Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Tabletop Gaming Review: Hyperspace Messenger 03: Aliens (White Star)


Cover Art by Tamás Baranya


As I'm sure a lot of you realize by now, I'm rather fond of White Star and the third party content it spawned. I notice a sort of new creativity among the sample books once wouldn't usually see in a fantasy D&D clone, where the genre conventions inspired by JRR Tolkien, Gary Gygax, are more tightly bound. For example, the White Star Companion has Novamachine as a playable alien species, which are Transformers in all but name.  Then you have Star Sailors by Okumarts, which are basically Magical Girls in Space. Galaxy War 1939 has you fighting Nazis on alien worlds, and Star Gods Help Us is a humorous collection of new alien races inspired by sci-fi pop culture of the last 30 years intended for players in the mood for a wacky gimmick PC.

This may be a controversial thing to say, but after so many OSR products which tread similar ground (goblin caves in dungeons, gritty low-magic low-fantasy, etc), White Star's third party feels refreshing in its diversity among both new and recognized publishers. I plan on reviewing quite a bit of them here, and figured I'd start with an alien PC generator by DwD Studios.

Hyperspace Messenger 03: Aliens is a 20 page book, with 16 pages of content, the other 4 being things like cover, credits, OGL, and a product blurb. The introduction opens up by saying it's meant to help emulate settings like Star Wars, where the vast galaxy has a seemingly uncountable number of alien species where a few are featured but the rest are left to the imagination. To that end, the book is meant for both players and Referees to make their own alien class with a step-by-step series of random-roll tables.

The Meat of the System

HM3 generates an alien class by rolling for core traits, along with miscellaneous details such as reproduction, lifespan, size, and unique abilities.  The major details include things such as Hit Dice, Saving Throw progression, Base To-Hit, and Weapon/Armor Proficiencies.

Each table result provides a sample Experience value, which is used to determine how much the alien needs to get from level 1 to 2 and is then doubled from there. Generally speaking, the more powerful results cost more experience: being proficient with only primitive weapons (bows, swords, staffs, etc) adds 100 Experience, while being able to use any kind of weapon is 400. As the basic White Star classes are usually 1,200 at the lower end to 2,000 around the upper end, getting consistently good results for your randomized alien has the trade-off of having you lag behind the rest of the party.

Some traits can result in lowering the Experience value for faster progression, such as an anatomy incompatible with most (human-designed) equipment, lacking an important sense such as being blind or deaf, or a -1 penalty to an ability score rolled at character creation. Overall it seems like a fine, consistent system, but noticed mixed results when trying to build a few of the core White Star classes with similar abilities. The Aristocrat, Mercenary, and Pilot had more or less the same Experience Progression, off by 100-250 points.  The Alien Brute was off by a bit, whose base is 2,000, had 2,400 with its HM3 counterpart.

Special Abilities

The table for Special Abilities is the real highlight of this book, containing ninety features differing widely in form and function (the 91-100 result allows the player/Referee to choose freely). Each Special Ability adds 200 Experience to the initial value, but due to their nature lower the alien's level cap by 1 (10th level is ordinarily the base cap in White Star) for each one taken, to a maximum of 4 Special Abilities.

The Special Abilities vary a lot in scale. One might grant the alien a +2 on rolls involving interaction with others (Sociology Experts), while another might automatically heal 1 hit point per round (Regeneration). Most of them provide an explicit game effect or ability of some sort, like being able to stick to surfaces due to adhesive, increased movement rate, or even a continuous immunity to mind-affecting effects! A rare few are more geared towards Referee fiat, such as the alien species having a universal positive reputation which can result in social opportunities and opened doors.

My favorite included Symbiotic Immortality, where the alien has a symbiotic life form living inside it accumulating knowledge which can be passed on to others of its species upon death. The game effect is a +1 Wisdom, but this really sets up interesting cultural and role-playing opportunities for said species.

Conclusion

Five sample alien species and a fillable worksheet provide the final parts of this small book. Overall, I really like Hyperspace Messenger 03. The sample tables cover enough mechanical ground to make all sorts of aliens, even ones from popular franchises such as the Vulcans from Star Trek. The best part is that the book's contents are OGL save for typical product identity stuff of art and logos. The author even encourages folks to use his system to make their own aliens for their own works and share on social media. He also suggests using a non-random "pick your abilities" method for generation, which more or less works due to the restrictions on Experience and maximum number of Special Abilities.

I heartily recommend this product; it may be short, but it's very useful as both a player and GM tool.