I’ve never really participated in the yearly “Orctober” challenge before, wherein one paints orcs during the month of October. This year I figured I’d give it a shot. I have no idea who is hosting this challenge (I assume there is more than one person), so this isn’t a formal thing for me. I just feel like painting some orcs.
Contrary to what 90% of participants choose to paint, I will not be painting any orcs made by Games Workshop. Although I have a veritable assload of 40K Orks in metal and in plastic (still on the sprue, in most cases), I am choosing to indulge myself in some old-school lead once again.
Behold! One of the first miniature sets I ever purchased, back when I was a wee lad just learning to play Red Box D&D. I painted these guys before, way back in the 80’s, using my tried (and failed) Testor’s enamel paints, which of course looked hideous. I stripped them about 15 years ago, intending to paint them again someday. That someday has arrived.
Pretty sure the date on the bottom is 1981; which fits with the classic gold-box era of Grenadier. No idea who sculpted these, but my money is on Andrew Chernak. Oddly enough, orcs in D&D back then were depicted as the classic, pig-faced variety; but these are more simian in appearance, kind of like the flying monkeys of Oz. Anyway, I like them.
Although, 40+ years later I still have a full set, this fellow lost his axe-head at some point. I gave him a new one from the bitz box.
I figured if I actually posted about my painting goal this month, it might motivate me to, you know, actually DO it. Here’s hoping I break out of this slump!
Also: I’m hoping to host another painting challenge next month in honor of Movember, the month where men everywhere grow their facial hair to support men’s health. Well, men other than me, anyway. I hate facial hair. I cannot grow a beard for longer than two weeks without wanting to claw it off my face. BUT…I do love Dwarfs, and dwarfs love facial hair. Sooooooo…
I just listened to the latest episode of The MIskatonic University Podcast, wherein the hosts rank their top 10 RPGs. It’s due to be a two-part episode, and they are including games they may or may not have actually played. I thought I’d do my own RPG GOAT lists, also in two parts…but this first post will be solely games I’ve played, while the next one will be for games I have yet to play, or haven’t played enough. If RPGs aren’t your thing, feel free to come back and look at the pretty miniatures, which will return soon.
I own many roleplaying games and game supplements for dozens of systems. The above picture represents about half of my overall collection, and it was taken back in 2021. (This is the chain I have forged in life, and like Jacob Marley, I have labored on it since.) But which ones are my favorites? Without further preamble, I give you The Angry Piper’s Top 10 RPGs of All Time, ranked in descending order.
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness (Palladium, 1985) My freshman year in high school, I met two brothers who are still two of my best friends to this day. One of them introduced me to the TMNT comic. I collected Marvel and DC comics and had no idea about independent publishers like Mirage. I immediately was hooked on the black & white, irregularly-published TMNT comic. These turtles were still a long way from the pizza-loving pop culture juggernauts they would become. These turtles were badass.
It was TMNT and Other Strangeness that introduced us to the Palladium system. I have many fond memories of the games we played, most of which degenerated into complete silliness. The character creation system is point-buy: each animal type (and there are many included) has a certain amount of Bio(logical) -E(nergy) points to spend. These points determine things like overall size, stance (biped/qudruped), hand type (partial, like paws, or full), speech and special “Powers” based on the animal type (like the Turtles’ shell). It was a very well-constructed character generation system and we never tired of making up new mutated animal characters.
The system…well, let’s just say I’m not a fan of Palladium’s system for many reasons. We played RIFTS and Heroes Unlimited a few times, but our interest waned pretty quickly and we were on to other games within a couple of years. Still, this quirky game provided us with a lot of fun times, and for that alone, it makes it into the top 10.
9. Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn (TSR, 1983) I have spoken of my love for the classic Star Frontiers RPG in a series of recent posts. As I stated previously, for me, the real draw of this game is the setting. I cover that, as well as several “problems” with the game extensively here.
We played a lot of Star Frontiers in the 80’s and I’ve revisited the game a couple of times since then. One of my friends even converted it to GURPS, which made the game more complicated and challenging (in a good way). Sadly, I’m the only one among my friends who seems to miss this game nowadays, so if I ever get to play it again I will likely have to run it online.
8. Shadowrun (FASA, 1989) Where man meets Magic and Machine. In 2050, the world is a Gibson-esque cyberpunk dystopia ruled by mega-corporations, connected in virtual reality through a worldwide computer network called the Matrix. In the midst of this futuristic, capitalist nightmare, magic returns to the world and metahumans and creatures from myth and folklore once again walk among us. You play a shadowrunner–someone with a unique set of skills (magic, thievery, computer hacking, combat) who lives on the fringes of regular society. Oh, and there are dragons, too; and one of them becomes President.
Shadowrun, like so many other games that came out last century, has gone through several revisions and updates. I’m only familiar with 1st and 2nd Edition. 2E was better, and we played it most. The game has a timeline and metaplot that has kept continuity throughout all its editions. When the game debuted in 1989, the year in-game was 2050. Now, the current 6th edition of the game is set in the 2080s.
Shadowrun is one of those RPGs that’s immensely fun to play, but just as much fun to read. The sourcebooks are annotated as if they were documents posted to online hacker forums, so there is tons of commentary from the shadow community regarding the veracity of some of the information presented in the supplement. I haven’t played Shadowrun since pre-2000, but I still sometimes break out my old Shadowrun supplements just to read them.
