OUTER VEIL is a new setting book for the Traveller rpg published by Mongoose. Traveller has a pedigree going back to the very root of roleplaying (1977) and has a well developed setting that has emerged, somewhat organically, over the intervening decades. This setting, which is usually referred to as the Original Traveller Universe (OTU) is set very far in the future and has a very decentralised feel with a light feudal oligarchy ruling over it. It also has some anachronistic touches, and despite being millennia in the future it often feels oddly like 1972!
Spica Publishing, founded in July 2006, have published a wide range of support material for the current Mongoose edition of Traveller, and yet in the past they did have plans to publish an entire sector in the OTU. This seems to have been somewhat derailed by the new licence, although not by any active intervention by Mongoose or Mark Miller, and it seems that they have turned their hand to a new and independent setting.
OUTER VEIL is a near future setting, the game date is 2159, and yet mankind has explored a full sector, divided into the dense Core, the growing Frontier and the thinly settled Outer Veil. The pace of technological progress has been consistent and IMHO more acceptable for a SF genre project. From 2033 to 2159 Earth has moved from TL8 to just TL11, with Jump-1 ships developed in 2068, and Jump-2 in 2150. The history of the setting is well developed and addresses a lot of the usual issues about Traveller, e.g. Why doesn’t knowledge spread evenly and how can barbarism exist a week away from abundance and ultra technology? In OUTER VEIL the whole of space is nominally TL10-11, and if you have the money you can buy equipment at that level. ICT is cheap, pervasive and wireless, and as the text says “storage is effectively limitless with 22nd century technology”. That’s not to say that backward colonies don’t exist, indeed on the Veil some goods are imported in a lower tech form just so they’re easier to maintain. Gravitics is a new technology and although it has replaced aircraft, ground vehicles are still wheeled, tracked or waterborne.
The history and the setup of OUTER VEIL has been done extremely well, so as to be believable, consistent with the core Traveller rulebook, and yet also to deliver a style and feel that is far more Firefly or Aliens than some SF games you may have played. Essentially space was colonised by Megacorps that seized political control through the Inter Stellar Trade Organisation (ISTO) after various corporate wars. Eventually the nation states rebelled and after a civil war established the Federated Nations of Humanity in 2131. The government structure of Humanity is rather similar to the present European Union, a ruling Executive of three members, an elected Assembly, and Commissions of civil servants that manage the broad decisions of the other two institutions. The wider structure of Member Nations and Colonies mirrors the colonisation of North America by the U.S.A., with Colonies similar in form and type to the Territories, and the Member Nations like full states. The Megacorps still run 60% of the economy, the FNH actively runs 25% with the balance in the hands of Independents. There is a wider variety of ‘actual’ governments the further away from the Core that one goes, and there are good rules on setting up new Colonies: indepedent, corporate charter world and government colonial projects. The political system is dominated by three broad coalitions: Stability (conservative), Progress (expansionist) and Unity (lefties), all of which can provide excellent flavour and motivation. In addition there are Secessionists, militant and peaceful; pirates, privateers and raiders, unsanctioned colonies and a whole grey zone in which dissidents and outcasts can dwell.
Military concerns are not pressing for the FNH at the moment, they keep a Core Navy, a Marines Corp (FNHMC) and planetary armies. Few warships above 1000 tonnes are seen in the Frontier and the Outer Veil, most smaller than that. Mercenary units exist and are licensed, and in the Frontier and Outer Veil illegal corporate wars still erupt. Meson guns haven’t been invented, combat armour isn’t known, and this and the small size of ships means that a referee need not use High Guard or Mercenary, although they could.. This is not a setting for huge naval battles or a Honor Harrington “ship of the line” style campaign. It is well suited to brush wars, black ops by corporate teams and possible bug hunts. I say possible, but not yet.
The economy is well explained in the setting, the role of the Megacorps allows for Outlander or Blade Runner games, but as the scale diminishes in the Frontier and the Outer Veil, then the Free and Subsidised Traders start to play a key role, allowing a Firefly or classic small scale mercantile/troubleshooter game. As mentioned above, the possibility to start colonies is covered, and colonial games have great potential for economic gaming. The nature of travel and the distances to HQ mean that even the largest Megacorps can get very entrepreneurial on the borders.
The culture is Neo-Modernist, most religions we know now are extant, although they have to have adopted an explanation for multiple worlds, and the evidence of alien intelligence, not to mention psionics. From the dense activity of the Core to the abandoned ‘land grab colonies’ composed of a single ethnicity or culture, most SF cultural diversity can be extrapolated and encompassed.
Did I mention aliens and psionics? Well there are no aliens, but there were. Ruins exist of the Monument Builders and the Ascraeus Civilisation, but these are ancients and no current non human sophonts have been encountered. The Ascraeuns were a TL13 humanoid species and through their artefacts humans discovered psionics, although it requires a psionic amplifying device to be effective.
OUTER VEIL is well written, it uses concise but rich text to build a good overview of what is a huge setting, and it does so in 8 key chapters:
The Outer Veil, which is a summary of the overall setting,
Outer Veil Characters, which provides eight careers suited to the setting:
FNH Marine Corps,
Starships of the Outer Veil:
14 ships that cover the full range of Traveller core ship types with deckplans,
Belting, as it says, mining rocks
The full sector, mapped and detailed at the level of about a page per sub sector, so similar to Mongoose sector write ups,
Outer Veil Patrons: four of them,
Brotherhood and Justics:
An introductory adventure.
OUTER VEIL is a very good product. It is well written, the setting is meshed into and out of the core Traveller rulebook, and by being written from the ground up it is consistent, believable and allows for many excellent gaming opportunities. It will suit players who want an SF game that might happen in fifty years, where society has changed but the culture is recognisable and the tech is still within human comprehension. It allows for dystopian, corporate, colonisation, first contact (hey add your own aliens), and frontier games. There is no meta plot, no 300,000 year history, it’s new and it’s all up for grabs.
On the other hand, it’s Traveller. It carefully doesn’t break anything. You can grab a ship from a Mongoose book and as long as it’s TL11 or lower and doesn’t have a meson gun, it’s fine. You can use High Guard or Mercenary or Agent or Robots or Cybernetics. Nothing you have in your Traveller collection is redundant, well maybe that TL16 Twilight Sector book, but that’s the opposite end of the spectrum.
The book is simply laid out, readable, and illustrated with neat CGI images that fit the feel of the setting whilst not setting any hearts a flutter.
Should you buy it? Yes: if it sets your teeth on edge explaining away OTU’s tech levels and historical absurdity, or you don’t want aliens, or you want a new brave frontier. No: if your lOVe the OTU and are happy and love the depth and scale of all the existing material. Maybe: if you fancy a read, might port some of the ships and careers to your game or back to OTU, and since it doesn’t really break Traveller, just like the idea of diversity.
Am I pleased I have it? Hell Yes!
[5 of 5 Stars!]