Welcome back to card catalog where we continue with our 2018 look into science fiction games and setting! It was completely unintentional, but seems to be the recurring theme this year so we will just dive right in! Did you know that TSR made a science fiction game in the early 80s?? Not the zany and madcap Gamma World, but Star Frontiers? I remember the ads in old comic books well and it looked really cool! The eighth of the games developed by TSR over the years, it has a system wholly unlike what you may expect from a game that shares the legacy of Dungeons & Dragons … and a setting that if ripe for exploration and GM world building. The last of the Supplements was released in 1985, in what was supposed to be book 1 of a three book revamp of the entire system. Generally, we’ll look at the Star Frontier – Alpha Manual for our rules with one or two little house rules along the way using the original rule set rather than the attempted switch over later in production to a set not dissimilar to the Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP style. That was introduced in the Zebulon’s Guide to the Frontier Volume I as the beginning of a revamp of the system and setting … that never quite finished. Besides the Boxed Set called Alpha Strike, with its Larry Elmore cover, the Knight Hawks Supplement and Zebulon’s Guide to the Frontier Vol. I provide the vast majority of the rules and settings for Star Frontiers. Less than a dozen adventures were published, most of which are now available through Drive Thru RPG!
The game has a strong fan following and even TSR and Wizards of the Coast have acknowledged that. A brief setting blurb in the 2004 d20 Modern Expansion provided the outline of the Frontier and put the main species into d20 stats but otherwise it’s maintenance has been the province of online fans. In the past year, Wizards of the Coast reasserted the overall rights to the trademarks after Evil Hat tried to get attention to take over the setting and publish new material which has paired back some of the fan developed work but maybe means that we will see new products developed for Star Frontiers soon. I stumbled across several Star Frontiers fan websites that has been a labor of love for Star Frontiers and I heartily recommend checking them out, including the Starfrontiers.info site that had the fillable PDF character sheet.
Star Frontier is a classless system in it’s original form. Yes, a classless system but also a system that relies more heavily on attributes than skills. It is a rather innovative system especially for the era in which it was released and I expect you may see some of the derivatives of it to this day! The basic mechanic is a percentile dice roll with an attempt to get under the target number determined from the Ability and Skill combinations.
Abilities come in four pairs – Strength/Stamina; Dexterity/Reaction; Intuition/Logic; and Personality/Leadership. One intriguing part of character development is that the attributes are linked in pairs so that Strength and Stamina begin with a shared roll as Abilities that are closely related to each other. The scores range from 30 to 70 based on a percentile dice roll that is converted by chart to a score.
Once you have then selected your species, which are not what you might expect (though several would prove to be used in later TSR games with different names), you modify your abilities and add any specific powers of the race. Humans may modify one attribute in a pair by 5 while the other three player species each receive a zero sum set of modifiers usually as a +5 and -5. Zebulon’s Guide added three more species to choose and another NPC option for flavor.
You now customize your attributes within the pair, so that you can trade up to 10 points between Abilities in each pair, such as between Personality and Leadership.
Skills are next – Star Frontiers begins with three Primary Skill Areas – Military, Technical, and Biosocial. Each of these Skill Areas has a number of skills grouped beneath them – from 7 Military Skills to 3 in the other two Areas. Military skills represent combat and military training ranging from unarmed combat through Demolitions, while Technical Skills are the mechanical and technical skills used in a tech driven society. Biosocial skills are how you deal with the surrounding races and environments. In the Knight Hawks supplement, Spaceship skills were added – these were skills that were not part of a PSA but could be added to any character meeting the prerequisites … which were steep. Star Frontiers certainly left the piloting to the equivalent of Astronauts who were over 100 XP into a character and beyond starting character reaches. For a House Rule, I am going to make Spaceship Skills a fourth Primary Skill Area with the XP Cost of the Biosocial Skills. This keeps them the most expensive of the skills but allows PCs to get to them.
