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Pip System Corebook
Publisher: Third Eye Games
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:39:28

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue of Freelance Traveller, and as such is written from a Traveller perspective.

The Pip System is designed to be simple enough to use to introduce children to role-playing games, but with the ability to “scale up” for adults. In this, it succeeds well; the basic rules are easy to understand and you can get started quickly. Pip System games will tend to focus on role-playing, not mechanics, and there isn’t a lot of “crunchy” detail to worry about – much that would be detailed differences in many other systems is left as cosmetic information that doesn’t actually affect play.

The fundamental mechanic of the Pip System is, for all intents and purposes, an “opposed d2” task system (even though d6 are used): The Game Guide (Pip’s term for the Referee) defines the relevant skills and qualities that the player-character would need to succeed at the task, and a “challenge rating” for such opposing factors as armor, environment, opponents, and so on. The player then rolls a number of “white” dice for the skills and qualities, and a number of “black” dice for the challenge rating. A roll of 4+ on a die is a “success”; the player-character succeeds at the task if the number of “white” successes is equal to or greater than the number of “black” successes.

Characters are created and advanced using a point-buy system; you start with an Archetype (which defines your Hits and basic skills) and purchase Skills and Qualities using Build Points. You can later advance your character by spending Progress Points, awarded by the Game Guide after each session.

The standard game rules specify a grand total of fourteen Skills, each with three Qualities, but these are generic enough to handle most situations in most game genres. (A Quality is like a specialization of a Skill. If a Skill is useful for a task, it gives the player “white” dice to the skill level; if a particular Quality is useful, it can add “white” dice to a maximum of the Quality level.) There is a section of the book that discusses creating your own Archetypes, Skills, and Qualities; while a particular genre/setting might suggest different Archetypes from those listed in this volume, it’s unlikely that you’ll really need to add or change Skills or Qualities.

As with the character, so too with the ‘gear’ – gear is Stuff That Makes A Difference, and it, too, has Qualities that can affect the number and color of dice you – or an opponent – roll. You don’t worry about the differences between pistols and rifles, or between calibers in a weapon; it’s simply a Ranged Weapon with qualities such as Powerful or Accurate (to go with Skills like “Aim” and Qualities like “Sharpshooter”).

The result is a game that can move quickly, without the need for repeatedly consulting tables – the Game Guide assigns ratings to the various components of a task, you roll, you count successes. If the roll indicates a marginal success, or an epic success or failure, it’s up to the Game Guide to narrate the results on the fly, to fit the situation.

No, it doesn’t seem like you should need 145 pages for that, does it? Well, you get plenty of examples, elaboration, explanation, and additional rules, plus general explanation of what roleplaying is, what the Game Guide does, how you can introduce children to roleplaying and the Pip System (and some behaviors to watch out for), and even some rules to simplify the system even more. It’s all relatively light reading, as RPGs go, and it really won’t take that long to get enough of a handle on the system to start playing. While saying that one could easily do a Traveller “conversion” wouldn’t be quite accurate, it probably wouldn’t be difficult to come up with a Traveller-esque setting and develop appropriate Archetypes.

Perhaps the Pip System isn’t a replacement for a Traveller ruleset, and there really isn’t much that could be grafted on, but there is certainly some potential for using it for quick ‘pick-up’ games, or perhaps low-prep fill-ins at a convention.



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[3 of 5 Stars!]
Pip System Corebook
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43 Space Opera Adventure Seeds - Space Opera Support #6
Publisher: Polgarus Games
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:33:37

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2020 issue of Freelance Traveller.

One of the strengths of Traveller is that it allows the players and referees to adopt their own style of SF campaign, from grittily realistic to high space opera, even verging on technofantasy. It can also be a weakness, as that flexibility doesn’t have any “inherent” support for generating ideas, and sometimes, even the most creative referee may find xirself at a loss for an idea.

One can make up for this lack by purchasing and running pre-generated adventures or pre-generated campaigns; there have been many offerings in this class, and they fill a need, otherwise they wouldn’t sell. But sometimes those are ‘overkill’. They’re more than what the referee needs (or wants), or the core idea just doesn’t appeal. Enter the Adventure Seed: A quick outline of a situation, just a paragraph or two, enough to (hopefully) catch a referee’s fancy and trigger xir creative energies without overspecifying the situation or response to it. Those sell, too, because they also fill a need.

This booklet is the latter: a small collection of ideas that aren’t overspecified, suitable for a Space Opera style of campaign. Most can be easily adjusted to support other types of campaigns, as well, although there are a few that really only fit high space opera or technofantasy. These are just the basic scenarios, posing the ‘problem’; you don’t get any suggested denouements as in the ‘standard’ Traveller-format adventure seed. Most are generic enough that it’s sometimes even possible to combine two or more of these seeds into a more complex adventure idea. You don’t get any development of any of the ideas; they can be played as single-locale episodes in a longer campaign (perhaps filling in those two days on Carsten a little more momentously), or as enigmas or potential threats that can lead to multi-world mini-campaigns. Many scenarios also allow for development with the characters on either side of the law, so you can play to your party’s predilictions—or manipulate them into the opposite!

The layout of the PDF is acceptable, but page filling is irregular; several pages have sufficient white space that might have allowed for additional seeds without increasing the final page count. There is no apparent effort to classify and group the seeds, and a little rearrangement might well have also allowed additional seeds in the same number of pages. There are artwork credits on the first page, but no artwork for the credits to apply to.

As with any list of adventure seeds, this is a publication aimed squarely at the referee – players who don’t referee need not apply. For the price, it’s not a bad value, but as with any similar publication, whether to purchase it depends on how likely you are to need it – or want it.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
43 Space Opera Adventure Seeds - Space Opera Support #6
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Mindjammer - The Roleplaying Game
Publisher: Modiphius
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:27:38

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2014 issue of Freelance Traveller, and as such is written from the perspective of using it with Traveller*.

Disclosure: A complimentary copy of the PDF edition was made available to the author for the purpose of review.

