Well, hello there, Earth dwellers! It is I, The Mysterious Dr. X, here once more to engage in a rousing discussion of the finer points of science fiction tabletop RPGs! Today, I’ll be talking about that most venerable of games, d20 Future (or as we called it on my faraway home planet of Earth, “d20 Future”)!
But we aren’t talking about it generally- as the tag or the URL may have tipped you off to, we’re talking about one specific aspect of Future. Namely, the Dralasites. Yes, the D is capitalized.
Let me say right now, however, that the picture above isn’t technically the most accurate Dralasite image you can have. It’s the one in the Future book, yes, and admittedly, it isn’t INcorrect. But this image implies Dralasites are stocky, humanoid figures with three legs. In reality, however, they’re basically giant amoebas- visually, they’re normally just a pile of grey sludge about four feet tall. (I know the above picture shows it as brown, but in the description, they’re talked about as being grey.) But since they’re shapeshifters (of a sort), they can extend pseudopods to create limbs for them to manipulate objects.
I’ll admit, I’ve always pictured Dralasites looking a bit different in their “typical” form.
But that’s neither here nor there. The point is, Dralasites are great. But the question remains- why talk about these dudes specifically? Well, turns out they’re actually a pretty good example of how the history of D&D itself works.
In 1989 (the height of second edition), TSR came out with a new campaign setting called “Spelljammer”. And for all you trufans out there- yes, I’ve mentioned Spelljammer before, in my article about the neogi. Anyway, Dralasites are most famous for being a playable race in the Spelljammer setting.
They weren’t actually INVENTED for Spelljammer- they were around in a couple other, non-D&D games also made by TSR before they ever appeared in D&D. In 1982, TSR released a space opera RPG called Star Frontiers. And just to cut off any potential fake tension, yes, Dralasites were created for Star Frontiers. But that’s not my point. Star Frontiers came out, then they released some expansions for the game that overhauled a lot of the mechanics. The original version was a strategy/tactical game, and the expansions turned it into more of a standard RPG. So, TSR- rather than removing the original release altogether- called the expansion version of the game “Star Frontiers”, and changed the name of the original, strategy game to “Alpha Dawn”. It was a case of two closely related games that both took place in the same fictional universe. Alpha Dawn, specifically, was marketed as the grand introduction to the world of the game, and after you finished playing that, it was assumed you would “graduate”, if you will, to the full game later on.
All of this is a roundabout way of explaining why they’re in the Future book. TSR created them for a different game in 1982, and that game collapsed in on itself in 1985. Not wanting to waste all that material, they integrated the races into Spelljammer in 1989, bringing them into D&D proper. Then TSR went bankrupt, and was bought by Wizards Of The Coast, who then put out third edition. Some of the monsters from Spelljammer (there’s those pesky neogi again) were just shifted over to the generic, core setting for 3E. Some (the Dralasites, for instance) weren’t.
Then, in 2002, Wizards released d20 Modern. (For more on Modern, check back on Sundays.) More specifically, in 2004, they released Future. And that was when all that Spelljammer stuff could come back in a big way. The central conceit of mage-powered space galleons, of course, wasn’t what they used from it. But the little things- Dralasites, for instance- made a welcome return. Actually, there’s even a campaign setting outline in the Future book that’s similar to the setting of Star Frontiers. Well, superficially similar, anyway. It’s called “Star Law”. Look it up. It’s pretty neat.
But anyway, my claim earlier was that Dralasites were a good example of how the history of D&D works. D&D- especially third edition and Modern- has a tendency to reuse or bring back previous ideas that had been left by the wayside in the past. Neogi, which went unused for several years after the Spelljammer setting died. Dralasites, which were from a different game altogether, originally. Same thing with Alternity (another sci-fi game by TSR, released in 1998, that ended a short two years later when Wizards released third edition). Alternity had three campaign settings (well, four, but one was a licensed StarCraft game, so we’re not counting that). The three were Star*Drive, Dark•Matter, and Gamma World (in order- space opera, X-Files, and post-apocalypse).
Star*Drive ended up being one of the setting ideas in the Future book, Dark•Matter was turned into a campaign setting (Chief’s favorite, in fact) for Modern, and Gamma World (itself based off the world’s first sci-fi tabletop game, Metamorphosis Alpha), while never officially released as a D&D campaign setting, was always produced to be compatible with whatever edition of D&D was then current.
My point in saying all this is that d20 Future really went back to that well and dredged up some of their old, unused concepts- and I think that’s just plain great. Wizards really got a lot of mileage out of stuff that had been forgotten or cast aside.
And with that, I think I’m gonna call it a day! I know I tend to ramble a bit, so I hope you stuck with me, learned a thing or two, and gleaned some entertainment out of my column today! I am your host, The Mysterious Dr. X, saying “seriously, the first sci-fi tabletop game EVER. 1976, baby”!
The Mysterious Dr. X (you want another example of Wizards reusing forgotten material? How about the fact that, when the fifth edition Monster Manual came out, they actually remembered that flumphs– who are amazing, don’t let anyone say otherwise and continue to live- existed?)