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Tuesday, 4 July 2017

RPGPundit Reviews: Starcluster 4: Sabre & World

This is a review of the RPG "Sabre & World", part of the "Starcluster 4" RPG series. It is published by Flying Mice games, and written by Clash Bowley and Klaxon Bowley.  As usual, this is a review of the print edition, which is a slim paperback volume, 74 pages long. The cover is relatively plain, featuring a simple image of crossed swords in silhouette. The interior is in black and white and has very limited illustrations.

I'll mention before going on that Flying Mice, long long ago, published my "Forward... to Adventure!" RPG (and the "Forward... to Adventure! Gamemaster's Notebook!" sourcebook).  I'm quite certain this won't affect the quality of my review, but for the sake of disclosure I felt it should be mentioned anyways.

The game is based on the 'planetary romance' genre of sci-fi, most popular around the early part of the last century, featuring stories of ordinary humans from Earth being somehow transported to alien worlds (usually worlds with a primitive bent) where they become great heroes.
  You know, in the style of "John Carter of Mars".  One of the first things we see in the text is a guideline for the type of campaign you can run.  Options include a game where a single PC is an Earth human, and the rest are locals; or a game where all of the PCs are a group of Earth humans transported to this alien world; or finally, a game where all the PCs are locals of this alien world.

As is standard for the Starcluster 4 series, characters are created by a quick process. They choose a template, which can be "Earth human", "native human" or an alien species (in the book, the template provided is "Centauroid species". Each outline has pre-set ability scores, starting skills, traits, quirks, edges, and senses. Average attributes are then altered using a random roll, allowing for some variation between characters. You then choose an age, which determines the template points you have to buy skill ranks; but beyond a certain age there are attribute points lost.

Characters get skills based on their background according to social class. For Earth humans these backgrounds are things like "working class", "upper middle class", "rich", etc. Meanwhile, natives get backgrounds like "street urchin", "warrior brat", "technic" or "noble/royal". Then additional skills are chosen through a set of skill-trees based on different career paths. Sample paths include Artisan, Artist, Beast-Master, Civil-Service, Diplomat, Engineer, Healer, Hostler, Hunter, Martial Artist, Merchant, Noble, Performer, Savant, Servant, Spy, Technic, Thief, Thug, Trickster, or Warrior. You spend points (how many points you have depends on age) to buy successive steps of skill packages for each career path.

Some basic equipment is presented, as armor, weapons, miscellaneous equipment, and mounts (including flying beasts, war beasts, great riding beasts, or small riding beasts, all of which look from their outline as dinosaur-like or other ancient creatures).

I've covered the resolution system in previous reviews of the Starcluster 4 series, but the mechanics are so basic that I may as well repeat it here. You roll 1d20 plus a d20 for every skill rank you have that's relevant to the task. Any roll that is equal or lower than the governing attribute for the skill is considered a success.
I'm not a fan of dice-pool systems, but I have to note that it's so rules-light that this somewhat mitigates the fundamental problem of the pool method itself.  In any case, I am definitely amused by how Flying Mice's house-system games, which I've been reviewing for years now, has evolved from very detailed and complex rules to super rules-light books.

If you have a 'trait' that's relevant to the situation, you get two extra dice to roll. If the situation matches an edge, you get a +1 to the relevant attribute.

Rolls can be modified by +/- 1 on the equivalent attribute, or by +/- 2 dice for large modifiers.

Characters with a very high skill level (5 ranks or more) can do certain 'master plays' related to their skill specialty. These include things like rolling double the number of dice, rerolling the dice, assisting other characters on their roll, splitting dice to accomplish two tasks at once, etc.

In Sabre and World, there's a few other special rules. Characters can have three special relationships: these are a Love Of Your Life, a Trusted Confidant, and a Boon Companion. They can also have a Hated Enemy.  There are also some special semi-temporary relationships, with a Respected Elder or with a Protected One (someone the PC must take care of, like a child). These special relationships allow you to reduce damage when the people you care about are in danger; or in the case of a Hated Enemy, roll two extra dice when fighting that opponent.

There's also a number of special (archetypal) Factions in the Saber & World rules.  These are groups like the League of Freedom, the Merchant Alliance, The Barbarians, The Community, etc. Factions are arranged in a pattern and characters from adjacent factions work better with each other than those from opposite ends of the grid.

The rules also provide a very creative method of local setting creation. It is based on the creating of a map, starting from a point in the middle of a sheet of paper which is the center of the setting (usually a kind of community). Then you roll on a random table to generate major components of the area (volcanos, city states, ruins, towers, tombs, shrines, mountains, forests, pirates/bandits, swamps, aerodromes, villages, barbarians, etc), and roll percentile dice to determine the relative distance from the center-point.  Major features have subtables to determine particular qualities: for example, a volcano location might have a "crater lake", or a "lost race" or an "ancient temple", etc.
Barbarians may be a camp of refugees with much gold, or a holy site of warlike people with many slaves, or a farming community with cannibals who have flying animals, etc.  In City-states you also determine which of the various Factions is the dominant force in the city, plus another couple of factions who are present in the city (possibly as allies or a rivals to the dominant faction).

A sample setting is provided with a number of sample locations, but really I can't imagine anyone who'd want to play this game that wouldn't want to take a stab at creating their own map!

To conclude: Sabre and World is very short on content.  It doesn't have a very detailed or complex system. It doesn't have a detailed and complex setting. You have to already be familiar, in essence, with the genre elements of "Sword & Planet" to get what this is even supposed to be about.

Those are what you could call the "downsides", in that if what you wanted was a complete detailed volume about Barsoom or something like that, with lots of crunch and fluff, this would NOT be for you.

As to the Upsides: It's ridiculously easy to run. You can start playing fast. The world-creation method, though simplistic, is really cool.

If what you want is a set of very simple rules to get right into playing some Burroughs-esque planetary fantasy, you'll probably like this.


Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Volcano + H&H's chestnut

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Pundit! An excellent review as always! I am very glad you enjoyed it! :D