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Welcome back to Card Catalog here at Seize the GM! This time, I am taking the opportunity to talk about one of my favorite games that I rarely ever get to play and a literal game design Hall of Famer – Castle Falkenstein from R. Talsorian Games by Mike Pondsmith! Back in the heady days of the 1990s, Castle Falkenstein won The Best Roleplaying Rules Award in 1994 at Origins Game Fair and the Nigel Findley Memorial Award for Best Role PLaying Product of 1995. Mike Pondsmith himself, the creator of Mekton, Teenagers from Outer Space, Cyberpunk 2020 and Castle Falkenstein, is an Origins Award Hall of Fame member, inducted in 2006.  

Castle Falkenstein is demonstrative of its era in many ways, but it is also groundbreaking and pivotal in ways that many R. Talsorian games are.  Castle Falkenstein is a narrative focused game set in an alternate 1870. I have not covered a lot of narrative focused games, and I wanted to cover this exceptionally evocative game as a way to really get into the new year with a fresh start! In a trend from the late 1980s and the 1990s, the world of Castle Falkenstein is rich and fully realized with history and factions creating layers of complexity and an immersive feeling.  The tension between the world as presented and some of the dark shadows in the game world stem from the rise of the cyberpunk genre, with games like R. Talsorian’s Cyberpunk and FASA’s Shadowrun, through the World of Darkness series from White Wolf. Falkenstein broke new Steampunk ground, incorporated Live Action Role Playing potential with table top potential in a single book, and was also one of the major narrative focused games to balance rules structure with storytelling, or literary, concepts.

Moreover, the Castle Falkenstein Roleplaying Game is reflected in the setting’s story as The Great Game and the rule book is partially based around the idea that our point of view writer was making this Great Game available to the salons in New Europa to play “The Great Game”! While Steampunk has since become a common setting, Castle Falkenstein helped to popularize the genre as a game setting in the wake of The Difference Engine and Space 1889. You can see some of this setting’s enduring appeal in FASA’s recent 1879 game and setting! Honestly, after having a few days to once again immerse myself in New Europa with a battered old core rule book, I am off on a quest to get the supplements and send my mind back to the Victorian Era as it Should Have Been a bit more.

SYSTEM NOTES

Castle Falkenstein has a very limited set of rules with the greatest opportunity for narrative play, and is especially well suited to Live Action Role Playing! Each player has a Dramatic Persona (rather than a character) which include not only humans, but also the potential for fae which have coexisted with humans for thousands of years, dwarves who rejected their fae nature to be able to work metals, or dragons which are magically active pterosaurs that survived the fall of the dinosaurs.  You can already see how much fun we can have! In a world of steampowered victorian tech and spell casting dragons, there are few things left that the imagination cannot reach.

Your dramatic persona is defined, in statistical terms, mostly by defining what Abilities are not average.  The Abilities are rated in a hierarchy from Feeble[0], Poor[2], Average[4], Good[6], Great[8], Exceptional[10], and Extraordinary[12].  Each of these Abilities is listed with a relationship to one of the fours suits of a deck of playing cards, which becomes important in resolving the Heroic Feats described below. The book contains examples of archetypes or concepts that can be made, such as the Dashing Hussar, Consulting Detective, and Inventor, with examples of which abilities should be the primary for that purpose.  When making your character, you choose one ability to be Great, four to be Good, and one to be Poor. The rest, when not noted, are considered Average; a simple and elegant way to handle characters! As an example, a Diplomat character is suggested to have strong ratings for Connections, Education, and Perception.

Resolution of challenges is handled by use of a standard deck of playing cards.  Falkenstein is considered to be the game that actually popularized the use of a deck of cards, if not one of the first, for gaming purposes later copied with great acclaim by games such as Deadlands. You draw a card and add the value to your applicable attribute to see if you meet the difficulty rating assigned by the Host (GM) to your dramatic action.  After the Feat, you draw another card to replenish your hand to four cards. This is complicated, slightly, by the use of the suits of the deck to add to the effect of the draw. This is the Fortune Deck mechanic well suited to Victorian Steam Punk Derring Do!

The Host shuffles the deck and deals a hand of four cards to each of the players with the face value and suit both mattering.  For the purposes of Castle Falkenstein, a Jack is worth 11, a Queen 12, a King 13, and an Ace 14. Jokers have a value of 15 and may be any suit when played. When you attempt a Heroic Feat (an action that requires a test), the Host and Player determine what Ability forms the basis, defaulting to Average if not otherwise listed in the character Diary. The Player then chooses one of the Fortune cards in their hand to play and add to the value of the Ability being used.  If the suit of the card matches the Suit of the Ability required, they are totaled while if the suit of the card does not match, it counts only as a one. The suits are:

  • Hearts – Emotional and Romantic Activities
  • Diamonds – Mental and Intellectual Activities
  • Clubs – Physical Activities
  • Spades – Social and Status-related activities

The Host will then play a card or cards for the Feat and the resolution to the Feat is based on comparing those results ranging from a Fumble, a Failure, a Partial Success, a Full Success, to a High Success.  Simply beating the required number of the Difficulty plus Host’s Fortune Card is a partial success. It is only when you begin to beat it by time and a half you have a full success while doubling the difficulty results in a High Success.   

Every roleplaying game has a fair share of combat, even the ones that are geared more to social aspects like Castle Falkenstein.  This means that often the most rules and the most special rules revolve around that aspect of he game. For Castle Falkenstein, there are only two types of attacks – melee and ranged.  There is a range table where you can exceed the “Effective Range” for a slight penalty to your Feat and a how many Wounds are caused at each level of success. There is a similar table of damage for the melee weapons.  Combat is resolved by an Opposed Feat where the Combat Ability + Fortune Card is compared against the Athletics Ability + Fortune Card. If there is a fumble, the suit does have a special effect on how badly the attack goes, but generally it resolves as described above. Every Dramatic Persona has between 3 and 10 levels of Health based on the combination of their Courage and Physique Abilities so the grit and determination matters as much as the body’s resilience. This doesn’t touch the special rules just for dueling because of how integral dueling is to the world and the setting.  

Any game with magic(k) has special rules for magic(k). Castle Falkenstein has a set of rules that mirror the regular rules but provide their own flavor to the “Scholastic Sorcery” that is evoked in this Steam Age High Adventure Game.  Anyone, save Fae, may cast spell sif they learn how. The ABility Sorcery is the defining Ability and it is given the same weight as any other Ability. Once you have Good or better Sorcery, you can perceive the Etheric knots that make up the world and try to manipulate them through existing formula and rituals that are the spells of Castle Falkenstein. These spells are contained in ancient books and libraries that are controlled by Sorcerous orders.  To be a spellcaster, one must be a member of one of these orders which limits the spell availabilities and may cause some political entanglements. To cast a spell that you have access to knowing, you will need a second deck of cards – The Sorcery Deck. From this deck, you will draw cards when you begin “drawing” etheric energy to create the etheric knot or spell at a rate of one card every two minutes or so of game time. This deck is what will be used by opposing sorcerers if in the same region to reflect the limits on changing the fabric of reality.  The spell effect has a total amount required that is based on the spell itself as well as various modifiers based on the range, number of subjects affected, and other factors. You subtract the value of your Sorcery Attribute for the amount you need to draw. As you draw, just like the regular Feats, the amounts are totaled if of the suit required for the spell and count only as 1 if not of the suit required. The suits different associations for sorcery are generally:

  • Hearts  – Emotional and Mental Magick
  • Diamonds – Material Magick
  • Spades – Spiritual and Dimensional Magicks
  • Clubs – Elemental Magicks, which means the Western Four Elements

If you choose to play something other than a human, there are a few special rules or concerns for each option.  When we make those characters, we will go through them individually, but generally you have access to special powers through your Abilities not unlike many other Abilities.  

Overall, the system is a very flexible way to create a narrative game which blends both the literary ability of a Host with enough structure and crunch to feel like a the group is not left out there with little more than an improv prompt.  The way to resolve these conflicts and hoe the mechanics work very naturally flows from the setting and the feel that the game is attempting to evoke. Leaning into the literary conceits of the system, there are not really experience points in a way that other games would recognize them.  Instead, the Host is given a great deal of leeway to adjudge when characters have made improvements in their abilities. This is tracked through the recording of the characters actions and life in their Diary. Similarly to how dice are not used and instead playing cards fill the role of a roll, there are not character sheets in this game but instead character diaries in which one records the descriptions of one’s dramatic persona as well as their history as it goes on. The game mastering, or Hosting, sections spend a great deal of time working through the tropes and beats that occur in a Victorian Story and encouraging a heavily literary take on the adventures. For the dramatic personae presented in this Card Catalog, I will reproduce much of the initial diary in the Character Notes sections, but also upload a PDF with a bit of formatting to make it look more like a good Castle Falkenstein Diary should.

Setting Overview

A game designer in 1994 is spellnapped and finds himself in an alternate Victorian era where magic, steamtech, and literary characters all commingle in New Europa.  Inadvertently ending up as a secret agent for King Ludwig III of Bayerne against Count Otto von Bismark’s march towards unifying New Europa under his rule with the aid of the Unseelie Host of the Fae.  In Castle Falkenstein, the world is clearly more than we thought possible. Thousands of years of cohabiting with Faerie on this planet have left more than a few differences than you may be ready for but New Europa, and indeed the entire world are rife for adventure and exploration in The Great Game.

For thousands of years, humans have shared this planet with Faery, the formerly faery dwarves, and the dragons.  The world unfolded with the ability to harness magic and the Faerie’s Veil shaping imagination and to way the world would work leading up to the the modern world’s birth in 1870 when Count Otto von Bismark made the Prussian Reich known even as the Second Compact of Men, Dragons, Faery, and Dwarves beat him back at the Battle of Konigseig. Austria lay defeated even in victory, the paper tiger that it had become, and the spectacular aeronavy of Bayern was what turned the tide of the day against Prussian Land Fortresses.  A new age dawned that day.

In a world where Jules Verne has a canon the size of a small castle to protect France and Professor Moriarty threatens the deposits of the Bank of England, few Feats seem unachievable.  The industrial revolution brought about a host of modern miracles, and doubly so once the dwarven forges became automated, but intertwined with the Scholastic Magic that taps into the Etheric knots of power the world holds.  Steamtech and Babbage machines proliferated over the last decades as well creating newfound productivity and avenues for exploration … and exploitation.

While no Faerie since the Tuatha de Danu in the Nightfall War ten thousand years ago have accessed this Sorcery, their glamours and powers keep them apart and in many ways above the mere mortals who populate the Great Game between the empires and industrial barons of the 19th Century.  The faerie have been with us for thousands of years, and only through the First Compact and the legerdemain of Lord Auberon have the Unseelie held their glamours back and have we not been swept up as collateral damage in their own attempts to destroy the Seelie fae generally, or exact revenge on Lord Auberon with aplomb. Intermixing with humans ever since the Nightfall war from both the Tuatha de Danu and the Firbolg sides, the Faerie still encompass a host of types from the diminutive brownies to the dark Trolls.

The dwarves in their Dwarfholds continue to create in ways that only their souls can truly understand.  They gave up their faerie selves to work with metal and gave up their ethereal nature to bind themselves to the Earth.  This stands in contrast to the shape changing and flying dragons. Sorcerous and unique to this planet, unlike the faery, the Dragons long lives and ancestral memory combine with an innate ability to cast spells like no human has shown creates immense power that thankfully is rarely belligerent.  Escaping the fall of the dinosaurs through luck and magick has made these rare and powerful dragon lords seek wives to continue their line on and on.

It is this brave new world of 1870 that calls to you in Castle Falkenstein’s home of the Second Compact and the spirit of adventure and derring do must be met.

