Star Patrol wants YOU!
Got a Star Frontiers game you’d like to bring over to GURPS? (Okay, so that proposition made more sense in 1997. But do please play along.) Here are some notes to help those characters make the jump.
First, a bit of intro
It’s hard for me to say what I liked so much about Star Frontiers when I picked it up way back when. Part of it was production value: the books weren’t anything fancy (pretty primitive by today’s standards), but there was so much packed into the box: multiple books, maps, colored counters, more. A lot of components for a simple game.
The game’s play is “lightweight”: light on rules, grit, atmosphere, and weighty themes. It’s quirky, high space adventure. It certainly doesn’t stack up against the more detailed and “mature” games of today, but SF tied its simplicity to a certain naive charm. Rather than clumsily try to depict that in words, I’ll leave it to interested parties to check out the game itself. I’ll just add my opinion that the PC races, though few, all had a fun feel and somehow fit nicely together, like a well-balanced TV show cast.
To my surprise, the rules are available for download at http://www.starfrontiers.com/ (and it’s a kosher download, I’m told). If you’d like to try an all-new setting for your GURPS game – one that’s easy to pick up, not too heavy on overwhelming background – give the SF rulebooks and this article a try.
Gnarly! It’s Dralasites, Vrusk, Yazirians and more, straight from the day-glo ’80s – er, from the farflung future, I mean. If you’ve got old leftovers from old Star Frontiers games, or are new to TSR’s vintage sci-fi setting, here’s your guide to converting Star Frontiers materials and characters into a GURPS 4e game.
Point level and character renewal
Converting characters themselves is a simple and even fun process. But squeezing a converted design into a set number of points may not be.
A GURPS default point level (such as 150 points) is fine if you’re starting with all new characters. If bringing old Star Frontiers (SF) characters over to the game, consider the point level that best speaks to the SF group’s experience. That may be 150 points for new SF heroes, 200 points for those with a few planetary adventures behind them, 250 points for experienced Sathar fighters, etc.
It’s a completely arbitrary decision, but that’s fine; take your best guess. And if you’re really flexible, consider whether it’s even necessary to have all PCs hit the same point level. If you translate each character as faithfully as possible, there’s no chance they’re going to happen to come out at the same total. Is that okay in your game, or are you and the players willing to freely modify each PC to hit the target? Either one is an opportunity to have fun.
The most likely scenario for GMs reading these rules involves dusting off old, mildewy SF characters for use in new games. Use that opportunity to let players update the characters themselves; that greatly eases the process of setting all PCs at a given GURPS point level. Assume considerable time has gone by since the last set of adventures. Players can add new abilities that PCs might logically pick up (Wealth and Strong Will, maybe; Eidetic Memory and magic spells, probably not). GURPS‘ extensive list of traits, many of which can be explained by cyber- or bio-engineering, can take those old PCs places that TSR never envisioned.
Refreshed characters will re-invigorate player interest from the start, and reduce some fears over moving to a new game system.
Attributes and skills
Players and the GM should work together to figure out what set of GURPS attributes and skills reflect the old SF character write-up, based on the rough “translation” guidelines below. Buy those traits normally.
Allow PCs to buy disads that reflect the personalities they had exhibited in the old SF game: Code of Honor, Honesty, Impulsiveness, and so on. GURPS personality disads represent strong versions of the trait, so if the PC was only a little overconfident and not excessively so, a Quirk “Somewhat overconfident” may be better than the Overconfident disadvantage. Encourage players to take a full five Quirks to round out their characters.
Guidelines for Translating Traits
There’s no need for a set rule on how any given SF trait converts to a GURPS trait. Guidelines, though, are a good thing. Use the rules of thumb below to set your GURPS traits, and then purchase normally.
Divide STR by 5 and add 1 to get GURPS ST; do the same for STA to get GURPS HT.
