The Original Star Frontiers Retro Review

1664908822423.png

By the time I got into role playing games in the late 80s, I already had found my sci-fi space opera game. I only had eyes for WEG’s seminal Star Wars D6 ruleset. Other gamers spoke fondly of the games that had come before like Traveller and TSR’s entry into the market, Star Frontiers. I never really gave it a second glance until I remembered I had acquired a copy a few years ago in a trade. I decided to crack it open and look at it with fresh eyes. Would I have played this game back then? Would I play it now? Let’s play to find out.

Star Frontiers was originally released between 1982 and 1985. The Alpha Dawn boxed set (as the main set would come to be known) came with basic rules, advanced rules, the adventure Crash on Volturnus, a pair of maps and chits for use on the maps. There are four playable species to play out of the box; baseline humans, amoeba-like Dralasites, insectoid Vr usk and the flying (gliding) monkey inspired Yazirians. The system is a very basic percentile one which characters trying to roll under a calculated skill level or attribute number, with critical hits and failures at the top end of each. Already, it’s easy to see why players back then thought this was revolutionary. No levels or strict classes, with XP being simple additions to character abilities. The aesthetic is very timely to the 80s with padded vests and chunky goggles the norm.

The first book features Basic Rules. There’s a small smattering of setting info on the inside cover of the main rules involving space rangers, galactic corporations and such but it’s all just there to get folks in the mind set of pew pew lasers and whoosh rocket ships. Characters are kept simple with percentile abilities and bumps based on their species selection. The basic rules engage primarily with the big spaceport map and an introductory adventure featuring numbered sections for everyone to read. There’s an almost board game-like feel to these rules which focus on a pursuit of bad guys across the space mall/space station map.

The Extended Rules get into a bit more complexity. Here’s where the game really peels away from previous designs. No classes! No levels! It must have felt so freeing to TSR fans that hadn’t found Traveler at their local wargame store. Instead, there are skill clusters that add 10% per level. Players choose a Primary Skill Area which gives an experience point discount but that’s as close as the game gets to levels. The designers make an interesting choice here with nearly every skill starting at a specific base chance except the combat skills that start at half of a character’s dexterity score. These uses also feature XP where you want, so it seems like anyone paying attention would buy a rank of skill and then spend any leftover on Dexterity since it is a skill bump and an ability bump. Were I to run this game, I’d probably find abilities to link all the skills and give everyone the chance to double dip on experience.

This game skews toward Star Wars style fantasy but it's relatively light on pulp powers. There is a Psycho-Social Skill Group that has some powers similar to the stuff you might see Vulcans or early Jedi do, like persuasion and light mind reading, but that’s about it. The aliens get special abilities that reflect elements of their culture, such as the Vrusk being ambidextrous or the Dralasites being able to detect lies because of their empathic, gelatinous make up. There are also details on the Sathar who are set up as the Big Bad Evil Space Snakes of the setting.

The setting info is light on the ground here, mostly contained to a short introduction on the cover and bits inferred from the description of the alien races. The main powers in this universe are corporations that helped colonize worlds, with the United Planetary Federation featuring an alliance between the four species detailed in the book fighting off an invasion of the Sathar. There’s a brief mention of the Star Law Rangers for tables that want to play capital-H heroes but the default assumption is a crew working for the Pan Galactic Corporation or one of its many rivals.

The final book in the set contains Crash on Volturnus which could play out as a mini campaign all its own. The first half features the players thrown together after pirates attack their spacecraft. They have to sneak and battle their way to the escape pods, which land them on the titular planet. That half of the adventure becomes a survival hexcrawl as the players must make it out of the desert into the hands of local aliens that might accept them as their own if they survive some bravery trials. It’s a solidly constructed adventure that leans into the game’s pulp sci-fi roots even if the last section leans a little too into Noble Savage stereotypes for some readers.

I can see why Star Frontiers holds a place in many gamer hearts after all these years. I think it would be fun to run a group through Crash on Volturnus and then see if they wanted to continue to the other parts, Volturnus, Planet of Mystery and Starspawn of Volturnus. Even if you don’t want to try a new system, the PDFs feature some excellent ideas that can be used in other science fiction games.

If you enjoyed this review, please consider purchasing the game through the included affiliate links. I thank you for your support.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Rob Wieland

Rob Wieland

aramis erak

Legend
Played this through all the adventures published to the point the DM was like well that's it folks. Now i have surpassed premade adventures and prefer to create my own. This system was pretty easy and still have good memories of the time we played, loved the blob race and the space adventures. When d20 started putting out space and modern stuff this got a revival and there was a website that even put out a magazine for it for 3rd and 5e. I think they had to change the name of the mag from Star Frontiersman to Frontier Explorer.
Yup. They also had been permitted to host PDF at no charge, but when WotC decided to charge for the PDFs, the had to pull them down.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Achan hiArusa

Explorer
Knight Hawks is playable, it's unrealistic in ways very different from Traveller. 9 offensive systems (two of which are lasers), 5 defensive systems. No maximum speed, almost no link between speed and turning limits; when they do apply, the results are borderline WSoD removing.
Sounds like real physics. The only speed limit in space is c (the speed of light) with the low thrusts that those ships they would get nowhere near c in the course of a game (at 1g acceleration it would take almost a year to get to the speed of light). As for turning limits, apply a force at an angle in space will result in an immediate course change though the inertia of the ship would dictate how fast that turn takes.

