Thursday, October 18, 2012

Retrospective: 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure

Released in 1984, 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure, is a Star Frontiers module written by Bruce Nesmith and Curtis Smith. The module ties into the then-current science fiction film, 2010, based on the 1983 novel by Arthur C. Clarke, itself a sequel (of sorts) to the 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. Like its predecessor, 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure is a peculiar product, but it's a much better presented and broadly usable one.

I call this module "peculiar" for several reasons. First, it's a poor fit for Star Frontiers, mostly in tone rather than in rules. Star Frontiers is a very "pulpy" RPG, one better suited to Saturday morning matinee space opera than introspective meditations on the place of Man in the cosmos. I daresay most of its audience would have been baffled by an adventure like this, which is a (largely) bloodless investigation of an interplanetary mystery. Second, the module closely follows the events of the movie, meaning that there aren't going to be too many surprises for players who've seen it.

At the same time, 2010 Odyssey Two Adventure does provide some scope for divergence from the film, mostly because its text actually acknowledges the possibility of failure in a meaningful way. Its predecessor does no such thing, instead contriving ways to ensure that, even if a skill roll goes the "wrong" way, the end result is still the same. This approach is not only lazy, it contributes to the overall dullness of the module, whose plot and outcomes are foregone conclusions. That's less true in 2010. For example, when characters board the Discovery to repair HAL-9000, it's possible they may fail, in which case, rather than being helpful, the computer resumes its homicidal duplicity and attempts to kill them. However, the overall plot of the module remains very close to that of the movie and, while more willing to acknowledge failure as a possibility, it still contains a number of contrivances to keep things "on track."

The main attraction of this module are its deck plans (of both the Discovery and Leonov) and its rules expansions to Star Frontiers. These expansions consist mostly of new skills and examples of using them to make the game more "realistic," but they do their job well enough that I have no real complaints about them. I still think that, tonally, Star Frontiers was a poor fit for the source material of this module and have sometimes wondered if it was an attempt to "prove" that Star Frontiers was more than just a vehicle for interplanetary shoot 'em ups. If so, it did little to convince my younger self and, even now, I find myself skeptical.


  1. That's a damn cool cover, though.

  2. Those maps were the most amazing maps. Seriously, beautiful maps.
    Especially if you loved and watched the movies. I used those maps for a
    couple of Top Secret missions, Gamma World missions and even my own
    post-apocolyptic/future/Sci-Fi game that was an amalgam o Twilght 2000
    and the Aliens flim. Good stuff.

    Thanks for posting this. Brings back a lot of memories.

  3. I never cared for the Star Frontiers default setting and alien races, so this module and its predecessor where quite welcome at my table. I used both to run a few "hard sci-fi" campaigns, and they worked remarkably well.

  4. Those deck plans proved invaluable when I had to create a 3-D cutaway of a vehicle as an assignment for an airbrush class in art school. The result was impressive, and that sucker was in my portfolio for many years.