Disclosure: This review includes affiliate links to drivethrurpg; I receive a % if you decide to purchase something from the landing page.
Strange Stars is available at drivethrurpg.com and rpgnow.com in print and PDF format. On hand, I was also provided the Strange Stars OSR Rule Book and the Strange Stars Fate (Core) Rule Book, which this review mentions in brief. These products were provided by Hydra Cooperative free of charge, for the purpose of this review.
The Strange Stars Setting book is compact: 32 pages cover to cover. Unfortunately, it’s so compact that the effort to put forth what I’d consider a “setting book,” has been nearly squeezed to irrelevance. That’s certainly my opinion. While I get what this product is, after I finished my read, my conclusion was that it’s not properly defined. If the book was subtitled: Game Setting “Treatment,” this review would be a little less harsh.
Being fair, I certainly seem to be in the minority with this opinion. I’d recalled seeing a high number of positive reviews (and 5 star rates) for this product, but after my impression I was compelled to take a second look at those reviews.
“If you are looking for a book filled with rich histories, detailed customs and lifestyles of each planet and race- then this might not be the book for you.”
Or in other words, nearly the exact definition of what a setting book might be?
This one, is my favorite:
“The layout is smooth, easy to read, & gives not only a gist of the interstellar setting but an entire setting straight out of the box.”
This reviewer is overstating it a bit: An entire setting straight out of the box? This statement is false. A concept of a setting is not for all intents and purposes, a setting. The closest thing I can think of, as to what this product represents in layout and art direction, is a splatbook. In fact, as I write this, I look up the term splatbook (as my mind grasps at what to call it) and here is the first result that sums it up nicely:
“A Splatbook is a non-core sourcebook for an RPG that provides additional rules and material that can be used with the main system.”
And yes, this is what the Strange Stars, Game Setting Book is, a system less, space opera splat-book.
As far as system, mentioned in the book is a loose association for the RPG: Stars Without Number (SWN), which you can find and download for free on DriveThrurpg.com. If I’m remembering correctly, the tech level for Strange Stars seems a bit advanced for SWN. The two additional titles for this review: Strange Stars OSR Rule Book (which works with SWR) and the Strange Stars Fate (Core) Rule Book roughly follow the same splatbook format, but do provide some serviceable crunch to their respective systems. Let’s talk about the actual book.
First is an overview of the setting. A brief history notes, the four epochs of human space exploration. Earth, known as Old Earth is a fable. Other empires have left behind remnants of advanced technology.
Creatures in the setting are categorized as Sophonts: biological creatures, Moravecs: self-replicating, sapient robots, and Infosophonts: digital minds independent of physical form. Ten or so variants are given a fully illustrated one page treatment and a few details in text. As this book is system less no crunch. These illustrative treatments don’t have their own chapter, but are spread every other page.
Between those pages and starting after the history is the meat of the setting. System maps give a brief treatment to each of the worlds of these systems, slightly detailing inhabitants and basic social conflicts/customs. This is exactly the thing that was missing and was my chief criticism for the Redemption RPG. The system maps and the ideas on how to use them (for RPG purposes), provides the GM a handy resource to work from. On the other hand, Redemption had about 100 pages of detailed setting and history, which Strange Stars doesn’t even compare. The book ends with a number of thoughtfully presented one page treatments, which should aid the GM in getting adventures in this system going.
Certain, Strange Stars wasn’t my cup of coffee. There is a difference between a setting book and splatbook. The art is beautiful to a point, but mundane in it’s over use. I like my setting books with content. The layout is simple to navigate, because the concepts don’t run very deep, and moreover, neither provide the appropriate amount of detail in what should be included with a setting book. If you’re in the market for a space opera setting book, I’d certainly encourage you to look elsewhere.