Showing posts with label Star Frontiers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Star Frontiers. Show all posts

Thursday, January 4, 2024

Star Frontiers - Example Characters and House Rules

For my upcoming Star Frontiers Campaign, I was going to produce my own custom, 2-sided character sheets with a tent. This would help some of my first-time players quickly produce a character. And to save time, I changed my mind and decided to use the one on Polyhedral Nonsense

I find this massively amusing. I was ready to invest a ridiculous amount of time making my own sheet and found an amazing sheet on website labeled "nonsense". Each area is neatly designed with large areas suitable for either computer text or handwriting. It corrects the one-side flaw of the original and ups the game with a useful tent. 

This is the opposite of nonsense, it's fabulous! I use a 1-5 star system for ratings, so this sheet gets 5 stars. 

Sorry, I didn't mean to do a review. But since Polyhedral Nonsense saved me so much time and effort, I had to do it. 

Back to your article, already in progress. 

The characters... 

I assume the characters have lived through the Crash on Volturnus modules. The group lives on the planet Typhon, a water world whose colony supports the post-war effort of decommissioning and preserving warships on the planet Dust. This endeavor requires nearly every skill in known space, of which the characters have a bit. The players will find it easy to fit in and have opportunities to improve their career skills, whatever they might be. They are learning to operate and maintain spaceships. 

I have a couple house rules that will be in effect. Spaceship skills are available from the get-go, but this is slightly modified as we are creating higher-level characters. The players will be granted 30 experience points to select any skill from the Alpha Dawn rules and 10 experience points to select spaceship skills from Knight Hawks. 

That isn't too unusual. That places the characters with a non-combat PSA plus a couple of Military skills, and one spaceship skill. 

What is unusual is the characters all have professions, meaning they draw a salary. At generation, the players can buy a monthly salary of 1000 credits for one experience point, 2000 for 3 experience points, and so on. In addition to this, they get their normal roll for credits plus one month's salary cash. Star Frontiers has a lot of cool gear but hobbles the players and the characters with a lack of credits. I hate that. Each character also has a place to stay, which means they have far more than the typical adventurer. 

The players also start with a standard equipment pack plus a laser pistol, coveralls, and a backpack, mementos of their time on Vulturnus. Each one has a professional tool kit. Anyone who has a Military skill will have one appropriate personal weapon assigned to them. If they want more, they need to spend their savings.  

The players will discover that Typhon and Dust isn't really a place for weapons, but the moment they get moving on their adventure, they will need them. I need to build a bestiary and make maps for both planets. Life is not especially dangerous, more of a point of interest for the curious player. 

Saturday, December 30, 2023

Star Frontiers Campaign - Supporting Cast

For my campaign next year, I will need a supporting cast for the players. The characters will have access to a Kon-Tiki shuttle smaller than an Assult Scout. Since the players will be using this new type of ship, it needs to have a bit of history, as if it were a character. 

In the closing of the Sathar War, the Federation ran down a couple of paths of ship design. One of them was a type of electronic warfare destroyer called the Puff Adder. This destroyer was fitted with 3 atomic and three ion engines, packed with electronic warfare gear while giving up many of its weapons. It was also given two Kon-Tiki shuttles that could dock with it. Like its namesake, the Puff Adder could ambush enemy ships with its electronic warfare gear and light weapons while the Kon-Kiki shuttles provided support. The inherent abilities of the two types of engines allow these ships to dance in and out of danger. 

It would have been a vastly more expensive ship than your typical Destroyer. 16 hulls of this type were laid down before the war ended. At the end of the war, Puff Adders were fitted with engines recovered from damaged ships as a cheap solution. However, only 8 were fully outfitted with their electronic warfare gear and weapons creating a second varient on the destroyer. 

The Puff Adders had assault rocket launchers, a laser battery, and ICMs with electronic warfare gear. Those not fitted with all of the projected weapons were labeled as the "Heracles" variant. The Heracles class was suitable for research, search and rescue plus surface support operations. The pairing of the destroyers with the Kon-Tiki shuttles creates a means for the characters to explore single systems easily while also providing very limited system-to-system travel with a bit of danger. 

The characters in their Kon-Tiki class shuttle will be supported by both types of destroyers, depending on what system they arrive in. This will give the players the exciting experience of being able to travel from system to system in a small ship. 

As time permits, I will be sketching out the deck plans of all three types of ships, the shuttle and the two destoryers. 