At any rate, Star Frontiers was my second rpg and at the time I liked it much better than Basic D&D.
 



aramis erak

Legend
Sounds like real physics. The only speed limit in space is c (the speed of light) with the low thrusts that those ships they would get nowhere near c in the course of a game (at 1g acceleration it would take almost a year to get to the speed of light). As for turning limits, apply a force at an angle in space will result in an immediate course change though the inertia of the ship would dictate how fast that turn takes.

At any rate, Star Frontiers was my second rpg and at the time I liked it much better than Basic D&D.
It's utterly wrong for physics of space flight, as it conserves speed but not inertia.

It's a case where it seems right based upon terrestrial experience, but is totally, irrevocably, dead «bleep»ing wrong.

What it should require to make a 60° direction of movement change is total thrust equal to current speed.
 

When I watched the trailer of the videogame "Myth Force" with all those vibes of 80's saturday morning cartoon I felt something, and now I miss those vibes. Now I imagine WotC's Star*Frontiers with an intentional vintage-retro style, but updating tech (genetic engineering, laptops, 3D-printers, quantum computers, remote-control war drones, exoesqueltons..but also sci-fi about mind-upload and digital-inmortality). Let's remember the handicap of sci-fi is getting old very poor.

A new WotC's sci-fi RPG should allow different subgenres, for example space marines vs supernatural menaces (Doom Eternal, Warhammer 40.000, Dead Space..) or about people with psionic powers changing the History (Frank Herbert's Dune, Star Wars..).

Other point is the balance power when the PCs can defeat kaijus or mechas with better weapons, or the enemy nPCs are who are using those gadgets as extra help, for example controlling a mecha or exosuit.
 

Has anyone else noticed that the alien races from Star Frontiers have been co-opted into Spelljammer? Not so much the vrusk, but the dralasites and yazirians for certain.
 

aramis erak

Legend
Has anyone else noticed that the alien races from Star Frontiers have been co-opted into Spelljammer? Not so much the vrusk, but the dralasites and yazirians for certain.
The Hadozee are in the AD&D2 Spelljammer line, as well. Spacefarer's Handbook (TSR 2130, p 19)
There's a vrusk-like insectoid, as well, (The Xixchil) but it's not as congruent with Vrust as AD&D Hadozee is to SFAD Yazirians. Even then, the AD&D Hadozee are profligate with the fighting words and profanity... per SFH.
 

Achan hiArusa

Explorer
It's utterly wrong for physics of space flight, as it conserves speed but not inertia.

It's a case where it seems right based upon terrestrial experience, but is totally, irrevocably, dead «bleep»ing wrong.

What it should require to make a 60° direction of movement change is total thrust equal to current speed.

That first sentence just hurt my Physics teacher soul. There is no mass change to the ships so inertia is constant since inertia mass. So much so, in fact, they are considered the same thing. And speed is not conserved, but momentum (mass x velocity) is. You are also confusing speed with velocity and they are different.
If it is moving at a constant velocity it is an inertial reference frame and no forces are acting on it. And by the principles of relative motion a force enacted on it at 0 mph will have the same effect as when it is moving 1,000 mph. The problem is when you apply a positive or negative acceleration while trying to turn at the same time. It is when you deal with gravity and media does velocity make a difference because maintaining a constant velocity means having to balance the force of thrust with the force of friction and gravity.
 

aramis erak

Legend
That first sentence just hurt my Physics teacher soul. There is no mass change to the ships so inertia is constant since inertia mass. So much so, in fact, they are considered the same thing. And speed is not conserved, but momentum (mass x velocity) is. You are also confusing speed with velocity and they are different.
If it is moving at a constant velocity it is an inertial reference frame and no forces are acting on it. And by the principles of relative motion a force enacted on it at 0 mph will have the same effect as when it is moving 1,000 mph. The problem is when you apply a positive or negative acceleration while trying to turn at the same time. It is when you deal with gravity and media does velocity make a difference because maintaining a constant velocity means having to balance the force of thrust with the force of friction and gravity.
Thye game allows the a 60° change in vector direction without change in speed/vector length.
Speed (velocity) is a component of vector, as is direction. It allows change of direction at any speed the same number of times per turn without limit by acceleration forces, without thrust.
 

Related Articles

Remove ads

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top