Star Rovers, Encore
Well, here we are. Barring a response, or libel suit, from Mr. Stocken, this will most likely be my final Star Rovers article. (There’s a temptation to begin producing new material for a game out of print for almost 30 years, surely the ultimate in both retro-gaming and quixotic gestures, but I will finish Earth Delta before embarking on any other large undertaking. I will, I will, I will. (Beta 1 is in heavy, active, "I was editing it last night and will be playtesting it tonight" development. Really. This is not going to be one of those projects where I post annual messages declaring I’ll be getting back to work on it soon.))
Anyway, while the focus of the "Characters From A Thousand Games" section is supposed to be solely character creation, with other game systems looked at as needed, I’m going a bit beyond the scope with this look at the cosmology of Star Rovers, because a world in which more people know about hyperspace trenches and rainbow holes is a better world.
After the break, yadda yadda. There’s also a picture. You like pictures, right?
You Gotta Have…Wait, I Did That Bit Already
Alright! After a long trek through space corporations, exchange rates, equipment failure, bodily improvement, and mining, we are staring at the skill listing for the Spacer class. This gives us the attribute prerequisites, which helps me figure out what classes I qualify for before I pick one. It’s also illustrated by an attractive, eye-patched space pirate lady (I assume she’s a pirate ’cause of the eyepatch, it is a fundamental law of the universe that naval officers or guys who haul space-beans from one forgettable starport to another either don’t lose eyes in fights at Moondog Maude’s or else can afford prosthetics) with a wonderful 80’s style "do", and her somewhat more butch looking crewmate, and because I’ve spent way too much time on the Internet and I’m a dirty old man, I’m going to have to speculate on just what they do to celebrate a successful raid. But since there’s no space combat rules (bitter? Moi?), I might just assume they have to keep busy while waiting, during those long, cold, nights in space… yeah, I’ll be in my bunk.
Picture (and some text) after the break.
Star Rovers Part IV
Well, this is the first time in the history of this blog anyone actually commented to say they were looking forward to/waiting for something, so I suppose it’s a good idea to actually write it. I also have a special treat for you… some scanned art from the game, so you can see a bit of what I’ve been talking about.
A minor digression, here — something you ought to be used to if you’ve been reading this blog, or, well, anything I write that’s longer than a Facebook status update. Comments help. A lot. There’s often a feeling of screaming into the wilderness, here. Any kind of feedback which isn’t coming from a spambot trying to sell fake watches or link you to malware sites encourages me to keep writing. My game collection is immense, and includes a lot of fairly rare old games and fairly obscure newer ones… if there’s a particular game you’d like to see me work through/review, let me know, and I’ll see if I have it. A lot of my "game design" time… well, OK, all of my "game design" time… these days is taken up with Earth Delta, but these types of articles occupy a different sphere, so I don’t feel I’m "getting distracted" if I work on them. (PS: Today I wrote the words "Earth Delta Beta 1" on my ever-growing rules document… it may be a bit before that’s actually posted, but it really is happening.)
Links are cool, too. You link to me, I link to you. Based on the overall readership of this thing, that’s a lot more benefit to me than to you. Hey, I’m honest, at least!
OK, enough of this stuff. On to the actual article.
Read more for amazing art, interesting classes, and maybe even a look at the equipment lists…
Star Rovers III
Well, this series has generated more comments than any other posting here (three! Three comments! Whoooo!), so here I am again, as my computer spends most of its processing power to churn through a few hundred thousand pieces of financial data to test out my code. I’ve been promising chargen for two long, digression-filled pieces now, and it’s time to deliver.
Click "More" to see me deliver.
Star Rovers Part II: Character Building
(With a quick digession into game mechanics.)
Let’s jump into what these articles are all about — character creation, and discovering a game system by working through it. Much as with Space Opera, I’m turning back the clock to my earliest gaming days, forcing myself to take off misty glasses of vague recollection and confront the cold type burned into the dead trees, facing the rules as they were and judging them with the eye of a semi-competent semi-pro game designer and writer who has been gaming, now, for longer than I’d been alive at the time I originally played. Let us see… (at this point, the screen should get all wavy and fade out, but anyway…)
Some physicality. Star Rovers was a boxed game, as most were at the time, though the era of the single book, "You buy your own damn dice!" game was rapidly approaching — Villains and Vigilantes and Champions were already in the vanguard for that. I can’t find a price on the box, but that’s not atypical. I suspect it was 19.95 or so. For this presumed price, you get a rulebook of about 130 pages, held in a cheap plastic spine which could be unclipped to remove or add pages, three ring binder style. This design choice, tried again with the AD&D 2e Monster Manual, was intended to allow the addition of new "modules" as the game progressed — rules modules, not pre-fab adventures (and therein lies a tragic tale). The boxed game was "Module 1", of course. You also got maps. You got several pages of blueprints for the "Zirconium Zephyr", a generic PC-class starships, a large, scaled for 25mm figures (but not hexes or grids, despite the game relying on hexes for combat) map of "Moondog Maude’s Cantina", which included "Galactic Roulette" tables, spice racks (labeled "Salt, Pepper, Sulfur"), bathrooms for males, females, and "non-humanoids" (evidently, male, female, receiver, and nurturer Blagovaxians had to share), an out-of-order video booth (really, it says, "Out Of Order" on the map!), and many more wonderful things that tell you exactly what we of the 1980s thought the future — the kick-ass, galaxy-eating, lightsabre-fighting, totally heavy metal future — would be like. Sure, at this same time period, William Gibson was penning depressing novels about the grim dehumanization caused by technology (and we gamers would turn it into a genre where you played cyber-mercenaries who kicked 26 different kinds of ass with their built in penis mounted missile racks), but for us 16 year olds back in high school, it was all about the vrooosh (that’s a lightsaber sound effect) and the lasers (pew pew pew!). The only thing "grim" or "dark" about the future was the slavering alien hordes that would nom your face off if you didn’t shoot them first! Pew pew! Wait, where was I?
