Arcane Game Lore

Shoot Straight, Conserve Ammo, and never, ever, cut a deal with a dragon.

D&D Creature: Splinter Wolf

Splinter Wolf

Large beast, unaligned

Splinter wolves are mysterious brasts believed to be created by an eclectic arch-wizard. They appear to be normal wolves that have grown to unusual size, but have strange crystal splinters growing out of their skin. Encountering a splinter wolf is rare, and there are many stories where a splinter wolf simply bounded away. They have been seen alone or in packs, but do not follow the same habits as normal wolves. Some rangers have tried to capture and train the beasts, but this has proven to be ineffective.


- Armor Class 14 (Natural Armor)
- Hit Points 37 (5d10+10)
- Speed 50 ft.

STR 17 (+3)
DEX 15 (+2)
CON 15 (+2)
INT 3 (-4)
WIS 12 (+1)
CHA 7 (-2)

- Skills Perception +3, Stealth +4
- Senses passive Perception 13
- Challenge 1 (200 XP)

- Bite: 1d20 + 5 2d6+3
- Shard spike: 1d20 +4, 1d6+2 DC 14 Wisdom save or be stunned until the end of their next turn.

Random Encounters: Umbergritt the Archon

Umbergritt was an earth elemental that was summoned to the fight in the Eternity Coliseum, a pit fighting establishment that prided itself on exotic opponents. Slated as a novice fight, Umbergritt was the surprise upset against three mid-ranked gladiators. Slowly, fight after fight, Umbergritt began to understand the coliseum and human ways. He mastered human showmanship and became a favored fighter in the coliseum, which was just an underground cavern with illusion spells to make look more grand. Umbergritt was very content until he was forced to fight a Galeb Duhr. He had never been pitted against his brethren and had no desire to fight him.

This angered Amiaonan Jesit, the owner of the Eternity Coliseum. He ordered several creatures released to fight Umbergritt and the Galeb Duhr. By the end of the fight, the Galeb Duhr lay dead and Umbergritt understood the human’s capacity for hate and pain. Umbergritt broke through the coliseum walls and escaped the coliseum. Amiaonan ordered Umbergritt’s capture a placed a high bount for his return.

Perhaps the party comes across Umbergritt in the wild and decides to help the elemental escape his hunters or the party is hired by Amiaonan to capture one of his prized combatants.

deckFor a while, I have had an old D&D second edition product called the Deck of Encounters. I have used quiet extensively to good results. In a nutshell the deck is just a number of index cards with a short synopsis of an encounter. It doesn’t give you many specifics as to the history of the individuals in the encounter, just what they are doing at the time of being encountered. There are number of other things to help placement, like the habitat, player level, climate, encounter type, etc. These can take your game in unforeseen directions that you, as a game master, has not planned for. In an effort to elaborate on that, I am going to try to emulate this series from time to time and put up random encounters that come to mind.

Review – Print on Demand Hardcovers of Star Frontiers Rules

Okay, I said I wasn’t going to buy any more of the PDFs but I never said anything about the physical, print-on-demand versions.  At least I resisted and didn’t buy them immediately.  I waited until a few people had posted pictures on-line. :-)

In this post I’m going to look at the hardcover, print-on-demand versions of the Star Frontiers Alpha Dawn and Knight Hawks rules available from DriveThruRPG.  We’ll look at their layout, production quality, and how they compare to the originals.  There are lots of pictures and each one is linked to a large high resolution version if you click on them.  This is going to be a long post so settle in and let’s get started!


Side by side comparions of original boxes and new hardcoversThe image to the right shows the two hardcovers side by side with the original boxed sets that they contain the contents of.  These particular boxed sets are my “third” copies.  My originals are almost completely thrashed as I’ve been using them for over 30 years and I left my “second” copies, which are nearly pristine, where they were.

The Alpha Dawn cover is a near perfect reproduction of the AD box set cover.  It should be noted that this isn’t the original cover – you can see that at this link.  This version of the cover was introduced to match the styling of the Knight Hawks cover when it was released and it makes sense that they kept with this version for these products.

The Knight Hawks cover has some variations from the box cover.  First, the color of the Knight Hawks title is lighter on the hardcover.  Also, the text on the book, both above and below the picture, call out that this is an expansion to the Alpha Dawn game.  The text on the box doesn’t make that distinctions.  Finally, the TSR logo is slightly different.  Now the reason for this is that there were actually two different printings.  The boxed set I have is most likely the original.  And then TSR realized there might be some confusion and reworked the cover to make the expansion nature of Knight Hawks explicit.  My other two boxed sets actually have covers that match to hardcover book.  I actually never realized there was a difference until I started writing this up.  Looks like I need to stash away this boxed set as well.


Alpha Dawn

Opening up the book, all the material from the boxed set is included in the following order:  Basic Rules, Expanded Rules, SF0: Crash on Volturnus module, the maps, and finally the counters.

Comparison of covers of the basic rule setThe picture to the right shows the cover of the Basic rules in the hardback (left) and the original (right).  The color in the hardback isn’t as rich and vibrant as the original but that due to the fact that it is non-glossy and that they used the Standard Color option to keep the cost down.  This is true for all the book covers.

The book is laid out exactly like the originals:  cover, inside cover, content, inside back cover, back cover for both the Basic and Expanded games rules.  The printing on the inside covers are blue just like in the originals as you can see in the picture to the right which shows the last page and inside back cover of the Expanded Rules book.  The original is at the top and the new one at the bottom.  You can see the aging of the original as it is a bit yellow.  The rest of the book, just like the originals, is in black and white.

