Stay Frosty (Review of a Military Sci-Fi OSR Game)

First things first.
This is a reading “review”. The author gave me a free PDF of the game.
I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.

What do you need to know?

GAME OVER, MAN!
The bugs are through the perimeter, the gates of hell have opened, the mothership is landing, and the Captain’s brain got sucked out…there’s only one thing you can do, Marine…Stay Frosty.

Stay Frosty is an OSR game in the style of “Marines vs. Bugs”. At 30+ pages it costs $4.99 $3.49 as a PDF. A print edition is available at lulu.

You can get the PDF HERE (aff).

A Mixture of The Black Hack and Perdition Meets Alien and Starship Troopers

Author Casey Garske intertwined ideas from different games (The Black Hack, Perdition, point crawls from Hill Cantons). He hammered them into the mold of video game styles à la Doom or Halo.

The game is mostly a clever variation of The Black Hack (TBH). If you don’t know what that is, see my review here. It is a rules-lite old school D&D-like game.

But back to Stay Frosty.
You have four attributes. Brains, Brawn, Dexterity, Willpower. Roll 3d6.

I like the simple base mechanism. Roll 1d20 equal to or above a PC’s attribute score is a success. Enemies try to roll under your score.

There is the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanism. You might know it from D&D 5e or Barbarians of Lemuria.

All skill rolls and saves are active. I like that. Rolling dice is fun. And that means that players stay engaged.

Players choose a role like Cyber, Medical or Engineer. You also get a rank. Roll 1d6 for Private, Sergeant or Lieutenant. Each one has a small advantage. For example, the Private has +1 HP per level.

Armor and equipment are solid military sci-fi stuff. Infantry rifles, Flamer, Combat Drugs, Wrist-comp etc. Armor grants armor points. You simply reduce the points from the damage you get.

You track ammo and supplies with a Usage Die.

Rules for vehicles add to the game.

Combat is familiar. You roll Initiative (Dexterity check) and then you have a round to do stuff, e.g. attack a foe.

What are the cool things? Battle of Wills, Focus and Psi-Powers stand out.

In a Battle of Wills, you can try to give an opponent Disadvantage on the next roll. Focus gives you Advantage. So you have rules for more than just attacking.

The role of the GM is fairly easy when it comes to adversaries. Opponents need to roll under a player character (PC)’s stat. Powerful hostiles are those that have a higher level (Hit Dice) than the PCs. They subtract a number from all rolls, so it’s easier for them to hit the PCs. Likewise, PCs are at a disadvantage if they have to subtract from their rolls.

Stat blocks are like this: Name: Hit Dice, Armor, Attack/Damage, Morale, Special abilities

Demon: 10HD, A3, Flame Sword x2/3d6 or Fire Blast x2/3d6 (Medium, blast), M17
Demonic Mien: seeing a demon triggers a Tension Explosion.
Flight: flies at Fast speed

There is a small list of adversaries at the end of the book. Different kinds of Bugs (Warrior, Queen, Brute, Swarm). Good call for a game like this.

The game has rules for crits and fumbles (with appropriate FUBAR and SNAFU table).

There is a neat rule twist when it comes to dying. As soon as a PC hits 0 HP, further damage goes to a random attribute. If one attribute reaches 21, you – finally – die.

Psi Powers. Make a Willpower check. You can also take damage (Brain Bleed) if you fail a roll but still want to use the Power. Nice.

The Game Master (GM) gets a random mission generator. Point crawl ideas included. Also, random generators for other stuff (planets, buildings, aliens, names etc.).

The best thing about Stay Frosty is the tension mechanism. You roll a Danger Die to determine the risks involved in a location. The tension pings off the PC’s frostiness. Tension leads to benefits for the PCs (e.g. a bonus on damage rolls). The danger roll makes sure that tension racks up and explodes at some point. Then the PCs suffer a backlash in form of physical damage or psychological effects (e.g. PC flees).

Look And Feel

The tone is brash. The game doesn’t take itself seriously:

LISTEN UP. You know how to play this game. You’ve played a hundred like it before. […]

Other crap every game has
Jesus Christ, I guess we have to spell everything out. We’ll see how long I can stand this.

The game looks like it was written with a typewriter and has scrawly art.

Thoughts

  • An eclectic blend of different OSR mechanisms geared towards military sci-fi point crawling – excellently done. Casey combined familiar rules to create something fun and easy. There are some cool rules “twists” like the tension/danger balance or the rules for Battle of Wills.
  • It’s 30+ pages and costs USD $4.99 $3.49. Just a fact. People compare it to TBH at USD $2.00 and complain. It probably depends on what you expected. Stay Frosty looks like a great ruleset for a gaming night of over-the-top hilarious action. For me, that’s worth shelling out five bucks.
  • It is not a serious game and quite focused. Great for a one-shot (or few shots) when you want to battle bugs and look cool doing it. The GM creates location-based missions for you and your team of buddies. Stay Frosty is not an all-purpose sci-fi game or space opera game or whathaveyou. Play marines, kill stuff with the TBH engine at its core. That’s it, for better or worse.
  • I love the overall style of this: the crappy looking art, the tone of writing. Very flavorful. But it is not everyone’s cup of tea.
  • Random generators for the GM are a plus. It’s always nice to have some tools to make prep easier.
  • The game fulfills what was promised. So if you’re looking for “an OSR game of future marines versus whatever the universe can throw at them” – look no further.

P.S. You can get the game as PDF here. Or print here.
P.P.S. Here are other games and resources for The Black Hack.