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 AoImade 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.
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.
Wendy’s 2delivers 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’sis 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 2is 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.
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.
In the most recent Star Trek Adventures RPG living playtest email from Chris Birch at Modiphius he wrote, “Hope you like this new image!” I usually don’t have any real opinion of art in RPG products. Honestly, I rarely even think about it. But this time I did and I definitely have a reaction to it. But before I tell you what I think about this picture a little of my Star Trek RPG history may help you understand where I am coming from.
had a “new” Klingon on the cover. The art content fell broadly falls into two categories; people and ships. The people art was generally staid with little dynamic action; what I term “poser” art. Then, like now, I find the artwork very neutral – indeed almost too neutral – and not exciting or deeply inspirational.
Call to Action – Prime Directive
As I was a fan of the board game (and miniatures) of Star Fleet Battles, when Task Force Games brought out their RPG for that universe I scooped it up – with mild disappointment. But looking back on the artwork of Prime Directive, I see a few things that I like. For instance, the cover has action. Here I see what is likely a Federation Prime Team, with jackets on and phasers ready, in a temple-like structure being attacked (?) by an alien wielding a long spear with a bladed end. Take note that the team is facing the threat. Later versions on Prime Directive, especially the more recent d20 and d20 Modern variants, went to a style of art that I am not a fan of, but still harken back to core themes of the Trek universe. Like this cover from D20 Modern.
Here I see another Prime Team with each character acting in an iconic fashion; the blue-shirted scientist is pointing out something, the red-shirted security guy is getting ready to die, and the gold-shirted commander is leading. Not a lot of action, but each character captures (inspires) a role to play.
The Vanguard of My Imagination
There is another influence on my “expectation” of a Star Trek RPG, coming from the Star Trek Vanguardseries of books. This series appeals to me because it is an Original Series-era setting but with a more confrontational and mysterious adventure. In terms of their book covers, they all consist of ship art and are full of action. I especially like Reap the Whirlwindwhich shows off the small USS Sagittarius daringly passing in front of a much larger (and dangerous?) Klingon ship. Now that is adventure inspiration!
A Call to New Star Trek Adventures
Which brings me back to the new Star Trek Adventures. Much like FASA Trek before, the art shown to date consists of ships and people. In this case the ships are trying to evoke a nostalgic reaction as they portray the iconic Enterpriseacross the TV series’ and movies. But it is the people art that catches my attention. To me, the people art shows how the writers and publishers of this game see their own game. Through those images they show me, the player (and customer), how they think the game should inspire me to play.
The first people image I saw was a crew on the bridge of what appears to be a Original Series ship. I like that it is Original Series and that it is full of action. But to me it is the wrong action. I see a Federation ship that has been boarded by Klingons with at least two injured (dead?) already. The Captain is desperately fighting another ship even as the Klingons board his ship and threaten his bridge. This doesn’t look like it will end well. Indeed, this image reminds me what I see as an overused trope in too many Star Trek movies; Abandon Ship! How many times has the Enterprise now been destroyed? I personally am tired of the trope and it infuriates me because I see it as lazy writing for it has been used too many times to do nothing more than generate emotions (nostalgic longing for the ship) move the adventure off the to a different location.
The next image very different. It changes eras (to theNext Generation) which I am only “meh” to (except if we are talking about the alternate Federation found in Yesterday’s Enterprise). There is a lot of action going on here; from an exploding planet above to collapsing towers in the background to explosions. I also see a blue-shirted scientist studying a mystical hologram while two gold-shirted security guards are near a mysteriously glowing obelisk. A red-shirted officer is pointing, probably commanding the group since she is the only one wearing the red-shirt of command. On the far left we see a second blue-shirt scientist racing towards the group. That is a lot of action, and I see this as the moment the plan has gone sideways and the PCs are faced with a choice. It is the classic “Oh, Crap!” moment.
This picture, the one that that started all my ramblings, appears to take place shortly after the previous “Oh, Crap!” moment. The scientist previously seen racing towards the group is now racing away. He is being followed by a somewhat acrobatic gold-shirt security man. Our intrepid red-shirt leader is also on the run with the blue-shirt scientist previously studying the hologram(?) now also sprinting away. In the right top, two more characters not seen in the previous image are visible; a red-shirt being rescued by a gold-shirt. There are also at four characters in the left background; two (?) gold, a blue and a red-shirt.
