New Review of an Old Book.

One thing I’ve always found fascinating about this game is the Basic Rules waste no time jumping right into the action. Here’s the basic races. You’re an adventurer in space. Here’s attributes and how they work. Here’s how to shoot stuff and drive land vehicles. Have at it. It’s a beautifully short, uncomplicated, and gets right into why many of us buy RPGs- fun!


Welcome back to the Frontier!

I recently acquired the reprint copies of Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn, Star Frontiers Knight Hawks Expansion, and Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space. They even still have the old T$R logo on the binding. How cool is that?

Yeah, I get pretty geeked about these things.

I’ve been listening a lot more to Tom Verrault’s Star Frontiers Gamer on YouTube. He’s gotten me interested in this old, classic RPG of yesteryear. This game brings back a lot of good memories for me playing with a couple of friends in high school. I think Star Frontiers still has a lot of life in it for being a classic as well as an OSR (Old School Revival) game. I’m tentatively planning on introducing my kids to this game some day, but it may end up being a solo endeavor. Unless I can figure out a time and start a group, which… yeah.

Starting with Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn.

This game was originally a boxed set, back when T$R was putting all of their good stuff out as boxed games. (I.E: Marvel Superheroes, Top Secret S.I, B/X D&D, and Star Frontiers.) I still have my old boxed set minus the dice. The reprint comes as a softcover book and/or PDF from DriveThruRPG. You have to find your own d10/d00 dice. (But how easy is that? I mean they are special math rocks and all.)

One thing I’ve always found fascinating about this game is the Basic Rules waste no time jumping right into the action. Here’s the basic races. You’re an adventurer in space. Here’s attributes and how they work. Here’s how to shoot stuff and drive land vehicles. Have at it. It’s a beautifully short, uncomplicated, and gets right into why many of us buy RPGs- fun!

Beyond some basic equipment, a couple of short scenarios, the basic rules also explain how to design your own creatures and adventures. I always found this kind of odd when the Referee isn’t introduced until the Advanced Rules. It’s kind of an all-in gonzo affair in the Basic game. They give you a character sheet for this game, but even the advanced examples they give later on could fit on a hand written index card.

Alpha Dawn Expanded Rules.

The Expanded Rules are where we get to see more of what we think about when we see a modern RPG. This is where the real meat and bones of the setting lay. Here we get a lot more about “What is a Role Playing Game?” and info about what the various character races look like, etc. There’s a lot more about movement, weapons, equipment and a tiny bit about space travel.

One of the more critical components of the game is introduced in the Expanded rules. Skills are a good thing in any game for helping develop a character. Alpha Dawn said very little about Starship Skills, however. We get Military, Technological, and Biosocial skills. Pick one primary and one secondary skill. Don’t expect miracles in the early levels unless your dice roll especially low.

One thing I really love about this game is the simplicity of the dice. It doesn’t get much more basic that percentage numbers and a roll-under system. You usually either succeed or fail depending on the roll. There’s little ambiguity with the dice system for this game, leaving a lot of breadth to describe a character’s actions. Leveling skills is a bit tedious with this system, but liveable.

The Expanded Rules give us a bit about the setting for Star Frontiers. It’s vague enough for the Referee and/or enterprising third party writers to fill in many of the blanks and customize the game. It’s specific enough to get the Referee and group rolling with some rough-and-tumble space adventures.

One interesting note about the setting- there’s no Earth. Humans are evolved and highly skilled, but their homeworld isn’t Earth. There’s a Planetary Federation, but this ain’t Star Trek. Earth is speculated to have been the home of Gamma World in this setting, but I don’t think it was ever officially confirmed.

The “alien” beings in the setting aren’t warm and fuzzy by any means. The Dralasites, Vrusk, and Sathar are far from humanoid in the traditional sense. There’s also a D&D style collection of creatures, so we can travel to new planets and potentially be eaten by them. Woot!

The Expanded Rules include a really nice Referee section. It covers/expands on creature creation, world building, and adventure creation. There’s a short bit of basic advice on running a game here which is still solid even today. The adventure creation section, although brief, is also packed with a lot of good basic advice.

They give you everything from the boxed set except the dice.

There’s a really nice adventure with this book called, “SF-0 Crash on Volturnus.” The introductory adventure would go onto become the first in a series of modules for the game. It’s a good starting adventure. Authors included T$R luminaries, Tom Moldvay and Doug Niles. It’s a good starting adventure for starting Referees to really get their feet wet in the game system.

There’s a really nice reading list included in the game. Much like the one you see for D&D elsewhere, it’s got a lot of books to really get the reader into a sci-fi gaming mood. I also had to laugh because there are old ads for the RPGA, Dragon magazine, and Amazing Stories listed. Ah, nostalgia.

Overall, I give it 5 stars out of 5. I think a lot of modern games could take a page or two from Star Frontiers. It’s a good old school game that encourages a LOT of imagination on the part of all players and the Referee.

If anyone ever brings this game back officially, I hope they keep the flavor similar to this old game. It’s so open and easy to work with. If you didn’t have a specific creature or game mechanic? You just make it up. Good times.

Reviews of Knight Hawks and Zebulon’s Guide are in the works. I’m also working on a review of Paizo’s Book of the Dead for Pathfinder 2E so people don’t think I’m a stuffy old codger who only does OSR retro gaming. (LOL!)

Thank you for stopping by. Hope your week is going well. I appreciate you!

Author: Jeff Craigmile

I'm a tabletop role-playing game writer and designer from Des Moines, Iowa always looking for more work. I'm the father of four boys and human to three cats.

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