Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Rogue Stars Overview

I was not excited for Rogue Stars until reading through a copy of Advanced Song of Blades and Heroes this past fall. Having purchased, digested, and ultimately disliked the revised edition of SBH back in 2014, I had pretty much written off Ganesha Games. But whereas Revised was a near miss, Advanced turned out to be a near hit - thanks to reactions. So I pre-ordered Rogue Stars hoping that Andrea Sfiligoi had continued along the design trajectory toward my preferences.

He did not disappoint!

oh man look at those space men go

By using a d20, Rogue Stars has plenty of room for modifiers and can afford to eschew stats altogether. Characters (i.e., models) are defined entirely by Traits. Each player has 200XP to create a Squad of 4-6 Characters and must spend 30-70XP on each. Squad creation begins with selecting a theme. What kind of Traits and equipment are available to your Squad at the outset depends on which theme you choose. Themes come into play elsewhere - for example, Pirates and Mercs get extra XP for looting treasure chests. Finally, each player chooses a Tactical Discipline for their Squad, a special rule that applies to all the members, such as being able to re-roll a morale test.

Expect Squad creation to take a while - Rogue Stars is chock full of Traits and all kinds of equipment. Themes help narrow your choices but there is still a lot to think about. Folks who prefer a WYSIWYG approach over hunting down the most competitive builds will find plenty of options for bringing to life whatever miniatures they use. I have no idea whether there are game-breaking combos in Rogue Stars and honestly don't care; I plan to use this game to tell stories rather than run tournaments. But I have no doubt that some mouse will find the cheese, given such a wealth of options.

There are three tables - mission, location, and complication - for rolling up scenarios. Each has twenty (!) options. Aside from just terrain and weather, there are also rules covering gravity and exotic atmosphere conditions. There is a whole table for determining the consequences of firing projectile weapons aboard spacecraft. And there's another table for randomizing what sort of wonders and perils you might face while exploring a derelict. There is plenty of support here for having all kinds of space adventures.

Once the Squads are assembled and the scenario is set up, players roll off for initiative. The winner is the active player. The active player attempts to activate her Characters one at a time by taking an activation test - rolling up to three d20s. For each roll that is 8 or above, after applying modifiers, the character may perform a single action. She may use any or all of her available actions but the Character gets a stress token for each action performed. Each stress token grants a -1 modifier to subsequent activation attempts.

The active player can attempt to activate any or all of her Characters as many times as she pleases. But the more dice she rolls, the more rolls she may fail. Each modified roll below 8 grants the non-active player a Reaction Die. The non-active player may used Reaction Dice to attempt to activate his Characters. If he succeeds, his Characters can act before the active player gets to perform any actions with the Character she is activating. So "reactions" are really more like interruptions. Just like with actions, Characters take a stress marker for every reaction they perform.

One very important type of reaction is making a Take the Initiative roll. The non-active player needs to roll a 16 or better, after modifiers. He becomes the active player if he succeeds but the newly non-active player removes all stress markers from her Characters. Losing the initiative is the only way to remove all of the stress tokens on all of your Characters. The active player does not have to wait for the non-active player to roll a successful Take the Initiative reaction; she can simply pass initiative whenever she chooses.

Everything in Rogue Stars is a d20 roll and that includes combat. The basic TN for a ranged or melee attack is 10 - but there are many, many potential modifiers, taking into account everything from cover to weapon quality to making called shots. (Yes you can go for the headshot, at a 30% penalty. And yes, headshots can be lethal.) If an attack is successful, the target determines hit location (unless it was a called shot) makes a damage roll. This roll is modified by the amount of damage the attack inflicted, whether the target is protected by armor, whether the target is already wounded, etc. The result may take the target out of action (OOA), or may result in pin and/or wound markers, or may require a roll on a further table that breaks out the wound by hit location and wound severity. That includes Character death!

Melee is a somewhat more complicated than ranged attacks. Being outnumbered, knocked prone, making Powerful Blows, and trying to disengage ... there are rules covering it all. But my prediction is, ranged attacks are sufficiently deadly to render melee rare absent boards truly covered in terrain. Then again, there is teleportation in Rogue Stars ...

As a final note, you don't get your money out of a d20 mechanic without critical failure and critical success. Rogue Stars covers both for all sorts of rolls, including Activation. There is even a critical failure result for firing a pistol in melee - you manage to shoot yourself in one of your legs, of course! That's an example of how gritty these rules get and no doubt there are lots of things to remember. Fortunately, Osprey has promised a QRS is on the way as one is not included in the book itself. Probably due to the constraints of the series, Rogue Stars also does not use the usual SBH  mechanic of set distances.

I am really looking forward to playing Rogue Stars in 2017! The older I get, the more I want to play low model count games with a heavy narrative ("RPG creep"?) and this ruleset seems perfect for that. I know some folks are already put off by the complexity but I don't think Rogue Stars really qualifies as complex. The structure of the game itself is as streamlined and intuitive as SBH. I know that is small comfort for gamers allergic to modifiers. If you're one of them, best to stay away. But Rogue Stars is a great bet for anyone looking for a simple game that is crunchy enough to really bring the character out of the minis.


  1. This sounds like it uses a similar activation mechanic to Fistful of Kung Fu, Advanced Song of Blades and heroes, and Of Gods and Mortals. I am a big fan of that style. The description of the scenario generation sounds awesome as well.

    I wonder how this compares to Spaceport Scum on Wargame's Vault by Ivan Sorenson (IIRC)?

  2. Activation is just like Adv SBH except the Quality stat (at least for purposes of activation) is folded into the Trait system, where for example a Character with the Veteran trait has a better chance of activating whereas one with the Green trait has a worse chance.

    I hadn't heard of Spaceport Scum, will look into it. Thanks!

  3. Might as well address the 800lb gorilla in the room.... can you make up a Space Marine squad that feels/acts like they should in game? :)

  4. I think you can but you will need to toss out the Squad creation parameters, such as the 70XP cap on points per Character at creation (considering that Heavy Power Armor alone is 50XP). Maybe a better way to go is to stat a SM scout who must earn the right to wear PA>

  5. I don't think you can make a full space marine squad to start with. You could make something like the night lord and servants from the covenant.

    it also depends on what you think a space marine should act like. if you think they should be gods of the battlefield, like the movie marines then I think you will be disappointed.

    I do think you cold make something that plays like space marines in games. You can also make something that looks like a party of Jedi.

  6. Great points, John. I think rather than trying to make a "Space Marine" you would be better served to have a specific character in mind, and stat that character out. Then "just add Power Armor" (or Heavy Power Armor, depending on how you think Astartes armor would scale in your desired scenario).