There’s at least ten people in this scene. I’m going to assume the blue-shirt hippie dude, the acrobatic blue-skin gold-shirt, red-shirt leader and blue-shirt hologram scientist are player characters. A fifth PC may be the other gold-shirt security in the previous picture. That means this scene has a PC party of five with five supporting NPCs. To use the words of the man in the White House, “That’s yuge!” I have to wonder if Star Trek Adventures is playable only by large groups. Is there something in the game mechanics that makes this necessary or desirable or is it optional?
In a bit that I find very important all the characters seem to be running awayfrom the threat. This runs (no joke intended) counter to what I see as a core tenet of the Star Trek universe; characters always face the threat. I am not saying that a strategic withdrawal is never in order but to show me a scene where everyone is running away – it makes me think of Doctor Who where the characters are always running. If I want to play game with running, I’ll play Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space (11th Doctor) which I already own.
I can already hear some critics saying, “It’s your game. Play it like YOU want to play!” I heartily agree, and will do so, as long as the mechanics of the game allow me to!
“How do you like this image?”
Sorry, Chris. I don’t.
I don’t like it because although it looks Star Trek (the uniforms and alien species) it doesn’t look like the heroic Star Trek I expect – and want – to play.
At first I was confused by all those fancy dice with their crazy symbols. Now I see this system as one of the best matches of narrative gameplay and setting. I don’t see any other way to play a cinematic science fiction adventure. The nearly-identical Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny round out the trilogy of adventure just like the original trilogy of movies did. Although low on my list, I am the GM in a campaign for the RockyMountainNavy Boys using this system.
I always thought I would not enjoy transhumanism settings in my sci-fi RPG adventuring. At least, that was until I found the FATE Core-driven Mindjammer. Another exploration into narrative-driven RPG systems. (Avoid the Mongoose Traveller version.)
More a guilty pleasure than a game I play. Many people deride the rules but this is my go-to version of Traveller when I want to do some hardcore setting creation. Actually, as long as one avoids Melee Combat the rules hold up surprisingly well. It’s a shame this one gets so much bad press, the game is actually very good – its the bad reputation the first rulebook got that I think makes people stay away.
Driven by the Cortex Plus system, this is another game that shows my tilt towards more narrative-driven games. The setting is also in keeping with the Original Traveller Universe (and not all that far from Edge of the Empire either). The production quality of the books are so shiny!
Strictly rules, this slimmed down version of FATE Core is the best rules set I have found to introduce new players to narrative RPG gaming. Some people accuse this game of being too simple; I disagree and say it is the ultimate “rules-lite” system.
Atomic Robo is a fine example of what happens when authors and game designers are of the same mind. The rulebook is one of the best I have ever seen, effortlessly taking source content and marrying it to game system and examples. The Brainstorming Rules are absolutely essential to ANY narrative-driven game played.
Going old-school here, but James Bond 007 has stood the test of time. The Chase rules, where one bids for initiative is very cinematic. I now recognize that this was the first RPG I played that had a Game Economy in the form of Hero Points. There is also the best-ever Example of Play which puts iconic scenes from the movie Goldfinger opposite game play.
Cepheus Engine is the modern 2d6 Sci-Fi RPG system that is the natural evolution of Classic Traveller. Except this one uses the Open Game License and not Mongoose Traveller’s much more restrictive legal obstacles to third-party publishing. Though a youngster, there are several great settings that take advantage of they rules including the awesome The Clement Sector, Orbital 2100, and the brand-new These Stars are Ours!
Diaspora uses the older FATE 3.0engine, and could probably use an update to FATE Core. But the designer’s don’t have to be in a rush because Diaspora is a great game as-is. Occasionally called the Traveller version of FATE, I love it for many of the same reasons I love Traveller; it is a sci-fi adventure RPG with moderate rules overhead. The Space Combat rules are a unique take on vector-combat using range bands (and should be retrofitted to Classic Traveller).
