#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.

 

 

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#SciFiFriday #TravellerRPG Legal Wars – Give me Advocate-1!

When can you write about the Traveller RPG? Can you sell what you write?

Traveller, in all its forms and editions, is copyrighted. Copyright protects the publishers (Far Future Enterprises and its licensees) from unauthorized copying or publication. Traveller and associated words and terms are trademarks. Trademark protection protects the publishers from unauthorized use of marks.

We have a liberal Fair Use Policy. If your activity is non-commercial, you can make copies to support playing the game, you can scan copies for your computer, you can write short programs and spreadsheets which automate processes within the game. You can make copies of pages as handouts for players. You can make web pages in support of Traveller.

Fair Use Explicitly Applies to non- Mongoose Traveller editions….Only Mongoose Traveller is governed by both the OGL and TTL….

FAQ FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

3. May I rewrite the game in my own words, scan parts of the book, or create any other derivative works.

No….You can write about the Traveller universe, and put it on your web site… but you can’t reproduce the rules (or reproduce re-writes of rules, etc.) except for about a page (because we give you permission to do that, provided you post the proper acknowledgement).

Far Future Enterprises Fair Use Policy, (C) 2008

Here is the copyright notice in the Mongoose Publishing Traveller Core Rulebook, (C)2008:

Traveller (C)2008 Mongoose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reproductions of this work by any means without the written permission of the publisher is expressly forbidden. All significant characters, names, places, items, art and text herein are copyrighted by Mongoose Publishing.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

In September 2008, Mongoose made available the Traveller Developer’s Pack. The pack included a series of Open Game License (OGL) System Reference Documents (SRD) for Traveller, Mercenary, High Guard, and Vehicles. These SRDs pertain exclusively to the rules of Traveller, not any setting.

Legal rights were explained in the Read Me First document of the Developer’s Pack:

I want to produce material based on older and out of print versions of Traveller, and publish them on a non-commercial basis.

Consult the Fair Use Policy Document.

I want to produce and publish my own original material using the current Traveller rules – both commercially and non-commercially.

Consult the Traveller Logo License.

The Read Me First document also stated:

What Can’t I do?

The following is not permitted under the Traveller Developer’s Pack – if you wish to attempt one of these projects, you should contact Mongoose Publishing for further information at msprange@mongoosepublishing.com. This is not a comprehensive list, and you should get in contact if you want to do anything not covered by the Fair Use Policy or Logo Licenses.

  • Publish material for older and out of print versions of Traveller, and release them commercially.
  • Publish software based on the current edition of Traveller.
  • Publish Original Traveller Universe material beyond the confines of the Fair Use Policy or Foreven Free Sector Logo License.

This arrangement was fine; third party publishers like Zozer Games and Gypsy Knights Games could legally publish alternate settings using the then-current Mongoose Traveller (MgT) first edition Core Rulebook. That is, until Mongoose stopped selling the first edition, thus making any commercial release based on the first edition rules ILLEGAL.

Mongoose Publishing currently sells the second edition of MgT. Like the first edition, the game contains no Open Game Content. At the same time the second edition was released, Mongoose entered into an agreement with OneBookShelf (the company that brings us DriveThruRPG.com) to create the Travellers’ Aid Society (TAS) and brought the Community Content Agreement (CCA) to the Traveller gaming community. The CCA allows for commercial uses of the MgT Core Rulebook “…provided that they only use the game system rules and game terms found in the current [my emphasis] edition Traveller books published by Mongoose Publishing.” The real interesting part of the CCA is how the agreement grants Mongoose broad rights to YOUR IP:

“User Generated Content” shall be defined as the copyrightable elements included in your Work, such as original characters, scenes, locations and events. User Generated content shall not include the illustrations and cartographic artwork included in your work. Per the terms of this Agreement, you expressly agree that your User Generated Content, once submitted to the Program will become Program IP and useable by other members of the Program as well as the Owner as described in this Agreement.” Web Post by Harl Quinn – 05-02-2016

What this means is if you are a third party publisher who wants to sell an original setting using the MgT second edition rules, the only way you can legally do so is to use TAS and GIVE UP your IP to Mongoose (not to mention that posting to TAS also means you give up a larger portion of the financial proceeds of the sale to Mongoose and OBS).

