Monday, September 24, 2018

Adventuring in Star Frontiers

The Star Frontiers Basic Game Rules booklet includes a glossary that provides a definition of role-playing game:  “A game that allows players to act out the exiting adventures of their characters, without being restricted by rules that limit what they do.”  I might be inclined to change the second part to “...without restrictive rules” or perhaps even “...where imagination is at least as important as the rules.”  Regardless, the term “reader” is also defined by the glossary:
A person who reads a programed adventure to the players as they play, rather than playing a character himself.  The reader is replaced by a referee in the Expanded Game.
In the two adventures detailed in the Basic Game Rules, the player characters are troubleshooters working for the Pan-Galactic Corporation (“The oldest and largest interstellar company” and “one of the most powerful organizations in the Frontier”).  The reader “controls the opponents the other players meet and reads the adventure to them.”  By default, the player characters are armed with “fully loaded” laser pistols.  In the first adventure, each player character also has a standard equipment pack that includes a doze grenade because...well, just because, OK?

At the start of the first adventure, “PAN-GALACTIC SECURITY BREACH,” the reader informs the players that their characters have been assigned to investigate 'raiders' of Pan-Galactic's research centers.  The reader then presents three options, each of which leads to different events and further options, much in the vein of a Choose Your Own Adventure® book.  An option is not necessarily a choice, but could be the result of an event beyond the control of the characters.  A diagram of the events and their connections is presented below.
The early portion of the adventure does not allow for meaningful variation; all paths lead to event #8.  Ultimately, the adventure results in one of three concluding events.  Each of these conclusions leads to the same endpoint – the player characters listen to a message that establishes that raiders are employed by the evil Sathar.
Then it describes the raiders' next mission.  They are to fly to a top secret military asteroid where research is underway on a special weapon that can reduce entire populations to mass hysteria.  They are to meet other agents who have already infiltrated the base and steal the device.
Obviously, this could be the basis of a further adventure, but one which the reader must develop.  The first adventure is replayable; different characters could be used and different options may be pursued.  Another variant allows characters to equip different weapons by allocating a number of points (e.g., needler = 4 points, gyrojet = 6 points, etc.).  There is also a competitive variant where some players control the troubleshooters and other players control the raiders.

