Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Goblinoid Games Purchases Rights to Starships and Spacemen

In 1978 Fantasy Games Unlimited released Starships and Spacemen one of the first Science Fiction roleplaying games to hit the market -- the first three were Ken St. Andre's Starfaring (1976), Metamorphosis Alpha (1976) and Space Patrol (1977) which eventually became a licensed Star Trek game.

These early science fiction games varied in quality and theme. The science fiction of Ken St. Andre's Starfaring is reminiscent of the John Carpenter film Dark Star and had rules that focused on playing the ship as a whole rather than on individual members of a crew seeking adventure as a team. The game had a humorous bent and like much humor of the 1970s might offend some readers due to the sexual nature of some of the jokes/illustrations. Space Patrol's system was inspired by Star Trek (though it did have rules for playing Laumer-esque Bolo tanks as well), so much so that Heritage Models was able to use the same system in their licensed Star Trek game. Heritage's Space Patrol based Star Trek was one of the earliest licensed role playing game properties.

Like Space Patrol, Fantasy Games Unlimited's Starships and Spacemen was inspired by the Star Trek television series. Fantasy Games Unlimited also produced a board game in the Starships and Spacemen universe entitled Star Explorer which expanded on the themes set forth in the Starships and Spacemen game.


This week Goblinoid Games announced that they had acquired the rights to publish an edition of Starships and Spacemen and they have made the original rules available in pdf format. In the long run, they plan to adapt the system to be compatible with their Mutant Future and Labyrinth Lord d20 Open Game License/Old Game Renaissance systems. This should be a fairly easy process. Like many early role playing games, Starships and Spacemen shares some mechanical qualities with the Dungeons & Dragons role playing game. For example, six of an S&S character's 8 primary attributes are determined by rolling three six-sided dice -- just as in D&D. S&S differs from D&D in its use of attributes in that it distinguishes between inborn attributes which remain the same for that character throughout play and acquired attributes which can improve over time. The game also contains "Branches" and "Subclasses" similar to the class system used in D&D. The acquired attributes mentioned earlier, expand the basic class/level system and incorporates an early skill/point system into the mix.

Sadly for Starships and Spacemen, and a number of other promising SF role playing games, Game Design Workshop had released the first Traveller rulebooks in 1977. The Traveller rules were more closely related to SF literature, having a heavy Foundatiom influence, and this combined with an ambitious support schedule led to Traveller dominating the SF rpg market for years to come. Fantasy Games Unlimited eventually dropped support for S&S and moved on to their Space Opera project which had a broader scope with regard to the kinds of SF it emulated -- everything from hard SF to Pulp.

It's nice to see games like Starships and Spacemen return from the dead due to the long tail effect and the low cost of distribution through the internet. I look forward to seeing what Goblinoid Games have to offer in the coming months. In the meantime, I will have to dig up my S&S rulebook from storage and write a review soon.
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