Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This Game Sucks

[man…just a side note before I begin: just looking at that Roslov cover art on my post about D1-2 give me the chills in a good way. It almost, ALMOST, makes me want to start up an AD&D game so I can run some players through it. Maybe a B/X conversion is needed…?]

Chgowiz posted something in his death of Targa article that got me thinking (no, not about Targa…ain’t interested, thanks). He wrote (regarding the OSR):

“I don’t think we’re re-inventing something new – we’re expressing a love for a game in a style and way that we like and prefer. 30 years from now, people who love 3E and 4E are going to be doing the same thing. We're just doing it with the first iterations of this game and we're in the moment now with what we

As I commented on his blog, maybe I’m just a short-sighted person, but I don’t see that happening.

Sure there will be cranky old folks that NEVER STOP playing 3E and 4E that will continue their crazy ways far into the future (probably, I’m guessing). But I just can’t see people returning to those particular editions. It’s just not that great a game.

I’m going to compare this to Star Frontiers, even though the better equivalent might be to use my feelings on AD&D. Every time I come across my old SF books, I pick them up and lovingly flip through them. And then I put them back again. Just seeing their beautiful Elmore covers conjures loads of nostalgia for me…I played A LOT of Star Frontiers back in the day, both on the playground and around the gaming table.

But that way lies disappointment.

I know this because I’ve experienced it before…more than once. The game system was always vaguely disappointing even when I was younger. Advancement is too slow. Character gen is slow with little pay-off. Combat is too complex for what it accomplishes and fails to model well. And yet the game isn’t “gonzo” space opera enough, for my tastes. Oh…and Yazirians are just stupid.

I think the last time I got excited about Star Frontiers was when I found all those Voluntas adventure modules available for download…hmm, or maybe another time when I found a copy of the Knight Hawks starship supplement. Doesn’t really matter…every time something inspires me take a look at SF, I pull it out give it a quick once over and remind myself that the game blows. For my purposes anyway, I just can’t stand it.

Some games just have game breakers for me. Cyberpunk 2020, for example has Solo’s special ability bonus to initiative which makes it retarded to play any character NOT a solo (at least if you intend to run intensive Friday Night Firefight games). 2nd edition AD&D fails as soon as you hit the XP system…oh, and the conspicuous absence of assassins and decent bards.

But I LOVE the idea of Star Frontiers. I find the Elmore artwork inspiring. The solo adventure in the Basic book is pretty darn cool, and the Advanced book seems (at first) to simply expand on its goodness. Working for the Pan Galactic Corporation is MY kind of non-gritty space game (if I want gritty, I’ll go with Traveler). Needler pistols are cool. Vrusks and Dralasites are cool. Saathar are pretty contrived, as are “space pirates” but oh, well. I dig all the cool miscellaneous gadgets in the equipment section.

It would be hip to run a game similar to the scenario in the Basic book…basically, your players are corporate shills/troubleshooters preventing interstellar industrial espionage. In the past, I’ve usually had players’ hook be some kind of token affiliation with Star Law. But you know what? It ain’t gonna’ happen. And the reason is, the game system is not to my liking.

Skills suck. Keeping track of SEUs suck. Inertia screens in theory are cool but in practice, suck. Percentage dice for attributes suck. Long, flowing lists of modifiers for combat suck. Yazirians suck (with the exception of the one on the cover…woo-hoo! Light ‘em up cowboy!).

I really wish there WAS more “wa-hoo” in Star Frontiers. Certainly we always played it up as such on the playground (playground play being: “make shit up since you don’t have your rules/dice with you”). On the playground, there were a lot more gyrojet weapons than lasers or even sonic devastators because rockets make “whooshing” noises and have big explosions. Oh…and projectile automatic weapon fire (heavy machine guns, anyone?) are good, too, for similar reasons.

Being a member of the PGC on special assignment to Star Law for the tracking of “the Macaroni Maniac” (our equivalent of the Pink Panther thief) across half a dozen galaxies can be a lot of fun…as long as you don’t have to sit down and work with the rules as written. The system itself cripples the fun factor of the game…and that blows.

Which is why, while I hang on to my SF books, am nostalgic for them, and dote lovingly on them, I don’t ever intend to play them again. 25 years have gone by and I am fully immersed in my B/X game system, a system that is truly excellent and immensely playable. Similarly, I COULD play OD&D (the Little Brown Books) with some minimal house-rulings…though, the house rulings would simply convert it into something close enough to B/X that…um…why bother?

