Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reviews. Show all posts

Monday, June 27, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Mystical Companions (Castles & Crusades)

All month long I have been talking about D&D and mostly near-D&D FRPGs.  While last week was all Pathfinder, the one-time heir-apparent to D&D, this week I want to talk about a game that really does capture that feel of early, 1st Ed AD&D, with a more modern point of view.  

Of course, that game is Castles & Crusades.

I have never hidden my love of Castles & Crusades and I would play a lot more of it if I could. It really does capture the feel of older D&D, maybe something of a Basic-era mixed with Advanced, through the lens of 3rd Edition.  One really could consider it the evolution of AD&D2 into the new millennia. 

This week I want to do more with Castles & Crusades, but I am going to do it from the point of view of some of my regular blog features.  Today is Monday and that means Monstrous Mondays. So I am going to review and discuss the Castles & Crusades Mystical Companions book. 


I can't believe that it has been three years (almost to the day) since I reviewed the 5th Edition version of this book.  I had meant to do much sooner than this.

The Troll Lord's Mystical Companions is the update to their fantastic Book of Familiars.   It comes in two flavors, A Castles & Crusades version, and a D&D 5th Edition version.   I have both in digital and PDF formats, today I am going to focus solely on the Castles & Crusades version.  Yes, they are in fact different enough that two separate reviews are really needed.

I was always going to use this book in my Magic School games, whether that game used an Old-School ruleset (like Castles & Crusades or OSE) or (now) D&D 5th Edition.  I think that highly of it.  Now it is something I am using as part of my War of the Witch Queens campaign where every character has an animal companion, pet, or familiar.  My oldest kid has taken my 5th edition version and made it his own.

Mystical Companions for Castles & Crusades
Mystical Companions for Castles & Crusades

For this review, I am considering both the PDF version from DriveThruRPG and the hardcover version I purchased from Troll Lord Games. 

Hardcover book and PDF. 192 pages, full-color art by Jason Walton and Peter Bradley.  PDF is bookmarked.  This book is divided up into 12 chapters and 5 appendcies. Largely focusing on the various Castles & Crusades classes and their respective animal companions.

Chapter 1: Familiars and Companions

This gives us our basic overview of the book and the concepts of an animal companion in the Castles & Crusades game.  Pro-tip. Even a casual read of the chapter titles should clue you in that if you wanted to use this with AD&D 1st ed you very easily could. There is also the notion that Animal Companions and Familiars, while similar and can perform similar roles and tasks are very different from each other. 

On Animal Companion vs. Familiar.  While rules in the book cover book and treat them somewhat interchangeably an Animal Companion is more like a loyal pet or friend.  A Familiar is a creature summoned to work with the PC.  Animal Companions are free-willed, familiars are not.

For ease, I am going to use"animal companion" for all cases unless a distinction needs to be made. 

There is the concept here of Advantages, this allows the character to summon an animal companion. In truth, I think this works better in 5e than it does here, but I will explore this a bit more.  Additionally, there are various Powers and Tricks animal companions can have or impart to their player characters.

Animal companions are all treated as other creatures from the beginning. They have HD, hp, AC and more scores. 

Advantages are a new mechanic for C&C to allow them to take on various "powers" or "features."  It was introduced in the Castle Keepers Guide as an optional rule, here it is required.  It is, very simply put, a "Feat" system for C&C.  That does not really describe it well enough, but it is close.

Different classes get new Advantages at different levels.  Various abilities and powers of the animal companions are detailed here. Including what sort of special powers you can get by taking another animal companion/familar at higher levels. 

If you are playing AD&D 1st Ed and really want to do familiars correctly then I highly recommend this book. 

The following chapters each deal with the various C&C classes (and their AD&D counterparts in my readings) and their respective animal companions.

Chapter 2: Barbarian Familiars & Special Mounts

I don't recall Conan having a pet, but Cú Chulainn is known to have had some pet dogs. Since Barbarians feel closer to nature they have totem animals; an animal or creatures revered by their culture. This chapter covered these, and all the expected animals are here, but there are also totems for mammoths, displacer beasts, dire creatures of all sorts, and even small dragons. 

Chapter 3: The Bard’s Familiar

Bards typically have familiars that aid in their singing or musical magics. Providing a number of powers to aid their abilities. 

Chapter 4: The Cleric’s Familiar

These are not so much as animals and more attendant spirits. The least of the messengers of the cleric's god(s).  Often they are here to provide the cleric guidance or omens. These creatures can, and often do, take on animal shapes. What that shape is depends largely on the cleric's domain. 

Chapter 5:The Druid’s Familiar

Similar to both the Barbarian's and the Cleric's familiar.  Here the deciding factor is the terrain/environment the druid is native to.  There is a large sidebar/section on Druid Familiars vs Druid Animal Companions.

Chapter 6: The Fighter’s Familiar

This one seems a bit odd, but they do make a case for it. A good historical example might be the Mongolian fighters and their horses, or the hunting dogs of Celtic cultures. 

Chapter 7: Monk Familiars

Again not one you normally think about. These seem to follow the same logic of the barbarian, but in stead of totem spirits they are manifestations of ancestor spirits. Think Mu-Shu from the animated Mulan.

Chapter 8: Paladin Special Mounts & Familiars

Paladins already get mounts. This extends that logic a bit more. 

Chapter 9: The Ranger’s Familiar

Honestly, all Rangers should have an animal companion of some sort. This codifies it. 

Ranger Familiars

Every ranger needs a red panda familiar.

Chapter 10: The Rogue’s Familiar

Like the fighter, one does not normally associate Rogues/Thieves with animals, but honestly, it would be good. Think of Laurence Fishburne's character "The Bowery King" and his pigeons or D&D's own history of associating thieves with cats (the Grey Mouser from Lankhmar or Gord the Rogue).

Chapter 11: The Illusionist’s Familiar and Chapter 12: The Wizard’s Familiar

Putting these two together since they follow similar ideas.  This is as close as we can get to the classic idea of a familiar.  The natures of their familiars are different, which is great, it provides more distance between these two classes. 

Appendix A: Animals

"Monster stats" for various (51) mundane animals.

Appendix B: New Monsters

Likewise, these are new monsters (36). Many are either familiars or creatures that feed on familiars. 

Appendix C: New Spells

A bunch of new familiar summoning and related spells for all spell casting classes.

Appendix D: New Magic Items and Artifacts

Magic items to summon, control, or aid familiars and animal companions. 

Appendix E: Dragon Riders

This last section covers a new class/path, the Dragon Riders, and how these rules are used for that class. While many of the same rules are used here as for familiars this takes them to a new place and should be considered optional. 

This is the Appendix/Chapter that my son grabbed this book from me for, BUT he opted not use their Dragon Riders but kept the book anyway for everything else.

Dragon Rider

A Dragon Rider is a Path that can be added to any class, but some have more use for it than others.  If the idea of PC Dragon Riders concerns you, then keep in mind it is being sold as "optional".  And also Dragon Riders of some form or another have been around since the dawn of the game.  If it is something you want, then there is plenty here for you to use.

If I ever ran a Magic School game with this then Dragon Riders would be included.

Index 

We end with a robust index and the OGL section.

Final Thoughts

A note about art. There is not as much in this book as other Troll Lord books, but what is here is from the fabulous Peter Bradley and Jason Walton, who also gives us the cover art.

Your results may vary, but this book has quickly gone from a neat oddity to one of our must-have books for my Old-school games. My son uses it in the 5e games he has run so much that I have not seen my 5e version of this book in months since it is now in with all of his books.

