#SciFiFriday – Agent of the Imperium: A Story of the Traveller Universe (Marc Miller, 2015)

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Cover courtesy GoodReads

Within the Traveller RPG community, there is an acronym known as IMTU, or “In My Traveller Universe.” This usually denotes a setting that may draw from, or be different, from the OTU or “Official Traveller Universe.” When Marc Miller, the creator of the Traveller RPG writes, one would think that anything he publishes should be canon and part of the OTU. It was with this bias that I started reading Agent of the Imperium (AoI). By the time I was finished, I am not so sure that what I read is OTU, or Mr. Miller’s version of his own IMTU.

**WARNING – MINOR SPOILERS POSSIBLE**

To me, Traveller has always been about the little guy; average joes who did their time in the service and now are out wandering the spacelanes for adventure. As much as I played around in the Third Imperium setting, it really is the far frontiers adventure of the 1977-edition Little Black Books which had no real setting other than to travel. So when I started reading AoI I expected a character much like Captain Jamison, the Merchant Captain used in every character generation example since Classic Traveller.

Instead, we get Jonathan Bland, a Decider agent of the Quarantine Agency. He is brought to life for 30 days at  time with a wafer chip. He is not a lowly adventurer – he is/was a member of a powerful bureaucracy and now an agent of the Emperors themselves. This was one of many events that challenged my vision of the OTU; I had never really considered cyberpunk elements in the setting nor adventure at these higher levels of government. Indeed, if one looks at the starship computer rules with their immense size (measured in displacement Tons of 13.5 cubic meters) the idea of advanced brain chips seemed so foreign to the game!

It is through Jonathan Bland that we see the Third Imperium develop. Surprising me again, this story does not take place in the Golden Age of the Traveller RPG setting (around game year 1105) but rather starts in year 350, or almost 800 years before OTU adventures. More interesting was to see Mr. Miller’s view of the Third Imperium in this time. In this he used several tropes that I was familiar with – and expected – in a Traveller book but introduced others that I had not consciously associated with the Third Imperium. In this respect the book is highly successful; it challenged my pre-conceived notions and made me imagine more. But at the same time AoI made me think about what the Third Imperium setting means to me.

When trying to fit Agent of the Imperium into my view of the Traveller RPG universe, I have to designate this one as the “Marc Miller IMTU of the OTU.” It’s not that I don’t like the book (I do) but the story is loftier than I imagined the OTU to be. I find nothing wrong with the story of AoI, but as a game inspiration it is more an example of the awe and wonder of the Third Imperium rather than adventure seeds.

 

 

#RPGThursday – On the Road

Am on travel this week. Plenty of time to read. After reading Tales to Astound blog have become fascinated with the early Traveller RPG system. I found my 1977 Little Black Books before I left home.  Interesting that the FFE CD starts with the 1981 LBBs and then onto The Traveller Book and Starter Traveller.

Looking back, I evolved from the ’77 LBBs to ’81 without realizing it. I never used The Traveller Book or Starter Traveller. I missed MegaTraveller and Traveller New Era and came back in on Mongoose 1E. Now onto Cepheus Engine. That said, looking back at the original Classic Traveller is very intriguing! Unlike the 15 year old me that missed implied setting details I now hunt out and want to explore what they really mean.

#WargameWednesday – Need More Power, Scotty! (Federation Commander, Amarillo Design Bureau)

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Courtesy BoardGameGeek

Although I don’t talk about it here that much, the biggest wargame of my younger years was Star Fleet Battles (SFB). I started out with the original Task Force Games baggie and kept going through the Captain’s Edition. For the longest time, the Star Fleet Universe (SFU) was my version of Star Trek.

SFB is all about starship duels in the SFU. The core mechanic of gameplay is Energy Allocation; ships produce a finite amount of power and to do anything – from firing to movement to shields – takes power. Some people accuse SFB of being “accountants in space” because it all comes down to how much power a ship has and how it gets used. SFB also suffered from tremendous rules and errata bloat making critics call it “Advanced Squad Leader in Space.” None of this stopped my friends and I from getting EVERY SFB product produced. One of my friends had his ship design published. We even bought into the Starline 2400-line of miniatures and played giant battles on an old ping-pong table in my basement. SFB was THE wargame of our youth. We fully embraced the complex rules because they modeled so well the interaction between different ships with different capabilities and limitations. Though SFB we learned how to really analyze a system and make it work in our favor.

As the years passed we all went our separate ways. I faithfully carried my SFB collection in a giant tub container through college and 20 years of military moves. As the RockyMountainNavy Boys grew, I wanted to pull out SFB but was always hesitant because I know how complicated it is and how much dedication it takes to learn to play, much less become anything near proficient.

