Thursday, February 12, 2015

Thorough Thursdays: STAR FRONTIERS

Prior to this post, I have only tagged Star Frontiers, the 1982, Science Fiction-Space Adventure Role Playing Game created by David 'Zeb' Cook and Lawrence Schick for TSR, seven times on this blog before this post.

I may have mentioned it briefly a few other times.

That's just wrong.

What to say about Star Frontiers?

Man oh man. This game. The red-headed stepchild of Science Fiction RPGs where I grew up. It was a love-hate thing for sure.

We played a lot of it, but the attention it received pales in comparison to other games such as Star Trek, Star Wars, Traveller, Space Opera (yes, Space Opera by FGU. Don't ask me how. Another Thorough Thursday perhaps), Cyberpunk 2020, even 2300 AD...yeah. Pretty much every Science Fiction game out there saw more play than this bugger, and that's a damn shame.

The game has something special about it, some sort of charm that is very difficult to pin down. Unfortunately, when compared to other games we were playing at the time, all it had going for it was that it was popular, and available, but that's about all that made it stand out to us, and that ain't much. Because of this, it was easily overshadowed.

Much like previous Thorough Thursdays celebrity guest DC HEROES, Star Frontiers faced some pretty tough competition, not the least of which was FASA's Star Trek, which I discovered, and had been playing for a year or so, before I ever saw Star Frontiers.

With the FASA game being pretty excellent, and me being a huge Star Trek fan, you can see what Star Frontiers was up against. It really never stood a chance.

In addition to its fierce, and largely unyielding competition, Star Frontiers had several elements working against it.

As I mentioned some time ago in a post about my first experience with Traveller, I expect certain things out of my Sci-Fi/Space Adventure RPGs. Among those things are interesting (and playable) alien species, starships and the ability to operate them, robots (playable if possible - otherwise at least purchasable and operable), cool ray guns, and neat technology like HUD equipped binoculars, wrist mounted computers, and the like.

Not every Science Fiction universe is going to have all of those things. Star Trek is notably robot light, for example.

Two problems with Star Frontiers that always stood in the way of it winning us over were a lack of solid spaceship rules, and the opinion that the aliens were, well, silly.

Star Frontiers painting by Jim Burns

I don't know why, but we never took the aliens of SF too seriously. Don't get me wrong, there are some very cool things about some of them (Dralasites in particular are pretty original for a player character Species), but somehow they just seemed cartoonish to a twelve year old, oh-so-serious me.

As far as the starship rules, we fudged things at first, but soon came up with our own rules for spacecraft that largely worked. When the Knight Hawks edition of the game came out, we weren't super impressed as I recall, and mixed what we did like into our homebrewed system (which for the life of me I can not remember at all just now).

The rule system is also a bit odd. While I am a fan of percentile skills to some extent (I like the aesthetic), SF's skills, if I am remembering this right, start at 100%, and are then modified by the situation's difficulty, and the PC's skill. I have this memory of that particular mechanic making things seem way too easy too quickly.

While it may not live among my top ten, it is definitely a game I have found memories of. Just because my group, and I didn't love it like we loved Star Trek, or even Space Opera, doesn't mean it wasn't fun to play.

I periodically trot it out from time to time, running ones-shots or very short campaigns, but as a full campaign game it just hasn't caught on with anyone I've played with in the last 25 years or so.

Barking Alien

Happy Birthday to Me! Today I am 46 years young. :)

A lot of Science Fiction Love on the Thorough Thursday posts, no? I hope you're enjoying them. Matter of fact, let me know how you like Thorough Thursdays in general. I'd appreciate the feedback.


  1. I think I enjoyed Star Frontiers mostly for the art, including the early Elmore red-head on the Alpha Dawn cover. But it had it good parts, including interesting technology like adjustable-power laser pistols and gyrojet rifles. And while goofy, I liked the alien races (especially the blog guys). But your'e right about it being eclipsed by Star Trek (which I was also getting into at the time) and the fact that it just wasn't Star Wars.

    1. I sometimes entertain the idea that if FASA had never published a Star Trek RPG, and West End Games had never gotten the license for Star Wars, we'd all be using Star Frontiers to run games set in those universes.

  2. Happy birthday!

    Science fiction is the biggest gap in my gaming past; I've played a lot of Shadowrun and a little bit of Traveller: The New Era and Rogue Trader but nothing else. Star Frontiers has always looked good to me because it seemed a bit more fun and silly than Traveller.

    1. Interesting. I can see that.

      For me, Science Fiction was, and is, my preferred gaming genre. Superheroes runs a close second. At a very young age I was reading a lot of SF books, and had read most of the well known classics by high school (Dune, Foundation, Ringworld, The Forever War - I was a very advanced reader).

      I played D&D because it was the first game out, and it was what was available, but what I wanted to play was Science Fiction.

      Star Frontiers was close, and so it saw some play (throughout it's various editions I'll have you know), but it wasn't exactly what I was looking for back then.

  3. Happy Birthday! I am enjoying the series and Science Fiction love is one of the things that make your blog different from a thousand other gaming blogs. Keep it coming!

    1. Thanks. The next one is big. For me at least.

  4. Happy Birthday! I LOVED Star Frontiers and have often wanted to get back into a game.

  5. Happy Birthday! I left a message for you at the A to Z Blog. Try entering your link to the list again. I'm not sure why you would have gotten the message you did.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    1. Thanks Arlee, I'll pop on over and try again. I appreciate it.