Like Diaspora and Starblazer Adventures, previously reviewed in Freelance Traveller, Mindjammer is based on the FATE system. It represents a third esthetic for FATE-based SFRPGs, lying somewhere between the rollicking comic space opera of Starblazer Adventures and the very Traveller-like crunch of Diaspora.

The FATE system is very strongly narrativist, so the emphasis is on role-playing, with simple mechanics and little of the bookkeeping that characterizes most versions of Traveller as written. It has been discussed in Freelance Traveller’s prior reviews of Starblazer Adventures (reviewed by “kafka”, October 2010) and Diaspora (reviewed by Jeff Zeitlin, February 2011), and so will not be discussed here; rather, the focus will be on the setting.

Transhumanism has not been a significant part of Traveller, though Mongoose Traveller does allow for some possibilities outside of the Third Imperium setting. Mindjammer, however, is a strongly transhumanist setting, and offers a significant degree of modularity, to allow elements of the setting to be transplanted to other games, or to be included or omitted as desired in a Mindjammer game. Rules for creating various aspects of the setting are detailed enough to satisfy even hard-core “gearheads” of all types, but where gearheading is unnecessary or undesirable, a few broad strokes of FATE Aspects can be enough to satisfy the needs of the game.

Character types, including various humans, both genetically modified and not, uplifted animals (“Xenomorphs”), artificials (including such things as sentient starships, space stations, and so on), and aliens, are available to players, each defined by various combinations of Aspects, Flaws, and Extras. Further definition of characters is defined by additional Aspects, Skills, Stunts, and so on of Careers. While a wide range of sample careers and character types are presented, instructions for creating your own follow the examples. There is even a chapter on organizations in the Mindjammer setting, with rules and templates for creating your own.

While the distinction between the ‘real world’ and ‘virtual reality’ continues to exist in Mindjammer, the line between them begins to blur with the Mindscape and an individual’s ‘halo’. The halo is described as an individual’s extension into the Mindscape (through a Mindscape implant), and that extension enables the use of certain skills, enhancements, extras, and so on. Many of the skills provide analogues to “classic” psionic powers such as telepathy, psionic assault, and perception. Beyond that, virtual realities can be as convincing as the real world, and what happens in the Mindscape can have real-world consequences. The speed of light is still a limit for data transmission, so the Mindscape is kept approximately synchronized between worlds through starships carrying updates.

An in-depth look at the sociopolitical structure of the setting is presented, outlining polities, corporations, cultures, and technology, fitting them together and providing rules for using them in the game, and (as usual) creating your own. Extensive rules for world-building (and star system building) are included, as well, and potentially offer a greater range of environments than stock Traveller. It is even possible to define ecosystems ranging from artificial (for food production) through transplanted Terrestrial biota to habitable-but-incompatible and completely alien.

One resource that Mindjammer provides in the core book that Traveller to date lacks is a guide to creating scenarios and campaigns. Obviously, it focuses on (and provides examples using) the standard Mindjammer setting and the FATE system, but the linkage is not strong, and the two chapters that comprise the guide would be a useful resource for any system.

Mindjammer is not Traveller, but this book is worth using as a resource for ideas that can be incorporated into Traveller, even if you don’t want the high level of Transhumanism that its setting assumes.



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[4 of 5 Stars!]
Mindjammer - The Roleplaying Game
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Into the Future: Derelict Starships
Publisher: Tabletop Adventures, LLC
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:20:41

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Tabletop Adventures has created a useful system-agnostic supplement for referees who find themselves at a descriptive loss. Derelict Starships does not, as might be implied by its title, provide entire abandoned or damaged or destroyed starships complete with statblocks and deckplans, but instead provides one-paragraph descriptions, similar to what one might encounter in a text adventure/interactive fiction, of what might be encountered by PCs while exploring such a starship.

The supplement is divided into five parts. The first part, “Bits of Starships”, provides 100 generic descriptions that could be applied to almost any area of a starship, rather than being tied to specific rooms or specific types of rooms—and most of the descriptions could be applied to derelict space stations, asteroid bases, or even planetary ground installations. Each description has bold text that is read to the PCs, and unbolded text that provides the referee with information needed to adjust the description based on the presence or absence of gravity or air, whether the PCs choose to explore further or just pass by a partly-obscured scene, and so on. Some referee information concerns possible minor tasks, such as dex checks to keep one’s footing when walking on wet or oily decks. The occasional found object is noted as well. Most of the descriptions are generic enough, but the referee should be careful about occasional mentions of technology which may be inappropriate to a particular Traveller universe. This section is copied, reformatted to fit on cards (six per page), as the fifth section of the book.

The next section, “Derelict Shards”, provides 110 descriptions that are tied to specific types of areas of the ship, beginning with #S1, a description as you approach a ship from outside, perhaps in a ship’s boat. The descriptions are grouped by area. Other than being specifically for e.g., a personal cabin, the medbay, the bridge, etc., these are much like the descriptions found in “Bits”. Occasional veiled references to SF classics may be found in this section.

The third section, “Skeletons in Space”, discusses the decay process that the human body undergoes. The process in normal Earthlike conditions is outlined first. This is followed by discussion of how differences in gravity, atmosphere, and presence or absence of insects, microbes, or other vermin affects the process. The section ends with three paragraphs of advice for referees and some bibliographic references that a referee so inclined could investigate for further information on human decomposition.

The fourth section is an index; each entry points to a description by Bit number or Shard number.

This is most definitely not a supplement for players; it is very definitely aimed solely at the referee. Whether it’s worth the price is going to depend on how often the derelict starship, space station, or base features in your adventures.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Into the Future: Derelict Starships
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Player's Guide to Solo Roleplay
Publisher: Parts Per Million
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:16:27

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Traveller – and role-playing in general – has historically been very much a group activity. While material for handling solo play isn’t completely nonexistent, it is rare enough that ‘vanishingly’ isn’t an inappropriate modifier for ‘rare’. This volume is intended to provide a mechanism by which one can role-play without a group.

The introduction sets out the author’s goal for the volume: to present a set of rules for solo play that strike a reasonable balance between high creativity and improvisation vs. high mechanical randomization on one axis, and between rules-heavy and high-abstraction on the other axis. There is little discussion of why the extremes are considered undesirable; one might assume that the author sees the reasons as being self-evident.