Do you need this book?  I say yes, but only if you are adding animals of any sort to your game, be they pets, familiars, mounts, companions, or all the way up to Dragon Riders.

Use in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

I am going to limit my thoughts here to AD&D 1st Ed. The only reason I am not considering 2nd Ed is that 2nd Edition has a skill system that should be incorporated with these rules a little more explicitly.  For 1st Ed, I can see a craft DM using this book more or less as-is. 

I know Troll Lords does not sell this book as an AD&D book. But anyone who is a fan of C&C is likely a fan of AD&D.  (Although I should point out I talked to a couple of real hardcore C&C fans at Gary Con who had never played AD&D First Edition.) But in any case, this is a fantastic reference for the 1st edition all the same. 

Monday, May 23, 2022

Review: Traveller Main Rulebook (2008)

Traveller Main Rulebook (2008)
We are getting to the end of our journey into the various editions and versions of Traveller.  Today I am bringing us to the modern era and will spend some time with the various Open Gaming editions of Traveller.  That's right. Traveller has hit the retro-clone stage of development.

2008 was not all that long ago.  This blog was up and running at this point and I was beginning work on a lot of the projects you know me well for. So consequently I was not really paying all that much attention to what was going on in the world of Traveller. 

While I mentioned that we are hitting the "retro-clone" phase of Traveller's development, it was not (as far as I can tell) Mongoose that released the Traveller SRD. That was the work of Jason Kemp.  But I will get to all of that in a bit when I review the Cepheus Engine.

Traveller Main Rulebook (2008)

PDF. 192 pages (plus covers). Black & White art with a red accent.

Traveller has had a long history. This new version from Mongoose celebrates that history by essentially going back to the beginning with the look and feel of Classic Traveller. 

How much does this feel like Classic Traveller?  So much so that I am kinda struggling with what to say other than "wow this is like Classic Traveller!"  Not in a "they copied The Traveller Book" way but more in a "These are people that began playing this game 30 years ago and now want to introduce new gamers to that game" way.

Everything about this book is a serious nostalgia trip.  And given that I have been spending all this time with all versions of Traveller, a serious case of déjà vu.  

Introduction

Our introduction to the Traveller game.  There are some minor references to "The Third Imperium" but much like the LBBs this game is largely setting-free.  Some examples of play are given and the various Technology Levels (TL 0 to 15) are given.

Character Creation

This is very, very similar to the Classic Traveller Character Creation even down to our good friend Alexander Jamison returning.

Side note: I have decided that once a character musters out of one of the services (Army, Marines, Merchant Marines, Navy) they are gifted a sword. Seems like something that should happen and explain why Jamison here has a cutlass in a universe full of lasers.

The big changes here (and see throughout this book) are better layout for looking at options and checklists and guides.  This version does an amazing job of getting a new player up and going fast. 

improved layout

You can't die in character creation, but there is still a lot going on.  Also there is a point-buy feature for assigning your points to your six abilities.  We are again back at an average of 7 for abilities and the UPP is back. 

There are still a lot of careers to choose from, more than in The Traveller Book.  Life events follow. Someone close to your character can die, but not your character.  Though you can muster out and be in medical debt.  

There is a section on aliens. Here we get the Aslan, Droyne, Hivers, K'kree, Vargr, and the Zhodani.  Given the way the rules of this version are written, I can't see why the older Alien Modules couldn't still be used here. 

Skills and Tasks

Skills are very familiar but seemed to be pared down a little. Die Modifiers (DM) are discussed as well as how to do a task check right away.  Each skill is detailed along with any specialties under that skill. 

Combat

This chapter gets an upgrade in my mind and shows the familiarity Mongoose has had with d20 and other modern systems.  Actions are divided into Minor and Significant Actions along with Reactions and any number of Free actions. These are made very clear.  Combat actions (a significant action) is detailed on what needs to be rolled.  All of this was in previous versions, but now they are more upfront and bolded.  

Encounters and Dangers

This is the analog to the older Encounters and Animals sections. Plenty of charts and boxed text to help a referee out when building encounters.  Encounters are more than just strange new animals on weird worlds. There are rivals, other humans, and corporate actions just to give some examples. Quite a lot really.  True to Traveller there are plenty of d66 tables for all these encounters.

Equipment

Your characters' shopping lists. It looks like this is very similar to other equipment lists of other editions.  I will note (because this is me) that computers finally feel right.  They, and a lot of the other equipment here feel like futuristic equipment.  Computers are tiny and powerful. There are "smart guns" that help you hit your target, holographic displays, and robots and drones in their own sub-section.

Each bit of equipment comes with a TL rating.

Spacecraft Design

Distinctions are made between interplanetary and interstellar spacecraft.  Like character creation, there is a helpful checklist. 

Common Spacecraft. This is less of a chapter section and more of a sub-section of Design.  This list of common ships with their details, some maps, and a picture. 

Spacecraft Operations

An alphabetical listing of everything (mostly everything) that can go on in a ship. 

Space Combat

Similar to other versions and the combat chapter above. This details how ships can fight including movement, targeting, and firing phases. Along with damage and reactions.  The chapter is not large but remarkably detailed.

Psionics

Ah. Psionics.  Stuck out into the back half of the book again. Psions are given a "career" write-up as the other character types. 

Trade

Covers basic trade between the worlds/systems/colonies.

World Creation

This chapter feels more like Classic Traveller than the others. Sadly no equations to apease the math geek in me but a lot of information all the same. 

Index

A pretty good index (not hyperlinked), a character sheet, and a hex grid.

--

So this might be the best version of Classic Traveller to date.  Same rules more or less (I admit I could not spot any major differences), the feel of Classic Traveller and in a cleaned up and reorganized fashion.  I know there is a 2nd Edition coming up (I have already started on that) but there is a simple elegance to this edition.

There is also a Book 0 to get you started.  It is a cut down version of the Core Rules at 32 pages and is Free.  I have both in the same three ring binder I have The Traveller Book in.  

Friday, May 20, 2022

Review: Traveller20 (2002-2007)

Traveller20 (2002, 2007)
We are now in another new decade. In fact a new century and a new millennium in fact. And of course another new edition of Traveller.  Interestingly enough we are now 25 years out from the Little Black Books. But we are now nearing the end height of the d20 boom.

Traveler, for the first time in its history, is now using the same system as Dungeons & Dragons.

Traveller for d20, also called Traveller 20 or even T20 used the d20 system under the OGL and d20 STL.

Since this is the 20th day of SciFi month, let's do Traveller for d20!

There are two versions of this game, one out in 2002, which I remember was a single hardcover book.  The other, available from DriveThruRPG is the 2007 edition and made up of three books (and a handbook).  I had the 2002 version briefly but ended selling it off in an auction. Why? I can't recall. I had a baby and another one on the way, I bet I needed money.

Both versions have similar cover art.

For the purposes of this review, I am going to consider the 2006-7 version from DriveThruRPG and from Far Future Enterprises where I got my copy from. 

Traveller20 Core Rules Set (2006-7)

PDF. Four files. Color cover art, black & white interior art.

Traveller20 (2006-7)

Ok. I want to start with this. I like d20. I do. My favorite version of the Star Wards RPG is Wizard's Revised d20 version. I know that sounds like blasphemy to so many, but I don't care.  Star Wars and D&D are so wrapped up into my childhood that bringing them together under one system was a no-brainer for me.  Now if I can add some Traveller bits?  Well I don't know if I can just yet, but the idea is so tempting, so tantalizing I just can't help it.  Seriously what could be more Summer of 1977 than Star Wars + D&D + Traveller?   What does that mean for you?  Well.  I am likely to cut this edition a lot of slack. Maybe even to the point of excusing some things I shouldn't.  Forewarned is forearmed.