The combination of no Open Game Content in the “current” MgT second edition and the CCA effectively means there is no allowable commercial use of the “current” edition rules other than that specified by the CCA. Most importantly, any IP you place in TAS no longer belongs exclusively to YOU; Mongoose and ANY OTHERS can use YOUR IP freely.

Gypsy Knights Games in the comments adds: “I would like to correct one small thing in this post. While it is true that Mongoose and anyone else who likes can use any part of your IP in any way they want, it is important to note that the person using your IP must also be part of the CCA/TAS agreement. It is a small distinction but I think it is an important one.”

Mongoose is not the only publisher with a CCA. Wizards of the Coast has their Dungeon Master’s Guild,  Margaret Weis Productions has their Cortex Plus Creator Studio, and Monte Cook Games has their Cypher System Creator. I can appreciate these folks trying to protect their IP, or in the case of Margaret Weis protecting several licensed IP.
I also totally agree with the third party publishers who don’t like this arrangement. I wrote about that earlier this year, when the outlook looked very bleak. I didn’t see anybody taking the Evil Hat Productions approach of releasing most of their line under not one, but two proper-use licenses.

Thankfully, the future looks much brighter now, thanks to Jason “Flynn” Kemp of Samardan Press. Mr.Flynn has taken the Traveller OGL SRDs and created the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Game System. Quite a mouthful, but important for the Advocate skill-holders out there.

Please Note: This product is derived from the Traveller System Reference Document and other Open Gaming Content made available by the Open Game License, and does not contain closed content from products published by either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and it makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity. The use of the Traveller System Reference Document does not convey the endorsement of this Product by either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises as a product of either of their product lines. – Cepheus Engine System Reference Document (c) 2016.

The impact of the Cepheus SRD has been near-instantaneous. Zozer Games has published Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting for the Cepheus Engine Game. This week, Gypsy Knight Games released Clement Sector: The Rules (An Alternate Cepheus Engine Universe). The GKG rules follow a major rework of their entire (formerly) Traveller RPG-releated line to make their products OGL compliant, even going so far as to strip the word “traveller” from all their books. These products are great because the rise of Cepheus has given me my 2d6-based Sci-Fi adventure gaming mojo back!

You know what? I’m OK with that.

I’m OK because after years of disappointing Mongoose content and watching the roll-out of their second edition (which fails to impress me) I now understand Mongoose is making a naked attempt to take back commercial profits of an IP that the OGL SRD release gave away. Mongoose wants to make bank not only on the Classic Era Third Imperium setting, but any other setting that uses “their” rules engine.

Since 1979 I have gamed with Traveller, but Jason “Flynn” Kemp, Paul Elliott at Zozer, and John Watts at Gypsy Knights Games have together taught me I don’t need “Traveller” to play a fun 2D6-Based Classic Era Sci-Fi RPG.

————-

Post Script: But wait, isn’t there another “current” Traveller RPG out there? All this legal wrangling over MgT second edition also got me thinking about Traveller5. According to the front plate in the T5 Print Edition 5.1:

Copyright (C) 2015 Far Future Enterprises.

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without express written permission from the publisher.

FFE maintains a FUP Fair Use Policy (available on request) detailing reasonable uses of the Traveller5 game system (including references to the material, copying, web presences, and derivative works) while still respecting its copyright and intellectual property.

It appears that T5 is not Open Game Content but allows reasonable non-commercial use. Not being governed by the Open Game License will require negotiating commercial-use with FFE.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright  1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”

 

SciFi Friday – The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Courtesy unternet.net

I recently reread Robert Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and was struck by the depiction of CYBER WARFARE and ASYMMETRIC PRECISION GLOBAL STRIKE in the book.

