Starguild: Space Opera Noir review

This is a preview of Starguild: Space Opera Noir, raising funds on Kickstarter as I type

I’ve spent the last week reading this RPG, and concurrently listening to the new Dream Theatre album, “The Astonishing“. It’s a great fit since its an operatic concept album about a oppressive dystopia in the future!
Press play on the left to share my soundtrack whilst you read! 

What’s it all about?

starguild-coverStarguild is an tabletop RPG – a role play game. To those of you unfamiliar with the concept, RPGs are games where you meet with friends, create characters and play through stories that are derived mostly from your imagination.

An RPG consists of two basic components: the setting, and the rules.

The setting is the context in which you play the game. A Star Wars RPG is based in a galaxy far, far away, a Hobbits RPG is based in Middle Earth, an RPG about being a doctor seeing patients is based in a hospital, etc.

The rules are the framework that help you to play the game. Some have very intense, detailed rules for every tiny possible occurrence, others give the merest hint of a structure, allowing you to mould the gaming system to flow and adapt to whatever you feel it needs.

Welcome to Omega Centauris!

Before I get into the theme presented in this game, two admissions.

Firstly, I’m a relative newby to RPG, having only really become interested in it over the last 6 months. In that time, I’ve read a fair few rule books, and listened to around 150 hours of roleplay podcasts – Drunks and Dragons shout out! – and even played a little Hero Kids with my 5 year old son.

Secondly, I’m partial to a nice bit of space opera. I’ve always loved Red Dwarf and Hitchhiker’s Guide, always been more of a fan of Space Marines than Lizardmen. I’ll always pick up a book about plucky intergalactic ruffians, but am unlikely to wade all the way through Lord of the Rings again. Thus, Starguild is already pretty much up my alley.

You could literally set anything in this game: multi-ship, high-tech space battles; highly social political wrestling, emotions on tenderhooks; even a fantasy style rags-to-riches story on one of the less developed worlds.

In the last week I have read all 238 pages of the prerelease copy that Alex, the creator, kindly sent my way.  The galaxy presented in Starguild is one of opportunity, inequality, and flexibility.

Starguild StarshipThere is an overarching storyline of human existence in Omega Centauris, with a very readable backstory – the 10 pages of Campaign history are perfect for bringing the galaxy to light, and pretty great prose in their own right.

What I love is how they aren’t prescriptive at all – you could literally set anything in this game: multi-ship, high-tech space battles; highly social political wrestling, emotions on tenderhooks; even a fantasy style rags-to-riches story on one of the less developed worlds.

There’s a detailed explanation of tens of planets, providing you with plenty of room to set your story literally anywhere you fancy, and loads of features in the rules that allow your characters to be shaped by their environment. For example:

Planet Erith
The Lord here runs a semi-feudal style of government. There are strictly defined lines of communication and citizens are expected to show loyalty to their immediate overlords and through them up to the Lord. Technically anyone can be called upon to do any service, although this is used sparingly except in times of emergency.

Alongside these patches of flavour text are nearly 100 “adventure seeds” – ideas to help you kick start a new plot twist or campaign. Here’s a sample from Erith:

The annual pageant of flowers takes place – street parties and dancing and fun. But which is, unbenownst to non-residents, actually a form of wedding ceremony for those who get involved…

Overall, the flavour I get from Starguild is a universe I’m keen to visit. I think there’s plenty of hand-holding, if you want it – just use one of the detailed, multi-scene sample adventure to get you started.  Yet, for those of us keen to run before we can walk, there’s enough ammunition to let you start imagining a story with a very helpful backdrop to orientate yourself.

How does it play…

Simple answer: no idea! I’ve not played it yet.

Starguild is based on the d20 Open Game license that Wizards of the Coast released back in 2000. So, if you’ve played Dungeons & Dragons, or many similar games, you’ll have at least a foothold into the basic structure of play.

What appeals to me is the adaptation of the engine to fit the theme. From the kickstarter page:

“The game treats social conflict – the ability to alter someones emotions and thinking – just as importantly as the more traditional kinds of conflict of fist and gun.”

This appeals to me. I’ve enjoyed listening to D&D podcasts, but I find the battles a bit unfulfilling.

  • In a fight in D&D, two characters fight over about 50 turns, with magic spells, and special moves. They have a number of hit points, and slowly wear down the other player’s hitpoints until someone dies.
  • In real life, when two people fight, they each have a knife, it lasts about 2 minutes, and someone gets rather injured.

Starguild SpacestationI’m sure you could try to play Spaceguild the D&D way, but it seems much more focused on the social dramatics, and the intensity of choice in high pressure situations. That rather appeals. I know I’m roleplaying as a fictional personal, in a made-up situation, in a fake galaxy, in my imagination – but I want to feel like disturbing a guard and getting shot is as weighty as it would be in real life.

As a new player, the various sections on guilds, weapons, vehicles, etc… all seem well put together, but I don’t think I’ll have a real handle on it until I put a game together. I definitely feel these rules explain the system enough that I wouldn’t have any big problems running a game. There is also an excellent set of reference table appendices and a comprehensive index – too often lacking in rule books.

From giving it a read, and comments from others, it seems like the addition of “Conviction” is an interesting feature, where you gain conviction points for doing actions that fit with your character’s personality. For example:

Vargon, (a noteably strong character) nonchalantly crushes cans in one hand, whilst waiting for the action to start”.

You keep tokens to represent your conviction in front of you as a visual reminder, and you can spend it to help you out, such as adding a D6 to the score of a D20 role. I feel like conviction could be gamed quite easily – “Vargon quickly crushes 4 cans, gaining 4 points” – but if you use it in the spirit of the game, it rewards you for roleplaying, and even the advantages it gives can be RPed to cohese the theme even better…

Vargon tries to kick the door down. The DC is 20, and he rolls 12. This, plus his physique (1) + his characteristic of being “burly” (+2) = 15. He spends a conviction point, bunching up his huge arms to increase his effort to the extreme, and rolls a D6, which gives him a +5, just making the DC… and the door tears off its hinges, leaving the gang free to run into the corridor.

Go on, support it.

All in all, I’m excited about Spaceguild, I’m keen to play it with some friends and I think it will look fantastic with more artwork, once the kickstarter is finished.

Speaking of that, why not support it now…

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