The Traveller's Guidebook
The Traveller's Guidebook

PDF. 234 Pages, Color cover, black & white interior art with blue accents.

This is the "Book 0" OR the Book 4 of the 2006-7 Traveller d20 line.  This book covers all the basics for the Traveller Player. 

We get out Introduction which tells us what we are in for here.  It is written for the point of view of anyone new to RPGs or new to Traveller (any version). 

We get brief overviews of the d20 mechanic. How to set your Difficulty Levels (DCs) and even a little on success levels.

Character Creation is next.  What follows is pretty standard for all d20 games.  Roll abilities, choose races, select classes, set skills, add feats, roll up hitpoints.  This is Traveller so there is a bit more added on.

D&D/d20 has six Character Abilities. Traveller has six.  T20 has nine. These are Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Education, Wisdom, Charisma, Social Standing, and Psionic Strength.  Ok a mix of both systems.  Not exactly what I would have done, but hey.  Ability scores are d20 standard, modifiers are as well.   

Hitpoints are split between Stamina and Lifeblood. Or what other games might call wound points and health points.  One slows you down the other represents how much you have till you die. Loosing either is not good.

Races are discussed and the standard humans are given with variations. You can also choose Vargr, Aslan, Ursa, and Virushi. 

Since this is Traveller you have your homeworld to consider.  There are plenty of random tables to help you figure this all out.  Tech Levels from previous editions remain here. It's a nice touch of course.  Also you have your prior history, or what you did before you decided to live the glamorous life of a Traveller.  Turns of service enter here with various paths and what that all means in terms of your character (background, credit earned, and skills).   I am not sure but it seems like there are a lot of careers here. More than other editions.

Once that is figured out you can choose a class. XP values are the same as D&D 3.x so that is easy enough. There are 12 core classes: Academic, Athlete, Barbarian, Belter, Entertainer, Martial Artist, Mercenary, Merchant, Noble, Professional, Rogue, and Traveller.  Nine "Service" Classes: Army, Convict, Corsair, Flyer, Law Enforcement, Marine, Navy, Sailor, and Scout. And eight Prestige Classes: Diplomat, Engineer, Medic, Ace Pilot, Ancients Hunter, Big Game Hunter, Psionicist, and TAS Field Reporter.

Skills are covered and as expected there are a lot of them. A lot. Nearly 30 pages worth.  Same goes for Feats (this is d20 after all).  Now I prefer a smaller list of skills myself, but I see why the authors did what they did.

Equipment and Starting Funds cover the next 40 pages or so.  Imperial Credits are still good here!

Combat is the d20 system with a few twists, but nothing the average D&D 3.x+ player couldn't figure out.  The covers personal, vehicle and ship combat.

Adventuring covers quite a lot from what the characters do, living expenses, environments and their dangers, weather dangers, movement, vision, and on to Psionics (which really should be it's own chapter).

We now get into what could be reasonably called the Traveller Black Books of d20.

Book 1: Characters and Combat
Book 1: Characters and Combat

PDF. 209 Pages, Color cover, black & white, and color interior art.

I will admit I am confused. This book looks older than the "Book 0" above.  No problem.  Ok. So I get the idea these textbooks are actually separate from the first one. Not sure what the logic here is, but works for me.  I'll take these three books as a group, like the Little Black Books of old.

We start out with some game fiction. Move right on to an introduction from Marc W. Miller, but I think that is all he did for this particular version.  This moves on to the Introduction to RPGs section and about Traveller in particular.  So while it is similar to the book above it also goes into far more detail.

Characters cover character creation.

There is an overview with page references to where they are detailed later in this book.  Most interestingly there are now eight (8) Abilities.  The standard d20 ones plus Education (EDU) and Social Standing (SOC).  

You generate your abilities first, examples are given of how EDU and SOC work in the game.  Determine your race/species included here are humans (with sub-types), Vargr, Aslan, Luriani, Sydites, Ursa, and Virushi.  Mentioned ar the Droyne, Hivers, and K'Kree.

As always your homeworld stats are determined and character adjusted as needed.  This also helps with skills and what classes are available to you. 

Classes are next and there are a lot of them. This time they are better explained.  We have the core classes: Academic, Barbarian, Belter, Mercenary, Merchant, Noble, Professional, Rogue, and Traveller.  The  Service Classes: Army, Marine, Navy, and Scout. And Prestige Classes: Ace Pilot, Big Game Hunter, and TAS Field Reporter.  Classes work like the d20 standard. 

I do admit I have a desire to run a game with TAS field reporters.  If nothing else this is giving me a load of ideas for my Star Trek: Mercy campaign. 

Skills are up and we also get a note that this section is Open Game Content. Nice touch.  There are quite a lot of skills here, more than the d20 standard of the time.  A lot of these are also limited to particular classes or backgrounds.  Unlike standard d20 and more like some other games, some skills can be used with more than one ability. Pilot for example can be INT or DEX.  I think my favorite addition though is the "Dealing with Bureaucrats" DC table.   As expected this section is rather large.

Feats (this is d20 after all) is also a long section.  There are also some Final Details to figure out like age, height, and weight. 

Oddly, but maybe it makes sense, Prior History is after all of this.  Reading through is does actually since it modifies what the character is like. In truth it is like a rather robust "Backgrounds" from D&D 5th Edition, just 10+ years before that.

Combat is up. The book says that combat is pretty much the same as d20 standard except in a few   cases.  Mostly Traveller universe specific examples.  Where things are different it is noted.

After combat, the Prestige Classes are covered.  And at the end as always (more or less) is Psionics.

The Appendices follow.  Their page numbers start as if all three books are combined.  Nice really. So Appendix I starts on page 426.  The last page is the OGL and Product Identity information.

Book 2: Equipment and Design
Book 2: Equipment and Design

PDF. 164 Pages, Color cover, black & white interior art.

I just want to say right now that I am loving this Classic Traveller presentation of the Traveller 20 rules.  I wish I had a POD of this. 

This book continues, page numbers and all, from Book 1. 

This book covers all the Technology and Equipment (about two dozen pages), the design of vehicles and starships, and some standard designs.  All of it is largely what you would expect it to be.

Technology and Equipment.  This discusses various TLs (Technology Levels) and the character "shopping list" so lots of weapons.  We do have sections of drugs, medical care, food and living expenses, as well as cybertechnology (somewhat that started in Traveller just a decade ago) and cloning.  Interestingly enough I did not see a lot on robots save that they can be built like vehicles.  I do appreciate the conservation of rule space here, but more might have been nice.

Computers are more advanced, but you are all sick of me harping on that.

The Appendices repeat here as well as the OGL information.

Book 3: Worlds and Adventures
Book 3: Worlds and Adventures

PDF. 107 Pages, Color cover, black & white interior art.

Ok, I have to admit I am enjoying this system. 

This is the smallest of the three. 

This book covers Travelling (Chapter 14), Starship Encounters (Chapter 15), Universe and World development (Chapter 16), Campaigns (17), and Traveller Adventures (Chapter 18).

The design here is one of characters living in a giant Galactic Imperium that is full of adventure and lite on the details of the Imperium itself.  Oh there is information here on it anyone with any knowledge of Traveller can easily fill in the blanks.  The focus of this game though is more like Classic Traveller, on the characters and what they do.  There is more here than Classic Traveller, but not as much as say MegaTraveller.

I can gather from reading that this takes place sometime prior to the timeline of the LBBs, before 1000. But not much more.