Each Character chooses one PSA as their career focus and then selects 2 skills, one of which must be from the PSA chosen. Skill levels range from 1 to 6 and represent a +10% bonus to the needed roll when using them. For example, the weapon skills chances to hit are all ½ Dexterity + skill level, so an average success chance with one Rank is 35%. Rounded up Ability Roll to a 50 as a result with no modifications. Half of the 50 is 25% plus the Level 1 Skill to get to 35%.
Spend your starting credits, from 250-350 total, on equipment and gear and finish fleshing out your character.
Advancement with experience points, XP, could be used to increase Abilities on a 1 for 1 basis up to a maximum of 100. This also applies to certain special abilities of the other player species, such as the Dralasites’ Lie Detection ability or the Yazirian’s Battle Rage. The other option is to purchase increases in Skills. Military skills are the cheapest to purchase and increase, either because the designers valued combat in the game design or maybe because there were twice as many of them as the others, requiring 6 x Level in XP to purchase, while Technical are 8 x Level, and Biosocial 10 x Level. You get to halve those numbers in your Primary Skill Area, so 3 x , 4 x, and 5 x respectively.
The Main Book goes through a number of rules specifics, as is the way of games in the early 1980s, that provide for how to handle different situations and the bonuses or penalties that come from it. Overall, you see a system that provides a great deal of flexibility by being Ability heavy and classless, but that is also an internally consistent system built around percentile dice. For example, we have already noted that combat is built around the standard percentile test for Star Frontiers to attack. Damage is based on the weapon, as laid out in the equipment section, which is applied against the Stamina Ability score. It is a smart design move, compared to other TSR games, to use the same score for more than one thing and prevents additional complications! Defenses are based on the equipment that will reduce damage from different kinds of attacks, but usually will use up power cells when on. Area of Effect and pure stunning weapons have Avoidance rolls that are set forth on page 28, but again it is an Ability Roll, either Stamina or Reaction, like every other roll in the game.
Zebulon’s Guide, which effectively began an unfinished Second Edition of the game made some radical shifts to the game play. As noted above, it had a column shift style resolution system that seemed to go back to the Marvel FASERIP system that TSR had also worked on. It also added more express classes. While the Primary Skill Areas could be seen as a form of Classes, since Abilities were more common, they didn’t feel as constrictive . TSR tried to expand the possibilities of character creation and did that by adding 4 “Classes” with specific skill lists they could choose and by significantly expanding the skills available to create more differentiation in characters. The combat system was also greatly changed, though whether it was improved is best left for the players who played both back to back. It lines up a bit more with the direction that other TSR games were going in the mid to late 1980s in design. The addition of Mentalists is also indicative of the Psionic focus or craze from the mid 1980s which, while intriguing are not going to be a system I will go into for this Card Catalog.
Star Frontiers starts with a straightforward fictional setting. The Frontier Sector originally showed 17 star systems, with a total of 23 colonized planets but another 21 star systems that hadn’t been explored. Even the planets themselves were not fully explored leaving a great deal of leeway to any Referee to write their own adventures, worlds, and settings. The United Planetary Federation made up of the four United Races had formed in the wake of the First Sathar War.
In times past, humans, the ameoba-like Dralasites, nocturnal predator Yizarians, and insectoid Vrusk had not been united in the exploration of space and the star systems. It was the Sathar that we have to thank for bringing us all together – the worm or snake like Sathar and their expansionist but devious plans required the four races to unite to repel them. It proved the beginning of a strong, but loosely organized alliance. Nothing in the UPF Charter changes how each planet governs itself, and they range from direct democracy to autocracy, so long as the taxes are collected to keep the Star Law Rangers and Spacefleet in good stead.