In the mid-2000’s Amarillo Design Bureau rolled out a companion version of SFB called Federation Commander (FC). As their own website says:

The game system is based on energy. You count how much energy your starship generates at the start of each turn, and pay for a “baseline speed”. The rest of your energy is spent during the turn to fire weapons, operate systems (tractor beams, transporters), to speed up, to slow down, or to reinforce your shields. During each of the eight impulses of each turn, ships move (up to four times at the highest speed) and you have the opportunity to fire weapons or operate systems.

Ships are presented in two scales; Fleet Scale is “half the size” of Squadron Scale and can be used to resolve larger battles in less time.

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Courtesy BGG

FC is a simplified, faster playing version of SFB. The core mechanic – energy allocation – remains but that energy allocation takes place throughout the turn vice a pre-plot for SFB. Each turn in FC is divided into 8 impulses vice 32 in SFB. These changes speed up the game considerably.

Speaking at breakfast last week, Little RMN was asking about different games and we got into discussing what I call “manual video games.” He asked about different starship combat games and I reminisced about SFB. He was interested, and asked to play. Instead of SFB we pulled out FC.

It was interesting.

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Courtesy BGG

We played a 2v2 ship battle of roughly equal point value. I still find the energy allocation mechanic to be very thematic. The RMN Boys are not big Trekkies so they don’t have the same appreciation of that aspect of the game. They found the interplay of movement-weapons-defenses interesting but lamented the SLOOOOOW pace of the game. The Impulse Movement steps are intended to avoid the IGOUGO problem of a ship dancing around an opponent without fear of harm. I embrace this design solution; the boys find it ponderous.

FC is a highly thematic and detailed approach to depicting starship combat in the Star Fleet Universe. I know it is not as detailed as SFB, but my boys will probably never learn that. We will play FC again when the mood strikes us; but that mood has to be a desire to deeply explore the interaction of different capabilities and design doctrines.

Reawakening X-Wing (Star Wars: X-Wing Minis – Force Awakens Core Set)

“Outnumbered and outgunned, a cunning star fighter pilot leads his enemies into a minefield. Will it be enough to turn the tide of battle, or will superior numbers prevail?” From Mission F1: Ambush, Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game – The Force Awakens Core Set, Mission Guide

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Initial Setup
Mission F1 pits a Resistance T-70 X-Wing flown by Blue Squadron Novice (24 pts) against a pair of TIE/FO fighters (Epsilon Sqdn Pilot – 15 pts/Zeta Sqdn Pilot – 16 pts). The squadron point build imbalance is offset by the presence of three mine tokens in the battle space controlled by the Resistance player.

 

 

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Sweeping In
Swinging to the left, he tried to draw the TIEs across the minefield but they didn’t take the bait, instead sweeping to their left while keeping out of the lethal radius of the mines. Reversing hard into a tight turn, he raced through the minefield to get into position. His first shot was lucky and hit the trailing TIE which accelerated to get out of range while the second one turned to attack.

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Death of Epsilon
Ignoring a TIE that executed a Segnor’s Loop almost in front of him, he blasted one TIE away. Dangerously, he cut in front of the other TIE, just avoiding blasts of lethal energy. Boosting away, he extended the range as the other TIE followed. Dashing around the asteroid field, the TIE came just close enough to a mine to detonate it. His sensors told him the shields on the TIE were down. “That’s one chink in the armor,” he thought.

 

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Stressed Out and Still Too Close
As he continued around an asteroid, the TIE tried to cut the corner. Unfortunately, it came a bit too close to another mine and set it off. Sensors said it was damaged!

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Splash Two!
Stressing his T-70, he reversed hard into the TIE. He quickly lined up his shot. With a sharp intake of breath he watched his energy bolts hit the TIE. He exhaled slowly as it exploded. He muttered to himself, “The Force was with me.”

 

It has been a long time since I played X-Wing. I had picked up Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game – The Force Awakens Core Set a while back and it has sat on my shelf – unopened – for several months. The RockyMountainNavy boys seem to have passed their initial fascination with X-Wing and in many ways it was replaced with Wings of Glory.  I pulled it out for a somewhat rare weeknight gaming session.

Having not played in a while I didn’t use many optional rules. The fighters were all stock with no modifications. Relearning gameplay was quick (X-Wing is not complicated). Although the gameplay is not complex, there were more than a few “tactical errors” committed since the ships were new to us and their capabilities and limitations unexplored. Most significantly, near the end the Zeta TIE could have used their Action to Barrel Roll away from the mine and stay out of the lethal radius instead of looking ahead to  the T-70 threat and placing an Evade token to try to avoid any hits.