Before actually getting started, the author provides definitions for terminology; even the experienced role-player would be well-advised to read through them, as some familiar terminology is used in ways that differ from ‘normal’ usage: for example, an ‘encounter’ in these rules refers to any situation or scene in which the character must make a meaningful choice, not just when the character meets a person or animal.

There is no description of character creation; the player is expected to use the standard character creation mechanism (in this case, Cepheus Engine, though the reality is that there isn’t anything in the rules that absolutely relies on any particular system or variation thereon). The author does note that the provisions for zero-level skills should be used in character generation.

A discussion of the structure of the solo adventure is included; it is important to realize that everything is structured around “encounters” as defined at the beginning.

While you do need a world for your solo adventure, you generate it “on the fly” as you need to. You do need to keep track of the facts about your world (and your character’s beliefs about it, which may not be the same); the author uses a “mind map” as the mechanism throughout the book – but you can and should use whatever best suits you. Rolling dice is kept to a reasonable minimum, and is almost invariably in response to a a question phrased so as to require a ‘yes/no’ type of answer. One exception is generating a ‘hook’ (the reason for the adventure); you are provided with a three-column ‘Chinese menu’ to roll on to generate inspiration, and then have to take the three words generated and decide what they mean. Of course, you don’t have to use the provided method; the idea is simply that you need to come up with a quick (ideally, one sentence) description of the purpose of the adventure you are about to set out on.

The descriptions of the process throughout your adventuring effort encourage a cinematic viewpoint: adventures, after all, are fundamentally dramatic, and it is ultimately the drama that draws you in and holds your attention. That you are choosing the direction of the action, and building the world and the adventure as you go along doesn’t change that; if anything, it emphasizes it.

The book wraps up with a strong recommendation that you keep a log of your adventure – it doesn’t matter what tool(s) you use, or the specific format of your notes; the idea is to keep the notes so that you can take a break and then pick up where you left off, and keep the logic of the adventure and the world consistent.

If you can run yourself through a few solo adventures and be happy with the results, you’ll find that you’re beginning to develop the skills you need to be a referee – because that’s really what you’re doing here; you’re not just a player in the solo adventure, you’re the referee.

If you’re interested in the refereeing side of things, this isn’t a bad tool to have in your toolkit (there’s material here that’s usable in party adventures, not just for solo play); if you’re only interested in the player’s side of the table, this may not be for you – it doesn’t hold your hand or provide any pre-generated scenes; rather, it tells you what you can do to build and adventure from scratch.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Player's Guide to Solo Roleplay
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Precinct 12
Publisher: Felbrigg Herriot
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:11:55

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2021 issue of Freelance Traveller.

There is crime and corruption in startown. (No, really?) Someone has to be assigned to try to at least keep it from being too out of control. Regardless of the organization’s name, the people who do that job are police.

Precinct 12 describes both the organization that tries to keep crime down in startown, and startown itself (principally those aspects that are relevant to the police force). You get an overview of various offices and organizations that operate within the starport and startown, quick profiles of important NPCs, overviews of various neighborhoods of startown, some basic equipment, and incidents that might require police involvement.

You also get a career progression; since the objective of this process is to generate a cop on active duty, it differs somewhat from the standard career – for example, you don’t roll survival, and failing the re-enlistment roll just means that you start your ‘adventuring’ as a startown cop. The career includes four skills that are not part of the standard set; these are specifically limited to what a police officer might know, rather than a more general equivalent skill – for example, “first aid” is not a medical skill but represents sufficient knowledge and ability to keep the victim alive long enough for the real medics to get there.

Finally, you get a set of tables that you can use (if imagination fails you) to generate crime events for startown police characters to have to address and a handful of examples. The crimes involved can be anything from murder or industrial sabotage to a grifter’s con game to commercial or political corruption to an international (interstellar) incident.

While it isn’t a good match for my image of a startown police department, it works well enough to be useful, and not necessarily just for startown police; much of what is here would be reasonably applied to almost any urban environment. It is definitely worth the price, and actually comes in somewhat below the price I would offer if this had been priced as ‘pay what you want’.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Precinct 12
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See How They Run
Publisher: Mongoose
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 17:08:43

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of Freelance Traveller.

So far, Timothy Collinson has managed to make every adventure he’s written interesting just to read, never mind play (which I hope someday to be able to actually do!). See How They Run is no different; it starts with the following teaser:

“Small merchant ships are a common sight in Known Space, and the Zhodani have their share of traders plying the spacelanes even if they’re less well known to the Imperials. One such crew has their work cut out for them to make their way in District 268 where they’ll never be quite sure of their reception at the next world.”

There is no question that the Zhodani are under-represented as protagonists in Traveller adventures to date; that Mr Collinson is willing to attempt to do so – and that he pulls it off as well as he does here – speaks well to his imagination, his writing skills, and his ability to develop and organize adventures.*

    • It should be noted that Mr Collinson has run all of his adventures at least once, at TravCon in the UK, with all indications being that they have been well-received. This speaks well additionally to his ability to run an adventure.*

The author states that the intent of the adventure, as suggested by the title, is to loosely connect with his previous adventure, Three Blind Mice. The connection is not explicit nor actually a part of this adventure, but rather an opportunity set up by the presence of the PCs in the area, after it concludes. One need not be familiar with Three Blind Mice to play and enjoy See How They Run.

This adventure centers on a Zhodani free trader, whose crew are Zhodani Intendants (Zhodani SOC A), led by an Aspirant (the lowest Zhodani noble rank, SOC B). They are exploring (and hoping to expand Zhodani influence in) what the Imperium calls District 268 in the Spinward Marches sector. The adventure is written to the Mongoose Traveller 2nd edition Core Rulebook, and the author strongly recommends that the referee be familiar with the material in Alien Module 4: Zhodani (which will require some minor adjustment, as it was written for 1st edition rules). Other volumes cited as helpful are Spinward Marches, Supplement 4: Central Supply Catalogue, and Supplement 13: Starport Encounters, and some of the psionic talents come from the author’s article in Freelance Traveller #56 (August 2014).