As described in the SF rulebook, the two abilities in this pair are nearly identical; both together serve the same function as GURPS DX. Of the following two conversion methods, use whichever the player or GM prefers:
- add DEX and RS, divide by 10, and add 1 to get GURPS DX; or
- use DEX/5 + 1 for DX, and also give the Combat Reflexes advantage if RS is 65 or more; Combat Paralysis if RS is 25 or less.
As above, both of these scores are reflected in one GURPS score, IQ. Use one of the following two conversion methods:
- add INT and LOG, divide by 10, and add 1 to get GURPS IQ; or
- use LOG/5 + 1 for IQ; for every 5 full points of INT above 50, spend 5 CP on Alertness, Danger Sense, and/or Intuition, as desired; INT of 25 or less results in the Absent-Mindedness disadvantage.
Purchase 5 CP worth of reaction bonuses (normally Charisma, but possibly Appearance, Status, Voice, etc.) for every 5 full points of PER over 50, and 5 points’ worth of similar disadvantages (Odious Personal Habits, Shyness, etc.) for every 5 full PER points below 40.
For every 3 points of LDR above 50, spend 1 GURPS CP on the Leadership skill. For every 5 full points of LDR below 40, buy 5 points of the Shyness disadvantage (e.g., Crippling Shyness for LDR 20 or less).
Alternately, these points for low LDR could be spent on Weak Will, or possibly disadvantages like Gullibility.
GURPS Speed fulfills the same function; compute Speed normally.
Guidelines for Translating Races
Below are racial templates for characters in the SF world:
Overall, racial likes and dislikes don’t seem strong in SF, and so should probably be left to individual players. Mostly they will appear as Quirks (such as “Thinks Yazirians are violent” for a Dralasite, or “thinks Humans are unpredictable” for a Vrusk).
Required advantages and disadvantages include:
- ST +1 
- HT +1 
- DX -1 [-20]
- Acute Taste and Smell +5 
- Racial Talent (+3 to Detect Lies) 
- Double-Jointed 
- Penetrating Voice 
- Hermaphromorph 
- Squishy  (see below)
- Extra Limbs [+5, plus additional +10 per extra limb] (see below)
- Colorblindness [-10]
- Philosophical, patient [-1]
- Strange sense of humor [-1]
- Love steam baths w/perfumes and/or intoxicants [-1]
- Do not wear clothing (interferes with breathing through skin) [-1]
- Fond of Vrusks [-1]
Squishiness: The Dralasites’ body starts with the (oddly-named) Double-Jointed advantage, a type of super flexibility allowing drastic bending and twisting.
The Dralasites go one better, however, and have a very limited shape-shifting ability. By spending 5 minutes, a Dralasite could squeeze through a small opening, become round or flattened out, etc. GULLIVER suggests a Squishy advantage as follows:
Squishy (new) 5 points
“Malleable” is another good name for this advantage: you’re boneless, or have bones that slip and dislocate easily. (If the former, add the 0-point effects from Invertebrate.) You can squeeze your body in unusual ways, even forcing your head through an opening half its girth!
Double-Jointed or Flexibility is a prerequisite for Squishy. You get the benefits of the prerequisite with an additional +2 on Escape, and +1 to break free from a pin or resist an Arm Lock and its effects.
Squishy lets you to stretch slowly; not far or quick enough to be of use in combat, but by HT x 2% or so, little by little. But Squishy is not a quick shape-change ability; any unusual squeezes or stretches take five minutes, halved on a DX roll or a Change Control (DX/Average) skill. Examples include soft invertebrates and Tooms from The X-Files.
Roll vs Change Control to see if the Dral can fit through a foot-wide hole, or change a leg to an arm in under three minutes minutes, or take on the rough shape of a Yazirian, etc. A high skill level in Shape Control would be respected among Drals, and useful for entertainers, assassins, etc.
Extra Limbs: Extra Arms normally cost 10 points each. (The Extra-Flexible enhancement shouldn’t be necessary, as the Dralasites already pay for Double-Jointed.) Dralasites go beyond that, with configurable extra limbs.