– SPOILERS AHEAD –

Like the time Mannie has Mike play with the Warden’s atmosphere control – SCADA attack? Indeed, Mike is in effect a giant SCADA for the moon….

Having Mike control all communications – INTERNET censorship?

Having Mike impersonate others – Identity theft?

Using rocks as WMD placed precisely on target – Asymmetric Weapons and Precision Global Strike?

These are just a few. Go back and read the book yourself and see how – in 1965 and 1966 – Robert Heinlein was already predicting warfare of today (and maybe still tomorrow).

SciFi Friday – Ack-Ack Macaque

Courtesy Solaris Editors’ Blog

What can I say? A book that has monkeys and Zeppelins over Paris on the cover has to be interesting, right? As the author himself explains:

“It’s a genre mash-up between a noir detective story, set in 2059, but on top of that you have an embedded steampunk adventure with the titular monkey,” Powell told the SFX website in an interview. “And then it surfs into a sci-fi, alternate history, detective, dieselpunk mash-up.” (Quote taken from here – but beware of SPOILERS at both links).

From the back-cover:

In 1944, as waves of German ninjas parachute into Kent, Britain’s best hopes for victory lie with a Spitfire pilot codenamed ‘Ack-Ack Macaque.’ The trouble is, Ack-Ack Macaque is a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey, and he’s starting to doubt everything, including his own existence.
 
A century later, in a world where France and Great Britain merged in the late 1950s and nuclear-powered Zeppelins circle the globe, ex-journalist Victoria Valois finds herself drawn into a deadly game of cat and mouse with the man who butchered her husband and stole her electronic soul. Meanwhile, in Paris, after taking part in an illegal break-in at a research laboratory, the heir to the British throne goes on the run. And all the while, the doomsday clock ticks towards Armageddon.
The entire first chapter is available here. Read it. Get the book. If you are like me you will be pleasantly surprised at the story. As much as one might “think” they can tell what the story is from the cover, the back cover blurb, and the sample chapter, I am happy to say it is better than that.
As one reviewer summarized it:

 It’s an over-the-top, verbally caffeinated adventure story with smart, nasty ideas and plenty of pulp. What makes it truly special is Ack-Ack, the action hero who can cut through any strategy session or infodump:

“Yap, yap, yap. So we’ve all got a stake in this. That’s why we’re here. Can we get on and do something now? ‘Cos personally speaking, I’m (expletive) off and I want to break stuff and hurt people.” (Same SPOILER link as above).

Courtesy Allposters.com

In another interview, author Gareth L. Powell was asked “Who would play the monkey?” His immediate response was John Belushi as seen in the movie 1941. Looking back on publicity shots of the movie, one can tell it is a great answer, and yet another reason to read this book!

SciFi Friday – The Kassa Gambit

Courtesy Macmillan USA

Reading science fiction books is a real crap-shoot. My tastes vary by so much I really don’t know what I like – which means I often pick up a book and end up not liking it. These days I usually avoid the franchise books (Star Wars, Star Trek) and leave them for my kids.

So it was a nice surprise to pick up The Kassa Gambit by M.C. Planck at my local bookseller. As I perused the first chapter, a definite Traveller RPG-vibe came through. Look at these excerpts from the first chapter (taken from the Macmillan site linked above):

The Ulysses was a commercial trading vessel, of the smallest economical class, and thus unrated for combat of any kind. But Prudence was a woman of extreme caution and deep paranoia, and thus had made a few modifications. The “mining laser” bolted to the top of the ship was wired in a most unorthodox fashion. It was only good for thirty seconds of operation before something burned out, but two seconds from the amped beam would cut an unarmored ship in half. The left cargo pod carried a rack of missiles. And she had six chaffers bolted to the hull, disguised as auxiliary fuel pods. Hopefully, it would be enough.

