Wednesday 9 August 2023

Starfaring, by Ken StAndre

 Starfaring, by Ken StAndre, Flying Buffalo, 1976.

"The universe is not only stranger than we imagine. It is stranger than we can imagine"  JBS Haldane

Ken StAndre..."Oh yeah?"

Ken StAndre not only holds the position of writing the world's second Fantasy Role Playing Game, he also wrote the world's second ever Science Fiction rpg. And this is it... the one and only Starfaring. A space odditity if ever there was one, but one definitely worth looking at.  

From the preface:  

"Flying Buffalo published Starfaring for me in August 1976. Only Metamorphosis Alpha by James Ward has an earlier copyright date for a science fiction rpg. Being second at things seems to be my fate in life. The two games have nothing in common, and I didn't know Metamorphosis Alpha even existed when I was creating my sci-fi game.  This game is early and crude and not much like anything else that has ever been published in roleplaying, but it is an rpg. I still think it has ideas that are light years ahead of any other sf rpg out there".  Ken St. Andre, 3/13/21

Starfaring, as Ken says in his blurb, is not like any rpg ever published. It was written at a time when the hobby was in it's infancy and the general format of what an rpg should look like, or even play like, had yet to settle. Ken was finding his way, just like all of the other early adopter/creators. And yet this is definitely, a Ken St Andre game. And that's not just because of the whacky artwork. Because he wasn't coming out of a wargaming or simulationist background, the point of this game isn't to create a realistic, hard sci-fi, but to have a bit of fun.

So, how is it different? Well, for a start, the Player 'Characters' are complete starships and crew and the player takes on the name 'Ship Master'. And here we come to one of the main differences between this game and other rpgs... the Ship Master plays alone with the GM (no, not Games Master... Galaxy Master). There may be other players in the game but they play singly and serially. Starships are designed very much like they are in Traveller and nearly all other sci fi games (except this came first). There are rules for bank loans, buying second hand ships. There are starships, warships, transports, scout ships etc and various types of drives and instrumentation. All you'd expect. Crew can be humans, androids, robots, androgenes (think emotionless Vulcan types) and my favourite: Shells. These are disembodied entities who occupy biological or mechanical shells just to get on better with everyone else. Even though your PC is actually a whole ship and crew, individual people also have characteristics such as Health, Physique, Psi-Rating and Mentality. There are a few special rules for androids and robots and suggestions for playing even more alien types. Space and individual combat are quite abstract and also obviously StAndrean... comparative rolls and doubles rolling over etc all very T&T. What is different, and quite detailed, is the hit location and effect table, which is much more fun (and exciting) than the equivalent in Traveller or Starships and Spacemen.  

There is a pretty detailed psionics system too with eight different psionic powers. These act much like spells in a fantasy game but potentially over vastly longer distances. This system is partially worked using percentages. Elsewhere the players use standard d6 and sometimes (and optionally) playing cards.  

There are following: random tables for star creation, planetary types and the life forms which the Ship's crew might come across. Within the book are suggestions of scenarios but a good deal of the adventuring will come from the use of the Space and Subspace hazard generation systems. These range from attacks by enemies (including the deadly 'Slish'), meteor strikes, wierd radiation or accidentally triggering a supernova... run away, run away!

All in all, referees and players would have quite a bit to do to make this into a game which was a true roleplaying game in our current sense of it. This rpg is more of a procedural random adventure for two. But there is a great deal of charm here and the more you read the book, the more you see what you could do with it.  

There is a pdf version available on drivethru. I printed mine and had it saddle-stitched into a booklet because I like having things on shelves, but for the little it costs, you should have a digital copy just for the history of the thing.