Cabaret Cygne Dore’

While Munich and Bayern hold most of the attention of New Europa, it is Paris where our story unfolds.  Napoleon III’s Second Empire continues to bring it’s beauty and modernization to the world. The beautiful city, the heart of Napoleon III’s Second Empire, and the home of the most glamorous life on New Eurpoa, is a sight. The Salons and Clubs of Paris have seen many a strange confluence, but as France tries to ready itself for the inevitable return of Prussian aggression, The Belle Epoque commences and Tout-Paris began their celebrations!

While many were struggling after the war, the nouveau riche and the expanding middle class of France under the technological leadership of Minister of Science Verne saw the rise of recreation and celebration in a fashion that would often put the staid British or formalistic Austrians to shame. The City of Light was ready for the new way of life with Baron Hussman’s architectural changes and redesign of the City.  The wide boulevards and parks were playthings to the middle and upper classes belying the commuter class pushed to the edges of the City that supplied the workforce needed. At once, Paris is both the richest and poorest city in the Second Empire.

Taking a cue from a youth, Rodolphe Solis, who came to Paris after the Prussian 1866 defeat, a new kind of entertainment has spring up – the Cabaret.  While Cynge Dore’ is not as rowdy or subversive as Solis’ Le Chat Noir nor as widely known amongst tourists and travellers as others, it holds sway over a fair share of the nouveau riche and provides a chance for the Tout-Paris to have the same nights out as the workers rarely seen save when they come to or from the dwarven maintained Metro for their daily toil.  There are numerous attendees on a regular basis, including a young chef named Escoffier recently back from deployment with the military, Monsieur Flaubert the novelist, and others but they are not who we turn our eyes to in this story. A rather unusual group has seemed to make Cygne Dore’ their home, between salons, Clubs, Bistros, and travel to be true, but they are remarkable in the last several months for just such a reason. It is, it seems, the genius of the cabaret that such a circle may find themselves acquaintances and perhaps even friends late in the night over absinthe and champagne in La Belle Epoque of the Second Empire.

Olga Petrovna
Expatriot of the Russian Empire and secret Footpad
01/01/19

The Madam Petrovna has been in Paris for several years and is known to have left the Russian Empire behind.  She has told the tale of alternately being a lost noble whose family fell from favor of the House of Romanov and also being a descendant of the first tsarista of Peter the Great hunted by the Russians to find her and end that line.  For all her brazen living in La Belle Epoque Paris, she seems to not want for money though she lacks the easy money of the nouveau riche. What few know, save perhaps her growing confidants at La Cygne Dore’, is her involvement with the World Crime Congress as a footpad and the amount of her money that comes at the expense of unlocked doors and questionable morals.

Anatole Clemenceau
Haunted Consulting Detective
01/08/19

Recently returned from the United States of America, having trained with the Pinkertons and aided Pres. Abraham Lincoln in establishing the United States Secret Service. The growing tension between the 20 Nations, the Bear Empire, and the United States had finally grown old and it had been a decade away – Anatole returned home to Paris.  It hadn’t been since his wife died that he had seen the City of Light. It hadn’t been since before the Prussian’s were rebuked by Bayernese Aeonavy dreadnaughts that he had seen New Europa. While the rest of the world held wonders, and friends, it was in Paris that he had to come back home. As a Consulting Detective, trained by Monsieur Dupin with connections across the globe, Anatole has a great number of clients who find his skills remarkable, when not dulled by the absinthe.   

Lord Kaornik Ladoni
Dragon Lord & Worried Father
01/15/19

The Second Empire has a long history with the Dragon Lords.  As you well know, there are two different and distinct dragon lords with which one must truck – those that rule the Dragon Lands in the South East Indochine and those that live in the mountains of New Europa in pockets of independence they protect against the great nation states of the Age.  Even an Empire must worry about a single dragon – no other creatures possess their connection to magic and their Sorcery seems not to follow the rules other Scholastic sources prefer. They are given a wide breadth for that and a great respect from the sheer wealth of their Collections. A decade ago, or so, Lord Ladoni left a wife in Paris with an endowment to birth and raise his latest child.  As custom went, he left the child with his mother to come of age before he returned. And yet now they are missing. The war delayed his return and once in Paris, it seems that they have disappeared. Engaging Anatole was but the first step while the time amongst the humans new ways has been its own seduction.

Mary Louise Barton
Daoine Sidhe Duelist
01/022/19

Not all fae seem to alight between the different temperaments.  Mary Louise falls heavily on the martial traditions that her forbears held – The Tuatha de Danu fought and how can a Daoine Sidhe do less regardless of whether she comes from one of the Tuatha or from other faery blood! Her grounded nature left the Fae Courts and frivolity a bit unsettling.  It was after the Battle of Konigseig that Lord Auberon himself recommended that she seek humans out for what she lacked and to get distance from growing feud with Lord Dracula. His own time with the humans and his son’s rather glowing description left her inspired … but little did either know she would end up in the City of Lights.  It was the perfect time for her to find bravos on the street and company across the city. Her lithe beauty and remarkable prowess with a dwarfsilver sword have earned her a fearsome reputation. In Cygne Dore’ , she realized that there were humans who felt as displaced from their world as she from hers and with Lord Dracula hounding her for his own sport and amusement, friends were good to have.  It wasn’t merely the Fae Veil that separated realities, and in the Cygne Dore’ she could come closer to sharing realities with her boon companions.

Louise Bergeret
French Mastermind and would-be radical
01/29/19
02/07/19

Even the enlightened Second Empire couldn’t always see how a woman may succeed.  Name’s highest achievements in academia were not a matter so much as her feminine form, and this drove her further.  These laws and rules stifled where humanity could go and what humanity could achieve. By edict of Napoleon III, the College de Sorbonne had accepted those females who showed scientific and artistic promise.  Louise took full advantage of such edict as hers is a mind that comes along only once every generation. She was forced from the Sorbonne as she was outstripping the noble scions of achievement and of their pride but it didn’t stop her mind.  She had already begun work in her apartment on CASH, and though she often spent her francs faster than she could earn them on this goal, the Clockwork Autonomous Simulacra Homunculus, or CASH, would show them all! Paris deserved it’s own leadership and it’s own egalitarian democratic socialist leadership! Napoleon’s own edict would be his downfall. The CASH would free the working people from their toil!

Castle Falkenstein, Steam Age, New Europa, and all characters and creations in the book are trademarks of R. Talsorian Games Inc. Castle Falkenstein is © Mike Pondsmith, 1994. Seize the GM is a fan work using the trademarked and copywritten components for noncommercial criticism, review, and explanation.  No claim of ownership is intended or implied.

Welcome to the Card Catalog series on Castle Falkenstein! If you have not read the round up of both the system and the setting herre on Seize the GM, please take a look here! With that out of the way, I will turn my attention to the write up of the first of our series of cabaret goers who end up embroiled in high and low adventures in New Europa! While it took a good bit of words to work through the system in the overview, there are very few “crunchy” choices to make regarding character design, so the Design Notes will be more narrative and the Character Notes will be treated as excerpts from the Dramatic Persona Diary in proper Falkenstein form!

DESIGN NOTES

Olga Petrovna is a character who elides between two worlds in my design.  She is first a footpad or common sneaky thief, but also finds a way into high society events and the Tout-Paris life in Belle Epoque Paris.  She has claimed to possibly be the descendant of the first Tsarina of Peter the Great and few have challenged her claims, especially when unsavory characters have occasionally tried to snuff her out.  

For the dramatic persona’s Abilities, you select one to be Great, four to be Good, and one to be Poor.  The rest are Average. You can create new Abilities besides those listed in the book, but for the Card Catalog purposes, I will stick with the examples listed.  Olga’s Great Ability is Stealth and her ability to be a sly and sneaky young woman in her footpad ways. As a way to assist in that, I will also provide a Good Athletics Ability.  When I look at the other side of her story, which may or may not be true, Good Social Graces and Charisma go a long way to convincing the upper crust of her story. Finally, Good Marksmanship is something that perhaps many won’t expect from her.  That said, she has little understanding of the human body when not in motion and her Physician Ability is Poor – do not ask her to bind a wound.

In creating a Dramatic Persona, you are also asked to think about a Virtue and Vice to help anchor your character.  Olga is very much a Curious person with the virtue of wanting to know answers, but this also plays into the darker vice as she sometimes has trouble keeping her hands off of other peoples goods as a Footpad.  Her personality is best described as Guarded and Secretive – her time in the Russian Empire between the secret police, the Leshye, and the World Crime Congress have left her somewhat reserved. In that vein, she likes the bright lights of Paris and the energy of a city that is alive at all hours and likes the way in which she and her friends may even criticize the Napoleon without an immediate response.  She finds quite a bit dreary, though, in having to look at so many bricks and not enough trees. She likes the food for sure but does dislike the hot rains compared to a good proper snow.

Dramatic Personas are centered around what they value and who they are aligned with, so the next section of character generation focuses on that.  For Olga, I am going to have her cling to a locket from her grandmother that could prove or disprove her claims about being a distant relative of the Romanovs.  From her experiences and her avocation, she values Freedom greatly having had some truck with the World Anarchist Brotherhood and seeing the repression in the Russian Empire. Finally, the person she cares the most for is her cousin, Nikolai, who is as far as she knows in Poland.  Every month or so, they exchange coded post recounting their adventures. Every Dramatic Persona has a Nemesis because it is very Victorian to do in the world, and so when I look to Olga’s history I am actually going to make her life interesting by splitting it between two groups – The World Crime Congress and the Russian Secret Police.  The former because of her time as a Footpad in their employ and when she left their kind embrace after they got her out of Russia they took it personally and the latter because of her claims to be a Romanov which would throw off the lines of success for the current Emperor.

For her goals, Professionally she wants to show up the World Crime Congress by revealing their lines of communication while Socially she seeks to be accepted fully rather than conditionally by the Nouveau Riche of Paris.  Finally, her Romantic Goal is to find a husband who can dance the same dance she does, between light and dark, as thus far none have been able to flit between the two.

Her greatest regret is being separated from Nikolai in leaving Russia which still worries her but it comes with her proudest moment of being one who escaped from the Russian Empire’s Iron Grasp.

While some of this is certainly written in a good narrative style, check below for the abridged diary version, and click the link for the PDF of the full diary sheet.  For Olga, I’m going to present it as a letter to Nikolai rather than a straight diary for the sake of variety.

CHARACTER NOTES

Dearest  Nikolai, I do hope that the newest year finds you well.  I know that our time apart has been difficult even though we have managed to forge a path outside of  Russian. My time in paris has certainly been eventful and I am grateful for my soft steps and light touch [Great Stealth].  The architecture here in Paris can be challenging but our time spent running in the forest has helped me navigate the streets here [Good Athletics]. It is good that we learned at our Nona’s foot because the manners here are strong, even amongst the newest members of the Tout Paris Set [Good Social Graces] but they have taken a fancy to my winning ways [Good Charisma].  While I have kept my practice up with the Pistol [Good Marksmanship], I am still at a loss for how to stop the bleeding when I hit my target [Poor Physician]. Show me sometime how you understand the body so well.


* * *

Despite my Guarded and Secretive ways here in Paris, I have had many compliments on how I present myself.  I certainly style myself a lady in exile from the Russian Empire and the conical crinoline dresses with embroidery show not only my place here in Paris but the slight flair from which we know the Russian Court prefers.  The strong features of our family are similarly striking ehre where my dark hair and cheekbones are the toast of many at the Cabaret. I do wish that you could be here dear Nikolai as you mean the world to me. Along with Mother’s locket, you are my last thread to our family.  While Freedom has given me a great deal, I do worry constantly that I shall not see you again in this life. I do worry that the Russian winters we left behind will instead of freezing our bones freeze our words.