7. Star Trek Adventures (Modiphius, 2017) No big surprise to anyone who visits this blog: I’m a huge Star Trek fan, and I went all in on the Modiphius 2d20 system. It’s a bit more complicated than I like in a system nowadays, but once you get the hang of it it’s pretty awesome. There’s a lot you can do and a lot of different ways to do it. It really captures the feel of the Star Trek Universe better than any previous Star Trek RPG, and it covers all eras of Trek from Enterprise through Discovery.
I first ran this game by converting an old FASA Star Trek module, The Vanished, to this version of the rules. Rather than make their own characters, my friends played Kirk, Spock and the bridge crew of the Enterprise. You can read about it here. Since then I’ve run several one-shots and even a brief campaign set in the Next Generation/DS9/Voyager era. You can find the first post of that campaign here. I’ve had a lot of fun every time, and I definitely will be running more Star Trek adventures in the future.
6. Star Wars (West End Games, 1987) With the ubiquity of everything Star Wars nowadays, it’s tough to remember that after Return of the Jedi was released in 1983, we didn’t have another Star Wars movie (for better or worse) until The Phantom Menace in 1999. Sure, there were novels and comics in between, but when Lucasfilm licensed Star Wars to West End Games to develop a roleplaying game, it was a license to print money, even if the game was shit, which this most definitely was not.
Arguably, the Star Wars RPG did more to keep Star Wars alive than anything else; but more than that, it built upon Lucas’s creation and added so much more to the lore and setting than anything we could ever see on film. Lucas approved all of it, and much of it became and remains canon. The system is D6-based and it works well. There aren’t too many rules to slog through and the action moves quickly. The D6 system is now open license for anyone to use.
I played a lot of this in the 80’s and a fair bit in the 90’s. About 10 years ago, I wrote a quick, one-shot with some pregenerated characters and ran a game for my friends. It was like riding a bike.
There have been 3 companies to publish Star Wars rpgs: West End Games, Wizards of the Coast and Fantasy Flight Games. The current FFG line is expansive (and expensive) and pulls from all eras of Star Wars, something the original WEG version couldn’t do, because none of it was written yet. It’s supposedly quite good; however it’s a testament to the popularity of the original game that Fantasy Flight Games published a 30th anniversary edition of the WEG Star Wars RPG in 2018. (No one talks about the WotC game nowadays.)
5. Vampire: The Masquerade (White Wolf, 1991) Ah, the angst-ridden, tragically hip 90’s, when you couldn’t swing a dead bat and not hit a Siouxsie Sioux, Peter Murphy or Robert Smith lookalike on any college campus in the country. Good times. I played a lot of the first and second editions of this game (as well as Werewolf: The Apocalypse and a little Mage: The Ascension) , and it’s one of the best, most memorable RPG campaigns I’ve ever been involved in. My interest in vampires has pretty much dwindled to nothing at this point in my life; but Vampire: The Masquerade is the game where I created one of my favorite RPG characters of all time: Lucas, a Nosferatu: a beast trying desperately to hold onto his humanity in the brutal and unforgiving Gothic-Punk Chicago of the 1990’s.
The World of Darkness Storyteller system is what really drives this game (aside from, you know, vampires), focusing primarily on roleplaying the trials and tribulations (or perhaps exultations) of being a monster. It’s billed as “a Storytelling game of personal horror,” and although pathos more than orror was the theme of the game in which I played, it is seen as a horror game. VtM has gone through several editions and publishers since the last time I played it, circa 1998 or so; and from what I can determine, it’s quite different nowadays. I’m not particularly interested in playing it again; but it’s definitely a game I played a lot of during my college years, and one I recall fondly.
4. GURPS (Steve Jackson Games, 1986) My regular high school gaming group split up after graduation as we all went to different schools. I was invited to a game in college, and that game turned out to be run by a guy I still game with today. That game was GURPS (3rd edition) Fantasy.
The Generic Universal Roleplaying System is exactly that. Although it’s great for Fantasy gaming, I’ve played and run horror, sci-fi, superhero, kung-fu, espionage and pulp cliffhangers games using GURPS. One of my favorites is GURPS Old West, which is my favorite Western RPG. GURPS has licensed such RPG properties as Traveller, Vampire: the Masquerade, Deadlands and Discworld; and, over the years, has released some of the best, most informative supplements for roleplaying games ever written. The GURPS Vikings, Martial Arts, Japan and WWII supplements really stand out, but there are so many more. My friend converted Star Frontiers to GURPS, and I even once attempted to run a Chronicles of Amber game using GURPS (but that didn’t work).
There’s a reason it’s been around for so long. There are rules for everything, but you’re free to use whatever you want and make it as simple or complex as you desire. It’s still my go-to generic system for most things.
3. Marvel Super Heroes (TSR, 1984) One of my all-time favorite roleplaying games is free for all at Classic Marvel Forever. I’ve always loved this game. It’s simple and captures the feel of a comic book perfectly. We played a lot of MSH back in high school. It still has a devoted fanbase today, and the innovative FASERIP system has been updated and streamlined by various publishers. (My favorite is Astonishing Super Heroes, by Let’s Start Over, Shall We?-a MSH actual play podcast). I brought this game out of retirement a couple of years ago to run a one-shot for my friends. The first of that four-post writeup is here. Although most of us had fun, a couple of my friends think games of the past should stay there. Undeterred, I ran it again on Discord as recently as March for a group of Instagram friends, and everyone seemed to really like it.