--

Ok so this bundle has two separate versions of the T20 game. For my money, I would rather the Three Books and add in details from The Traveller's Guidebook where needed. 

The Three Books cover the same material as The Traveller's Guidebook save for where the TGB goes into additions (more classes, more abilities).   I am not 100% convinced that the additions to TGB are better. 

I am not going to lie. I like the 3.x d20 system, warts and all.  I like the idea of a huge Galactic Empire.  So if I am going to play a non-Trek game then some flavor of d20 is likely going to be my choice.

Call me crazy, but I like this one. 

Part of me wants to find a copy of the Traveller d20 dead tree book online to buy another part of me wants to print out what I have to put into a binder with other d20-based SciFi games.  I know there is d20 Starfleet Battles / Prime Directive and more. 

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Review: T4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996)

T4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996)
We are now up to 1996.  Games Designer's Workshop, unfortunately, had folded at the end of February 1996. At this time the rights to Traveller reverted back to Mark Miller.  So Mark started Imperium Games to produce a new game called "Marc Miller's Traveller" but most called T4 online.

It has, as far as I can tell, the least amount of supplements for its game line but that is not a huge surprise. 

T4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996)

PDF. 194 pages, color covers and color inserts, black & white art.

For the purposes of this review I am only considering the PDF from DriveThruRPR. There is a softcover POD that includes the color plates, but I do not have that. 

There are a lot of familiar names here including Larry Elmore doing some of the interior art.  

This game is set at the dawn of the Third Imperium, so in the opposite direction timewise the latest versions were going.  It makes it pretty clear that setting wise at least is that this is not a sequel or continuation of MegaTraveller or Traveller: The New Era.

I will note I am not coming into this one blind. Even back then I had heard how this particular edition was riddled with errors and it there is a page (or two dozen pages) of errata out there.  I am not going to consider that, nor do I even know if they are included in this file. I am going with no, but I'll check them out later. 

Chapter 1: Roleplaying in the Traveller Universe

This is the typical "what is a role-playing game" and "what is Traveller" sections.  It is all very similar to the Traveller Book.

Chapter 2: Character Generation

This feels an awful lot like Classic Traveller. In particular, again, the Traveller book.  There are more careers here and you get more skills.  It also doesn't look like you can die in character creation anymore, but you can be injured and discharged. You still go through background, homeworlds and advanced education, and more.  Very familiar I am sure to the seasoned Traveller player.  Speaking of familiar, our good friend Alexander Jamison is back.  An error, on page 24 Ranks are mentioned (ok, cool same as CT), but in the tables on 29-32 have ranks of E1 to E9 and O1 to O10, Enlisted and Officer. 

Chapter 3: Skills

For the first time, the skill list seems a bit smaller than in the last two editions.  The chapter not huge and the skills are explained well.  

Chapter 4: Task

This is a short and sweet chapter.  Only 2 chapters. BUT a couple of things. First, we are now using a "Roll under" system which I am not a fan of.  And there are all these "x.5" die rolls.  I had forgotten about all the weird-ass die mechanics the late 90s flirted with.  This is not the worse, but it is certainly no fun. I mean the task resolution is not terrible, but there are better ones. Much better ones. 

Chapter 5: Ground Combat

This is a bit larger than tasks but still smaller than other versions.  While there are changes due to the task resolution system it still reads a lot like Classic Traveller.  In fact the range bands are now back! 

Chapter 6: Equipment

The shopping chapter! One thing I notice is that computers (I know I harp on this, sorry it's my thing) seem to have really advanced.  Though I have to point out the "advanced" computers of the Dawn of the Third Imperium are on par with the one I use now to write this. Minus the holographic display.   But all in all a big improvement.

I am getting the feeling that somewhere between CT and T4 there is a great Traveller game.

What I am not getting yet is how the tech of this time differs from Classic Traveller's implied tech. This is supposed to be 1100 years before the LBBs.  

Chapter 7: Surface Vehicle

This covers vehicles that are not starships.  I do want to take a moment and comment on the improved art of this edition.  Traveller never really had what I would call inspiring art. It had functional art and it had good descriptive art, but never anything like "wow that looks awesome."  Some of the art here is of the awesome category.  

Chapter 8: Spacecraft

One of my favorite chapters of past editions.  Again starship computers are better handled.  Creating a ship is a little like creating a character.  There are even some nice photo-like pictures of starships.  This section reads a bit differently than the others. Also the tables are organized by layout space rather than how they need to be consulted.

Chapter 9: Space Travel

Guess what is back? Yes! The equations! This whole section is very reminscent of the Classic Traveller books.  Though I will admit I do not recall the grisly "Low Lottery" from previous editions.  This isn't Star Trek folks.  

Chapter 10: Space Combat

This chapter covers combat and it is a bit different. I'd like to say it looks faster, but I have not tried it out at all. Again I'll need to stat out a few ships and give them a trial run. Maybe I could run that Freetrader Beowulf rescue mission I have wanted to try.

Chapter 11: Psionics

Each edition Psionics gets a boost. The material here is again largely similar to Classic Traveller, but now there is a Psiconist service. That's new. I wonder if Babylon 5 was any influence here. 

Chapter 12: World Generation

This is also a copy (more or less) from Classic Traveller. No world forms here though.

Chapter 13: Encounters

This is a combination of both the Encounters and Animal Encounters sections. This makes sense really. This is also all word for word from The Traveller Book. The more I red the more déjà vu I am getting.

I mean, can you tell which book these two sections are from.  There is a small hint.

Encounters

Encounters

Now I am not complaining here.  In 1996 when this came out the original Classic Traveller was 20 year old. The books were long out of print and GDW was gone. For someone who say played Traveller in High School, skipped all the other editions due to college and now was, oh I don't know, sitting on the train commuting from home to Chicago and back to home every day, this had to be a very welcome sight. 

Chapter 14: Referee's Introduction

Our Game Master section.  Not word for word from the Traveller book, but close enough.  OR at least the feeling is the same. This does include some details on improving skills.

Chapter 15: Running Adventures and Campaigns

This is similar enough to the Traveller Book's "Referee's Guide to Adventuring."  I am not sure is the authors (and there is plenty of evidence that there is more than one voice here) wanted to ignore everything after MegaTraveller OR were not allowed to use anything.  I don't mean text I mean ideas. I think I wanted to see more here.

Chapter 16: Trade and Commerce

Again similar to other editions of Classic Traveller. Did text search and found it is largely the same text as Book 7, Merchant Prince. And again not a complaint here.

Chapter 17: Exit Visa (Adventure)

This is the same adventure from the Traveller Book. 

Chapter 18: Rubicon Cross (Adventure)

This one is completely new as far a I can tell. In fact my online search for it pulled up references to T4 and the errata sheets. Guess I'll grab that. 

Library Data and Index

The Library Data is pulled from Classic Traveller. Is it a copy? Yes. And sadly it preserved the focus on the current year being 1105 and Year 0.  So the entries on "Dating Systems" and "Holiday Year" only make sense from a later perspective.  Ok, I suppose it was possible that Cleon I proclaimed the current year as the Holiday year when he assumed power. 

The Index is pretty good.

What do we know?

Well. Let's extend my D&D analogy here to the breaking point.

Original LBB Traveller is OD&D's LBB.  I called the Traveller Book the "Holmes Basic" of Traveller, but in retrospect I think Moldvay Basic & Cook/Marsh Expert is a better fit.  That makes Traveller Starter Edition the Mentzer BECMI D&D.  Traveller 2300 is SPI's DragonQuest, Mega Traveller is AD&D 2nd Edition, and Traveller the New Era is 4th edition.