It was 1979 that I first discovered roleplaying games, and my gateway game was the three Little Black Books of Traveller. Who can ever forget the simple text on the box cover:
“This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday….”
Now known as Classic Traveller, the rules are still a model of “complex simplicity.” Complex in that all the tools for making your own adventure are there (there is no default setting or Third Imperium in the original LBBs) and simple in terms of rules. Maybe a bit too simple, as shown by the modern rules version in Cepheus Engine. It really doesn’t matter to me what today’s version is called, Classic Traveller will always be the one dearest to my heart.
The setting of TSAO is a logical outgrowth of 20th century UFO conspiracies:
Set in 2260 AD – two years after the Terrans took Keid and forced the Reticulan Empire to capitulate the book introduces the player characters to the immediate aftermath of the Terran victory in the Terran Liberation War against the mighty Reticulan Empire and its many thralls. For their part, the upstart Terrans, bolstered by their victory against their old masters, now move to become a power to be reckoned with in interstellar affairs. Against this background of espionage, maneuvering, and saber-rattling, and on the new interstellar frontiers, the player characters can forge a destiny of heroes or villains of the new United Terran Republic. (DriveThruRPG)
TSAO is delivered in a 209 page pdf (also now available in a POD option). This meaty setting is explained over six chapters and two appendixes.
Chapter 1 – The United Terran Republic provides much of the history and setting background. Included is not just a recap of events to date, but also many groups or factions or agencies that the player characters (PCs) could interact with. Psionics has a role in this setting. Given the assumed Tech Level (TL) of 11-12 (with some military at 13), TSAO (like Omer Golan-Joel’s earlier Outer Veil setting) is a high-tech but small-ship universe.
Chapter 2 – Aliens describes the humans neighbors, opponents, and allies(?). In the space of just a few pages many races are fully described and (again) are rich with adventure seeds and story hooks for development.
Chapter 3 – Characters and Careers is a great example of how to take the basic character generation system in Cepheus Engine and stretch it to showcase it’s full potential. PCs can be the default Humans or select from several alien races. Careers are taken from 13 civilian careers in Cephesus Engine or an from the 20 new ones in TSAO, including seven (7) alien “careers.”
Chapter 4 – Starships showcases alien saucers and Terra’s ships along with a few other alien constructs. Art is provided by the ever-dependable Ian Stead and others. Make sure to look at the 300-ton Terran Shaka-class Light Military Transport (and especially the Decommissioned Shaka-class Transport) for a not-to-subtle nod to Serenityand the Firefly-class.
Chapter 5 – Terran Borderlands is combination gazetteer and Referee’s Information. The worlds of Known Space is detailed, along with many story hooks and adventure seeds. The usual World Generation process from Cephesus Engine is expanded upon here with an Expanded Universal World Profile that adds a bit more detail but also a whole many more ideas that PCs or Referees can grab onto.
Chapter 6 – Patrons describes 12 Patrons that might engage the PCs. The chapter is not only a grouping of ready-made adventures, but also provides insight into the setting as viewed by the authors.
Appendix A – Terran News Agency Dispatches, February 2260 is a call back to the Traveller News Service snippets that were a staple of Classic Travellerand its successors. Again, these short news items can be the start of yet more adventures!
Appendix B – Sources of Inspiration, Literary and Otherwise is TSAO‘s Appendix N. I always look over these lists to see what inspirations the authors took and to see what I may want to add to my reading/viewing.
The last part of TSAO is an index. This is one of the best indexes I have ever seen in a book. However…the pdf is not cross-linked. This highlights some of my pet peeves with so many pdf products; page numbering and no linking. TSAO is paginated like most books, with page 1 being the interior title page. Unfortunately, this is “page 3” of the pdf, meaning if using your pdf page search you will always be three pages off from your target! The publisher could of avoided (or lessened the impact) of this issue if the Table of Contents (or even that great Index?) was linked.
Production quality is very good. Compared to Stellagama’s previous The Space PatrolI can see definite improvement. Get the linking and page numbering issues nailed and I will likely have nothing to complain about….
The authors call TSAO the first in the Visions of Empire (VoE) space opera settings. If TSAO is any indication, the VoE series will be settings rich in background using (and stretching) the Cepheus Engine rules to their finest.