This latest debacle over Star Frontiers: New Genesis is just eating at me.
I probably get called a lot of names. I get it. There are people who don’t like me for supporting LGBTQIA++, Jewish rights, Muslim rights, Asian rights, Black rights, Native Americans, and human rights in general. I’m also a big fan of the Constitution of the United States. The First and Second Amendments are pretty important to keeping the rest together.
I know a lot of people probably keep saying, “It’s just a game. ”
Why are we getting so bent out of shape over it? Simple. The Role Playing Game sphere is constantly expanding. Dungeons & Dragons is the game that opened the gate to all kinds of other RPGs. One really bad game published under the banner of the company that originally created D&D could ruin it for all of us.
It’s not “just a game” when people (at NuTSR) are using it to spread hate and fear. Role Playing Games aren’t supposed to be a platform for politics, spreading hate, encouraging real world violence, or any of the other negative crap. It’s about friends, snacks, rolling dice and FUN.
This “New Genesis” sure as heck isn’t your dad’s Star Frontiers.
As Tom (@jedion357 ) reminded me on Twitter, original Star Frontiers was a fabulous old school RPG that contained no racist nonsense. No, not all characters were created equal. Bad rolls meant less favorable stats just like good ol’ D&D. Your choice of species did affect your character, but the negatives were offset by positives. This kind of game balance was common in the 1980’s. It was simply a game mechanic with no malice attached.
Back then, we just wanted to play games and have fun.
I know I’ve said it before. “Old Grognard” is not synonymous with hateful attitudes and behavior. We’re not all trapped in a broken, old, warped mentality. Obviously some people are, but I truly feel the number of good OG’s outnumber the rest.
I dug up a bunch of my old Star Frontiers and Gamma World characters recently. We didn’t necessarily attach a lot of deep meaning to these characters back then. Somebody died in combat? Oops. Introducing the new guy at the next opportunity. Ship crashed? New crew next session.
Being a Dralasite or a Yazirian in Star Frontiers was just an added bonus of not being a stock human character. Okay, you came from an “alien” world and maybe you have a backstory that’s two paragraphs long instead of one. Heck, I have characters with a couple of lines of backstory.
Pick up games around home and at conventions lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to four or five hours. (Just like D&D.) Our characters explored strange new worlds, hauled freaky cargo, met bizarre aliens, and brought in just enough Credits to keep our ship running another week. Good times. There was no deep philosophical or political intrigue.
The old Star Frontiers Games was a blast to play. Still is.
Part of why certain facets of the Old School Rules (Renaissance) movement are so popular is their loveable simplicity. D&D is a prime example of this. We didn’t used to have a separate sub class with tons of spiffy features for every character in the game. The designers left a lot of things blank because they didn’t have a comparison like they do now.
Star Frontiers is much the same way. There were no other games quite like it at the time. It was breaking new ground in much the same way D&D and Marvel Superheroes did. Top Secret S.I. another T$R property back in the day, was really one of the first games of its kind. These games were written in the vernacular and sometimes prejudiced attitudes of the time.
I keep coming back to this Wizards of the Coast disclaimer on DriveThruRPG:
The simple anthropological, sociological, and historical facts are we grew out of these old ways of thinking. We continue to grow and evolve with each passing year. I’m not endorsing the old way of doing things. All I’m saying is, many of us never stopped to think there was an even more enlightened world view to have at the time. We were wrong then, but people can change for the better.
Is using an example of racism, slavery, societal bias, sexism, etc okay within the confines of a game to illustrate a point?
That’s a tough question many of us struggle with. Truthfully, I think if the group has a Session Zero and it’s established that maybe some controversial subjects might come up and it’s okay then great. No, I’ll never endorse Player Characters owning slaves or having bigoted attitudes. But if the group undertakes a crusade to go free some slaves from a wealthy landowner? I think that’s acceptable.
Straight-up evil characters tend to get confiscated at my table even now. I’m not okay with players enacting any kind of sick, racist, homophobic attitudes out through the characters of any game. (Admittedly, I game with my kids, so…)
Those are my rules as a Game Master. My players are all aware of it ahead of time. Keep it relatively clean or else.
Let me give a couple of examples of things that are acceptable:
- A character has it in her backstory that Orc marauders killed her parents and took her siblings as captives. Should the player be able to say the character generally distrusts Orcs? Probably not unreasonable within the circumstances of the character. Maybe that’s why it’s called “character growth” when she learns to forgive and even like some orcs.
- The same character above, a Paladin and noble knight of the crown, later catches up to the marauders. Should she be allowed to slaughter every Orc in her path? Where will her loyalties lay? Again, lots of potential character growth.
- The characters are taken prisoner by a heavily matriarchal tribe of some remote village. The female characters are set free. The male characters are kept in chains. The tribe simply does not trust men and the male characters will have to act as indentured servants until the group either does something to prove their men worthy or they finally leave the village. Maybe the villagers experience some character growth. Maybe the PCs have to experience some character growth as well.
Space games in particular have a ton of potential as teaching tools.
Look at any episode of the Star Trek TV series and you’ll probably find at least one moral lesson being conveyed. The same can be said for many space games. Just because we’re fighting Cylons or clones doesn’t mean we can’t maybe slip a message about the nature of humanity in there. Space exploration games lend themselves even more toward moral lessons. The various Star Trek RPGs have both dropped many such messages in published adventures and homebrew games.
RPGs are excellent for showing younger players the types of behavior you would like them to emulate in the real world. Non-Player Characters can be portrayed as oppressed, discriminated-against or even hated in a specific situation only to be later rescued by the PCs. The young players have a golden opportunity to do the right thing and uphold freedom, justice, and truth in a fictional environment as we hope they do it the real world.
Let’s make RPGs about fun.
Not every game has to be about some super serious deep topic or moral lesson. If the Dungeon Crawl Classics players want to tear up a dungeon, bash things in the head and steal filthy amounts of loot? Let em. As long as it was agreed upon ahead of time.
If the starship crew in Star Frontiers wants to roam the galaxy in search of profitable cargo to haul? Let them. Make the game about their wanderings and people they meet instead of trying to save the galaxy from certain doom.
What we should not be doing, as a certain company recently proved, is roaming the galaxy, learning to hate for the sake of spite and malice because some game designer thought it would be funny to include “Negro” as a player race.
Please remember the Original Star Frontiers had no overt, intentional racist overtones or unkind messages.
The old Star Frontiers was about traveling through space, having adventures from one week to the next, and having fun doing it. Please forget this “NuTSR” abomination even exists and just order the reprints from DriveThruRPG if you have to. It’s better than putting money in the pockets of radical extremists, anyway.
Thank you as always for being here. Please be kind to everyone you meet as much as possible. There’s no room for hate on this planet if we ever want to advance. Take care. See you soon.