Electric Rides: Vehicle Construction Rules for Star Frontiers

JCab747's picture
October 25, 2020 - 5:06pm
This story is intended to go hand-in-hand with the Vehicle Combat Rules discussion I have going... with the intention of submitting story drafts to Frontier Explorer magazine.

I will try to incorporate various ideas form previous stories that appeared in Dragon Magazine -- notably the "Tanks a lot!" article, plus those by Larry Moore and Shadow Shack that had been published in Star Frontiersman Magazine, and then add the Zebs equipment. Granted, I have a few changes of my own concerning vehicle structure points and the like that have been shown off in my "Things that go boom!" series.
Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 26, 2020 - 9:12am

A dusty haze filled the air as A.D. Venturer and his trusty sidekick, Anne N. Peasea, walked onto Chuck’s Frontier Car Lot near downtown of Port Glass.

Off toward the northern horizon, Dixon’s Star blazed in the sky. Fortunately, it was the cool season in southern hemisphere where most of the population of Laco resided. It was a mere 21 degrees Celsius, rather than the typical 50 degree heat down around the southern polar zone.

Venturer and Anne had just finished their contract at Cassidine Station, acting as guards for the CDC-Capital University archeological dig. They were both flush with credit and looking forward to adding to their own personal equipment. Top on their list was transportation.

As they looked at the selection of vehicles arrayed around the car dealership, a service robot glided up to them on a cushion of air. “Hey there, gentle beings,” came a Dralasite sounding voice from the robot’s external speakers, “you must be here for our really big sale.” A display screen on the front of the robot flashed the words: “Big Sale!”

“Why yes, I guess,” Venturer said. Yeah, there were holographic banners about the car lot saying “S-A-L-E” or “Best Deals,” but to him every vehicle always seemed to be priced the same.

“Well, come on over to the office,” the voice said as the robot pointed to the white, concrete domed building just past the second line of vehicles. Through a window, Venturer saw a Dralasite beckoning to them.

“Can’t we just look about first?” Venturer asked, and pulled out his tablet. “Me and Anne, here, just want this.” He showed the picture of the vehicle they had picked out – the Pan-Galactic Standard Ground Car.

The display screen on the robot changed to show a Dralasite’s head. “Yes, gentle beings, but you must be parched. We have some refreshments in here and it is much easier to look up our vehicle selection in the showroom.”

Anne jabbed Venturer in the ribs. “You know, A.D., I am thirsty and we’ve must have walked nearly two clicks to get here.”

Shaking his head, Venturer said, “Fine.” Of course, the truth was, the planet’s high gravity still tired him out after physical exertions, though he was getting acclimated to it.

Inside the building, the Dralasite met them. It was obviously in its female stage and had a young sprout attached to it. Holding up a pseudopod in the universal sign of welcoming. “You can call me Chuck.”

“That’s an odd name for a Dralasite,” Anne observed.

“It was the name of the previous owner, but I took the name too.” The Dralasite named Chuck, walked them over to a refreshment bar. “So, let’s talk about your vehicle needs.”

Accepting a refreshing glass of water, Venturer pointed to his tablet. “We want the Standard Car.”

“Ah, gentle beings, yes, we have one of those, but you wouldn’t want it.”

“Why not?” Venturer asked.

“That car isn’t made for the environment of Laco. While you could use it to drive around Point Glass during the cool periods, it won’t do for ‘low heat’ or ‘high heat,’” Chuck said, referring to the two hot seasons during the planet’s three year – galactic standard years, that is – orbiting around Dixon’s Star.

“OK,” Venturer said. “So, show me what you have for 5,000 creds.”

“Why, we don’t have anything for that price, gentle being.”

“Wha-what? That’s the standard price for a standard ground car,” Venturer objected.

The Dralasite shook its head, trying to imitate a human gesture for empathy. “It is sad, but we have a range of vehicles with different equipment levels – and can customize it to your needs. So, let us, gentle beings, discuss your needs.”

Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 25, 2020 - 6:36pm

Vehicles in Star Frontiers

Cars are an expression of the buyer. An adventurous person may crave a sports car or an SUV. Some might be looking for a work truck that can double as an office or an off-road vehicle. While other buyers just want a dependable car or a mundane van.