* * *

Before you write back to ask, I have not found a husband yet.  I would dearly love longtime companionship and the comfort that we saw our parents have but I have yet to find a man who can keep pace with me.  I do feel that this could provide more of an acceptance here in Paris. While it is certainly a cosmopolitan city, I think a husband may take me further than on my own.  Finally, keep yourself safe. I have every intention of letting the World Crime Congress learn that they cannot prey on our family. I love you dear brother. Stay safe and do find your way to Paris soon.

Read the entire Letter here for the full character

Castle Falkenstein and Cygne Dore’ Cabaret Overview Here

Castle Falkenstein, Steam Age, New Europa, and all characters and creations in the book are trademarks of R. Talsorian Games Inc. Castle Falkenstein is © Mike Pondsmith, 1994. Seize the GM is a fan work using the trademarked and copywritten components for noncommercial criticism, review, and explanation.  No claim of ownership is intended or implied.

Dark Tides AP Pitch Session
Dark Tides Actual Play

 
 
00:00 / 1:05:04
 
1X
 

We all sat down and I as GM pitched a series of campaigns and the players pitched characters.

Fun was had and more to come.

Campaign chosen was Carrion Crown

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Welcome back to Card Catalog where we are taking our last look at TSR’s Star Frontiers from 1982 for the Bodaz G’Lunk’s crew! I knew that I would make at least one combat oriented or soldier style character and thought I would make the second human fill that role.  While I could have slipped in another one of the unique species created, maybe you noticed that I drew some loose inspiration for the original Bodaz G’lunk crew from the Larry Elmore illustration that graced Alpha Dawn’s cover. I will also look briefly back at Knight Hawks because they spend time detailing what a UPF soldier or marine would be and perhaps I can use that as a bit of inspiration for Kevin’s own history.  

I am also going to advance all the Star Frontier characters with about 50XP to show how you can optimize your chances or enrich your character as built.  

Design Notes

For Star Frontiers, you roll a percentile which is converted to a starting attribute score for four pairs of attributes that start equal in rating. For Kevin, I rolled 85; 80; 74; and 13 (wow!) which results in starting scores as follows:

  • Strength/Stamina 60
  • Dexterity/Reaction Speed 55
  • Intuition/Logic 55
  • Personality/Leadership 35

As a Human, Kevin can add 5 to any one Ability score, but not the pair.  I am going to add to his Dexterity because that is the primary Ability for his ranged combat raising it to 60.  Next, you can trade up to 10 points between the pairs – for Kevin, I want him to be smarter than the average grunt and maybe just a bit too literal at times so I will move 5 points from Intuition to Logic. Then, I am going to lean heavily into the stereotype of the gruff and unlovable combat character so I will slide a whole 10 points from Personality to Leadership.  This results in the following statistics:

  • STR/STA 60/60
  • DEX/RS 60/55
  • INT/LOG 50/60
  • PER/LDR 25/45

As a Human, Kevin has no other special abilities to note.  

As the resident soldier and enforcer, Kevin’s primary Skill Area is Military so that he will receive a discount on the skills purchased in that area.  That’s good because it is the broadest of all the skill areas even though they are the cheapest to buy anyway! Beam Weapons are the big starting skill for Kevin because lasers should be the default weapon for a Science Fiction Space Opera adventure like this one! While I am tempted to get another weapon based skill, instead I will provide a little bit of depth from Kevin’s background by taking a rank of Environmental Skill from Biosocial so he has an understanding of alien planets and also because it has subskills like Survival, Stealth, and Tracking.    

I’ve already mentioned Kevin as a male character, and based on the cover of Alpha Dawn that is the inspiration, I will make Kevin right handed.  I am leaving equipment for after I spend the 50 advancement Experience Points!

Advancement Notes

The great simplicity of Star Frontiers is that there are only two places for a character to spend experience points – abilities and skills.  The Abilities can range up to 100 and are a simple 1 XP for 1 Point expenditure. Straightforward and because the skill checks are percentile based easy to understand what your investment nets you. Skills are bought per level, from 1 to a maximum of 6.  Non-human characters can also spend points on their special abilities, but those are purchased just like the Abilities on a 0-100 scale and a 1 for 1 improvement rate.

Kevin is going to definitely round out a number of other weapons skill sin the MIlitary Area which are only 3XP for Level 1 for him.  With those 9 points out of the way, I’ll add 6 more points to Kevin’s Dexterity and then raise him Beam Weapons Skill from Level 1 to Level 3 (15XP).  That means that we are only at 30 of our 50XP so far! I am going to use our House Rule on Spaceship skills that we discussed in Kratog’s write up to add a Spaceship skill to Kevin’s sheet – Gunnery! For 10XP, Kevin will get one level of the Energy Weapon Gunnery skill! I will add a Level 2 Melee Weapon rank for 6XP, because I like Kevin not being as good at Grenades and for the final 4 XP, I am going to raise his Stamina which will also raise his HP.  

Now I am going to look at equipment, weapons, and defenses … which I may not pay too much attention to the cost because it’s a lot more fun just to get them outfitted. Also, the ship is under the Captain’s control with a Charter Letter with Streel Corp. as a reminder.  

Kevin is primarily a combat character so he is loaded with weapons and armor, trusting his fellow crew members will carry the rest of the equipment that they may need! He definitely starts with a Laser Rifle because that’s the appropriate thing for Kevin to have, and I’ll even add the battery backpack to have additional power charges available.  Similarly, I will go with an Electrostunner for a pistol and then a handful of grenades such as Doze, Fragmentation, and Smoke Grenades. . His melee weapons are the classic knife and nightstick, and the Nightstick provides a little bonus to its use so it almost catches up with his Blaster chance.

For defenses, since he plans to be shot a lot, Kevin is outfitted with an Albedo Suit to reduce the damage from the Laser weapons and uses an Inertia Screen to keep people close up, or with old fangled projectile weapons at bay.  He can even plug the Screen into the battery backpack he has!

His standard equipment is pretty unimpressive, except for the Sungoggles that he has to have to match the picture inspiration! He has the standard sort of gear you would expect like a blanket, machete, and flashlight but the most fun thing he has is a Parawing inspired by his experience with Yazirian’s of running away by jumping off a cliff followed up with a bit of “kaboomite” to set some explosives if needed!

Character Notes

Time and time again, the military has been a way up for dedicated and driver individuals who start off without a lot of advantages in life.  Kevin saw service in the UPF, that is United Planetary Federation, as a way off his planet. Like his friend, Brango O’Bourke, Kevin was from a human dominated planet with a representative democracy.  The question of scale comes up again and again for the theorists studying political systems, and the Lacknimonst planet’s attempt to provide tiered representation is used as a beginning study in inefficiencies.  IN the absence of clear direction, the O’Kilkirk’s and O’Bourke’s both suffered from a lack of mobility on Lacknimonst but did not lack enough to see a popular uprising. Leaving the planet was the only way forward.  

The UPF rarely involves itself with internal policies of its members – once you get into the planetary atmosphere, it isn’t the UPF’s problem.  The Second Sathar War required increased recruitment and the UPF needed marines to take and hold planets and so the Landfleet was created. Kevin & Brango had their chance out. The UPF could tell that Kevin wasn’t cut out for long term service, he just didn’t have the strong enough sense of self, but they were glad to use him on the ground and put him through an accelerated basic training when the slippery Sathar were once again bearing down on the Frontier Space! He made it through his training and found a way out to one of the last great sieges of Frontier Space – The Siege of Outpost.  As part of the Landfleet, Kevin spends two years with his fellow marines trying to take Outpost #1 where the Sathar have tried to barricade themselves. Nearly half of his cohorts died, and the end of the Second Sathar War meant an uncertain future for your soldiers.

The UPF was fortunate it didn’t have to give Kevin much of a chance.  He ran into Brango not long after returning from the front, and an altercation with a Gorlian Thug in a dive bar gave them more than reason enough to send him packing.  He was good enough to fight and die for the UPF, but they didn’t think he was good enough to lead a new era of UPF marines. It took a few years of wandering around before Kevin realized where he could be the most use.  He went out on assignment with Pan Galactic as hired muscle. Corporate Wars could sometimes use men of his talents.

Kevin had the sense about him of the lost and forlorn.  That’s why Drichu thought he should be given another chance.  After all, the Yazirian’s know nothing if not lifelong struggle against blood enemies, be they real or abstract.  Drichu convinced Capt. Bodaz to bring aboard this strong arm artist because sometimes, they would find themselves trapped in a difficult situation.  Drichu was right, and Kevin turned out to be what the Bodaz G’lunk needed. Simply enough he had trouble finding his own way in the world, but in a group as part of a crew he shined.  He and Drichu were inseparable … which became part of the biggest failure he ever had.

On Frilkium, Kevin couldn’t protect his friends who had pulled him out of a wandering and meaningless life.  The Frillites had ambushed them, and managed to wound Kevin while he tried to save Ghrilham. He could only stumble and limp as Kratog tried to ready the damaged G’lunk to leave.  Kevin was fighting back and trying to push everyone off him, so he could stop, so he could fall saving them … so he didn’t see another squad of his die.

He heard Drichu’s primal screech and knew what had happened.  The Yazirian had pulled his battle rage to the surface. The gentle scientist’s last words to Kevin were, “Run. Please.”

Kevin was left alive again after losing squad mates.  He has stayed with the Captain and the G’lunk. It is where he most felt like he had a new home.  He doesn’t know how much longer that will last, as V’orz and Jorgein came aboard with a corporate charter and vanishing into the undercities of Lacknimonst becomes a better retirement plan every day.

Kevin O’Kilkirk Human ex-Marine

Star Frontiers and Bodaz G’lunk overview here.

Star Frontiers © 1982 TSR Hobbies. All names and marks associated with Star Frontiers held by successors in interest to TSR Hobbies, Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast, Star Frontier, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © Wizards. All Rights Reserved. Seize the GM is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. No claim of ownership is intended or implied.  

Welcome back to Card Catalog where we are taking a look at TSR’s Star Frontiers from 1982. Another of the intriguing species available in Star Frontiers is the Vrusk – an insectoid like species with eight legs, two arms, a carapace, and mandibles. At some point, every party needs an Engineer and I thought that the Vrusk would be a good way to introduce the technological components here.  While Kratog has familiarity with some ship systems, and Jorgein is well suited to planetary science, someone needs to hang upside down in the engine room and beat on the housing with a wench until it works. Streel V’orz Untisp wins that role.

I am also going to advance all the Star Frontier characters with about 50XP to show how you can optimize your chances or enrich your character as built.  

Design Notes

For Star Frontiers, you roll a percentile which is converted to a starting attribute score for four pairs of attributes that start equal in rating. For Jorgein, I rolled 21; 41; 74; and 55 which results in starting scores as follows:

  • Strength/Stamina 40
  • Dexterity/Reaction Speed 45
  • Intuition/Logic 55
  • Personality/Leadership 45

The Vrusk are a bit more nimble than humans and so they receive a +5 to their DEX/RS Ability and a corresponding -5 to their STR/STA.  Next, you can trade up to 10 points between the pairs, and I like the idea of a slightly clumsier Engineer so I will swap 5 points from Dexterity to Reaction Speed and also have him not quite as much of a Leader as a nice guy, so I will trade a whole 10 points from Leadership to Personality. This results in the following statistics:

  • STR/STA 35/35
  • DEX/RS 45/55
  • INT/LOG 55/55
  • PER/LDR 55/35

Vrusk have two special abilities worth noting.  The first is their ambidexterity which prevents having penalties based on off hand use but doesn’t allow more actions per round. The Second is Comprehension which allows a Vrusk, the very communally oriented and hard working species they are, to discern patterns and relationships between sentient creatures. This begins at a 15% and may be raised with experience.   