Playing X-Wing reminded me that this is one of the games in my collection that I classify as a “Manual Videogame.” The concept of Squadron Builds, Modifications, and Actions (special abilities) all are common with video games. That is not to say I dislike X-Wing; rather, I see it for what it is. The RockyMountainNavy boys, especially Little I, love the Manual Videogame-style of gaming. Pulling out X-Wing reminded us all that this is a lite, fun game that is highly thematic and “pulls you into” the story. It deserves to be on the table more.

#RPGThursday – Wendy’s Guide to the Fleets of the Cascadia Subsector (Gypsy Knights Games)

 

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Courtesy RPGGeek

Wendy’s Guide to the Fleets of the Cascadia Subsector (aka Wendy’s Naval Weekly 2: The Journal of Fighting Ships in the Cascadia Subsector) from Gypsy Knights Games is a sourcebook for the Clement Sector setting. It uses Clement Sector: The Rules, GKG’s customized version of the Cepheus Engine RPG. The book is the second in the “Wendy’s Naval Journal” series, the first one being dedicated to the Hub Subsector.

What’s Inside

Wendy’s 2 delivers 76 pages of content divided into four broad parts. There is a short intro, fleet listings, a System Navy Career path, and a new ship – the Alfred Thayer Mahan-class Heavy Destroyer.

The short intro (2 pages plus the obligatory subsector map) provides in-universe text explaining what Wendy’s is along with a few paragraphs explaining the major players in the Cascadia subsector. Within these few paragraphs there are numerous adventure seeds and story hooks presented.

With the fleet listings each system has it’s naval forces described. These entries can be as short as a half-page with just a few paragraphs and the fleet list. Larger fleets have expanded entries that add details such as uniforms, fleet organization, and a table of Hull and Command Classifications.

The last table is very helpful for filling in details of the fleet since describes the ships of the fleet in broad detail. Some of the fleets in the Cascadia Subsector use ships found in the Ships of the Clement Sector series but for the most part the fleets in Cascadia use designs not detailed to date. Those who want to design the rest of the fleet – here are the bare-bones!

The System Navy Career Path is similar to, but not identical with, a career path previously available in Career Companion. That book is no longer available because it was published in support of Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition, and – no thanks to Mongoose – is no longer legally for sale under their onerous licensing rules. It is nice to see the career path updated and brought forward into the Cepheus Engine version of the Clement Sector.

The last 20 pages of Wendy’s 2 is dedicated to details of the Cascadian Navy’s 1800-dT Heavy Destroyer, the Alfred Thayer Mahan-class. Provided are design background and deck-by-deck description and plans. Artwork for Mahan and elsewhere is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead with contributions by Michael Johnson and Bradley Warnes.

Buy or Not?

If your Clement Sector adventure leans towards more naval affairs then this is a definite BUY. Even if that is not your thing you should still seriously consider buying this book as it helps with ship encounters and pirates and the like. Since Wendy’s 2 is focused on the naval forces, it should be used in conjunction with Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia (2nd Edition) which provides background for the entire subsector. I personally like that GKG has given me a peek into their setting but has left much of the definition up to me. There are a few details here, but it really is the skeleton to hang adventures on or to go off and be that System Engineer-style Traveller player.

Absent Friends

As I looked through this book I was touched to find the CNS Loren Wiseman in the Cascadian Navy listings. For those who may not know, Loren K. Wiseman was one of the original authors of Traveller who passed away February 15 this year. As Jeff Zeitlin wrote in Freelance Traveller #80 (Mar/Apr 2017), “He was undoubtably one of Traveller’s larger-than-life figures, and he will be missed.” Naming a ship after Loren is a small honor for a great man in the history of the Traveller RPG and it shows me the deep respect GKG has for the forefathers of Traveller.


A Note on Links – You may notice that I linked several products to the OpenGamingStore. This is not because I don’t like DriveThruRPG – I have been a customer there for over a decade – but John at the OpenGamingStore takes only 20% versus the 30-35% at DTRPG. This may seem like a very small amount but it could be a big difference to small publishers over time. The OpenGamingStore catalog is not as deep as DTRPG, and it takes John a  few days longer to get new items added (I think he is a one-man operation), but he takes a bit less and passes on a bit more. That’s worth my support – I hope it can be worthy of yours too.

#WargameWednesday – Back to the Past and into the Future with Panzer

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Courtesy RBM Design Studio via BoardGameGeek

After getting Jim Day’s MBT for Christmas 2016, I wrote that I wanted to get the new version of Panzer. It arrived this week. I remember opening my first Panzer box at Christmas in 1979. I eventually got the entire Yaquinto First Edition series all of which I still own.

Now in 2017 I am opening the new box, but this time I sat on the floor with Little RMN. He is into Tanks: Panther vs Sherman as I recently showed. When we got to the scenario book, he asked about recreating the same battles in Tanks. This is a good sign that he wants to play more. It also tells me that it is probably time to teach him Panzer too!