Sunday, February 26, 2017

A Science Fiction Game of Interstellar Exploration, Growth, and Combat

Art by Ernest Hogan

Pre-dating Traveller by a year, Starfaring is often touted as the first published science-fiction role-playing game.  Starfaring was first printed in August 1976, while Metamorphosis Alpha was printed in July 1976.  According to my calendar, Starfaring was therefore second, but if we categorize Metamorphosis Alpha as 'science fantasy' then Starfaring would be the first science-fiction RPG.  In my opinion, Starfaring is no less 'science fantasy' than MA; however, I concede that Starfaring conforms to the space opera genre while MA does not.  Interestingly, just as Metamorphosis Alpha emphasizes that its rules “are only intended as guidelines,” Starfaring author Ken St. Andre states on the title page:
- - These rules are only a framework.
The game depends on the quality of your imagination
to fill in the details of life in
the starfaring society of 2700 A.D.
All of the provided visual details of Starfaring – the illustrations – are cartoons.  This creative decision doubtless influenced how Starfaring was received by gaming consumers.  The quality of the art is consistent with other RPG cartoons of the time period; unfortunately, so is the humor.  St. Andre stops short of apologizing for it in his Introduction:
          When designing this game, I had no idea that my artist would have such a bizarre imagination.  None of the artwork herein included is meant to be offensive to any ethnic group, but is merely an attempt to represent more than white American masculinity in what we hope is an amusing fashion.
I can forgive 'bizarre', but I am less tolerant of 'not especially funny'.  The cartoonist, Ernest Hogan, would go on to become the Father of Chicano Science Fiction.

Starfaring clearly embraces the 'storytelling' paradigm.  The Introduction begins:
          STARFARING is a game of interstellar exploration for two or more players who will interact verbally to imaginatively create their own universe while they are playing.  It is science-fiction storytelling in your own living room...[The game] can be what you, the players, are willing to make of it in terms of visualizing the society of the future.
The Starfaring equivalent of game master is called the Galaxy Master.  Rather than players adopting the roles of individual characters, each player is a Ship Master.  Specifically, a Ship Master... the person responsible for  decision making and the description of the ship actions during the game.  If it comes down to a question of individual actions either aboard ship, planetside, or in space, this player must carry the story line.  The Ship Master needs to be given a specific identity, whether it is a stay-at-home capitalist who hires all the help he needs, or whether it is the ship's actual human captain, or the shell person* linked to the computer to be the ship's brain.  The Ship Master can also be a Robotic, Android, or Alien intelligence, if that is what turns you on.

* According to the game's glossary, shell people are “Intelligences, both human and alien, consisting of a living brain, a minimal body, and a mechanical life support system.  They are self-contained in a metal shell (hence the name) for safety, and are often installed in starships, in effect becoming the ship itself, and thus giving inert metal life, intelligence, and personality...”


  1. Have you ever looked at Star Probe by TSR from 1975. I think it covers a lot of the same ground. It's not quite an RPG but also not exactly a board or war game and the ship or ships captain is also the basic character.

    1. I know of Star Probe but I've not had an opportunity to look at it.

  2. What are the rules like? What is the implied setting? Is it any good?