The Dral can have as many limbs (arms plus legs) as the old rules allow; divide GURPS DX by 2 to get the maximum number of limbs available. (Remember that regardless of the number of arms, Dralasites get no extra combat attacks, though extra arms are useful in close combat.) Any limbs over 4 (two arms and two legs) are extra, and cost 10 points each. A Dralasite with a max 3 limbs would have a -10 point disadvantage. Example: A Dralasite with DX 10 can have five limbs, or one more than the human norm, for a 10-pt advantage. DX 14 allows seven limbs, or a 30-pt advantage.
The player should be able to buy fewer extra limbs if he wants. Some otherwise-coordinated Drals just might not be good with extra limbs, or maybe it’s a permanent effect of a Dral childhood disease. (The Drals probably even have names for such individuals.)
There is no limitation for the fact that the Dralasite won’t always have the extra limbs ready, as it never has to withdraw them. In fact, the arms have a special advantage in that they can be withdrawn if desired, or converted to extra legs. Charge an extra 5 points to the Dralasites’ Extra Limbs cost for this ability.
Senses: Instead of Acute Taste and Smell, the GM could consider Discriminatory Smell . Either advantage could carry a -20% limitation (Restricted By Clothing). Or see broader rules for skin-based senses in GULLIVER.
Other options: Although not in SF, consider Hit Points or Hard to Kill for those diffuse and duplicated organs, plus Rapid Healing, Regrowth, and 1 or 2 points of Damage Resistance with the Tough Skin limitation, or effective vs crushing only (-40%).
No special rules needed. A Quirk (“Nervous Around Vrusk”) might be common, but if it’s strong, the Vrusk should be allowed to purchase a -1 Reaction Modifier (“Buglike”, only affects some humans) [-2].
Required advantages and disadvantages include:
- ST -1 [-10]
- HT -1 [-10]
- DX+1 
- Acute Taste and Smell +1 
- Extra Legs (eight) 
- Double-Jointed 
- Ambidexterity 
- Cultural Adaptibility 
- Loves art, beauty [-1]
- Loves peace and order [-1]
Double-Jointed: The goal here is to get the ability for a limb to bend oddly and freely reach any part of the body. 4e’s Double-Jointed seems like overkill here, but that’s what it takes to confer the ability.
Cultural Adaptibility: This roughly mimics SF‘s Comprehension trait. A Talent for skills such as Psychology, Sociology, and Export Skill (Xenology), as well as the Empathy advantage, may also fit SF‘s Vrusk description.
Other options: While it offers no special protection in SF, a point of Damage Resistance would represent Vrusks’ hard carapace. You might also enforce an Incompetence [-1] with Swimming, for Vrusks’ poor aquatic ability.
Vrusk working for corporations will have Patrons, Duties, and possibly Sense of Duty (to company), Code of Honor (Businessvrusk). Those not in a company might have a -1 reaction from corporate Vrusk (Reputation: Loner, Maverick [-2]). Savior-Faire (Vrusk business world) seems an important skill; SF implies that this is very difficult for non-Vrusk to learn.
Required advantages and disadvantages include:
- ST -2 [-15]
- HT -2 [-15]
- DX +1 
- IQ +1 
- Night Vision 
- Gliding 
- Battle Rage  (see below)
- Vow: Defeat life enemy [varies]
- Bad Sight (light sensitivity) [-10] (see below)
Gliding: Many items of clothing or armor will be restrictive to Yazirians’ Gliding, as would a broken arm, items carried in the arms, etc. Allow another -20% limitation over the -50% Gliding limitation on Flight.
Rules tweakers may want to look at GULLIVER’s separate take on Gliding .
Battle Rage: The Battle Rage advantage is tough to translate. The +20 TH in SF is like the +4 TH from GURPS‘ All-Out-Attack, but in GURPS that also means the Yazirian can’t defend himself, and will likely be hurt! Also, SF Battle Rage is an advantage, but GURPS‘ Berserk is a disadvantage, as the PC won’t defend himself, and might even attack allies.