So what then in Marc Miller's Traveller? Since it is closest to the Classic Traveller line it is the 1991 Black Box or The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game produced in 1994 and edited by Doug Stewart.

So who is Marc Miller's Traveller for?

In 1996 that answer was easy. It was for anyone that wanted to play Traveller that did not have access to the older Classic Traveller books and did not care for the New Era.

In 2022? Well. That is a harder one to answer. Today Classic Traveller is easily available in a variety of formats and editions.  And I have not even started with Moongoose Traveller or the Cepheus Engine materials. IF there had been more material on the start of the 3rd Imperium here then that would give it a solid reason for setting alone. If the rules had been updated more with that 20 years of Traveller experience then that would have been a solid reason.  Sadly neither of those are true enough. That added to the errors, the typos and some weird design choices make this a Traveller for the die hard fans only.  That is NOT a bad thing.  Just for my money I still prefer my Traveller Book.  

Now what I might do, since I have the PDF and this is easy. Is go through it all and just print the updated sections I like and slot them into my Traveller 3-ring binder. I have a tab for "4" I could use AND I put in, or pencil in, all the errata I want or need.

I do want to point out again that the art in this book is phenomenal. There are some seriously good pieces that look like they come right off the cover of some great sci-fi novel. I like to think that was the intent.  I am sure it makes for a gorgeous PoD book. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Review: Traveller: The New Era (1993)

Traveller: The New Era
"Don't stop thinking about tomorrow
Don't stop, it'll soon be here
It'll be better than before
Yesterday's gone, yesterday's gone."

Fleetwood Mac's 1977 hit "Don't Stop" came out the same year as Classic Traveller.  It was also, more or less, the theme that covered the intro the 1990s.  Newly elected Bill Clinton had used it as his campaign theme song and even Fleetwood Mac got back together long enough to play it at his inaugural ball in 1993.  Think about the start of the 90s for a second.  Everything seemed possible then.  I was in Grad School, working part-time (only 60 hours a week) for the Navy writing code. I was taking classes, and teaching. I had broken up with my long-time girlfriend and soon started dating someone who would in just a few more years be my wife!  So yeah the future was full of endless possibilities in 1993.

Traveller: The New Era feels like the most "1993" game ever.  Tomorrow was here and Yesterday (Classic Traveller if you will) was gone. 

For this review, I am only considering the PDF I just downloaded from DriveThruRPG.  My original one was corrupted and I was wondering if I was even going to get to do this one today.  I saw the PDF in DT was updated back 2014, so I grabbed a new one.  Glad I did.  I remember my first one was very hard to read and the text was blurry.  This new one is much clearer. I also recall that some of the pages had a green background, this one does not.

Traveller: The New Era (1993)

PDF. 386 pages, color covers, black & white interior art.  Oddly there are no PDF bookmarks in this file. The book is also available as a softcover PoD.  I have no idea which printing this is. I understand the first printing had a few errors. 

This book is a beast. I think (not 100% sure) that this was a boxed set of different books. 

One of the first things I noticed about this edition is that Frank Chadwick and Dave Nilsen are listed for Game Design and Marc Millar is only listed for Design of the previous version of Traveller.  I remember some of this back in the day, but for now, I am going to focus on just what is in the book. 

The book is divided up into various large sections. The table of contents seems to deny my guess that this pdf was separate books at one point. Ok, no problem.

Introduction (and History)

This is our introduction to the Traveller Universe. The History section is the most important for this edition since it sets up how this is different than the previous editions.  For starters, the Imperium has completely collapsed.  Classic Traveller was taking place roughly around 1110 of the Imperial Calendar. MegaTraveller dealt with the aftermath of the Emperor's assassination in 1116.  This Traveller jumps ahead by 85 or so years to the 1201 "The New Era."  Honestly from a design/edition perspective, this makes a lot of sense. 

It is a neat background and welcome (in a manner of speaking) to older players but new players likely won't care about this.  The "world" of TNE is very different than that of MegaTraveller of Classic Traveller. Even at just a few pages it is still more background than we got in the LBB of Classic. 

Characters

Character creation in TNE feels similar and different at the same time. You are still rolling 2d6, though now it is a 2d6-1. This changed the average from 7 to 6. There are still six attributes that are roughly the same. TNE has Strength, Agility, Constitution, Intelligence, Education, and Charisma. Classic Traveller had Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, and Social. So similar.  TNE also offers a point spread of 36 to distribute if you prefer.  We are still using the UPP, only now a 666666 denotes an average character instead of 777777. Abilities are determined, then the background generation begins.  Like previous versions of Traveller, you decide on a homeworld (which can affect some abilities) and work out your starting careers.  

This version seems to have more careers than previous versions, but keep in mind I am only looking at core books for now. Character generation covers about 43 pages total. So quite a lot really.  NPCs cover about 8 pages, with a nice playing card system to determine motivations. 

The character creation rules now make no assumption of species or gender, so that is left to the player. Thre are 5 pages of alien templates to add to characters at the end of this section.  There are Hivers, Vargr, Aslan, Zhodani, and Droyne.  

The New Era

This covers what is, well, new for this version of Traveller's universe.  These are the AI Virus, the Star Vikings, and The Wilds.  I don't need to know much about Traveller or TNE to know these elements were not well received.  The Virus reads like how we looked at computer viruses in the 90s.  The flowchart looks like something you would find on a Mac Quadra 900 (btw I consider that a Feature, not a Bug).

I can see a smart AI virus attacking all sorts of computers, but even today we have good anti-virus software and still a couple of dozen operating systems (I count 7 or 8 different ones in my house alone) that do not transmit viruses to each other even when networked.

The Star Vikings seem like an inevitable addition to the game.  The Wilds, likewise.

All of this seems like an attempt to provide a little more chaos around the "edges" of the star systems.  That is, give the PCs more to do and ways to make it through or hinder them in some ways.

Referees

A little more than a quarter of the way through we hit the Referee's section.  The system seems closer to that of Traveller 2300 than it does of Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller. There are now d20 rolls added to the rules. Reading through in detail now there are a lot of d20 rolls. More details are given on how to make the rolls than I recall in MT or CT.

Skills are discussed in terms of what they can do. And the Referee gets some adventure ideas.  This section is only about 70 pages. I was expecting a bit more. 

Worlds & Travel

Now, this is a meaty section of about 100 pages. The world generation system feels similar-ish to other Traveller games, no point reinventing everything I guess. Though there is a lot more detail here.  It does look like it can create worlds much the same way as MegaTraveller.

This section also includes the Encounters and Animals sections from previous versions with some modifications.  Same with space travel. 

Interestingly enough the Psionics section, usually stuck into the back of the book, is now here. I still think it should be with Character creation, but ok. It is also expanded.  In the realm of purely new-to-a-core-rules material, there is a sections robots. Even if it tells us there are nearly no production facilities for robots still operational outside of the Spinward Marches in the New Era. 

Combat

The next nearly 100 pages deal with all forms of combat. From personal to space combat. The rules are updated and seem to cover most situations. Hard to tell without doing it. I am still thinking I need to run simulated combat for each version to see how they are.  Do something silly like a Borg Cube vs the Death Star or a Colonial Viper vs an X-Wing vs. a Buck Rogers Thunderfighter. 

Combat is different than other versions of Traveller.  

There is some advice here too on using minis in a game. Their recommendation is to paint them all white to make them easier to see.  "Step 5 Admire your Work" is something I do naturally!

