Thursday, March 7, 2013

RPG review - Star Hero

Star Hero

Game Type:  Roleplaying Game
Author:  James Cambias & Steve Long
Publisher:  DOJ dba Hero Games
Medium:  8.5” x 11” paperback, 322 pages (plus 4 additional pages for notes)
Price:  $29.99

            Star Hero is the latest offering from Hero Games.  It is a journey back to the science fiction genre for the multi-genre game, Hero System Fifth Edition.  This is the second time Star Hero has been released, but this edition is not a rehash of the previous edition.  This edition has more than twice the pages of the previous edition, and well more than twice the information to assist a game master in running a Star Hero game.
            So what is the purpose of this book?  This book is designed to be used as a tool for the game master wishing to run a Star Hero game.  While the book will be a great assist for the game master, it is also useful for the players.  The discussion of different genre of science fiction can help a player get their mind around the campaign the game master is running.  The discussion of powers, equipment, vehicles, skills, disadvantages, races, and other factors can also help spur the ideas of the players and the game master.
            As the other Hero Games releases since the release of Hero System Fifth Edition, the book hosts a good table of contents and an excellent index.  Between these two sections are an introduction, twelve chapters, and an extensive bibliography.  Over one hundred sources are cited in the bibliography.
            Chapter One despite being the shortest chapter in the book, is chock full of information.  This chapter discusses different genres of science fiction, ranging from apocalyptic games to utopias.  The book gives a brief discourse on the typical ideas behind the campaigns in the genre, as well as providing guidance on the what kind of  power levels the characters are typically built on in the genre.  In addition to the genres, this chapter also discusses different elements which appear in science fiction, though not all appear in the same campaigns.  Ranging from aliens to the concept of travel and exploration, further ideas are touched upon to help the game master decide what fits in his campaign, referring to later chapters in the book for more details on handling these tropes in Star Hero.  Also discussed is the inclusion of meta-genres such as mystery, comedy, and romance.  Chapter One rounds out with a discussion of crossing genres, such as a Champions Star Hero campaign, or a Fantasy Star Hero campaign.
            Chapter Two is the one many players will spend time pouring over, examining all of the crunchy bits of character creation goodness.  The chapter provides many different packages, including racial, professional, cultural, environmental, and size/weight.  There are enough of these to fill the first seventeen pages of the chapter.  Chapter Two goes on to discuss stats and skills, including a martial art called “Energy Blade Fencing,” also known as light saber dueling.  The chapter also covers uses of perks, talents, powers, advantages, and disadvantages.
            Chapters Three, Four, and Five all discuss the setting of Star Hero.  Not a particular campaign setting, but the universe itself.  Chapter Three covers galaxies and stars, including some good scientific information to lend credibility to your campaign creations if you don’t have an astronomy background.  Chapter Four goes over planetary systems, providing enough material to create somewhat realistically plausible planets.  The chapter rounds out discusses other stellar bodies such as asteroids, comets, space stations, and Dyson Spheres.  Chapter Five takes a narrower focus and looks at our solar system.  Facts about the planets and other features in our solar system are discussed, providing more detail to allow a non-interstellar game.
            Chapter Six moves the focus back toward the game master, though if players are allowed more free reign in character creation, this is certainly a very usable chapter by them.  This chapter covers civilizations, both alien and future.  The chapter also discusses creating alien species and civilizations, ranging from how to build alien features to building package deals.  Further discussion covers the systems behind the scenes in the alien civilizations, such as forms of government, economics, and culture.
            Chapter Seven is about technology in science fiction.  The chapter opens with a discourse on tech levels, providing the game master with an idea on how to create his own scale of tech levels without dictating a set scale for Star Hero.  The chapter goes on to discuss different weapon and defense systems, including building them in Hero System Fifth Edition terms.  Included in the weapons is the light saber, to go along with the light saber dueling martial art in Chapter Two.  A wide variety of weapons and defenses are discussed and provided.  But the chapter doesn’t just focus on combat; the chapter goes on to cover other areas of technology such as computers, cyberspace, robots, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and others.  One of the more useful bits of the chapter comes in the last two pages, where tips are provided for the game master on how to determine the ‘in-game’ price of items.
            Chapter Eight moves into the realm of vehicles.  The chapter discusses in great length the design and building of vehicles, focusing initially on spacecraft.  Weapons systems, defense systems, and a many other considerations in spacecraft design are discussed.  The chapter moves on to cover ground based vehicles, mecha, and space stations.  Next is a space combat system in Hero System Fifth Edition terms, including options for realistic and dramatic movement of ships.  Chapter Eight rounds out the following example vehicles: three spacecraft, one mech, and two space stations.
Chapter Nine considers the concepts of time travel and the ways to work it into campaigns.  The chapter helps the game master consider the types of time travel, as well as the implications of time travel.  Discussion is also given to campaigns based around time travel.
Chapter Ten is all about the mind, psionics that is.  From the initial considerations of how powerful should psionics be, to the ramifications of a psionics society, this chapter covers it.  Various powers that are attributed to psionics are discussed, as well as setting psionics in frameworks.  Psionic campaigns and different campaign types for psionics are also covered.  The chapter rounds out with an example campaign setting for psionics in a Terran Empire, providing a good framework for considerations on including psionics in your own campaign.
Chapter Eleven is primarily the game master chapter, simply because it is about creating and running a Star Hero campaign.  While the other chapters provide a wide basis of information and tools, this chapter helps the game master bring all of it into a cohesive ball.  Further discussion is given to the subgenres, themes, and setting.  Guidance on plotting out storylines is given, along with a random plot generator for the times when writer’s block is manifesting.  Tips are given on handling potential issues in the game, as well as using a character’s disadvantages to enhance and bring life to the game.  The chapter also gives more detail on the effects of the environment in Star Hero.  Ranging from gravity levels and how it affects encumbrance to the effects of vacuum on living tissue, the potential hazards of a Star Hero game are discussed.  The chapter winds up with a discussion on villains and nonplayer characters.  Plot hooks and motivation templates are provided to help bring the secondary cast of the game to life.
Chapter Twelve is the least generic of the chapters, but that is because it provides a group of heroes and villains as an example.  The setting is the Terran Empire, which is in a sourcebook that has yet to be released.  Five heroes are provided as well as five villains.  The chapter rounds out with a few generic nonplayer characters: a doctor, a merchant, a scientist, and a security officer.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the art.  The cover is the first thing you will notice about this book, and the cover art is one of the best roleplaying game covers I have seen.  Jason Engle did a masterful job in capturing the scope of Star Hero in a single image.  The interior art ranges from good to excellent, with very few pieces that are below good.  The art inside captures different feels of science fiction, from pulpy sci-fi to high tech cyberspace.  The art is complementary to the material being presented, without being intrusive.
Overall, this book is an excellent resource for a Hero System game master considering running a science fiction game; or a modern to near future game as well.  While I initially thought this book was going to be strictly for the game master, I also saw a lot of usefulness for the player as well.  This book will help both the player and the game master flesh out their characters and setting.  This resource does not dictate how the setting is or works, but helps the game master and determine this on his own, with the assistance of a supporting hand.

Playability: **** (provides many different examples that may be lifted straight from the book)
Game Mechanics: ***** (uses Hero System mechanics extremely well)
Character Creation & Advancement: ***** (very well thought out guidelines, useful for both game master and player)
Setting: ** (there is not a default setting provided, with only small amounts mentioned, but the equipment could all be considered setting material)
Presentation: **** (this is a beautiful book, and enjoyable read, and an excellent resource)

Originally written 12/24/2002

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