Thursday, August 4, 2016


There are certain types of games Adam 'Barking Alien' Dickstein does not do.

Certain styles of play, certain subject matter, that I deem too common place, too banal, too bourgeois.

I seek to create art, to ask the great philosophical questions on the nature of Humanity, the universe, and our place in it. 

Leave the murderhobo-ing to the philistines, the rabble...the D&D players. 

What is this you're going on about? Is that a beret? You're wearing a beret now?

Barkley my dear friend, you're just in time. I was going to regale my readership with a powerful retelling of one of my more deeply meaningful Science Fiction campaigns. A true tour de force really. 

Really? So, not this one instead?

What? What have you got there? Were you snooping around the steamer trunks in cargo bay 83 again. I demand you put that back at once!

Oh you demand do you? Well before I do that, maybe the fine folks out there would like to see it first.

You see ladies and gentlemen and whatever or whomever else is reading this, Adam was not always so focused on deeper motivations and higher goals for the PCs in the games he ran. Oh no. Back in 1983 for example, he was just as likely to run a bunch of sketchy con men, and trigger happy mercenaries tripping through space as the next fella. One particular campaign comes to mind and I just happen to have the notes right here.

Have you no shame?

Nope. And after this, neither will you.


Campaigns I Have Known
Proudly Presents...



This was the first and only truly long term campaign I ever ran using Star Frontiers. 

While several short campaigns came before and after it, as well as many dozens of one-shots, this campaign was my most successful Star Frontiers game by far. 

It differs from many of my other campaigns in several ways and looking back I can say that what worked, and what didn't, informed a good deal of my later design choices. At the same time there are things in this campaign that went over very well but by and large just aren't my thematic cup of tea and rarely saw extensive use in subsequent games.

Before I really get into it, the catalyst for this campaign was somewhat unusual. I would normally leave this kind of thing for Bonus Features at the end but as it relates to the games origins I think it's best it I tell this tale as a prologue...

A few nights after I'd finished reading the rules to Star Frontiers (Alpha Dawn - both the Basic and Expanded books), I had this crazy dream...

'My friend Chris D. and I were running through the warehouse district of some city I've never been to, or even seen before. We were being chased, and fired upon by unseen assailants. The shots sounded like gunfire, but caused small explosions and burns where they hit. 

At some point, we passed what I think was either an unmanned forklift, or a robot that looked like one. We decided to split up. I continued running as fast as I could, found my way blocked, then turned down a side alley of sorts.

The alley led out to the street/sidewalk. At the far end of the alley was a really cool, streamlined looking car. It was sort of like a black Lamborghini, but with no wheels. No, there weren't even spaces for wheels. Instead, these ski/pontoon/nacelle type things were resting on the ground. A butterfly door opened on the left side of the vehicle DeLorean style, and an occupant waved me in.

I jumped in the vehicle to see the driver (on the right - England style) was none other than my friend Martin L. He asked where Chris was, and I told him we had to split up. Martin nodded, and said we should be able to track him. As the door closed, the dashboard of the 'car' lit up, and looked as complicated as the 20th century space shuttle.

Suddenly I was viewing the vehicle from the outside in third person. It lifted off the ground about a meter, or two, the ski things retracted in to the underside of the chassis, and what I mistook for the rear headlights lit up with a bright, blue-white glow. Then, with dust and debris kicking up around the underside of the vehicle, it took off down the street like a shot, so fast I couldn't really see more than the glow of the aft 'jets'.'

Then I woke up.

I immediately got out of bed, grabbed a pencil, a notebook, and my sketchpad and devised this campaign.

Title: STAR FRONTIERS - Take The Credits and Run

System: Star Frontiers - Alpha Dawn (TSR) Basic, Expanded, and Some House Rules, 1982

Circa: 1983-1984. There were approximately two dozen sessions in this campaign, though possibly a little more. Most sessions were around 6-8 hours in length and run once every two weeks. It was alternated with other campaigns, and other things we had to do on weekends.

Player Base: The mainstays of the group were four male players, all about 14 years of age. As I've noted in past Campaigns I Have Known, we had guest stars who would pop in for a session, or two and then leave. This campaign saw at least a half dozen guest stars, mostly male and around the same age as the rest of the group. No one guest stayed for more than two sessions. 

