SciFi Saturday – Skirmish Scenario

One thing about Douglas Niles' Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks game is that it comes with a very small number of pre-made scenarios (2 for the Basic game, and 2 for the Advanced), and it has no system for setting up, deciding on, or balancing other games for players so interested. This is the same strategy used for his Battlesystem Fantasy Combat Supplement, and it can be criticized as giving relatively small replay value out of the box. Other games such as the original Chainmail or my own Book of War go the other route -- no premade scenarios but a system for randomly generating such -- and thus give effectively infinite replay value in a shorter amount of printed space.

The other problem with Niles' few scenarios in Knight Hawks is that they're designed to communicate the  flavor of the campaign situation in the Second Sathar War, and so they're intentionally very unbalanced in favor of one side. In particular, the very first scenario is a ridiculously lopsided event where a pair of huge Sathar ships come blasting into a minimally-defended system, and the UPF player is tasked simply with evacuation and retreat. Not a fantastic way to introduce new players to the product or build up the normal tactical sense necessary for the game (unless, I suppose, they enjoy dominating as the bad guys -- like my own girlfriend).

So in the near future I'll plan to present a series of alternate scenarios that you might consider using, especially if you're presenting the game to new players at some point. Hopefully these scenarios will accomplish a few things: (a) Generally expand the play options from the published book, (b) Present more balanced games where either player has some chance of victory, and (c) More slowly build up the body of rules used for the games (for example: the first scenario below avoids any gravity wells or orbiting bodies, and just uses rudimentary ship movement). These alternate scenarios will be given a "Delta" designator (of course), and you should be able to play them under either Basic or Advanced Game rules, according to your (and your other players') preference. In a future post, I'll try to sketch out some ideas for balancing new games on the fly.

Scenario Delta-1: SKIRMISH

Near the start of the Second Sathar War, reports of unfamiliar ships on the Frontier border have caused the UPF to increase its regular patrols. On the far edge of the Timeon system, one of these patrols encounters a small scouting force of Sathar vessels. Each side wishes to score an early, decisive victory. 

UPF Ships
  1. UPFS Shimmer (Frigate)
  2. UPFS Flying Cloud (Frigate)
  3. UPFS Morning Star (Assault Scout)
Sathar Ships
  1. SAV Nemesis (Destroyer)
  2. SAV Hellscar (Frigate)
Setting Up. Each force is set up on opposite short ends of the map, traveling at a speed of 10 or less. Otherwise the map is just empty space. Roll dice to determine which player sets up and moves first.

Victory Conditions. Whichever player destroys or drives off all opposing ships from the map is declared the winner. If the winning player had only one ship that survived, then it is a marginal victory; otherwise it is a major victory.


  1. Thanks for these posts on Knight Hawks. A friend of mine had a copy of this when we were kids, but I think we only played it once. Your posts have inspired me to track down a copy.

    I did own a copy of Star Frontiers, but don't remember playing that much, either. I remember liking the rules, but something about the setting rubbed me the wrong way--too cheesy or not "serious" enough.

    Now that I think about it, I feel the same way about the implied and published settings for D&D, and other games produced by early TSR. I like those early TSR games for their rules, but favor what may be called the FGU approach to settings. Currently I have my D&D campaign on hiatus while I work on trying to mesh a more "serious medieval fantasy" setting (whatever that may mean) with the original D&D rules, without straining either overmuch.

    Anyway, my question for you is, you do a lot of excellent analysis of and tinkering with the rules of early TSR games, but do you ever get worked up about the settings or "color"? What role if any does the setting play in your enjoyment of the game, or your attempts to attract newcomers?

    1. Cool, so glad this inspired you to check it out again! (Also: Be sure to see this weekend's blog, it might help your search.)

      I guess for me, I can't say as I was ever bothered by the stock TSR settings, although I respect a more serious take on things. As a child of Star Wars, I always felt that the SF game had a very "cantina" vibe to it, which was good enough for me. (If I had been more steeped in Asimov-type pulp at the time, perhaps I'd have felt differently.) If anything, I feel like my games have a pretty low wahoo-quotient compared to what other people blog about these days.

  2. There seems to be a bit of a run on Knight Hawks boxed sets on ebay right now. It could be a coincidence, but I wonder if your posts had anything to do with it. I was going to pick up a copy, but will probably hold off now to see if the prices go down. I did snag a copy of Star Frontiers though.

    1. Ha, that's super funny, thanks for telling me that! (Maybe other 30th year anniversary stuff is going around?) I saw a friend going to throw out an SFAD set a few weeks ago, hated to see that, but didn't know what else I could do with it at the time.