It is likely that many Traveller players, on hearing “Zhodani”, will assume that this adventure focusses on psionics. Mr Collinson explicitly states that it does not – but also notes that because psionics are so fundamental to Zhodani society, it is neither unexpected nor improper to view everything through a psionics “lens”, and there is no question that psionics will be useful during the adventure.

The characters provided each have their own personalities and issues; in spite of being Zhodani and psionically-capable, they are most definitely not “psionic supermen” in either the hero or villain mode. Rather, they are people, with their own flaws, motivations, and personalities, and skill sets that just happen to include psionics. This adventure does not demonize the Zhodani, as was common in early Classic Traveller material; it offers the players and the referee the opportunity to present them in a more sympathetic light.

If you choose not to use the provided characters, Mr Collinson provides a psionic talent package, conceptually similar to the skills packages that Mongoose provides in their adventures; these packages consist of skills/talents that need to be “covered” in the adventure, and can be divided among the characters to ensure coverage and that no character is “left out” of the action.

This adventure, like the author’s other adventures, is structured as “Acts” and “Scenes”, with each Act focusing on a particular thematic line, with the Scenes providing the dramatic development within the theme. Act One can be viewed as ‘scene-setting’; there are no real options beyond the refueling scene. Act Two is the ‘meat’ of the adventure; there are several scenes that may be played out in any order, or omitted entirely. This Act, however, will provide much of the information required for the established mission of the ship and crew. The activities that are outlined in each of the scenes are widely varied, and present opportunities for the players to develop their characters and put their own stamp on them. They will be able to present themselves positively, and they may need to face situations where they cannot even reduce negative perceptions. In any case, the emphasis is very definitely on role-playing and character development. Act Three is an opportunity for the PCs to “close out” some events from Acts One and Two, hopefully to satisfactory conclusions.

The folio is rounded out with a wide variety of “prep” information – lists of NPCs, Library Data, possible encounters, possible seeds for future adventures that could be incorporated into the PCs’ activities, capsule summaries of the PCs, a table – very useful – of which characters have what skill, background information such as the PC’s route from the Consulate to District 268, a list of worlds and how accepting of psionics they are, some guidelines for playing Zhodani characters, conversions of PCs and NPCs to Cepheus Engine, a list of potentially useful task checks, and even a page where the referee can jot quick notes on equipment, actions, and encounters for each PC.

Overall, this is a well-written and well-organized adventure, suitable for a single session (as at a convention) or as the basis for a longer campaign. One might argue that Mr Collinson goes overboard in providing information and detail that isn’t really needed, but it’s easier to ignore information that isn’t needed than it is to generate it “on the fly” when you suddenly realize that it was omitted. Adding this to your collection of pre-generated adventure would certainly not be wasting your money.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
See How They Run
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TSAO: Wreck in the Ring
Publisher: Stellagama Publishing
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 16:59:48

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2017 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Note: The reviewer was provided with a complimentary copy of this product for review.

This short folio provides all the basic groundwork needed to run a recovery/salvage adventure (there is a legal distinction outlined in the appendix, but operationally they’re the same) in a gas giant’s ring system in an out-of-the-way system. The default setting is Stellagama’s These Stars Are Ours! [TSAO] universe, but there’s really nothing that can’t be trivially changed to support any other setting—and it will be equally easy to adjust it for any of what Freelance Traveller calls ‘Classic-compatible rule sets’.

You’ll need a set of core rules—the author recommends Cepheus Engine or the Mongoose Traveller (1st Edition) SRD—and the usual appurtenances for playing a RPG. There are references to Cepheus Engine and the Cepheus Engine Vehicle Design System [VDS], and to TSAO, but the VDS and TSAO are not actually required for play. There are two pages of background information about the TSAO universe, but even this can be omitted if you set this adventure in a different setting.

You get just under one page of description of the local setting, enough to be able to transplant it into any system that meets the most basic criteria: out of the way, formerly a way station on a trade route, with a ringed gas giant.

It’s up to the referee to define the reason for the PCs—a party of three-to-five is recommended—are in the system, and why they’re approached by the patron (a belter) for the mission. Four NPCs are provided (not substitutes for a lack of PCs, and including the belter patron), each with their own reasons for wanting to be on this mission—and possibly operating at cross-purposes with each other and with the PCs.

This is not a “safe” mission, where the PCs can work easily in a shirtsleeve environment; they will, of necessity, be in vacc suits and zero-G the entire time that they are active. This means tracking how long various actions take, and ensuring that the characters get adequate rest and that they do not exceed the “carrying capacity” of their suits. There is opportunity for conflict between the characters, but it’s unlikely that they will come to blows; the main source of danger is the environment, and that’s quite enough, thank you.

There is an unexpected twist to the mission, that the characters won’t learn about until well into it. If they learn about it early enough, it could answer some questions they may or may not have thought to ask, and they can potentially profit from it; if not, those questions may remain unanswered (and the profit significantly reduced).

A ship design is provided, with classic (non-isometric, grey-scale) deck plans, well-labeled and with supplemental markings showing adventure-specific information. Even this ship, however, can be replaced relatively easily by one of similar size and usage, if the referee chooses. There was a minor bit of confusion; while the the ship’s basic description calls it a “military transport”, the plan calls it a “passenger liner”.

The adventure is quite well-written; even if a player reads it, and knows the ‘spoilers’ that I’ve avoided discussing here, it will still be very easy to get ‘into’ the adventure and enjoy it. It is not larded with extraneous information; there is plenty of room left to give the referee the freedom to customize the adventure to fit an existing campaign setting.

There’s plenty of opportunity to build on this adventure, regardless of your campaign type or setting. It can provide a couple of evenings’ worth of adventure for a gaming group, or a good scenario for a convention setting. Recommendation: At only $4, skip the latte and grab a copy.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
TSAO: Wreck in the Ring
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The Space Patrol
Publisher: Stellagama Publishing
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 16:54:36

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2017 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Reviewer’s note: The publisher provided a complimentary copy of the product for review.