I’ve already mentioned that Streel V’orz will be acting as an Engineer for the Bodaz G’lunk so it should come as no surprise that his Primary Skill Area is the Technological Skill Area.  That means that Jorgein will have a discount or reduced cost to buy skills and skill levels of the Technical Area’s Skills. The obvious thing to start V’orz with for a skill is the Technician skill but for his second skill, I am going to start him with Robotics – wait, I didn’t mention the robots?  This was 1982, so the Robots originally described are somewhat complex and run on what can best be described as Space Fantasy BASIC and they are all over the place. They have complexity ratings from 1 to 6 which corresponds to how advanced their programming and functioncs can be from the Level 1 really smart automatic washing and waxing the floor robot to the Level 6 manufacturing facility brain with the ability to analyze market trends and change based on economic conditions what is being manufacured. In Zebulon’s Guide to the Frontier Vol. I, TSR added a potentially playable new species of sentient AI robots who were also in a likely antagonistic role taking over for the Sathar.  I think V’orz tinkering is as likely to be a drone or robotic tinkerer and use those repurposed robots in a combat or adventure as he is to get into the thick of things himself.

V’orz will be a female Vrusk and we have already noted that Vrusk are ambidextrous.  I am leaving equipment for after I spend the 50 advancement Experience Points!

Advancement Notes

The great simplicity of Star Frontiers is that there are only two places for a character to spend experience points – abilities and skills.  The Abilities can range up to 100 and are a simple 1 XP for 1 Point expenditure. Straightforward and because the skill checks are percentile based easy to understand what your investment nets you. Skills are bought per level, from 1 to a maximum of 6.  Non-human characters can also spend points on their special abilities, but those are purchased just like the Abilities on a 0-100 scale and a 1 for 1 improvement rate.

The most important improvement will be getting the Technician Skill to Level 3 for a total of 20XP and also moving the Robotics skill to level 2 for another 8 since those are within her Primary Skill Area.  I am also going to use the House Rules we mentioned in Kratog’s write up where the Spaceship Skills are their own PSA instead of a steep buy-in to add a Level of Spaceship Engineering for 10 more XP bringing us to a total of 38 of the 50 XP spent thus far. This means that he and Kratog can argue over who is fixing the ship correctly and Kratog can try to tell V’orz what to do for an odd couple like relationship.  

Now I am going to look at equipment, weapons, and defenses … which I may not pay too much attention to the cost because it’s a lot more fun just to get them outfitted. Also, the ship is under the Captain’s control with a Charter Letter with Streel Corp. as a reminder.  

V’orz does not have any real weapon abilities because I am going to have him act like a pet class character using robots as drones and sending them into battle for her. I am going to give her an Electric sword, as Swords in general have a bonus to hit in Star Frontiers and I like the idea of a giant bug wielding a buzzing and humming electrified sword.  It appeals to me on some visceral level.

For defenses, Star Frontiers provides two “slots” – a suit and a screen.  Each type chosen will shield the character from incoming damage of a particular type and eventually need repair or replacement. Because I am giving V’orz several thousand extra credits to equip some custom robots and drones, I am going skimp on the defenses to pretend that the campaign was balanced.  A Skein Suit provides for a bit of protection against physical and inertia based attacks. See our previous discussion of the way that these defenses work in the Captain’s section.

Before we get to the Engineers technical kits and other equipment, we need to make and design a few robots or drones that V’orz has for general purpose help and for combat.  Robots are given a brief section in the equipment chapter of Alpha Dawn but in it’s fashion provides a great deal of flexibility for Star Frontiers players and GMs. There was not an expansion on what the robotic design rules entailed, even after the Mechanons were introduced as a potential opposition and replacement for ubiquitous Sathars in Zebulon’s Guide. First, a few low Class  robots who are more or less glorified shop vacs, in fact one of them is pretty much just a shop vac with an AI attached that performs a cleaning duty, while the other is more of a filing and organizing sort that puts all the tools away and organizes things every night.

In Vrusk, Klatuu which translates as “Buster”, is a Standard Body Type Level 1 Robot with no special programs or modifications – just a vacuum hose and a body cavity that can be emptied of the wet or dry refuse.

Barada, translated as “Guster” , is a Standard Body Level 2 Robot with a pair of Heavy Duty extra limbs to assist in the organizing and a hover mode to reach those hard to reach spots.  Barada also comes along with the extra kits and carries things for V’orz in the field. Aboard the Bodaz G’lunk, it is little known that Barada also has a Restraint Program so that it can use those same arms to hold down an unsuspecting intruder and a Self Defense Program to return attacks

Nikto, translated as “Duster”, who is a Class 4 Anthropomorphic, well Vruskopomorphic, Combat Drone.  Nikto has Self Defense, Arrack/Defense, and Search & Destroy Programs that allow it to function almost independently when released on V’orz’s foes.  As a Vrusk shaped robot, the extra anthropomorphic limbs have also been purchased. Importantly, Nikto has multiple weapon systems to use so that V’orz doesn’t have to worry about it.  Niktop has a built in Sonic KNife and a Needler Pistol which has a port to change between barbed and anesthetic needles. Finally, Duster is usually carrying a Streel Co Laser Rifle to round out the weaponry and is sheathed in its own Albedo Suit to reduce Laser damage.

V’orz has little else in the way of gear and often is a bit of a burden on her teammates with a lack of survival gear.  You would think she would have figured out how to pack that but she always seems to be spending her credits on Nikto’s repairs.

Character Notes

For the Vrusk, company is often all there is.  Until you reach a level of success where life consists of quietly drinking tea and appreciating art strewn about a well apportioned home, the Vrusk will work for their companies with an unqualified loyalty.   This is the life that Vorz Untisp knew until recently.

Streel Vorz Untisp, then Prosperity Vorz Untisp, went to work for the Vrusk Mutual Prosperity Company shortly after coming of age.  Her parents had a fine life, and had made a fine living so she saw them retire and find the Vrusk life of contemplation. SHe saw it and aspired to it quite quickly.  Unlike some of her classmates, Vorz Untisp was not a revel. She was not a unique thinker. She was Vrusk and she would serve a company well.

She was, however, a tinkerer. It was not long before her parents would click their mandibles in a quietly appreciative way as Vorz was working on Klatuu.  It may seem odd for a financial institution like the Greater Vrusk Mutual Prosperity Institution to need a technician and scientist fiddling with robots over a computer programmer, but the VMPI was expanding and was undergoing a  change. Like many of her classmates, she was recruited straight from school into the VMPI, a Conglomerate that was prestigious over and above the others and the trade houses – it was Vrusk community ascendant!

Sadly, the VMPI became nothing more than a subsidiary of Streel.  Or perhaps it may be better noted that Streel had the foresight to acquire the VMPI early in their Corporate War strategy to better recruit the loyal and talented Vrusk within its ranks.  Regardless of whether it was good or bad, the VMPI was no more its own conglomerate as it stretched too thin in the Corporate War and couldn’t fend off a hostile takeover from Streel when their resources ran low. Other species may be different, but for the Vrusk, it was a few minutes of soul searching before rededicating their lives to their company.  The promise of a quiet and contemplative life paid for by a fully backed Streel Co. Pension smoothed the transition, and for V’orz saw few changes initially to her duties.

Slowly, but surely, her workload increased, and her Department grew.  In Streel, there were more robots and more machinery to repair – she was needed.  She rose a bit in the ranks to middle management with an infectious personality but she never showed the talent for leadership that would allow her to naturally rise in Streel any further.  Then new opportunities arose! V’orz had kept an eye on the job listing internally – who knew when something might come up! And something did! A Chartered Ship needed crew and the Streel Corp. wanted employees on the ship as it set off to explore.  

Streel V’orz Untisp and Captain Bodaz had an immediate bond! As women coming up to make names for themselves, and leaving their family name in the background, they shared how they got ahead in their respective fields.  V’orz was the new Technician for the Ship, one who can complain to Kratog he is doing it wrong, one who can tinker with the systems, and one who brought with her a trio of engaging and entertaining robots. Her biggest question right now is the mystery of the Ifshnit Clan Abene! Jorgein has not been entirely truthful about his past, but as long as he continues to work in the efforts of the Streel Corp., V’orz has little to say.  For now, her antenna have been raised as she looks more closely into his background and history.

Streel V’orz Untisp Character Sheet

Star Frontiers and Bodaz G’lunk overview here.  

Star Frontiers © 1982 TSR Hobbies. All names and marks associated with Star Frontiers held by successors in interest to TSR Hobbies, Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast, Star Frontier, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © Wizards. All Rights Reserved. Seize the GM is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. No claim of ownership is intended or implied.  

Episode 65: How to Choose a System: Sci-Fi Edition
Regular Shows

 
 
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Main Topic

Science Fiction has been part of the RPG universe for decades and is an enduring and popular setting! There are numerous options out there from licensed to original, so how do you choose a Science Fiction setting right for you and your group?

Consideration the First – Setting! Similar to our talk in Episode 64 about Fantasy Settings, where do you want to play?  Science Fiction can cover the gamut from near future cyberpunk distopias like Shadowrun and Cyberpunk 2020 to Hard Science Fiction Space Settings like Traveller to Science Fantasy & Pulp settings like Starfinder & Gamma World! These don’t even touch on the licensed properties like Star Wars, Star Trek, Babylon 5, the impending Expanse game, and many more.  

Consideration the Second – Campaign Flavor! This ties into the Setting question again! We’ve talked about how different games are better at certain styles because it is baked into their setting or rules and it shines in Science Fiction. While we have a deep and abiding love of Shadowrun, the simulationist ethos of the Rules and the trade offs that are part of the setting prevent it from making a Space Opera game feel as epic as Star Hero’s ability to make the scope and scale accessible.  Similarly, Star Frontiers, an old TSR game now being discussed in Card Catalog, is surprisingly open and flexible in providing for social intrigue games while Starfinder leans more to Flash Gordon than the Expanse in tone.

Consideration the Third – Player Familiarity! In a lot of ways, this can be easier than Fantasy these days.  When Tabletop RPGs launched, Fantasy seems to have been more ascendant but now it is more likely to find the near future inspiration that can be shared. Shows like Black Mirror and Doctor Who have been at the top of popular consciousness providing Science Fiction and Space Fantasy familiarity with tropes and concepts.

Consideration the Fourth – GM Familiarity! Make sure you want to run it! If you are jazzed about doing a social or political intrigue based campaign, a setting or game that prioritizes starfighter combat could be harder to incorporate.  

None of these are impossible barriers to your science fiction gaming, but are thoughts you should have similar to the ones we outlined for Fantasy gaming. But drop us a line on our Facebook Group, on Twitter, or on Instagram and let us know your favorite Science Fiction Setting and why you choose it!

Stat Blocks

Zendead-  Blade of Calid of the Dark Moon

All great stories start with a great hero. The one that will save the masses from the coming Darkness. This story is not about the light but about the dark and the man that is bent on bringing it to the world. His name is Calid and he was willing to do whatever it took to make that happen. He started his journey with wanting to make the world a better place. He began with the sword of his ancestors. A weapon of war and death. He figured if he fought the evils of the world with it then he could be a shining beacon against the darkness. The blood he spilled was evil but a bit seeped in and Calid found himself doing small things at first that when not bright. As more time passed and he was in charge of the large army of a king something changed in Calid and he and the troops marched on the home of the king. The king died at his hands because he kept sending young men to die in this decades long war. It was for them, he had to do this to save them these troops. The kings archmage saw something in Calid he could use since he wanted to rule this small empire. His designs where massive and called for help to make it all work.

