Saturday, August 1, 2020

Trail of the Vagrant Star

Where to get it:

I don't want to get in the habit of complaining about things I got for free, especially when those things I got for free I also mostly enjoyed, but I really wish Trail of the Vagrant Star had maneuvers. I feel like I was led to expect maneuvers. The term was capitalized, for crying out loud. And what am I supposed to make of a sentence like, "The Maneuvers performed by Brawlers are mostly involved with gaining an advantage on the enemy by exploiting and exposing their weaknesses, disabling their movement, and breaking their defenses."

Sadly, the list of thematically appropriate exception-based tactical powers never materialized. I was confused briefly until I went back and double-checked the text. Disciplines are just skills, Paths are just skill focuses (adding up to two dice). And "Maneuvers" just refers to an action in the combat system that allows you to freeform improvise a penalty-inflicting attack, within the broad parameters of your path's description.

It actually works pretty well, all told, even if I suspect that damaging attacks are a strictly superior use of your opportunity costs. It's not the book's fault that between the system's similarity to Storyteller and the double-10s rule, I just assumed it would have been more like Exalted (I'd have really liked to see a hoverbike Cavalier charm tree, however). Combat winds up being fairly fast, fairly simple, and fairly brutal, and subsequently simple enough to downplay in favor of other elements.

Trail of the Vagrant Star leans more towards the adventure end of action-adventure. It has detailed exploration and company management systems that push the game towards an open-ended sandbox hexcrawl. I think the focus on community-building is pretty neat, and it helps that the implied setting is damned interesting.

Trail of the Vagrant Star takes place in a sci-fi/fantasy universe with diverse magic, sufficiently-advanced technology, and human offshoots that just happen to look a lot like fantasy demihumans.With the tag-based weapon creation system, you can have a hookshot gauntlet, sniper rifle, and jet-powered warhammer, then jump into your fantasy mech and take on a Dracoborus, a species of rock dragon that grabs its tail and rolls around the desert like a giant wheel of destruction.

Even though it lacks a detailed setting guide, the fantastic elements are deployed with precision and the examples, trait descriptions, and GM advice give a good feeling of what the setting is supposed to be like. It left me wanting more, to be sure, but there's enough here to run the game. I especially liked the bestiary. It was more complete than any I've seen in a book of this size, and between its diversity and well-chosen details like the concise behavior descriptions, it could have been five times its length and not worn out its welcome.

Overall, I'd say that it's a promising game, technically complete as-is, but with the potential to grow and expand in some fascinating ways. The game's page says it's an Alpha version, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what it's like when it's complete.

Ukss Contribution: I really liked the Giant's Garden location, even if the main reason is due to nostalgia for my road trip to Sequoia National Forest. They're not exactly the same, and there's stuff in here that's technically a lot cooler, but seeing it made me feel good, and I can visualize it clearly, so that's what I'm going with.

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