Characters: I remember the names of the characters for once, but I hope I am remembering them correctly. It's been a very long time you see.

We had made some small changes to the Star Frontiers character generation system to facilitate the kinds of characters we were looking to play. I can't for the life of me remember what those changes were exactly, but they allowed for slightly more customization of the PCs. 

Franklin 'Frankie'  Freebooter , Con Artist (played by Chris D.)

Our story begins with Frankie Freebooter, a down and out career ne'er do well who grew up an orphan on the streets of Port Loren, sprawling capital city of the planet Gran Quivera. Frankie is a con man, a thief, and a generally shifty fellow looking for that big score that will enable him to leave Port Loren behind, and spend the rest of his life on a beach surrounded by pretty ladies, and drinks with tiny umbrellas.

Freebooter becomes mixed up in a crazy scheme involving two former U.I.A. military officers when he accidentally overhears them talking in a Port Loren night club. He believes them to be pirates trying to stash their ill-gotten gains, and he hopes to trick them out of their riches. To do so, he pretends to be a Tech Expert and Engineer looking for work, as he heard that the two of them needed someone with mechanical skills. 

Frankie possesses both Biosocial Skills of the Psycho-Social variety, and some Technological Skills of the Technician variety. In addition, some Stealth/Rogue Skills were added in to flesh him out. He is armed with a Laser Pistol, Smoke Bombs for quick getaways, and a type of Tangle Grenade that coats targets in sticky, web-like strands. 

Deep down, Frankie is not a bad guy, and after a while he becomes the glue that holds the team together. He has a soft spot for women (although he is also a terrible flirt), and kids, especially orphans.

Imagine Tom Hanks as a third-rate 'Slippery Jim' DiGriz, The Stainless Steel Rat.

Chow-Jung Astras , Mercenary, Former Space Force Marine (played by Aldrin A.)

A former Space Marine who served in the U.I.A. Space Forces, Chow-Jung Astras is one tough customer. The last survivor of an attack on his platoon by forces of the evil alien species known as The Sathar, Chow left the service after receiving a medal of honor, and a citation of valor. Seeing too many friends die has turned him off to the service, yet fighting is pretty much the only thing he's good at.

After working as a merc for a few years, Astras meets up with one of his few surviving friends, a pilot who he served with back in the Marines. The two devise a plan to recover a hidden treasure they learned about during their last tour together. 

Chow is well versed in the field of Military Skills, specializing in Weapons and Martial Arts. He knows a little bit about Demolitions, but not much. He wears a suit of powered armor, carries a Gyroject Pistol and a Gyrojet Rifle, and hides a Vibro-Knife in his boot.

At some point mid-way through the campaign, an explosion damages Astras right hand, and eye irreparably. He gets cybernetic replacements, which he pays to have enhanced slightly. The eye functions as a targeting scope, and can go infra-red, and night vision capable. His hand has a super-strong grip, but since only his hand was replaced he doesn't actually possess superhuman upper body strength. A punch from that hand, as it is reinforced with metal, is still pretty devastating.

Astras and Frankie don't get along at first, with Astras' gung-ho personality, and Freebooter's general cowardice clashing on several occasions. It was generally played for laughs, and the two players got along fine. They become a tight knit group by the end.

Picture a young Chow-Yun Fat playing Boba Fett.

Dano Darkfire,  Star Law Special Agent (played by Martin L. )

When rumors reached the halls of U.I.A. Special Intelligence that two former Space Force officers, a Space Marine (Astras), and a Pilot ( Graski ), were out to find a huge treasure trove of stolen goods, Star Law assigned Special Agent Dano Darkfire to the case.

Darkfire, going undercover as a Scout/Explorer type, made contact with Astras and Graski, promising to help them locate their big score for a cut. In truth, if the items were indeed stolen by space pirates as Star Law suspected, Darkfire's job was to confiscate the 'treasure', and arrest the two men for not reporting the information.

During the course of the campaign things get way more complicated, and the four members of this rag tag band save each others lives more times than they can each count. Plus, who the treasure belongs to, and why they want it becomes unclear as numerous other parties get into the mix.

Darkfire's skill set combines Biosocial Environment Skills, and Technological Computer Skills. He also has some Spy/Law Enforcement Skills that we though fit the character. He is equipped with a Laser Pistol, as well as some 'James Bond in the Future' gadgets. He has the Jet/Speeder Grav Car I mentioned in the prologue.

