Star Frontiers!

Over the weekend I was introduced to Star Frontiers, TSR’s old pulp sci-fi adventure game.  My AD&D group has gotten back together and started this to try something new and different for a while. I’m pretty excited to be playing something that is rather different.

Gorgeous art from the Alpha Dawn book covers.

Gorgeous art from the Alpha Dawn book covers.

Something that was remarked upon when we did our sample combat was how different it played out from Dungeons & Dragons.  But was it really that different?  Sides roll initiative, and the side that loses moves while the side that wins gets to make ranged attacks; after ranged attacks are made, the winning side can move while the survivors on the losing side get to make ranged attacks in response; finally, the survivors of the side who won initiative get to make their melee attacks, followed by the survivors of the losing side making theirs.  That constitutes one round of combat.

Now, let’s look at how combat is supposed to play out in D&D:

A. Each side rolls for initiative (Id6).

B. The side that wins the initiative acts first (if simultaneous all actions are performed by each side at the same time):

  1. Morale checks, if needed (page B27).
  2. Movement per round, meleed opponents may only move defensively (spell casters may not move and cast spells).
  3. Missile fire combat:
    1. choose targets
    2. roll ld20 to hit; adjust result by Dexterity adjustment, range, cover, and magic
    3. DM rolls damage*
  4. Magic spells (roll saving throws, as needed: ld20).
  5. Melee or hand-to-hand combat:
    1. choose (or be attacked by) opponents
    2. roll ld20 to hit; adjust result by Strength adjustment and magic weapons
    3. DM rolls damage; adjust result by Strength adjustment and magic weapons

C.  The side with the next highest initiative acts second, and so on using the order given above, until all sides have completed melee.

D.  The DM handles any surrenders, retreats, etc. as they occur.

-(Moldvay, B24)

So, the only real change here is the pre-emptive missile/ranged fire, which is pretty neat.  Interestingly, the way it feels in play is that the winning side gets to ‘hold their action’ as is frequently employed in D&D, using that held action to lay down suppressive or covering fire; you have the advantage of knowing the enemy’s tactical placement and maneuvering before choosing how to respond.  The difference is, it’s built directly into the combat order.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this system will work out.  It uses percentile dice for just about everything, but dice are dice and target ranges are target ranges.  My human got some crappy rolls, but I’ve gotten more than used to playing characters with mediocre stats.  I’m playing a stun-stick wielding combat medic; he may not have payed much attention in med school but he’s decent at cracking skulls – probably why he’s working as part of a salvage team stationed on a frontier water world rather than in a prestigious hospital somewhere.

Our DM didn’t have much prepared for us, so we just took the time to get familiar with Char-gen and did some intro stuff before moving onto a pretty nutso game of Index Card D&D.

Just some of the craziness included:

-Getting stuck in a room made of tar and being attacked by a swarm of puppets

-A 30’ chainsaw that requires a strength check to even lift, does kickback damage and AOE to the rest of the party if they fail a saving throw.

-Crashing a Zamboni into a frozen lake.

-An overpowered sword from an overpowered optional boss.

-Lars the Sword Swallower, a 7 foot showman with a taste for enchanted swords.

*:As if you could convince players these days to let you roll their damage for them behind your screen!


9 responses to “Star Frontiers!

  1. I’ve been thinking about running 5e combat using a procedure like this one. I’ve never seen it in action before, which is the only reason I’m hesitant.

    I’ve heard enough old school players rail against the tyranny of individual initiative that I question it — but I don’t have the confidence to just -do- it.


    • I think it’s less clunky than one would imagine.
      All you need to do is roll one die for your monsters and have a player (it can change whenever) roll for the players. Most DMs do monsters on a single initiative anyway, even though you’re supposed to roll for each monster if you’re not doing initiative by side. Instead of calling out numbers and doing the countdown, just go around the table clockwise and have each player do their action. Really, when you think about it, that sounds like less of a clusterfuck than doing the whole “11… 10… 9… 8…, anybody on 7?” “I’m on 7, I attack-” “Wait, did you say 8? I go off on 8!” “Oh, hey, I rolled a 6 but forgot to add my dex bonus, I go off on 9.”

      • It does make a certain amount of sense, and it requires that players commit to an action (or a weapon, or whatever) from the beginning of the fight. Maybe I’ll talk to the DM who’s taking over from me and see if he’d be interested in giving it a go.

        Hell, it might be helpful in our library program games to keep everyone paying attention to what’s going on. :p


      • The Star Frontiers style initiative is a bit more complex and dynamic, because it essentially gives winning sides opportunities to react to one another, but it’s still less clunky than individual initiative. In fact, I don’t think I’m ever going to use individual initiative again, because I HATE doing the countdown :/

      • Among other benefits, you always know when the round’s over because everyone who was going to move has moved, everyone who was going to shoot or melee has shot or melee’d, and everyone who was going to cast has cast. Then you begin again.

        I like the simplification of time-keeping.


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