While Star Frontiers provides characters with various options to customize their robots – or spaceships in the Knight Hawks game – the same cannot be said for the selection of vehicles available.

Sure, there is something to be said for the simplicity of the standard vehicles including the ground cycle, car and transport along with the hover variants. There is the one single SUV type, the Explorer (which not to be confused with the popular SUV from an American automaker that is headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan). While only three air vehicles – the glijet, jetcopter, and aircar – are available.

Later modules and Zebulon’s Guide added a few other vehicles to the mix such as the air transport, the floater disk and flit board – but the selection remains paltry. As many car buyers have found out, it is next to impossible to find a basic vehicle in real life without various equipment packages and then there’s the temptation to add on other luxury accessories.

Of course, most of these vehicles are pure battery-powered electric models. At least Knight Hawks offers shipbuilders with a range of engine choices from chemical, ion to atomic drives. While it might be nice to think that vehicles everywhere in the Frontier operate on parabatteries, what about some hybrid electric vehicles? Or even – gasp – a chemical-burning internal combustion engine type… maybe on primitive or outpost worlds.

Different fan-created vehicles have appeared in the pages of Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer magazines. The last two articles on how to specifically modify vehicles was a decade ago in SFman issue 15! There was a story by then editor and publisher Larry Moore, which was basically an updated version of the “Tanks a lot!” article from Dragon Magazine, but also a complimentary one from Richard “Shadow Shack” Rose.

As you may have noted, my series of “Things that go boom!” articles have delved into various weapons that can be mounted on vehicles including rockets, missiles, aerially dropped bombs, and cannons. The “boom!” endeavor led me to alter some of the previous published work, including the formula on how to calculate structure points for various vehicles (more of that topic will be covered below). So, here is an effort to provide you with a revised vehicle construction system – and a few sample vehicles so you can “plug-and-play” with them immediately.

Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 26, 2020 - 7:54am

Who Gets to Drive?

“Which one of you is going to be the primary driver?” asked Chuck the Dralasite.

“I am,” Venturer said.

“Good, I have this verification paper for you to sign.”  Chuck motioned his hands over the desk, which served as a display screen. The motion sensors picked up his movements and opened up the proper digital document. “So, you are a technician? Please indicate your skill level.”

Anne and Venturer exchanged the look. “Well, actually I’m not a Tech. I’m looking to drive a car, not repair it. I’m in the military PSA.”

In the Alpha Dawn system, it seems that only Technicians – with their “Operate Machinery” subskill – get to drive vehicles or fly aircars, jetcopters or air transports... at least “to do anything it was designed to do” (see the Advanced Game rulebook). This idea is further reinforced in the April 1987 issue of Dragon Magazine in the article “Here Comes the Cavalry!”

“Cavalry” writer Matt Bandy provided a skill requirement chart to operate different types of combat vehicles ranging from armored personnel carriers (needing only a tech skill level of one) to the VTOL fighter/bomber (basically a military aircar) where the pilot needs a tech skill level of five.

Zebulon’s Guide with its sometimes confusing plethora of skills (plethora as in its original meaning, which is many bad things) did offer several vehicle skills under the Enforcer Profession (basically the Military PSA).

Writer Bill Logan offered his take on expanding character career options in “A Skilled Frontier” in issue 9 of Star Frontiersman Magazine. In that 2008 work is the Pilot PSA, which “covers the operation of vehicles, military or otherwise, in stressful situations.” That skill covered everything from ground cars, to water vehicles, air cars, and space vehicles.

If you think the Pilot PSA is just a little too all-encompassing but you don’t want to use the Zebs system with its color-coded column shifts, well one can still convert some of those vehicle skills into Alpha Dawn. First, allow characters with the Technician skill to keep their ability to drive and pilot any number of vehicles… it’s only fair.

Vehicle Operating Skills

Vehicle operating skills fall under the Military PSA in the Alpha Dawn system… This makes them some of the least expensive skills to purchase with experience points, even for those who are purchasing them as a secondary skill. Operations include starting, driving, and using a vehicle to do anything it was designed to do normally.

Only a character with the Technician Skill (unless the referee provides exceptions with ability checks) can reasonably repair a vehicle or bypass a locked ignition to start it. Obviously, if the vehicle is damaged or out of fuel, it will not start until it is repaired or refueled.