A suggestion for a whole new advantage, Yazirian Battle Rage (YBR; not to be confused with GURPS‘ Battle Rage enhancement on Berserk):
YBR lets you fight as a berserker, with the same abilities to resist pain and shock. However, through skill it allows more control. You can replace the Will rolls to enter, avoid, or snap out of Berserk state with Will-adjusted Yazirian Battle Rage skill (Will/Hard). More importantly, during any turn of Berserk combat, a roll lets you act freely (including use of defenses) as if not Berserk, while maintaining the beneficial resistance aspects.
In addition, a separate Battle Rage roll (only one, at the beginning of combat) confers +2 ST or +1 DX (player’s choice) while Berserk. That approximates the SF idea better. (A Yazirian taking that ST or DX bonus should suffer double fatigue at the end of the battle, minimum 1 fatigue.)
Vow: The life enemy custom is best gamed as a Vow or even Obsession. Whether that’s worth -5, -10 or -15 points depends on how tough the enemy is, and how much time the Yazirian devotes to it. A -15 point Vow should be reserved for those that regularly expose the Yazirian to real physical danger. (If the enemy is one that actively tries to hurt the Yazirian, that’s a separate Enemy disadvantage as well!) Yazirians who choose particularly daunting enemies can buy separate, positive Reputation bonuses, or possibly Status.
Bad Sight (light sensitivity): I don’t yet see an official disadvantage for a clear way to build it, so I made this up as a variant of correctable Bad Eyesight [-10], resulting in -2 DX/IQ and -4 Vision in bright light only, half that even in normal light, with quadruple any penalties and their durations for actual blinding lights (Flash attacks, etc.).
Basic sunglasses reduce these problems; dark, wrap-around glasses remove them entirely, letting the Yazirian function like any other character as far as bright lights are concerned. But either of those will make you blind in real darkness.
Required advantages and disadvantages include:
- DX -1 [-20]
- IQ -1 [-20]
- Charisma +2 
- Racial Talent: +2 on Hypnosis 
- Racial Talent: +2 on Leadership 
- Two Extra Arms (No Physical Attack, -50%) 
- Peripheral Vision 
- Reputation -4 (hated) [-20]
- Enemy (Star Patrol) [-30]
- Code of Honor (Destroy other races, death before surrender or capture, protect Sathar secrets) [-15]
Charisma: Charisma doesn’t necessarily mean Sathar are liked; it means they’re persuasive. If the GM wishes, he can turn the Charisma into an additional +2 Racial Talent on Leadership instead. Public Speaking and Enthrallment skills would be even more fun (and dangerous).
Other options: The usual assortment of Status, Military Rank, Patrons, Duties, etc. appropriate for a Sathar’s place in his society is necessary.
Guidelines for Translating Skills
There are no PSAs in GURPS; characters are free to learn any skills at normal cost. Feel free to use Talents to lump skills into PSA-like groups if you want to keep the SF feel.
Most SF skills are very broad, with many subskills; each subskill will usually become a separate GURPS skill. As ST players drool over the massive shopping list of GURPS skills, keep an eye on any that’d be inappropriate or hard to come by in the SF world. If the PCs are career members of Star Patrol, which teaches beam weapon usage but not Escape or Pickpocket, a 5-point Unusual Background (Grew up on the streets) might be needed for those latter skills.
Use more expensive UBs for PCs who want exotic martial arts skills, several native languages, unusual combat skills like Net and Lasso, and so on. In the latter case, a 10-point UB (Grew up in primitive colony) would let the player have access to primitive combat, healing, and outdoor skills other PCs wouldn’t have access to.
On the other hand, many skills aren’t covered by SF, but should be available to PCs with no UB cost. A Star Patrol member might easily have picked up the skills Carousing and Gambling, or in his spare time have developed skills like Pottery or Musical Instrument.