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Star Frontiers Campaign - Ships for the Characters

I want the players to have access spaceships. They will be jetting around between the planet Dust and Typhon plus various systems across the Federation. 

Most of the time, the player characters will be landing on the surface of planets so they have a giant shuttle, smaller than an assault scout. It is size two. These shuttles are barely able to move from system to system, hence the name Kon-Tiki. However, for in system ships, the Kon-Tiki class shuttle is super roomy. 

Although I have shared a picture of a spaceship above, I really want this ship to be more like a real space shuttle and not a tail-lander. 

I will be sharing deck plans and such as time permits. 

Tuesday, December 26, 2023

Star Frontiers Campaign 2024

This year, I would like to run a Star Frontiers Campaign. I have a couple of ideas of what I'd like to do. I'd like to have a mystery to investigate. 

Let's start with the characters. They are not newbies. They have survived the events of Volturnus modules. To that end, they are in advanced officer training and learning to crew a spaceship. 

In my campaigns, spaceship skills are selectable from the get-go. These characters have 20 experience points for anything they like from the Alpha Dawn set and 10 experience points to spend on one spaceship skills. The players have one special option at character generation - they can trade 1 exp point for 1,000 credits. This pairs nicely with the 20 exp for any AD skill. The characters will be nicely equipped with the expectation everyone has one or more guns. 

I don't believe in yanking the character's equipment at the start of the adventure. 

Next, the characters have a home base, a planet named Typhon. It's a water world with underwater living quarters. The population is small, but growing after the war. The planet features a chain of islands around the equator. There are many aquatic animals in the planetary ocean and more than a few amphibians inhabiting the island. Even the bird and rat-like creatures are amphibians. It is an interesting world without too much excitement. Typhon is one of those "best-kept secrets" planets, beautiful and safe, not well known yet and not completely explored.  

Also in the Typhon system is the planet Dust. This planet is barely habitable, but the low-oxygen atmosphere is great for storing and repairing spaceships. It is a base for training future astronauts. It isn't as dangerous as training in a vacuum. All species hate the environment, it requires suits for comfort but you can survive on the surface. Just barely. Typical stints on Dust last between a month and 3 months. The planet has one main base and dozens of smaller bases scattered here and there. 

If you weren't learning how to be an astronaut, you'd have no reason to visit and even less to stay. Everyone, including the general staff, tries to speed run any necessary tasks to get back to the comfort of Typhon. Failing that, a tiny ship and a hard vacuum would do. 

Now we are to the meat of the setting. There has been a rash of incidents where the visitors to Dust go missing. They vanish after leaving Dust for other destinations. This is bizarre because they spend some time at the destination getting settled, checking in with friends and family, and getting spotted on plenty of security cameras. Then they are gone. The one commonality is they disappear at night. No bodies have been found, no ransom remains, there is no pattern to the destinations, and no foul play is evidenced but is obviously suspected. 

Since the Sathar and their agents have been sent packing, it is an interplanetary locked room mystery for the players to solve.  

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
At DriveThruRPG
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn at DrivethruRPG

I picked up the print copy of AD from DriveThruRPG. The printing is excellent, the binding looks sharp and clean.  

Sunday, December 3, 2023

Disappointment = Improvements, Star Frontiers Edition


Star Frontiers was one of my favorite non-D&D games. While my friends loved Traveller. I was all in on Star Frontiers. Traveller and SF are two completely different games in the sci-fi genre. In my opinion, Traveller is a pure RPG while Star Frontiers incorporates role-play into a board game. It is my personal belief, being a pure RPG, Traveller is unified and therefore more balanced. The setting also doesn't hurt. However, I rarely play it. 

Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks are both excellent games, but they are completely different games. Trying to integrate player characters into a fleet battle-type game is glitchy, to say the least. One of the biggest disappointments is summed up in this chart from Knight Hawks:

Holy hell, you need to max out an Alpha Dawn character to be able to fly a spaceship at minimum competency. A level 6 technician should be able to build a whole spaceship with little trouble, why would you need this level of skill to operate a spaceship? 

Han Solo's ability to fix stuff is putting a blaster shot into it. I can't picture Maverick fueling his plane, he can't even put on fireproof gloves. Ok, Data could assemble pretty much anything, but he is a robot made of McGuffin but I can't imagine Sulu doing the same.  

The second chart is even more annoying. 