The published adventures are particularly bad; but the rules are simple and easy to learn. This is the only game that I can think of where I never want to make my own character. Although there are detailed character creation rules, I’ve always preferred running games for established heroes like Spider-Man and The X-Men rather than having the players create their own characters, and likewise, I prefer playing as established heroes as well. Sadly, no one I know seems keen on running this game but me. I haven’t been a player in a game of MSH since the mid-90’s, but I remain hopeful.
2. Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium, 1981) I discovered H.P. Lovecraft in 1987 when I was 15 years old, and although I had previously seen ads for the Call of Cthulhu RPG in the pages of Dragon Magazine, I never made the connection until later. Once I did, I knew it was a game I needed to play. A horror roleplaying game? How cool!
My first edition of the game was the 4th Edition, published in 1989. I still remember the first adventure I ran for my friends. It was one of my own scenarios involving a vampire who made his lair in an abandoned watermill. Being a vampire, he had no need to breathe and so he hid from the sun and rested underwater during the day. The group of investigators finally tracked the vampire to the mill, but of course, by then it was night and it was dark. They entered the watermill and found the floor had collapsed, so they waded through the waist-deep water, shining their flashlights around. One of the investigators suddenly realized the vampire could be under the water, and so I called for a Sanity check. He failed. I can still see the look on my friend’s face when I told him he dropped his flashlight into the water.
Call of Cthulhu is now in its 7th and, in my opinion, best edition of the game. I’ve played and enjoyed other horror games (like GURPS), but this is the best fit, both for Lovecraftian horror and horror storytelling that has nothing to do with the Cthulhu Mythos. I love to play this game and I especially love to run it. I always have more ideas for Call of Cthulhu scenarios running around in my head than any other game.
And finally, at #1: Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, 1974) Of course D&D will be my number one. Like so many people, it’s the first RPG I ever played, way back in 1983. It was the Tom Moldvay Red Box B/X system with the great Erol Otus cover art shown above. My aunt, who is only 9 years older than me, gifted me the game on my 10th birthday, pre-Satanic panic. I say this because she has since become an ultra-right wing conservative and staunch religious fanatic (yeah, we have lots in common nowadays), so I guess timing is everything. Anyway, thanks, Auntie Marie.
I’ve played almost every edition of D&D starting with the Moldvay B/X set. in high school, I played lots of AD&D before moving to AD&D 2E, which came out in 1989. I think I probably played 2E the most, though, being involved in several campaigns both as player and DM throughout the 90’s. I took a little break for a while, but came back to D&D with the 3rd edition. I ran a 3.5 campaign from 2011-2014 or so before it eventually broke down. You can read about that here. I skipped 4th Ed. entirely, which is by all reports what I should have done. No regrets.
Which brings us to 5th Edition, which is by far the biggest and most popular edition of the game to date, responsible for millions of dollars in sales and a huge influx of new blood to the roleplaying hobby. Thanks to Critical Role and Stranger Things, D&D is now super-cool; something I and most of my geek generation find amusing, as it certainly was not always so. I am all in favor of bringing new folks into the hobby, although I personally hate 5th edition because it is fundamentally different than the experience I know and love. I do not think the differences are beneficial to the game, but that is my opinion. I could write a whole blog post about why I hate it, but what’s the point? (I might do it anyway.) It’s not my game, but I certainly don’t begrudge others who love it (and they are many).
Dungeons & Dragons stirred my creativity, increased my vocabulary, raised my reading comprehension and fired my imagination. It made me a better speaker, a better writer and a voracious reader. It set me on the road to being the wise and erudite Renaissance man that I am today. It also taught me to be humble and not use words like erudite. But more than that, it gave me strong friendships that endure to this day.
I may play a thousand different games in my life, but I will always return to Dungeons & Dragons…just not any edition after 3.5.
Picking a Top 10 was pretty hard, considering how many games I’ve played in my life. The following to games deserve special notice.
Middle-Earth Roleplaying (Iron Crown Enterprises, 1984) MERP has a special place in my heart, and always will. We played a fair amount of MERP in high school and college, and although I couldn’t tell you anything about the adventures and scenarios we played, I do know we had a lot of fun.
MERP is based on the Rolemaster system, which is not particularly suited for the setting, especially where magic is concerned. The spells and spell lists don’t really align with Tolkien’s portrayal of magic and wizards, for one thing; and the combat system is kind of clunky. MERP is justly famous, however, for the critical hit and critical fumble tables, which are absolutely hilarious and can instantly kill or maim anything, including the acting player character. It was worth it for that alone.
The supplements for MERP are exceptionally well-done, and like the WEG Star Wars RPG, much of the lore was created by the RPG company, not the original source. For example, prior to the release of the RPG, most of the Nazgul did not have names. In fact, Tolkien only named one of the Nazgul, Khamul the Easterling. Iron Crown named all Nine, and gave them backstories, too. They expanded and expounded upon Tolkien’s history and lore of Middle-Earth, and they did it with respect.
Bottom line: great setting and supplemental material. Not-so-great system for the game. Rolemaster may work well for fantasy RPGs, but it’s not a good fit for Middle Earth. Still, this was one we played often. Most MERP books fetch a hefty price on the secondary market nowadays, with good reason.
