Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the PDF version of the book for review purposes- which was very generous of Trey, because I planned to buy this bad boy anyways- but there you are.
Anthrax play- no wait- now it’s Iron Maiden playing- Check
PDF open- check
Notes ready- check
Went to the bathroom- check… probably have to go again soon because of coffee
Alright- it’s review time.
Set a Course for Warp Fucking Awesome and Engage
Recently “Mr. Bad Ass” Trey Causey (here’s his blog) released his very delicious book Strange Stars on Drivethru RPG and for POD. Many talented hands went into this book, including Jez Gordon, David Lewis Johnson, Lester B. Portley, and many others. Strange Stars pays homage to the glory days of space opera adventures (which can clearly be seen just by looking at the front cover). Just by flipping through the book you can see inspiration from Star Trek, Star Wars, Flash Gordon, 2001: Space Odyssey, Aliens, Farscape, Cowboy Bebop, and even new adventures like Guardians of the Galaxy (movie trailer below) or the Mass Effect games (although I know Trey hasn’t played these). It is a setting that begs to be played with a group of high-octane heroes engaging in galactic acts of daring-do; a cigar resting in between their teeth, a wry smile on their face, and a massive repeater blaster rifle in their hands, cutting down hordes of hideous alien creatures…
Some people may balk at the book being only 30 pages for $9.99- but it’s important to realize that that this book is a dense and beautiful 30 pages. There is no wasted space in this book and there is gorgeous artwork on every single page.
If you are looking for a book filled with rich histories, detailed customs and lifestyles of each planet and race- then this might not be the book for you. Strange Stars is a gazetteer that gives the GM just enough enticing information to get their imagination going. Trey says just as much on the back of his book (for the full statement from the author see below): It’s meant to provide the imagination fuel — and the freedom — that watching Star Wars did when the world beyond the film consisted only of evocative details like “the Clone Wars” or “the Spice Mines of Kessel.” While reading Strange Stars, excitement and inspiration flooded my brain. I liked that the book was simple, flowed, and I didn’t get bogged down with tons of fluff that I would have to try to remember or conjure up later. It is for me to decide the customs, lore, lifestyle, etc. of each race after knowing the building blocks of what Trey has given.
The setting is system neutral, but enough description is given about a particular race’s special abilities that a GM can quickly create mechanics for their chosen ruleset. Trey is currently (with help from others) writing companions for both Stars Without Numbers (here’s the free version) and FATE Core.
So What is IN the Damned Book?!
The book opens with a quick historical overview (two brief pages), then delves into categories of “sophonts”- basically the categorization of all the alien species that a group of adventures will run across in their adventures. There are three categories: biologics, moravecs, and infosophonts (pg 5).
- Biologics- “Biologics include the descendants of organisms that evolved naturally (either on Old Earth or some other world), created organisms, and bioroids (biologic androids).”
- Moravecs- “Moravecs (their name is derived from the surname of an Old Earth scientist-prophet) are self-replicating, sapient robots.”
- Infosophonts- “Infosophonts (sometimes called ai) are digital minds independent of physical -form. Some choose to live entirely in the noosphere, while others wear one or more bodies.”
Aside: I really dig this breakdown- makes everything quick and easy.
Strange Stars then does a quick blurb about starships and space travel before proceeding to the largest chunk of the book, sectors of space. This area has nice little summaries of planets, organizations, governments, etc. Again it’s all bare bones meant to illicit an imaginative response rather than bogging you down this needless details and information.
Finally there is a page outlining psi and psionics and a page describing pronunciation and terminology.
I really like Trey’s approach to this book. It makes me WANT to play (well I’ll be the one running it for my group) this game. I understand that, as the GM, I have to do most of the heavy lifting because it’s only bare bones, but I really like that. I like that it’s got that nebulous approach because I can add whatever other races, monsters, aliens, I fucking want.
I love that I can hand my players this 30 page book and say “feel free to read this- or don’t, but point out the race you wanna play be the pictures.” Boom! Done! I don’t have to explain a bunch of stuff- I can just go with the flow. If one of my players wants to play a fucking Andorian from Star Trek or Rocket from Guardians of the Galaxy- easy peasy.
I like that, to prep my players for the setting, I can just tell them to watch Guardians of the Galaxy, or knowing they’ve seen Star Wars and Star Trek- they are already good to go. “Oh you’ve played Mass Effect? Perfect!”
I know that’s the same with fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons, “Oh you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings movies? Awesome!” However more often than not with this example I find that there are more alterations and notes to keep track of “Well this is like LotR, but the elves in my game shoot fire out of their nostrils when angry and dwarves are actually made of stone that tastes like cheese when they die. Blah blah blah.” While I think that this can be thrown back in my face about using Guardians of the Galaxy or whatever- I feel it’s minimal by comparison (but that’s just me and my own interpretation).
The only gripe I did have (and I voiced it to Trey) was the lack of a quick mission/adventure generator in the book. Trey was good enough to post one on his blog (and it’s a good quick generator), but I do feel that not incorporating a 1-3 page quick mission was a small lost opportunity. It’s not a HUGE issue- just a niggle. I’m hoping to see something in the Strange Stars companions that are coming out. All in all Trey accomplished exactly what he set out to do and I think he did a great job!
Lastly here is a link of various things Trey has also written for Strange Stars.
This is the description from the back of the book:
”Strange Stars is a far-future space opera setting where Earth is only a legend and humanity’s myriad descendants and creations have spread throughout the galaxy. It’s a setting of classic space opera adventure like the works of E. C. Tubb or Jack Vance updated with elements of modern transhuman science fiction as written by Alastair Reynolds or Hannu Rajaneimi and presented with the visual aesthetics of ‘70s sci-fi films and comic books.
In 30 pages, this book is an introduction to the setting, not an exhaustive treatment. It’s also structured differently than a lot of role-playing setting books, owing more to things like the Galactic Encounters series and any number of reference works for popular sci-fi franchises. It takes more of a “bottom-up” approach — focusing on characters and interesting details, building the wider world by implication — rather than a “top-down” approach of giving the big picture and then painting in the details. It’s vague in some ways but vague to a purpose. Hopefully it will inspire you to create your own version of the setting rather than to establish a canon. It’s meant to provide the imagination fuel — and the freedom — that watching Star Wars did when the world beyond the film consisted only of evocative details like “the Clone Wars” or “the Spice Mines of Kessel.”
This book is also systemless and (with the exception of this introduction and the credits) written from an “in-world” perspective, so it can be used as a resource for players at the gaming table. Future releases will give rules for adapting the setting to a couple of different game systems and more coverage on some setting elements that may seem obscure here. There is also a short glossary and pronunciation guide on page 29 of this book. More information about the setting can be found at the “Strange Stars Index” on the Sorcerer’s Skull blog (www.sorcerersskull.blogspot.com/p/the-strange-stars.html). One post also in cludes a list of inspirations and influences.”