Skinning The Frontier: Star Frontiers Stats to 4th Edition D&D – Key Words


Whenever you “skin” one kind of game into another, you have to take time to consider some of the underlying conceits your “modified game” might have.  A prime example of this is the use of “Key Words” in the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons Essentials.  Key Words are a set of defined terms that explain specific effects in the game.  At a glance, Key Words allow you to know what kind of effect or damage a specific ability or weapon or tool might apply.  In this “Skinning The Frontier” post, we’re going to explore Key Words and how they’ll be used in my 4e version of Star Frontiers.


We’re getting into some of the “guts” of the 4e system, here, so I’ll skip the fluff talk and get straight to the point.  Let’s start off by listing the Key Words for Damage as they are shown in the 4th Edition Essentials Rules:

Acid, Cold, Fire, Force, Lightning, Necrotic, Poison, Psychic, Radiant, & Thunder

Pretty straight forward.  Each Key Word here clearly points to a specific kind of damage.  The assumption here is that if the damage type isn’t given a Key Word, it is Physical damage.

While these damage Key Words are fine for most of the types of damage one would encounter playing Star Frontiers, I felt that a few of them had to be changed (this, of course, is the “re-skinning” process).  Here’s the list I came up with.

Acid, Biological, Cold, Concussive, Electric, Fire, Poison, Psychic, Radiation, & Sonic

See the ones highlighted in bold?  These were the ones I felt needed a little re-skinning in order to bring them more in line with a science fiction role-playing game.  My rationalizations are below:

Biological:  The term, “Necrotic” is great, but also implies something sinister or magical.  Since necrotic-type damage is basically cellular degeneration, I figured a generic term like “Biological” damage would fit better.

Concussive:  Of all the Key Words, this one gave me the most difficulty. While “Force” is a great word, and conjures up obvious images of Star Wars, I had issues with it.  There are very few “Force” like effects. Force fields and tractor beams are virtually non-existent in Star Frontiers.  On the other hand, bombs and explosions are quite prominent.  I needed a Key Word to indicate the kind of “bomb explosion damage” while still encompassing future technology that actually uses manipulated fields of force energy.  In the end, I came up with “Concussive”.  I think it’s the best fit.

Electric:  Changed it from “Lightning” to make it sounds more modern and sci-fi.  Simple change.

Radiation:  Again, I went with a more general term than the original “Radiant”.  Radiant is “light” damage, and of course, light is a form of radiation.  Using Radiation, I can encompass additional types of energy weapon damage beyond visible light.

Sonic:  This is another, more general term for “Thunder”.  Sonic is simply more modern and “scientific” sounding than the original term.

Like the original Essentials rules, any damage not specifically typed with one of these Key Words for damage, falls under the heading of “Physical” damage.  Use the non-bolded Damage Key Words as is.


One of the nice things about the Essentials rules, is that it tries to nail down just about every possible effect and how it relates to powers etc. in the game.  Looking at the list of Effects in the Rules Compendium, gives you the following list:

Augmentable. Aura. Beast. Beast Form, Channel Divinity, Charm, Conjuration, Disease, Fear, Full Discipline, Healing, Illusion, Invigorating, Poison, Polymorph, Rage, Rattling, Reliable, Runic, Sleep, Spirit, Stance, Summoning, Teleportation, & Zone

Quite a list, right?  One of the reasons this list is so long is due to the fact that there are different classes with different unique powers that have to be taken into consideration.  For example:  Rune Priests use runes, so there’s a “Runic” effect Key Word.

I wanted this list open and available for use in my 4e version of Star Frontiers as well.  Fortunately, since there are fewer classes (only 4 – which I have yet to describe for a future post), we don’t need quite as many Key Words.  For the purposes of this discussion, if you don’t see an Effect below that’s in the above list, use the original term in the same way it was intended.  I won’t guarantee that a certain Effect will be used (say, “Augmentable”, for example), but it’s use is available if you need it for your own Star Frontiers games.

