Retrocloning Star Frontiers

Blankbeard's picture
February 20, 2014 - 2:23pm
We've had a couple threads lately that put in my mind the need to have a free open source translation of the Star Frontiers rules. Animux's website sounds like it would a cool resource to have around but it doesn't seem like the rights holders are willing to do more than they've already done.

The biggest reason not to make a retroclone is the fact that all of the Star Frontiers material is available free online. I don't know the details of the agreements that allow this so I don't know if they can be recinded or how robust they are to losing people or websites. Please don't take this as me fearmongering. The likelyhood of Hasbro/WOTC forcing the game materials off the web or everyone who can offer them disappearing is very very small. But there's another related issue.

If you search for Star Frontiers on DrivethruRPG, you come up with StarFrontiersMan, Frontier Explorer, and now the Destroyer Technical Manual. What you don't see is any way to directly download the rules.

I'm aware of Frontierspace but that's kind of its own thing, isn't it? I don't think you will be able to use an existing Star Frontiers module without converting it.

I don't think that putting up a retroclone is going to produce a huge revival but it might draw in some new players and maybe even result in the creation of new adventures. I'd love to see some of the stories from the forum offered up to a larger audience.

Having said all of this, I'm currently engaged in writing a retroclone called Alien Skies. I'd like it to be free and able to run the classic SF adventures without conversion while still tweaking the parts where the rules are weak. It would be mostly setting free with only the elements needed to run the adventures. I wouldn't be adverse to a setting book or something but if it's close to TSR's work, it would need to be free.

I am not a lawyer but I do know that mechanics can not be copyrighted. As long as I don't use any terminology invented by them and don't copy from the text, I should be in the clear. There's no SRD so, for example, I can create a bug guy race but I can't call them Vrusk. So far, that doesn't seem to be a serious issue.

Is anyone willing to provide feedback and/or proofreading?

Malcadon's picture
February 21, 2014 - 3:53am
You might hit a snag if the setting seems too much like the SF. And I'm not just talking about changing the names of the races and adding and removing some details about them.

The SF setting is iconic because it has a race of men, blobs, bugs, monkeys and worms. D&D-inspired retro-clones are able to do what they do because D&D is not set to any one setting, and the elements they use are mostly generic fantasy elements. SF on the other hand, use specific elements for a specific setting. Although, if the retro-clone is divorced of the SF elements, then you would be free to make-up new races (but it would not be the same), or even establish a system for GMs to make up their own races (an open-ended approach that would likely require some examples). With an open-ended approach, the retro-clone would become a generic sci-fi RPG, that use the old SF rules at its core system. That might be a better option.

You could also improve the rules (especially the wonky skill system) as part of making the rules a tad different, as even the retro-clones that try to be as close to the old-school D&D rules as possible, try to make some slight changes, if only to avoid claims of being a cheap-ass cut-n-paste project.

Ascent's picture
February 21, 2014 - 5:00am
Blankbeard, I think you said that you could not find the original rules to download online, correct? You can find digital copies at I apologize if I misunderstood you.
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OnceFarOff's picture
February 21, 2014 - 5:32pm
I agree with Malcadon about the improving the rules. The SFman #9 - "Skilled Frontiersman" hack IMO is better than the original, and MUCH better than the KH skill rules. 

@Blankbeard - If you haven't looked at it yet Stars Without Number is a great retro-clone-ish kind of system based on D&D, SF, and Traveller. And there's a free version at DriveThruRPG. The wayhe handled alien creation was similar to what you were talking about. I'm no lawyer either, but I'm wondering if a series of comprehensive "Core Four" articles in the SFman could cover a lot of the same ground from the AD rules, and then be referenced as fan material in said retro clone?

Blankbeard's picture
February 23, 2014 - 9:25pm
I'm recovering from a killer cold so forgive me if this isn't too coherent.

Ascent: Thank you, I have the copies. I was just lamenting that we can't put them up on Drivethru as far as I know. Bettter exposure and all of that.

Malcadon: You're right. Setting free is the way to go. I'm planning on a race creation system/guideline so the core races should fit nicely into the examples. There's plenty of setting information here and in both our magazines. If I do include a setting, it would be my own take on a frontier-style situation with its own history, races, and powers.

OnceFarOff: I certainly want to improve the rules without making them incompatible with the existing adventures. As long as you can read through say, Crash on Volturnus and all of the stats make sense, it's ok even if they don't work exactly the same way. I have SWN but haven't closely read it yet. I think detailed information about the Frontier is better placed in SFMan or FE where everyone who wants it can get it.