Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Speaking of Knight Hawks ...

Here's an illustration I remember very fondly from the included adventure module, The Warriors of White Light, in which the characters enlist in the Royal Marines of Clarion, a human-controlled star system beset by space pirates and other interstellar bad guys. Serendipitously, the starship to which the characters are assigned is called the Osprey, the same name used in The Travellers comic I mentioned yesterday.

I'm fond of Jim Holloway's artwork, so I'm not a good person to judge the merits of this particular illustration. Still, it brings back fond memories and encapsulates some of the feel of that era of gaming (1983). It's the tail end of the Golden Age (or solidly in the Electrum, if you prefer) and the hobby hasn't yet become so self-serious that goofy pieces like this are out of place. Yet, for all its goofiness, there's a strange kind of "weight" to it, with "realistically" drawn starships, equipment, and, most of all, people. None of the dudes posing with the Dralasite look like Hollywood actors or underwear models. And when was the last time you saw a burly, bearded guy in a Tam on the cover of a SF RPG product? Yep, those were the days.

17 comments:

  1. To be fair, the Dralasite is an underwear model back home.

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  2. This image is probably one of the most vivid RPG images ever in my imagination. Don't know why, but it has just stuck with me all these years. When I think about Star Frontiers (or even just sci-fi in general), one of the first things to come to mind is this. Love it.

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  3. It's a drawing of a snap shot, an illustration of a photograph. Part of the charm is that the people in it are mugging for the camera - they KNOW they are being looked at.

    I've never seen this image before and think it's just about perfect.

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  4. That picture brings back memories!

    I got Star Frontiers only in 1989 or so, and a friend bought Knight Hawks. We didn't run that many adventures using Knight Hawks (though we did have starships, like Eleanor Moraes...) but we misread bits of the rules and made up our own game.

    Basically, the Knight Hawks has rules for both starship tactical combat on the hex map provided with the game, and running a starship operation, with commerce tables and stuff. As our grasp of English wasn't very good at the time, it being a foreign language and not the first one to everybody, we misunderstood bits of the game. We were something like 12-13 at the time, I had had English at school for a year or so.

    We basically took the tactical map, placed some planets there and decided what kind of planets they were, and then put some hazards and stuff on the map. Everybody got a nice ship for running cargo and we played traders across the map, moving (and shooting) on the tactical map and doing trading when landing on planets. It was very fun.

    I think we didn't even use our characters for this kind of gaming. The proper characters made enough money to commission their own starships and I still have the deck plans and stats for a couple of them.
    We loved the ship building rules, too.

    We also ran the adventures - Volturnus was a great planet and I think I ran most of the adventures set there.

    That Osprey picture is a great one. Thanks for posting it! I'm a bit sad because I sold my Star Frontiers set to a friend and I haven't met the friend with the Knight Hawks set in over fifteen years.

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  5. Great gods, I'd forgotten that I remembered this! Thanks for posting it.

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  6. Holloway's art defined the look of the Star Frontiers world as far as I was concerned back then. Only Elmore's Alpha Dawn cover was similarly iconographic. The Osprey shot was always a fave of mine; I like how blue-collar these fellas look.

    Holloway stuck so many wonderful touches into his illustrations--like the depiction of the Sathar on its racial description page as a tagged cadaver rather than the anatomical diagram the other species got.

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  7. I had completely forgotten that I have this. Now I'll pull it off the shelf and and take a look. I did not play Star Frontiers as much as some other games, but I did have some good times with it. Thanks for jogging the memory!

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  8. Star Frontiers is to me what Traveller is to some of you guys (like James). Many times on the cusp of switching from D&D back to that game.

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  9. If you go back and look at Holloways art- whether for D&D, early Chill, the work he did for ICE in the mid 80s, Paranoia, and even more recent stuff, he ALWAYS has great facial expressions on the characters- whether its someone getting clobbered or mugging for a camera or scared $%^Tless.. That has always appealed to me with his art.

    There was one piece he did in a early-ish Dragon mag in an article about Clerics- the Clerics is totally caving some guys head in with a mace- the facial expressions on both are fantastic. That pic always struck some kind of chord with me.

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  10. Say "Star Frontiers" and the Osprey image is always the first one that comes to find, followed a nano-second later by Elmore's cover painting for the base set.

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  11. For those of you who are missing your old game rules for Star Frontiers you should check out this site:
    http://www.starfrontiersman.com/
    they have permission to post digitally remastered copies of the rules in PDF as well as most of the modules and they put out a kicken fanzine which is in issue 15 as of now

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  12. Thanks for posting that picture, and doing the retrospective of KH. It brings back great memories. We played the hell out of KH back in the day (both as a game in its own right, and as part of SF campaigns), and the artwork in both the SF and KH books was very inspiring. That picture has to be one of my favorites, for many of the reasons you mention. And to my 12-year-old mind, it didn't hurt that the Osprey bears more than a passing resemblance to an over-sized X-Wing!

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  13. Yeah, I'm surprised the Lucas Gestapo didn't catch that one and slap the hell out of TSR with a lawsuit!

    I have to say my friends and I were ruthless Star Frontiers bashers back in high school. We were arrogant little Traveller playing pr@#ks that mocked the hell out of the "morons" that played SF. For us, it was like choosing Battlestar Galactica over Star Wars. Like I said, we were pr@#ks.

    As for Holloway, I have always loved his artwork. The mix of realism and humor greatly appealed to me.
    @Litrtrdnck - I was just looking at that same Dragon illustration the other day! Great stuff!

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  14. Jim was an illustrator for the U.S. Army before he came to TSR, and that experience shows in his renderings of equipment as well as characters. The characters look real, but so does the ship. I have to believe that whoever designed the Viper for the latest Battlestar Galactica grew up looking at pictures like this one.
    And I assume that everyone spotted R2-D2 standing atop the ship? It's always worth scanning Jim's illos for little jokes like that. (The Army took a dim view of those 'little jokes'.)

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  15. I don't know why you call this picture "goofy," James; to my mind, it's a lot less goofy than much current RPG art. This looks like pictures of current Armed Forces pilots mugging for the camera; it's one of the most realistic RPG pictures I can recall. If there ever really is a military space patrol, its members are going to look a lot like this.

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  16. I've never played Star Frontiers even once, but that picture is always what I think of when the game is mentioned; it used to run in ads for the game in Dragon magazine. It's stuck with me all these years; it just seems like a photo of something that's actually occurring, and it really brings the possibilities of the game alive. Don't those look like people you'd like to hang out with?

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