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.)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Character Generation and Improvement in Star Frontiers

Art by George Wilson

Characters in Star Frontiers have four pairs of abilities:  Strength/Stamina, Dexterity/Reaction Speed, Intuition/Logic, and Personality/Leadership.  In creating an SF character, 1d100 is rolled for each pair.  Results are checked on the Ability Score Table; scores range from 30 to 70 in increments of 5.  It's not quite a symmetrical bell curve distribution; there is a 10% chance of obtaining a score of 30, a 20% chance of a score of 45, and a 5% chance of 70.

Aside from humans, there are three races to which a player character may belong:  Vrusk (“insect-like creatures with 10 limbs”), Yazirian (“ape-like humanoids able to glide short distances using lateral membranes”), and Dralasite (“amorphous creatures that can control and even alter the shape of their bodies”).  Even in a fictional galaxy, racism rears its ugly head.  Sometimes, Yazarians are derisively referred to as “monkeys.”  Vrusk are sometimes called “bugs” and Dralasites, “blobs.”  The discrimination which Dralasites suffer is hinted at in the illustration below.

Art by Jim Holloway
Ability scores are modified based upon the character's race.  For the non-human races, positive modifiers are balanced out with negative modifiers.  (As an example, Yazirians receive +5 to Dexterity/Reaction Speed and Intuition/Logic; they also receive –10 to Strength/Stamina.)  Human characters receive a bonus of +5 to a single ability (not both abilities in a pair).

In 2004, Wizards of the Coast published d20 Future as a supplement for its d20 Modern System.  Included in d20 Future are details about a variety of settings, among which is Star Law, which is derived from Star Frontiers.  We must consider the d20 Future information to be apocryphal since it does not jibe with the original Star Frontiers rules.  For instance, d20 Future indicates that Yazirians have ability modifiers of +2 Dexterity, –2 Intelligence, and –2 Charisma.  This ignores the negative modifier to Strength/Stamina and contradicts the positive modifier to Intuition/Logic.  The 'comprehension' and 'lie detection' abilities of the Vrusk and Dralasites (respectively) are ignored in d20 Future.  However, both races gain the 'darkvision' ability.

The Expanded Game Rules permit a player to transfer up to ten points from one attribute to its paired attribute.  So, you can increase Stamina by reducing Strength.  If attributes are paired because they are closely associated, it makes little sense that one could be improved at the expense of the other.  It would be far more believable if points could be transferred between unrelated attributes; focusing on one attribute might well cause a dissimilar attribute to atrophy.  Since ten points can be transferred, there can be a twenty point difference between two paired attributes.  Given that the basic range of possible attribute scores is forty (70 – 30 = 40), this means the range of difference between two paired attributes can be as much as 50% of the extent of possible ability.  This belies the notion of paired, associated attributes.

Character aptitude in Star Frontiers (at least in the Expanded Game) is skill-based.  Although not technically a step in the character creation process, skill selection is an important individuating factor among characters.  There are three Primary Skill Areas:  Military (with seven skills), Technological (with three skills), and Biosocial (with three skills).  Thirteen skills may not seem like much, but some skills are broken out into subskills.  As an example, 'Environmental' is one of the Biosocial skills and consists of nine subskills:  Analyzing Samples, Analyzing Ecosystems, Finding Directions, Survival, Making Tools/Weapons, Tracking, Stealth, Concealment, and Naming.  (Incidentally, the 'Naming' subskill gives naming rights to a character “when he discovers a new plant, animal, mountain range, etc.”).  Subskills have a “Success Rate” equal to a base percentage plus 10% for each skill level.  “At the start of the game,” the rules states, “each character must choose one Primary Skill Area as his career.”  Each starting character gets two skills at level one; at least one of the skills must be from the character's PSA.

The last step in creating a character per the Basic Game Rules is to name the character.  “If your character is an alien,” the rules suggest, “try to give it an alien-sounding name.”  Cultivated from various sources, here are examples of personal names for members of the three playable alien races.  For Yazirians, example names include Yalua, Manetoe, Geeko-sur-Mang, Bakchu, Eusyl, Viyizzi, Yoe, and Thu-Ju Kip.  Among Dralasite names, there are Dartha, Grod, Konchinho, Dromond, Diracman, and Drosophage.  (Eater of flies?)  Vrusk individuals have been named Gdtlask Gltak, Yttl, Itklikdil, C'hting, Dazzell, Maximillian Malagigg, Vuzzie'vaz, and – regrettably – Krakker Jakk.

The last step in generating an Expanded Game character is to determine the amount of starting Credits.  (A Basic Game character receives ten credits and a “Standard Equipment Pack.”)  Apparently, naming a character under the Expanded Game Rules is taken for granted.  Anyway, each character is entitled to a number of Credits equal to 250 added to the result of 1d100.  “The character can spend this money immediately on equipment,” we are told, “or save some of it until later in the game.”  A good flashlight has a cost of 5 Cr.  Depending upon the page consulted, a Standard Equipment Pack can cost either 150 Cr or 250 Cr.