Lamentations of the Flame Princess (Lamentations of the Flame Princess, 2009) Lamentations of the Flame Princess is basically an OSR clone of Moldvay B/X D&D, although with a lot of updates (ascending Armor Class! Yaaay!) and changes that make the game much, much darker in tone. Whereas D&D is Tolkien-inspired high fantasy, LotFP is more grimdark and low-magic. It’s billed as Weird Fantasy, and it lives up to the name. There are no Fireballs or Lightning Bolts here; but Summoning is only a 1st-level spell, meaning it’s available to Magic-Users from the jump. Just because you can summon something, though, doesn’t mean you’ll summon what you want to, or that you can control it when it arrives, so beware.
Although LotFP has rules for demi-humans like Elves, Dwarves and Halflings (and, like B/X D&D, these races double as classes), much of the published material is designed without these fantasy races in mind, more of a late 16th/17th century European setting. In the words of James Edward Raggi IV, the game’s creator, this period of human civilization was hands-down the most miserable time to be alive in history. As a result, character survivability is low in LotFP. The published content is, without question, adult in nature; and has been the target of pearl-clutchers everywhere since the beginning. This only increased over the years when the cancel culture mob got the company in its sights. Sadly, that hasn’t gone away; but Raggi is well and truly done apologizing for anything at this point, and I, for one, am glad of that. Fuck that noise. Censorship is bullshit.
In March, I wrapped up a year-long Witch Hunter (i.e. Solomon Kane) campaign I ran for some folks on my Discord server. It was dark and grim and demonic, as it should be. We all had a great time, and I will likely use LotFP for my fantasy rules of choice going forward, unless of course I’m looking for something more forgiving and high fantasy.
That about does it for this post. Coming soon: my top 10 RPGS that I have yet to play (enough).
To miniatures hobbyists, Julie Guthrie is one of the most talented, prolific and well-known sculptors working in the industry. She is legend enough to have had her own line of Grenadier miniatures back in the late 80’s/early 90’s. I own more than a few hundred old-school, metal miniatures of that era, many of them from Grenadier, and many of them by Julie Guthrie. She still sculpts for Reaper Miniatures today.
I painted her Red Dragon way back in 2016, before Monster May(hem) was a thing. This time I decided to give this Skeletal Dragon the treatment.
Full disclosure: this thing was terribly painted once before (with Testors enamels, of course) but had been stripped for repainting about ten years ago. The reason I never got to it was because I couldn’t get the wings to stay on. I tried Gorilla Glue gel and regular super glue, they just wouldn’t adhere. I even tried using green stuff as an adhesive. No luck.
Finally, at age 50, I learned about the baking soda trick. Do you know about the baking soda trick? Because I sure as hell didn’t. Some kid in a Warhammer video showed me. Put some super glue down where you want it. Add a tweezer-full of baking soda. Join your parts, and watch as the baking soda instantly cures the glue and forms a rock-solid bond. Blew my mind.
Here is the end result. I used Reaper’s Bone Triad (Bone Shadow, Aged Bone, Polished Bone) for the skeleton, then used the Ivory Triad (Stained Ivory, Yellowed Ivory, Creamy Ivory) on the horns, along with some Brown Wash. The glowing eyes were done with Vallejo Yellow-Green, washed with GW Waywatcher Green and a dot of Dorn Yellow in the center. Then I scattered some rocks and twigs on the base and that was about it.
I considered making the eyes an eerie blue rather than a sickly green, and once the base was complete, I remembered I had a bunch of treasure piles I could have used instead of rocks and tufts, but…oh, well.
I have a few more projects to get to this month, not all of them monsters. It sure as hell is nice to be painting again.
Once again, the blogroll of participants for the month! Go visit their sites and check out what they’re doing!
Tom, @The_Goodground has painted a creepy demon miniature over on his Instagram.
Malcolm, @mdcampbell_dunwichcreatives has painted two monsters so far, a Runequest Walktapus and a classic Grenadier Shadowrun miniature, the Feathered Serpent! It seems he hasn’t posted them anywhere but Discord so far. You can see them in my #miniatures channel on the Discord server, if you have access; otherwise, check his account. I’m sure he’ll post them both sooner or later…
Mike, @sasquatchminis is hard at work on a White Dragon. He has also posted some WIP shots to the Discord server!
I’m checking all the sites and I will update this list periodically throughout the month. Happy painting!
Finally, to wrap up my three-part Star Frontiers posts, an actual post about miniatures! (Yes, I still do that here.)
Back in the mid-80s, TSR released a couple of boxed sets and blisters of Star Frontiers miniatures, both for the Alpha Dawn game and the Knight Hawks spaceship expansion. Let me skip to the end, here: like most TSR miniatures, they suck.
I have vented my spleen about the TSR line of miniatures before. In addition to Star Frontiers, TSR released miniature sets for Marvel Super Heroes, Indiana Jones and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. They all suck. Awkward poses, poor sculpts, no sense of scale…all made out of what has to be the shittiest white metal alloy ever produced. It’s too soft, holds paint like shit, and is prone to metal rot. This was not a good era.
The best Star Frontiers miniatures by far are the spaceships for Knight Hawks. Although also prone to metal rot, these are in scale with each other (mostly). Spaceships in Star Frontiers don’t have artificial gravity, rather, gravity is achieved from the centrifugal force generated by the spinning of the ship on its axis. All the interior decks of the ship are perpendicular to the ship’s body. The miniatures look pretty good, but then again the sculpts should be hard to fuck up, considering they’re mostly cylindrical as a result of this gravitational concept.