Canonically, the Imperial Navy is responsible for anti-piracy operations in the Third Imperium, and this, presumably, is de facto the main source of operational experience for ships and crews.

Mr Hazlewood and Stellagama Publishing propose another alternative: As piracy and certain other activities represent criminal problems rather than military ones, they should be handled by an organization that is more of a “police department” than a military force. Enter the Space Patrol.

The introductory material in this volume sets out the nature of the Space Patrol, and outlines its organization, mission, and jurisdiction. The limitations of the Space Patrol’s mission (and the definitions of the various classes of crimes that the Space Patrol has jurisdiction over) are carefully set out to avoid turning them into a general-purpose police force and bogging them down in local crimes. As a result, the Space Patrol is cast as an agency quite different from the Navy or Starport Authority.

Because of these differences, and the effect that they can have on play, a discussion of planetary legal systems is included. A definition of the characteristics of a world’s legal system and a method of rolling it up are both provided; this profile focuses less on “what’s allowed and what’s not, and how likely are you to get hassled” and more on “how (and how well) the legal system works for a law enforcer doing law enforcement”. The characteristics thus selected are “Bureaucracy”, “Corruption”, “Repression”, and “Cruelty”. Each is broadly classified as “minimal”, “low”, “average”, “high”, and “extreme”, with a general description of how the level can be interpreted. There is an explicit invitation to adjust the definitions to fit the referee’s image of the world, and with some of the characteristics, it’s not impossible to conceive of expanding the rating into a “profile” of its own.

Much of the discussion of legal systems appears to start from a basis of what is often called “Western liberal democracy”, which decision is not difficult to understand, as it will be the likely background for most players, regardless of the world that the characters may find themselves on. Concepts such as separation of powers, rule of law, burden of proof, the necessity for warrants in appropriate contexts, and so on are treated as defaults. However, variation from the “Western liberal democracy” defaults are mentioned as possibilities, and enough information is provided that one can design a legal system that matches any present or historical system, or one that is completely novel. It should be noted that some variations are missed; for example, there is no discussion of the distinction between an adversarial system (such as is used in the United States) and an inquisitorial system (such as is used for some types of prosecution in France).

Basic rules for handling the entire investigation, charging, trial, appeal, and sentencing process are provided; most modifiers are based on relevant ratings from the legal system profile rather than the raw Law Level from the UWP.

The book to this point is quite well-written, and can serve as an introduction to (or clarification of concepts related to) legal systems for the layman.

As an interstellar organization in a presumed setting where the speed of travel is the speed of communication, the Space Patrol faces the same issues that other agencies of the canonical Third Imperium – or, in fact, any multiworld polity of any significant size – face. As written, the organization of the Space Patrol more-or-less parallels that of the interstellar polity as a whole, with the rank of the head of the Space Patrol organization normally being two ranks below the political head of the polity’s corresponding subdivision. The size of a Space Patrol organization on the world is generally determined by the importance of the world and the amount of interstellar traffic it receives; there are four types of Space Patrol “Bureaus” defined, from a small office with only a handful of Patrollers up to the largest with hundreds or thousands of Patrollers, training facilities, nearby courts and ship, vehicle, and equipment construction and repair facilities, and so on. Where internal borders are an issue, the Space Patrol establishes liaison offices to deal with cross-border matters; the criminals do not, after all, honor those internal borders. As with the overall interstellar polity, the Space Patrol’s ability to act is limited within a system’s own jurisdiction, though when actively pursuing an investigation or attempt at apprehension, there are exceptions to those limitations. Normally, agents of the Space Patrol will work with local law enforcement, and (as much as possible) within the local rules, to accomplish their missions.

Within the Space Patrol, there are four operational divisions, covering administration and politics (Secretariat), Investigation (including undercover work), logistical support (Operations), and active enforcement (Marshals). Agents working for the Investigation Division are what most people think of as “the Space Patrol”. To draw parallels between the Space Patrol and real-world police organizations, the Secretariat is clerical and administration personnel (and political liaison); Investigation is “beat cops” and detectives, Marshals are special enforcement units (e.g., SWAT teams, Counterterrorism, Vice Squads, political bodyguard details, and so on), and Operations is everything else.

All of this is useful background to give the player or referee a “feel” for what the Space Patrol is, and how it works. But by now, the reader is going to want more – and more there is.

This volume frankly admits that the standard Cepheus Engine careers of Agent and Navy could serve adequately for Space Patrol characters, but why settle for ‘adequate’? Mr Hazlewood has worked up four careers for the Space Patrol, one for each division. These careers actually extend the basic career rules from Cepheus Engine with concepts borrowed from various other compatible game systems (separate advancement tracks for enlisted and commissioned officers, decorations, mishaps and events, and allies and enemies), but otherwise conform to the basic career structure. Any one of the four careers can generate a character that will be useful in many ways, but each of the four career options has its own distinct flavor.

The Space Patrol, like any police department, needs vehicles – and in this case, spacecraft and starships – that are designed to meet their special needs. Several vessels are described, and three include deck plans (in the traditional monochrome plan view, not the more recent color isometric view). Most of the designs described are modifications of such familiar ships as the Modular Cutter, the Free Trader, or the Subsidized Merchant, and the latter two are deliberate mimics (“Q-ships”), with the intended mission of luring pirates into attacking an apparently unarmed or lightly-armed merchant, only to find the ‘victim’ to be more heavily armed than believed, and to have the tables turned.

The Space Patrol has standard equipment customized for its particular needs, and there are descriptions of a selection of Patrol equipment. Obviously, if the referee feels that additional equipment should be available, it can be added.

While the creative referee can certainly take what’s been presented to this point, and develop Space Patrol adventures without further reference to this volume, the author discusses several campaign settings and campaign types that mesh well with the described Space Patrol, and which are easily adapted to the referee’s preferences. A broad selection of generalized NPCs is also provided, capable of filling virtually any needed role in a Space Patrol campaign. Most can also be converted into player-characters if desired. There are even complete crew workups for a corvette and a Customs cutter, and a selection of Most Wanted criminals.

