Saturday, December 28, 2013

SciFi Saturday – 30 Years of Star Frontiers

Last January I started posting about the 30th anniversary of the space-combat game by Doug Niles, published by TSR, Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks. At the time, I figured I'd have enough material to maybe last three or four months. But here it turns out (somewhat assisted by my getting into assembling, casting, and sculpting spaceship miniatures for the first time) that I've managed to make a post about the game every single Saturday for the entire year. That's certainly the most consistent that I've ever managed to be about any art/gaming project.

I've heard it said that one should be careful about what a boy gets into at age 13, because he'll be stuck with it as an interest for the rest of his life. For me, I turned that age in 1983, which was a pretty important year for the gaming hobby, as the D&D boom was still going strong, if tipping into the downslide at that time. Among the important releases that key year:
  1. The D&D Red Box Set by Frank Mentzer. It's not "my" version of Basic D&D, but I know that it escorted many new players into the game, so for that I have to be thankful.
  2. The Greyhawk boxed set, expanding the earlier folio with more game-able information, which I had on my wall, and set almost all of my adventures in, for many years.
  3. D&D modules X4 and X5, the Master of the Desert Nomads series, which for all its playability flaws, has among the most epic set-flavor of any wilderness modules ever. I can still remember reading it on Christmas afternoon 30 years ago this week, on the couch at my grandmother's during the big family gathering, feeling like I had been hit by a thunderbolt.
  4. Walt Simonson's legendary run on the Mighty Thor comic began, with its arcane mix of mythology, Nordic adventure, superheroism, and Kirby-esque cosmic space opera. (Some argue that this was simply the best comic series of all time.)
  5. Somewhere at TSR, the Marvel Super Heroes roleplaying game was working its way through production channels, to be released the next year.
  6. Doug Niles' Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game was released, completing the Star Frontiers set and allowing us to roam and fight for the stars themselves. (And had sufficient legs as to be cross-referenced by other TSR games like MSH for spacefaring rules.)
All in all, an intoxicating and inter-connected brew of adventure, mythology, science, and wargaming which I was never able to shake off. I think that was also the summer that I spent almost the entirety in the basement with the TSR-80 Color Computer I'd gotten that year, working through the two books of BASIC programming projects from beginning to end on the little chicklet keyboard, and saving programs on the squawky audio tape recording system. And writing programs to let me play things like Bismark and Knight Hawks solo, for example. So that's basically the life-arc that I've been on ever since.

I think that in the mid-80's, Doug Niles may have been about the strongest actual game designer that TSR had producing work for them. His Knight Hawks game really hit all the right notes, I think, and it's taken about three decades years of tinkering with it to really see any flaws, and they still don't bother me very much. (That's high praise.) Likewise, his Battlesystem mass warfare rules were almost-but-not-quite-incredibly-good, a much-needed improvement over the Swords & Spells and Chainmail games that didn't really synch up with D&D anymore, the way it had evolved. It made a big splash, and you can tell that the guy cared deeply about the work with the revisions he made in the follow-up edition. (If not 1983, then the runner-up for most important year in gaming for me would be 1985, with the release of Battlesystem, supplements for Marvel Super Heroes, publication of Unearthed Arcana, and the departure of Gygax from TSR.)

So anyway, these 52 Saturdays are almost-but-not-quite everything that I have to say about the game at the moment. I don't plan to be posting every Saturday anymore, although there may be occasional game reports, and perhaps one last project that I didn't get to complete by the end of the calendar year. You'll see a shift back to more actual D&D-related posts (as per the name of the blog, after all) that I somewhat got away from in recent months.

In a rather beautiful piece of serendipity, just yesterday I received in the mail the limited-edition Star Frontiers 30th Anniversary Commemorative Patch from TerlObar, which is a rather beautiful piece, featuring the Assault Scout design in which all of our PCs would fly around to adventures (and hopefully not instantly blow up in a fight). I'm immediately going to put it on my backpack that I carry to school and class every day, sweet. (There are still some available for ordering at the link above.)



And one last thing:  The 13-year old me would stand in the hobby store at the mall across the state line and stare rather longingly at the brightly-colored boxes of spaceship miniatures for the game, wishing that he had the money to purchase them. Maybe two decades after that I got those boxes on EBay, but still didn't have the gumption to actually tear them open and assemble and paint them. So when I started this year I had zero actual Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks miniatures on my shelf to play the game with. Now I'm happy to say that's been greatly rectified; below you'll see a photo of my overall combined fleet. Both the 13-year old me and the current actual me stand in agreement in saying "pretty cool"!



Thanks for reading this stuff and your thoughtful comments are always appreciated. Hope you and your loved ones are safe, happy, fulfilled, and get even better in the new year. Have some good holidays and we can plan to read each other again in 2014.

9 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dude, that's fantastic! Thirteen-year-old-me stands in awe of your Star Frontiers fleet, and in total agreement on your assessment of MSH, Battlesystem, and the Unearthed Arcana. In fact, me-now does, too - I almost exclusively run older games with simpler rules. In fact, I just ran my fiance through "Against the Cult of the Reptile God" under some slightly-modified (but no more so than we did back in the day) 1st edition rules, and it went over like gangbusters! You keep posting on the old-school stuff and I promise that I'll keep reading! Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much for the kind words as always! (And yes, N1 is a very fine module indeed.)

      Delete
  3. Love your fleet and I'm looking to actually assemble and paint mine in the new year. I've had them for years but am just now getting around to painting.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely recommend it. It's been immensely satisfying to finally put those together!

      Delete
  4. I've really enjoyed your Star Frontiers posts. I started reading your blog about the time I was running an Alpha Dawn game via Google+, which was back at the beginning of the year.

    Yes, your fleet is wonderful. It's great to see!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much! Great how it serendipitously hooked up with your interests this year!

      Delete
  5. I have to say that I've found your Knighthawks series to be far more intriguing than I at first assumed it would be--I wasn't much of a fan of the game, as I believe we discussed a while back, but i've followed your posts on the matter pretty religiously. is this the end of the line for the Star Frontiers postage? Will the new year bring us a new theme?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It is the end of the regular SF postings. Might be a few more rare ones in the future. I'm not planning a specific theme in the near future, but there's sure to be some mix of OD&D, wargames, and superheroes. Thanks so much for reading this year, it's very gratifying!

      Delete