also included a few rules, such as fighters gaining multiple attacks against 1HD foes that were often imported into the O&D White Box from Chainmail.

White Star takes that elegantly simple basis to build a scifi game that is a pastiche of Star Wars, Star Trek, The Transformers, Robotech, Doctor Who, Howad the Duck, and several classic SciFi films of the 70s and 80s. It also adds in a subtle dose of more modern SciFi comedy like Guardians of the Galaxy, Rick & Morty, Red Dwarf, or Futurama.

Classes do the heavy lifting of setting the stage in White Star. White Star's original edition had classes to allow you to play the cast of Star Wars: Pilot, Aristocrat, Mercenary, Robot, and Star Knight.

Race in the original White Star is almost entirely cosmetic: if you  want to play an alien go ahead: it has no mechanical bonus. Robots are played using race-as-class.

Psychic powers are handled as spells, with most classes imitating a cleric in their spell-casting: gaining access to their powers at second level, and choosing them form a list when the character meditates at the beginning of a game day. Many of the powers are minor variations on D&D spells with some flavor adjustments.

As the game expanded with two major sourcebooks it added in classes such as Star-Pilot, Bounty Hunter, Combat Medic, Man of the Future (pulp hero), Plucky Sidekick, Mecha Jock. Two-Fisted Mechanic, Untrained Adept (a wild psychic), and Rock Star. It also added a few additional race-as-class options: Alien Brute, Alien Mystic, Novomech (Transformers as they appeared in Generation 1 from the Motion Picture onward), Yabnab (Ewok), and Star Squirrel. In the case of the Alien Brute and Mystic, they include a choice of species that grants a single variant ability at 1st level. A Space Duck (think Howard the Duck) Alien Brute has multiple unarmed attacks, what a Raawrgh! (Wookie) has a fear effect when it goes berserk.

White Star has rules for combat on different scales: Personal, Vehicle, Mecha, and Starship. While they are essentially inter-compatible, the hit point and movement scales when multiple types of battle are occurring requires a little bit of math.All keep the game relatively straightforward and close as possible to the core S&W mechanics. They are simple and fast.

All of the material from the sourcebooks that includes these classes and additional rules are included in the Galaxy Edition.

The other major departures from OD&D / S&W is that White Star has an x-in-6 skill mechanic that can be used when a character tries to accomplish something very hard in an area of expertise. For example, a character with the Navigation skill can plan a Faster-than-Light jump when not under stress with little chance of failure, but if they need to do so in a hurry when being chased by battleships, they might have a 2 or 3 in 6 chance of success.

White Star also has a random character background generator (a series of d6 tables) inspired by Traveller. These will give your character some starting skills, a contact, a nemesis, and a reputation from the beginning. One optional table includes death during character generation as a joking callback to Traveller.

Alignment is split into Star (Lawful) Nebula (Neutral), and Void (Chaotic) and have important effects for Star Knights, as they can use far more impressive and destructive powers at the cost of a gradual shift from Star to Void. Once they have strayed too far down the path, their characters become a irredeemably mad and evil Void Knight. Variations for Star-Pilots and Space Squirrels also follow this pattern.

The final major variation is in the way XP is handled. XP for monsters is handled identically to Swords & Wizardry. XP for GP (or in this case, credits), is optional, but aside from stolen starships I have had a hard time figuring out what constitutes loot in my scenarios; and White Star foregoes treasure tables. Instead it has a table of recommended XP rewards for playing one's alignment, clever problem solving, encouraging other players to share the spotlight, and making the group laugh.

What I Loved

Star Knights Feel Like Old-School Jedi

I am always leery when I see Jedi look-alikes in a Science Fiction game. The Jedi in the original Star Wars trilogy are a group of mystics holding on to a religion that teaches them insight and skills that are impressive, bur that have been abandoned by most of the Universe in favor of technology and political expedience. They could be free and idealistic, or fight on the side they wish, but their powers come at the cost of discipline and being held to high moral standards.

As Star Wars evolved as a series Jedi mutated to warrior-monks, the arbiters of Law and Right, then the agents of godlike psychic entities, then the servants of prophecy who commune with omnipresent magical micro-organisms, then chaste and celibate super-police, and finally spacefaring super-heroes. You never know what Jedi you are going to get based on which Star Wars media the game designer is taking their inspiration from.

The more encumbrance the Jedi carry from one of the many Star Wars continua, the harder it is to make your own campaign out of it.

I was very pleased to see that the Star Knights of White Star keep it simple with energy-sword wielding characters with psychic powers that are free to come and go as they please, but have to hold to the "Star" alignment. They have access to far more impressive powers that are highly destructive, but their use pushed the character away from the power of the Stars and toward the dark and violent influence of the Void.


White Star: Galaxy Edition, even with all of its expansions, remains at its core Swords & Wizardry, and strives to keep that level of of simplicity. I was able to design a cast of NPCs and plan the initial two adventures of the campaign in an hour or so. I didn't need to learn much in the way of new rules, nor check the book excessively.

Consistent Rules

White Star has rules for starships, vehicles, and battlemechs, all of which require different considerations to simulate in a TTRPG. While the game uses different scale of damage and rules for designing and building the vehicles, the game plays pretty much the same. You don't need to learn too much in the way of new rules one the lasers start flying.


White Star is a game that doesn't take itself too seriously; it has a little bit of everything, even the more absurd elements of Science Fiction out there. Nor does it try too hard to be silly. It lays enough oddities in front of you that you can pick and choose what to put in to range from light-hearted pulpy to  downright silly, depending on what you use in it.

System Generation

White Star Galaxy Edition has tools for setting up star systems, colonies, and encounters in space that make it easy to randomly generate adventures - or at least hooks for them in a SciFi setting that can be easily adapted for different games as well.

Growth Points

We Could Use Some Treasure Tables

Swords & Wizardry uses a classic GP for XP model of Dungeons & Dragons that I find really useful for giving the players motivation without giving them direction; there are thousands of ways to earn gold for a clever PC, and it is a measurable way of quantifying success.

While White Star suggests that characters and adventures for Swords & Wizardry could be directly ported across to White Star, but equivalent treasures - or how to generate them for an adventure are absent from White Star.

In its stead, White Star has a bunch of role-playing and table rewards that harken back to Palladium  games. I find that these can be difficult to judge and can penalize more introverted players. While I enjoy rewarding good role-playing, I also feel that it is not fair to some players to expect a specific style of participation.

I would love to have tables with scifi commodities, treasures, artifacts, and rare tech that can be used in lieu of gold pieces and gemstones, and guidance on using them to create an effective parallel to Swords & Wizardry's tools, so that we could have the option of a credits-for-XP style of play.

d6 Tables Feel Restrictive

Almost all of the random tables for generating character backgrounds are d6 tables. Whole there are enough tables to roll on to create a lot of combinations of results that are unique, after generating a handful of NPC henchmen, hirelings, and villains everyone starts to feel a bit needlessly same. How many PC-hunting evil AIs does there need to be in one Universe, after all?

I feel that expanding the game to use d10 or d12 tables could have offered a much greater range of options, as it does with star system generation.


White Star Galaxy Edition is a simple, fast, OSR game the does a great job doing lightweight Scifi pulp. I fell in love with the game at first sight with its wide reaching pastiche that includes both classic and obscure scifi. It offers some truly tongue-in-cheek options, but doesn't fall into the trap of making itself purposefully zany, absurd, or "random" in its humor. It lets you choose just how weird, crazy, or silly it gets.

While I wouldn't use it for every science fiction game I ever thought of running, it can certainly work for the ones designed to uplift and amuse as they entertain.

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