A few more years pass with the help of the mage Calid was turning a large kingdom as he saw it into a full blown empire. The sword he still wore at his side had killed more beings then almost any other the the world. Beings of Dark called to the man that held this weapon making promises to him, make him stronger and young again. Anything to get him to agree to helping them and all it needed was just a small thing really just his mark on this page so it was all official. After that pieces of Calid where gone pieces of his soul and his darkest memories he didn’t ask where they went till one day his sword opened a dialogue with him. Explaining that his friend the archmage was planning on ending his life this very evening. Well Calid couldn’t allow that to happen so he tested the mage who surprisingly failed this test and found his power was no match for the newly awakened Dark Moon as he would be known from this day forward. Dark Moon started helping Calid to make worse choices and eventually got Calid to give himself to the devils of Hell. Leaving Dark Moon here on this plane to wreak havoc from that time forward to now. The Sword you hold in your hand cackles as it helps you to make the next choice. The only one really to end this screaming child’s life and well it makes the most sense really.

Joules- MicroInvaders-

To think all invaders are large is a mistake and one you will not make again. The invasion started with only a few breaching the line and sneaking in to start wreaking havoc. They then setup fortification and started replicating the invasion force in the fortifications. This is the thing that has taken hold and will not let go. Then they started Terraforming inside the fortifications. And then started pushing out to take over more territory. This is how things have happened soon they take over the host and make her feel like she was not going to make it. But she has found help in fighting this force that has setup camp in her systems. Now she is on the mend at least she hopes so.

Guard-a-Manger – Zorodithium-74

The Zorodithium series of androids, or Z-Packs, have been a constant in the outer Rim for quite some time.  Simply enough, the Z-Packs are the workhorse of the Freyaldan Expansion even unsung, ever unrecognized but always present. Last time you needed to get the ship taken care of in port, there was one somewhat lonely and slightly tarnished Z-Pack that just walked up and started working on the ship. If it wasn’t going to ask for payment up front, at least you got some free labor out of this, right?

On the way out of port, the authorities not quite hot on your heels but let’s just say that the reciprocating food re-energizer had been set to kablow, you discovered that the sensors had been modified.  The Z-Pack – that you now call Z74, or just seventy – had installed some extras. And it wanted to come along into the great beyond. Z74 was from the previous edition of Androids, and when you aren’t shiny and new anymore, it is pretty easy to get replaced.  What few people had realized on the station was that Z74 didn’t have an owner anymore. Pulmonary Embolism you see. His owner has unexpectedly passed away, and with no heirs, Z74 had cleaned up the office and gone right on doing Stevedore work and the occasional repair. That time was coming to an end.  The taxes were … intuitive rather than logical on the station and Z74 had missed the appropriate payment dates.

A new crew member who didn’t take much oxygen to stay alive, took no food from the stores, and that was handy with repairs? Hard to say no, right? Z74 is going to be helpful and you’ll find that it can often repair the ship before you realize it is damaged, but something is nagging at you.  Why did Z74 start acting this way? Is it a simple malfunction, a cross of the wires, or something more? It’s time you paid Z74 back, and that may mean looking deeply into the unspoken truths about the Freyaldan Expansion and what really goes into the Z-Packs construction.

Lexicon

Baleen   noun
ba·​leen | \bə-ˈlēn

Definition of baleen
: a horny keratinous substance found in two rows of transverse plates which hang down from the upper jaws of baleen whales

History and Etymology for baleen
Middle English baleine whale, baleen, from Latin balaena whale; akin to Greek phallaina whale

First Known Use
14th century

Popularity
Bottom 30% of words

Closing remarks

Zendead- Elder Scrolls Online I have been enjoying diving back into this the last few months. If you want to join me look for Zendead on the PS4 servers or friend me on PS Network and we can play something else maybe. Never.  Run away. Run far away from Zen at all costs.

Joules- Weapon Brown – Your saturday morning comics have been weaponized.  Join friendless Chuck Brown and his faithful mutt snoop fighting to survive the syndicate in the post apocalypse.  Watch out for the syndicate’s ultimate weapon. An assassin with no self control… and a stuffed tiger.

Guard-a-Manger- Doctor Who vol. 2, Season 11 – Jodie Whittaker has started off her tenure as Doctor Who to some of the highest numbers in a decade.  While there are some rough spots in the writing, you should take a look at this season as a reintroduction to the classic forms different Doctor Who stories can take and as a set of examples about how varied science fiction or science fantasy stories can be.

Music is courtesy of The Enigma TNG you can find his music on YouTube or on Bandcamp

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Show- Email, Twitter, Facebook Page, Facebook Group

Zendead- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Joules- Email, Twitter, Facebook

Nulloperations-Email, Twitter, Facebook

Guard-a-manger- Email, Twitter

And Thanks to Merriam-Webster for our Lexicon segment

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Welcome back to Card Catalog where we are taking a look at TSR’s Star Frontiers from 1982. The last book published for Star Frontiers was Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space Vol. I.  This was an attempt to rework the system for a Second Edition and address some of the critiques the original system received. It had scrapped the original percentile resolution system in favor of a column shift results table similar to the Marvel Super Heroes game. It also completely revamped the character creation and advancement process vastly increasing the skills available… this means a few House Rules to make the Ifshnit backwards compatible are incoming.  We may look at the Zebulon’s Guide version of character generation in a future Card Catalog, but for now I wanted to get into a species introduced in Zebulon’s Guide but opted against the kangaroo looking Humma in favor of the “space dwarves” – herbivorous and friendly Ifshnits from the Frontier. If you have not read the overview of the entire system and the setting, click HERE for the introduction to Star Frontiers and the crew of the ‘Bodaz G’lunk.

I am also going to advance all the Star Frontier characters with about 50XP to show how you can optimize your chances or enrich your character as built.  

House Rules

As I mentioned above, the Ifshnit were introduced in the Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space.  The first of their two special abilities is simple enough – they can’t be blinded because of an adaptive inner eyelid that protects their eyes.  The second is an innate second level rank in the skill of Appraisal, Gemology, or Haggling. Because the original set doesn’t have that set of skills available even as subskills for most of what is offered, I will instead use the Vrusk as an example since they have a special ability of Comprehension for social dynamics that starts at 15%.  I will peg this at 25% to start for the Ifshnit so that if an untrained human were to roll half their Personality as a base for a haggling test, all Ifshnits are inherently better than most humans.

Design Notes

For Star Frontiers, you roll a percentile which is converted to a starting attribute score for four pairs of attributes that start equal in rating. For Jorgein, I rolled 03; 68; 97; and 72 which results in starting scores as follows:

  • Strength/Stamina 30
  • Dexterity/Reaction Speed 50
  • Intuition/Logic 70
  • Personality/Leadership 55

As an Ifshnit, Jorgein will not only exemplify some of the Frontier Space ethos but also is a story hook into the Capellan Free Traders which are run by Ifshnits.  In the Ability Modifiers, Jorgein will lose 5 (-5) from the STR/STA Ability pair but add 5 (+5) to the INT/LOG pair. Next, you can trade up to 10 points between the pairs, but I think I will keep Jorgein where he is for now. This results in the following statistics:

  • STR/STA 25/25
  • DEX/RS 50/50
  • INT/LOG 75/75
  • PER/LDR 55/55

In the Home Rules Section above, we mentioned the Ifshnits’ two Special abilities – Highly Developed Sight that prevents blindness by an inner lid that automatically closes and the Innate Bartering.  As we mentioned, the Innate Bartering is at 25% and will allow them to roll to appraise the value of goods, haggle for the sale of goods, and otherwise rely on their cultural background as a trading society.  

Jorgein is going to fill the role of smart alec, or scientist aboard the Bodaz G’lunk so his Primary Skill Area is the Biosocial Skill Area.  What, you ask, is the Scientist doing with Biosocial instead of Technical? In the limited number of Skill Areas from the original Star Frontiers, the Environmental Skill in the Biosocial covers the vast majority of non tinkering Science! That means that Jorgein will have a discount or reduced cost to buy skills and skill levels of the Technical Area’s Skills.  The aforementioned Environmental Skill, which includes astronomy, biology, botany, chemistry, and geology among others, is one of Jorgein’s starting skills. For his second skill, I will have hm begin with Computers so that V’orz can focus on the Engineering and Technical skill areas.

I’ve already given Jorgein his gender as a Male Ifshnit and Star Frontiers also requires a handedness determination so I choose Left Handed.  I am leaving equipment for after I spend the 50 advancement Experience Points!

Advancement Notes

The great simplicity of Star Frontiers is that there are only two places for a character to spend experience points – abilities and skills.  The Abilities can range up to 100 and are a simple 1 XP for 1 Point expenditure. Straightforward and because the skill checks are percentile based easy to understand what your investment nets you. Skills are bought per level, from 1 to a maximum of 6.  Non-human characters can also spend points on their special abilities, but those are purchased just like the Abilities on a 0-100 scale and a 1 for 1 improvement rate.

I am going to make sure that Jorgein can complete his general requirements of being the Scientist, so I will spend the XP first and foremost to raise his Environmental Skill to Level 3 for 25XP.  A few fights happened as he was out in the world and while he is not terribly good at hitting things, he isn’t too poor with the Gyrojet Weapons Skill from the Military PSA to Level 1 for 6XP. A second level of Computer is 8 Points and a single Rank of Psycho-Social from his Primary Skill Area leave 6 Experience Points which I will use to raise his Personality from 55 to 61.

Now I am going to look at equipment, weapons, and defenses … which I may not pay too much attention to the cost because it’s a lot more fun just to get them outfitted. Also, the ship is under the Captain’s control with a Charter Letter with Streel Corp. as a reminder.  

The Gyrojet Weapon Skill is a wonderfully broad skill that includes a lot of weapons with different range increments.  Jorgein has a Gyrojet Pistol, which is a pistol that launches miniature rockets with explosive heads that will work well underwater and on lower tech planets, though he isn’t supposed to ever take it into space since explosions and spaceships don’t mix.  He also has a Grenade Launcher Rifle which allows him to fire grenades instead of throwing them, though it is rather slow. This means that sleep, entangling, and fragmentation grenades are now in his reach providing maximum utility despite being a rather suboptimal combatant.  .

For defenses, Star Frontiers provides two “slots” – a suit and a screen.  Each type chosen will shield the character from incoming damage of a particular type and eventually need repair or replacement. Similar to Kratog, Jorgein is going with the Albedo Suit and Inertia Screen as his usual defenses, though a sonic screen is appealing to our little Ifshnit here. See our previous discussion of the way that these defenses work in the Captain’s section.

Jorgein is supposed to be a bit of an explorer, so he has a bit of gear to pack even with his low Strength and Stamina.  Envirokit is needed to analyze the different planets they end up on while the gas mask, flashlight, and compass have similar obvious utility.  The solvaway is in case he gets stuck in his own Tangler grenades since likes using those. A few other pieces of gear and some ammunition round out Jorgein’s Equipment. He tends to spend his credits pretty quickly so he hasn’t gotten a large reservoir of them built up yet.      

Character Notes

Streel Co. was certainly happy to see to a qualified Ifshnit Scientist walk into the office and offer himself as an employee.  The question, though, is why? A long tradition on the rim had the Ifshnits well entrenched with the Capellan Free Traders and the Ifshnit themselves were not particularly known for enjoying megacorporate employ.  The Capellan Free Merchant’s unique charter from the UPF allowed them to avoid the Trans-Travel monopoly on interstellar travel and they don’t truly produce anything. The Capellan Free Merchants are an association of thousands of smaller merchants who work under the Capellan Free Merchant banner expressly to aoid the megacorporations like Streel.   

Jorgein seemed to fit in just fine in Streel, often being the first awake, nibbling on dried fruit, and volunteering to go over the next hill in every assignment he was given.  Jorgein is a born explorer and that carried over to his innate curiosity. While enjoying his crudite, Jorgein would ask other Streel employees about their homeworlds and their past.  What led them to Streel was always on his mind. He never gave much away in response offering tales of being lost and alone on the rim – hard to believe for the clannish Ifshnits. He wanted to see more and further than his home allowed, but didn’t the Capellan Free Merchants have a reach as broad as Streels?  V’orz Untisp was a friend who stayed curious about this seeming incongruity.

