Monday, February 9, 2015
Review Of Trey Causey's Strange Stars
I'd seen the Strange Stars buzz but the product didn't grab my interest. To unpack that a bit: I don't play space rpgs regularly, I've never run one and have no real plans to do so, and to be brutally honest I just didn't find the cover appealing. This last doesn't signify much, except as an observation that art and taste are intensely personal and this didn't intersect with mine.
Chris Kutalik's interview with Trey at Hill Cantons changed my mind. Partly that was Chris' recommendation, which I value, part was the glimpse I got of Trey's professionalism in his approach to production, and partly it was his comments, which resonate with my own thoughts right now, around pulp-era-inspired paring back of the word count in a way that boosts rather than sacrifices impact.
I bought the pdf, which is normal for me. I like pdfs. Shipping to Australia isn't cheap and my shelf space isn't unlimited.
These are my thoughts.
The material is 5 star scifi. I don't say that lightly. It reminds me of George RR Martin's scifi setting (A Song For Lya, Dying of the Light, Sandkings, Tuf Voyaging) with a dose of Gibson's Sprawl. Both of these are to me masterpieces of sf setting. I really think Strange Stars approaches that level.
The layout is inspired. It's done in illustrations with paragraph-length text inserts clustered around them. The presentation reminded me of Marvel Hero Rpg datafiles and it works. As an aside, my first thought was that this concept is quite limited in terms of what types of products it will work with - that it works great for a scifi setting book but wouldn't work at all with a module or full length game, or anything to do with fantasy - but now I'm not so sure.
In Strange Stars, it's a clean and powerful way of delivering the infodump. This is more subtle that the material's wall of gorgeous but as time passes I'm beginning to think its equally inspired.
I found the art competent and professional. The cover art is a solid indicator of the aesthetic you'll find inside, which for me is a big tick and a strong endorsement of the art direction choices.
The amount of art used is a standout: every page bar the two end-pages and the second-last page is built around a piece of artwork and/or color diagrams. These aren't random inclusions, either. It's very obviously a conscious design choice made to present the content in a very specific way. It's coherent and extremely effective.
In my book any product that includes a Chasch-analog (the Ssraad, p27) gets an extra star right there.
Use At The Table
Something you need to be aware of if you're not already is that this product is not a doorstop-style sourcebook, or a list of canned adventure seeds. It's a reference tool of inspirations for a rich scifi setting. The good news is that 1) there are a ton of adventure ideas embedded in the text, and b) the setting, though only offered in glimpses, is both deep and consistent.
I paid 9.99 for the pdf. I've read some comments claiming that's steep for a product of 30 pages. I don't think so. This is an art-heavy product with professional layout, neither of which come cheap. I'm satisfied I've gotten and will continue to get my money's worth.