Sunday, September 9, 2018

Combat in Star Frontiers

Art by George Wilson

The Star Frontiers boxed set included a 16 page book of Basic Game Rules and a 60 page book of Expanded Game Rules.  The Basic Game Rules serve as introductory material, of course.  In presenting the setting, there are five paragraphs of “A Short History of Known Space” and a page with a short piece of fiction accompanied by five Jim Holloway illustrations.  There are the requisite instructions for using percentile dice and an explanation of role-playing games:
If the players cooperate and reach their goal, everyone wins.  A skilful player who uses the same character in several adventures will see that character rewarded, becoming richer, more powerful and able to handle more difficult missions.
One-and-a-half pages describe character creation for the basic game – no skills or alien abilities.  The actual section called Basic Rules covers the essentials of movement and combat with specific details regarding the 23" × 35" map of Port Loren.  We are informed that, in a six second game turn, a character can move and/or use a weapon.  Otherwise a character could reload or “stand and do nothing.”  (A later statement suggests that it is possible to both walk and reload on the same turn.)

Each character has an Initiative Modifier equal to one-tenth of his (or hers or its) Reaction Speed.  At the onset of every turn, both sides roll d10 to determine initiative.  For a given side, the Initiative Modifier of the character with the highest Reaction Speed is added to the result.  The combat sequence is straight-forward.  First, the side with initiative moves then attacks.  Afterward, the other side moves then attacks.  On a turn when the modified initiative rolls are tied, “the side with the highest single reaction speed moves and attacks first...However, damage caused by successful attacks does not take effect until after both sides have fired that turn...”  The fact that all characters on a given side move based on the speed of the fastest character is somewhat unrealistic, but realism must defer to practicality for ease of play.  In the Expanded Game Rules, characters can “roll their own initiative” and take actions in appropriate relation to one another.

The combat sequence for the Expanded Game Rules is somewhat more intricate:
So, the side without initiative actually moves first.  The logic of this escapes me.

When initiative roll results are tied in the Expanded Game Rules, “the side with the highest modifier has initiative.”  No provision is made for simultaneous damage effects.

In the Basic Game, an attack is successful if the result of d100 is equal to or less than the attacking character's Dexterity.  “A roll of 01 – 05 is always a hit,” we are told, “regardless of modifiers, if the target is visible and in range.”  In the Expanded Game, ranged attacks are successful on a roll of half of the character's Dexterity; melee attacks are successful on a roll of half of either Dexterity or Strength, whichever is greater.  Each level of a weapon skill adds 10% to the character's chance to hit with that type of weapon.  Also, with the Expanded Game a roll of 96 – 00 is an automatic miss.

A roll of 01 – 02 knocks the target character unconscious.  When using “a blunt weapon (including  bare hands),” a result of any multiple of ten (equal to or less than the chance to hit) also causes unconsciousness.  With the Martial Arts skill, the 01 – 02 chance is increased by 1% per level of skill.

Damage is subtracted from Stamina.  “A character whose Stamina has been reduced to 0 or less is dead,” according to the Expanded Game Rules, “but can be revived if his Stamina has not gone below –30.”  To be revived, the character's Stamina must be raised to higher than zero.  If the character has been dead for less than a minute and Stamina is not below –9, an application of Biocort can revive the character.  Staydose allows a character to remain alive for twenty hours (twenty-four in the Basic Game), so as to receive proper medical attention.  Otherwise, a body can be preserved for up to two hundred hours with a Freeze Field (assuming the device is activated within two minutes of death).  If a character suffers burn damage in excess of his (or hers or its) Stamina, “the character is completely incapacitated.”

Stamina may “heal naturally at a rate of 1 point for every 20 hours (i.e., a day in terms of Galactic Standard Time) that the character spends resting.”  A character can heal up to twenty points of Stamina per day while in a hospital at a cost of one credit per point plus fifty credits per day.