When the opportunity came to be assigned to a Chartered ship, and to perhaps take a more exploratory role in general, Jorgein’s eyes lit up and without finishing is salad, he had charmed his way onto Capt. Bodaz’s G’lunk.  

V’orz has been on the right track looking into Jorgein because the mystery of Clan Abene is where this leads.  Clan Abene is nearly gone in Rim Space and none remain members of the Capellan Free Merchants. It was Jorgein’s Uncle who put into motion this fate 75 years ago when the First Sathar War was still fresh in everyone’s mind.  The Free Merchants are not always known for the niceties of due process, and the greed that the Council of Twelve can show rivals or exceeds that of any Corporate CEO. Clan Abene’s history of scientific exploration, in the field like Jorgein or in the lab like his Uncle, meant that the Clan saw sooner what the Free Merchant’s were planning.  What became GODco and the planetwide terraforming economy wasn’t an accident – the Cassidine Development Corporation and the Capellan Free Merchants were planning it’s launch for years. Jorgein’s Uncle sat on the Counsil that quadrennium as a Free Merchant of repute. They encouraged the nascent architectural corporation on Hentz and helped it grow until the loan backed by the Capellan Free Merchants and goven by the CDC created GODCo.

While GODco claims to never terraform an inhabited planet, it is proud of its terraforming of planets and cares little for the destruction of the indigenous flora and fauna – this loss of biological diversity and the smuggling in the now wiped out flora and fauna is what began Clan Abene’s fall. The Clan, tight knit and family oriented, voted to oppose allowing GODco to continue and asked to call in the loan – the Council of Twelve refused his Uncle’s call and the heated debate that roiled the Capellan Free Merchants resulted in a half dozen Ifshnit clans banished, and in some cases, shunned by the Capellan Free Merchants.  

Streel Co poses the best chance to stop the Capellan Free Merchant’s trade in illicit flora and fauna smuggled from terraformed planets, but even Jorgein wasn’t prepared to learn that GODco may be terraforming inhabited planets.  Aboard the Bodaz G’lunk, he has seen that what his Uncle found may be frightening on a galactic scale .. but his honor doesn’t allow him to share this story and his fear is that the Council of Twelve of the Capellan Free Merchants do not still have the honor they had when Clan Abene had a seat.       

Jorgein of Clan Abene 

Star Frontiers and Bodaz G’lunk overview here. 

Star Frontiers © 1982 TSR Hobbies. All names and marks associated with Star Frontiers held by successors in interest to TSR Hobbies, Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast, Star Frontier, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © Wizards. All Rights Reserved. Seize the GM is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. No claim of ownership is intended or implied.  

Welcome back to Card Catalog where we are taking a look at TSR’s Star Frontiers from 1982. We already met the Captain last week, so this week we will work on making the Bodaz G’lunk’s pilot,Kratog. If you have not yet read the overview  of the system, please click HERE to read the overview of the system and setting.

I am also going to advance all the Star Frontier characters with about 50XP to show how you can optimize your chances or enrich your character as built.  

House Rule

We will have a Notable House Rule introduced here. The original core rules do not include any piloting skills. The piloting related skills were added in the Knight Hawks expansion … But they are not for the average player character. While it likely reflects a star ship pilot as an astronaut, the prerequisite to get even the first rank is almost 100 experience points. I’m going to make Pilot its own Primary Skill Area(“PSA”) with the four skills under it so that players can get to it sooner. I will make it the same cost as Biosocial which is the most expensive of the original 3 PSAs. We will see how it works for the crew of the Bodaz G’lunk.

Design Notes

For Star Frontiers, you roll a percentile which is converted to a starting attribute score for four pairs of attributes that start equal in rating. For Kratog, I rolled 95; 42; 63; and 81 which results in starting scores as follows:

  • Strength/Stamina 65
  • Dexterity/Reaction Speed 45
  • Intuition/Logic 50
  • Personality/Leadership 60

I picked Dralasite for Kratog because I wanted a true non-humanoid or two and the amoeba like dad joke loving philosophers sound like a lot of fun. As a Dralisite, Kratog adds 5 to the Strength/Stamina pair and loses 5 from the Dexterity/Reaction Speed Ability Pair. Next, you can trade up to 10 points between these pairs, so I will shift 10 points from Intuition to Logic focusing on Kratog’s planning and forethought versus any intuitive improvisation. This results in the following statistics:

  • STR/STA 70/70
  • DEX/RS 40/40
  • INT/LOG 40/60
  • PER/LDR 60/60

As far as Special Abilities go, Dralasites have elasticity and Detect Lies. as sentient amoeba like species, Dralasites can shift their form and appendages around much to the chagrin of the other species. Also, because of the different way that they process sensory input, they have a chance of detecting lies in other species. This special ability may be raised with experience points in the same manner as an Ability and starts at 5.

Skills are fairly limited to start, and while there are some ideas for expanded Skill versions of Star Frontiers, I will stick with the Alpha Strike & Knight Hawks version of skills.  As I mentioned above, the House Ruled Piloting skill area will be the Primary Skill Area for Kratog. That means that Kratog will have a discount or reduced cost to buy skills and skill levels of the Pilot Area’s Skills.  For the two starting skills, the first is going to be Piloting because Kratog is the pilot. I was going to go with Astrogation in the pilot group for the second skill, but in trying to at least take some of the traditional prerequisites I instead opted to start the Computer skill from the Technological Skill Area. Kratog may not be that great in a fight but the G’lunk has gotten along without him shooting too many things.

Dralisites life cycle includes stages as male, female, and neither. I am going to have Kratog be still in the male cycle which he is maintaining through pharmaceutical means. Handedness is irrelevant to a Dralisite, or more to the point may be changed as they change their number of appendages.  With a Dexterity of only 40, Kratog is limited to 4 appendages for now, but when he has the time to prepare to fly, he does prefer 1 leg and 3 arms. I am leaving equipment for after I spend the 50 advancement Experience Points!

Advancement Notes

The great simplicity of Star Frontiers is that there are only two places for a human to spend experience points – abilities and skills.  The Abilities can range up to 100 and are a simple 1 XP for 1 Point expenditure. Straightforward and because the skill checks are percentile based easy to understand what your investment nets you. Skills are bought per level, from 1 to a maximum of 6.   

In the Pilot Skill Area, the Kratog is going to add Astrogation for 5XP which really means I feel a need to increase the Computer skill to Level 2 for 16 points. The Technical skill from the Technological Skill Area for 8 and Piloting to 2 for 10 points gets us to 39XP spent. For 6 Experience Points, I add Martial Arts to focus on a grappling and fluid form for the Drasilites. The last 5 Experience Points will go ahead into the Piloting Skill Group and give a beginning understanding to Starship Engineering.

Now I am going to look at equipment, weapons, and defenses … which I may not pay too much attention to the cost because it’s a lot more fun just to get them outfitted. Also, she has the ship under a Charter Letter with Streel Corp. that has secured their loan and employment just in case I forget to mention it later.  

While Kratog isn’t likely to hit anything, his belt does have an Automatic Pistol which Kevin keeps telling him he should learn to actually aim.  Because you get a +20% chance to hit when you fire a burst, it mitigates some of his inexperience with actual weaponry.

For defenses, Star Frontiers provides two “slots” – a suit and a screen.  Each type chosen will shield the character from incoming damage of a particular type and eventually need repair or replacement. Suits are a bit more difficult for the Dralasites to wear as they need their entire body to be unhindered which is why they keep all of their equipment in a belt based series of pouches.  Regardless, a special breathable Albedo Suit provides some protection against beam weapons, but it is the Inertia Belt that is the most important. This will protect against kinetic attacks including hand to hand combat … in which the Dralasite Pilot is surprisingly adept..This works in the same manner as the Suits and Screens described in Captain Bodaz, but for a different type of incoming damage.  

The remainder of the gear is fairly minimal because Kratog usually stays on the ship.  Or at least tries to. There is a Techkit for his repairs and technical work, a chronocom to interface with the world and the computer system and finally a Radiocom for longer range communications.  His total personal store of credits reflects that he hasn’t been spending his money since he is really more here for the experiences.

Character Notes

Kratog Gotark is not the first Dralasite pilot, nor will Kratog be the last Dralasite pilot.  It is a calling for the Gotark line, regardless of when they bud off and where they end up. You could call it a Driving force! Hah.  No? You better get used to the bad jokes. Kratog grew in what can best be described as a fairly standard Dralasite home. There was a great deal of thinking, a great number of puns, and an apparent disconnect between the two.

The Dralasite drive to examine, to think, to dive deeply into the observed world around them took root in Kratog who even accompanied his parents, in their Mother, Father, and Neutral life cycles, when they would pilot starships throughout the First Sathar War at the founding of the UPF.  It was a family affair for an entire century before Kratog found it time to “bud off” from his family. Heh. No?

The Gotark were a bit unusual as Dralasites go, as they maintained the family tradition that other species use more so than the other Dralasites.  While the Gotark took part in the Concourse of Dral where the planetary Dralasites would come together to debate and theorize, it was a strange smell for them all to be a single unit.  His parents had the idea that perhaps there was a unity that could be achieved by maintaining non-solo living spaces across the multiple gender aspects of life. Kratog is their best experiment yet testing his family’s quality of ideas.  After two wars, the Gotark thought is was time to see whether Kratog would prove their theory and the immortality of their philosophy. At 125 years old, he is just entering his prime … and that’s better than Choice! Heheh. Oh, still not laughing?

Kratog was able to find work fairly quickly in the wake of the Second Sathar War. In fact, a few piloting jobs later he had not only made friends with Drichu but they met Captain Bodaz and for all she may have been rolling her eyes seemed to take a liking to them.  She had a ship, but no crew. They could crew a ship but needed an employer. It was the beginning of a good time by all. The Gotark seemed to find promise in this because Yazirians and Dralasites are not always the easiest to get to agree, but as Drichu and Kratog shared their jobs the theory of unit bonding bore fruit. You could say it was hanging from that tree! Groan.  You’ll laugh at one of these.

The Frilkium kerfuffle caused a serious set back to the Unit Bonding Theory, and Kratog’s life as well.  Kratog had chosen to remain in the male period of Dralasite life believing it would benefit the study, but now “he” wasn’t so sure.  Captain Bodaz made arrangements for a Corporate Charter … unexpected but perhaps the best way to move forward. The new members of the crew, replacing poor departed Drichu and Ghrilham, helped make life more interesting … and more importantly V’orz would sometimes laugh at Kratog’s jokes! It could be that mid interstellar flight, there is no one in space to hear you cry.  Sigh. One of Kratog’s jokes will land eventually.

Kratog has been withdrawing deeper into himself lately, pondering whether it is time to move on to “female” for Dralasite purposes or if the Gotark Unit Bonding Theory is truly lost.  Perhaps he is best suited to fly himself and himself alone back home.

Kratog Gotark Dralasite Pilot Character Sheet.

Star Frontiers Setting and System Overview Here.

Star Frontiers © 1982 TSR Hobbies. All names and marks associated with Star Frontiers held by successors in interest to TSR Hobbies, Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast, Star Frontier, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © Wizards. All Rights Reserved. Seize the GM is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. No claim of ownership is intended or implied.  

This time through the Card Catalog, we are looking at Star Frontiers – the 1982 Space Opera and Science Fiction game from TSR that has never had the chance to meet it’s full potential. Despite rather streamlined rules for a 1982 game and a truly inspiring setting, Star Frontiers still is oft overlooked except by a fervent online fan base.   The first character we will look at building is the ship Captain Telinia Bodaz. If you have not yet read the overview of the system, please click HERE to take a quick look before we start the build process.

I am also going to advance all the Star Frontier characters with about 50XP to show how you can optimize your chances or enrich your character as built.  Where I use some House Rules, I will let you know and explain why I made that choice! The PDF fillable character sheets were found at Starfrontiers.info.