The layout of the module is slightly different since the cover of the module consisted of a pair of two page maps, one on the inside and one on the outside.  The image to the right shows the reproduction of the outside cover map (bottom), the deck plan of the Serena Dawn spaceship, compared to the original (top).  The one reproduced in the book is just slightly shrunk compared to the original to make sure it fit in the margins of book.  Of course since it is bound into the book, you can’t pull it out and use it on the table, but that’s to be expected.  Otherwise, the pages of the module are presented in order with the center pages, that in the saddle-stitched module were designed to be removed as handouts, right were they were in the original printing.

Next we come to the maps.  The next picture shows the big city map as compared to the one reproduced in the book.  Obviously it wasn’t going to be possible to reproduce a 24×36 inch map in a 8.5×11 inch book so it is significantly shrunk down. Otherwise, the color and quality of this reproduction is great.  (If you want a full sized version to print, I created a remastered, digital version that you can use.)

After the big city map, the book contains all of the little maps from the back of the city map.  These maps were mostly a single panel, approximately the size of a sheet of paper so they fit nicely into the book.  However, they did have to be shrunk down just slightly to fit.  The image to right shows a pair of the maps in the book compared to the ones on the original poster map.  If you want a digital copy of the one two-page map from the back of the poster, which represents a small compound and is used in the module SF1: Volturnus Planet of Mystery, you can grab one I made on the Frontier Explorer website.

Finally, we have the counters.  This is a single page at the back of the hardcover (left) that reproduces the counter sheet (right).  My counter sheet from this “third” set is missing a few counters.  This is the one reproduction that isn’t actually shrunk.  The counters are the same size in the book as there original sheet.  Of course they are just printed on paper instead of cardboard.

Knight Hawks

The interior of the Knight Hawks book is very similar to the Alpha Dawn book.  It starts with the Tactical Operations Manual, which contains the rules for the boardgame and ship combat, then the Campaign Book, with contains the RPG rules for starships, then the SFKH0: The Warriors of White Light module, then the maps and counters.

However, they made a few layout choices that seem a little strange.  I actually called this out in the review of the Knight Hawks PDFs I did a while back.  This is nearly just a reproduction of that layout in printed form. Instead of putting the pages in the same order they appear in the originals like they do in the Alpha Dawn book (cover, inside cover, content, inside back cover, back cover), the first two books are present in a slightly different order: cover, back cover, content, inside front cover, inside back cover.  I found this really strange.

Just like the module in the Alpha Dawn rules, the cover of the module included in the Knight Hawks set consists of a pair of two page maps.  In this book those are presented after the module text instead of before it.

The poster map included in Knight Hawks consisted of two full sized maps, one of just a giant hex grid for starship battles and the other containing a deck plan for part of a space station and two sets of deck plans for assault scouts.  Both of these maps are shrunk down to fit into the book just like the big city map from the Alpha Dawn set.  They are good to reference but you can really use them.  Hex maps are fairly easy to come by if you need them and if you want remastered versions of the station or assault scout deck plans (blue, green), there are version I’ve created which you can print and use as needed.

Finally, there is a page that reproduces the counters from the Knight Hawks game at full scale.

Print Quality

Overall, I was quite happy with the print quality.  It’s obvious that these are reproductions from scans but the product pages on DriveThruRPG explicitly say that so you know what you are getting.  Despite that, the printing is crisp and clean and easy to read.  The art is well produced and clean as well.  The image to the right shows a typical page from the books (bottom) compared to the original (top).  This particular page is from the Basic Rules book.

My older copy has yellowed with age and the new one is crisp and white.  The one thing I did notice is that the margins in the new one are a bit smaller than the original.  There isn’t quite as much white space around the text in the hardcovers.  It’s not an issue but after looking at the originals for 30+ years, it is something I noticed immediately upon opening the book.  This is also more true for the Alpha Dawn book than the Knight Hawks one.  The margins in the latter are much closer to the originals.

Some people have posted pictures on-line of some alignment issues of the printed pages where the text was right up against the top of the page with no margin at all.  I specifically checked the pages in question and my copies didn’t have any issues.  So either there was a problem in the original PDFs supplied to the printer for printing which have been fixed or those particular copies just suffered from a bad print in the print-on-demand process.  My copies are clean and consistent all the way through as far as I can tell. (I thumbed through them but didn’t look at every page.)

For the maps that span two pages in the hardcover, whether they were the large ones shrunk down or the two page maps from the module covers, are laid out properly so that nothing is cut off in the binding margin.  This is just the faintest bit of white space between the pages so you can see everything that is on the map, nothing is missing.  I was quite happy to see that they went to the effort to get that binding margin size correct.

This is only the second hardcover print-on-demand product I’ve ever ordered from DriveThruRPG (the first were the Player’s and Referee’s Manual for FrontierSpace) so I can’t comment on how well the binding will hold up but it looks fairly solid.  And to be honest, these won’t see a lot of use.  I still use my original copies from when I was 12 and these will mainly sit on my shelf as collector’s items.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I was quite happy with the printed books given how they were created and what they were trying to reproduce.  The only thing I’d really change is the page ordering in the Knight Hawks book so that the covers and inside cover pages were in the correct order.  Otherwise the books were fine.

The price was reasonable as well.  The Alpha Dawn book was $29.99 which, if you adjust for inflation, is effectively the same price as the original $12 I paid for the boxed set back in 1984.  The Knight Hawks book is only $19.99 so it’s an even better deal.

