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.


  1. I never liked Reaction Speed (RS) as it is one word too long for an attribute. It felt like it should have been called Reflexes (REF) as it is simple and to the point.

    Ideally, I would rather fold Leadership (LED) into Personality, replacing that stat with Willpower (WIL) as a means to resist Sather mind-control or strong racial tendencies (e.g. in Alien Worlds, Vrusk were going to suffer "artistic rage" over anything visually ugly or horribly asymmetrical, but they dropped it due to the inability to enforce such actions.)

    The skill system could stand to be slimmed-down to simple rolls of Easy, Moderate and Hard tasks, with a lot of the entries left as examples or colorful side-notes (like Naming). The game could also stand to have a "Rogue" PSA (thieving, fencing (stolen goods), espionage, etc.).

    Also, I would rather have the S'sessu (aka "worms") as a core playable race (occupying worlds in the north-west side of the Frontier Sector), with the "Sathar" being a faceless menace — making them even more mysterious and scary.

  2. Not to be all 'net nitpicky, but that illustration is by Jim Holloway, not Roslof.

    1. Thanks for pointing this out. I have made the correction.