It perpetuates military skills are the best way to advance quickly. If you look at the chart from Alpha Dawn, this at least continues the trope started in the first book. 

I had a strong desire to fix this back in the 80s in a simplistic fashion. Everyone got 3 skills to start, anyone could take spaceship skills from the get-go and I just accepted that spaceship skills were harder to level up in. 

I did preserve the first chart of requirements as a social aspect of being a spacer. These were the minimum skills necessary to get a professional job on a ship. Rather amusingly, my players figured out exactly what I getting at and would role-play padding their resume to land jobs. 

Recently, I decided to engage in a bit of confirmation bias and checked to see if anyone else saw this as a problem. A lot of people did see this as a problem at the time and today, and many of them even used this very technique to fix it. 

Since I was engaging in confirmation bias and not fact-finding, I totally discounted people who had other modifications to these tables as being a less common option. I reserve the right to be wrong.  

Let me know in the comments. 

Interestingly, I did see many people playing the game straight. While I absolutely hate this solution it is firmly based in reality. Historically, astronauts were (and still are) brilliant people and a vanishingly small portion of the general population. It does make sense in that respect. I just don't like it for space opera. There is a case for leaving it alone but I wanted to have spaceships as an option from the get-go. 

I blame this attitude of mine on some players' odd reactions to skills in a given era. Some players will opt to claim that their character can't swim, can't ride a horse, or drive a car in eras where most people can. They see that skill on a chart and not wanting to waste skill points don't select it. Then they assume that not ticking a box means zero ability. Most people who can't swim merely can't swim well. Most people who "can't" drive a car can totally explain the operation of a vehicle and merely lack the will to do so. This is just being wise to one's own limitations, not a lack of understanding or slight ability. 

I have a whole post on silly things I won't let players do. That is D&D-themed, but you can read it anyway. 

Speaking of posts, you can expect to see more posts about Star Frontiers soon. I want to have a campaign going shortly. 

Sunday, May 14, 2023

Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks Boardgame and Campaign Expansion Review

I have some more content queued up for POP-001, but I have to get some bugs out of my system. I did a review of Star Frontiers with the intention of returning to review the expansion set Knight Hawks. It's been 2.5 years, so I should do it now. 

Title: Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks Boardgame, The Campaign Expansion, and Warriors of Light Module
Designer: Douglas Niles
Year: 1983
Pages: Boardgame book, 20 pages. Expanded book, 64 pages. SF0, 32 pages.
Number of players: 2+
Rating: ★★★

Star Frontiers is a classic science fiction role-playing game that was first introduced in 1982. One of the most exciting aspects of the game is the Knight Hawks expansion, which focuses on ship-to-ship battles. This expansion provides players with an opportunity to engage in space combat, which is a crucial element of the science fiction genre. This set was a boxed set like Alpha Dawn and even follows the exact same book and page count as the original. 

The key features of the Knight Hawks expansion are the ship-to-ship combat and ship design system. Players have the ability to design their own spacecraft from scratch, giving them the freedom to create vessels that suit their playstyle. The ship design system is complex but rewarding, allowing players to customize every aspect of their ship, from its weapons and defenses to speed and maneuverability. Plus every part of the customized starship simply works with the ship-to-ship combat system right out of the box. 

Players don't need to create ships to engage in ship-to-ship combat, the module will gift them with not just their own ship, but a whole fleet of ready-go ships. The combat system is turn-based and consists of three phases: movement, combat, and damage control. The phases are crucial for setting up attacks and avoiding incoming fire so as not to resort to damage control.

The combat phase is where the action really heats up. Players can choose from a variety of weapons, such as lasers, missiles, and torpedoes, to attack their opponents. Each weapon has its own unique characteristics, such as range, damage, and accuracy. 

The game uses what I call a Chocolate, Vanilla, and Strawberry system of weapons and defenses. There are missiles, lasers, proton beams, and electron beams. I seem to recall neutron beams, but I think stole that from Starfire, another excellent game from the time period. Specific attacks are modified or negated by specific defenses which creates a wild dynamic where ships might have the WRONG type of firepower. As confusing as the terms are, there are only three or four so you can roll with it pretty easily. 

