Rewind to Star Frontiers

I first saw Star Frontiers on the shelves of a Kay-Bee store in the Naugatuck Valley Mall. Neither the store chain nor the mall exist anymore. I remember being a bit confused as the box (the back cover I believe)  indicated it contained the "Expanded Rules". I assumed that meant there was a basic game I needed to get somewhere.

I eventually picked it up and discovered that, yes, that boxed set was all I needed.

So what was Star Frontiers? I guess you could say it was TSR's answer to GDW's Traveller RPG. It wrom the vaiouas a science fiction RPG set in "the Frontier", where the four main species of the region came together to form the United Planetary Federation (UPF). They were opposed by the vile Sathar, a worm-like alien race which was pretty much pure evil. They committed suicide rather than be captured and had a tendency to have spies from the various Frontier races. The Frontier was a loose alliance - a later adventure showcased a war breaking out between two planets in the Federation.

One thing that I really liked about Star Frontiers was the background, a least to my 12-year old self, seemed really neat. I still think it was pretty cool. Looking back, it had a strong classic science fiction feel to it - I remember the map that came with the original boxed set that just screamed golden age of science fiction with its hovercars and monorails. I still like the four main races of the game:

  • Humans - like us, but not from Earth
  • Yazirians - monkey-men with both hands and feet that could grip and a membrane between their arms and legs, allowing them to glide. Warriors.
  • Dralasite - Though multicellular, they looked for all the world like walking amoebas. Able to take different shapes (slowly, not talking superheroes), create additional limbs, etc. Love bad jokes and puns, giving opportunities for bad human comedians.
  • Vrusk - Something like a giant ant that is a bit like a centaur. Really odd things. Good businessmen.
The Frontier was a good place for adventure. There was the threat of piracy and Sathar invasion, Exploration - the opening adventure, Crash on Volturnas, had the characters going to explore the planet Volturnas, only to have their ship waylaid by pirates and the PCs to get away in an esape pod and crash in the middle of a desert.

The rules were... ok. Nothing wrong with them, just a basic percentile-dice based system. Characters had professions, but they basically just made it easier to buy and improve certain skills. I do remember relative to character stamina, weapons, especially non-powered ones , did very little damage.

TSR supported Star Frontiers pretty heavily for several years, eventually releasing a second boxed set to cover outer space combat, details about interstellar travel (the first set had a lot of handwaving and no rules for starship combat). 

Oddly, Star Frontiers is pretty easy to get digitally - just to a search for "Star Frontiers remastered". Even stranger, these digital copies are essentially legal. I was part of a Star Frontiers email group (run out of an Iowa State email address if I recall correctly) in the mid to late 90s, back in the era when TSR's digital presence seemed to be essentially dedicated to threatening anyone who used the term "hit point" online. Some people in the mailing list asked the TSR internet rep for permission to do a digital compilation of Star Frontiers - I forget the exact permission requested but essentially it was granted, much to everyone's surprise. It had a bunch of limits but apparently it was broad enough (likely unintentionally) to allow for these digital copies to be distributed. I seem to recall a number of attempts to have these copies taken down over a decade later and seeing that permission being sufficient protection (or at least a strong enough case to make the threat of a lawsuit have less teeth). 

You can still find elements of Star Frontiers pop up now and then. The various races got adapted for AD&D 2nd Edition's Spelljammer setting. The setting itself made a brief appearance in Wizard of the Coast's d20 Future. I played Star Frontiers quite a bit back in middle school and a little bit in high school. I'm curious to see if it ever makes an official reappearance. 

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