In addition to the generalized discussion of campaign types, a set of adventure seeds, in the traditional format, are provided. Two of the provided seeds can be linked together into a mini-campaign. These seeds do suffer from the “minor variations on a theme” problem with traditional denouements, but are still well-designed for the Space Patrol.

Overall, this volume is worth the price, even if you decide that the Space Patrol functions are folded into the Navy in your universe. The perspective that it provides on interstellar crime and law enforcement can enrich any setting.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
The Space Patrol
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Traveller Adventure: Three Blind Mice
Publisher: 13Mann Verlag
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 15:35:17

This review originally appeared in the September/October 2016 issue of Freelance Traveller.

This adventure was originally run, with great success, at a UK TravellerCon. The author was encouraged to release it publicly, and has, through German publisher 13Mann Verlag. Surprisingly, it’s free (not even PWYW), but I’d certainly agree that (given a convenient opportunity) throwing the author a few bucks, quid, or Euro in appreciation wouldn’t be out of line.

The design of the adventure is interesting, in that it can be played by a group of three PCs in either of two ways, or both aspects can be covered with a group of six – but in the latter case, the author recommends running it as two separate groups of three until they meet near the end of the first segment of the adventure.

Mr Collinson has clearly done his homework for this adventure; while only the Mongoose Traveller Core Rulebook is required, he lists several other publications that would be useful, mostly for skill definitions and related tasks, and several others that he used for background information in composing the adventure, including two Freelance Traveller articles.

I’m not going to discuss the plot or give details of the storyline here; all I’ll say is that it’s a well-written one that deserves to have the players come at it cold. I will say that it’s not fundamentally a combat adventure, and neither referees nor players should come in expecting firefights.

The adventure’s organization is in “Acts” and “Scenes”; each Act represents a major thematic shift, usually accompanied by a major setting shift; each Scene develops the dramatic line of the Act. Development is essentially linear, with the exception of Act I, which has two developmental lines running in parallel and merging at the end of the Act. There is the potential for this to be “railroad-y”, as not following the plan can in several places abruptly end the adventure, but if well-run, the players are not likely to notice this, and will see the adventure through to completion.

The six player-characters are well-defined, with capsule backgrounds and personal characteristics that allow for each to be seen as – and played as – a distinct personality, rather than a generic character-in-such-and-such-role.

Each scene is also well-defined in terms of what’s expected to happen, where, and with what actions on the part of the various dramatis personae. Locations are described in a way that allow the players to get a “feel” for what the location is like, and what sort of reactions to various types of actions can be expected. This extends to animals that appear in the adventure; while some of them could be replaced with generic pulp “space-cows” or “space-sheep”, others are truly alien, and point up that no, you’re really not in Kansas anymore.

As noted at the beginning of this review, the adventure was originally written for and run at TravellerCON in the UK, and so can clearly be played fully in a single four-to-five-hour session. On the other hand, if for whatever reason you don’t have a single block of time of sufficient length, the breaks at change-of-Act are also good points to break, stretch, and say “continued next time”. There’s also room for making this a side adventure in a longer campaign, or making this the central adventure in a longer campaign, with side adventures of its own.

I would say that this adventure is easily the equal of any adventure folio for Traveller that I’ve seen, and I could wish that the 13Mann “Adventure for a Book” campaign had worked out, with other adventures of quality to match this – a linked set of four to six adventures of this quality would absolutely have been worth the US$20-30 that a print edition would have commanded. Go forth and download; it’s only 1.5MB of your time/bandwidth.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Traveller Adventure: Three Blind Mice
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Shipbook: Mirador
Publisher: Terra-Sol Games LLC
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 15:03:31

This article originally appeared in the September 2014 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Good ship material has been hard to come by in Traveller; often, descriptions are sketchy or nonexistent, or deckplans don’t match data sheets and descriptions. Shipbook: Mirador breaks the trend, at least for Terra/Sol’s Twilight Sector setting.

The Mirador-class is presented as more than a strict utilitarian ship; rather, the author indicates that the idea of luxury, rather than efficiency, was designed in from the keel up, while keeping the ship at a manageable (reasonable for the PCs to be principals on) 1,000 tons displacement.

The meat of the book starts with some discussion on ship interiors, most of which is probably assumed understood by most players—but which is ultimately probably better for being stated, to ensure that everyone is “on the same page”. Since there are some differences between a ‘stock’ Traveller universe and Terra/Sol’s universe, understanding the Terra/Sol perspective, even in what could be viewed as ‘trivial’ things, is a good thing for anyone wanting to use the Mirador outside their setting. (One example is the use of “zero-G” [really “centigravity”, hundredths of a G] shafts as a possible means of travel between decks. Another is the explanation and use of ‘overage’ in the deckplans.)

As noted, the Mirador is, at heart, a luxury cruiser, and the detailed deck-by-deck ‘standard configuration’ description that follows is for the ship set up in this mode. The design is for about 50 passengers, with a crew of 17 (assuming six gunners and three stewards). The deck plans are fairly conventional, though the various icons (for chairs, consoles, et cetera) are slightly more detailed than established conventions.

Deck plans, which appear to be 15mm-compatible if printed out on 5½×8½ paper (but watch the notes on decks 9—12!), appear side-by-side with text descriptions, though no effort appears to have been made to align the plan for a deck with the beginning of the deck’s text description. The text does note when an area is built around a repurposed component (e.g., the ship’s bar from a standard chem lab plus overage), which serves to point out that referees and ship designers should feel free to use their imaginations to achieve their design goals.

Following the look at the standard Mirador is a section focussing on Excelsior Tours, a small corporation that uses two Miradors to provide luxury transport on a single route. This section gives a close look at the major personalities of the corporation, and its history and operations, but it also notes where the corporation’s Miradors differ from the standard (in the details and utilization; structurally, they’re pretty much ‘stock’). The personality overviews are enough to make them distinctive NPCs, and each is illustrated, but the illustrations are disappointingly cartoonish; with rendering programs like DAZ3D and Bryce being a dime (or less!) a dozen, and even game programs like The Sims (and its successors) being able to do credible ‘renderoids’ of people for head-and-shoulders ‘photography’, there really isn’t a reason that these couldn't have been far better than they are.