A reviewer in Dragon #65 expressed concerns about combat in the Basic Game:
...the weapons do a surprisingly small amount of damage, no more, than one or two dice. Figuring the average of 1d10 as 5.5 and the average stamina as 45, characters will have to be hit about four to eight times (depending on weapon strength) to be knocked unconscious – and this without benefit of defensive armor! Because of this relationship between weak weapons and strong characters, firefights can get a bit monotonous and drag on and on. Not only is this somewhat “unrealistic,” but it slows the game down precisely when it should be at its most fast-paced and exciting.
This concern is somewhat assuaged with the Expanded Game Rules:
Because of increased rates of fire and the opportunity to change energy settings on beam weapons, characters can do considerable damage with their weapons in the expanded game, putting excitement and a real sense of danger into combat situations. In addition to damage taken against stamina, some weapons can cause unconsciousness. To help the characters out in this suddenly more dangerous environment, there are several types of defensive suits and screens that can absorb damage from certain types of attacks.
A wide variety of of weapons are available.  The 'Beam Weapons' skill covers use of “elecrtostunners, heavy lasers, laser pistols, laser rifles, sonic devastators, sonic distruptors and sonic stunners.”  The 'Projectile Weapons' skill applies to “automatic pistols and rifles, bows, muskets, needler pistols and rifles, machine guns and recoilless rifles.”  However, gyrojet weapons have their own skill.

A sword inflicts 3d10 points of damage; an electric sword inflicts 4d10 and a sonic sword, 5d10.  Automatic pistols and rifles both do 1d10 (or 5d10 with a ten shot burst).  In the Expanded Game Rules, there are two types of defensive armor:  suits and powerscreens.  As an example, a skeinsuit absorbs “one-half of the damage caused by projectile and gyrojet weapons, fragmentation grenades, explosives and melee weapons.”  Once the suit absorbs fifty points of damage, it is no longer functional.  An inertia screen offers the same sort of protection at a cost of two Standard Energy Units per attack.  (A Power Beltpack has 50 SEU; a Power Backpack, 100.)

Instead of saving throws, the Expanded Game Rules offer 'avoidance rolls' by which a character may “avoid or reduce the effects of some weapons by leaping or twisting away from the attack, or by resisting its effects.”  For instance, by rolling Reaction Speed or less on d100, a character can reduce damage from a fragmentation grenade by half.  Such a character “must move 3 meters to get out of the blast area.”  A blast cannot be avoided if “the character has nowhere to move to...”  (Only one grenade may be avoided per turn.)  By rolling current Stamina or less, a character can completely ignore the effects of a doze grenade.  (Incidentally, a standard equipment pack includes one doze grenade.)


  1. The logic behind the move order seems to be that those who have initiative will be able to react to the movement of the side that does not. Also, note that the side without initiative has to choose whether to stay in one place and therefore be able to react to the movement of the side with initiative and fire at them while they move, while the side with initiative gets to both fire at moving figures from the other side and then also move themselves.

    For myself, I'd probably choose to allow the side with initiative to choose whether to move before or after the losing side, but I'd leave in place the restriction that a figure can't make reaction fire after it has already moved in that turn itself.

    1. Also, I don't like the declaring portion. It's better for play to just have players make decisions when it comes time instead of taking a time out so everyone can decide. So, I'd replace segment 3-5 with:

      3. Side A may move. Any characters who move will not be able to shoot for the rest of the turn. Characters on side B may be able to shoot at opponents who move through their field of fire.

      4. Side B moves. Characters on side A who have not already moved may be able to shoot at opponents who move through their field of fire.

      5. Characters from side A who have not already moved may move now. Characters on side B who did not move may be able to shoot at opponents who move through their field of fire.

    2. Thank you. I agree with your preferences.

  2. was my favorite comic as a kid in 70s
    one of the best issues

  3. Sweetly nostalgic for star frontiers we played a lot but we're very fast and loose with the rules being about 11 or 12 years old. Used a lot of needle pistold with my vrusk