The past century has seen a rise of mega corporations that control entire planets and spread their commercial interests into far flung systems. The Pan Galactic is the largest corporation in Frontier Space, and also the most powerful. This power leaves it under attack at all turns from its competitors and the new upstarts like Streel Corp., the Greater Vrusk Mutual Prosperity Institutions, and Interplanetary Industries. Each of these mega corps offers charters and hires on ships full of the best and brightest of the Frontier to seek glory, and more importantly riches, for the company! These Charters are used as independent contractors to undertake prospecting, exploration, and other speculative activities as often as bolstering the corporate strengths. The pirates that raid the space lanes became more and more brazen even in the face of the Star Law Rangers. The world was becoming busy and the UPF had dispatched it’s resources to face down the pirates and and stem off a potential corporate war.
Then the Sathar returned. Their ships larger and in greater numbers. Their cunning and ruthlessness was on full display in the Second Sathar War. A full decade of warfare not only strengthened the opposition to the Sathar’s involvement in conquest of Frontier space, but also brought several more species into the UPF that had been part of the Rim for centuries – the quadrapedal and scaled Osakar; Ifshnits – herbivorous and independent hirsute humanoids; and the violent fatalistic warrior Humma. We still don’t know where the Sathar come from. We still don’t know what motivates them to expand. What we do know is that they are intelligent, patient, and ferocious.
The Frontier Space had to face an extended Corporate War after the conclusion of the Second Sathar War. As the UPF had spent many of its resources in repelling the invaders, it was not well set up to take additional authority and megacorporations saw opportunity in rebuilding across the UPF and Rim to turn a tidy profit. The UPF had agreed to laws and compacts that prevented mergers and limited consolidation of companies after a certain size to prevent the Sathar from having a single supply chain target, but now that meant the new companies had grown large enough to get the attention of Pan Galactic and Streel. This hot war turned into a war of intelligence and sabotage as time went on and society truly rebuilt across the different planets ravaged by the Sathar. In time, the Corporate War went cold as as the memory of the Sathar faded. Only to see Sathar biotech controlling potential assassins on the eve of the 111th Anniversary of the UPF Treaty. Star Frontiers is thus set on the precipice of the unknown – between tense governmental relations as the UPF abuts the Rim Worlds while a Corporate Cold War bubbles just below the surface and the twice beaten back invaders have shown a new and terrifying technology to use against the UPF. You are part of this world, part of the Military, the Civil Service, or a Private Contractor who is seeking out not only the known worlds of the UPF & Rim but finding unexplored star systems and uncharted planets exploring the Future!
‘Bodaz G’lunk Chartered Ship
In Frontier Year 110, the Rim Coalition and the United Planetary Federation are still recovering from the Second Sathar War twenty years ago. The victory over the Sathar was hard fought, and cost both dearly in the horrors of war. The Corporate War that followed has receded to a Cold War, and that is where the Streel Corporation finds itself. The darling number 2 Megacorporation, rivaling Pan Galactic for breadth from shrewd real estate investments, is poised to upstage Pan Galactic in the 111 Grand Celebration of the UPF next year. Slowly absorbing competitors, the Streel Corporation’s heavy reliance on Dralasite, Yazirian, and Vrusk input has positioned it well to solidify its importance in the new Rim worlds that have opened up.
That is where the Chartered Ship, ‘Bodaz’ G’lunk comes in.
Originally, the ‘Bodaz G’lunk wasn’t a chartered ship. Captain Bodaz had her shot at fame and fortune striking out with her crew, and for a while it was a good time and good money. It went sideways on a planet towards the Rim a few years ago, Frilkium. The planet hadn’t been tagged as having an intelligent native species, and the Corporate War had left these unnoticed natives rather nonplussed with the invaders from space. When the Bodaz G’lunk came around, there wasn’t much they could do. The caught the fury and ire of the plant like Frillites that were facing the poisoning and exploitation of the planet by Corporations. They didn’t all make it out alive. Drichu sacrificed himself deep in his Rage to give the rest time to escape Frilkium. The irony is that as the Corporate War has gone cold, the only way to repair the ship and get back on her feat had Captain Bodaz sign a corporate charter.