To translate an existing SF character, figure out which GURPS skills are needed and purchase them at a level appropriate to the SF PC’s levels. A suggestion: a PC with Level 1 in a skill has the appropriate GURPS skill at level 10. Add 2 to the GURPS skill level for each SF Level above 1.
Example: A PC with SF Demolitions Level 4 has GURPS Demolitions-16. This is only a guideline; adjust the final number up or down a little, depending upon how many CP the player is willing to spend.
What to do about skills like SF Melee Weapons, which covers a huge number of GURPS skills? For a SF PC with Melee Weapons Level 3, it’ll be impossible to purchase every GURPS skill covered by Melee Weapons at level 14 or so.
One solution, again, is to allow a Talent, even if GURPS normally frowns on Talents for combat skills. Or let the PC buy as many individual skills as he wants at the level suggested above (maybe even a couple levels higher for key skills, as the numbers are just guidelines). These should be the ones that would most realistically have come from the PC’s background. Remaining combat skills could be bought at a lower level, depending on how many CPs the player wants to spend.
Example: A Star Patrol PC with Melee Weapons Level 5 decides to buy GURPS Knife-19 and Smallsword-18, which should be pretty expensive. The logic is that the Patrol teaches knife combat, and fencing is a popular hobby among recruits. The PC then decides to buy Force Sword-14, Short Sword-12 (from police baton training), and Buckler-11 (again, from fencing training). The GM decides to limit skill in Broadsword, Axe/Mace, Flail, etc., as the Patrol wouldn’t teach such skills.
Similar treatment will be required for other skills that have lots of GURPS counterparts, such as SF Computer Skill and Medical Skill.
Below are the GURPS skills that equate to SF skills:
- SF Beam Weapons = GURPS Beam Weapons (all types). You can toss in Liquid Projector as well.
- SF Gyrojet Weapons = GURPS Guns (Gyroc, Grenade Launcher, LAW).
- SF Melee Weapons = Covers almost all GURPS hand weapon skills.
- SF Projectile Weapons = Choose freely from GURPS Guns and Gunner specialties, as well as Bow. (Yes, SF lumps machine guns and bows into one skill.)
- SF Thrown Weapons = GURPS Throwing and Thrown Weapon skills.
- SF Energy Weapons = GURPS Gunner (Beams).
- SF Rocket Weapons = GURPS Gunner (Rockets).
- SF Demolitions Skill: Setting Charges becomes GURPS Explosives (Demolition); Defusing Charges becomes Explosives (Explosive Ordinance Disposal). Add other Explosives specialties as you like.
- SF Martial Arts: This seems to cover both Karate and Judo. Purchase GURPS Karate, Judo, Boxing, or Brawling, or a combination of these. Tack on techniques or full Martial Arts styles as you like; traditional fighting skills for the SF races (Yazirian Berserk Mid-Air Boxing?) sound like fun. The GURPS versions of martial arts are quite powerful, so be careful of allowing very high skill levels.
- SF Computer Skill: The SF subskills become GURPS Computer Operation, Computer Programming, Computer Hacking, and Electronics Repair (Computers).
- SF Robotics Skill: SF contains more material on robots than past GURPS worldbooks had, although its clear distinction between computers and robots is not realistic. Now that GURPS has Robots, head to that. Unless Robots suggests better ideas, SF Robotics Skill subskills become GURPS Computer Operation, Computer Programming, Mechanic (Robotics) and Engineer (Robotics).
- SF Technician Skill: This skill’s subskills cover GURPS Driving (all types), Boating (all types), Piloting (all atmospheric types and Aerospace), Mechanic (all types except Robotics), Electrician, Electronics Repair (all types except Computers), Electronics Operation (all types), and Lockpicking. That’s a lot of skills! To save CPs, a PC may have to pare down the skills and/or purchase modest levels. Use the PC’s past experience as a guideline: if the PC drove vehicles more often than he picked locks, Lockpicking skill should be bought low or not at all.