A character usually will have no trouble starting the vehicle, but only gets one chance to operate it if he is unfamiliar with it. If the character has driven this type of machine before, he can start and drive it automatically – provided it does not have a security lock.

The normal operation of a vehicle does not include stunts or hazardous maneuvers. These are included in the Alpha Dawn rules on page 30 under Special Maneuvers. The Vehicle: Stunt Driving skill offers a character a bonus for success when attempting dangerous feats.

Vehicle: Aquatic

Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS + 10% per level

A character with this skill can pilot boats, water-ski cycles, and any other aquatic vehicles with complete control. This skill does not include undersea vessels, such as submersibles.

Vehicle: Atmospheric

Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS + 10% per level

A character with this skill can expertly pilot glijets, jetcopters, aircars, air transports, and other vehicles of all types that fly through a planet's lower atmosphere. This skill also covers variable hovercraft. Lower level characters could only successfully use small craft while higher level characters can pilot larger craft.

Vehicle: Cars

Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS + 10% per level

A character with this skill can expertly drive ground cars, hover cars, and any other car-like vehicles that stay close to the ground. This would include any pickup, van or mini-van vehicles.

Vehicle: Cycles

Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS + 10% per level

A character with this skill can expertly drive ground cycles, hovercycles, and any other cycle type vehicles that stay close to the ground.

Vehicle: Heavy Duty Machinery

Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS/LOG + 10% per level

A character with this skill can attempt to operate vehicular machinery such as construction equipment, special survey vehicles, etc. Any vehicle that does not fall into any other Vehicle operation skill belongs in this one.

Vehicle: Space

Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS/LOG + 10% per level

This skill enables a spacer to operate any space vessel support vehicle such as a launch, workpod, or a cargo bay loader arm. It also familiarizes spacers with such EVA equipment as the rocket stake, EVA stick, magnetic grapple, external repair bay, clamp-on airlock (all described in Traveller's AD 2300 equipment guide), laser power torch, and anchors. In addition, characters with this skill get a +10 percent bonus to all Reaction Speed checks described in KH page 29 when using a rocket pack and receive only half damage from colliding with objects.

Vehicle: Stunt Driving

Success Rate: +5% per level

This skill allows an individual to add 5 percent per level to his reaction speed roll when performing unusual or tricky maneuvers with whatever vehicles he is skilled in. This skill must be purchased separately for each vehicle the character wishes to specialize in.

Vehicle: Transports

Success Rate: Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS + 10% per level

A character with this skill can expertly drive ground transports, hover transports, explorers, and any other transport-like vehicles that stay close to the ground.

Vehicle: Underwater

Success Rate: Success Rate: 100% or ½ RS/LOG + 10% per level


A character with this skill can expertly operate submersible craft. Lower level characters could only successfully use small craft while higher level characters can pilot larger craft.


Joe Cabadas

KRingway's picture
October 26, 2020 - 5:49am
FYI, I'm in the process of writing and illustrating an artictle on aircars for Frontier Explorer. I also plan the same treatment for the Explorer.

JCab747's picture
October 26, 2020 - 6:11am
KRingway wrote:
FYI, I'm in the process of writing and illustrating an artictle on aircars for Frontier Explorer. I also plan the same treatment for the Explorer.

Joe Cabadas

KRingway's picture
October 26, 2020 - 6:19am
I'm also toying with some ideas for other kinds of aircraft, especially those that players might be able to use (small helicopters etc).

JCab747's picture
October 26, 2020 - 7:53am
KRingway wrote:
I'm also toying with some ideas for other kinds of aircraft, especially those that players might be able to use (small helicopters etc).

That is also very good.
Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 26, 2020 - 10:38am

Skill Levels and Checks

Five days later and the both of them some 200 Credits lighter, A.D. Venturer and Anne N. Peasea returned to the car lot. Both of them had taken classes at Sam’s Cut-Rate Hypno-Training Center. The 200 creds was for drivers’ training… plus they had spent some 7,000 creds on other expenses including better armor and some new LoCo Exos – which were the low-cost, nonpowered exoskeletons that greatly reduced fatigue while moving around under Laco’s 1.5 Gs.

“Ah, gentle beings, welcome back,” said Chuck the Dralasite.