Hell, even Top Secret is playable (despite the immensely clunky hand-to-hand system). But Star Frontiers? No. The frustration is too great.

Not every game is worth a re-play, no matter how much supplemental material is available, and no matter how “nostalgic” one gets over it. I sincerely doubt I will ever play 3rd edition D&D again. I keep the books for two reasons: 1) they’re beautiful, artistic, works of art (the writing as well), 2) if I ever forget how much I loathe them, I have only to pick them up and look at the system. Ugh! If I got rid of ‘em, my nostalgia might lead me to a rose-colored memory which might lead me to re-purchase these stinking piles, see? Better to keep them as a doorstop.

And 4E…well, in addition to driving folks away from WotC, I’m pretty sure that the folks who enjoy 4E now are going to be enjoying “8E” or “Virtual World of Warcraft” or whatever it is that’s the latest, greatest cheap thrill 30 years from now. I don’t think any of ‘em are going to be saying, “hey remember those heroic surges? Remember how D&D used to be like a table-top version of an on-line MMORPG? Maybe we should play that again!” Come on, you really think that’s going to happen?

Original Dungeons & Dragons AS A GAME is pure gold. B/X is, as far as I can tell, simply a refinement of that gold. AD&D muddies the gold a bit (in my opinion), but it’s still gold under the dross.

Yeah, nostalgia draws us back, but that's not what keeps us here. If it was, I’d be playing Star Frontiers ‘cause that game makes me REAL nostalgic. Unfortunately, it sucks…kind of like the recent iterations of D&D.


  1. But then again, there are a lot of us who have picked up Star Frontiers again. I play in a monthly game that's been going for over a year now and love it.

    Just check out the interest in the game over at the Star Frontiersman e-zine.

    So yes, there are some of us who will be going back to other editions. Just like we did with the gaming gold that is Star Frontiers.

  2. Oh,'re such a game-ho...why can't you stay monogamous to one RPG like the rest of us? What with your "2000 games and 400 PCs!" Why should we take your word on the matter when you'll play ANYthing?

    ; )

    (just joshin' with you guy)

    I'll give your Frontiersman E-Zine a look, but I doubt I'll be posting a retraction anytime soon... : )

  3. No retraction is necessary in my opinion. Star Frontiers is the only game I owned and GMed in my wellspent youth that I have not replaced and positively have no desire to play again. And for just the reasons you outlined.

  4. I intensely enjoyed playing Star Frontiers as a young teen--Something about the setting just clicked for me (big Vrusk fan, go figure). But reading your post made me realize what I was enjoying about the game had nothing to do with the rules.

  5. Well, maybe Star Frontiers will be the next conversion to Goblinoid Games' Labyrinth Lord rules set.

    JUST KIDDING, JUST KIDDING!!! Please don't do it Dan! Exploring space with a corporate sanction is NOT the same as dungeon delving! Different rule set needed.

  6. It seems to me that SF is seeing a major surge in popularity for the past few years that while it might not be equal to BX or OD&D's renaissance it is definitely there. I am a big Star Frontiers fan, and have been for years, and I will freely admit it is not everyone's cup of tea, but for some it is definitely worth returning to.

    PS: Maybe "X-Plorers" would be more your cup of tea.

  7. @ Blu...never heard of XP, but I'll look into it one of these days. I've actually been in the process of designing two of my own "sci-fi" flavored RPGs for the last couple years, though neither is in an Old School, Frontiers-style game. More focused, indie-style RPGs. I'll let y'all know when they're ready for purchase.

  8. I still play Star Frontiers on occasion, and it's a great game for its genre. The problem is you're trying to play the wrong genre with it.

    Star Frontiers isn't "woo-hoo". That's Star Wars. Star Frontiers is the Heinlein/Asimov/Piper/Harrison game, of serious Golden Age SF set at a personal scale instead of with spaceships blowing shit up all the time. I treat it as 1/2 Asimov's Galactic Empire, 1/2 Stainless Steel Rat, 1/2 Alien.

    Though with the "skills suck" attitude, you'll have a hard time with any game addressing more than medieval turnip farmers.

    1. Yep, the problem is the player wanting to be playing a different game and blaming the game for it. This review sucks as it in no way shows what's "wrong" with the rules. "Advancement is too slow" is a meaningless criticism, for instance.

    2. @ Matt:

      This isn't a review.