Design Notes

Unsurprisingly, the TSR game started with random Ability generation, but Star Frontiers rolls percentile dice that are then provided a standardized value instead of just what is on the dice.  For Captain Bodaz, I rolled 32; 64; 76; and 93 which results in starting scores as follows:

  • Strength/Stamina 40
  • Dexterity/Reaction Speed 50
  • Intuition/Logic 55
  • Personality/Leadership 65

As a Human, Captain Bodaz can add 5 to any single Ability, but not the entire pair, so I add that to her Personality Physical Ability as a way to reflect her natural friendly charisma and attractiveness versus any imperious or command style leading.  Next, you can trade up to 10 points between these pairs, so I will shift 10 points from Strength to Stamina to make her more resilient but not necessarily a physically strong character and also shift 5 points from her Logic to Intuition to focus more on her “guts” than her “analytics.  This results in the following statistics:

  • STR/STA 30/50
  • DEX/RS 50/50
  • INT/LOG 60/50
  • PER/LDR 70/65

As far as Special Abilities go, humans are remarkably adaptable but have no other innate species based abilities or weaknesses.  

Abilities are fairly limited to start, and while there are some ideas for expanded Skill versions of Star Frontiers, I will stick with the Alpha Strike & Knight Hawks version of skills.  The Captain’s Primary Skill Area is going to be Biosocial. That means that she will have a discount or reduced cost to buy skills and skill levels of the Biosocial Area’s Skills. For her two starting skills, the first is going to be Biosocial because she is the leader and this covers the range of communication, empathy, and social skills you want from a leader. For her second skill, I will go with Beam Weapons in the Military Group because she needs to have something to do in Combat.

This covers most of the character generation requirements because we have already decided that Captain Bodaz is female, I’ll make her right handed, and redhead leaving us with equipment to select … but since I’m giving her another 50 Experience Points, we will look at equipment and weapons in the Advancement section that follows.

Advancement Notes

The great simplicity of Star Frontiers is that there are only two places for a human to spend experience points – abilities and skills.  The Abilities can range up to 100 and are a simple 1 XP for 1 Point expenditure. Straightforward and because the skill checks are percentile based easy to understand what your investment nets you. Skills are bought per level, from 1 to a maximum of 6.   

In the Biosocial Skill Area, the Captain is going to increase her Psychosocial Ranking from 1 to 3 for 25 total XP.  Also, she picks up Rank 1 of the Medical Skill for a mere 5 XP. Also, she adds a single rank of Melee Weapons to use a stun baton and dabbles enough on a computer to pick up the Technical Skill Area skill of Computer at Level 1. The 6 XP to get the Melee Weapon Skill adds 10% to her chance to hit and makes it the best investment on her training for now, though she is still not a front line combatant. That leaves 6 XP.

For the Captain, it’s her Personality that matters the most and I am going to drop all 6 into her Personality to raise it to 76.  

Now I am going to look at equipment, weapons, and defenses … which I may not pay too much attention to the cost because it’s a lot more fun just to get them outfitted. Also, she has the ship under a Charter Letter with Streel Corp. that has secured their loan and employment just in case I forget to mention it later.  

With a Beam Weapon Skill, our intrepid Captain definitely has a Sonic Stunner pistol that can stun a target that doesn’t roll below their Stamina when hit.  Similarly, for heavier needs, she has a Laser Rifle on the G’lunk. Finally, a Stun Stick to try to shock and stun melee attackers sounds like a good plan. Her main weapons work around regular defenses by trying to stun opponents which can be very helpful if the defenses are not the appropriate match up.

For defenses, Star Frontiers provides two “slots” – a suit and a screen.  Each type chosen will shield the character from incoming damage of a particular type and eventually need repair or replacement. Captain Bodaz has a Skeinsuit which protects against inertia and physical attacks be they ranged or melee absorbing up to 50 points of damage before it is destroyed.  An Albedo Screen is a force field like defense that will absorb laser and beam attacks sapping power at a rate of 1 Standard Energy Unit per 5 points of damage.

A small assortment of fairly standard equipment follows! In fact, a Standard Equipment Pack is an item that is used to provide the basic adventuring gear one would expect. Additionally, the Medical skill means that the Capt. is also going to be handling some of the care and healing requirements so I grab a few items like a Medical Kit to round out her standard items.  There isn’t a line for her to have fancy clothes and other accouterments, so we will just take them as read.

Character Notes

The Bodaz family lived a rather fantastic life on the planet Yaert. While the UPF was representative, it didn’t require any of the member planets have a specific government.  This means that the neo-feudal system of Yaert left those at the top in power year over year and generation over generation.  Tenilia was born in the Duchy of Bodaz at the advent of the Second Sathar War and grew up as insulated as she could be from the ongoing war.  

Sadly, for the Bodaz, Telinia’s older siblings died in the war protecting the UPF form the slithering and sly Sathar.  It took some time for Telinia to realize that she had become the heir to the Duchy or more precisely what that meant. Her time in her teenage years was spent learning social systems and what was expected of her as a leader.  Her time in her teenage years bristled with rebellion.

When she was of legal age, and with the Second Sathar War well and truly years behind the UPF, she exercised her noble powers in the Duchy – she appointed a Seneschal and declared that she was taking a sabbatical for the next decade. She knew enough to know she had the power to take a ship, the G’lunk, with her and that she could find her own fortune and fame without the fancy trappings her parents had left her.  It didn’t take long to find a crew, or really the first true friends in her life. She hadn’t been given the opportunity to have equals as friends growing up – peers for sure, but with the attendant social requirements that meant. Kratog, Drichu, and Ghrilham were fast friends and she learned more from them in two short years than an entire decade of training. She wasn’t sure about Kevin, but Drichu convinced her that a strong arm and a clear mind would help

Her fortune and fame appeared to be on a majestic trajectory, until Frilkium. He G’lunk had been working on the fringes of the Corporate War retrieving expensive or unique equipment left behind, selling star charts to uncharted planets, and even some light corporate espionage to fill the coffers. Frilkium appeared to be an uncharted planet near the Frontier. It was rich with biological density and didn’t appear to have any intelligent inhabitants. What none of the G’lunk crew knew was that the Frillites had buried and reclaimed the last two corporate ships with their plants.

The Frillites sprung a trap, and Telinia watched with horror as the planet’s trees and vines dragged Ghrilham away to die and Kratog could barely get the G’lunk fired up. Kevin’s injury slowed him down and was slowing them down to the exfil site when Drichu gave in to his Battlerage. Telinia knew her friend wouldn’t come back and that she was losing someone else. She cried as they freed themselves from the green entanglement. The repairs to the G’lunk were extraordinary as the Frillites had been eating away as much of the ship as their vines could. Telinia could go home … Accept the money but also the responsibility of her family and title. Instead, she was not ready to give up her freedom just yet. A charter from Streel would float their repairs and give her time to plan the next stage of her career.

Telinia found new crew members to replace those she failed – though it is unproven whether their loyalties lie with Streel or her – and the Bodaz G’lunk flies again! Telinia has enjoyed the exploration and prospecting almost as much as she has been terrified of GODCo’s terraforming tech. As she looks forward, Telinia is also looking over her shoulder to Drichu’s memory and because she isn’t sure if she can trust her new crew with Sathars slithering about the Frontier space.

Capt. Tenilia Bodaz Character Sheet

Star Frontiers Setting and System Overview Here.

Star Frontiers © 1982 TSR Hobbies. All names and marks associated with Star Frontiers held by successors in interest to TSR Hobbies, Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast, Star Frontier, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © Wizards. All Rights Reserved. Seize the GM is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. No claim of ownership is intended or implied.  

Welcome back to card catalog where we continue with our 2018 look into science fiction games and setting! It was completely unintentional, but seems to be the recurring theme this year so we will just dive right in! Did you know that TSR made a science fiction game in the early 80s??  Not the zany and madcap Gamma World, but Star Frontiers? I remember the ads in old comic books well and it looked really cool! The eighth of the games developed by TSR over the years, it has a system wholly unlike what you may expect from a game that shares the legacy of Dungeons & Dragons … and a setting that if ripe for exploration and GM world building.  The last of the Supplements was released in 1985, in what was supposed to be book 1 of a three book revamp of the entire system. Generally, we’ll look at the Star Frontier – Alpha Manual for our rules with one or two little house rules along the way using the original rule set rather than the attempted switch over later in production to a set not dissimilar to the Marvel Super Heroes FASERIP style. That was introduced in the Zebulon’s Guide to the Frontier Volume I as the beginning of a revamp of the system and setting … that never quite finished.  Besides the Boxed Set called Alpha Strike, with its Larry Elmore cover, the Knight Hawks Supplement and Zebulon’s Guide to the Frontier Vol. I provide the vast majority of the rules and settings for Star Frontiers. Less than a dozen adventures were published, most of which are now available through Drive Thru RPG!

The game has a strong fan following and even TSR and Wizards of the Coast have acknowledged that.  A brief setting blurb in the 2004 d20 Modern Expansion provided the outline of the Frontier and put the main species into d20 stats but otherwise it’s maintenance has been the province of online fans. In the past year, Wizards of the Coast reasserted the overall rights to the trademarks after Evil Hat tried to get attention to take over the setting and publish new material which has paired back some of the fan developed work but maybe means that we will see new products developed for Star Frontiers soon.  I stumbled across several Star Frontiers fan websites that has been a labor of love for Star Frontiers and I heartily recommend checking them out, including the Starfrontiers.info site that had the fillable PDF character sheet.

System Overview

Star Frontier is a classless system in it’s original form.  Yes, a classless system but also a system that relies more heavily on attributes than skills. It is a rather innovative system especially for the era in which it was released and I expect you may see some of the derivatives of it to this day! The basic mechanic is a percentile dice roll with an attempt to get under the target number determined from the Ability and Skill combinations.  

Abilities come in four pairs – Strength/Stamina; Dexterity/Reaction; Intuition/Logic; and Personality/Leadership. One intriguing part of character development is that the attributes are linked in pairs so that Strength and Stamina begin with a shared roll as Abilities that are closely related to each other.  The scores range from 30 to 70 based on a percentile dice roll that is converted by chart to a score.

Once you have then selected your species, which are not what you might expect (though several would prove to be used in later TSR games with different names), you modify your abilities and add any specific powers of the race. Humans may modify one attribute in a pair by 5 while the other three player species each receive a zero sum set of modifiers usually as a +5 and -5.  Zebulon’s Guide added three more species to choose and another NPC option for flavor.

You now customize your attributes within the pair, so that you can trade up to 10 points between Abilities in each pair, such as between Personality and Leadership.

Skills are next – Star Frontiers begins with three Primary Skill Areas – Military, Technical, and Biosocial.  Each of these Skill Areas has a number of skills grouped beneath them – from 7 Military Skills to 3 in the other two Areas.  Military skills represent combat and military training ranging from unarmed combat through Demolitions, while Technical Skills are the mechanical and technical skills used in a tech driven society. Biosocial skills are how you deal with the surrounding races and environments.  In the Knight Hawks supplement, Spaceship skills were added – these were skills that were not part of a PSA but could be added to any character meeting the prerequisites … which were steep. Star Frontiers certainly left the piloting to the equivalent of Astronauts who were over 100 XP into a character and beyond starting character reaches.  For a House Rule, I am going to make Spaceship Skills a fourth Primary Skill Area with the XP Cost of the Biosocial Skills. This keeps them the most expensive of the skills but allows PCs to get to them.

Each Character chooses one PSA as their career focus and then selects 2 skills, one of which must be from the PSA chosen.  Skill levels range from 1 to 6 and represent a +10% bonus to the needed roll when using them. For example, the weapon skills chances to hit are all ½ Dexterity + skill level, so an average success chance with one Rank is 35%.  Rounded up Ability Roll to a 50 as a result with no modifications. Half of the 50 is 25% plus the Level 1 Skill to get to 35%.

