Star Frontiers Characters Without Number

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by Tom Verreault

A Rules Conversion

This is a conversion guide for using the Stars Without Number RPG rules in the Star Frontiers game setting. Why adapt Stars Without Number to the Star Frontier’s game setting. Firstly, the Stars Without Number rule set is a D20 system.  It’s one of the better presentations of the D20 game system I’ve seen. Since Wizards of the Coast’s D20 game mechanic remains the 600 lb. gorilla in the RPG gaming room, it only makes sense to not ignore the gorilla and convert Star Frontiers to the D20 mechanic.

I’m not under the illusion that die-hard fans of Star Frontiers will jump ship the minute they lay eyes on this conversion, they wouldn’t be die-hards if that was the case. The reality is that there are a lot of people familiar with the D20 mechanic and little else so this conversion is really for them.  My involvement in producing Star Frontiers fan magazines clearly outs me as one of the die-hards and yet I rather like the Stars Without Number rules. I can’t help but think that if I had introduced my weekly D&D group (which is made up of die-hard D20 fans) to Star Frontiers but with the Stars Without Number conversion we might actually be still playing that campaign.

Tom Verreault

Stars Without Number is a leveling system retro clone of the classic Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons rule set. Its handling of skills is rather elegant and corresponds nicely to the Star Frontiers mechanic for skills. As a bonus the Stars Without Number rule book is available as a free PDF download and it comes with an enviable set of resources and aids for game masters.

What You Need

You will need at least the free copy of the Stars Without Number rules and the Alpha Dawn rules for Star Frontiers.  This article is strictly a conversion guide to aid in creating Stars Without Number characters in the Star Frontiers setting.  More articles will follow that deal with other elements of the Stars Without Number rules in the Star Frontiers setting.

Character Creation Overview for Stars Without Number

Being the step-child of the Gygaxian D20 mechanic, Stars Without Number characters generate ability scores by rolling 3d6 and recording results for Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma. One of 3 classes is chosen. Then a background and a training package, each of which provide the character with levels in skills. If both the background and the training package have the same skill then the character starts with it at level 1 instead of 0. In this rule set, the classes function like the Star Frontiers PSAs in some ways and all the classic Star Frontiers character types can be generated from the Stars Without Number system.

The Conversion Changes

Stars Without Number, in its core rulebook, is a “humans only” sci-fi system lacking a step for choosing a race. It’s pointless to convert without including the iconic Star Frontiers player character races. For the conversion a choice of race is added just before choosing a background and training package.  As in the Star Frontier rules, choice of race modifies the ability scores and provides the character with racial abilities.

The Stars Without Number rules have three classes and one of them is psychic which translates to the mentalist PSA in Star Frontiers. The mentalist rules have always been optional in Star Frontiers and a psychic character should be created with referee’s approval. This leaves the conversion with only two classes if the psychic class is not allowed and it might be perceived as a lack of character differentiation. The truth is that choice of background and training package is what differentiates characters. Choice of class does impact the character on a mechanics level but choice of background and training packages differentiates characters from each other. Even with only two or three classes, Stars Without Number is a very robust system. As part of the conversion, Star Frontiers specific backgrounds and training packages have been added as well as race specific backgrounds.

The New Player Character Creation Procedure

Essentially the new procedure is the same except for the step involving choosing a race.

  1. Roll Ability Scores
  2. Choose a player character species (race)
  3. Choose a player character class
  4. Choose a background
  5. Choose a training package

Roll Ability Scores

The procedure is to roll 3d6 six times and record the results in order: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution and Charisma. Since ability scores have a low impact on the overall mechanics of the game low scores are not the handicap they might be perceived to be. However, a player may make a prime requisite (for their character’s class) ability score a 14 in order to play the class he wishes or a group may opt for rolling 4d6 and dropping the lowest die to generate higher ability scores. Like Star Frontiers, Stars Without Number has rules for the limited transfer of points among ability scores.