USS Protector

Equipment & Technology

The section covers roughly 40 pages. I can't help but notice the effect that Star Trek: The Next Generation has seem to have had here.  Med bays and medical scanners look like they were taken from a Federation garage sale. Ok...it's not that bad. Excuse a little levity on my part here.  We still have a section on drugs. 

We are keeping the same assumptions (and rules) about Technology Levels which is still hanging out at TL 16.

Computers have fared a little better in this edition. At least the batteries of the future are closer to what we have right now. I hate to harp on this, but my phone today can do nearly everything on pages 340 to 343.  I am being unduly harsh here I know.

The section of Starships though once again fills my heart with longing for the stars.  Many of these I am familiar with.  You may not have been on the internet talking about Star Trek or starships, but I certainly was.

Crushing it
Flashback to when I called the ending to S2 of Picard nearly 30 years ago.

The last few pages are worksheets for Characters, Combat charts, and the Index.

--

So. My feeling on Traveller TNE is that it was an attempt to keep Traveller moving forward.

I have gone through the TNE book more and compared them to my "Gold Standard" the Traveller Book and I am now seeing a lot more differences in terms of rules than I did on my first couple of read-throughs.  This is the issue with reading a gamebook vs. playing the game.  Further research outside of this book lets me know that other GDW games of the time were using the same rules.  This is expected really.  Game companies began to discover that using one system in-house was much cheaper in the long run.  Not only did it mean you could hire fewer people to write, but you could also lift large sections of text from one game to fill in for another.  This does create an issue though.  There are two different writing "tones" here. I have no evidence but I am going to say the older-ish material was Frank Chadwick and the newer stuff was Dave Nilsen. 

Rereading the rules prior to this post it dawned on my why I felt so much of it was familiar. It was Traveller-speak, but the rules were an old favorite of mine Dark Conspiracy.  I rather liked that game back in the later 90s when I first encountered it and was looking for a new horror game to be my "home game" (spoiler, it was CJ Carrella's WitchCraft that won that battle!)

This an interesting idea though. Dark Conspiracy + Traveller The New Era would make for an interesting BlackStar-like game.  I am sure I am not the only one who did that.   Given the post-apoc feel of TNE I am not sure that hoards of undead would not feel so out of place, to be honest. 

So we have a system that the older players don't like and newer players can't get into in a setting that the older players hate and the newer players have no investment in.  Sound about right?

Still. There are some ideas here that I might mine.  I am glad I have the PDF but I am not picking up the PoD anytime soon.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Review: MegaTraveller (1987)

MegaTraveller Players' Manual
It is 1987.  The year I graduated from High School and my first year in University.  I knew about MegaTraveller, anyone that read Dragon Magazine even as infrequently as I was then knew about it.  But again it is not a game I played.  I do recall seeing it* played at a local con (SIU had a bunch of them) but (and this is the asterix) I could not really tell if it was Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller at the time.  They had a lot of cool spaceships on a black hex map.

I would not actually read MegaTraveller until the late 1990s.  I was working on my Ph.D. and commuting all over Chicago.  I found a local library that would honor my U of I Chicago library card and they had a copy of the MegaTraveller Player's Manual.  I can't recall my impressions of the time all that much, just a memory of being on the commuter train and reading it.

Rereading it now I find the rules are largely similar to Classic Traveller.  I know some clarifications and changes have been made but I am not qualified enough to pick them out. 

The thing that is most obvious is the setting.  The Emporer has been killed along with all his heirs and his assassin is claiming the throne.  And so are about half a dozen or more people.  So the empire has fallen and this is called the "Time of Rebellion."   Does Traveller have...Star Wars envy??  I am sure that is not 100% true.  

I have NO data to back this up, but my perception is that MegaTraveller was a hit. I think it appealed to people that wanted to play but not have to get into 10 years worth of back product.  In many cases my D&D analogy extends here with MegaTraveller as AD&D 2nd Edition.  The Jim Holloway art certainly helps that along. 

My understanding is that MegaTraveller came as a boxed set. With Players's and Referee's books. Today you can get them as PDF via DriveThruRPG or from Far Future Enterprises.  I will be considering the PDFs from DriveThruRPG for these reviews.  It is nice to have these now after so many years.

In general, the scans are ok to good.  Some attempt has been made to clean them up, but they are obviously scanned from printed products and not the original files. They are OCR'ed and have bookmarks.  The scans look fine on my PC and on my iPad, but I don't think they would work well for Print on Demand yet.

MegaTraveller Players' Manual

PDF. 108 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art. 

This book covers everything the player needs to create a character, including Basic and Enhanced options, learn about the core mechanic (and the Universal Task Profile), skills, combat, and psionics. 

Reading through this I do get the feeling that this is a cleaned-up and updated version of Traveller.  While I can see the larger changes, the subtle ones are less clear to me.  My impression is that a MegaTraveller character could operate in a Classic Traveller game. 

Layout and rule-wise there are a lot of clarifications. For example, Page 9 details Task Resolution and the Universal Task Profile.  This would be called setting a difficulty level in other games.  There are the levels of difficulty and what you need to roll over (3, 7, 11, and 15) which is different (slightly) than the "just 8 or better" of Classic Traveller.  Rolls can also be altered by skills, risk, time, and other factors.  This page gives a great overview and the first place I see a real improvement.  Now my understanding is that many of the rules here came about in various publications, both books and supplements from GDW (Merchant Prince and Mercenary seem to be prime sources here) as well as periodicals.  IT IS POSSIBLE that by 1986 people were playing with rules that resembled this.  This the codification of all of those rules.

Character creation, both basic and Advanced/Enhanced are covered.  This is largely similar to what I saw in Classic Traveller (CT) except I did not see anywhere where you can die before mustering out.  The tables have been expanded to include military and non-military careers including Scouts and Merchant Princes.  Even the example is a Doctor now. 

Skills are detailed and this list seems to get larger with each new edition.  What I like about MegaTraveller is that skill advancement is right after this section and much clearer. 

Character creation and skills take up half the book.

SIDE NOTE:  A lot of the tables and other character creation details (like character flowcharts) are set to one page or two pages.  So printing out material from your PDF is easy.  I can take a page with me to know what my character needs to do to advance for example or keep a list of all the skills with me.  Page 9, the UTP is a prime example of this layout feature.

Combat comes up next.  Again not a surprise since combat is an important part of Traveller.  I don't think I expressed this before, but maybe MegaTraveller makes it more obvious, but combat looks like it is a deadly affair.  Again, no practical experience here, but going through the numbers I am surprised I did not notice it before.   There are charts of weapons and damage, but not the catalog of guns we found in Traveller 2300. 

The last dozen or so pages cover special rules, like mapping and special types of combat.

At the end, where it always is it seems, is the section on Psionics.

Throughout the book, there are little boxed texts that give some more background on the fallen Imperium.  Little bits of history and background to add flavor.  This new time period is the big deal with this edition. 

The inside cover maps of the Spinward Marches and the Third Imperium look like they were taken from a previous version of Traveller.  The Imperium map is dated 1115 and this game takes place in 1116 and beyond.

MegaTraveller Referee's Manual
MegaTraveller Referee's Manual

PDF. 108 pages. Color covers, black & white interior art. 

The Referee's Manual opens with the various factions vying for control in the Imperium.  Just a page, but it really set the tone for me. I can see how this would be a great game to play with the various factions working with and against each other for ultimate control while the PCs work whatever angles they can to either get more power or just stay alive.  I was skeptical of change when I first read it, but now re-reading it many years later I am very excited about it. 