Which brings us to the modern era of miniatures. Star Frontiers definitely has a retro vibe to it. Although there are several companies that make terrific retro sci-fi models (like Hydra Miniatures, Killer B Games, and Black Cat Bases; not to mention our own friend Roger from the now-sadly-closed Wargames Supply Dump), none of these really capture the feel of Star Frontiers, which has a retro vibe firmly rooted in the 1980’s. It seems like there just weren’t any good options, until now.
Behold! Reaper’s Chronoscope line has done it again, coming out with a Korkosan Explorer (a not-Yazirian if ever there was one) and an Argamite Explorer (a not-Dralasite). Together with their “Rand Daingerfield, Smuggler” this trio could have walked off the pages of any Star Frontiers book published back in the 80’s.
Check out that vest and those metal pants on Rand! Sadly, there’s no “not-Vrusk” miniature yet; but I’m holding out hope, as Vrusk are by far my favorite species in Star Frontiers.
I painted the Argamite and the Korkosan last year with the intent of doing a Star Frontiers post for the Year of Pop Culture; but since I didn’t have Rand painted yet I put it off. I only just got around to painting him last month.
I converted the Korkosan by removing his pistol and giving him a GW laspistol, then adding some wire as a power cord connected to a beltpack. (Everyone knows beltpacks are the way to go. They hold five times as many SEUs as a clip.)
This brings me to the end of my Star Frontiers retrospective. Maybe I’ll get around to running that game this year. Best way to find out is to join my Discord server and keep your eyes peeled in the announcements channel!
I love this picture, painted by the great Larry Elmore. I was fortunate enough to meet him at Gen Con in 2012, and I bought this signed print from him. It was the cover art for the second edition of the Star Frontiers RPG, renamed Star Frontiers: Alpha Dawn. Until then, the only sci-fi RPG of note was Traveller, which many people found somewhat inaccessible. This game was marketed to a younger crowd, and the system was much less complicated than Traveller (which isn’t really saying much).
A separate, compatible game, Star Frontiers: Knight Hawks, was released a year later in its own box, and dealt specifically with spaceships and space combat. Although it also had roleplaying elements, it was a spaceship combat wargame that used cardboard counters on a hex mat. I played a lot of Alpha Dawn but only dabbled in Knight Hawks. (We really just used the rules for ship design.) Both games enjoyed a decent amount of product support in the form of adventure modules and articles and scenarios published in Dragon Magazine.
The real draw of Star Frontiers, at least for me, is the setting. It takes place in a region of space known as The Frontier, where the boundary of known space meets whatever else is “out there”. Players create characters from four playable races: Humans, who are pretty much like us, but live longer; Vrusk, a race of insectoid beings that resemble mantids, only without the big claws; Dralasites, an amoeba-like race that can change their physical form; and Yazirians, a race similar to flying monkeys, only with anger issues.
These races worked together almost immediately, freely exchanging information and technology, sharing scientific advancements and generally getting along. They formed the Pan-Galactic Corporation (PGC), a massive conglomerate that, like it’s name implies, spanned the galaxy. They even developed a language called Pan-Galactic (PanGal) that all four races could speak which allowed them to effectively communicate, given their differing anatomy and communication methods. It was a pretty good time.
Of course, good times don’t last forever, and another alien race, known as the Sathar, suddenly attacked the Frontier with what seemed like the intent to destroy everything the PGC had built. The Sathar are a wormlike race with strange telepathic powers who are aggressively xenophobic. No one knows much more about them, because any Sathar will kill itself rather than be taken captive, and they’re not much for chit-chat. To combat the Sathar threat, the PGC formed a combined military force called the United Planetary Federation, or UPF (not to be confused with the United Federation of Planets, which would have probably got TSR sued by the Star Trek guys over at Paramount). The UPF managed to drive the Sathar back to wherever they came from, but not for long.
Knowing that they can’t take the UPF in a fight, the Sathar have since turned to espionage and treachery to topple it from within. Sathar agents from all the frontier races actively work to undermine the UPF, so the UPF created another organization: Star Law. Star Law Rangers travel the galaxies looking for these agents in order to bring them to justice.
And that’s Star Frontiers in a nutshell. The published adventures assume your players will work for either the PGC or Star Law; but nothing says you have to stick to that. You can be pirates, privateers, salvage crews, planetary explorers or even military agents of the UPF. I’m pretty sure my group was a group of mercenaries, because it was the 80’s and I live in America and that was pretty much every movie of the Reagan era; but the game actively discourages this. The first adventure, Crash on Volturnus, effectively strips your characters of all their weapons and useful equipment right at the beginning, forcing them to survive on a hostile planet using their wits and diplomacy; a big departure for groups used to kicking in doors, killing everything in sight and looting the bodies.
There are a couple of big problems with the game. The system is a percentile-based system: roll under your attribute or skill and you’re successful; over and you fail. Pretty standard for TSR boxed games of the time, and still used by many games today. That being said, the system is sometimes a bit more complicated than it needs to be, especially where skills are concerned. Each character can picks a Primary Skill Area, such as Military or Science. Each one of these PSAs have a group of skills under their umbrella, each with a rating of 1-6. Each of these skills are improved individually and usually offer a 10% bonus per level of the skill. The problem is there are too many skills, so advancement takes a long time.