The section on Excelsior Tours concludes with an assortment of adventure seeds, from one-shots to options for continuing campaign involvement.

The next section looks at the RSS Rosalind Franklin, a Mirador modified to be a research ship rather than a luxury transport. This section starts with a look at Dr Talia Mason, the owner, and how she came to acquire the ship. A full-page ‘sidebar’ discusses how it was ultimately financed, in terms of how PCs might be able to afford to do it. This is followed by an in-depth look at the ship itself, and it is noted here that the Rosalind Franklin has a mirrored finish, and it is this ship that is shown in the cover illustration.

The Rosalind Franklin is a ‘working’ ship, and while still luxurious, does not provide steward service (reducing the crew to fifteen—there is an extra gunner). The major change is that the staterooms on Decks Five through Eight are swapped out for labs of various types, and modified plans for these decks (plus Deck Four, which has also had some changes) are provided in this section.

The section closes with another set of adventure seeds, this time using the Rosalind Franklin and her ‘mission’ as the focus, and with a brief discussion of the economics of the Rosalind Franklin.

The book closes out with a set of alternative trade rules for passengers and cargo, and notes that these rules, rather than those in the Mongoose Traveller Core Rulebook, are the default assumed rules for trade in the Twilight Sector setting.

Overall, this product is worth the money as a PDF, but it would be hard to say whether a print version—at likely two-to-three times the price—would be as good a value. You get a good look at a ship in two different configurations, and with a lot of background material, and good (if unspectacular), readable deck plans—but the deckplans would take a bit of resizing work to make them usable with miniatures. Artwork is a bit scanty, and what there is really can’t be characterized as other than ‘uninspiring’. On a five-scale, I can’t really give this more than a generous three-and-a-half—but a flat three would be too low.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Shipbook: Mirador
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Tinker, Spacer, Psion, Spy
Publisher: Terra-Sol Games LLC
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 14:56:35

This article originally appeared in Freelance Traveller’s December 2011 issue.

On the Shelf

The full-cover image looks like an illustration from a horror story mad scientist’s lab, mostly in “sea colors”. The Twilight Sector banner logo is at the top, with the title immediately below it. At the bottom is the author’s name and the Traveller Compatible Product logo.

Initial Impressions

The volume has a good heft; it’s not a massively-heavy tome, but there’s the promise of “good meat” in the weight. A perusal of the Table of Contents continues to be suggestive; not only does it list a dozen and a half careers, but it includes setting-relevant information (such as languages, longevity, and education), and “early life terms”. Each career has an illustrated page of narrative to convey the ‘flavor’ of the career, followed by the career tables in the standard Mongoose Traveller format (You must have the Traveller Main Book or equivalent), interspersed with explanatory sidebars.

On Closer Inspection

Not unreasonably, there’s a fairly close linkage between this book and the Twilight Sector main setting book (whose possession is very strongly recommended). Several new skills and benefits are presented, and several Traveller Main Book skills are modified. Many careers have variations in skills awarded or career events based on the Twilight Sector nation that the character is from. A small number have supplementary rules (such as the Purse Check for journalists). As a result, these careers can’t really be used outside the Twilight Sector setting without some careful tweaking by the referee. Nevertheless, there are some interesting careers developed in this volume, and if none of them are developed as extensively as in Mongoose’s career books (green stripes, e.g., High Guard, Dilettante, Scout, etc.), they are certainly developed well enough to be useful and interesting, even where they overlap with core careers.

(Oddly enough, while the Tinker, Spacer, and Spy (Espionage) careers are easy to find, there doesn’t seem to be any Psion career, nor discussion of psions and psionics as modifiers to other careers.)

Twilight Sector character generation rules have some significant differences from the standard Traveller rules (but these differences aren’t incompatible with core Traveller), and those differences are assumed as defaults for this volume. They are principally in determining when a character musters out for play, but they can also affect a character’s expected longevity and whether (and which) skills (and backstory) were acquired before the character reached age 18. Education and languages are also areas in which there are noticeable differences between core Traveller and the Twilight Sector setting.

A sad omission from the volume are adventures or adventure seeds based on the careers presented. The Twilight Sector setting is both rich enough and different enough from the core Traveller setting that such adventures would have been useful, both for further establishment of the ‘flavor’ of the career, and for showing (and possibly extending) the richness of the setting.

The production of this volume suffers one potentially serious flaw: the text in many of the tables is of a rather light weight, and doesn’t quite show up as well as it should when the background is grey. This makes the text unnecessarily difficult, though not impossible, to read.

Conclusion

If you are running a campaign in the Twilight Sector setting, this book is at least as much of a must-have as the extended career books are for core Traveller. For campaigns in other settings, it might not be as immediately useful for an inexperienced referee because of the needed tweaking, but having it can hardly be classified as a waste of money.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Tinker, Spacer, Psion, Spy
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Nemesis Class Pursuit Ship
Publisher: Spica Publishing
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 14:50:37

This article originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of Freelance Traveller.

This Ship Book does a reasonable job of presenting the material, but it doesn’t feel like it’s the best it could be.

On the Shelf

Face on, you see a black cover with a rendering of the ship with a planet in the background, but no other space-scape, in a light-blue-bordered box. Above this box is a matching blue stripe displaying Spica’s name/logo, and below is a similar blue stripe displaying the name of the product. Below that is the Traveller Compatible Product logo.

Impressions

The cover rendering (repeated in greyscale on the title page) looks incomplete; the artist seems not to have applied any textures to the basic shape, giving an image that looks like glossy injection-molded plastic rather than painted metal. The rest of the artwork is better, ink drawings with good detail.

The description of the ship takes up a quarter of this volume, and one might reasonably argue with the order in which the material is presented; the author placed the room-by-room descriptions before the stat block and deck plan. The numbers on the room descriptions do not match the room numbers on the plan, and some areas marked on the plan are not described. There is a brief “in-character” sidebar focusing on the three crews profiled in this book, but it’s too brief to give a good picture of any of them, and the ship doesn’t actually appear in any useful fashion.