There is a damage control phase, where players can repair any damage their ship has sustained during combat. This phase is vital, as a damaged ship is less effective in combat and can be destroyed more easily. Players can repair damage to their ship's hull, engines, weapons, and defenses, but doing so requires time and rolls against the DRC rating of the ship. It is far less complex than StarFleet Battles and can be adapted to be more Traveller-like by ignoring the DRC for some aspects and allowing characters to use their new starship skills to get stuff done. I wouldn't suggest making every repair a character skill roll, but the nugget of the idea is there. 

I play StarFleet Battles, so I can't call this set complex or deep, but it has Basic and Advanced rules can get new players going with minimal fuss. Was I to stop the review here, the boardgame rules are stand-alone and would get 5 of five stars. 

You'll notice that I gave this set 3 stars. That is because the integration with Alpha Dawn sucks. In Alpha Dawn, we left the characters with 3 PSAs with a max of 6 ranks. Knight Hawks throws in 4 more Star Ship Skills which are not PSA, but dependent on PSA. And require them to be nearly maxed out. 


On day one of purchasing the box set, you are months away from having your old characters gain the necessary skills to use this set. That's garbage. What does firing a gyrojet weapon at a tank have to do with lobbing a giga-ton nuke at a ship in orbit? Driving a car is related to jumping a spaceship? No. That shouldn't be a thing. 

I could explain the way I handle this hitch, but instead, I will ding this set 3 stars and allow you to engage with your players as you see fit. I WILL give this set one additional star for adding more vehicles and space combat into the mix while resolving the chronic "First World Star Frontiers Problem". 

What I call the First World Star Frontiers Problem is a lack of creativity in the creation of modules. It is really a problem of having too many options or possibilities available in the rules and settings hampering an author's ability to create an engaging scenario. Virtually all of the modules lay out a scenario, then strip the players of some or all of their weapons and kit. That is a systemic railroad if I ever saw one. 

Don't do that to your players, do anything else. 

Knight Hawks actually fixes this problem as even lifeboats have guns and ammo, tools are weapons and the ship is a flying storehouse. Giving the characters a massive starship basically means if they lose their gear, they go back to the ship and gun the f--- up, and come back with a vengeance. This is a better playing experience than losing it all and coming back from nothing. Half of the game is shopping for kit or designing spaceships. Why bother striping gear for every pre-packaged adventure? 

In conclusion, Star Frontiers Knight Hawks is an adequate expansion that adds a new dimension to the already good Star Frontiers RPG. The ship-to-ship battles are engaging and challenging, requiring players to think strategically and use their resources wisely. While the system may be overwhelming at first, the rewards are well worth the effort. If you're a fan of science fiction and role-playing games both halves of this system are for you. 

You can pick up a copy on DriveThruRPG either in PDF or Print. Either is very nice and the two boxed sets are combined together, so it's just one purchase. Personally, I would buy the combo PDF and Print set so you can print off as many of the map pieces and counters as you like. Star Frontiers has really nice counters and starship deckplans. 

Monday, June 14, 2021

Science Phenomena to Pump Up Game Play

I am always a big fan of having realistic details of what is happening around my players to bring them into whatever world they are in. Each of these items is based on real-world technologies and phenomena. 

Real lasers are silent unless they hit something. But the power supplies are not. They can sound like a hammer on a metal garbage can. This applies to medical lasers. Talk about making a trip to the auto-doc scary. 

Industrial cutting and etching lasers are also loud, but more like a leaf blower because the beam is close to continuous. Again, it is the power supply and the drive required to move it around that is making the sound. This also ties into fashion. Characters messing with realistic lasers should always have goggles. If the tech level is high enough protective contact lenses would work nicely, too. 

Sun Outages can drive plot points. When a satellite delivering information to a ground station passes in front of the sun the information gets garbled. The ground station loses its a connection because the sun is such a powerful source of radiation. In the real world, this happens to cable TV satellites in the spring and fall. This is a consequence of their orbit's aligning Earth's tilt. For a week or so, the satellite's signal is garbled for about 10 minutes at a time. It can be described as sparkles, pixelated or fuzzy pictures, picture freezing, audio distortions, or even a total loss of the channel. 

Since these satellites are in high Earth orbit it only happens once a day. If the satellite was in a lower orbit, it would happen several times a day based on the period of the orbit. This is great for plots involving a bit of mystery on a semi-regular basis, say every 40 minutes but the duration would be much lower, as in a few seconds. 

