Character CreationCharacters have four pairs of abilities: Strength/Stamina, Dexterity/Reaction Speed, Intuition/Logic, Personality/Leadership and are based in a percentile and are all named appropriately. Some other secondary attributes are derived from these, which gives skill bonuses. You pick a race, which modifies these scores. You then pick two skills, one as a specialisation and then another as something else you can do. After that, you buy equipment and finish with the details (name, weight etc).
MechanicsWhen you perform and action that might have a chance of failure, you roll a percentile under one of the attributes. Modifiers are applied and opposed rolls are done with largest difference winning. As you might expect, every eventuality is catered for: running, jumping, swimming, floating in space, skipping, eating shellfish, wrangling mothers-in-law and peeling potatoes. Ok, not eating shellfish.
Echoes of roleplaying's wargame roots come out in the combat system. Lines of sight, fields of fire and so on. Combat turns are simply explained, initiative, loser decides what to do first. Break out the battlemaps! You can get as complex as you like with the firearms rules, careful aim, cover, bursts, target size, gun colour, shape and size of target's hat and so on are all included. If you like crunch, Star Frontiers has enough crunch to cause astronomical dental bills. Stamina is used to work out how much damage you can take where shields and armour makes the system a lot less lethal. Vehicle combat slides unashamedly into the realm of board games and another set of rules for air vehicles. Nothing for space vehicles, which was a welcome surprise! Experience is handed out if you exceed the expectations of your employer, which is a fitting touch.
The settingStar Frontiers is set in a dense cluster of stars towards the galaxy's core. There are four friendly races (including a race very much like humans) and a race of unfriendly worm-like warriors who spoil every one else's fun. Boo! Hiss! Organising groups into good guys (United Planetary Federation) and bad guys from the start allows you to concentrate on the other space opera facets, such as faster than light travel and so on. The bad guys, faced with the combined might of the four races became hit-and-run guerillas in space.
The setting has a limited number of settled systems (17 with 23 planets in total) - enough for the choice you would come to expect from a space opera but not too many to be overwhelmed. It also includes 21 unexplored systems for the opportunity of throwing in gallivanting Kirkery into the mix. The colonies are well explained and there is a white-on-black map (printers beware!). There isn't too much detail, allowing the GM to add in their own little touches. The races are different enough to be make a fair number of interesting combinations.
Other sectionsAs with all truly old-school RPGs, nothing is left to chance: everything about roleplaying games is explained. You could dump this book on a base culture and it could use it as a basis for civilisation. There is an extensive weapon, equipment section and robot section; with pictures - some more Sci Fi than others (an M16?). The GM section is well put together (a third of the book) with some solid advice. It's a little bit authoritarian in places. If you are a fan of more story-based games, you might find the suggestions somewhat draconian. If you're saddled with disturbed, flesh-eating maniac players who exist in a moral vacuum like me, you'll welcome the Machiavellian tilt to the explanations. It has a very good example of actual play but this might be better put in the general section. There's also a bestiary of extraordinary animals. I liked the Cybodragon - a dragon with a laser on its head and a description of the bad guys. The last 40 pages is an example adventure. It's very good but I won't spoil it.
The book and communityFat, chunky borders. Bold images. Angular fonts. It's got the right look. I never owned the original but I am willing to bet that this is as close as you will get. It feels like an old school RPG. It has a picture-assisted story to describe how the game runs. Bill is obviously thrilled at being given guardianship of Star Frontiers and he's making every use of it. There is a huge amount of supporting material. And I mean HUGE. I think most of it is remastered but that doesn't matter.
Is this your cup of tea?My main reservation is inline with my reservations of old-school RPGs. They are wonderful time-capsules of a by-gone era but some of the more modern developments do make RPGs easier to play. The rules do stray into a board game, something I try to avoid in Icar and some of the images would delight a pubescent boy devoid of any right-hand literature. There is little space in the opera, most of the action occurs at ground level, so could be set on one planet with continents separating. Perhaps it is not surprising that there is little fault to find as this was a published game, once.
ConcludeSpace opera born in a more innocent time, when RPGs had just walked upright and stepped away from their war game cousins. Star Frontiers will be very popular to the Old School crowd but I feel that there is plenty here for more liberal gamers, too. It is AD&D in space but it does it very well. It would be unfair to view the principles in Star Frontiers as a cliché, they are simply a bedrock upon which to build fantastic adventures. A huge thank you must be directed to Bill for putting so much time and effort into reviving and propelling Star Frontiers into its modern PDF form. He continues to do a superb job.
Many thanks and well done!