Star Ace! A bold game of heroic rebels fighting a galactic empire, with the aid of semi-mystical powers! No, this is the one without the official license! Watch as I read the classic mid-80s rules and create a character!
OK, some background. Pacesetter games was founded in the mid-80s by some people who left TSR during their first (but hardly their last) round of layoffs and “reorganizations”. They created a space opera game (Star Ace), a time travel game (Timemaster) and a horror game (Chill). Chill ended up being a small scale hit and produced a mountain-o-supplements and has come out in revised editions every few years for a while now. The others… well, didn’t make it. If Star Ace had ever had half a chance, it was shot down like Porkins when a real Star Wars game appeared a few years later.
Why pick this game to start off this column? Why not a classic like Chivalry and Sorcery, or something totally wonky like Synnibarr, or even more obscure, like Machineguns&Magic? Because this was the nearest box, and I am a stunningly lazy person.
OK! One more thing — while I intend to have some fun with this series of articles, the intent is not to “break” the game or try to do something it doesn’t support. The intent is to work within the rules and see if they work, and, of course, to throw in a few snarky comments here and there, because that’s what I do.
It’s a classic 3-book boxed set — you’ve got your rulebook, your setting book, and your adventure. The rulebook is a mere 64 pages, and that includes character generation, combat, vehicles, spaceships, everything. In an age when it takes 64 pages to list the racial options for Lower Cave Dwarves, it’s hard to imagine such a simple time. Ah, the good old days, when hopelessly incomplete rules meant less rules-flipping and more screaming arguments with the GM.
Anyway, let’s flip open the “Star Team Basic Training Manual”.
First off, we have the boilerplate — roleplaying is “let’s pretend” with rules, here’s how you read the dice, and the guy who runs the game is the “CM” or “Campaign Master”, which bests “Storyteller” or “Hollyhock God” by a huge margin. Players are cast as members of Star Team, who work for the good “Alliance” against the evil “Empire”, but who aren’t officially part of the alliance. Plausible deniability is a great basis for an RPG.
So, having read this far, we get the setting — like, duh, it’s Star Wars, with the serial numbers no so much filed off as loosely covered with transparent cellophane. Given that, before going on, I ought to figure out a character concept.How about a grizzled mercenary who used to work for the Empire until they made him, I dunno, shoot babies or kittens or babies holding kittens or something? Sounds good. We’ll call him Rex Bristol. Sounds manly. Onwards, then, to see how Rex turns out!
There’s eight stats in the game, or “Basic Abilities” — Strength, Dexterity, Agility, Personality, Willpower, Perception, Luck, and Stamina. Nothing original here, and you could probably merge a lot of them, but hey, it was the Spirit Of The Age. At least they’re understandable names, and you don’t have an anal circumference stat. Yes, one game did. No, if you don’t know what it is, I’m not telling you.
You also apparently get skills, and, wait for it… “Noetic Abilities”, otherwise known as Force Powers. I see Rex as sneering at ancient religions, so I don’t think he’ll go for those, if they’re optional.
Basic checks are made as percentile rolls against an ability score, while other checks use the brightly colored, Marvel Super Heroes esque “Action Table”. Colorful universal tables were like the Beanie Babies of RPG design in the 1980s. For a few years, they were everywhere, then they vanished like the Passenger Pigeon or Wandering Monster Tables.
You have a Star Team rank, starting at Deuce and moving to Ace. You also must pick an Order, but these are explained later. You get some generic equipment, and some “chips”, which are what you use for currency.
And now, we begin creating a character. Hold on, I need three 10 sided dice. All dice rolls are promised to be verbatim.
Decide a race. Races are described at the end of the chapter! Page flipping, ho!
Crystal Clones: Silicon based Elvish Vulcans.
Kleibor: Humanoid polar bears. The inevitable combat monster race. They’re also telepathic.
Traka: Catgirls. I can haz galactic revolution?
I figure Rex will be human.
I roll 3d10*2+20 for the ability scores, generating 8 or them:
60, 58, 50,34,44,56,56,56
That looks pretty good for a mercenary type, I think.
OK, now, my Unskilled Melee: That Str+Agi /2: 59
Stamina Recovery Rate? To figure that, I look at the Universal Action Table and do some cross indexing. It’s 4. Also, I have 13 Wounds.
Oh, frack, I missed a step. I need to pick three skills — which are in Chpater VI, after combat and a bunch of other stuff. I will pick Martial Arts, Beam Weapons, and Demolitions. My base scores in these are… a bunch of formulas. Martial Arts requires the average of 4 (of 8) abilities! Gah! OK, do some math… 56, 56, and 56. Seriously. All those various formulae, and the nature of the bell curve means I end up with basically the same score in all my abilities, because my attributes are so tightly clustered. You end up with a lot of very identical numbers on your sheet. Worse, most of the time, the numbers are clustered into ranges, so that it doesn’t matter if you have a 40 or a 50, you get the same value. This was pretty typical 80s design, and one of the thing I don’t miss about the era — a lot of detail in chargen working out to no difference in gameplay. Anyway, those are my skills. Go, me.
Oh, now I add 15 to my skills, presumably, that’s a training bonus or something.
And…uh… I’m done. Wow. There’s Rex, complete. 8 abilities, three skills (plus Starship Piloting and Noetic Defense for free), and, uhm, that’s it. He has a standard equipment loadout and a Star Team FX 80 Phoenix Starfighter. I should pick his “Order” from the Star Team section — he can join (sigh) Clubs, Spaces, Diamonds, or Hearts. Spades are the fighters, so, that’s him. Rex Bristol, Deuce of Spades, ready to go out and join the fight! Once he racks up 12 kills, he gains a level and becomes a Trey of Spades!
(As far as I can tell, all weapons do the same damage — only skill matters. This is a pretty interesting take on things, but might be part of why the game didn’t do well — sci fi fans love their gun porn.)
So… well, that was briefer than I expected. A whole lot of dice rolling to produce a whole lot of Not Much Difference. You could do just as well to give everyone a base of X, and Y points to split up at they see fit. The total choices — my measure of how interesting chargen is — are pretty few. How to order stats (somewhat irrelevant unless you roll very high or very low), your race (only four to pick from) and thee skills, from a fairly small list.
Well, Rex is likely to never live past this brief foray; I’m not about to tell all my friends to drop their current game and come play this mid-80s classic. In a way, I’m glad I pick this one at random, as it’s an almost perfect “baseline” game — moderately obscure but well distributed in its day, nothing majorly original about it, but nothing amazingly hideous. It’s an almost Platonic Ideal of an 80s game.
Next time, though, something truly outre… I think I will dig up “Machineguns&Magic”….