Vacuum cementing is another phenomenon that can either stymie players or give them a power stunt. Two pieces of material will stick together in a hard vacuum as if welded or cemented together just by touching them together. This is a good way to force repairs using little-used skills to free moving parts. Alternatively, it can be used to add protective surfaces to objects to prevent or repair the damage with little or no skill and can use junk as a resource. Astronauts on the moon noticed this happened even to dust. 

By the way, lunar dust smells like spent gunpowder or cooked meat, which can be an interesting detail to freak out the players. Why this smell (and taste) occurs is a mystery today. It is transient. Lunar dust doesn't smell like anything on Earth. It could be the release of charged particles or a quick, short-term chemical reaction with water or oxygen. No one knows how or why it happens.  

I call another trick "Zinc-Clink". Zinc oxide sensors are used to measure the amount of oxygen around a sensor. If a sensor system gets some other material on it, say soot, it will believe there is no oxygen in the area and refuse to open the door. Again, players will have to resort to little-used or differently used skills to fix the problem. Say Vacc-suit or electronics. It's a handy way to slow the action down or pump up the drama because a hatch or door is misbehaving. 

In space missions, these zinc oxide sensors are used to detect damaging oxygen around the sensor, which is counterintuitive. Oxygen in space is bad for some equipment. 

I am also a fan of the idea of the Decadal Survey to land really sophisticated machinery in a small nook in the ship. In real life, the Decadal Survey is conducted once every 10 years and asks scientists to come up with very broad science questions to research. In ship terms, these research projects could place new sensors, small power supplies, and/or radios which are separate from the ship's normal operations. Think of it as an emergency lifeline for strange happenings on the ship. The crew would be versed in maintenance functions, so the equipment which is somewhat a "black box" would be understandable to the crew. 

One of the more interesting types of research could be atmospheric aerosol tracking, which could enable a ship to use an alternative method to track other ships. GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) was a mission to look for gravitational anomalies (dense, heavy items) on the Earth's surface. In a sci-fi setting, it could locate shipwrecks, crashes, and other hidden items under the surface of a planet while also creating great maps. 

Don't forget to put the "science" in science fiction. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Saving the Serena Dawn with Heavy Canon

 In the Star Frontiers System, canon says there is no artificial gravity. All deckplans are laid out in stacks of decks where the engines are down. When thrust is applied, the ship has gravity by virtue of thrust. 

Enter the Serena Dawn, the first ship the characters travel on in SF0 - Crash on Volturnus. Crash on Volturnus is a classic module with one canonical flaw. The deckplan requires artificial gravity. 

I used Inkscape to rough up a copy of the map. The light green areas are the bridge, purple are the engines. Early in the mission, the power goes dead, so you can't even say that having the engines pointing downwards out the bottom of this map helps. 

It's a pretty big flaw. Maybe... maybe not. I love the Serena Dawn and I have a simple solution to fix it within canon. 

I roughed out a side view of the ship. 

Obviously, this is just the regular map projected sideways. Even adding details like the higher roof on the storage bay (blue-gray), the computer room (yellowish-brown), projecting the life pod (yellow) and the engines (purple) don't help. 

Or does it? 

What if the Serena Dawn is a Tumbling Pigeon ship? It rotates to create artificial gravity. There is an issue with this. The ship is 38 meters wide by 14 meters tall by 62 meters long. And it's shaped like a brick. 

Buuuuuut. What if this is just one deck. We are told there are observation domes, rec rooms, 1st class and fuel someplace off the map. I didn't extend the map of this deck by enough to show all of this. It also creates a problem where there is no shuttle bay mention and the ship doesn't look aerodynamic enough to land. So how does this help? 

Behold, the whole of the Serena Dawn! 

Oh, that makes a difference! 

The Serena Dawn is a tether ship. In order to have gravity without power or thrust, the whole ship revolves. No power, no problem! So if the engines are on the bottom of each deck, how does it thrust? 

That tether is out of scale. By a lot. The indivual decks pull themselves up the tether to the center point, apply thrust in one direction and as the ship stops thrusting the decks lower themselves down each end of the tether. When they reach the end, they apply thrust sideways at either end to spin for gravity. 

One last problem to fix. How do the characters get off the ship and land on the planet? There are no shuttles and no capacity to land. Except one. Each side of the ship has a stack of decks. When they arrive at the planet, the bottom most deck is released. It's whipped away to the planet by the rotational speed being translated to a straight line by letting go of the tether. The engines point down to give some deceleration, but it would probably use screens to aerobrake. It would be hard on the screens, so I would think they would be one time use. 