If you are going to order these, I recommend spending the additional $2 to get the PDF versions as well if you don’t have them.  The reason (beyond having PDFs of the books) is for the digital files of the maps.  All of the two page maps from the module covers are reproduced in the the digital files as single maps.  The big poster maps are not all stitched together in the PDFs but I’ve already recreated those (links above) so that’s not really a worry.  And you get digital versions of all the small maps from the back of the city map in the Alpha Dawn set.

So if you don’t have the rules and want a hardback set, or just want a copy for nostalgia’s sake, these are a solid product.

Did you grab a copy?  What were your impressions?  Let us know in the comments below.



The Hagaboar

Deep in the fen wilds of the Dark Forest stands the dwelling of solitary dark fey creatures. Never too far from the villages of man, these creatures offer their services to those brave enough to risk the forest and seek their aid. Old and selfish these bent matrons are known as hags and revel in the misery they inflict. One such dark fey, the Hagaboar, lives much deeper in the woods where many humans dare not tread, but roam the forest often coming into human villages. Using powerful illusions, hagaboars offer powerful charms to those that come to her cottage, but only if they bring a child. Those that risk the journey find themselves unable to refuse the hagaboars offer, for the return trip is even more dangerous should they refuse.

The Hagaboar loves to eat eggs, mice, lizards, worms and even snakes, but are notoriously lazy. They prefer to use small children to gather them up for her. she uses her gruesome look to scare children into doing their bidding. Like other hags, the deal of a hagaboar is binding, and she always charges a child for payment. The home of a hagaboar is often quiet charming, someplace a child might like to live and a hagaboar offers a better life than those who seek her aid can provide. Illusion and deceptions are the hagaboars main tools, appearing as a sweet old lady in order to allay any suspicion. Once the deal is complete, hagaboars often drop their illusions to show the parent the mistake they made.

GM’s Note: The hagaboar comes from my childhood when I was a kid and could not say hamburger. I thought it would be amusing to have a creature named  after the word.

Medium fey, neutral evil

Armor Class17
Hit Points82(11d8+ 33)
Speed30 ft. ft.

18(+4) 12(+1) 16(+3) (13(+1) 14(+2) 14(+2)

Proficiency Bonus: +2
Skills: Perception +4, Deception +4, Arcana +3, Stealth +3
Senses: darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 14
Languages: Common, Draconic, Sylvan
Challenge: 3 (700 XP)

Innate Spellcasting: The hag’s innate spellcasting ability is Charisma (spell save DC 12). She can innately cast the following spells, requiring no material components: At will: dancing lights, minor illusion, vicious mockery

Mimicry: The hag can mimic animal sounds and humanoid voices. A creature that hears the sounds can tell they are imitations with a successful DC 14 Wisdom (Insight) check.


Claws: Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 13 (2d8 + 4) slashing damage.

Illusory Appearance: The hag covers herself and anything she is wearing or carrying with a magical illusion that makes her look like another creature of her general size and humanoid shape. The illusion ends if the hag takes a bonus action to end it or if she dies. The changes wrought by this effect fail to hold up to physical inspection. For example, the hag could appear to have smooth skin, but someone touching her would feel her rough flesh. Otherwise, a creature must take an action to visually inspect the illusion and succeed on a DC 20 Intelligence (Investigation) check to discern that the hag is disguised.

Invisible Passage: The hag magically turns invisible until she attacks or casts a spell, or until her concentration ends (as if concentrating on a spell). While invisible, she leaves no physical evidence of her passage, so she can be tracked only by magic. Any equipment she wears or carries is invisible with her.

Drawing by Michelle Rodriguez

Drawing by Michelle Rodriguez

The Story of the Eight


Come, sit by the fire, and listen to a tale. A tale of a young band of adventurers known simply as The Eight. This is the story of how they came together, forged the bonds of friendship, and stormed out to change the world, but first this is a story about how they met. Grab a mug of ale and a bowl of stew then make yerself comfortable, cause what ye hear this evening, ye will certainly want to tell yer companions on the morrow.

Every great epic starts in a small town. This was the town of T’craedon, a border town between the Valorian Empire and the Kingdom of Jaghund Geist. An uneasy truce had settled between the two nation and T’craedon was celebrating profitable trade between the two kingdoms. It was a cold Brendum morning and the town had begun settling in fer winter. The winters snows would come soon, and the pass would close leaving those to burrow in fer several months.

Charter for Adventure

Right here in this very tavern, the Demon and the Shrew, is where The Eight began. Drinking and discussing what adventures to go on. Now, they were not known as The Eight yet, they were simply adventurers sharing stories, when a very drunk, and very merry drow elf suggested they get a charter and go on an adventure. The group argued back and forth, until all but the taciturn dwarf refused to join, but his companions would not relent and on the next day they traveled to the guild of the White Stag to purchase a charter.

Now a charter is no cheap piece of paper, if yer willing to form a band, then ye have to pay fer it. And the adventurers of the eight spent every last copper in order to obtain the special writ that allowed them to adventure. Since each member spent the last of their coin, each wanted to be the one to name the group, and they argued fer a full day.

With no end to the arguing in sight, it was finally the halfling barbarian, Homart, that suggested they simply call themselves The Eight. The party was too tired to argue and thus, The Eight was formed.

The Dwarf Ruins

With a charter firmly in hand, the Merry Drow set forth to obtain employment fer the group. Luckily, as it were, The White Stag Guild had a notice board where potential employers post jobs. So he only had to walk like ten feet. It was on this board, amongst the inane calls fer cleaning the rats out of basements, rescuing fair maidens, and hunting of foul beasts that the group found their calling. A short, but straightforward message that simply read; “Seeking adventures for danger. Will pay.” This was indeed in the language the group spoke and they hurried off to the Mercenary District to find their employer.

