The main contents of this boxed set, a revision of the original Traveller 2300 rules, are an Adventurer's Guide and a Director's Guide. An adventure, Kafer Dawn was also included, but was released separately as well so will be reviewed on its own later.
The Adventurer's Guide begins by setting the game in context, describing the future history that led to the present day of 2300AD. There's an interesting note in the credits to the effect that much of this was actually gamed out by a select group in a massive political/social/diplomatic/war game over the course of a year or so: an interesting approach that ensured that it wasn't just a single person's ideas but born out of interaction between several independent viewpoints... a bit like the real thing! It also ties matters more firmly back to another GDW game by stating that the 'World War III' mentioned in this game is the one you are embroiled in if you play Twilight 2000. This introductory section rounds out with the usual potted explanation of what a role-playing game is and what you need to play it.
Then attention turns to character creation. This remains fairly similar to Traveller 2300 beginning with selection of homeworld and body type before determining characteristics by random die roll, although now there is a point-buy option for those who do not want to leave it all to chance. Throughout the explanation of the character generation process, sidebars describe the creation of a sample character to show how it all works. Skills are gained through spending skill points that come from background, education, career and any other training, with the options available coming from the careers and other training that the character has had. Every so often, you need to roll a 'turning point' to see if the character is able to continue in character generation. At this point, if he passes the roll he may opt to change careers or stay in the current one (he can only change career once for no adequately-explained reason), when he fails it is time to end the process and begin play. This section finishes with a flowchart and sample character sheet.
Next is the information that you need to generate a character, sections on Careers and Skills. Careers serve a couple of purposes. They determine which skills are available to the character and they identify some organisations which characters may have worked for or even may get hired by during the course of the game. Careers are grouped by type - academic careers, military careers, exploratory careers, etc. - to aid in chosing something that fits well with your concept. These sections are followed by ones on Upkeep (the cost of living) and Technology, which talks about the current 2300AD state of play in various areas, and this leads in to an Equipment section where you can find just about anything that the well-equipped character might want to have. It's quite amusing to look at the 1988 concept of future technology compared with what's available in 2015 - the 'hand communicator' is a lot bigger than today's smart phone, for example. Fascinating sidebars describe Pentapod technology, often organic, that's sold by an alien race but which is widely available.
Weapons, armour and vehicles get their own sections, and then comes the History section. Starting in 1700AD, this sets everything in context with an overview of history rooted in real-world events (at least until the 1980s) and continuing on with 'future history' to bring you up to 2300AD. OK, there are some differences as you might expect: here the Iron Curtain didn't fall until the Cold War turned very hot around the turn of the century with World War III taking place (and going nuclear) around the year 2000, but it's all very plausible... and for a game set in 2300, even this is getting into the realms of history that most people only have a general idea about, so unless your character is a history buff, it's of less relevance than what your grandparents did during the real World Wars last century is to you! Three events that followed, however, built the foundations for this game's present: a fuel crisis that led to the end of dependence on fossil fuels, the French Peace (in which France, the only European nation to survive the war unscathed, rose to global prominence) and the Melbourne Accords, which set agreements about space exploration in place. From there, mankind reached out to the stars... with a few wars and skirmishes and national rivalries to keep everyone on their toes. Notes on political geography (on Earth and in the Solar System) and on the far-flung colonies which arose from exploration finish up this book. There are some 50-odd colonies which are arranged roughly by national origin, so there's a French Arm, a Chinese Arm, an American Arm and so on. Many are now independent, but hark back to their original culture and nationality.
And then on to the Director's Guide. This provides a wealth of resources for the GM, from the nuts and bolts of running combat to deeper wide-ranging issues of theme and goals. The Introduction begins by musing on the nature of the GM's role and provides some broad sweeps which are defined in following chapters. There's also the usual admonition that players should read no further... in expectation that only one member of a group will ever be the GM, it appears! And why would you buy a boxed set (or download the PDF) if you only intended to read half of it?
The first section is on Running Adventures, and offers suggestions on presenting scenes such that they come to life for the players, and running NPCs as individual characters in their own right. Discussions follow on running linear and open-ended scenarios, breaking an adventure into episodes and scenes and a lot more nuts-and-bolts that may be obvious to experienced referees but new to those just beginning their stint behind the screen. All along it encourages flexibility in response to what the players want to do: allowing them as much freedom of action as possible is, perhaps, the greatest difference between a role-playing game and a computer one, you're not constrained by the programmer's imagination but can respond to anything, however unlikely, that the party comes up with. There are suggestions as to where to get ideas for adventures, including pinching... ahem... being inspired by... plotlines in other genres.
The next section, Organisations, not only suggests a few but looks at ways of using the concept of large organisations to effect - perhaps to foster ideas of identity, as employer, enemy, supplier... you name it, there are many roles organisations can play. They might be military or paramilitary, academic, commercial... and all have the potential to be influential in your game.
We then move on to more game-mechanical areas beginning with Experience and Renown. Characters can gain both during the course of their adventures, using experience to improve themselves (by increasing skills) whilst renown is a measure of the character's fame or notoriety, and can influence they way in which people react to him or even how much he gets paid. Next is a look at Aliens. Yes, humans are not alone! However, encounters are still rare enough to be exciting and out of the ordinary. There are notes on their motivations and physical appearance, and suggestions of how they can be used in adventures here, along with sample NPCs and sketches.
Back to game mechanics and Event Resolution, with a methodology of describing a 'task' that includes what is being attempted, how hard it is and what resources are being brought to bear, ending in giving a target that you can roll against with 2d6. It looks more complex than it is, and with practice ought to become second nature. Next is a look at Non-Player Characters, with plenty of ideas for coming up with distinctive ones quickly without having to go through the complete character generation process. This is followed by Combat, basically a specialised event resolution conducted in turns during which each participant acts in a set order. There are plenty of examples to help you understand, fortunately, but again it sounds more complex on paper than it really is once you have got your head around it and begin to play.
A section on Star Travel follows, with lots of detail on how to run normal starship operations and even an explanation of 'Stutter-Warp' (the way faster-than-light travel is achieved). When things are less than peaceful, turn to the next section on Space Combat, which is run board-game style with miniatures or at least some kind of markers being regarded as well-nigh essential. This is followed by a section called Ship Listings which provides a myrid of ready-made craft to use in your game.
Space travel dealt with, where will you go? The next part of the book opens with a section on World Generation - which can get quite addictive! This system will result in incredibly-detailed star systems, you may prefer a more simplistic narrative approach and just describe what the party sees as it approaches a habitable world and lands there instead. If you enjoy making things as realistic as possible, work through the entire process, it is quite robust and gives fairly accurate results as far as my knowledge of space science can tell. This is followed by World Mapping and Animal Encounters. The book rounds out with listings of known colonies, star charts and assorted useful forms.
There is also a solo adventure, Terror's Lair, whose initial intention is to help new Referees get to grips with the rules by actually playing through it. It can then be adapted to provide an adventure for the entire party if you like. It involves the exploits of a narcotics agent in pursuit of a drug smuggler aboard an interstellar liner and is quite entertaining if straightforwards.
Overall, this is a slightly more streamlined and improved version of Traveller 2300, but remains the sort of game that resonates with those who like a high degree of detail. complexity and realism in their games. It certainly makes me want to grab some dice and head for the stars!
[4 of 5 Stars!]