Spend your starting credits, from 250-350 total, on equipment and gear and finish fleshing out your character.

Advancement with experience points, XP, could be used to increase Abilities on a 1 for 1 basis up to a maximum of 100.  This also applies to certain special abilities of the other player species, such as the Dralasites’ Lie Detection ability or the Yazirian’s Battle Rage. The other option is to purchase increases in Skills.  Military skills are the cheapest to purchase and increase, either because the designers valued combat in the game design or maybe because there were twice as many of them as the others, requiring 6 x Level in XP to purchase, while Technical are 8 x Level, and Biosocial 10 x Level.  You get to halve those numbers in your Primary Skill Area, so 3 x , 4 x, and 5 x respectively.

The Main Book goes through a number of rules specifics, as is the way of games in the early 1980s, that provide for how to handle different situations and the bonuses or penalties that come from it. Overall, you see a system that provides a great deal of flexibility by being Ability heavy and classless, but that is also an internally consistent system built around percentile dice.  For example, we have already noted that combat is built around the standard percentile test for Star Frontiers to attack. Damage is based on the weapon, as laid out in the equipment section, which is applied against the Stamina Ability score. It is a smart design move, compared to other TSR games, to use the same score for more than one thing and prevents additional complications! Defenses are based on the equipment that will reduce damage from different kinds of attacks, but usually will use up power cells when on.  Area of Effect and pure stunning weapons have Avoidance rolls that are set forth on page 28, but again it is an Ability Roll, either Stamina or Reaction, like every other roll in the game.

Zebulon’s Guide, which effectively began an unfinished Second Edition of the game made some radical shifts to the game play.  As noted above, it had a column shift style resolution system that seemed to go back to the Marvel FASERIP system that TSR had also worked on.  It also added more express classes. While the Primary Skill Areas could be seen as a form of Classes, since Abilities were more common, they didn’t feel as constrictive .  TSR tried to expand the possibilities of character creation and did that by adding 4 “Classes” with specific skill lists they could choose and by significantly expanding the skills available to create more differentiation in characters.  The combat system was also greatly changed, though whether it was improved is best left for the players who played both back to back. It lines up a bit more with the direction that other TSR games were going in the mid to late 1980s in design.  The addition of Mentalists is also indicative of the Psionic focus or craze from the mid 1980s which, while intriguing are not going to be a system I will go into for this Card Catalog.

Setting Overview

Star Frontiers starts with a straightforward fictional setting. The Frontier Sector originally showed 17 star systems, with a total of 23 colonized planets but another 21 star systems that hadn’t been explored.  Even the planets themselves were not fully explored leaving a great deal of leeway to any Referee to write their own adventures, worlds, and settings. The United Planetary Federation made up of the four United Races had formed in the wake of the First Sathar War.

In times past, humans, the ameoba-like Dralasites, nocturnal predator Yizarians, and insectoid Vrusk had not been united in the exploration of space and the star systems. It was the Sathar that we have to thank for bringing us all together – the worm or snake like Sathar and their expansionist but devious plans required the four races to unite to repel them.  It proved the beginning of a strong, but loosely organized alliance. Nothing in the UPF Charter changes how each planet governs itself, and they range from direct democracy to autocracy, so long as the taxes are collected to keep the Star Law Rangers and Spacefleet in good stead.

The past century has seen a rise of mega corporations that control entire planets and spread their commercial interests into far flung systems.  The Pan Galactic is the largest corporation in Frontier Space, and also the most powerful. This power leaves it under attack at all turns from its competitors and the new upstarts like Streel Corp., the Greater Vrusk Mutual Prosperity Institutions, and Interplanetary Industries.  Each of these mega corps offers charters and hires on ships full of the best and brightest of the Frontier to seek glory, and more importantly riches, for the company! These Charters are used as independent contractors to undertake prospecting, exploration, and other speculative activities as often as bolstering the corporate strengths. The pirates that raid the space lanes became more and more brazen even in the face of the Star Law Rangers.  The world was becoming busy and the UPF had dispatched it’s resources to face down the pirates and and stem off a potential corporate war.

Then the Sathar returned.  Their ships larger and in greater numbers.  Their cunning and ruthlessness was on full display in the Second Sathar War.  A full decade of warfare not only strengthened the opposition to the Sathar’s involvement in conquest of Frontier space, but also brought several more species into the UPF that had been part of the Rim for centuries – the quadrapedal and scaled Osakar; Ifshnits – herbivorous and independent hirsute humanoids; and the violent fatalistic warrior Humma.  We still don’t know where the Sathar come from. We still don’t know what motivates them to expand. What we do know is that they are intelligent, patient, and ferocious.

The Frontier Space had to face an extended Corporate War after the conclusion of the Second Sathar War.  As the UPF had spent many of its resources in repelling the invaders, it was not well set up to take additional authority and megacorporations saw opportunity in rebuilding across the UPF and Rim to turn a tidy profit.  The UPF had agreed to laws and compacts that prevented mergers and limited consolidation of companies after a certain size to prevent the Sathar from having a single supply chain target, but now that meant the new companies had grown large enough to get the attention of Pan Galactic and Streel. This hot war turned into a war of intelligence and sabotage as time went on and society truly rebuilt across the different planets ravaged by the Sathar.  In time, the Corporate War went cold as as the memory of the Sathar faded. Only to see Sathar biotech controlling potential assassins on the eve of the 111th Anniversary of the UPF Treaty. Star Frontiers is thus set on the precipice of the unknown – between tense governmental relations as the UPF abuts the Rim Worlds while a Corporate Cold War bubbles just below the surface and the twice beaten back invaders have shown a new and terrifying technology to use against the UPF.  You are part of this world, part of the Military, the Civil Service, or a Private Contractor who is seeking out not only the known worlds of the UPF & Rim but finding unexplored star systems and uncharted planets exploring the Future!

‘Bodaz G’lunk Chartered Ship

In Frontier Year 110, the Rim Coalition and the United Planetary Federation are still recovering from the Second Sathar War twenty years ago.  The victory over the Sathar was hard fought, and cost both dearly in the horrors of war. The Corporate War that followed has receded to a Cold War, and that is where the Streel Corporation finds itself.  The darling number 2 Megacorporation, rivaling Pan Galactic for breadth from shrewd real estate investments, is poised to upstage Pan Galactic in the 111 Grand Celebration of the UPF next year. Slowly absorbing competitors, the Streel Corporation’s heavy reliance on Dralasite, Yazirian, and Vrusk input has positioned it well to solidify its importance in the new Rim worlds that have opened up.

That is where the Chartered Ship, ‘Bodaz’ G’lunk comes in.  

Originally, the ‘Bodaz G’lunk wasn’t a chartered ship.  Captain Bodaz had her shot at fame and fortune striking out with her crew, and for a while it was a good time and good money.  It went sideways on a planet towards the Rim a few years ago, Frilkium. The planet hadn’t been tagged as having an intelligent native species, and the Corporate War had left these unnoticed natives rather nonplussed with the invaders from space.  When the Bodaz G’lunk came around, there wasn’t much they could do. The caught the fury and ire of the plant like Frillites that were facing the poisoning and exploitation of the planet by Corporations. They didn’t all make it out alive. Drichu sacrificed himself deep in his Rage to give the rest time to escape Frilkium. The irony is that as the Corporate War has gone cold, the only way to repair the ship and get back on her feat had Captain Bodaz sign a corporate charter.   

The ‘Bodaz’ G’lunk signed a charter with Streel and is being dispatched to complete survey and exploration tasks in the Rim – tasks geared towards expanding the ownership of new planets with an eye to agricultural supplies trying to block off the GODCo Terraforming of habitable, but less lucrative, worlds backed by the Cassidine Development Corp and the Capellan Free Merchants.  It is a heady time to explore – dangers abound, corporations wage a shadow war, and every corner could hide a Sathar agent fitted with biotechnology and spying for the ever feared invaders.

Captain Telinia Bodaz
Human Aristocratic Captain
11/27/18

Ever on the charming side of things, Captain Bodaz even got away with naming the ship after herself.  Why else would you have a ship of your own if it can’t carry your name? Sure, it made sense to follow the bleeding edge of the Corporate War and pick up the literal pieces.  Left behind tech, planets that were valuable but not lucrative, and the chance to ignore the UPF’s bickering after the Second Sathar War were great. Until that gigantic misstep on Frilkium.  It cost lives, including Drichu, and while the new crew members from Streel makeup for the loss of hands, it won’t make up for the loss of her Yazirian friend and confidant.

Kratog Gotark
Irreverent Dralasite Pilot
12/04/18

Yeah.  So, have you heard the one about the Human and the stick shift? No? That’s too bad.  You’ll hear it a dozen times over on the ‘Bodaz G’lunk as long as Kratog is the pilot.  The Dralisite lives up to the species reputation for bad puns and even worse jokes, but it is worth it when the ship gets where it needs to go.  Kratog comes from a long line of Dralisite pilots, but the problem is that Kratog knows this and is maybe a bit too sure of its skills. And the puns.  The puns just hurt.

Jorgein of Clan Abene
Ifshnit Exploratory Scientist
12/11/18

Streel Corp. “offered” Capt. Bodunk several potential crew members to make up for the loss of crew when they signed her Charter, and Jorgein impressed her.  Like many of Ifshnit, Jorgein is a warm and friendly soul. As he likes to say, Ifshnit just condense all the good in the tall races to a more handy and convenient package. An oddity for sure, in that Jorgein left the Capellan Free Merchants and signed on with Streel Corp.  Streel seems to trust him, but what had him leave his old life is a mystery that even V’orz Untisp has yet to know.

Streel V’orz Untisp
Vrusk Company Engineer
12/18/18

V’orz Untirk has been quietly and competently performing what was asked of her by the Greater Vrusk Mutual Prosperity Institution.  This bug grew up as part of a Company, and part of the greater whole that the V’rusk aspire to. Both a competent poet and an inspired engineer, V’orz Untisp exemplified the hard work and focus of the V’rusk as well as the aspirational parts of the V’rusk culture to be able to quietly collect art, sip tea, and remove themselves from the hustle and bustle.  This was not to happen, though. Streel Corp bought out the GVMPI, as companies are want to do, and the new Company not only found a home for V’orz, but promoted her until she began to chafe at the attention and rules. It was the perfect time for her to be sent by Streel Corp. to the ‘Bodaz G’lunk to get away from the strictures of the new Corporation’s Rules but also to ensure that the chartered investment in the G’lunk pays off.

Kevin O’Kilkirk
Human ex-Soldier Enforcer
12/26/18

The last member of the original crew left, Kevin O’Kilkirk started his life in the UPF Fleet, but in a nearly stereotypical fashion bristled at what the authority sought of him in training.  He made it through, but didn’t last long as found himself unceremoniously discharged. The UPF may have been down bodies, but he was a grunt not a pilot and when the Corporate War turned cold, they didn’t even want to take the chance on Kevin.  Drichu took the chance on him, convincing Capt. Telinia that he’d be a good pair of strong hands and sharp eyes. Drichu paid the price for that decision on Frilkium. Kevin is still haunted, having held him as the blood seeped from his body and across the extended patagia – he couldn’t keep his friend safe and his friend chose not to be safe to save him.  He’s still here, without any other real direction to go, but he has a weight on his shoulders he didn’t before.

Star Frontiers © 1982 TSR Hobbies. All names and marks associated with Star Frontiers held by successors in interest to TSR Hobbies, Wizards of the Coast.  Wizards of the Coast, Star Frontier, and their logos are trademarks of Wizards of the Coast LLC in the United States and other countries. © Wizards. All Rights Reserved. Seize the GM is not affiliated with, endorsed, sponsored, or specifically approved by Wizards of the Coast LLC. No claim of ownership is intended or implied.