The whole deck enters the atmosphere as a unit and serves as a base. Assuming the deck as lander can't get off the planet again, it has the yellow escape pods that can boost the characters back to orbit for pick up. Or an Assault Scout picks them up. Either way, the puzzle of the Serena Dawn has been solved, with heavy canon. 

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn Review - 40 Year Update

Title: Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Author: TSR Staff
Year: 1982
Pages: Basic book, 20 pages. Expanded book, 64 pages. SF0, 32 pages.
Number of players: 4-8
Rating: ★★★

Star Frontiers could be called "TSR's game not based on D&D." Chances are this was one game you played when not playing D&D. If were a glutton for punishment, it could also be the game you played when not playing Traveller. 

The main problem with Star Frontiers is, it isn't D&D or Traveller. The secondary problem is, it isn't a tactical game or a board game either. Shockingly, it has elements of all 4 genres. 

Mind blow? 

Yeah. Me, too. 

This tiny box packs in all of the complexity of a multi-book game engine like Traveller or any edition of D&D squished into 116 pages. However, it isn't like either of those. Its system is 1d100 based. It has levels but only 1-6 and no classes. Plus aliens. Real aliens. 

Where Star Frontiers deviates from D&D the most and hugs Traveller the most is your characters are complex and fully formed from the get-go. You are never a knock-kneed dude in robes hoping someone won't blast you into next year because you don't know anything. Like Traveller, you're marketable from day one. That's important later. 

With this first set, you have 4 playable races, Dralasites, Humans, Vrusk, and Yazirians, and one NPC race called the Sathar. Each character has pairs of attributes: Strength and Stamina, Dexterity and Reaction Speed, Intuition and Logic, Personality, and Leadership. These skills are "rockable" meaning you can steal a bit of Strength for Stamina, Dexterity for Reaction Speed and so on. You cannot swap Leadership for Strength. 

This game has no classes per se. It has 3 PSA skill groups Military, Biosocial, and Technological. Each character selects one skill from one group and a secondary skill from a second group. Due to this combining of two wildly different skill sets, no two characters are really the same. Another twist on the rules is they assume every character will use a weapon, even if unskilled in weapon use. Firepower is a great equalizer. 

"Level" is equally odd, there are 6 levels of skill for every skill, and your character doesn't really have a level at all. "Level" is answering "What is the highest level skill you have?" A new character and an old one can basically stand shoulder to shoulder. 

This game is in a boxed set with 3 booklets, a two-part map, counters, and a cover/map for the module SF0. 

The first booklet is the 20-page basic game. It's a module in its own right and teaches players how to play on the map with the counters. While it may seem like an underwhelming first-game session, it is specifically designed to march the players through every rule in the Expanded book. At least in short form. You can expect at least one person from the party to be able to shoot, throw a grenade, hack devices, drive an array of vehicles, do medicine, heal, etc. 

The expanded book does just that, expands on gameplay. The rules #1 oddity is the game is meant to be the theater of the mind, which makes the map and counters rather secondary unless you want to make your own maps. Within the expanded rules is a monsters section, where a couple of typical alien creatures are given and rules to modify or create whole new monsters/aliens are nicely integrated with the character skills. This system is very cool and powerful. 

Rules for vehicles and robots are equally nicely spelled out and are designed to go hand and hand with your character's abilities as are tactics and movement. Even though you are limited to a handful of skills, the system is really robust because there is usually more than one way to progress. 

For completeness, the module SF0 Crash on Volturnus continues the complexity and expands (then contracts) the world around the players. Once your players have gone through this module, they will clearly understand the concept of "Talk First/Shoot Second", a detail only hinted at in the Basic and Expanded rules. 

For 116 pages, the rules are tight and feel well planned. The presentation is wonderful, on par with anything at the time, and perhaps taking a jump forward with the nice maps and counters. Oddly, space combat and ship construction were left out, probably due to space constraints.  

The game system is very inventive, but without continuing support from TSR there the game feels lacking in many regards. The specialty of this set of rules is the home brew campaign which is very doable, which is a good thing because that's all we got after the second boxed set. Back in the day, the two modules based on the films 2001 and 2010 felt odd and out of place in a space opera setting, but that should have been a clue as to how robust the system was when playing out homebrew stuff. 