Here’s the list I came up with:

Augmentable, Aura, Dimensional, Disease, Full Discipline, Healing, Holograph, Phenomorph, Poison, Psychic, Rage, Reliable, Runic, Servitor Beast, Sleep, Stance, Stim, &  Zone

Notes regarding how to use the various Key Words in this list are below:

Augmentable & Aura: Use these Effect Key Words as is.  Aura will probably be used pretty often for some creatures.  Augmentable refers to certain Powers in the Essentials rules, so it might not find an immediate use in your Star Frontiers campaigns.

Dimensional:  When I cover the post on Monsters, this term will be a little more clear.  For now, the Dimensional Effect Key Word replaces Channel Divinity, Spirit, Summoning, & Teleportation.  Dimensional Effects include any effect that involves the manipulation of space/time or alternate dimensions.

Disease, Full Discipline & Healing:  Use these Effect Key Words as is.  Disease & Healing are pretty self-explanatory.  Full Discipline is an Effect Key Word related to a specific group of class powers, and may or may not have immediate use in your Star Frontiers campaigns.

Holograph:  This Effect Key Word replaces Conjuration & Illusion.  Holographic (or three-dimensional light projection) imaging features prominently in science fiction, and is certainly not out of place in the Star Frontiers universe.  While there are no “holodecks” described in Star Frontiers, the technology is certainly possible in the future (see “Force”).

Poison:  Use this Effect Key Word as is.

Phenomorph:  This Effect Key Word replaces Beast Form & Polymorph. Both Effects describe outwardly physical changes to the body.

Psychic: This Effect Key Word replaces Charm, Fear, & Rattling.  Psychic is a natural catch-all for Effects that affect the mind.

Rage, Reliable:  Use these Effect Key Words as is.

Runic:  You can use this Effect Key Word as is, but it relates to a specific set of class powers.  I cannot think of a specific use in Star Frontiers.  Perhaps useable with Ancient or Tetrarch technology?

Servitor Beast:  This Effect Key Word replaces Beast.  For me, it just sounds more sci-fi.  Sathar are keen on using servitor beasts, so certain abilities & equipment may use this Effect Key Word.

Sleep:  Use this Effect Key Word as is.

Stance:  Use this Effect Key Word as is.  Like Full Discipline and Augmentable, this Key Word is used for a specific set of class powers.  It may or may not have any immediate use in your Star Frontiers campaign.

Stim:  This Effect Key Word replaces Invigorating.  You may wish to use it for any ability or device that improves an attribute, but doesn’t improve healing.  For example, a drug that temporarily increase Fortitude defense, might have the Stim Key Word.

Zone:  Use this Effect Key Word as is.


Consistent rules remain important when re-skinning one game into another.  Key Words allow you to do that with ease, without having to sacrifice huge sections of rules to “make things fit”.  The Key Words shown above are only my suggestions, of course.  Don’t like using “Sleep”?  Choose, “Hypnosis” or “Unconscious” instead.  It’s just a word, after all.  The most important thing, is that regardless of the name or type of Key Word used, apply them consistently for better game play!


I hope you’re enjoying these re-skinning articles on Star Frontiers to 4th Edition.  Expect to see more about Races, Feats, Weapons, & Equipment in the following weeks.  More will be coming soon!

This is My Game – DeadOrcs out.

Part idiot. Part old man. All geek. R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.


About DeadOrcs

R.M. Walker, who can be found in numerous places on the internet as “DeadOrcs”, is a long time gamer with some 30 years experience playing RPGs. Despite occasional forays into the bizarre, Randall has always come back to Dungeons & Dragons.
Subscribe to Comments RSS Feed in this post

3 Responses

  1. Pingback: YastromoNo Gravatar

  2. Pingback: ShinobicowNo Gravatar

  3. Pingback: Dixon TrimlineNo Gravatar

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *