Sunday, April 21, 2019

Assault on Starship Omicron (spoilers)

Art by Jeff Easley

In Heroic Worlds, Lawrence Schick declared, “There is no SFAC2.”  However, the Star Frontiers Referee's Screen is commonly considered to be the second Star Frontiers accessory.  In fairness to Schick, SFAC1 (Star Frontiers Official Character Record Sheets) and SFAC3 (Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space) are clearly labeled as such; the code SFAC2 appears nowhere on the Referee's Screen product.

As is common, the screen itself is a tri-fold sheet of thick card stock.  As is also common, the screen displays a combination of art and charts/tables.  For the Star Frontiers Referee's Screen, the art is limited to the Jeff Easley cover – a portion of which is depicted above.  The cover helpfully informs, “This package includes a durable referee's screen with all charts needed to play STAR FRONTIERS™ adventures.”  This product pre-dates Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space, so the rule changes introduced in that book are not addressed.  Otherwise, the information presented is fulsome.  Does the chart display “all charts needed” for play?  Well, not all tables from the rules are available but, technically, few tables are actually necessary to play the game.

As a game master, I have little use for screens.  I certainly understand their utility, but I would rather not have a barrier between me and the players.  As a player, I can benefit from information on the screen only if I'm sitting next to it; even then I would only be able to see one panel.  As a player, I prefer mood-setting art on a screen rather than charts and tables.  Obviously, the point of the charts and tables is to limit delays during the course of play.  Most information on a screen relates to combat since combat is the stage of play where delays are least tolerable.  The Star Frontiers screen includes the Skills Cost Table and the Robotic Design Cost Table; this sort of information is only needed during the game's downtime.  The following items are absent from the screen:  the Vehicle Control Table, the Rate of Fire Table, the Punching Table, details about structural damage, Grenade Bounce Diagrams, and the Avoidance Roll Table.  Any of these items presented on a screen would better serve a referee rather than “downtime” information.

In the Old School era, when Gamemaster's Screens were sold separately from a boxed set, they were commonly bundled with a small adventure.  The Star Frontiers Referee's Screen is no exception.  The cover continues to tell us about the product:
It also includes a mini-module, ASSAULT ON STARSHIP OMICRON, that can be used as a re-playable game.  The players must defend the starship from an attack by hostile aliens.
The concepts of “assault” and “attack” successfully convey the notion of hostility; referring to the aliens as “hostile” is somewhat superfluous.

The 'mini-module' was written by Old School stalwarts Mark Acres and Tom Moldvay.  Two distinct scenarios are provided:  “Sathar Attack” and “Rogue Robots.”  When the cover refers to the mini-module as a “re-playable game,” it is not an error.  In the 'How To Use This Module' section, we are informed:
Each scenario has been designed so that it can be used by a referee as part of a continuing campaign, or played and replayed on its own as a game.  Eight pre-rolled characters are provided.  When the scenarios are being replayed as a game, the pre-rolled characters should be used.  There should always be eight player characters at the beginning of each scenario; if there are fewer than eight players, some players should play more than one character.
In fact, using the mini-module as part of a campaign may not be desirable.  The referee is warned:
The combat in these scenarios is intense and deadly.  Players should not use their campaign characters unless the skills and equipment of the characters are equivalent to those of the characters included in the module.
Among the eight pre-generated characters, there are a pair of characters from each of the four player character races.  Each pair includes a male and female except for the Dralasites – their gender phase is not specified.  Generally speaking, the pre-generated characters are formidable.  The average number of skill levels among them is 8.375.  One of the characters possesses a Stamina of 85 and another has a Stamina of 75.  Write-ups for the pre-rolled characters take up one of the mini-module's eight pages.

'Assault on Starship Omicron' introduces a new alien species, the Zuraqqor.  They “are a race of intelligent, bipedal insects.”  We learn that the “Zuraqqor are technological experts” and they are allied with the diabolical Sathar.  Unfortunately, the module contains no illustration of a Zuraqqor.  The 'Alien Life Form Update File' for the Zuraqqor is a little more than one-half page.  A portion of the file is presented below for the reader's delectation.

The mini-module makes use of the Starship Bridge Area map from the Star Frontiers boxed set.  One of the booklet's pages is a Starship Upper Deck map meant to be used in conjunction with the Starship Bridge Area map; the hatches of both maps line up with each other.  (“An individual who opens a hatch on one map can move directly into the corresponding airlock on the other map.”)

According to the Introduction:
The starship Omicron, the pride of the Pan Galactic Corporation, disappeared years ago on its first voyage.  Recently the ship was found drifting in space, the passengers and crew killed by a strange and virulent disease.  The ship was decontaminated, refueled, and made ready for operations.  The PGC has hired eight adventurers to “babysit” the Omicron on her voyage back to a Corporation starport.  The ship is being navigated by her computers and robots and this promises to be an easy mission for the “babysitting” team.
Two pages are devoted to rules specific to the module (such as movement, life support, and ship locations).

In the “Sathar Attack” scenario, an invasion force boards the Omicron.  The force consists of “10 Sathar, eight Zuraqqor, two quickdeaths, and one cybodragon.”  The player characters are not alerted to this incursion until the Sathar open the “outer hull hatch.”  Evidently the Omicron has no escort and the Sathar can avoid the ship's sensors (assuming it has any).  As an option for the scenario, “a small sample of the disease spores...[are]...stored in the Medical Lab.”  Should combat occur in the Medical Lab, “there is an 80% chance that the vial containing the disease spores will be broken...”

In the “Rogue Robots” scenario, “the Zuraqqor have infiltrated a rogue robot onto the starship Omicron” somehow.  “The rogue robot has secretly reprogrammed all the other robots,” but not necessarily successfully.  Different types of robots have different percentage chances of genuinely being in the rogue robot's thrall.  The objective of the player characters is to determine which robot is the rogue and destroy it.

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