Many systems when viewed in hindsight have a dated feel where it is a product of its own age. This set suffers this in spades. It's not like D&D or Traveller, where it was reimagined over and over again to keep up with the times. We are forever holding out for Han, Duke, and 3rd Imperium that never came. There are no psionics, no Force, no magic, no sentient killer robots, no cybernetics or the internet. Computers tend to zig-zag from the mighty talking machines capable of full thought, but can't be removed from the 15 rooms they reside in which makes them ignoreable.   

Many times, I have totally ditched the background and acted out scenarios from the Stainless Steel Rat series, Star Wars, and Aliens in this system. It actually gives a good accounting of itself. While I rated it three stars, remember this is three modern stars. As flawed as the support was, the rule still shines. 

Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
At DriveThruRPG
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn at DrivethruRPG

I recently picked up the print copy from DriveThruRPG. The printing is excellent and the binding looks sharp and clean.  

The Basic Rules, Expanded Rules, SF-0, plus the maps and counters are all printed within the same book. These are unmodified copies of the originals. The whole thing runs about 200 pages.

The contents/index is in that classic OSR blue while the maps nicely have a border that can allow you to scan. Theoretically, you could cut them out, but I wouldn't want to damage the book like that. Of course, DriveThruRPG saves you the trouble by offering a PDF/Print combo. 

I'm working on a review of the Knight Hawks set from DriveThruRPG and then hope to return to classic ORS D&D themed posts for a while. Sometimes, I get stuck in a rut with Sci-Fi and can't stop myself. 

I can't believe that 2022 marks 40 years of Star Frontiers. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Episode 002 - I Chose Poorly and De Ut Des

This episode has a format change base on feedback I've received. I have a new sponsor, Anchor.FM and the format now supports the concept of sponsors. I also have some new music so let's all give thanks to Kevin MacLeod at for the following tracks:

Evening Fall (Piano) and
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

In this episode, I reminisce about 4 games: D&D, Star Frontiers, Gemstone IV and Traveller.  I cover 35+ years of gaming experiences in one podcast. Part of the reason I have been offline for so long was a mash up of getting my lesson plans online for students, my classes at Buffalo State suddenly switching to an online format and the associate PITA from taking finals online.

I hope this format works better than Episode 001 and 000's. It was a pain to record, mostly owing to my new Podcat, Shinobu. She's cute even as she climbs the cables.

Now on to the episode!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Title: Crash on Volturnus
Code: SF-0
Author: Mark Acres, Tom Moldvay with Doug Niles
Rule Set: Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Year: 1982
Pages: 30
Number of characters: 4-8
Levels: 1
Rating: ★★★★★

Crash on Volturnus is one of my favorite modules. The player start of as passengers on the Sierra Dawn, where they first encounter trouble en route to Volturnus. After an epic battle and escape, players move on to phase two, an incredible hex crawl on the planet of Volturnus culminating in a final(?) battle with the pirate forces on the planet. Aided by the local inhabitants of the planet, surely the players will win the day.

This module was released with the Alpha Dawn rules set and to my knowledge, was not released independently of that set. I received my set of Alpha Dawn rules peice meal and ended up with two copies of the module. The whole boxed set includes giant maps and wonderful counters, which makes SF-0 a snap to play.

Crash on Volturnus is the first module in the series and was followed up by SF-1 and SF-2. The other SF series modules are unrelated, but are valuable as they are set up for characters to continue their adventures in new settings. The series was also brought back to life by the Endless Quest book Villains of Volturnus in 1983. It was published in relatively short time frame making the series rock solid in game play and feel.

Having played SF-0 several times, there are few game breakers built in to the scenario. First, when the escape pod crashes, the characters only have time to get the survival packs. Several of my players started out with standard equipment packs and used the coveralls as a makeshift backpack tied across their chests before seating themselves. Since the equipment was attached to them, I couldn't justify taking it. The players also started with 4 medical kits, which made them neigh unstoppable in combat. They kept pulling back to heal. Of course, these were the same players who tied their equipment to their chests. I kept running them against random encounters to try to eat up resources, but that was unfulfilling. Eventually, I figured I'd let them run in god-mode and kill everything and everyone. Many of the challenges they faced were thinking scenarios and not fighting scenarios, so it really didn't change the outcome. 

All and all, I found this one module to be the best of the best for Star Frontiers. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

The whole shebang is available over on DriveThruRPG.

Alpha Dawn with SF-0
SF-1 Volturnus, Planet of Mystery
and SF-2 Starspawn of Volturnus