The sproutling on Chuck’s left side also squeaked a close facsimile of the PanGal word for welcome. The little Dralasite was bigger than before, Venturer noted.

“Yes, we’re back,” Anne said. “Your message said that you still had the cars we were looking at.”

“Oh, yes we do,” Chuck replied. Actually, two of the exact cars that the humans had looked at were already sold, but there were other models on the lot that could be easily converted to the configurations that the man and woman wanted, the Dralasite thought.

Most users of Frontier vehicles will have a skill level of 1 or 2, which is sufficient for every day, normal usage, hence the 100 percent chance of sucess. In unusual situations – such as dangerous road conditions, severe weather, high speed driving and turning, skids, and vehicle combat, then skill checks become necessary.

Vehicles may have advanced driver assistance systems – including vehicle computers with the appropriate progits and gear – that can help the driver maintain control. The referee can assess whatever modifiers he thinks are best for a situation.

Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 27, 2020 - 7:58am


Types of Vehicles

“So, here it is, the XP76 Offroader.” Chuck had led them to the special display room at the back where one of the lot service robots had brought in the specially modified ground car. The vehicle had specialized, Laco-rated tires that would permit it to drive off road in most conditions. “It has uprated climate control to handle low and high heat – though only around the poles. Remember, this isn’t rated for the deep deserts.”

“Oh, we know. We researched it,” Venturer said.

“Now, let’s compare this with your other options,” Chuck said as he called up the holographic display of other vehicles.

As noted earlier, the Expanded Game rulebook provided ten generic vehicle designs while Zebulon’s Guide provided three more. Added to his short list were an Clikk hover tank, from the “Sundown on Starmist” module, a handful of Sathar vehicles, an airship used for exploring from “Mutiny on the Eleanor Moraes.” And even the Lunar Exploration Vehicle in the 2001 Space Odyssey module.

Dragon Magazine augmented the list with several watercraft, armed craft including a ground and hover tanks and large landships called battlewagons. The fan magazines – Star Frontiersman and Frontier Explorer – had a number of other vehicles including crawlers (tracked vehicles) and even mecha-style tanks called Articulated Combat Vehicles (ARCVs).

What follows is an expansion of some concepts by Richard “Shadow Shack” Rose, whose original work is in Star Frontiersman Magazine, issue 15.

Vehicle Sizes

Cars, trucks, cycles and the like come in a variety of sizes, which will impact their performance, energy usage economy, and overall structure points.

Subcompact/Compact. These are the smallest versions of a car, cycle, truck, etc. Some of these may be economy models that could sacrifice range, performance, and features for reduced cost. But other compact models are sporty or even hot-rodded for higher performance.

Intermediate. Not quite a compact, not quite a mid-size model, These models still tend to sacrifice some performance and cargo capacity for a reduced price.

Mid-Size. This is the average size model of a given vehicle.

Large. Larger vehicles tend to have larger motors for better performance, passenger and cargo capacity, but they have a higher price than mid-size models and have a slight penalty when it comes to maximum turning speed.

Heavy. These are the largest versions of a particular vehicle type with better passenger and cargo capacity, but decreasing performance. These vehicles are easier to modify to carry weapons.


Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 26, 2020 - 11:25am

Vehicle Sizes and Structure Points

As noted in previous stories, including an article about sathar vehicles in issue 25 of Frontier Explorer Magazine, structure points for vehicles were listed in the Expanded Game rules. The last Volturnus module also noted that a sathar transport vehicle had 120 structure points (SPs) while an automatic cannon had 60 SPs.

Yet, the vehicle combat section apparently ignores structure points. When a vehicle is damaged, you roll on the Vehicle Damage Table to find out what happens.

An optional rule is to also mark off structure point damage whenever a hit occurs. Or the referee could decide that the structure takes damage when the “No Result” is rolled on the damage tables. When a vehicle reaches zero structure points, it is so badly damaged that it is unfit for service.

If a referee would rather just treat vehicle damage like Stamina point damage for robots and the like, there is a simple conversion. One structure point generally equals two stamina points.

The amount of SPs that a vehicle has depends on its size, which is presented in the “Revised Vehicle Size, Structure/Stamina Point Table.” This table is based on the one created by Larry Moore. One basic change is a given vehicle will have fewer SPs than what Moore provided for in order to be closer to the Expanded Game rules.

