A New Map for a New Age

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by Darrell C. L. Donald

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O’ how the light years do go by! It’s hard to believe that its really been 22 years since I took one look at Keith Parkingson’s gorgeous cover to Zebulon’s Guide to Frontier Space, picked up my jaw, emptied my wallet, and sprinted home to consume the new material with an appetite that could only be matched by Pac- Man on crack.

Converting from Alpha Dawn to the new Zeb mechanics could wait. The new content couldn’t. There were freaky aliens to get to know, cutting-edge gadgets to put to the test, and fresh starsystems just begging to be explored. The new Frontier map by Dennis Kauth was particularly nice and I remember how eager I was to have my players hitchhiking around the galaxy.

Yet, despite the fantastic content, something must have torn me away from Star Frontiers that summer because I just can’t quite remember spending much quality time hanging out with the Humma (or, for that matter, any of the other Rim races.) Perhaps, at age 14, some other more terrestrial life-form started distracting me with their Sathar-like hypnotic charms. Whatever the reason, Star Frontiers faded to black.

Flash-forward a couple decades.

Fade to white.

A man—now at the ripe, old age of 35—finds himself headed to the Aloha state. It’s not enough that his childhood gaming friends are already scattered across the mainland, he has to add a couple thousand more miles and the Pacific to the gap.

Back when Zeb’s Guide was released this situation would have been the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin for gaming opportunities with old friends—“Sainara, Sundown, we hardly knew ya!” But a new age has dawned and distance just isn’t the obstacle it once was. There are people out there in the wilds of cyberspace keeping hope alive. With Star Frontiers, Bill Logan’s Star Frontiersman Webzine is leading the charge for an exciting revival. And, in table-top gaming, there are dozens of great tools breaking ground and bringing together new and old players from across the globe in a way that people only dreamed about twenty years ago. For me, two efforts have stood out most: Rptool’s Maptool and Battlegrounds.

While there are a number of impressive virtual table-tops (VTTs) out there worth talking about, exploring them is another article for another time. What these hastily scribbled thoughts are really about is how VTTs inspired me to dig up the Zebulon Frontier Map and give it the ole’ bionic work-over. In nut-shell, it was all about giving back to the growing community. It was about churning out some fertilizer.

That’s right, folks, I just called the map I spent a good week customizing and slaving over a, “Steaming pile of digital compost.”

In the world of VTTs and Star Frontiersman, that’s all these contributions really are. When home-grown, grass-roots, projects that are defining the next age-of-innovation start gaining momentum, it’s up to the community to feed the beast. It’s about hoping one’s small contribution gives a little sustenance to the masses starving for something they can sink their teeth into.

This is just one snack in a huge, all-you-can-eat buffet of creativity and sweat-equity. I hope you enjoy it.

Bon appetit!

Map Notes

While totally derivative of the Zeb map, my version is noticeably larger to allow for further exploration of uncharted space. I tried to include more information in subtle but attractive ways using a number of different mechanics. For example, Rim and Frontier planets are different colors; the class and color of each star can be estimated by just looking at them; and I made new system icons that I think are a little more distinct than the originals.

Additionally, I included two (optional) house-rule elements that others might find interesting:

1. “The Flow.” The flow is an energy source that permeates the universe and interacts with traditional star-drive technology either as a boost or as resistance. It’s an energy source that usually, but not always, emanates outward from large nebulae. The published distance of each charted star-route, equivalent to the number of light-years between systems (and consequently the typical number of days that traditional stardrive takes to make the journey) acts as the base. However, when moving with the flow travel is d10% faster. When moving against (what Rim privateers call, “Swimming up river”), its d10% slower.

This helps add a little more variability to long-distance space travel on the Frontier and introduces some significant tactical issues for large-scale defensive and offensive actions.

2. “Donal’s Reach.” The Donal’s Reach system is essentially my fingerprint on the map. It is the naming of the furthest semi-explored point on the original Zeb design. Nestled within a hollow of the Xagyg Dust Nebula, very near to suspected Sathar space, it has become a hotbed of controversy after Captain Donal of the SS Gillette disappeared from the location during a spectacularly brief, and very public, broadcast of his initial moments out of star-drive. Sathar foul-play is suspected, though many conspiracy theories exist. One popular theory, with some credible evidence rising from an encrypted sub-space signal that was twisted into the public broadcast, suggests that some dubious mega-corp may have disrupted the transmission after intercepting the valuable star-route and system-resource data. Whatever the truth may be, Captain Donal and his crew have never been heard from again. Despite that, many people are busily trying to decrypt Captain Donal’s last “hidden” broadcast while others are planning new expeditions.

(When Darrell isn’t reminiscing about all the light years that have past, he’s pretending to write and publish comics: http://www.brokenhalos.safwebshop.com)

Editor’s Note: Darrell is also working on an excellent remake of the Serena Dawn deck plan – one that could be used in tabletop gaming or using the excellent virtual tabletop software whose link is shown in the ad at right. If he gets it done on time, you’ll all see it in Star Frontiersman Issue 7!