Art of the Genre

There are two gaming supplements that I adore more than most, and oddly enough they were both released by TSR in 1985. Each could be considered by the multitude of fans as anathema to the traditional mechanics of the games in which they appear, but I just never saw that.


The first of these is of course the Unearthed Arcana for AD&D, and I’m not going to get into that here, but the second is going to be the focus of this particular article.


Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space Volume 1 [and sadly there would never be another volume] was designed by Kimber ‘Kim’ Eastland and had special contributions by Bruce Nesmith. It is an 87 page redux of the Star Frontiers system and could be effectively considered Star Frontiers 2nd Edition.


Inside, the mechanics for basic Star Frontiers are changed, mega-corporations are introduced, as are four new races [three for players and one as an NPC], plus a section of ‘tech-magic’ called Mentalists, and finally a huge new section on equipment [which is of course outdated but still an upgrade from the original]


In all, this book is hugely effective in what it set out to do, even if tried and true players don’t like the mechanic change [go figure, ala edition wars]. I’m impressed with TSR for doing this, especially since it was already in the downward spiral of financial difficulty and Gamma World 3rd Edition wasn’t selling either which proved ‘lesser’ titles weren’t going to increase your bottom line.


In the end, it would be the final standalone book for the setting, and although fans have since brought out further supplementation, I always get sad seeing the cover of this book and knowing what could have been.


Speaking of the cover, much like GW 3rd, this one is taken on by artist Keith Parkinson and is probably one of my Top 5 pieces he ever did for the genre. Although the strange helmet attachment doesn’t seem to work, everything else from the piece does, from the samurai inspired armor skirt to the Return of the Jedi space window.


I well remember having my old DM, Mark, stat this suit of battle armor for me [as he was forced to do for the cover armor on GW 3rd as well] and to this day I still have the characters I ran in the single campaign that took place in this timeline.


Inside, freelance artist Mario D. Macari does a handful of illustrations, and the style is divergent from most TSR products of the day by I think it works well for Star Frontiers and sets the game apart from what we’d seen coming out of the pit during this time.


My only knock is that there is so little art, just half a dozen pieces, most of those dedicated to the four new races, and then a reused Dave Trampier image from a previous SF supplement.


In all, I think Zebulon’s was a win, but I leave that up to you to decide.


Artistic Rating: 4 [out of 5]

Written by Scott Taylor — September 24, 2013

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