Strange StarsTrey of Sorcerer's Skull has put out another book, though not the long awaited follow-up to his pulp/fantasy 1920's Americana setting book Weird Adventures. While Trey's most recent book is system agnostic, even more so than Weird Adventures, it is a sci-fi setting book, much larger in scope then Weird Adventures that offers a combination of pulp Buck Roger's style Space Opera and more contemporary post human sci-fi - something a bit like Glenn Cook's "Dragon Never Sleeps" or the Culture novels of Iain M. Banks. There appear to be plans to release some likely free rules for Strange Stars using both FATE (written by John Till of FateSf) and Stars Without Numbers, which is my personal favorite OSR sci-fi ruleset (it's a B/X mod, and very excellent).
|Alternate, unused Strange Stars covers|
Now I am not the target audience for Strange Stars, as I don't have a great desire to run sci-fi tabletop games (and if I did it would be some sort of totalitarian neo-Soviet human empire, with a good dash of the game Paranoia added), and I have a strong predilection for grim settings with a lot of black humor. Strange Stars is a pulp setting, bent by a well honed sense of contemporary sci-fi, and as such it's fairly aspirational and hopeful. This is a bit strange to say, because the scope of the Strange Stars universe is grand (far grander than Star Frontiers which Strange Stars at times consciously emulates in style - look at the cover) potentially on a scale equal to that of Warhammer 40K and makes references to all the horrors of Science Fiction - from militaristic alien slave empires, to brutal cybernetic pirate fleets and a spreading plague of intelligent machines.
While it may sound like I'm saying Strange Stars is 'light' or lacks depth, like Weird Adventures, there's a great many ideas behind it. Each of the numerous planets, species (or human subspecies) within may only get a paragraph or two of treatment and a drawing, but there are plenty of great setting ideas concealed within - planets of ancient giant warring automatons, the gamblers that bet on them and the scavenger gangs that loot the fallen for alien technology as they reassemble is a personal favorite as are the assault troops of the alien slave empire, who are pure strain humans each linked symbiotically to a colony of hyper intelligent deep sea mollusks that forms space armor. This one is just a lovely combination of Starship Troopers and Lovecraft's Deep Ones.
The last example above is also a good reference for Strange Stars tone. It wears its influence proudly, offers up many potential scenarios with a horrific bent, yet somehow manages, with the injection of the pulp sci-fi ethos and 70’s futurist feel to present awful things in a playful light.
How to Use Strange StarsStrange Stars is a setting books, and doesn't aspire to be anything more (a game system, a collection of modules, a play aid). While this might be frustrating to some readers the book sets out to do what it wants, and does it with style and good form. Were one running a science fiction game Strange Stars could provide useful information, either as a full setting, or more likely as a source of some interesting adventure hooks and locations. While there is a cohesive whole to Strange Stars, and several galaxy wide plots (certainly each of the major polities has it's goals and plans) are hinted at, the setting is somewhat fragmentary, something that makes the book useful in home brewed settings, or other product based settings, especially given the episodic nature of science fiction games (party often moves from locale to locale or planet to planet where each locale is almost a different genre - as in Star Trek) to pluck locations, alien races and hooks from.
|Example of Strange Star's design and interior art.|
In all, while I am left somewhat at a loss for what to say about Strange Stars, it is a high quality product that could provide a good amount of inspiration and setting content for any Sci-Fi game. There is something breezy about it though, the art is so fecund, while the ideas are presented in a light way and this meant that it took me a couple of reads to really understand the amount of content within Strange Stars and the ways that it is both new and a very strong pastiche or homage to a variety of new and old science fiction works.