Game: The Red Star Campaign Setting
Publisher: Green Ronin
Series: d20: The Red Star
Review Dated: 23rd, March 2005
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 14
Average Score: 7.00
“If you’re new to The Red Star then you are in for something special, as it is not often in our world of remakes you get to read a setting that is truly original. You may have heard rumors about weird telekinetic weapons called “hooks” and “hailers,” about sorceresses who can turn themselves into living beams of energy to lay waste to their state’s enemies, about heroes who continue to fight for their people though they have fallen in battle.
Nothing you’ve heard secondhand will prepare you for just who cool what you’re about to read is. We envy you.”
I’m one of these people. I’d not even heard rumours about telekinetic weapons called “hooks” or about living energy sorceresses. In fact, the first I’d even heard of Red Star was when Green Ronin said they were doing The Red Star Campaign Setting. This is an important disclaimer to make at the start of the review. I’ve not looked at this RPG with the concerned eyes of a Red Star devotee checking to see whether justice has been done. I’m looking at the Red Star RPG setting as a gamer with shelves and cupboards full of RPGs, very many of them d20 and wondering whether I should bother with The Red Star.
After reading this gorgeous – full colour, stunning illustrations, marvellous layout, quality paper and binding – book I now know a lot more about the lands of the Red Star and its history. I know about the comic series on which it is based. I know that if I should see an expensive boxed set containing these graphic novels that I’d scoop it up. Green Ronin have done well here and its hard to imagine protective Red Star fans being disappointed and its easy to feel the sincerity of the special thanks that The Red Star author, Chris Gossett, gives to the company.
I know a lot more about the comic book series but I don’t believe I’ve run into any spoilers. As I said; I’d buy the series. I do know a lot about the world setting now and my assumption is that much of the cosmology is revealed over time in the comics. I also know about the rise and fall of key characters and, er, NPCs (sorry, villains) and I’m pretty certain this plot is not info dumped in the first few cells in the comic. So, whereas I don’t feel as if The Red Star Campaign Setting contains any spoilers I think it is more than possible that others will disagree. These others should stop reading this review at this point and return to the site or exit via a banner advert. Hah.
The RPG – a Mythic Vista – begins with the history of lands which would become the U.R.R.S (United Republics of the Red Star). Of special interest is the war against the Volksreich and its insane rule, Krieger, master of the Aryan Nationalist Party. The U.R.R.S. didn’t find against Krieger’s war machine alone, in fact there was a brief alliance, and it was the Isle of Lions and the super power Western Transnationalist Alliance. Then there’s the unfortunate decision to invade Al’lstaan – tricky when it’s defended so stubbornly by Nistaani warriors devoted to the One True God.
If you want you can play a Nistanni Warrior or even a Nistanni Shaman. You can also play a Nokgorkan Resistance Fighter. I sense the writers, T.S. Luikart and Ian Sturrock, are a tad defensive about this. I can see why. It’s entirely likely that a GM trying to run a game set in deepest darkest Red Star simply would have no space for a Nokgorkan Resistance Fighter. There’s also a point that some of the PC classes do actually oppose each other.
There are PC classes. This isn’t surprising for a d20 fantasy but Red Star uses d20 Modern at the core. There are some modifications which keep the classes spicy. Classes sometimes quality for bonus feats at different levels depending on whether the game is being run as a Nokgorka Only campaign, Al’lstaan Only campaign or a campaign in which the characters never visit Al’lstaan or Nokgorka. This is great in theory but just by planning on running a game where the players stay out of Al’lstaan all but guarantees not only visit the region but have many adventures there.
We also have Hailers, Red Fleet Officers, Red Troopers, Sorceresses and Zeks as character classes. Basically, we have classes to match the specialised roles in the setting and to map to the characters in the comic book series too.
As a Red Star newbie I had no idea of what a “Hook” was. It took me a few seconds to click that telekinesis is not rare. The Hook is a big sod-off knife which can be wielded in cinematically cool ways by the Red Troopers. The Hook can also be upgraded with assorted ranged weapons. Weapons like the Hook work only in comics and RPGs. I’m so glad there’s nearly a full page illustration of one – I really did need it spelt out for me.
There’s lots of cool stuff; weapons, equipment and vehicles. This is important for the Red Star setting – as a comic book there are lots of nifty things to look at. Krawls are what we’d call tanks, only funky comic book tanks, and the Skyfurnace is a huge floating battle ship which is crewed by thousands, can level a city and which never lands.
Hopefully you picked up the real world echoes in the Red Star world view. We’ve Russia. Krieger is Hitler and Isle of Lions is the United Kingdom. The Western Transnationalist Alliance equates to the USA and Al’lstaan is Afghanistan. I fear if my brief overview, as short as it was, didn’t suggest this to you then some of the Red Star’s brilliance will be lost on you.
This is not a real world setting. In the RPG where psionic powers are common place, magic is a regular part of the military and war graves are so large in scope that they have railway lines of their own. There’s also the spirit realm. The Red Star Campaign Setting dives in and dishes the dirt on the spirit world and I suspect this contains most of the “meta plot spoilers”. The campaign setting tells you what’s going in the spirit realm and why – but we don’t have much in the way of follow through. A valid question to ask after reading about the spirit world would be “So what?” We have Spirit Realm Advanced Classes but no real incentive to do anything with them. By and large the Spirit Realm serves as a backdrop to which RPG plot arcs can be set against and perhaps this is for the best.
There’s more support for the Red Star’s take on magic. There are no spells in the setting as we have Protocols instead. It doesn’t take much boiling down to get to the point where Protocols are basically the same as spells. Protocols drain a little of the caster’s health and there’s a nice system where the sorceress (or sorcerer) can over kast and take more damage but chance a more powerful effect. Sorceresses can go one step further and drop the safety protocols so that the non-lethal damage they suffer for kasting the protocol becomes lethal. An over kast and safety-off Protocol is very powerful but quite likely to kill the kaster.
The fan service is here. If you’re a gamer to whom including canon characters appeals then the Red Star Campaign Setting assists. We’ve stats for everyone through Alexandra Goncharova to Skymarshall Urik Antares and even The Red Woman. More usefully we’ve stats for common characters like Red Troopers or not-so-common encounters like the giant Dune-Ra from Al’lstaan.
In summary; I’m really quite impressed with this RPG. Bitter experience shows that there’s nothing quite like writing a review of yet another d20 supplement to suck the fun out of it but for the Red Star Campaign Setting I’m still enthused, still impressed and konverted.