Saturday, February 19, 2011

I Need My Space - Part 2

Apparently, though comments have gone down, viewership over here at Barking Alien has gone up. For reasons unknown, I had something in the order of 46 page views at 3 am this morning. 3 am? Much as myself, I have to assume that a large part of those who enjoy reading this blog are nocturnal. Well, to the aliens from Pitch Black and Vampires I say welcome. Hope you enjoy the show.

In 1982 I discovered the Star Trek Role Playing Game by FASA during my first excursion to my FLGS. I was 13 years old. It changed my life. Basically.

I won't recount that tale just now as I have already covered it in the past but for those who don't know it it's a fun read if I do say so myself. You can check it out

Just a few months before finding the FASA Star Trek game a friend and I had purchased Villains & Vigilantes. Between the two games, D&D got pushed further and further aside in favor of exploring the final frontier and leaping tall buildings. Drudging through yet another dark, dank dungeon had lost its appeal.

Star Frontiers by TSR had also come out around this time and I did purchase it and play it fairly often. Unfortunately for SF, ST existed. Star Frontiers might've gotten more play if there was no Star Trek RPG but there was and it rocked.

Star Frontiers also suffered from a few handicaps. Its alien species were limited (only 3 PC species other than Humans) and came off as a bit silly. The mechanics of the game made actions feel too easy somehow. When compared to the 'Am I going to make it?" percentages of Star Trek, Star Frontiers made everything feel like it was a breeze. Not having my books in front of me I forget why that was. I seem to remember many skills starting at 100%, being brought down by difficulty levels/numbers and than you add percentile bonuses from your attributes. I remember one player having a 110% chance of doing something. I guess that's what all those football coaches are talking about when they ask you to give 110%. Who knew?

After about 82-83' it became 'a thing' for my group and I to experiment and try new games. We played a lot of Space Opera I recall (though for the life of me I'm not sure how. I looked at it again recently when James M. at GROGNARDIA was talking about it and I couldn't make heads or tails of the damn thing). Though the focus was primarily Sci-Fi and Superheroes, comedy games got their fair share of attention as well. For the most part, I wouldn't try or play many Fantasy games until the late 80's or even early 90's. We weren't rich, so we only tried games one guy or another in our group was willing to purchase and few of us were that into Fantasy. That changed a bit when our group expanded and many of my new friends had very different interests.

By 1988-89 the Science Fiction related games (other than Star Trek) I had played or run included...

Cyberpunk, FTL: 2448, Gamma World/Metamorphisis Alpha (we often combined these two), Mekton (love me some Giant Robots), Paranoia, Space Opera, Star Frontiers, Star Wars (WEG D6 and a lot of it!), Starships and Spacemen, Traveller (Gave it a second chance, loved it, still do), Traveller: 2300 (awesome Aliens, only an ok game) and probably a dozen more I don't recall.

When all was said and, who am I kidding. We never really stopped loving the idea of trying new games. Still and all, Star Trek, Star Wars and Traveller always won the popularity contests in the end.

Which brings me to an interesting observation that I've noted before but feel is very important...

For a good chunk of my time in the hobby of RPGs I've played Sci-Fi and Supers campaigns. These are games that often share a few key elements for me...

1. They are modern or future settings with a greater focus on or importance of laws than traditional Fantasy. Kill a guy, take his stuff, get in really big trouble.

2. The players are often law abiding or they are the law. Again, no killing enemies and taking their stuff. Not so much a rule from the GM, just not in genre unless you're playing the crooked cop.

3. Its not about stuff. Starfleet officers have stuff like Tricorders, Phasers, etc. I don't need your stuff. I got my own stuff. Superheroes don't need stuff. Some are richer than Richie Rich (Tony Stark, Bruce Wayne). For others, why take the bad guy's ray gun when I can shoot rays from my own eyes. End result, no culture of adventuring to gain treasure.

4. No (or rarely any) arguements over whose the leader. In Sci-Fi, the Captain is usually the leader. In Superheroes, whoever best fits the mission is leader. Going into space? Lead the way Silver Surfer-type guy and Green Lantern-type guy. Tracking down a serial killer? What do you think we should do Daredevil-type dube and Batgirl-lady?

5. Easier to explore the milieu when you have a homebase to go back to. For Sci-Fi its usually your ship or a space station. Why wait til '10th level' to have a castle. Start with one that flies around with you to each adventure local. For Supers its your headquarters. No roaming endlessly with no real purpose or sense of community. Side benefit: PCs care about NPCs because they see them all the time. They're part of the neighborhood. They become family.