“A character learns things and improves himself through his experience on adventures,” we are told.  Presumably, females – as well as hermaphroditic entities like Dralasites – are also capable of improvement.  Referees should award player characters “3 to 7 [experience points] each during an average evening of play.”  Each experience point (XP) spent on an ability increases the score by one (to a maximum score of 100).  Purchasing a new skill at level one has a cost of 6 XP (Military), 8 XP (Technological), or 10 XP (Biosocial).  Attaining higher levels of a skill has an ever increasing cost.  Reaching the highest level (sixth) of a Military skill would cost 126 XP.  The same level of a Technological skill would cost 168 XP and a Biosocial skill, 210 XP.  Costs are halved for skills within a character's Primary Skill Area.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Join The Galactic Task Force...Or The Galactic Legions


With Dungeons & Dragons, TSR started and fomented the fantasy role-playing game phenomenon and during the early years of the hobby, it was the pre-eminent RPG publisher.  It was only natural that TSR would leverage its status to promote a science fiction / space adventure role-playing game.  TSR released its effort, Star Frontiers, in the summer of 1982.  After 1985, TSR published no more Star Frontiers supplements.  Granted, the game still has its fans, but its published lifespan was only 3½ years.  This is not a long-term success considering the amount of support TSR could employ (if only in terms of marketing and distribution).

William A. Barton (who would – among other accomplishments – co-author GURPS Space) wrote a review in The Space Gamer #60 wherein we learn the original name of Star Frontiers was to be Alien Worlds.  A hint of this is captured in the game's subtitle, “Exciting Adventure on Alien Worlds.”

Lawrence Schick in his Heroic Worlds states, “In 1982 TSR waded into the pool with Star Frontiers, a game that had unfortunately been crippled in development by too much committee design.”  Schick was one of the original designers (along with David “Zeb” Cook), so his insight is cogent.  Schick continues, “The systems were originally designed for players aged 14 and up, then heavily redesigned (without play-testing) for younger players, resulting in some very muddled rules.”  (Star Frontiers was marketed as a game for “ages 10 and up.”)  Schick does not list Star Frontiers among Heroic Worlds' Top Five Science Fiction: Space Adventure Systems recommendations.

Dragon #65 includes an article (“Blastoff!”) that offers a first look at Star Frontiers :
The STAR FRONTIERS™ game project was ambitious from the start. The problems that appear when designing three complete and detailed alien cultures, a huge frontier area, futuristic equipment and weapons, and the game rules that make all these elements work together, were impossible to predict and not easy to overcome. But the difficulties were resolved, and the result is a game that lets players enter a truly wide-open space society and explore, wander, fight, trade, or adventure through it in the best science-fiction tradition.
Article author Steve Winter was also credited as the editor of Star Frontiers and he provides more detail about the game's development:
          Design work on the game started in the summer of 1979.  Dave Cook and Lawrence Schick, full-time designers for TSR Hobbies, were assigned to the project.  Their goal was to create a wide-open science fiction role-playing game with a solid scientific base.  TSR wanted a game that would satisfy fans of hardcore science fiction, and still be easy to play.  Dave and Lawrence started by designing a character-generation system and simple rules for movement and combat.  Then they started playtesting, adding and revising.
          The game grew and changed for two years, until it was finally submitted for review in the summer of 1981.  During those two years, TSR Hobbies grew tremendously.  The company had discovered that its games appealed to a much broader audience than wargamers and fantasy fans alone.  D&D® and AD&D™ games, for instance, were selling to people who had never played a wargame or a role-playing game before.  In order to tap this huge market, TSR decided to restructure the STAR FRONTIERS game so it would appeal to people who had never seen this type of game.
          This decision meant most of the game needed to be rewritten and reorganized so persons with no gaming experience could buy it, take it home and play it without learning a lot of rules.  The number and types of dice in the game were changed, the maps and counters were added, and many realistic but complex rules were sacrificed for playability.  In general, there was an overall softening of the game’s “hard core.”
Additionally...
          In order to meet the game’s scheduled release date, this revision work was split up among different members of TSR’s product development staff.   The project was completed in time for its scheduled release at the GEN CON® XV game convention.
Making Star Frontiers an introductory game and crafting it for a younger audience was a sensible if not necessary choice; splitting up revision development and foregoing playtesting, less so.

