There are a lot of different role playing game options for the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Fantasy Flight’s massive lines remain popular after they've shut down, even inspiring an upcoming Rogue Trader CRPG. Wrath and Glory offers a chance to mix parties full of iconic character types like Space Marines and Orks. Imperium Maledictum brings a riff on Cubicle 7’s Fourth Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay to the grim dark future. The one thing these games have in common is that they are each mechanically heavy in their own way. Warpstar, from Fire Ruby Designs, offers a lighter framework for players who want to slink their way through dingy bive worlds and raid xenos tombs without a lot of rules reading to do first. Do these rules amount to heresy? Let’s play to find out.
Designer Greg Saunders, with additional material from Andy Scott, Drew Gotobed, Justin Wyatt, Lee Rimmer, Mustafa Bekir, Paul 'Geist' Gallagher, Rob Barrett and Sean Wills follows the same template he used for Warlock!, a sister game he wrote as his love letter to Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy. Players randomly generate most of the aspects of their character, from their stamina and willpower to a bevy of space opera appropriate careers. The assumption is that characters are human, with any alien characters getting mainly narrative aspects to their character instead of specific mechanical bonuses. Careers offer a collection of starting skill levels that feed into the main mechanic of 1d20 + skill level against either a target number of 20 or an opposed skill roll for things like combat. Magic, or in this case, manipulating warp energies, is rare with only two out of the 24 career choices allowing access to it. It’s a simple mechanic that proves to be a little more robust than it seems. Combat can be very fast moving as overcoming an opponent’s opposed roll by 5 or more means that you get to do damage even if they attack you might be the one doing damage.
These rules add more space fantasy trappings to the game. Warp glyphs work the same way as magic spells. The game includes rules for vehicle and ship combat that encourages players to take one of the stations when the red alert sounds. Every ship has a Mind, which is an artificial intelligence that runs things while the players aren’t around. It’s a nie solution to the sci-fi RPG problem of keeping the pilot guarding the ship when the ship can look after its own. One thing I wish the game did was suggest players roll or choose specific personality traits from the same options given to player characters. The ship’s Mind sees like a good option as a friendly NPC to help keep players on track or to suggest they choose one of the many plans they cook up and go with it.
Warpstar also stands out from its sibling because of the implied setting. There’s the same level of customization built into PC connections that encourages the table to help flesh out what high society on the Jewel of the Chorus looks like or who won the Skalliax Coup. The underlying world has a bit more detail with inspirations from the same places that inspired 40K, like Star Wars and Dune. There’s intrigue between factions, a highly restricted immortality drug and of course a collection of power armored militants ready to step on anyone that looks at the Autarh funny.
Warpstar offers a great way to play 40K but it might also be a fun setting to explore and build on your own.
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