This is a review of the RPG "Starcluster 4: Out of the Ruins", written by Clash Bowley and Klaxon Bowley, published by Flying Mice games. It is a review of the print edition, which is a softcover book, 125 pages long. It has a full-color cover, featuring a face half-concealed by the title of the book. The interior is in black and white, with sparse images, but mainly some planetary maps and star-maps.
"Starcluster 4" is a series of RPGs, and "Out of the Ruins" is just one of these, all set in the same larger sci-fi universe but in different areas or systems.
So I'm not really going to go through all the rules mechanics again, but rather refer you to my earlier review of Starcluster 4: Zero Stage, only a short while back. In this review, I'll only mention areas where Out of the Ruins varies from that previous book.
The basic premise of Out of the Ruins is of a star-system where the genetically-modified races were left behind after, for some reason, all the real humans disappeared. Over the course of time this has led to a mythological creation-myth, with humans referred to as "Eldar", possibly due to mistaking a Tolkien book for a sacred scripture, and claiming that the Eldar all left because of some catastrophic judgment from the Gods.
The book has one particular detail which I have to admit I find a bit annoying, though others might find it 'clever': in anything to do with setting, the book never abandons it's in-setting conceits. It always writes from the perspective of how the natives understand the setting. There's no moment where the designers make an aside and say "OK, this is what really happened here and what is really going on". Instead, all the descriptions of history, races, worlds, etc. are all done from the perspective of the setting as it's natives understand it.
The action takes place on a couple of star-systems called Manwe and Valinor, with a variety of planets, asteroids, moons, and space stations. There's a system map for each, and description of each planet, with each area getting about a page of details on it's description and inhabitants. Also, planetary maps (though quite small in size and thus not very detailed).
As usual for Starcluster, the orientation of the setting is toward the "hard-sci-fi" end of the spectrum, with effort at scientifically credible worlds and at least attempts at scientific explanations of everything, although in the case of this book you have to kind of read-into some of that through the setting-perspective text.
Also as usual for starcluster books, the emphasis of the setting material is on a vast general overview; enough material to get a GM started and/or inspired, but that will require some efforts on the GM's part to then fill-in and complete.
The first system detail that isn't routinely found in all Starcluster books (though not new to Flying Mice's products, as it has appeared in many of them before) is the mechanics for creating an "association". If I'm remembering correctly (and no doubt Bowley will be able to correct me in the comments if not), these mechanics were originally designed in one of his products to give structure to the creation of mercenary companies; but they can be adjusted to create just about any organization, of varying sizes.
In this mechanic, you start by selecting or rolling a certain amount of points of "capital", what you have to then use to buy the other details of your organization. In this version of the rules, you have a table/list of 20 different types of associations the PCs could be running, from a trading company, to bounty hunters, politician's henchmen, to explorers, a cult, a courier service, academics, or a salvage company, among others. The nature of each gets a one-line description (most of them are obvious just by the title).
Then you roll the origin of the group's financing, and proceed to purchase things like guards, a base, espionage resources, vehicles, medical facilities, labs, trainees, equipment, libraries, PR, legal and lobbying resources. Many of these have two tiers of costs, for poor or good quality facilities.
Then on a yearly basis the association can be expanded, based on the efforts the PCs have made, and the fame the organization has grown. A handy worksheet is provided at the end of this section for keeping track of everything. In all, it's a good system for both justifying the PC group's existence, and giving them certain focus and long-term goals.
The character races in this game include "humans" (who are actually probably some kind of human/monkey hybrid, they have tails), Neodogs (uplifted dogs; the game includes templates for malamutes, border collies, mastiffs, wolfhouds, corgis, terriers, and "wargs", who are probably uplifted wolves), uplifted Kangaroos, "Bintaurs" (who are like some sort of tiger-centaur), neodolphins (who are uplifted dolphins that were also given a pair of squidlike tentacle-appendages for manipulating), uplifted ravens (adjusted to have 'foot hands', claws that can do fine manipulation); and then some species that are either aliens or heavily adapted life-forms not very similar to earth animals. Among these there are "karkris" (who are like humanoid ant-lions), "groar" (who are furry pig-like humanoids), and "alish" (who are squid-like creatures with a shell).
The rules for character-creation, skill trees, and the combat mechanics are all pretty much like in the other Starcluster books I've reviewed, so I won't repeat them in detail here. Again, refer to my previous review.
Another mechanic included in this book that isn't in all the Starcluster books are rules for space travel and space combat. There's also tables for space transit times, and some explanations of space ships. This section is pretty short, only a few pages for all of the aforementioned. But I guess it does the job.
System-wise, this product is as decent as any Starcluster product. Setting-wise, I bet some people will like this idea, of a fallen civilization, abandoned by humans, slowly starting their ascent to the stars. For my part, though, it doesn't really convince me. I don't care for the in-setting textual conceit, but also, I just find it somewhat less interesting than some of the other Starcluster mini-settings.
Take that as you will.
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