Darkfire is calm, cool, and collected - most of the time. The often crazed antics of the rest of the group drive him off the deep end, and he periodically looses his cool.

Think Retief, from Keith Laumer's series of the same name, crossed with Roger Moore's James Bond, and a touch of Kermit the Frog.

Graski, Yazirian, Male, Pilot, Former Space Force Naval Officer  (played by Joe C.)

Our only 'alien' PC was Graski (pronounced GRAAH-ski) Gra-Gorka, a Yazirian pilot who was born, and raised on a joint Human/Yazirian colony world. At some point Graski followed several Human friends when they joined the U.I.A. Space Force Navy. After several tours, including one were he lost a lot of his old compatriots, Graski left the service and joined up with a group of independent merchants.

During his last tour, Graski served with Chow-Jung Astras. Their Frigate, Fighter Squadron, and Marine Platoon were attacked by Sathar forces as the Space Force responded to a false distress call. The trap had always bothered Graski, and he made a copy of the sensor and communication reports which he continued to review and analyze even after he re-entered civilian life. 

Finally decrypting a portion of the Sathar communiques, he discovered the Sathar were using the system with the fake distress call to hid some kind of vast treasure trove. Contacting his old friend Astras, who had been honorably discharged himself, the two decided to meet at Port Loren to discuss going for the treasure. 

Graski is a skilled Pilot, a Technological Skill set we had to come up with ourselves, as Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn didn't really have any spaceship rules. Graski had some minor Technician and Weapons skills as well. He carried an Electro-Staff - part bo staff, part cattle-prod. 

Graski ship was a Millennium Falcon sized, Lighter Freighter/Free Trader type vessel. It looked kinda like this...

Graski was warm, gregarious, with a big bold personality, and an equally boisterous sense of humor. As noted below (Bonus Features) our Yazirians differed slightly and were a bit more fleshed out than those of Star Frontiers' early canon. 

Picture a Wookiee, crossed with a Flying Lemur, and a little John Belushi.

Guest Stars Included:

A Dralasite Bum living in the treasure vault.
A Human Bounty Hunter after Freebooter.
A Human Crime Boss/Kingpin type who Freebooter owed a gambling debt to.
A Human Space Pirate whose gang was after the treasure as well.
A neurotic Vrusk Customs Officer worried he was going to lose his job.
A Robot Doctor who would fix up the team whenever they were badly injured. 

Synopsis: While trying to lay low and avoid paying a gambling debt, scam artist and inept crook Franklin 'Frankie' Freebooter overhears a Yazirian and a Human talking about going after a treasure. As he sneaks over to hear more, the Yazirian says something about having to hire an Engineer or Technician. His Human friend seems none too thrilled by the prospect.

Freebooter passes himself off as an accomplished Tech Specialist, and schmoozes his way into a job. In addition to a cut of the profits, this gets Freebooter off world until things simmer down. 

Meanwhile, the group's meeting is being monitored by Star Law Special Intelligence Agent Dano Darkfire. Darkfire observes them until they depart the space port bar, and head for the landing bays and Graski's ship. Just then a team of Bounty Hunters attack the party. Graski and Astras assume they're pirates after the treasure. Freebooter thinks they're after him. Darkfire shows up to help them at the last minute, and after he tells them he's a Scout (well versed in survival on difficult Frontier worlds), the team decides to hire him, and take him with them.

What follows is a series of harrowing misadventures filled with criss-crosses, double-crosses, mistaken identities, slapstick comedy, and a heck of a lot of odd, off-beat characters all trying to find this mysterious treasure. Add in the actually capable and deadly alien Sathar and you've got one heck of a caper on your hands (or pseudopods or whatever). 

Between getting together and reaching their goal, the team took part in a variety of wild side adventures in order to maintain their ship, pay medical bills, get food and supplies, etc. 

The group eventually becomes a real team, treating each other like brothers. The treasure, at first thought to be the ill gotten gains from the Sathar's conquests, turns out to be an ancient, alien device of unknown origin. With the help of a demented Dralasite and a wise Eorna Elder, the PCs manage to implode the device so the Sathar (who have been studying it for years) can't use its power to destroy the U.I.A.. 

