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?

State of the Base

What has happened at The Base in 2016? A lot of things, but not as much as I had hoped!

Highlights

One of the highlights in 2016 was the 76 Patrons contest with 11 great entries.

The Zhodani Base now has reached over 700 fans at facebook.

I have written a number of reviews and Jonathan Sherlock has helped me writing two.

We have been allowed to repost stuff from the defunct Traveller Freeport website.

I have read Marc Miller’s book, Agent of the Imperium.

I have read Gregory P. Lee’s forthcoming book The Usual Suspects. It is mostly set in Rhylanor Subsector. It is really good! I hope it will be released in 2017.

The last highlights is a Kickstarters that has delivered. The Things We Leave Behind (for another game) by our Traveller playing and map making friend Stephanie McAlea at Stygian Fox.

Lowlights

All the things I didn’t have time to write or finish.

There was no Amber Zone Contest this year.

Spinward Traveller is a Kickstarter that still hasn’t delivered. Ken Whitman, please finish this project!

Traveller Ascension: Imperial Warrant Boardgame is another Kickstarter that still hasn’t delivered.

Site Stats

The Zhodani Base has about 5900 proper visitors each month. That is a little better than last year.

The 5 most popular posts on the blog was:

  1. Cepheus Engine (new)
  2. Spherical Space Ships (1)
  3. Traveller Inspiration: Free e-books (new)
  4. The Final Zhodani Base 76 Patrons Writing Contest (new)
  5. What makes a subsector popular? (4)

The 5 most popular pages on the blog was:

  1. Free pdf-files (1)
  2. Random Subsector Generator (2)
  3. Maps and Data (3)
  4. Amber Zone (5)
  5. Generators (new)

The 5 most popular search words/phrases for finding the blog was:

  1. zhodani base (1)
  2. traveller rpg pdf (3)
  3. traveller rpg (2)
  4. free traveller rpg pdf downloads (new)
  5. berka (new)

We can see that the pdfs are still very popular. Both in searches and in the popular pages list.

The long search string “free traveller rpg pdf downloads” is a bit weird. That may be someones favorite search or a bookmark.

To-do List

We will run an Amber Zone contest this year. (Be prepared!)

Expect to see at least some more reviews of Science Fiction books and Traveller Products.

We will repost some more stuff from the defunct Traveller Freeport website.

Other than that I hope to finish some stuff that I promised or just planned to do.

Pulp-O-Mizer State of the Base

All your base are belong to us