A shrewd business man and avid dabbler in the arcane. Master Vyncis of Cattlebrock met with the group to travel to some dwarven ruins. ye see, Vyncis had recently acquired the deed to an abandoned fort, one of the many that littered the Bloodsteel Mountains. Rumor was that this was a simple dwarven outpost that fell during the ‘War of the White Mountain’. But Vyncis had studied many ancient dwarven tomes and knew that when the outpost fell, it hid a great artifact. Vyncis promised the group untold treasure that had been hidden away there before the outpost fell, and all he wanted was the artifact. He also said he was going to be accompanying them.

Attack of the Griffins

And so the group set off fer an arduous four day journey through the mountains. The skies still looked clear, so it was good that they headed out immediately. Once the winter snows set in, travel in the high mountains is deadly. There was some argument with the party about shift watches and when to travel, but this is to be expected in a new group. After a day the party settled into their routines and spirits were high, except fer the dwarf.

Snow, wind, and sheer cliffs are just some of the dangers traveling so high in the mountains. There is also another danger known as gryphus nixus, or more commonly, Snow Griffins. These griffins nest high in the mountains, immune to the cold and are larger than their forest dwelling cousins. Snow griffins have been known to carry off an ass in each of its claws at the same time, both the pack animal and the type that just yells at ye, oblivious that there is a griffin about to snatch him up. The ranger Münish had no sooner pointed out a nest, when two of the gargantuan beasts dove down at the group from the cover of the sun.

Münish, fully expecting the attack, reacted first, firing a crossbow bolt(14 dmg 9) and wounding one of the beasts, while the Merry Drow took cover behind some rocks while singing a rousing song of the Battle of Qagogh. Homart, the halfling barbarian threw a javelin at the large beast flying true to it heart. But snow griffins are not simple beasts and at the last second, the griffin batted the javelin aside. The two griffins landed, casting large shadows over the fighter Cyrus and Homart. One griffin clawed Homart, raking its talons across his chest (dmg 9/2), while the other snapped (dmg 6) and clawed (dmg 5) at the vampire hunter Cyrus, biting deep into his flesh. The cleric Malvus saw the deep cuts in Cyrus’ skin and prayed to Indrindis. A soft glow enveloped Cyrus and his wounds closed (cure 7). Vinwick, the youngest and most inexperienced of the group knew he could not hope to best the griffins out in the open and fired haphazardly(8) while he sought cover. A large flaming bolt sailed through the air at the beasts head, but the griffin saw the flame from the side and ducked out of its way.

Quickly reloading his crossbow, Münish fired again (17 dmg 10) at the griffin hitting it in its flank. Tr’yanna, the half-orc scout, found an old tree in which to brace herself and fired (7) at the griffin. The arrow deflected off the griffin’s tough hide even though the arrow was true to its mark. Cyrus, finally able to gain his footing, unfurled his ancient whip and lashed out (18 dmg 13) at both the griffins, cutting deep into their haunches with one blinding flash. The Merry Drow unleashed a string of vicious retorts aimed to confound and enrage the griffins, but even the cold air seemed to deaden his words as the griffins paid no head (save 16). Homart, enraged at the griffins attack, pulled his vicious rapier and swung with all his might (18 dmg 9) cutting deep into the griffins wing. Assailed from all sides, the griffins lashed out again at Cyrus and Homart, but they were too slow fer the vampire hunting duo to be hit. Malvus began reciting a prayer to Indrindis, shouting his goddesses blessing over the din of battle (Bless Homart, Cyrus, Münish). Vinwick cheered as he watch his firebolt (12 dmg 1) sail across the field of battle and hit one of the griffins in the tail. Vyncis, having been watching the battle the entire time, started cawing loudly from the back of the group; ‘Cacaw tooky tooky; Cacaw tooky tooky’ in an attempt to frighten the beasts.

With the griffins otherwise occupied, Münish stood his ground and continued firing. With rote practice, he fired another bolt (16 dmg 5) in the griffin’s flank, while Tr’yanna pierced the other the other griffin’s shoulder with an arrow (14 dmg 4). Brazen by the party’s success in the fight, the Merry Drow hurled himself at one of the griffins, stabbing with his rapier (7), but failing to pierce the beast’s thick, ice encrusted hide.

Homart continued to pummel(19 dmg 12) the griffin before him, trying to beat the beast into submission. The griffin, in rebuke, bit into Homart (dmg 9/2) clawed the halfling (dmg 6/2) to escape. The other griffin bit deeply into Cyrus (dmg 12) causing the mighty hunter to drop to a knee. The two griffins, having had more than enough, began to beat their mighty wings and lift into the air. The Merry Drow and Homart were not about to let the two escape and both attacked in unison with their rapiers; Homart wailed (20 dmg 5) hitting the animal in its meaty flank, and the Merry Drow buried his rapier (9) into the feathery wing, but neither attack stopped the griffins ascent.

Malvus, stood silently while his soul was prostrate to his goddess, channeling Indrindis’ divinity once again into Cyrus (Cure 9). Venwick fired another bolt (9), emboldened by the fleeing griffins, but the beast dodged the halfling’s spell as they lifted higher into the air.

