Category Archives: Traveller

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These Stars Are Ours!

“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.

These Stars Are Ours!
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).

Sophonts in TSAO!

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.

Ships from TSAO!

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.

Spinward Marches upside down

How do we perceive a sector? What do we look for? Where is the adventure? I have discussed this before when I tried to find out why a subsector was popular. I may have been partly wrong. It looks like the position of a subsector within a sector also is an important factor.

Using a new function at the TravellerMap one can now rotate a map. (When I write this there is no UI. You have to use the API to do this.)

This is what the Spinward Marches looks like upside down:

Spinward Marches Upside down
Spinward Marches Upside down: Made using the API at TravellerMap.

So what can we see here? My eyes move up to Glisten subsector. Starting from Glisten and running a J-1 ship to Five Sisters subsector suddenly looks like an interesting idea. Lunion subsector also looks like it a good place for adventures since it is so close to the Sword Worlds. (But the Sword Worlds really needs to be stronger.)

Less interesting is the backwater Regina subsector in the lower end of the map. The conflict with the Zhodani is now in an unimportant lower corner. That doesn’t look very exciting or important any longer.

What do you see in the upside down Spinward Marches?

Zhodani Base Awards 2016

Zhodani Base Awards 2016Welcome to the Zhodani Base Awards 2016! 2016 has been another good year for Traveller products. Lots of new stuff from the small publishers (and Mongoose).

The first category is “Best Cover“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best Cover” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: Fate of the Kinunir from GDW.

There were lots of Traveller products with nice covers this year. Lots of love for all nice covers. Fate of the Kinunir combined a classic Traveller cover with a nice image. I really liked that.

Next category is “Best Fanzine or Online Magazine“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best Fanzine/Online Magazine” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: Freelance Traveller

Freelance Traveller has once again proved that they are the best fanzine by publishing monthly issues with lots of good contents for free.

Freelance Traveller has won this category every year since 2011!

Next category is “Best Adventure“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best Adventure” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: The Calixcuel Incident from Mongoose.

There were lots of fine Traveller Adventures for different settings published. This year Mongoose did a few really good ones. The Calixcuel Incident was in my opinion the best one.

Next category is “Best Ship or Deckplan“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best Ship or Deckplan” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: Type S Scout/Courier from Moon Toad Publishing.

There were lots of fine ships for Traveller published this year. Moon Toad Publishing made the best one for this category and won.

I do love the classic Traveller ships.

Next category is “Best ATU Product“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best ATU Product” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: The Space Patrol from Stellagama Publishing.

This category always make me happy since you can always find so many cool ideas. This year The Space Patrol win. Not only because it is really good, but also because it could have been useful for one of my own campaigns. (Unfortunately it was published a bit too late to help me.)

Next category is “Best OTU Product“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best OTU Product” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: High Guard from Mongoose

Only products from Mongoose was nominated this year. I hope that will change next year. High Guard was the best one.

A final bonus category this year is “Best Free or Pay What You Want Traveller Product“. The nominees are:

The winner of the “Best Free or Pay What You Want Traveller Product” category of the Zhodani Base Awards 2016 is: Cepheus Engine from Samardan Press.

Cepheus Engine wins because it has enabled many other small publishers to produce cool Traveller products without being limited by the restrictions from Mongoose. Read my review here.

From the Ashes

From The Ashes is a short supplement for the Cepheus Engine (‘CE’) and the Traveller SRD (‘SRD’) published by Stellagama Publishing written by Omer Golan-Joel. It covers five expansions characters united by the theme of character death and recovering from fatal injuries.

From the Ashes

It firstly adjusts the usual meaning of ‘character death’ within normal play.  If all three physical characteristics are reduced to zero, instead of rolling up a new character, From The Ashes provides straightforward rules for rushing a character to trauma surgery and recovering. But the devil is in the detail: there may be some permanent new  injuries. This can add history to characters – the loss of a limb or eye makes them more interesting.

Secondly there is an adjustment to character generation, replacing the standard injury table which draws upon the definitions carefully established in the first expansion. It makes character injury during generation harsher but with more detail.

The supplement then provides for simple optional rules in combat for critical hit bonuses for Effect 6 hits, aligning hits against personnel with hits against vehicles. This does make the game generally more lethal.

Finally, two higher technology solutions to near-death injuries are presented: Cybernetic replacements at TL12, and complete body renewal at TL16. However, both come with possible serious side-effects in the spirit of the trauma rules.

At 15 pages total with 10 pages content, this is a very readable supplement that offers a variety of interesting expansions for characters who suffer from fatal injuries and have one last roll of the dice depending on the TL of their surroundings and the skill of the doctor operating. At the same time, character generation and combat get a bit more fatal. The result can be used by Referees to rescue NPCs from death but now they have one leg, or are blind, bitter and have history with the PCs.

But, of course, the primary aim is for PCs to have options to trade death for the possibility of an interesting set of scars.