Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Stardate: 198x

I own two copies, one of the original version and one from after the legal kerfuffle over the Robotech artwork.Back in the mid to late 80's one of the holy texts of my game group was the BattleTech Technical Readout 3025. It was an 'equipment porn' book full of giant robots and we took that sort of thing very seriously. For several years BattleTech actually replaced Dungeons & Dragons as my group's most-played game. The Clans and their munchkintech killed a lot of enthusiasm I had for BattleTech, but I still have quite a passle of old BTech stuff.

Another of my favorite bits of old BattleTech crap I own is a half-dozen or so issues of StarDate magazine. During our BattleTech craze this magazine was considered by my peers and I to be just as critical as Dragon. StarDate only lasted a dozen issues or so. It started as a FASA house organ devoted to supporting their licensed Star Trek rpg. My group didn't care much for that game, but the attached ship-to-ship rules, the (deep breath) Star Trek Starship Tactical Combat Simulator, was a fun little SFB-lite sort of affair. FASA back then was the new king of sci-fi. GDW had begun its slow slide into irrelevance and FASA (which had started as a nifty Traveller 3rd party publisher) decide to pursue other sci-fi roleplaying interests, notably licensed properties Star Trek and Doctor Who as well as their own hits BattleTech and later Shadowrun. (FASA was also one of the bidders on the original Star Wars rpg license. When West End won that license FASA filed the serial numbers off their preliminary work and re-tooled it as the Renegade Legion/Leviathan/Centurion line of games.)

After the first 6 issues or so FASA sold off the magazine to another publisher, who re-tooled the format to focus on sci-fi gaming in general. BattleTech remained a favorite, as did the Star Trek rpg. But you could also count on some Traveller material as well. Every issue featured at least one new BattleMech or Star Trek ship, sometimes both. And it also featured some solid generic sci-fi articles like a random encounter chart for spaceport bars or an article on building believable techno-babble for fleshing out your sci-fi setting. One issue included an interview with sci-fi illustrator David Deitrick, which I have blogged about before in my article on Deitrick's work.

Because of the sci-fi slant Dungeons & Dragons was never mentioned. It was almost as if StarDate was published in a parallel universe where sci-fi rpgs were at the top of the food chain. The last issue of StarDate, which I *think* was the twelfth or thirteenth put out, was actually labeled StarDrive, volume 1, issue 1. I always figured the publisher ran into trouble from Paramount, but it may be possible that the astronomy magazine of the same name sent them a cease & desist. Either way I cherish the 7 or so issues I own and wouldn't hesitate to buy the rest for cheap.

Here's an illo from that last issue of StarDate/StarDrive. BattleTech fans may recognize the basic Catapult lines. This is the House Kurita variant of the Catapult, which replaces the missile packs with Particle Projection Cannons.

I've always been fond of the chickenwalkers.Most 'Mech variants don't change the silhouette of the machine much. The Thunderbolt-S, for instance, takes off the arm-mounted Large Laser and replaces it with a PPC. That's swapping one tube-shaped zap gun for another. The Catapult-K was one of those variants that I always wanted to see an illo for. That the folks publishing StarDate/StarDrive casually obliged on the table of contents page of their last issue really says something about how in touch they were with the fans.