With battle now fleeting, Münish hastily reloaded his crossbow and fired (10) at the fleeing griffins. The griffins attempted to use the sun as cover and Münish lost sight in the Sun’s blinding rays just as the bolt was freed. Tr’yanna, on the other hand, saw what the griffins were doing and used the tree’s limbs to block out the sun as she aimed. Her arrow loosed (19 dmg 8), it flew strait, burying into the griffins rump. Cyrus, now enraged that the griffins were fleeing, grabbed a javelin from his companion and hurled it (17 dmg 3), clipping the beast on its leg. The Merry Drow kept singing to encourage his companions to strike before the beasts were out of range. Homart threw one more javelin (7), but the beast were well out of range now.

Tr’yanna pulled back her long bow trying to gauge the distance, but strong winds of the mountains made her shot (8) fly wide. Unperturbed, Münish loaded one last bolt into his crossbow. He took a moment to stretch his neck and sight in the griffin.As he did many times before with his military training, he took a deep breath and at the end of the exhale, he squeezed the crossbow’s trigger. Time seemed to slow and all sound fell away. He no longer heard the din of his companions, or the howl of the mountain winds. He watched until he lost sight of the bolt and stood in that moment of when ye know ye hit, but think ye might have missed. And then the great beast pitched forward and crashed into the ground. Its companion let out a loud screech and disappeared behind some jutting peaks.

The Fortress

With one of the beasts felled, the party was in good spirits. They spent the remainder of the day skinning and preparing the griffin to eat. Homart took the beak as a trophy and Münish prepared the hide fer use later. Vyncis regaled the group in how he managed to get the griffins to flee, having read the technique in a book. The group told each other their perspective of the fight and complimented each other on their skill. After a full meal and a good night’s rest, the group set off again in high spirits. It didn’t take long to find the dwarven fortress. Reduced to a number of towers canted at odd angles. The brass roofs of the building were still easy spot even though snow covered most of them.

As the party searched the area, Münish walked northeast to the far tower. Homart, curious as to what the dwarf was up to, followed his taciturn companion. Münish was able to uncover a door and called the others over. The group looked over the door deciding how to open it when Tr’yanna pointed out a rock deadfall. She used her crowbar to jam the mechanism in place and Homart pushed the heavy stone doors open. The troup lead their mounts into front stables of the tower and as the party members secured the animals, the Merry Drow cleaned the mirrors that provided light into the room. They continued down into the depths of the tower until Homart set off a trap that nearly killed him. The group saw that they were in a gauntlet of crossbows, designed to kill any intruders that came through. The Eight decided that they should disable the traps and see if they could salvage any of the crossbows. That is when Homart noticed the door and reached fer the handle.


And that is where we leave our story laddies. Now, now, if ye want to hear more, ye will have to return on the morrow and find out what became of The Eight and what Homart found behind that door. Be sure to give a few coppers to the bard and pay yer tab. Remember, every great adventure starts with a single step, but it dinna hurt to hear someone elses tale before ya take that step.

Symbol of The Eight



This was a game synopsis I wrote for our first game in a friends home brew campaign. The players enjoyed it and asked that I continue writing the Tales of the Eight. I try to keep the rolls in my synopsis, and yes, I write them down during the fights in the game, just to show how the fight progresses. Sometimes I don’t always write the stories exactly how they went, and take some liberties on how things transpired. Some things are down right false, but I try to keep it how their legends spread. Most of the time I up play their actions, but at times some of the bad choices are exaggerated. Let me know if you have any questions, or ideas to make it better.

Halfling Barbarians Need To Be Banned

Flail_snail-5eThis public service announcement has been brought to you by the letters W, T, F and the number nine!

So you may be asking yourself, what’s wrong with a halfling barbarian? And if you are, it’s probably because you are playing one and have the character depth of a garden slug all the while thinking you’re playing a Flail Snail. Seriously, your character is not cool. We laugh cause your character concept is so painful it’s the only way we can still enjoy the game without murdering your character while s/he sleeps. Sure your character take take enough damage to put an Elder God down while you crack jokes about drinking beer, but fun-loving halflings changing to murderous rage monsters (while still having a penchant to crack jokes) are about as interesting as said garden slugs.

You are not some plucky hero from a Tolkien novel that summons the rage of his entire tribe at the drop of a hat. Seriously, you just yelling rage and making exaggerated fake weapon swinging motions does not convince us that your character is anything more that a cheap grab at a humorous dichotomy because your concept of humor revolves around getting drunk and making farting noises. Yes, we understand that halflings are small and weak, and the idea of them being this combat monster can be humorous, but if you’re only raging after the game master has asked for initiative then you’re really only using the character to gain the a munchkin benefits in combat. Try raging in town once and murdering an entire tavern and see how well that goes over, or try not raging in combat because you don’t want to be viewed as a halfling who can’t control his anger, now that would be funny.

Honestly, Barbarians are not stupid people that just drink beer, grab wenches, and rage in combat. They are clever, considerate, and have their own way of life. Pairing that with stereotypcal halfling can work, but only if you role-play the fact that there is more to your character than insatiable curiosity that allows you to investigate whatever you want without checking with the rest of the party, because whatever havoc you stir up, you can just rage to survive the encounter. And if you take the Bear totem, we know it is just so the Game Master cannot craft an encounter with the purpose of putting your character check. Let us not go into psionics as that is an entirely different rage rant.


Let’s talk about that half damage rule for a second. It is a personal belief that you should never have a rule in the system that says ‘take half of this’, or ‘double that’. Players will almost always find a way to abuse that rule and turn that number into an insane total, creating characters that run at Mach 2 and completely break the game. In the case of barbarians, they already get the highest Hit Point of all the classes, adding the ability to shrug off half the damage, just makes it so the Game Master has have a difficult time creating an encounter that doesn’t one-shot the other party members. Adding the one totem that allows them to ignore any damage type that would come out of your average encounter, just seems like you want to make sure your character survives any encounter shy of bringing an actual god, like Tiamat, into the game.

