“The more deeply we are cast under a story’s spell, the more potent its influence.” Underlying all passionate Traveller fans is a desire to tell and participate in grand science fiction narratives. We can worry about Canon and setting and what game Traveller is supposed to be. Or we can write sweeping histories such as “These Stars Are Ours!“. Published by Stellagama Publishing, its goal is to provide an immersive Traveller universe that explores a variety of themes and stories, drawing upon well known science fiction tropes. A consequence of separating the “engine” of Traveller from the “setting” is that it liberates writers and publishers to create their own settings for adventures. Echoing the great product the Twilight Sector, “These Stars Are Ours!” is a successful and comprehensive setting that includes new and modified rules relevant to the setting and takes advantage of Stellagama Publishing’s existing work in extending the Cepheus Engine. It entrances the reader immediately and provides a powerful basis for Traveller adventures.
Alegis Downport has already written an informative review. The comment thread below the review already contains positive responses from the publisher promising further material for the setting – great news for fans. This review will comment more on the history and nature of setting itself.
The star charts draw upon Stellagama’s earlier work “Near Space“. It makes Earth (“Terra”) the centre of the setting – and so players have an immediate stake in the game, connecting to the future of our own planet. The setting approximately 400 years into the future, not thousands, also making it more immediate to us as readers and players. The period is clearly parallel to Traveller 2300 but this setting has a very different flavour. The Reticulans are the almond-shaped-eyed aliens of Area 51 fame who conquer Terra and rule it with an iron fist until thrown off by the free-spirited, fighting and proud Terrans. Play begins in the aftermath of this revolutionary war.
The history of the war itself is a great read. This reviewer saw clear parallels to the Russian Civil War of the 1920’s and to World War II – there was even a ‘Stalingrad’ moment in this setting’s history. While the ‘fighting Terran’ spirit is reminiscent of fiction such as Starship Troopers, the setting is also clearly influenced by the gritty realism of Firefly and its themes of the real social consequences of war and oppression. This theme carries through in describing the history and culture of the various non-human sophonts of the setting. None are cardboard cut-out “bad guys” and all have redeeming qualities as well as flaws. How these various aliens react to the Reticulan Imperium and the United Terran Republic causes us to reflect upon the reasons for our actions – the best part of role play games (although I also enjoy blowing things up).
The patrons provided are all great hooks firmly grounded in this detailed and nuanced setting. There are familiar industrial espionage, smuggling and exploration themes, but all layered with the particular history of the setting, including a mysterious race of Precursors who have left artefacts. But on top of this there are very specific adventures interacting with the various alien races in ways other than at the other end of a weapon. The Reticulans are divided into competing feudal houses. The Zhuzzh are untrustworthy and nomadic – but as a wise man once said, you can always trust an untrustworthy man to be untrustworthy. The Cicek are fierce fighters and dashing pirates, but also divided along gender lines Aslan-style. The Ssesslessians are mysterious respecters of ancient traditions. Once more familiar with the setting, all of these species would make interesting player characters.
This setting book also offers careers and advanced career rules including setting-based events that affect characters, drawing players into the history and engaging them with the background. All of the new rules and alternate career paths are clearly based on the story needs of the setting. This is an excellent use of a rules engine: it obeys the story needs, not the other way around.
While the deck plans and starship designs are few, the generic ship designs from the Cepheus Engine will fit this setting well. The publishers have promised further ships for the setting in the future. The ‘flying saucer’ designs were a real treat, and the text justifies ‘mysterious UFOs’ at TL13 by showing how mysterious true gravitics would be to 20th Century earth – but always by example, never by telling the reader. This kind of excellent descriptive writing strengthens the setting and is an excellent example of ‘show don’t tell’ in RPG writing.
The star maps provided give plenty of contrasting settings for adventure, right on the border of four different political entities. “The Frontier” is always a good source of adventures and conflict. What These Stars Are Ours! shows is that you can pack a lot of adventure and campaign ideas into just two subsectors. This is plenty for a typical Traveller sandbox campaign.
Priced at a very reasonable $20, any Referee can pick this up and plan adventures for hungry players quickly. You will not regret the purchase.
When the PCs are unlucky with the dice or don’t listen to the Referee…