Setting Review: Spaceships and Starwyrms (Benjamin Quiggins, Audrey Stolze): 4.5 Stars
In the cold vastness of space, countless galaxies play host to innumerable life forms. Beyond the Milky Way and Andromeda, even further into the reaches of the universe than the brightest and most distant galaxies, lays a superluminous spiral galaxy known to its inhabitants as Nacora.
Spaceships and Starwyrms is a setting book that brings d20 Modern type play to 5e mechanics. While much of these pages are filled with copies and recreations of the PHB, the setting offers enough unique, quality, and engaging materials to warrant its own source book. While it suffers from a few failings, Spaceships and Starwyms is an exciting, futuristic take on the most popular TTRPG, and should be a staple of any DM who wants to present flexible options for their players.
The galaxy of Necora is variety of interesting planets and races you can tell the authors put considerable effort into forming. Chapter 1 highlights the entire galaxy of planets and an overview of their races, orbits, and environment. An explorer is sure not to get bored in this galaxy, as it provides a nice variety of different planets and races to engage with. While the authors have played to some Sci-Fi tropes, the overall feeling is of a new and unique combination of planets that bring new life even to tired, derivative elements.
Mechanically, the races are all relatively balanced. There is more variance in which ability scores each race can increase, which diverges from the original design philosophy that races don’t typically choose which abilities to increase or keep ability increases to 2/1. While all races increase ability scores by 3 total, many of them increase 3 different ability scores by 1. This leads to more well-rounded, but less specialized, characters. Humans are not quite as mechanically or thematically boring as they are in the original setting. My favorite race is the Saguarin, a race of walking cacti. Can’t wait to play them when I try out this setting!
The classes are a nice mix of re-imaged old classes and specially created new classes. There are new archetypes for Bard, Fighter, Paladin, Rogue, and Sorcerer. The monk and barbarian are “augmented”, or recreated with a lot of the same elements. Finally, there are five new classes, bringing the total to 12 classes much like the orginal 5e. Some of these classes I liked, some I didn’t, for various reasons but mostly because of personal play style. My favorite class is probably the marshal, a tactical/utility class that focuses on teamwork. It’s a well-done “fighter-like” class that can help maximize your party’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. The oracle, built on a tiered structure of curse/benefits is unique and exciting class that I would also love to play many times, many different ways. My least favorite is the “Psion”, as a martial spellcaster that focuses on modular building, rather than archetypes, it just doesn’t fit the framework of what I’d like to see in a class.
The authors have done a good job of re-purposing the older backgrounds by tweaking the starting equipment and skills. These are still solid choices for backgrounds for any character you may create, and they maintain the balance they had in the PHB. The new backgrounds are hit and miss. While the flavor is there, they vary on balance, particularly from their “features”. While some stick with the 5e design philosophy of background features being primarily RP-based, others provide tangible mechanical benefits that threaten to overshadow characters who don’t take similar backgrounds. So while the “Bounty Hunter’s” ability to find jobs and access restricted areas is well-balanced, the “Linguist’s” ability to add their proficiency to certain intelligence checks may risk being too much in certain situations.
The new feats are relatively balanced, although nearly all of them are concerned with martial fighting. None of them really stand out as being amazing or fun to have, but they all serve a niche purpose that can help hone your character’s tactics and specific build. Definitely not the best part of the book, but it’s not poorly done, just relatively lack-luster.
One of the most expansive sections in the book, the equipment covers everything from weapons and armor, to computers, currency, and personal trinkets. This section maintains the old, providing things like bows and daggers, while introducing a multitude of new opportunities for equipment. The credits system attempts to convert gold into a wireless currency system, and does so with relative success. Overall, the system of currency and equipment provides extensive options that are true to the design philosophy of 5e and provides nearly endless unique and interesting combinations for any character build. This section is extremely well done.
This is probably the most complex section of the entire setting, and the authors had to make some tough choices about how to provide spaceships and use them in combat. Overall it is a success, though while I understand the thoughts behind some of their design choices, I don’t necessarily agree with them. I love the building options and mechanics, and think tables could have a lot of fun customizing their own ships. My biggest concern with the combat elements are action economy and hit point/damage exchange. Separating the initiative of the ships and the people on the ships overly complicates the issue, and I wish it was designed more like the d20 modern system of the ship subsuming the initiative of all the players. While I understand the idea behind giving ships between 12 and 200 hp (it saves a lot of math), it seems to break immersion. I’d rather have them at 12d10x100 hit points or something like that, though that system also has obvious drawbacks. Overall, I’d have to see ship combat played out in order to get a better sense of how it flows.
I appreciate the addition of a couple new skills, ettiquitte in particular being a unique spin on traditional charisma based skills. Computers, Science, Mechanics, and Piloting round out the completely new skills, some of which absorbed older skills. I can understand nature being included with science, and religion with history, however, I dislike the fact that slight of hand was combined with stealth. Overall the skills are well crafted and appropriately applied. DMs and players should find them easily understood and used throughout the setting.
Adventuring and Combat
Most of these rules are unchanged and taken, almost verbatim, from the Players Handbook. The setting does introduce some new elements however: computer networks, security systems, radiation, and hacking, just to name a few. These are all well done and add to the overall value and feeling of the setting.
Spells and Inventions
While the fundamentals of the spellcasting rules are the same as core 5e, S&S introduces some new rules that are necessary to bring those rules forward in time. With new classes and updated spells, comes new spell lists, all of which lead to a rather extensive chapter. Don’t get too excited–inventions are basically the same as spells with a few narrative and semantic differences. Most of the differences are relatively small, but necessary, leading to a more polished feel than some futuristic systems and settings which try to introduce clunky arcana mechanics.
The new monsters are probably the best part of this whole setting (I’m a sucker for a good stat-block). Interesting, engaging, and at times complex, these creatures from nearly all CR ranges are sure to bring the setting to life and light a fire under the arse of the PCs.
I absolutely love this setting, despite a few minor layout issues and design decisions. I am giving it 4.5 Stars and saying it’s highly recommended for any who want a futuristic setting for 5e rules. If you appreciate these reviews and want to buy this product, click through the picture below to do so.