If you do decide to play this unlikely hero, for the sake of your companions, put some more thought into this than bi-polar child with a napoleon complex that has the statistical mechanics to back up being a jerk.

Final note; this post is made in jest to poke fun at a couple of characters in our games that are nearly identical in execution. It has become somewhat of a joke to suggest playing a halfling barbarian. As long as your group is having fun, then whatever you play is acceptable. I would never tell a player not to play something if that is what they find fun to play. Someone who loves halflings and decides to roll with a barbarian character concept is completely acceptable especially if they believe in the afterlife of Barhalla.

A GM’s New Year’s Resolution List

Another year of gaming has passed. I always try to start the new year on a positive note and this year I won’t break tradition. I’ve seen some people bemoan those who set resolutions or make goals, calling them a waste of time, or unrealistic, but the paladin in me will not give into such defeatist attitude, especially this early into the new year. Since I have made the goal of posting on my first Friday, hopefully, I will make some regular contributions to Interwebs of Lolth (oh my, that’s an interesting idea). But for those of you who know me, and even those that don’t, I present to you my New Year’s Resolutions of Gaming:

  • Blog more – I have been terrible about blogging and every year I say I’m going to blog more. Perhaps this year will be the year that I am able to keep up with that. To that end I am setting myself a goal of 24 blog posts, which is incredibly low, but at least its something to try and keep track of.
  • Try a new game system – It is always good to try something new. I have found myself falling victim of sticking to things I’m used to. This year I want to play a new system for at least 10 sessions.
  • Play more board games – I have a friend who hosts a board game night every Friday and I almost never go. I am going to try an play 12 new board games this year.
  • Read Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan & Switzler – As I get older, I find that I value my own opinion more over others. This book is suppose to help with constructive conversation.
  • Run a game for my kids – My kids have been clamoring for me to run a game. I think it is about time to start a campaign.
  • Go play at a convention – I love the concept of a convention, but never seem to go. Perhaps taking my boys to a convention will happen this year.
  • Pull out a RPG I haven’t played in a while and play it – My gaming collection has dwindled over the years, but I still have a few gems to play.
  • Buy something from a local game store – As I have become more comfortable with purchasing from the web, I like to keep this one in order to support the local gaming community.
  • Produce some on-line gaming content – While I have a lot of opinions on gaming, I don’t normally finding myself putting these opinions down for others to use. I am hoping to actually produce stuff that people can download.

Review – Recently re-released PDF’s of Star Frontiers’s Knight Hawks supplement

Cover of the Knight Hawks supplementWizards of the Coast continues to release more material for their old Star Frontiers game.  A few weeks ago they released the Knight Hawks supplement ($4.99) which I purchased and downloaded and will review here.  I should have done this sooner but got a bit caught up in the holidays.  Since then they have also released the core rules (labeled Alpha Dawn) in both PDF ($9.99) and print on demand form ($19.99 softcover & $29.99 hardcover).  I’ve not purchased or downloaded those but will post my thoughts in a separate post later.  On to the review!

What’s Included

Your $4.99 gets you PDF’s of everything that was included in the original box back in the day that retailed for $12 when I purchased mine back in 1984.  This includes:

  • The 16-page Tactical Operations Manual describing the board game rules for ship combat (filename: Star_Frontiers_Knight_Hawks-Basic_Rules.pdf)
  • The 64-page Campaign Book describing ship construction, new skill and equipment, and background material for the setting along with a strategic game that can be played with the enclosed map and the boardgame rules. (filename: Star_Frontiers_Knight_Hawks-Expanision_rules.pdf)
  • SFKH0:The Warriors of White Light – this 16-page modules outlines a series of small adventures that utilize the new skills and ships in the Knight Hawks rules.  (filename:Star_Frontiers_Knight_Hawks-Mission_brief.pdf). As an aside, we are currently running a series of articles in the Frontier Explorer (that started in issue 22) which add more encounters and material for this adventure.
  • A PDF of the counter sheet included in the boxed set.
  • Scans of all the maps, both the cover of the module (inside and out) and the big poster map.

Overall, it’s a great deal for $4.99 if you didn’t already have them.

Let’s Start With The Maps

I was quite interested to see what they did with these after reviewing SF2: Starspawn of Volturnus.  This turned out to be a mixed bag and somewhat disappointing.  The counters and the maps come in a zip file called that expands out to a subdirectory containing a bunch of files and two more directories.

Unfortunately, all the maps are chopped up into little pieces.  The two page maps that were the inside and outside cover of the module, containing the Frontier Deployment Map for the strategic game (outside cover) and deck plans for two freighters (inside cover) are each split into two non-overlapping (but cut properly so that they can be combined) images.  The big poster maps are cut a little differently but still divided into lots of smaller pieces.

The big hex map for the tactical game is cut up into eight pieces that do not overlap horizontally but the vertical bits do.  The station map on the back and the maps of the assault scout deck plans are chopped up into 15 different overlapping maps (I have not tried to assemble them all into a single map to see exactly how they overlap).

Also the color quality is only okay.  By themselves they look fine but compared to the original maps, the colors are a bit saturated and don’t match the original colors as well as they could.  (Originally I had written that the color was very bad but in preparing some of the images for this post, I realized that the problem was at least partially due to my image viewer doing something weird based on the embedded color profiles.  Opening the images in GIMP the colors were a lot closer to what they should be.)