Winter claims, “The rule book includes detailed guidelines for creating adventures, alien planets and the plants, animals, and intelligent creatures that live on them.”  However, this is not entirely true; no rules for creating alien planets were included.  Zeb Cook would eventually provide planet creation rules in the final issue of Arēs (Spring 1984).  Also missing from the initial set are “rules for spaceship design [and] combat.”  Winter admits that these things are a “very important aspect of science fiction.”  However, according to Winter, “We didn’t want to insert a weak set of starship rules, or raise the price of the first set by increasing the size of the rule book.”  This is eminently reasonable.  An in-game rationale is that “most starships in the Frontier are owned by large corporations, planetary governments or starship travel companies.”  Therefore, player characters will not own starships.  (A separate set of starship rules, Knight Hawks, was published in 1983.)

The setting of Star Frontiers is “a region of space called the Frontier Sector.”  (Perhaps the game should have been titled Star Frontier.)  According to the basic game rules, this sector is...“Near the center of a great spiral galaxy, where suns are much closer together than Earth's sun and its neighbors.”  According to Winter, the volume of the frontier is “1,500 cubic light-years [and] contains 38 star systems.”  Although Winter says “cubic,” the map of the frontier is 34 light years × 44 light years, which is 1,496 square light years.  The distances among the various populated systems (i.e., the “established travel routes”) suggest they are all on the same plane.  Therefore, the setting is effectively outer space in two dimensions.  Did TSR think that three dimensional space would be too difficult to represent for their target demographic?  This 'simplicity' of space is one of the problems I had with the setting.

Players could choose among four races for their characters, including “a Human race...not identical to the Humans of Earth, but they were not very different, either.”  Basic D&D allowed for four player character races, so a variety of four races for Star Frontiers is tenable.  Fortunately, the non-human races are neither anthropomorphic animals nor humans with merely cosmetic differences.  They are alien, but sufficiently compatible with one another.  Separate from the player races, the Sathar are “an evil race of worm-like aliens” about which very little is known.  We are told they “should be NPCs only.”  Yet, on the Racial Reaction Modifiers table, Sathar are listed as a player character race.

Given that the player races have fought a war against the Sathar in the Frontier, it seems unlikely that the United Planetary Federation would have left any systems in the sector unexplored.  However, Winter says, “Only 17 of [the 38] systems have been explored and colonized when the game starts.”  This is another of the problems I had with the setting.

It is unclear if the home systems of the player races are represented on the Frontier map.  I assumed as much because (1) each race exclusively controls at least one system near the edge of the map and (2) no “established travel routes”  are indicated that would lead to systems off of the map.  Assuming that the home systems are along the edges of the map, why would the races engage in exploration only toward one another and not in an omni-directional fashion?  This is yet another of my concerns.

“With the frontier as its background,” Winter tells us, “the action in a STAR FRONTIERS game focuses on exploring new worlds, discovering alien secrets or unearthing ancient cultures.”  Contrary to Winter's notion of “a truly wide-open space society,” the setting of Star Frontiers is constrained compared to the vast environments to be found in competing products like Traveller and Space Opera.  This is another deficiency of the game.

Instead of having an abbreviated frontier, perhaps interstellar travel could have been accomplished via star-gates linking systems to one another.  In this way, the physical position and proximity of star systems would be irrelevant, only relative positions within the star-gate 'network' would matter.  No star maps would be required and the extent of 'known space' could be limited or expanded as needed for any given campaign.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Dragons of Underearth

Art by Denis Loubet

The Fantasy Trip Kickstarter is in its final days.  For those of you who don't know, The Fantasy Trip is...well, let's let designer Steve Jackson (US) explain (from Heroic Worlds):
          The Fantasy Trip, or TFT for short, came into being in 1977, when I designed Melee for Metagaming.  Melee was intended to be a (relatively) realistic, but super-quick game, useable either as a combat system for fantasy RPGs or as a stand-alone game.  It used only two statistics: Strength and Dexterity.  Combats were quick and bloody, until you got about a dozen on each side; then they became slow and bloody.  But it was a simple and very playable system.
          While Melee was being designed, I toyed with a few spells, but did not include them in the final version.  However, by popular demand, they grew into a companion game, WizardWizard was actually the same game with one more stat (IQ) thrown in and magic rules instead of weapon combat.  Therefore, the two packages were totally compatible; a wizard could fight with, or against, a warrior.  These were the game's two “character classes.”
          Melee/Wizard became quite popular, due both to simplicity and to the very low cost (originally $2.95 for Melee, $3.95 for Wizard).  There was a great deal of demand for the “complete” role-playing system.  And, in 1979, after entirely too much time and work, The Fantasy Trip was released.
After TFT was published, Steve Jackson separated from Metagaming.  Jackson went on to establish his own game company.  Metagaming retained the rights to TFT, but Jackson further developed the concepts of TFT in forming the basis for GURPS.  Metagaming went out of business and TFT went out-of-print.  Now, however, Jackson has obtained the rights and is running the aforementioned Kickstarter campaign.