Combat is another matter. It takes forever because of clunky design, and if there’s one thing I can’t stand in games, both as a player and GM, it’s combat that drags on forever (J’accuse, 5E!). There are a ton of different weapons in Star Frontiers, each of which does a different type of damage (electrical, energy, sonic, projectile, etc.) There are an equal amount of defensive suits and screens, all of which are usually effective against only one type of damage. Having the right defense for the right attack is tedious and pretty much down to luck; but equipped properly, your characters can trade shots all day with little danger of dying. Even if not properly equipped, your characters can take a few shots before they have to worry, because most weapons that aren’t energy weapons do shitty damage.
Energy weapons and defensive screens use power tracked by Standard Energy Units (SEU). Tracking SEU use is a bit of a chore. In the case of weapons, the damage you inflict is directly proportionate to how many SEU you expend. For example, a standard laser pistol has a damage rating of 1d10 per SEU (max 10 SEU), and a standard ammo clip contains 20 SEU. That means you could get twenty 1d10 shots out of a clip, or you could burn the entire clip in two 10d10 shots before you’d need to reload.
Either way, you’re unlikely to kill your target. Most characters have an average of 60 hp (their Stamina score). The average d10 roll is a 5.5, rounded up to 6. I suppose it’s possible that a character could burn 10 SEU (10d10 damage) and get a result over 60, which would kill someone with 60 hp (assuming you hit), but it’s unlikely. It becomes even more unlikely when you factor in defensive screens and suits, which will reduce the damage even further. Why anyone would bother shooting a 1d10 shot is beyond me. Even at maximum damage (10) that’s not enough to be more than an irritation. If the target is wearing any kind of defense whatsoever, forget it. You’re just wasting ammo.
Both these issues are easily fixable with some house rules which I use. First, I cut down the number of skills. The military PSA as written, for example, contains a separate skill for each type of weapon, which is ridiculous. Is it safe to assume that military-trained characters know how to shoot all kinds of guns? Yeah. I’d say so. So let’s just group all those separate skills together and call it “firearms” skill. For combat, no more adjustable shots based on SEU use. Laser pistols, for example, do 5d10 damage and a clip contains 10 shots. That makes them more dangerous and more effective then they are in the rules. I use two types of defensive screens: energy and inertia, not an individual one for every conceivable type of attack. Inertia protects against projectiles and explosives, energy protects against electricity, energy and sonic attacks. Two screens, no more. Same with suits. One for energy, one for inertia. Mix and match as you like, but no more nonsense.
It should be noted that combat in Star Frontiers was probably not intended to be deadly. Like I said, it was marketed to a younger crowd. There are plenty of non-lethal weapons in the game: stunners, needler guns, and the iconic doze and tangler grenades, which render an opponent unconscious or immobile, respectively. The equipment lists are both futuristic and a bit dated…for example characters are often equipped with a chronocom, which is a wristwatch/ video communicator with a range of…wait for it…10 whole kilometers! It’s an amusing reminder of when the game was written, long before cell phones were commonplace or the internet even existed.
I’m not the only one who has a love of Star Frontiers, not by a long shot. There are two fanzines that are regularly published: The Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer, both of which have a ton of fan-generated content that’s worth looking at. Both of these zines used to be free, but now they’re available for sale at (sigh) DriveThru RPG. The original Star Frontiers rules are also available there in PDF and Print on Demand format.
Up next: a short coda to the Star Frontiers posts, as I discuss…the miniatures!!!!
Back in the 80’s, during the heyday of roleplaying games, TSR Hobbies released a ton of RPGs in addition to Dungeons & Dragons: original properties like Gamma World, Top Secret, Boot Hill, and Gangbusters; and licensed games like Marvel Super Heroes, Indiana Jones, and Buck Rogers. These games were sold as boxed sets, just like the Basic and Expert D&D games. With the exception of Indiana Jones, the rest of these games were successful enough to warrant at least a second edition (some, like Gamma World and Gangbusters, would get more than that) in addition to a line of adventure modules and sourcebooks.
I never played Gamma World or Buck Rogers. I played Boot Hill, Gangbusters and Top Secret, and I enjoyed them all very much. I played Indiana Jones, and…well…let’s just say I played it. But my favorites, hands-down, were Marvel Super Heroes and Star Frontiers. I love MSH so much I still play it. In fact, I just ran Marvel Super Heroes in February for a group of Instagram friends over on my Discord server. I also planned on running Star Frontiers last year, but it never happened. The last time I played the game was a few years ago; but it wasn’t technically Star Frontiers. Like many of these 80’s TSR games, the system was a bit basic and we wanted more, so my friend converted it to GURPS. It was a lot of fun to revisit the setting, but we didn’t play for very long.
A couple of years ago, I heard a new version of Star Frontiers was in the works and I grew excited; at least until it turned out to be a racist, homophobic shit show of a game.
Here’s a summary, best as I can deliver it. Keep in mind, this is my opinion, and my knowledge, such as it is, may not be 100% accurate. If you really want to know, check the internet yourself.
TSR Hobbies, the original company that published Dungeons & Dragons, went out of business in 1997, and was acquired by Wizards of the Coast, the company that, until then, was most famous for publishing Magic: the Gathering. WotC was later acquired by Hasbro, and is a shitty company with a history of trying to fuck over creators, but that has no bearing on the rest of this story. It’s just me stating my opinion.