This book covers similar territory as the Players' book, save from the game master's perspective.  Again I am drawn in by the parallels of the format and layout of this game as AD&D 2nd Ed. which will hit the stands in another 2 years.  I am not suggesting TSR copied GDW but instead that this was something that was a logical extension of many 2nd Edition games released around this time. 

There is a longer breakdown of Tasks and resolutions here that makes me happy to see. I never ran a Traveller game, but with this book I think I could.

Star System and World Creation is next including a discussion on world profiles. It is detailed, without being overly so, and will get any Ref going on world creation.  It doesn't have the same feel to me as the Classic Traveller section doing the same thing, but I think that is fine.  Lots of tables here and no equations to solve.  Kinda miss that. 

Sections on Animals and Encounters are similar to their Classic Traveller counterparts.  Detailed enough to keep you going for a while  

Trade and Commerce cover the next 10 pages.  Again, brief but enough to start. I imagine that entire books can (and maybe have) been written on this topic. I also imagine that this is an area where the Imperium's fall would also be a prime place for adventures.  Smuggling cargo, protecting shipping lanes, getting something like medical supplies to another part of the system but other factions want to stop you or steal what you have?  Yeah, lots of ideas.

Craft Design and Evaluation cover the next 34 or so pages. More craft seem to be available to the MegaTraveller character/group than the Classic Traveller ones. If this review is late in posting it was because I was making starships again.  With CT I like system building more, here I like starship building more.

This is logically followed by Starship Combat

We end with a couple of stellar maps. 

Reading through these now I kind of lament not getting in on this fun back then.  Classic Traveller with all its supplements, and add-ons, and alien modules, and board games seemed like a steep hill to climb.  I erroneously felt MegaTraveller was the same way.  Just looking through was DriveThruRPG and FFE have on their sites it doesn't seem to be that much to me know.   It is still far more than want to buy right now and far more than I'll ever play, but it is nice to know it is all there. 

More Notes

It appears that MegaTraveller, in addition to being a pencil and paper RPG was also a couple of video games, as if my Traveller Envy wasn't enough already. MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy and MegaTraveller 2: Quest for the Ancients were released in 1991 for the Atari ST and MS-DOS systems and in 1992 for the MS-DOS and Amiga systems respectively.  These might be fun to try and find for the retro-gaming computer I built over the winter. 

GURPS Traveller

GURPS Traveller was released in 1998 for GURPS 3rd Edition.  It covers the same time span as MegaTraveller, but there was no rebellion.  I guess the idea was to preserve the feel of Classic Traveller. 

I like GURPS well enough, but I have stated before that GURPS has no soul to it; at least not to me. IT's too bad really since I do enjoy a good Universal game.  Their supplements have always been top-notch though. I have never been so happy to spend money on game I know I won't play.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review: 2300 AD Traveller: 2300 (1986)

2300 AD Traveller: 2300
A new week and a new set of rules to read over.  This week I am going for a span of 20 years. Traveller, in its first 10 years, stayed pretty consistent and took me about two weeks to work through.  The next 20 years are going to be much faster.

I am going to start off with one today I only know very little about.  Traveller: 2300 also known as 2300 AD.  

Before getting into any books or research here is what I do know.  This was supposed to be the start of a new line for GDW.  It dealt with the earliest time in the Traveller Universe, specifically 2300 AD on Earth. There was a tie-in with their Twilight 2000 game line.   In 1986 I was very deep into AD&D to exclusion of all else save for college prep. 

So this one is 100% new for me.

2300 AD or Traveller: 2300

Ok. Let's do this one right from the start.  This is not really a Traveller game.  While I am sure many people worked it out so it could be the past of Traveller, my very, very limited understanding of the history of Traveller's Imperium suggests that likely isn't.  But I am sure people with better knowledge than me can say for sure.   Since I have a sci-fi game set more or less in the 2300s I figure why not pick this up to see what it is like. 

For this review, I am only considering the PDF available from DriveThruRPG.  I *thought* I had bought it from FFE years ago, but I can't find my copy.

PDF. 131 pages. Color cover, black & white interior art.  The scan is OCRed and bookmarked.  The scan of the cover is rough, but the interior looks better. 

The Introduction reads like many RPG books. "This is an RPG", "here are some expectations." And so on. 

Player's Manual

History covers the history of this setting with the horrible nuclear war in 2000.  I must have been sleeping. I am kidding of course, RPGs are great fun but they have not been great at predicting the future really. Now I have no way of telling, but I think this is basically the same history as GDW's other game Twilight 2000. It certainly feels the same. I never played the game myself.   This history section covers the fall and rise of humankind as they venture out into space by the year 2300.  Wars and geo-political rivalries are also covered and how they still affect the day-to-day lives of humans on Earth and in Space.  This flows into the next section.

Political Geography talks about Earth and beyond of 2300.  America is split up (ok that one is not so far-fetched) with Texas as its own republic (which seems to be a reoccurring theme in a lot of things I am reading right now) and other "American" nations. Mexico is split up. Europe ie, well Europe.  I think the authors overestimate the older rivalries a little.  Germany reunited long before 2000 in a largely peaceful integration and the European Union has been going pretty strong if you ignore Brexit.  

In space we colonies at L-4 and L-5 (LaGrange Points), Mercury (not likely, but I'll go with it), Mars, the Asteroids (much more likely), the moons of Jupiter, and just beyond Saturn.  No mention of Lunar colonies at all here. 

The chapter on Technology is interesting. By 1986 we had seen nearly 10 years of Moore's Law in effect for computers, so the authors of this game give computers a bit more power.  I would argue it is not really enough still, but getting there. There is a bit about AIs and psychosis that feels like something I just read in Robert A. Heinlein's Friday.  There is some detail on transportation and medical sciences as well.

Colonies cover the fifty-five colonies on twenty-nine inhabitable worlds.  Since these colonies are largely extensions of Earth-based interests they are classified by which "Arm" they are in (American, Chinese, French) or which "Finger" of the Arm (Canadian and Latin for America or the French Frontiers).   This is followed by Foundations that provide services for citizens after the collapse of the governments in 2000.

Twenty pages in we finally get to Character Generation.  If you didn't know this was "not Traveller" before then you learn it here.  There are four physical attributes: Size, Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, and four psychological ones: Determination, Intelligence, Eloquence, and Education.  You roll a 4d6-4 (generating a score between 0 and 20) and you can re-roll one physical and one psychological attribute.  Strength and Dexterity are altered by homeworld and gravity type.

Like Classic Traveller you have skills that can be determined by Background and Career.  But no hint of dying in Character Gen (is this even Traveller then???).  

This all takes us right to Skills and Careers.

The "Shopping sections" Equipment, Weapons, Vehicles, and Armor follow.  Weapons cover all sorts of guns (as expected) and a few laser-based ones. Vehicles does not cover starships.  The currency of choice is the French Livres (Lv). 

We get some star charts and tables of the nations of the systems.

Referee's Manual

While this is all one file, it was obviously once a boxed set with separate books.  Pages 54 to 105 cover what was the separate Referee's Manual.  I will also point out that the Bookmarks in my PDF stop working well at this point.  There are bookmarks, but they don't always go where they should and are indented oddly.

What would have been the back cover of the Referee's Manual has some really great insight.  It credits Marc W. Miller (Traveller) and Frank Chadwick (Twilight: 2000) as two of the "big name" designers of 2300.  The implication here is that 2300 was something of an in-house game combining elements of Traveller and Twilight:2k.  As a designer myself, I find that fascinating.  Maybe, just maybe, more fascinating than the actual game!  Internally they called it The Game. And it sounds like that played it out from 2000 to 2300 in turns of 5 or 10 years to get us where we were then.

