RPG Thursday: Orbital

Orbital (courtesy Zozer Games)

Orbital is a 223-page PDF written by Paul Elliott and published under the Zozer Games label. Orbital is a Solar System setting for the Mongoose Traveller (MgT) RPG. The setting takes place in 2098 with a Tech Level of mostly Tech Level 9 travel but TL 11 computing and electronics.

Author Paul Elliott lays out the setting by starting with a startling assumption; Osama Bin Laden was killed in the 1998 cruise missile attack in Afghanistan. In his alternate history/alternative future there is no 21st Century War on Terror.

Character creation generally uses the standard rules and careers found in the Traveller Main Book (TMB) with just a few changes. There is one new career introduced in Orbital, that of the Explorer. New skill specialties for Science, Survival, and Trade are here. Mustering Out is also modified. The result if most characters are generated “while still working” vice the usual Traveller mustered out.

Chapter 5 covers space vehicle in Orbital, including Deep Space Vehicles (DSVs). A heavily modified spacecraft design sequence that draws heavily on the TMB and High Guard is presented here. The author chose not to use the rules for Reaction Drives from TMB/High Guard and instead depends on Nuclear Thermal Rockets. This in turn leads to an entirely different Spacecraft Operations section with details on traveling between planets in the Solar System. This also means Space Combat is different, but the author doesn’t go into as much detail here.

Hardware in Orbital focuses on the technology necessary to survive in the Solar System. Vacc Suits get a very detailed treatment and their own design sequence. Planetary vehicles, named Rovers, are detailed too. It is unclear (though assumed) that Rovers were created using the design sequence from The Vehicle Handbook for MgT. Orbital Vehicles – the small craft of the Orbital setting – are detailed and were created using the MgT High Guard and Comstar/Avengers Archaic Smallcraft & Space Stations module.

Chapter 8, Orbital Society, delves more deeply into setting specific details. There are many details here that can serve as adventure seeds. Chapter 9, Working in Space, details the many dangers and threats as well as the Orbital version of Belting (asteroid mining) rules. Chapter 10, Worlds, is the “subsector guide” for the Orbital setting with details of planets and moons and other locales.

Chapter 11, Running Orbital, is the GM guide. Of the four default settings, I find it surprising the author uses Deep Space Haulage as his default campaign premise. To me this is the least inspiring of the premises given; I find Salvage and Rescue or Exploration & Science more inspirational with even Asteroid Mining more appealing. There is also a section on SETI – Intelligent Life. Fortunately  the author avoided his Outpost Mars RPG.net speculation approach and lays out five-plus good pages of adventure seeds.

Chapter 12, Resources, is quite literally the Appendix N of Orbital. A very useful review of movies, books, RPGs, and web resources to help GMs and players get a deeper understanding or inspiration for the Orbital setting.

Should You Get it?

Unlike author Paul Elliott’s earlier Outpost Mars, his Orbital is a near-complete setting. There is more than enough in this book to run a Solar System adventure or campaign. I wish the author had more fully imported his Reputation/secret Agenda/secret Ally mechanic into Orbital from Outpost Mars instead of being wishy-washy and simple changing Social Standing to a nebulous, ill-defined  reputation. Later in the book, under “Running a Campaign” for Running Orbital, he introduces the concept of Status without directly tying it Social Standing. There is also a discussion of Secret Agendas here. This is a missed opportunity to showcase his “gimmick” that could help define Orbital beyond just its low-tech Traveller setting. Instead, the author buries it as a commentary at the end of the Example Mission on page 200:

“Get the idea? No fights, no shots exchanged. No physical conflict, but a definite lack of trust and no-one is quite sure of the others’ motives. The referee can’t ban any physical conflict, but it should be an unwritten rule: the player characters never try to harm one another. Secret agendas are best dealt with using a few hand-written notes, quickly passed, rather than private chats. Any group using this secret agenda mechanic should understand that occasional notes will be passed between the referee and players and that none of the character’s lives are at risk from these notes.”

Orbital is quite obviously an evolved version of the authors previous Outpost Mars, not only in the setting but in the rules. I only wish the Reputation/secret Agenda/secret Ally mechanic had evolved in Orbital too.

Recommendation: BUY

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