I veered a bit too much toward talking about Superheroes in this installment then I wanted to but I have been playing both genres so long they often play off each other in my mind. That said, more differences between Sci-Fi and Fantasy (as I see them) in the next post.

Have a Great Weekend!

Barking Alien


  1. I've never been able to quite articulate why I loved the Star Frontiers setting so. Although, I will say that I think I only enjoyed FASA's Trek because it was Star Trek. I think.

    See, this is why I don't blog.

  2. Dude, that is perfect. No better or worse than me for certain.

    I too enjoyed the setting of Star Frontiers and yet when I go back look at it, I mean really look at it, I'm not entirely sure why.

    First, there hardly is a 'setting'. Its as close to generic Space Adventure as you can get, even though it somehow does contain its own unique or at least identifiable elements (aliens, certain weapons, the way robots are portrayed, etc.).

    Second, I thought the alien were a bit goofy and I wasn't overwhelmed by an of the other elements. Initially there were really no starships, cybernetics or psychic powers, all things I'd come to expect in my Sci-Fi.

    I liked (and still have a soft spot for) Star Frontiers but for no obvious reason. lol

  3. No comments or questions or anything gang?

    Hmmm...OK, responses to this series of posts have been light so I'm going to finish it up in another installment or two.

    After that we'll see where the wind takes me.

    Got a crazy theme month planned for March.

    Crazy I Tell You! I don't even care if no one reads it. I've been planning this one for a while. Muhuwahaha!

  4. Star frontiers had dralasites, the most fun alien race maybe ever.

    Im not sure how you played space opera either - I sus pect most gm's just made it up.

    I forgot about 2300! Interesting near-future background, interesting aliens, and gdw's third set of unique mechanics in as many games. I owned most of the line at one point, but traded it to some for miniatures after a few years of zero interest from my players.

  5. Don't panic about lack of comments, it doesn't mean people aren't reading and enjoying it!

    I missed most of the early SF games (except for FASA Trek, which no-one wanted to play but me :( ) and my sole earlier encounter with supers was Heroes Unlimited, about which the less said the better... I discovered Traveller, 2300 AD (as Traveller: 2300) and Space: 1889 later on - all GDW games with fine settings and awful (from my POV) mechanics! No wonder I spent so long in the GURPS ghetto... you could convert any setting to it, but there was still that 'we don't like GURPS' problem :(

    I should say that I loved 2300 AD's lack of a world government (even if the French were the superpower), something that's been a feature of every one of my homegrown sf settings since.

  6. Despite your reassurances, I'm gonna try and dig a little deeper!

    Certainly much of the support for Star Frontiers seemed to imply an intentional goofy undercurrent.

    I think one thing I was responding to was the illustrations of Jim Holloway and Larry Elmore! Contrasted with the Buck Rogers look of Easley or Truman's drawings, they had a weird plausibility to them.

    And yes Blacksteel, Dralasites are unimpeachable, in my opinion, although I understand why people may find them silly. Also, say it with me: VRUSK. That's a pretty evocative word, eh?

  7. Did you ever notice that every Vrusk is named Chi'Teek'Kik or T'Kik'likatak or something. How the heck can a clicking, hissing insect people say the word Vrusk?

    We decided that Humanity met the Yazirians first and they told us the insect people are called Vrusks. We were set up for a practical joke. Vrusk is a Yazirian word meaning 'Pest'.

  8. Heh, that suits me. Actually, I wouldn't mind hearing more about any Star Frontiers memories you've got.

    "Vrusk" could also be a weak approximation, like the Anglicized versions of Amerind tribal names. Vrusk can make buzzing noises too, recall, so maybe linguists would say "Vrusk" is more accurately rendered "vvRr'zzz'K" in human phonemes, or somesuch.

    Why yes, I am dusting off my Star Frontiers campaign notes, in fact...

  9. Zebulon's Frontier guide tried to add the dystopian cyberpunk elements to SF as I recall. Crooked Megacorps, Cybernetics, Genetech, Bioware, Fanatical Religions, Galactic Mercenary Wars, etc... And, of course, the infamous ACT! I kinda wonder where it woulda gone from there, myself.

    I totally agree that official Star Wars/Trek settings leeched off the SF fanbase. Many people back then(as now) jumped at the idea of playing in someone else's licensed(and often fairly developed) universe. Which can be fun, but toolkits, or even building form the ground up with your own equipment is easily just as entertaining and can be more meaningful, imo.

    Great retrospective so far!

    1. Now I suddenly have an idea to use Zebulon's Guide as a sourcebook for X-plorers or Project Darklight!