Life on the Frontier covers the implied setting of the Traveller 2300 game. 

Tasks and Combat are largely the same sorts of sections, with combat a special case of task resolution.  Clue #2 that this is not your father's Traveller: 1d10 for task resolution and not a 2d6.  Here you need to roll higher than a 7 with every 4 points above or below that as a target number difficulty. You add your plusses from skills to your roll and if needed an attribute divided by 4 (+0 to +5) range. 

Both Tasks and Combat have charts of successes and failures and what you do with each.

Star Travel finally gets off of the Earth and out into the colonies.  The stutterwarp is travel mode of choice to get to distant stars. There are limitations.  The drives of these ships can travel great distances but have to jettison their spent radioactive fuel in the gravity well of a system.  This process takes some time.  So there is a limiting factor on how far a ship can practically travel.  There is some detail on tinkering with your starship, but not at the level I have come to associate with Traveller.  Space Combat follows right after this.  What is nice about this one is there are some photos of ships on a space hex-grid.  

Ship Listing is the "shopping list" of Starships.  It lacks the "used cars" feel of Classic Traveller. 

World Generation is next.  It covers quite a lot of detail to be honest. More than I expected.

NPCs are next, followed by World Mapping and Animal Encounters

There are some star maps, star charts, and some blank forms for Star Data, World Data, and Colony/Outpost Data.

Also included is a sample adventure, The Tricolor's Shadow.  It has maps, adventure ideas and two scenarios to run. 

Two alien species are introduced in the end, The Kafers and The Pentapods.  They are presented as NPCs only, not as playable species.

--

Traveller 2300 is not a bad game to be honest, it just isn't really Traveller is it?  I would be better with it IF I could try to figure out a way to make it work with more up-to-date history. But by that point, I could instead use it as a guide and run a Classic Traveller game and limit it to this time period and location.  

There is another issue with playing this sort of game.  Traveller 2300 suffers from our collective inability to really predict the future.  That is no slight on the designers, that is just human nature.  Compare the tech in this game to that of The Expanse RPG.  Both cover humanity's first step to the solar system and beyond.  Both cover roughly similar time periods (2300 vs. 2359) and both can play the same sorts of games.  In Traveller 2300 you have the stutterwarp to get to extra-solar planets and int he expanse has the ring gates.  The differences lie in the subtle predictions.  Computers are much more powerful in the Expanse, but FTL tech is non-existent (save for the ring gate).  Traveller 2300 has FTL (in a limited fashion by design).  Compare both to say Star Trek of the same period, neither has anything at all like the Ambassador Class Enterprise-C. 

Still this is a good game for a grittier version of Traveller, if you don't mind the system change, or for an advanced version of Twilight 2000.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Review: Traveller Alien Modules (1984 - 1987), Part 1

Alien Module 1 Aslan
Before I get into the next phase of Traveller evolution I thought it behooves me to spend some time with the major Alien races we encounter in Traveller.  Indeed, it was the aliens and the ads for the first three books in Dragon Magazine that made me want to go back and check out Traveller some more.

All of these are available via DriveThruRPG and Far Future Enterprises.

Alien Module 1 - Aslan

PDF. 44 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

While not the first Traveller alien I encountered, this is the first module or data file for the various aliens Traveller has to offer.  This one seemed like a no-brainer to me at the time.  I had read Joan D. Vinge's "psion" earlier that year and between the Caitian and Kzinti (introduced to me by Star Trek) I was primed to want a Cat-like race in space. 

The book covers the basics. Aslan physiognomy, which includes some evolutionary details and how it plays into their current civilization. Their political structure (or almost lack thereof) is also discussed. While the Aslan (named such by the first human explorers to make first contact) are described as proud warrior race, they are not really a unified one. 

We are given a bit of their history and their forays into space and their encounters with the Imperium. We get a bit on their psychology, which includes the territorial nature of the males (explained the loose confederacy) and their ritual duels.  

The next large section is Aslan character creation. This covers the basic character creation going back to the 3 LBBs and "Expanded" character creation for other types of characters. 

We are also given background on the Aslan homeworld, worlds within the Imperium, and a bit on starship design.  There is even some detail on the Aslan language, at least in terms of names.

For 44 pages it is pretty well packed.  There is not a lot of "fluff" here, mostly all "crunch."  So no fiction from the point of view of an Aslan mercenary or a human living on an Aslan world.  Just the basics and enough to get you going on to your own adventures. Honestly, it is all you need. 

This was the Alien Module I wanted the most back in the day.  Researching it now I see that a lot of people did what I was going to do with it; mix in liberal amounts of Kzinti and some Caitian as well.  Plus I was going to have psionic ability be a bit stronger in Aslan women. A nod to a lot of the scifi I was reading at the time.  I also noticed just as many people complaining about others doing exactly what I wanted and described!  Yes, the Aslan are fine just as they are but I also like my ideas too.  Thankfully this book lets me do all of that.

Alien Module 2 - K'kree
Alien Module 2 - K'kree

PDF. 44 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

These aliens were very alien to me.  While I could relate to the Aslan and the Vargr, these centaur-like aliens were very different and thus pushed a lot lower on my "wish list."  I don't even think I had read any of this book until I picked up the PDF ten years ago.

This book is set up much the same as the Aslan book and the future books in the line. I found the bits on K'kree psychology most interesting. As herbivores, they tend to be peaceful (ETA unless you are a meat eater). This combined with the race's inherent claustrophobia goes to explain that while they had Jump technology they had not expanded as fast as other races.  

We do get the sections on history, politics and governments, space travel and starship design, and the language section on creating K'kree names. There is a section on character creation as well.

This Alien Module also gives a few pages on adventures with or about the K'kree.  So a little bit more background here than on the Aslan, but I think needed since this species is so different.

Reading this 10 years ago I was not overly impressed I think.  Today I am of a completely different mind and would like to see these guys used more.

Alien Module 3 - Vargr
Alien Module 3 - Vargr

PDF. 50 pages, color cover, black and white interior art. 

While I knew about the Vargr, they were the big three alien races GDW was advertising back in the day, my first *real* interaction with them was way back in the early 2010s when I was looking for new ideas for Ghosts of Albion adventures.  I stumbled on one from White Dwarf #62, "An Alien Werewolf in London" about a Vargr in Victorian London.  It was an odd adventure, but I gave it go for Ghosts and always wanted to try it again with Doctor Who Adventures in Time and Space. 

This book is a bit larger than the previous two, largely because there is a lot you can do with these guys.  Also they are the most fun in terms of history.

Vargr look like Terran wolves because generally speaking that is what they are.  They were transplanted from Terra (Earth) to their homeworld by the Ancients over 300,000 years ago.  Now 300k years is not enough to evolve any stock into something like the Vargr so they had been artificially engineered for intelligence and survivability.  They share a number of physical characteristics of both humans and canine stock but have some minor differences as well.  They still have the psychology of pack hunters following a charismatic leader and working in small, but somewhat unstable, groups.  Pack membership can change and leaders can be followed or discarded at any time.  This has had two effects on the Vargr. One their history is a confusing affair with no one narrative of what happened.  Most of their 300,000-year history is largely unknown to them.  Also it leaves them with no central government nor even any type of government that could be considered "typically Vargr."   See why these aliens can be fun!

We get the now usual sections on character creation along with a brief language update for names. Some basics on the Vargr worlds and space travel.  

We also get a section called "Gvurrdon's Story" which is given to us from the point of view of a Vargr.

This makes up the "Big Three" in my mind.  I know more were introduced soon after (and I will get to them) but these are the ones I associate the most with Traveller.