Anyway, back in 2011, Gary Gygax’s sons, Luke and Ernie Jr., along with another guy started a company called TSR Games in order to publish a new Top Secret game. Apparently, Luke and the other guy missed a trademark filing date in 2020, so Ernie Jr. filed for the TSR name and the two brothers cut ties with each other. It seems to be a bit acrimonious, as now there are two companies with the TSR name run by two brothers who apparently don’t much like each other. WotC doesn’t seem to like either of them, either.
While promoting his new company, Ernie did an interview where he made racist remarks about Native Americans, mocked Trans people and people who support them, and implied that being anti-racist is bad; and people who agreed with him should be very happy with “his” TSR. It got so bad that his brother Luke and a ton of well-known names in the hobby industry, like Jeff Dee and Skip Williams, officially cut ties with Ernie Jr. Larry Elmore even returned money Ernie had paid him for work he had done already.
Which brings us to Star Frontiers. Ernie Jr. decided he was going to revive Star Frontiers, and came up with a new game called Star Frontiers: New Genesis. A playtest doc for that game leaked and…well, shit. It wasn’t the Star Frontiers game of old, that’s for sure. There’s a lot of explicitly racist stuff in it, like how Humans are now split into sub-races, one of which is inherently superior to the other in every way. One of these sub-races is described as Nordic, and the other is described as Negro. Care to take a guess which one is said to be the superior race by racist asshole and known Caucasian Ernie Gygax, Jr.?
Wizards of the Coast has filed a lawsuit against Ernie’s TSR, not wanting to be associated with his bigotry and apparent assholishness. They want to make sure the game never gets published; and they claim they are the true owners of the Star Frontiers IP and the TSR logo, both of which they purchased when they bought the original TSR back in 1997.
My feelings on censorship are well-known. I think it sucks. I feel that Ernie Gygax, Jr. can say whatever shit he wants, and that includes racist, transphobic stuff. He can make games about it and publish them, and if people want to play them because they share his racist, transphobic, alt-right views, they can.
Unless, of course, WotC owns the trademarks. In which case, fuck Ernie Gygax, Jr.
Well, this was supposed to be a post about my love of the OLD, ORIGINAL, not intentionally racist Star Frontiers RPG, and I have veered off the mark. Guess I’ll make this a part 1 and talk about the game I actually like in the next post.
Well, 2023 is here, and it’s time for a look back at last year’s resolutions and what I accomplished; then it’ll be time to set some new ones. Last year wasn’t great, in particular I had a pretty crappy third and fourth quarter, to be sure. Still, I managed some things better than others. So, what were my resolutions, and did I meet my goals? And what do I want to do in 2023?
More Roleplaying Stuff: Goal met. I wanted to post more stuff about RPGs last year, and I did. I posted a couple of Character Studies for Call of Cthulhu and Star Trek Adventures; I started a review/repair post for old adventures that I want to continue, starting with the Call of Cthulhu classic “Trail of the Loathsome Slime”; I started my own homebrew game, The Hub, based on 1970’s street crime movies like Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon, set in Boston; I wrote a post about the utility of swapping systems from games to use in other games, and I bitched and moaned about censorship, the double standard and general hypocrisy over at DriveThruRPG.
I wanted to do more, and in the coming year, I will.
As far as actually PLAYING RPGs, 2022’s gaming plans didn’t turn out the way I expected. Out of five one-shot games I planned to run, I ran exactly zero. That’s not to say I didn’t run games (I did), they just weren’t the ones I planned on running. Instead, I ran a couple of Star Trek Adventures sessions to introduce the game to new players. I ran a Call of Cthulhu scenario for Halloween, and I even ran a couple of sessions of my own homebrew 1970’s Boston street crime game, The Hub. I ran a short-lived Mutant: Year Zero game for some friends before I came to my senses and decided I don’t enjoy being aggravated (and I don’t mean by the game); but the main thing I ran was a monthly Witch Hunter-themed campaign using Lamentations of the Flame Princess.
I plan on running a new campaign and more games this year, and I have posted my 2023 Gaming page; so check it out if you’re interested in playing some RPGs. I also opened up my Discord server to new players and hobbyists. (Yesterday, I even got to have my first Discord conversation with none other than Dick Garrison himself, Roger Webb! I know, pretty cool, right?) Drop me a line if you’re interested in joining the server.
Painting Challenges: Goal met (kind of). I took part in Fembruary, Forgotten Heroes, and Deadcember (over on Instagram); and I hosted Monster May(hem) again. Then the world went to shit for me smack in the middle of Dave’s Season of Scenery, and I had to bail on it completely, after first abandoning my idea to finally build my Deep Space Nine model. The one challenge I’m amazed I was able to complete (and on time, every time!) was…
One Character a Month: I didn’t host it this year, but I took the opportunity to paint all old-school metal miniatures for this challenge. I’m pretty happy with the results.
Here’s a group shot. Top left to bottom right: January through December.
This year, I will absolutely host Monster May(hem) again, and I hope to take part in all the other painting challenges from last year, including the Season of Scenery, dammit. In addition, I am continuing the Character of the Month personal challenge, but this year I’m making it all demi-humans! Tom is also hosting the challenge again (he calls it #paintanadventuringparty); but his take is a bit different. Remember the old Ral Partha 3-stage characters? He’s doing that: paint a character as a rookie, experienced and veteran version. That’s a bit too much for me to commit to, given my other projects, but YMMV. Drop him a line if interested!