In contrast to the first adventure's network of options and events, the second adventure is a simple situation.  In “ALIEN CREATURE ON THE LOOSE,” the player characters must stop an alien creature – a hydra – rampaging through Port Loren.  For purposes of replayability, there are rules that allow a reader to create a different alien creature (although it is still called a hydra).
To find its DEX/RS, roll d100, find the result on the ABILITY SCORE TABLE and add 5.  The creature gets 30 Stamina points and one attack per player character.  The person controlling the hydra then gets to select its movement speed, attacks, defenses, up to three special abilities, and its goal.
There are four possible attacks:  Acid Spray, Darts, Sonic Beam, or Gas Cloud.  There are four possible defenses:  Layer of Insulation (immune to needlers), Protective Shell (immune to gyrojets), Reflective Hide (immune to lasers), or Regenerates (“Reduces damage from each attack by 5 points”).  There are five possible goals:  “Eat enough to lay eggs,” “Find someone,” “Build a nest,” “Destroy the town,” or “Destroy all skimmers.”  (According to the glossary, a skimmer is “a five passenger vehicle that floats on a cushion of air” and it “can be rented for 10 Cr per day.”)  Special abilities are not chosen; the instructions say to “Roll 1d10 three times; roll again if ability repeats.”  The various special abilities are:
  • Smashes Through Walls (Walls do not impair creature movement; destruction of walls results in rubble that causes characters to stop their movement before crossing)
  • Shakes Ground (Characters limited to half movement)
  • Teleport (Up to eight spaces every three turns)
  • Spins Web (Can permanently block a square or detain a character for two turns)
  • Doze Gas (“Same as doze grenade...”)
  • Grows Stronger (“Gains 10 Stamina points if hit by a weapon it is immune to; if hydra has no immunity, it gains 20 points by damaging a monorail station”)
  • Grows New Attack (“Gains one attack if hit by a weapon it is immune to; if creature has no immunity it gains one attack when hit by a skimmer”)
  • Takes Extra Damage (When hit by a chosen weapon type other than that which the creature is immune, takes two points of additional damage; if no immunity, “takes 10 points of damage from each skimmer accident”)
  • Loses 1 Attack (when creature suffers at least fifteen points of damage from a single attack)
  • Changes 1 Ability (“...after being hit by a weapon it is immune to, the creature can change its attack, its defense, or one special ability...if it has no immunity, this happens when it damages a monorail terminal”)
The Basic Game Rules also provide a “step-by-step method” for “making up your own adventures.”  These adventures pit one team of player characters against another.  The six steps are:  Purpose (“pick a story outline to be the basis for your adventure”), Teams (“how many characters each team will have and what sort of equipment they own”), How To Win (“Set goals for each team”), Set-Up (“Choose the pieces and map you will use”), How To Play (“create any special rules needed”), and Rewards (“player characters can be rewarded for their actions”).  Pertinent advice is dispensed:
Notice that reader also can have characters run into events and obstacles as well as opponents.  Anything you can imagine can happen during a STAR FRONTIERS adventure.
There are suggested adventures that involve player characters stopping...
  1. the carrier of a “strange alien disease” that causes victims to become “violent and destructive.” 
  2. an “ancient alien artifact” that has taken over a Pan-Galactic base.
  3. an assassin at a “special meeting of delegates from the United Planetary Federation Council on Frontier Law and Peace.”
  4. an “abandoned alien city-ship...on a collision course with a colonized planet.”
Included in the Expanded Game Rules is a two page section on how to create an adventure.  Six steps are listed that differ from those in the Basic Game Rules.
  1. Choosing a theme or basic story and the goal of the adventure.
  2. Selecting the settings where the story takes place;
  3. Designing the events that lead to the goal, and the obstacles that must be overcome to reach the goal;
  4. Creating the non-player characters and creatures that the characters will meet, and deciding how they will affect play;
  5. Writing any special rules that are needed for unusual events;
  6. Writing a final outline of the adventure to guide the referee through the action.
The “final outline” is also called a script:
When you have decided the order of the events, you should write all the information you need to play in a script that shows when things should happen.  It is best to write down everything you need to know about each event so that you do not forget to give players important clues that will affect their decisions.  Number each event, so that you will know its order.  You can put the number of the event on a map so you can see where the event is to take place.  Each written event should include the following information:
  1. A description of what the characters can see.
  2. A description of what happens when characters enter the setting, including NPC and creature reactions.
  3. Ability scores for any NPCs or creatures that will be encountered in the area.
  4. Any special rules for the event.
  5. Random event probabilities.
  6. Notes about what the characters can discover from the event.
  7. Notes on what should happen if the characters succeed, if they fail, or take some other course of action.
Read your script several times, putting yourself in the position of a player trying to move through the adventure.  Make different choices to see whether you accounted for the most likely possibilities.  Make sure your challenges are not too easy or too difficult.  Players should need to use reason and judgment to overcome the challenges.  However, you cannot think of everything before the game, so try to be flexible and make sure each event challenges the players.
Suggested themes for simple adventures include:  “Explore a New World,” “Obtain Information,” “Retrieve a Stolen Item,” “Catch Criminals,” “Rescue Someone,” and “Mad Scientist.”

There is a one page sample adventure wherein player characters are supposed to find a ship “believed to have crashed” as well as “rescue any survivors and find out why... [it] crashed.”  At the crash site, the player characters can rescue a “small Yazirian child.”  They may also discover evidence “that a bomb was planted in the cargo.”  Again, this can be the springboard for another adventure.

We are informed that, “A guide map typically has a scale of 1 to 20 km per hex or square.”  The scale for the above map (from the sample adventure) is not disclosed.

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