Following the ship description are the profiles of three different crews, each using the Nemesis in a different role: system patrol, bounty hunting, and criminal organizational enforcement. The crew descriptions also include some comments indicating variation in the use, maintenance, or equipping of the basic Nemesis. The ‘ship personality’ will be heavily influenced by the crew and usage, but in all cases, it’s clear that the premium performance (100t, J2, 6G) comes at the expense of comfort; the ship can only be described as ‘cramped’.

The following two pages profile three different ship’s vehicles: An ATV, a ‘spinner’ (basically an enclosed air/raft), and an armed and armored open air/raft. None of them are presented with enough detail to really establish a ‘vehicle personality’, but it does show the range of possibilities.

Two more pages present adventure seeds using the Nemesis, either as the PCs’ ship, or as opposition.

The remainder of the book is credits, introductory material, and the Open Game License.

Conclusion

Future Ship Books could be improved by ensuring that the description matches the deck plan and putting the stat block and deck plan before the description; by expanding on extra equipment such as vehicles; and by including adventure material where the ship is a focal point of the adventure.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Nemesis Class Pursuit Ship
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Patron Encounters
Publisher: Mongoose
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/11/2021 14:45:16

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Experienced Traveller referees, or those who read Freelance Traveller, who purchase this volume so many years after its release will feel like they’ve found an old friend. For little more than a dime each (a bit over 6p each if you insist on British money), you get thirty-four adventure seeds in the familiar format.

Most of the seeds have both Player Information and Referee Information, but in a few cases, everything is on the table and the “Referee Information” is no more than the list of the possible “roll 1D (1d6)” outcomes. There is a wide range of possibilities in the jobs, including three where the PCs are ‘victims’ (in the sense that they have no control over whether to get involved).

The seeds are presented in a two-column format, easy to read. On any given page, there’s never more than one seed per column, but many are of odd lengths (leaving unused white space in both columns), and some have left ‘The referee should determine the subsequent events’ line dangling at the top of a column or the first sentence on a page (effectively wasting the column). A bit more time and effort (and, admittedly, money) devoted to editing and layout might have allowed a few more seeds to make it into this volume at no increase in page count.

Nevertheless, you do get good value for the price; Martin and his “recruiting agents” have come up with a good set of seeds with interesting twists.



Rating:
[3 of 5 Stars!]
Patron Encounters
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Reign of Discordia (Traveller Edition)
Publisher: Gun Metal Games
by Jeffrey Z. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/10/2021 22:44:46

This article originally appeared in the September 2010 issue of Freelance Traveller.

Reign of Discordia, the Traveller Edition is a conversion of the Gun Metal Games True20 setting of the same name. This edition is released under Mongoose’s Flaming Cobra imprint, as an alternate setting for the Mongoose Traveller ruleset.

On the Shelf

A maroon cover is graced with a large picture whose style is not atypical of “pulp” SF. The product title is at the top in a white, square/blocky but readable font, and the Traveller name-and-arrow logo is below the picture.

Initial Impressions

Reign of Discordia is inarguably a setting book; this core volume is quite definitely rules-light. There is one-half of one column on one page that describes what the referee and players need to be aware of when using other Traveller material, and more isn’t needed. The rest of the book is chock full of source material, covering well what any referee will want to know about a setting, with very little wasted verbiage.

On Closer Inspection

While the hardest of hard-core gearheads might find this volume lacking in crunchy goodness, just about anyone else will find the depth and breadth of the material here more than adequate. An introduction by the author outlines what his goals were in the creation of Reign of Discordia and its translation to Traveller.

Setting-historical background, including discussion of key technologies, follows, providing a good overview of the setting.

This is followed by twenty-nine pages of world descriptions, averaging two worlds per page, grouped by ownership. Few of the worlds profiled are complete nonentities, and none of them are merely generated UWPs to fill in blank spaces on a map—if nothing else, the available information serves to underline a setting enigma.

Eight pages of racial descriptions, each at about the level of an early JTAS “Contact!” article, give the reader an overview of the various major races of the setting (and “major” here refers to raw political hegemonic power, rather than some arbitrary theoretical technological criterion, as in the OTU setting).

Nine pages of equipment follow, some of which may have “standard Traveller” equivalents, some not. There is a paragraph or two on a minor modification of the rules; plasma weapons in Reign of Discordia do have non-negligible recoil.

Fifteen pages of organizational profiles covers organizations of all of the major races, and the background (religious, commercial, political, criminal, etc.) of each. Two pages of “one-line” NPCs are included at the end of this section.

The next fifty-three pages are starships, in the form that we’ve come to know from other Mongoose Traveller items—a stat block and brief description, followed by deck plans—and, as usual, the plans are not in a miniatures-useful scale (and on the larger ships, it’s virtually impossible to discern the deck plan 1.5m squares). These ships represent both current construction and remnant Empire construction.

Six pages (including the aforementioned one-half of one column on using other Traveller products) give some useful information and ideas for running campaigns in Reign of Discordia.

Nine pages outline Rover’s Beacon, a spaceport suitable for use as an adventure setting, rather than just a place to bring a starship to for fuel. These are immediately followed by fifteen pages of an adventure which begins and ends there. Finally, a page of one-line NPCs for the adventure, and a one-page index round out the volume.

Artwork is neither simple drawings nor fully photorealistic, though there is a strong sense of three-dimensionality to it.

The choice of body font could have been better; Rockwell, being both slab-serif and monoline (all strokes the same thickness) appears quite heavy, even in the unbolded form, and is more difficult to read in large blocks than would be a more common text font such as Times or Bookman.

Conclusion

Reign of Discordia is quite definitely an interesting alternative to the standard Third Imperium setting. Adventures for all tastes, from military to mercantile to political, are accommodated by the setting, in such a way as to allow the PCs to Make a Difference. Although common space opera tropes can be found throughout the setting, Mr Drader has managed to avoid leaving the reader with a "ho-hum, it's been done before, just a new coat of paint over the same old same old" feeling.

If you are looking for a post-imperial space opera setting, you could do far worse than purchasing this book; money spent on this is most definitely not wasted.



Rating:
[4 of 5 Stars!]
Reign of Discordia (Traveller Edition)
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