Originally posted here: https://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2021/05/review-star-frontiers-alpha-dawn-and.html
Gamma World might have been TSR's first big entry into sci-fi gaming (Warriors of Mars and Metamorphasis Alpha non-withstanding), but it was not their biggest. While I don't have any hard numbers in front of me, I am going to have to say that Star Frontiers edges out the later Alternity in terms of popularity. It was certainly built at the height of TSR's fame with the first edition, simply Star Frontiers, published in 1982 with the new edition and trade-dress Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn and Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks.
Certainly, in terms of fans, Star Frontiers has Alternity beat. But more on that soon.
For this review, I am considering the PDFs and Print on Demand versions of both Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn and Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks. I am also going to go with my recollections of playing the game when it first came out.
The Alpha Dawn book is designed by "TSR Staff Writers" but we know ow that a huge bulk of the work was done by David "Zeb" Cook and Lawrence Schick. Knight Hawks was designed primarily by Douglas Niles. The cover art in both cases was done by Larry Elmore with interior art by Elmore and Jim Holloway with contributions by Jeff Easley, Tim Truman, and even some Dave Trampier. Keith Parkinson would go on to do some other covers in line as well.
While originally boxed sets (gotta love the early 1980s for that!) the PDFs break all the components down into separate files. Handy when you go to print the counters or the maps. The Print on Demand versions put all the files together into an attractive soft-cover book for each game. The maps are published in the back, but you will want to print them out for use.
Both books are easy to read and really nice. They have been some of my favorite Print on Demand purchases ever.
Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn
Alpha Dawn is the original Star Frontiers game. The box game with two books, a Basic and Expanded game rules, some maps, counters, and two 10-sided dice. The rules indicate that one is "dark" and the other "light" to help when rolling percentages, but mine were red and blue. Go figure.
The Basic Game is a 16-page book/pdf that gives you the very basics of character creation. There are four stat pairs, Strength/Stamina, Dexterity/Reaction Speed, Intelligence/Logic, and Personality/Leadership. These are scored on a 0 to 100 scale, but the PCs will fall between 30 and 70. Higher is better. These can be adjusted by species and each individual score can also be changed or shifted.
The four species are humans, the insect-like Vrusk, the morphic Dralasites, and the ape-like Yazirian. Each species of course has its own specialties and quirks. I rather liked the Dralasites (whom I always pronounced as "Drasalites") because they seemed the oddest and they had a weird sense of humor.
We are also introduced to the worm-like Sathar. These guys are the enemies of the UPF (United Planetary Federation) and are not player-characters.
The basics of combat, movement, and some equipment are given. There is enough here to keep you going for bit honestly, but certainly, you will want to do more. We move on then to the Expanded rules.
The Expanded Rules cover the same ground but now we get more details on our four species and the Sathar. Simple ability checks are covered, roll d% against an ability and match it or roll under.
Characters also have a wide variety of skills that can be suited to any species, though some are better than others, Vrusk for example are a logical race and gain a bonus for that. Skills are attached to abilities so now you roll against an ability/skill to accomplish something. Skills are broken down into broad categories or careers; Military, Tech, and Bio/Social.
Movement is covered and I am happy to say that even in 1982 SF had the good sense to go metric here.
There are two combat sections, personal and vehicle. These are not starships, not yet anyway, and were a lot of hovercars and gyro-jet guns.
There is a section on creatures and how to make creatures. I am afraid I took that section a little too close to heart and most of my SF games ended up being "D&D in Space" with the planets being used as large dungeons.
The background material in the Frontier Society though is great stuff. I immediately got a good just of what was going on here and what this part of the galaxy was like. While Earth was never mentioned, you could almost imagine it was out there somewhere. Either as the center of UPF (Star Trek) or far away, waiting to be found (Battlestar Galactica).
This book also includes the adventure SF-0: Crash on Volturnus.
When it comes to sci-fi some of the rules have not aged as well. Computers still feel very limited, but the idea that as we approach the speed of light we can enter The Void has its appeal.
The price for these books is perfect. Grab the PDF and POD combo. Get some d10s, load your gyrojet gun and get ready to make the jump to the Void. There are new planets to discover!
Parts of Star Frontiers, in particular the species, would find new life in D20 Future, part of the D20 Modern line.
Both games are fun, but suffer from and/or benefit from the design principles of the time. Newer players might find some of the game elements dated. Older players of the games will find them nostalgic. Personally reading through them now some 40 years after first reading them I get a lot more enjoyment from the rules. Back then I was really too D&D focused to really enjoy what I had in front of me. Today, well I can't wait to stat up a character or two and a starship.