Metagaming published Dragons of Underearth before it closed its doors.  Dragons of Underearth is...well, let's let designer Keith Gross explain (from Interplay #8):
...DRAGONS OF UNDEREARTH has basically the same content as THE FANTASY TRIP in its full ITL [In the Labyrinth], ADVANCED MELEE & ADVANCED WIZARD form; the rules cover essentially all of the same subjects.  However, DRAGONS OF UNDEREARTH is much shorter (about 20 small pages) and much easier to learn and faster-playing.  It is slightly less realistic and leaves out some of the more esoteric weapons, spells, etc.  It does not have all the colorful descriptions and background information that ITL, ADVANCED MELEE, and ADVANCED WIZARD do, but many gamers do not need this.
The front of the box makes the declaration, “Compact Rules For Fantasy Role-Playing.”  The back of the box indicates:
DRAGONS OF UNDEREARTH gives you danger and glory in a complete, fantasy role-playing game where you are the hero.  UNDEREARTH simplifies play, giving you more time for action and surprise.  Included are character creation, magic, monsters and combat (introductory, intermediate & advanced versions for easy learning).  And, you don't need a game master or special dice.
Please note the claim of being “a complete, fantasy role-playing game.”  (The game also refers to itself as “a complete character role-playing system.”)  Yet, neither did Lawrence Schick include it in his Heroic Worlds, nor was it listed in The Adventurer's Handbook.  Perhaps Dragons of Underearth was considered too derivative of The Fantasy Trip.  However, the notion of publishing basic and advanced versions of the same game is hardly novel.

Keith Gross planned something called Conquerors of Underearth as a TFT adventure that would have “Adventurers entering a Goblin fortress and encountering organized military units, and as such often involves 10-20 or more fighters in a battle.” Given the number of participants, a battle in Conquerors could be “very slow and complicated.”  Gross fashioned a simpler version of TFT to make Conquerors more playable.  This simpler version became Dragons of Underearth, a distinct product.  Ironically, Conquerors of Underearth was never published.

Like TFT, players create characters in Dragons of Underearth by allocating points among three attributes:  Strength, Dexterity, and IQ.  Like TFT, IQ establishes how many talents a character may have and the variety of talents from which to choose.  Like TFT, talents such as Animal Handler, Physicker, and Theologian are listed.  Unlike TFT, only combat related talents are explained in Dragons of Underearth.  According to section 6.2, “Other talents are fully explained in the Magic Item Creation section of this module or in CONQUERORS OF UNDEREARTH.”  Also, per section 5.2, “Non-Combat spells are described in CONQUERORS OF UNDEREARTH™.”

If your product lists talents and spells, acknowledges that the talents and spells need description, and refers the reader to a separate product for those descriptions, your product fails to be “complete.”  If that separate product won't ever exist, insult is added to injury.  Ultimately, Dragons of Underearth only incorporates rules that relate to combat.

So, when can we consider a role-playing game to be complete?  Is The Future King complete?  That game does not allow for creation of original characters and there is only one adventure.  While Heroic Worlds does not mention Dragons of Underearth, it does list The Future King as a role-playing game.  Of course,  Heroic Worlds includes solo gamebooks as RPGs.

The rules for Dragons of Underearth are divided into two modules:  Character Generation (©1981) and Combat (©1982).  In addition to the obvious, the Character Generation module includes tables for armor, weapons, and monsters/beasts; rules for experience; and rules for creating original (combat) scenarios.  The Combat module has three tiers of rules:  introductory, intermediate, and advanced.  The introductory sections cover the basics (appropriately enough).  The intermediate sections bring into play ranged combat and (optionally) poison, creatures, and bare-handed attacks.  The advanced sections discuss spells and magic items.  Each tier has three scenarios incorporating the rules from their respective tiers (to facilitate learning).

The third advanced scenario is called 'Battle of the Chasm' in which two forces are positioned on either side of “a two-megahex wide pit.”  Only a narrow bridge crosses the chasm.  The 'Dark Power' force consists of six orc “swordsmen,” four orc archers, two trolls, and a greater demon.  Included among the 'Fellowship' force are two human fighters, a dwarf fighter, an elven archer, a wizard, and four halflings (one of which has a “Ring of Invisibility”).  This makes for an interesting situation; someone should write a book where this is a pivotal scene.  For dramatic tension, maybe the dwarf – no, one of the humans – wants the ring for himself.  Maybe the other human is really a prince or something.  Of course, no one wants to read about a Fellowship; that's too hokey.  They should be called the League of Murderhoboes or the Brotherhood of Death Dealers.

Why 'Dragons' of Underearth?  One dragon is featured in an intermediate scenario.  Perhaps someone at Metagaming hoped that the word 'Dragons' in the title would imply a likeness with Dungeons & Dragons.  Perhaps Metagaming had sitting around some Loubet art featuring a dragon.