Choose a Player Character Species

The “core four” player character species in Star Frontiers are humans, vrusk, dralasites and yazirians. The Alpha Dawn edition of the Star Frontiers rules has a one page description of each species covering physical structure, customs and society; a digitally remastered version is available on the Star Frontiersman site or scans of the original can be found on the StarFrontiers.com site. When choosing a player character species, record the ability score modifiers for that species and any special abilities on the player character sheet. Certain of the racial abilities for the Star Frontier player character races are listed below as racial skills. This means that that ability is treated as a skill within the Stars Without Number system. It is advanced at level advancement in the same way as any other class skill and it tests in the same way as any other skill. Unless stated below racial abilities function exactly as described in the Alpha Dawn rule book.

By Tom Verreault

Humans, according to the Alpha Dawn rules, emphasize training and education more than other species thus they gain two points that may be add to any ability score or split between two abilities.

Vrusk are fast but lack the stamina of humans -1 to Constitution and +1 to Dexterity. They are Ambidextrous (no penalty for using the “off hand” to fire a weapon or perform a skill check) and practiced observers of social interactions. A vrusk begins play with level  0 in Vrusk Comprehension as a racial skill.

Dralasites are a highly adaptable shape shifting race known for their strength, +1 Strength and -1 Dexterity. Dralasites can generate multiple limbs to assist them in numerous situations. The actual number is 4 plus 1 per two points their dexterity is over 10 (12= 5 limbs, 14= 6 limbs, and etc). If a dralasite character has generated any number of legs more than two and is required to make an ability or skill check to avoid falling or similar bad effect while moving over difficult terrain he gains a flat +1 to the check. If a dralasite character is in hand to hand or melee combat  and has generated any number of arms more than two he gains a flat +1 to the to hit roll. Note it is important for the player to state what sort of limb his character is generating as it also takes 10 minutes to absorb a limb and or generate a new one. Finally all dralasites start with level 0 Lie Detection as a racial skill.

By Don Freeman

Yazirians are the clannish warriors of the Frontier but they evolved on a lower gravity world; -2 Strength, +1 Dexterity and +1 Intelligence. They have pataquim skin flaps (like a flying squirrel) that allow them to glide in gravities up to 1g. Yazirians also begin with Battle Rage as a level 0 racial skill. Once per combat they may attempt to Battle Rage and on a successful skill check they gain a +3 to melee combat for the rest of the combat.

 

Choosing a Class

Stars Without Number had three classes: Warrior, Psychic, and Expert. The psionic rules have always been optional in Star Frontiers whereas in Stars Without Number they are written into the fabric of the game. The decision to keep them optional in a conversion is purely a nod of the head to the perception of Star Frontiers being less science fantasy than other rules systems. Additionally the mentalism rules from Zebulon’s Guide were rushed into print and lacked play testing that would have revealed some of their inherent flaws. Since the Stars Without Number psychic rules are better integrated into the rule set I recommend keeping them and having fun them in a slightly different take on the Frontier.  The only reason to exclude it would be for “purity of the setting”, whatever that means.

As stated before, any character that could have been created in the Star Frontiers rules can be created in Stars Without Number rules despite its seemingly limited number of classes. The true character differentiation comes in the next step.

Choosing  Background and Training Packages

Background and training packages grant skills to the character. If both grant the same skill then the character begins with it at level 1 instead of 0.

A Note on Tech Skills

Because Star Without Number is essentially a different game thematically than Star Frontiers it has some very different tech skills. The following changes are recommended.

Astronautic: no change.

Maltech: Anything that applies to forbidden or outlawed technology. This technology could be of sathar or Clikk origin which means it is outlawed for private use or bio- or nano- warfare technology developed in secret mega-corp labs. Characters that demonstrate great skill in Maltech will undoubtedly have an extensive file with Star Law and be monitored closely.

Medical: no change.

