This is a review of the RPG rules "Starcluster 4: Free", written by Clash Bowley, Albert Bailey and Klaxon Bowley. It's published by Flying Mice games.
This is a review of the print edition, which is a slim softcover volume, about 65 pages long. The Front cover is full-color and features an image of a type of centaur-creature running in a plain. The interior is black and white, and very sparsely illustrated, with just a few images of sample characters and sillhouettes of guns.
Starcluster 4 Free is an edition of the Starcluster series. Bowley has produced a number of different products in this series, each potentially stand-alone but set in the same universe. Starcluster 4 Free is intended as an introduction to this system and its universe; the PDF version is free to download, and the print edition (which I am reviewing) is sold at cost. It also includes a developer's license which would allow people to use anything from this book in 3rd party products.
The book starts right off with character creation, no introduction whatsoever. It includes only two species: humans, and german-shepherd uplifts.
Characters are created by using the species template to start with, and then modifying the base statistics (Strength, coordination, agility, endurance, charisma, intelligence, psionics, and luck) via a random die roll.
Each ability score governs a list of skills and of special traits.
Skills are purchased through 'templates', these are bought with 'template points'; the number of template points you receive are based on your character's starting age (the older you are, the more points you get to buy skills, but after a certain age you also start to lose physical attributes). All characters, regardless of age, start with one background and one education template; the former represents your origins (based on family social class), while the latter your early education (with options being 'hard knocks', apprentice, engineering, management, pre-med, science, art, military, or athletic).
Each of these templates provides certain basic skills, an attribute bonus, and in the case of backgrounds an 'edge' (for example, 'lower middle class' gets an edge in "urban", while 'plutocrat' gets an edge in "social").
Beyond these, skill templates (representing later studies and training) work through a series of skill-trees, where you have to take earlier choices before having the chance to get later ones. Each selection has a cost in template points, and sometimes have prerequisites; they grant you certain skill points and sometimes a new 'edge'.
There's a selection of basic equipment (with guidelines regarding tech levels). There's also optional rules on having "Psi skills".
Some versions of Starcluster feature more than one resolution mechanic, a peculiarity of Bowley's game design. In this book, however, there's only one mechanic system included: the "Starpool" system.
The basic resolution involves rolling 1d20, plus 1d20 for each point you have in a relevant skill. Each die that gets equal or less than the governing attribute counts as a 'success'.
Using a trait point gives you an extra d20 to roll.
If you have a relevant "Edge", then the relevant attribute gets a +1 (so if you have an INT12, but your 'social' edge is relevant, the target number for roll-under would be 13).
Different circumstances could provide modifiers for or against. A small modifier would adjust the target number by +/-1. A large modifier would add or remove 2 dice from the rolling pool.
Very basic rules for combat are included; they're based on the same mechanic, plus a choice of different damage methods (damage boxes, damage states, or an attribute pool of 'hit points').
And that's basically it.
So what's this product good for?
Well, it's very very basic. I think it can be useful, mainly, as a way for people to check out the basics of the Starcluster system to decide if they like it, before buying other Starcluster products.
It provides the basic rule mechanics if someone wants to make a product of their own using the Starcluster system, with the license.
However, on the whole, this strikes me a just a little bit too barren to be of real use in actual play by itself. I get why the designers would have gone the way they did, but I think that it would have been a useful touch to add at the very least a couple of pages of introductory material about the setting.
Still, you can't really argue with "free". And that's what makes the PDF worth while, as a kind of preview to give you an idea of what Starcluster looks like. Even if it's just a tiny hint.
Currently Smoking: Stanwell Deluxe + Image Virginia