and…

“What the hell are we gonna do?”
“We’re going to run.” What she always did when things got bad. Perversely, it was also what she did when things got good. When she’d made enough margins long enough, and had a hold full of high-value trade goods, she would set her crew down in the biggest spaceport she could find and offer them a choice.
Get off, or go Out.
Sometimes they stayed. Sometimes they took their bonus pay and left. Sometimes she found other adventurers, stragglers, wanderers to replace them. And then she would run, hard and fast, hopping from node to node, until either they ran out of fuel or ran into a planet that had the local nodes locked down tight. Then they bartered, bribed, and begged their way into whatever passed for a commercial license in those parts, and started all over again.

Take a small merchant ship and live on the fringe. This is the essence of Traveller and that awesome TV series Firefly  and the Serenity RPG.

The story itself is OK; nothing particularly good nor anything outstandingly bad. I do like a few of the characters, in particular Jorgun who makes me think about how one portrays an idiot savant in Traveller RPG character terms. This is a debut novel for MC Planck so I can only hope he gets better. If he writes more books in this universe I will definitely check them out.

SciFi Friday – Star Wars Scoundrels

Scoundrels Full Book Cover (Star Wars Report)

To make his biggest score, Han’s ready to take even bigger risks.

But even he can’t do this job solo.

Star Wars: Scoundrels  is Timothy Zahn’s latest contribution to the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The story features Han Solo and Chewbacca in the time just after the Battle of Yavin. As the publisher’s summary puts it:

Han Solo should be basking in his moment of glory. After all, the cocky smuggler and captain of the Millennium Falcon just played a key role in the daring raid that destroyed the Death Star and landed the first serious blow to the Empire in its war against the Rebel Alliance. But after losing the reward his heroics earned him, Han’s got nothing to celebrate. Especially since he’s deep in debt to the ruthless crime lord Jabba the Hutt. There’s a bounty on Han’s head—and if he can’t cough up the credits, he’ll surely pay with his hide. The only thing that can save him is a king’s ransom. Or maybe a gangster’s fortune? That’s what a mysterious stranger is offering in exchange for Han’s less-than-legal help with a riskier-than-usual caper. The payoff will be more than enough for Han to settle up with Jabba—and ensure he never has to haggle with the Hutts again.

All he has to do is infiltrate the ultra-fortified stronghold of a Black Sun crime syndicate underboss and crack the galaxy’s most notoriously impregnable safe. It sounds like a job for miracle workers . . . or madmen. So Han assembles a gallery of rogues who are a little of both—including his indispensable sidekick Chewbacca and the cunning Lando Calrissian. If anyone can dodge, deceive, and defeat heavily armed thugs, killer droids, and Imperial agents alike—and pull off the heist of the century—it’s Solo’s scoundrels. But will their crime really pay, or will it cost them the ultimate price?

My Reaction: Finally, a Star Wars novel that focuses on the seedy underside of the galaxy!

In order to appreciate the story one really needs to ignore what most people (likely anybody who picked up this book) already know – Han Solo, the down-on-his-luck spacer with a bounty on his head, actually has a heart of gold and becomes a General in the Alliance while marrying a princess. Scoundrels demands the reader suspend knowledge of that future and try to imagine Solo as a schemer always looking over his shoulder and trying to get “the big score” to settle his debt to Jabba the Hutt.

The story is about a caper, with the main schemer (Han Solo) being the ringleader. Reportedly Zahn drew his inspiration for the story from the movie Ocean’s 11. Maybe this is why I have a hard time getting into the book; crime stories are not my thing.

There is alot of backstory contained here. Zahn surprised me with by fitting so much of the Expanded Universe into his book. Lover’s of the Expanded Universe will eat up all the connections. Which leads to a problem – if you don’t know much of the Expanded Universe there becomes that much less to appreciate in the story.

Buy it if you are a die-hard Star Wars fan. Buy it if you like to see capers in space. Pass on it if you are neither of the above.