Star Frontiers…

In Another World, This is my “D&D”… After the Break…

Star Frontiers…

The world of computer games is vastly different than that of pen-and-paper RPGs. You don’t need to be a computer science major or a game theory expert to figure out the particular reasons as to why. Yes, the two venues share similarities but there are some very stark differences as well.

First, you can’t play a pen-and-paper RPG alone. Yes, there were specially-made “solitaire” RPGs and, to be honest, I played a few of them. They are, for the lack of a more diplomatic response, “an acquired taste.” For you coffee drinkers out there, it is the difference between drinking ‘regular’ and ‘decaf.’ So playing pen-and-paper RPGsĀ  back when playing such games was popular was usually reduced down to (A). Who wanted to be the game master (the person who ‘directed’ the game) and (B). What did everyone want to play?

The answer was usually “Dungeons & Dragons” (otherwise known as ‘D&D’ but, for the most part, was actually “Advanced Dungeons & Dragons” but everyone just called it Dungeons & Dragons) because that was what everyone knew and what everyone was most comfortable with. Yes, there were people who played “Paranoia” and those who played “Superheroes!” (I think that’s what it’s name was) and a few other “one-off” sessions where someone demonstrated a game but, for the most part, if you wanted to play a pen-and-paper role-playing game, you were playing D&D… And that’s too bad because even back during the non-Internet era of our civilization (yes, kiddies, there was such an era – Ask your parents), even a novice RPG player knew of dozens of other games but, even though they were readily available on the market, they weren’t available practically because not enough local people wanted to play them.

One game that I had always wanted to play a lot more of then I had was an RPG called “Star Frontiers” and it was made by the same company that made “D&D” (TSR, or Tactical Studies Rules). It was billed as the science-fiction version of D&D and, because of D&D’s dominance in the marketplace, was well-positioned to at least be competent in the marketplace. And, yet, the product line failed. Yes, it lasted for a few years but, given all of it’s inherit advantages… It didn’t succeed. By the end of 1985, it was done. There was supposed to be an overhaul of the game but only the first of three volumes of that overhaul (called “Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space”) was ever published. The other two volumes simply vanished… Never to be seen by the public, even to this day.

There are a lot of reasons given for why any particular RPG failed during the heyday of pen-and-paper RPGs (generally given as 1975-1985 but, of course, that range is flexible by a few years in either direction). Some of the reasons for why Star Frontiers failed was that it was a “Star Wars” rip-off at a time when the last movie of the original trilogy was still fresh in the minds of most people; That the system was not original or fresh enough when compared to D&D; That the game was not supported fully by TSR as it went through turbulent leadership issues; That is was simply the case of “bad timing,” that pen-and-paper RPGs were already beginning to decline in popularity and that the brand was too expensive to continue forward, especially in light of the success of D&D.

Fortunately for all of us, the Internet never lets anything die. Star Frontiers has lived on as the Internet has prospered. New fan-based game material has been generated. It has been stated that TSR and, by extension, Wizards of the Coast (the company that took over the rights to D&D), has “given up” on Star Frontiers. They won’t enforce their copyright of it so long as no one attempts to overtly make money off of it. How accurate that statement is, I don’t know. As a result, though, the game continues to live on. You can download it for free. You can download countless other official modules and fan-made modules for free.

I am always impressed when little-known properties are given second and third lives because of their fanbase. The dedication of these fans to these properties is both stunning and inspiring.

I never played “Star Frontiers” as much as I had wanted to back when pen-and-paper RPGs were still mainstream viable. I am glad, though, that it continues to live and grow on the Internet. The world of computer games and pen-and-paper RPGs is different but there are similarities. One similarity is a devoted fanbase and I, and everyone who has been involved in gaming, should be thankful for the dedicated fanbase that keeps Star Frontiers from being just another memory. Thank you.

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