I have to admit I was disappointed when I saw the maps.  There doesn’t seem to be any reason why they couldn’t have put them together into single cohesive maps or gotten the colors correct.  However, there is some redemption.

  • For the maps that are the cover to the module, the module PDF actually has them as complete single page maps and the colors in the PDF are much closer to the original printed materials.  You should definitely just extract those from the PDF and use them if possible.  Obviously these were done by two different scanners.
  • The hex map isn’t a big deal.  It’s pretty easy to get hex maps although finding a black one might be hard.  And if you’re using a virtual table top, you can usually just have it make a hex map to use.
  • The station and assault scout deck plans would be the biggest disappointment except that I’ve already recreated all of those maps and you can grab them on-line.  The assault scout deck plans are on the Frontier Explorer website (green version, blue version) as I published them years ago in issue 5 of the fan magazine.  The station map can be found, along with the city map from the core rules, on the map page in the wiki on my Star Frontiers Network site.
Thumbnail of remastered station map

This is a thumbnail of my recreated station map. Click on it for the full sized version.

Next Up, The Counters

The scan of the counters in the printables zip file are okay.  They are straight and everything is there.  They suffer from the same color problem as the maps (something was just not calibrated properly in that scanner) and don’t match the originals.  Also the image is a jpg so there is a bit of the noise that comes with JPG compression.  The file as presented appears to be scanned at 300dpi.  I don’t know if it was done intentionally (probably) or was just part of the process, but it does appeared to be de-screened removing the small dots from the printing process which would definitely be visible at that scan resolution.  I know, because I scanned my unpunched sheet of counters years ago (2009).  Here is a comparison of the file from the download (left) and my scan (right).

Comparison of the counters from the download and my scanned copy.

Comparison of the counters from the download (left) and my scanned copy at the same resolution (right).

You can see that the colors are somewhat different (mine matches the original printed colors better and is not de-screened.  If you want a copy of my scans (as PNG files with no JPG loss), you can grab them at various resolutions (100dpi – 1.3MB, 200dpi – 5.4Mb, 300dpi – 16MB, 400dpi – 23MB, & 600dpi – 46MB).

If you want to actually use these counters on printed versions of the maps, I recommend printing them on card stock and then cutting them out.  If you want something with a little more heft like the original counters, print them on paper, and then glue them to a heavier cardboard before cutting.

Now To The Books

I actually don’t have much to add here over what I described in my earlier review of the module and character sheets.  I’ve only scanned through the PDFs and haven’t actually tried to use them for any significant time.  I’ll hit the high points again here.

The text is still fuzzy.  It would have been nice for a crisper scan.  The text is OCR’d but there is a problem with the two column format.  If you just want to copy a paragraph, you can just copy it.  If you want more than one, it tends to jump back and forth between the two columns and gets thing out of order, a paragraph at a time.  I can’t speak to the quality of the OCR overall but the little I’ve looked at seems to be okay as far as spelling goes.  Tables get mangled, however.

Each of the books have an index in the PDF file which is very nice.

The scans of the black and white interior art is good.  It suffers from the same fuzzy line problem as the text but still looks good.  The grayscales are well reproduced from the originals although if anything, they are a little darker.

I just noticed this as I was thumbing through the Campaign book while writing but there are even some cross links in the document between the rules sections.  When a part of the rules calls out another section of the book the text is actually linked to that other section.  That is a nice touch.

One thing that is weird is the page ordering in the PDFs.  In all of them they have the front cover then the back cover as the first two pages.  I personally think that’s a bit strange but see it a lot in digital books so okay.  What happens next depends on the file.  In the Tactical Operations Manual, the content of the book is next and then the last two pages in the PDF are the inside of the front and back cover respectively.  In the Campaign book PDF, the inside covers are pages 3 & 4 and then the main body of the book follows.  Not sure why they are different.  For the module, the front and back covers are the Frontier Deployment Map and the inside of the covers are the freighter deck plan and those are first in the PDF followed by the pages of the book.


Overall it’s a great product.  Just like with the module, I like the older scans better for reading as the text is crisper but overall, the quality of these PDFs are excellent.  The biggest disappointment is the maps and counter images.  I was disappointed that colors didn’t match the original printed versions a little better and that the maps were broken up and not stitched together into single maps.  Luckily, I had already recreated the important ones.

I’m excited to see WotC releasing these and hope it breathes new life into the game.  Granted I have a bit of a personal bias since I’ve been carrying the flame for Star Frontiers on-line for many years now and run a fanzine for the game but it’s been fun to watch all the comments on Twitter about the releases and see names popping up that I’ve never seen talk about the game before.  And who knows, maybe we’ll even get a new edition finally after all these years.

Since I personally own at least one physical copy of all the original material (the only thing I don’t have a duplicate of is the referee’s screen and the SFKH4: The War Machine module) as well as PDFs, I probably won’t be buying any more of the PDFs on DriveThruRPG.  Although if people would really like me to do a review of other items as they are made available, they are more then welcome to gift me a copy to write about.

Have you downloaded these materials? What were your impressions?  Feel free to let me know in the comments below.

WotC releasing Star Frontiers PDFs on DriveThruRPG

Last week WotC released a few scans of original Star Frontiers materials on DriveThruRPG.  They released the characters sheets for free and the first two modules, SF1: Volturnus, Planet of Mystery, and SF2: Starspawn of Volturnus for $4.99 each.  Since these modules have been available on-line at for years, I thought it would be useful to compare the newly released scans to the old ones.  I originally posted these up as a series of posts on Twitter but thought it would be useful to reproduce them here.