Although the group ends up marooned on a distant planet, they basically have everything they want or need. Good friends, good food, beautiful beaches, little umbrellas for their drinks, and a bunch of cool, attractive female space adventurers who (it just so happen) were marooned on the same planet a few years prior after being shot down by the Sathar and crash landing on the world of the relic.

The universe holds many mysteries. 

Some are best left unanswered.

Appendix N: The inspirations for this campaign came from some unusual sources.

In addition to the Star Frontiers game, Star Trek, Star Wars, and dozens of other Science Fiction TV shows, movies, and books, a lot of the ideas for this originated with...

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World - Movie.

Take The Money and Run - The Woody Allen movie and the Steve Miller Band song.
The Brink's Job - Movie
The Gang That Couldn't Shoot Straight - Movie and Novel.
The Sting - Movie

While it would not come out for many years, the film The Three Kings (1999) also has some parallels to this campaign.

Bonus Features:

So many. OK...

If you'll notice, the names of the PCs are kind of corny, even for 14-15 year old boys in 1983. That's because none of these are the characters real names. It was an ongoing joke early in the campaign that none of the characters really trusted each other besides Astras and Graski. Each gave the other a false identity (again, except Graski. That's the character's real name). Freebooter didn't use his real name because he was on the run and being hounded by a crime boss (not to mention the local police). Darkfire didn't want anyone to know he was actually a secret agent there to catch them.

Thing is, we kept using the fake names for so long we never went back to their real names.

The explanation of how the treasure was first discovered and later confirmed and uncovered was a bit more complicated in the game. I simplified it above.

The scene in my dream did indeed happen in a session of the campaign, almost verbatim. The difference was Chris was playing Freebooter, Martin was playing Darkfire, but the POV character (me in my dream) was Astras.

Our Star Frontiers universe differs from the established canon:

In the canon, the interstellar government is called the United Planetary Federation, or UPF..

In ours it's the United Interplanetary Alliance or U.I.A. 

First contact with the Yazirians was made by Prof. Muhammad Ahmed Yazir. The Yazirians refer to themselves as the Chuda'wok. Their governing body is the Chuda'wok Imperial Empire.

The Chuda'wok told us about another species, an insectoid race known as the Vrusk. Unfortunately, we were on the butt end of a Yazirian practical joke. Vrusk is a Chuda'wok word that means 'pest', and the species really hates being called that. They call themselves the Shi'Ti'Chee. Their government is the Shi'Ti'Chee Combine.

Humans, also known as Terrans, are from Terra, the center of the Terran Federation. Unlike in Star Frontiers canon where it is implied there is no Earth (a la' Star Wars), Humans in our story are indeed from the Sol system. 

Dralasites were a mysterious and rare species in our campaign. Their homeworld was unknown and they did not have a formal government representing them. They mostly lived in ghettos of large, mostly Human cities or in shanty towns on the outskirts of mixed species societies.

The fourth species in the United Interplanetary Alliance was the Eorna., a highly advanced dino-mammalian species that controlled the Eorna Republic. Eorna science and technology is somewhat further along than that of the other species in the U.I.A., particularly in certain fields. Most notably they excel in the areas of genetic engineering, longevity, and medical science.

FTL space travel is achieved by the Hyperwarp Drive, which combines elements of the Star Trek Warp Drive and the Hyperdrive of Star Wars. We used a similar concept in many of our Space Opera campaigns. 

The ancient device found in the Sathar's hidden 'vault' was the size of a small house. When destroyed by the PCs it imploded, creating a black hole like effect that sucked everything around it into the resulting singularity. This included the PCs.

They woke up on another planet, barely able to recognize the stars. Ancient ruins on the planet indicated that the device that teleported them was probably built by the same species.


That was a long one. Thanks for baring with me until the end. I could say a lot more about this campaign, and perhaps I will in the future (the future - get it? Ah, you got it), but for now I need to get some rest.

Questions, comments, and general conversations are always welcome.

Coming up...Giant Robots.

Barking Alien


  1. "Think Retief, from Keith Laumer's series of the same name, crossed with Roger Moore's James Bond, and a touch of Kermit the Frog."

    -I'm having trouble thinking of that as a coherent whole but I bet it was damned entertaining!

  2. Oh and Dralasites! So much fun with a creative player!If I had to pick one thing from this game to transplant it would probably be them. The art in the game really helped to capture the spirit I think.