The ‘Bodaz’ G’lunk signed a charter with Streel and is being dispatched to complete survey and exploration tasks in the Rim – tasks geared towards expanding the ownership of new planets with an eye to agricultural supplies trying to block off the GODCo Terraforming of habitable, but less lucrative, worlds backed by the Cassidine Development Corp and the Capellan Free Merchants. It is a heady time to explore – dangers abound, corporations wage a shadow war, and every corner could hide a Sathar agent fitted with biotechnology and spying for the ever feared invaders.
Captain Telinia Bodaz
Human Aristocratic Captain
Ever on the charming side of things, Captain Bodaz even got away with naming the ship after herself. Why else would you have a ship of your own if it can’t carry your name? Sure, it made sense to follow the bleeding edge of the Corporate War and pick up the literal pieces. Left behind tech, planets that were valuable but not lucrative, and the chance to ignore the UPF’s bickering after the Second Sathar War were great. Until that gigantic misstep on Frilkium. It cost lives, including Drichu, and while the new crew members from Streel makeup for the loss of hands, it won’t make up for the loss of her Yazirian friend and confidant.
Irreverent Dralasite Pilot
Yeah. So, have you heard the one about the Human and the stick shift? No? That’s too bad. You’ll hear it a dozen times over on the ‘Bodaz G’lunk as long as Kratog is the pilot. The Dralisite lives up to the species reputation for bad puns and even worse jokes, but it is worth it when the ship gets where it needs to go. Kratog comes from a long line of Dralisite pilots, but the problem is that Kratog knows this and is maybe a bit too sure of its skills. And the puns. The puns just hurt.
Jorgein of Clan Abene
Ifshnit Exploratory Scientist
Streel Corp. “offered” Capt. Bodunk several potential crew members to make up for the loss of crew when they signed her Charter, and Jorgein impressed her. Like many of Ifshnit, Jorgein is a warm and friendly soul. As he likes to say, Ifshnit just condense all the good in the tall races to a more handy and convenient package. An oddity for sure, in that Jorgein left the Capellan Free Merchants and signed on with Streel Corp. Streel seems to trust him, but what had him leave his old life is a mystery that even V’orz Untisp has yet to know.
Streel V’orz Untisp
Vrusk Company Engineer
V’orz Untirk has been quietly and competently performing what was asked of her by the Greater Vrusk Mutual Prosperity Institution. This bug grew up as part of a Company, and part of the greater whole that the V’rusk aspire to. Both a competent poet and an inspired engineer, V’orz Untisp exemplified the hard work and focus of the V’rusk as well as the aspirational parts of the V’rusk culture to be able to quietly collect art, sip tea, and remove themselves from the hustle and bustle. This was not to happen, though. Streel Corp bought out the GVMPI, as companies are want to do, and the new Company not only found a home for V’orz, but promoted her until she began to chafe at the attention and rules. It was the perfect time for her to be sent by Streel Corp. to the ‘Bodaz G’lunk to get away from the strictures of the new Corporation’s Rules but also to ensure that the chartered investment in the G’lunk pays off.
Human ex-Soldier Enforcer
The last member of the original crew left, Kevin O’Kilkirk started his life in the UPF Fleet, but in a nearly stereotypical fashion bristled at what the authority sought of him in training. He made it through, but didn’t last long as found himself unceremoniously discharged. The UPF may have been down bodies, but he was a grunt not a pilot and when the Corporate War turned cold, they didn’t even want to take the chance on Kevin. Drichu took the chance on him, convincing Capt. Telinia that he’d be a good pair of strong hands and sharp eyes. Drichu paid the price for that decision on Frilkium. Kevin is still haunted, having held him as the blood seeped from his body and across the extended patagia – he couldn’t keep his friend safe and his friend chose not to be safe to save him. He’s still here, without any other real direction to go, but he has a weight on his shoulders he didn’t before.
Nice article, I’ve linked to it from the Star Frontiers section on RPG Resource!
Thank you! The rest of the crew will be rolling out over the next month!