Psitech: with the possibility of playing the Stars Without Number psychic class psitech should be kept unchanged.

Postech and Pretech are skills dealing with different kinds of technology that are identified by their relationship in history to the central event of the Stars Without Number timeline, the Scream. Since the scream does not exist in Star Frontiers the logical thing would be to replace Postech and Pretech with the traditional Star Frontiers tech skills: technician, computers and robotics. I recommend further refinement with technician skill being concerned with machinery including the structural workings of a robot and computers being concerned with programing including the programing of a robot and robotics skill can be deleted.

Anytime training package or background states Pretech or Postech it can be changed to Technician or Computers skill. Computers is a separate skill in Stars Without Number but it can be subsumed into the tech skill without breaking the system or the conversion.

Backgrounds

For the most part the Stars Without Number background packages all work for Star Frontiers characters with only slight changes to their descriptions. The following are recommended for exclusion: Armsman, Peasant, and Tribesman. They could be worked into the setting with some modification; for example the Armsman background could be used for a body guard of a noble on Clarion but his skills should be updated to reflect Clarrion’s higher tech.

The following backgrounds are for the Frontier specifically and some require the character be of a specific species. It is not required that a player playing one of the non-human species choose one of the following racial backgrounds; they are simply included for flavor.

Family of One Adherent (yazirian only)

The Family of One religion is a dominant power structure in yazirian society , controlling a world, a system militia and a mega corp. All members wear a uniform to show their profession and social position. Most adherents come from Hentz but may come from any world.

Skills: Culture/Hentz, Religion, and any two skills

Traditional Clan (yazirian only)

There has been a strong “back to their roots” current in yazirian society due to the heavy handedness of the Family of One. Many clans have become staunchly traditional and connect deeply with their warrior past. Most carry one or both of the honor weapons; zamra (throwing disk) or kha’dan (sword).

Skills: Culture/World (any except Hentz), Combat/Primitive Weapons, and any two skills

Yazirian Priest (yazirian only)

Yazirians are the most overtly religious of the Frontier’s aliens. For the most part a yazirian priest will be from the Family of One but a dissenting priest would be from a clan practicing the old ways.

Skills: Culture/World (Hentz for Family of One or Any except Hentz if a dissenter), Religion, and any two skills

Dralasite Philosopher/Debator (dralasite only)

Dralasites are renowned for their love of philosophy and debate. Their social schools, stoa, are the incubators of this. It’s an accepted practice for dralasites to broaden their education through travel so many leave the stoa for and adventure among the stars.

Skills: Culture/World, Scholar, Persuade, and any one skill.

 

Vrusk Corporate Drone (vrusk only)

The vrusk businesses are a society unto themselves and vrusk usually remain loyal to their company for life. Occasionally some leave the company for adventure, due to expulsion, or because the company went under.

Skills: Culture/World, Bureaucracy, Business and any one other skill.

By Tom Verreault
Pirate

Piracy has surprisingly flourished on the Frontier. Outer Reach has become a haven for pirates and some mega corps have sponsored pirates as deniable/disposable tools in their corporate wars and schemes. The modern space going pirate is a real presence in the Frontier.

Skills: Culture/Spacer or Criminal, Combat/Any (except Psitech), and any two skills.

Mega Corporation Executive

The mega corporations are power brokers and movers in the Frontier, influencing worlds, governments and trade. They employ thousands upon thousands of beings making past corporate employment a real possibility for a player character.

Skills: Culture/Corporate, Business, Leadership, and one other skill.

Noble

The planet of Clarion is the only overtly human monarchy in the Frontier.  However, other planets do have a nobility but these positions are couched in different terms. The planet-bound crime lords of Outer Reach as well as oligarchic families on other worlds are just examples. The immediate families of yazirian clan chiefs could also be viewed as nobility. Adventuring nobility can be viewed as not performing their expected obligations either because they were driven out of their position or are simply living the adventuring lifestyle for fun and excitement. Nobility from Clarion is most likely human.