To make the comparison, I purchased the SF2 module as I knew that it had a 2-page map (inside the module cover) that was cut in half in the old scans.  I also compared the character sheets.  I don’t need any of these scans as I still have my copies of the modules I bought as a kid in the 80′s but it is interesting to compare them for those that are looking to get copies today.

Oh, and I should say I’m comparing these new PDFs to the scans of the originals, not the remastered versions available on

With that introduction, here are my thoughts on the scans:

  1. The newer scans are not as crisp on the text. They look just a tad fuzzy when comparing them side by side. You can see JPG compression noise around the font in the new ones, not so much around the old ones.
  2. The new scans have the advantage of being OCR’ed. The old ones are just images. The OCR isn’t great, I noticed several mistakes in the little bits of text I copied out, but it’s pretty good and better than nothing. And they didn’t OCR the text on the back cover.
  3. For the character sheets, the old scan has the advantage that the shading goes to the very edge of the page, just like in the printed version. The new one has a white border all the way around. It doesn’t seem to be just a slightly shrunk version, it seems to be trimmed.
  4. For the module, I’m looking at SF2: Starspawn of Volturnus, specifically because it had a two page map on the inside of the module cover. That was split in the old scans. The good news is than in the new version, it’s a single map.
  5. Cover art is cleaner on the new scans with better colors. You could definitely tell the old ones were scanned from someone’s personal copy.
  6. The new scans put the front and back covers first, then the content, and finally put the map from the inside of the module cover last. The old ones had the covers (and insides) in the order they appear but had the 4 pull out pages (15-18) at the end before the back cover.
  7. The new scans are a little straighter on the page. Some of the pages in the original scans are slightly canted. That may at least partially be a function of age. I know Acrobat straightens pages when it scans them these days, the older software may not have.
  8. The margins are a bit more regular in the new scans. Sometimes the pages in the old one are a bit off center. Also, the boxes around the boxed text are thicker in the new one but that’s probably related to the font being thicker and fuzzier too.
  9. The new scans preserve the grayscales of the interior art better but the lines are crisper in the old one.
  10. The files sizes are smaller for the older ones. But that only ammounts to about 2.5MB for the module. It’s 7.2MB for the character sheets but the new scan has all 36 pages while the old one only has 20 (It doesn’t repeat the character sheet as many times).
So that’s it for the comparison. Overall, the new one has a lot of advantages (OCR, uncut map, and better art reproduction). However, for just reading the text, the old scans win hands down. The fuzziness of the new ones are just hard on my eyes.
While only the three products have been released so far, DriveThruRPG has said that more on on the way but have not given a timeline.
As a personal opinion, based on the timing of this release, I suspect this is partially due to the fact that Evil Hat Productions has applied for a trademark on the name Star Frontiers.  We’ll just have to see how it plays out.

The Caves of Chaos – A 5E review




I am currently inducting two new recruits in the world of role-playing. They are twelve and ten years old and they are my sons. When they started expressing interested in playing a role-playing game, I had to decide what I wanted to run them through. Playing Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) was the easy choice. It is not my favorite setting, but it was the first Role-Playing Game (RPG) I played, and it is simple enough for younger players to grasp. I have a large selection of old D&D modules and choosing a module to run them through was a little more difficult. I was tempted to run them through the current content of D&D 5th Edition, but ultimately decided to run them through the most mass produced adventure for D&D.

The Keep on the Borderlands

The Keep on the Borderlands was originally printed in 1979 and included in the D&D basic set and exemplifies your standard dungeon crawl. I vaguely remember going through the adventure as a kid, but aside from the phrase ‘BREE-YARK’, it was rather unremarkable. We just went through and slaughtered everything and counted loot. The keep that the adventure is named after is equally bland and even a merchant and wife you save in the caves are nameless. The adventure also doesn’t explain why all of these goblinoids are living together in these caves, but I think it is understood that it is some sort of loose alliance. The entire adventure is generic enough to drop into any campaign with little work. The keep was eventually added to the world of Mystara and a sequel ‘Return to Keep on the Borderlands’ that was retconned into the world of Greyhawk.

The adventure itself was easily incorporated in our 5th edition game, which the boys decided would be Forgotten Realms. This was easy for me cause I have a cornucopia of Forgotten Reams products from 2nd edition. I ended up placing the keep on the edge of Cormyr near Thunderway. The group was hired by the local War Wizard to investigate rumors goblinoids marshaling in the mountain area. The adventurers didn’t really need a reason, so they were off slaying goblins, kobolds, a Minotaur, etc. If you overlook the fact that, at any point, the goblinoids can marshal, overrun, and kill the players, you find that the game play is relatively smooth. I used the justification that the other goblinoids actually wanted to see each other killed, so they would not come to the aid of another. The monsters are so well known, I found all of them in the 5th edition Monster Manual. This allowed me to do very little work to stat the creatures. None of the encounters were overpowering to the players although there were some close calls where they learned that running is sometimes the better part of valor. The one thing that was not to my liking, was the experience gained from the adventure. The group of 5 players made 4th level by the end of the adventure and I was hoping for no more that 3rd level, preferably 2nd. This is partially my fault for not being terribly familiar with the experience levels or the creatures, but I still found it to be an acceptable outcome.

Other than that, I found that the adventure was very easily adapted into 5th edition, and my boys have one of the early D&D modules under their belt. They already have adventures seeds for the The Forge of Fury and The Fighter’s Challenge and they have to decide what they want to do next.

Additional Information.
The Keep on the Borderlands
Return to the Keep on the Borderlands