Moore’s calculation was: “As a baseline a vehicle has a number of SP equal to its size x 200. From there you can adjust up or down.”

Revised Vehicle Size, Structure/Stamina Point Table








Bicycles, mopeds, 1-person transport pods, go-karts.




2-person cycles, ATVs, “golf” carts.




2-4 person small cars.




Mid-size cars. (Star Frontiers ground cars and hover cars)




Small cargo trucks or vans. (Star Frontiers transport)




Large cargo haulers, tractor trailers, tanks and battlewagons.




Truly large vehicles but excludes mass transports such as monorails, ocean freighters, etc. 250 SP/500 STA equals 1 Hull Point under Knight Hawks.

Average Vehicle Structure Points


  • Size 0: bicycle, 5; go-kart, 10, moped, 15; transport pod, 20
  • Size 1: golf/utility carts, 30-40; ground and hover cycles, 50-60; ATV, 50-70
  • Size 2: 2-person ground car, 75-100; 2-person hover car, 50-80; 4-person ground car, 60-120; 4-person hover car, 50-100
  • Size 3: 6-person ground and hover cars, 150
  • Size 4: Cargo trucks and vans, 200
  • Size 5: Large cargo haulers, tractor trailers, 400
  • Size 6: Varies


Instead of just a single structure point number for a certain size vehicle, the revised table provides a range with the idea that lighter, faster vehicles in a certain size class will have fewer structure points, while sturdier vehicles will have more SPs.

Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 27, 2020 - 10:33am

Style Variations

“It’s got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch plant. It’s got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks. It’s a model made before catalytic converters so it’ll run good on regular gas. So, is it the new Bluesmobile, or what?” 

--Edward Blues (Dan Ayckroyd), “The Blues Brothers,” 1980

Vehicles are not only distinguished by their overall utility (a cycle versus a car versus a transport) and size, but also by their outside body style. While some styling cues are just for show and do not impact performance very much, others do.

For Star Frontiers, there are a number of different body styles available for cars and cycles (as per Richard Rose’s earlier work). These will be explained below.

Standard. Much like now the mid-size is considered to be the average size model of a particular vehicle, the standard body style.

Cruiser. Another popular variant is the cruiser style, which sacrifices top speed for better cruising speed and other creature comfort improvements.

Utility. These types of car and cycle styles are set up to alternate between passenger and cargo space. This class would include modern day sport utility vehicles, crossovers, and minivans when it comes to ground and hover cars. For cycles, this would include delivery versions. Basically each passenger seat (except the driver) can be converted into carrying 100 kilograms/1 cubic meter of cargo space.

Luxury. Featuring better equipment levels, improved quality, comfort and performance than a standard model, luxury vehicles are often seen as status symbols.

Sport/Super Sport. Sportier cars typically offer better top speed, acceleration, braking and turn speed performance, but at the expense of fuel economy.

Dual-Sport/Dual-Purpose. This is a class of street-legal vehicles (though the designation is more for cycles) that can also be used for off-roading. These models have different shocks and struts, brakes, wheels and tires than standard models. They receive a +0.1 terrain modifier, though they cannot travel across hazardous a hazardous landscape (at least, not with other major modifications).

Adventure. These types of vehicles can still be used on the road, but are more geared for off-roading. They automatically receive the bronze level of weatherization (see Vehicle Weatherization for more information).

Vintage/Classic/Antique. These survivors of the road are typically 20-60 years old, though some could be much older. They feature obsolete equipment that often must be custom made if the vehicle is to remain in running condition. Some may be powered by a chemical drive (internal combustion engine) or are obsolete hybrid-electric models. The cost of the vehicles varies greatly depending upon their desirability – i.e. just because it’s old doesn’t mean it is priceless.

Custom. Custom vehicles allow for different style combinations, such as a luxury, super sport car or an adventure-utility vehicle. These models would include anything from a stretch limousine to a chopper hovercycle.

Joe Cabadas

JCab747's picture
October 27, 2020 - 1:32pm
Observation: I need to do more to provide some info on the specific changes that happen with the different model styles and sizes. Otherwise, one might s well just stay with Shadow Shack's original story.... 
Joe Cabadas