Friday, March 23, 2007

The SF Revival

In this case, SF stands for “Star Frontiers”, TSR’s entry into science fiction RPGs. The game originally came out in 1982, and there was a review of it in the first issue of Dragon magazine I ever read. This was back when Dragon was more about the hobby of RPGs as a whole, with a sprinkling of war gaming and other fun stuff, and less a mouthpiece for a single company.

The game itself was pretty good, and a lot of fun. It had a surprisingly hard-science foundation. I remember thinking that using acceleration to replicate gravity and shielding your ships from lasers with a cloud of water vapor to diffuse the beam were clever ideas. The races were surprisingly alien as well. Yes, everything had a recognizable face, but the dralasites, sentient ameboides capable of producing a number of limbs dependent only on the character’s stats, didn’t have to. The yazarians were like a cross between a baboon and a flying squirrel, but they were the only other humanoid race. The villains were giant slugs with arms and paddles called slathar, and the remaining PC race were insectoid-like centaurs called vrusk. Compared to most other sci-fi games, then or now, having half of the PC races be non-humanoid really makes Star Frontiers stand apart from the competition.

The feel of the game was perfect for reproducing the space opera of the 50s, 60s, and 70s. The setting was a sparsely settled frontier, the worlds loosely united in a mutual defense league, but multi-stellar mega-corps often wielded more power than governments. Computers straddled the line between the number-crunching tools of the 70s and the wonder makers of the 80s. The robotic rules were a lot of fun, and while you couldn’t play a robot yourself, you were certain to interact with them, or possibly even build a few of your own. (If you’ve ever seen the movie “Ice Pirates”, you might have a good idea how the robot rules were often used in Star Frontiers.) Combat was notorious for dragging on, however, due to the low levels of damage done by the weapons. Still, if your idea of good SF reading included the works of H. Beam Piper, Robert, Heinlein, or the Commonwealth stories of Alan Dean Foster, Star Frontiers was a good fit for your science fiction RPG needs.

And apparently still is! Bill Logan (aka CleanCutRogue on has “digitally remastered” the game. He’s taken the same rules, unchanged from their release a quarter of a century ago, and reformatted them to match the look and layout of modern RPGs. You can find the impressive results here. His efforts have spawned a small community of Star Frontiers revivalists who will soon be putting out the third issue of their monthly web magazine, The Star Frontiersman. If this is a game you have fond memories for, or one you haven’t yet had the chance to enjoy, I’d recommend giving these new “editions” a look. Also, be sure to check out the thread that started it all, and is still going strong, at

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