More AARs: Goal not really met. I started my Star Trek gaming project, The Pawn, all the way back in March. The premise of the project was to tell a story based on the results of games played. Well, I definitely told a lot of story so far; but I only managed to play ONE underwhelming AAR before I took a break and never got back to it. We left Lieutenant Barclay in a precarious position, pursued by Romulans on the ice moon of Varuna 3; and we left the rest of the Enterprise-D heading back to that system after almost starting a war in the Neutral Zone. Will I get back to it? I sure hope so. I have a lot more story to tell. Just need to find the time. You can enjoy what I did manage to write thus far if so inclined. All the posts are tagged “The Pawn”.
I also planned on getting back to my Green Hornet game, and even a new Christmas scenario featuring The Crimson Hound again…but you see how that turned out. This year I want to return to both those games and some Super Mission Force; but we’ll see what the cards hold. In the meantime, I’m living vicariously through Matt, who posted a shit-ton of AARs on his site last year!
Personal Projects: Goals partially met. I had two: paint my Star Wars: Imperial Assault miniatures and make 2022 the Year of Pop Culture. I managed to paint The Bespin Gambit and one expansion (Bossk), but I still have a couple of expansions to paint before I can call that set all done; then it’s on to Hoth or Jabba’s Palace for 2023, I’m not sure which one yet.
As far as the Year of Pop Culture is concerned, I painted a lot of pop culture miniatures in 2022; but nowhere near what I wanted to. So, the Year of Pop Culture continues into 2023; where I suppose I should consider renaming the challenge, since it’s more than a year.
For my final submission for Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram this year, I only had one character class left: the monk. This old RAFM monk with dog is no longer available anywhere I can find. He’s such a great miniature, I thought he was due for a repaint.
I briefly considered painting him red and green and basing him on snow in honor of the Christmas holiday, but why ruin the utility of such a great sculpt? I decided to keep the colors pretty much the same, but maybe add a little shading and highlighting, techniques unknown to me back in the 80’s when I originally painted him. I kept the dog more or less the same, too.
He has such a great face. I generally don’t bother much with faces beyond the typical trio of flesh-colored paints and a wash, but in this case I added some rose to his cheeks and nose. This fellow look like he enjoys his booze.
Rather atypical of me to have completed a challenge so early in the month, but I’m making up for all the lost time this year.
I love this challenge, whether I call it Character of the Month or Tom calls it #paintanadventuringparty. I think I will continue it into next year. This year I used all old-school miniatures for the challenge, next year I’m thinking I will try something new: no humans! So, every character class will be represented by a demihuman race: elves, dwarves, gnomes, halflings, maybe even half-orcs and half-elves. Maybe.
No tortles, tieflings, dragonborn, half-giants, tabaxi, aasimar, kenku, warforged or anything else equally stupid, though.
As anyone who still comes here knows, I have had precious little hobby time over the past few months as irritants both personal and professional have plagued me without mercy. One thing I’ve managed to keep up with (the ONLY thing, really; as my last two posts show) is Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge over on Instagram. Tom’s challenge is pretty much the same as my Character of the Month from last year, only without the back stories. I’m also choosing to paint only old-school miniatures, because that’s what I want to do.
This is Amberlynn, Dragon Slayer (not to be confused with Amber Lynn, who is someone else entirely). She’s from Ral Partha’s Fantasy Personalities line (03-106), and in case you can’t tell, she’s a Sandra Garrity sculpt.
Like many of my old-school metal minis, she was never painted (until now). I needed a paladin for the challenge. She looks the part. Besides, I realized I was a little short on the female miniatures so far this year.
Here she is sans background scenery.
And finally, here she is doing what she does best, slayin’ dragons; in this case, a Grenadier Red Dragon, sculpted by Julie Guthrie.
Not much else to say, really. I’m hoping to get a few more posts out by the end of the year. December is when I traditionally clean up my “side pile”; but that seems unlikely. I just want to get SOMETHING done. This was supposed to be the year of pop culture, and it’s turned out to be the nine months of pop culture! That sucks!
Next month: only one more character class to go in the challenge…can you guess which one? Also: more gaming announcements, and hopefully something else, too…
Hi, I’m The Angry Piper. You may remember me from such things as being active in the online hobby community and having a blog, once.
Jesus. Another month from hell. I hesitate to say things are getting better, because I said that last month and shit went south again immediately after I did. I’m not one to knock wood; but I’m coming around to the idea of embracing superstition. It can’t hurt, right?
In the meantime, I’ve managed to keep up with one challenge, at least: Tom’s #paintanadventuringparty challenge on Instagram. To be honest, if I wasn’t nine for nine already this year, I wouldn’t have bothered. But why break my streak?
This bad boy is from Grenadier, a Dark Elf Sorcerer sculpted by the great Julie Guthrie. I’ve decided to call him a wizard for the purpose of the challenge. I also decided to paint him with a bright palette, because who the hell is gonna stop me?
I’ve had this guy for a while. Since 1988 (or 1989, I can’t make it out). He was even painted once, but he was painted primarily glossy crimson. Spiffy, huh? I stripped him for repaint about a decade ago.
I feel like I should do something better with the staff, but…nah.
Check out the widow’s peak on this guy! Full-on Eddie Munster!
Picture this. Old-school D&D. Your first level Magic-User has 2 hit points and one random spell, and it’s Read Magic. You meet an Owlbear and you die.
Grab some dice and a new character sheet.
Once again, I’m hoping to make a return to normalcy here at Dead Dick’s next month. I still have a lot of Pop Culture miniatures I would like to get to by the end of the year. Thanks for sticking with me.