Read on to find out where I was!
Most of the articles in this series reference games I’ve never played, or played only occasionally. Some are extremely obscure. Well, this one is definitely obscure, but it’s a bit different, in that it’s a game I played quite a bit back in High School (Gill/St. Bernards, 1979-1983), namely, Star Rovers, published by Archive Miniatures in 1981, which was a very good year for gaming. I’d say it was roughly the peak of what I, personally, consider the "classic era" or the "Golden Age", based mostly on the premise that "The Golden Age of Science Fiction is 12" — that is, the defining moment of any genre is the era that it is discovered by the individual. But anyway…
Star Rovers embodies the spirt, essence, zeitgeist, whatever of what I think gaming, and especially science-fiction gaming, should be. It’s really Space Fantasy, not "Science Fiction" in any meaningful sense. It’s an insane hodgepodge of whatever random elements the writers thought were cool, pulling from pulp sci-fi of the 30s and the science fiction movies of the 1970s (especially "Star Wars", which of course itself pulled from those same pulp elements) as well as the vaguely inchoate common assumptions of the rapidly developing gamer subculture.
Setting? Oh, you silly, silly, man (or woman). This was the early 1980s! We didn’t need no steenkin’ setting! (We still don’t, if you ask me — not as part of the core rules.) What you needed was the idea of a setting, a sense of a setting, the echo and color and tone of a setting, but not any actual, definable, setting. So what does Star Rovers give us?
From "In The Beginning", on page 0.01. (Yes, 0.01. You got a problem with that?)
Billions of years in the primoridal future, beyond Infinity, the Universe collapsed into a Black Hole and ceased to exist. Time reversed its flow, and the stars burst forth from the Cosmic Nothing in a blaze of light. Cosmic wastes congealed into captive orbits in the outer darkness, forming planets, sometimes colliding with each other, shattering into rocks and asteroids and wandering comets.
As if on signal, at different times and places, floating synapses of energy crystallized into minute replicas of ancient suns, then into chains squeezed by the colloidal clay into the building blocks of Life. Carbon and Silicon proved to be the most prevalent molecular bases to evolve life from, but there were others, and sentient races evolved in a bewildering variety of forms. Sometims the path of Intelligence omitted many stages altogether, assuming bizarre shapes far removed from the normally travelled paths of natural selection. The Cosmic Computer catalogued nine billion different species of sentient life before the Universe collapsed and the stars winked out of existence.
(All random Capitalizations are As Found in the Original text.)
Don’t ask about the Cosmic Computer. It’s never mentioned again. But the mere fact it was mentioned automatically gives you some sense of what this game’s about, isn’t it?
A paragraph or two later, in "Fragments of Imperial History", we learn that:
Then, the Biomorphs came. They grew from within, these Exploding Men, almost impossible to detect. They struck without warning, like a sudden earthquake or an epileptic seizure. They were a threat so dreadful that the Empire felt obliged to deny their very eixstence and the terrified people gave tacit approval to this conspiracy of silence. For the name itself, though seldom spoken, conjured Death and Oblivion, almost attracting attack with each utterance.
I didn’t leave out anything vital; "Biomorphs" aren’t defined or explained, either.
Skip ahead one more paragraph, and we get:
For Time has begun to run out. The Hurrakku — they who would gnaw their way through a starcluster and leave nothing in their wake — had already starswarmed. And even though they were still more than forty galaxies away, they were headed in the Empire’s direction.
But they were only the messengers of a great doom. What goaded the Hurrakku onward was the fear of impending annihilation. There loomed behind them an expanding, starless, blackness — A rift in the Space/Time fabric grown so large that it consumed the Past, the Present, and the Future. This was the Final Darkness that Would Cancel Everything!
But then we learn of the El’dar scrolls!
With great secrecy at first, and then more openly, the Empire began to field great numbers of intelligence gathering operations; then exploratory groups to search for the lost technology of the El’dar.Starknight enclaves planned and executed missions into unexplored territories to recover lost artifacts. The Rebel Axis also began receiving reports and dispatched probes of their own. So did the Dragonspawn. The Biomorph High Command had always been aware of the existence of the lost artifacts, even before the Empire, but had never succeeded in recovering any.
Thus it was that the Star Roving Ages began. As always, the enemies of the Hu-men, who sought only their destruction, followed in their wake. But the Hu-men no longer looked back in fear. Instead, they looked forward into the vastness of space with a renewed sense of wonder.
I’ve skipped a few paragraphs here and there, but nothing which would add more "context" or "meaning" or "definitions" or any other such wuss-like things. Hurrakku? Dragonspawn? "Starspawned"? Starknights? Rebel Axis? Some of these words show up again in the text, never explicitly called out or defined, others are never seen again. But you KNOW what this game is about! Giant alien…somethings… that chew through ENTIRE STARCLUSTERS! Biomorphs! Starknights! Ancient artifacts! Galactic secrets! Holes in TIME AND SPACE! Some sort of outer space dragon men, or something! Whatever! It’s cool! This game certainly isn’t about whipping out your HP Scientific Calculator that does RPN and trying to figure out the fuel requirements for the jump drive and if you’ll show a 15 credit profit on that load of dried beans you’re hauling from one planet to another. This game is about things that eat galaxies, man! Whatever they are! Didn’t you read it, dude? They, like, eat galaxies! Or they’re running from something that eats galaxies. Or… something. Whatever. Dragonspawn!!!!
Sorry. Lost myself there.
Anyway, that’s just the first two pages. We’ll get to character creation… sometime. I just had to post the introduction. Enjoy.