- SF Environmental Skill: This covers GURPS Biology (ecology), Navigation (land), Survival (various types), Tracking, Stealth, Electronics Operation (sensors) and possibly scientific skills like Prospecting, Geology, Chemistry, full Biology, etc.
- SF Medical Skill = GURPS Physician, Surgery, First Aid, and Diagnosis.
- SF Psycho-Social Skill = GURPS Hypnosis, Gesture, Psychology, and Diplomacy.
- SF Piloting Skill = GURPS Piloting (Low-Performance Spacecraft and High-Performance Spacecraft).
- SF Astrogation Skill = GURPS Navigation (Space, Hyperspace).
- SF Spaceship Engineering Skill = GURPS Engineer (Starship) and Armoury (whatever types your game’s spaceships use).
- SF Gunnery Skill = GURPS Gunner (whatever types your game’s spaceships use).
GURPS has many other skills that SF characters might have learned, such as Free Fall and Environment Suit.
PCs in the Star Patrol will have the Patrol as a Patron, and will in turn have a Duty to it. They may or may not also have a Sense of Duty to the Patrol, to civilians, etc. A Code of Honor (Patrol Member) is appropriate. A Patrol career is likely to result in Reputations, Status, Military Rank, etc., as appropriate for the campaign.
Players will probably enjoy their more detailed, “grittier” characters made with GURPS rules. Just make sure they understand the grittier combat rules as well! No more of this: ” ‘You take a machine-gun burst full in the chest.’ ‘Okay, I fire back.’ “
A couple of sample combat sessions should serve to introduce any GURPS weapons and armor types the GM wishes to use, as well as graphically show the effects of a HE gyroc round on Dralasite protoplasm.
Try to keep ’em reeling but alive. The original SF setting is space opera; if you want to keep that atmosphere, sprinkle on plenty of GURPS cinematic options.
Have fun, and don’t listen to any Sathar voices in the shadows…
There’s a lot of Star Frontiers goodness on the web – including the game itself, free! Here are a few good resources; Google will find you even more.
Star Frontiers website
I don’t know what “official” status this has, but it has THE domain for the game, and offers the game itself for free download. (Legally, I’m told.) Those downloads plus this article give you a whole new sci-fi setting for GURPS.
Star Frontiers website
.org, not .com. Doesn’t look active, but there’s plenty to look at and download.
Star Frontiersman Magazine
Wow! All the Star Frontiers books, beautifully “remastered” by one heck of a fan. Plus a Star Frontiers magazine and more!
Star Frontiers website
Same name, yet another site. Rules, creatures, ships, more.
Star Frontiers Digitally Remastered
Wow! Downloads galore of official books. A whole gameshelf’s worth.
Star Frontiers Wikipedia entry
Wikipedia, I love you so much.
Not a big site, but there’s GURPS stuff and Star Frontiers stuff. What’s not to like?
Star Frontiers Now & Forever
Lots of stuff, including a huge list of links.
Ephemeris – An Almanac of the Frontier
Campaign setting resources.
Star Frontiers house rules
A big reworking of the rules.
GURPS Star Frontiers Conversion
A PDF Star Frontiers to GURPS conversion, offering a twist on (and linking to) this page’s conversion notes.
Star Frontiers Racial Conversions
A SJG forum thread discussion conversion of SF races to GURPS. Lots of races covered!
Star Frontiers Web Ring
Still ain’t had enough? Then find more here.
v1.0: Created 1997. It’s the oldest thing on the GURPS Diner!
v2.0: 2006.11.23. Updated for new site and for GURPS 4e.v2.1: 2009.07.30. Some clean-up.
Credits: Dralasite notes enhanced with comments by Art Wendorf.
Note: Also see More Star Frontiers goodness for additional resources, including links to altermate character conversion ideas.