Skills: Culture/World, Leadership, Combat/ Any (except Psitech), and any one skill.

Training Packages for Experts

Most of the training packages for the Expert class require little to no change. If a package lists both Pretech and Postect then the character gets one level of both of Technician and Computers. If a training package lists either Pretech OR Postech then the player may choose a level of either Technician or Computers.

The Preceptor Adept training package does not fit the Star Frontiers setting and thus should be excluded. In its place the following Scholar training package is offered:

Scholar

There are numerous universities in the Frontier with the University of Zebulon, University of Prenglar and the Triad Institute of Technology being the most famous. Dralasite stoas produce exceptional scholars as well.

Skills: Culture/Any, Bureaucracy, Instructor, Perception, and any two from the following: Business, Culture/Any, History, Language, Religion, Science, or Tech/Any.

Training Packages for Psychics

Of all the psychic training packages Tribal Shaman is perhaps the least compatible with the Star Frontiers setting. It, however, does fit the setting if used for a tribal shaman from one of the primitive races that exist in the setting but that will require a referee adapting that primitive race to be a player character option.

The only other change I would make would be to Academy Graduate Training package. The wording in the package description makes it sound as if psychic academies are fairly common place and my gut feeling is that in a Star Frontier’s setting where psychics do exist, psych academies should be exceedingly uncommon. Otherwise the training package is usable.

Training Packages for Warriors

Two of the warrior’s training packages are problematic. First, the Exchange Enforcer should have its name changed to Corporate Bodyguard.

The Templar training package is a bit trickier. My recommendation is to reserve it for a religious yazirian warrior and have the character be part of the Family of One or be a dissenter.

Tarantula Nebula

The image above was used as the cover image for the Stars Without Number Rules.  It is the Tarantula Nebula (also known as 30 Doradus, or NGC 2070) and was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope.

 The Tarantula Nebula is an H II region in the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC). It was originally thought to be a star, but in 1751 Nicolas Louis de Lacaille recognized its nebular nature.

The Tarantula Nebula has an apparent magnitude of 8. Considering its distance of about 49 kpc (160,000 light years), this is an extremely luminous non-stellar object. Its luminosity is so great that if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would cast shadows In fact, it is the most active starburst region known in the Local Group of galaxies. It is also one of the largest such region in the Local Group with an estimated diameter of 200 pc. The nebula resides on the leading edge of the LMC, where ram pressure stripping, and the compression of the interstellar medium likely resulting from this, is at a maximum. At its core lies the compact star cluster R136 (approximate diameter 35 light years) that produces most of the energy that makes the nebula visible. The estimated mass of the cluster is 450,000 solar masses, suggesting it will likely become a globular cluster in the future.

The closest supernova observed since the invention of the telescope, Supernova 1987A, occurred in the outskirts of the Tarantula Nebula.  (Source: Wikipedia)

 

A Note on Languages

Pan Gal is the common trade language of the Frontier. All characters are fluent in this language and may be fluent in their native species language: Modern Yazirian, Modern Vrusk, Dralasite or Humanish.  There are also ancient varieties of Yazirian, Vrusk and Humanish.

For a character to start play with knowledge of the modern native language the player must roll a d20 modified by the following conditions and get less than the character’s Intelligence ability.

  • Expert : -1
  • Home world is a mixed race colony: -1
  • Intelligence of 14 or higher: -1
  • Intelligence of 7 or lower: +1

Final Thoughts

Part of why I am a die-hard Star Frontiers fan is that the Alpha Dawn mechanics are incredibly fast play. However, with a game 30 years out of print it can be a challenge to find players or groups who are open minded enough to try it out. However, one comment I have encountered while playing with traditional D20 groups is that they would like to try something new. Being able to present a science fiction version of the D20 mechanic would be ideal for bringing new Frontiersmen into the Frontier.