#SciFiFriday – Elder Race by @aptshadow as #TravellerRPG and #dungeonsanddragons #ttrpg inspiration (h/t to @AndrewLiptak)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Arthur C. Clark

Arthur C. Clark’s famous quote comparing advanced technology to magic is the core of Elder Race by Adrian Tchaikovsky. This novella makes an excellent Traveller and Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game crossover adventure.

Courtesy Tordotcom

Lynesse is the lowly Fourth Daughter of the queen, and always getting in the way.

But a demon is terrorizing the land, and now she’s an adult (albeit barely) with responsibilities (she tells herself). Although she still gets in the way, she understands that the only way to save her people is to invoke the pact between her family and the Elder sorcerer who has inhabited the local tower for as long as her people have lived here (though none in living memory has approached it).

But Elder Nyr isn’t a sorcerer, and he is forbidden to help, and his knowledge of science tells him the threat cannot possibly be a demon…

Tordotcom

So starts a two-sided story. On one side is Lyn who has summoned a wizard to help defend her kingdom. On the other side is Nyr, an Earth Explorer Corps anthropologist, awakened from hibernation and with access to wondrous technology. One side told in fantasy, the other in science fiction.

Mysticism versus rationality.

Dungeons & Dragons versus Traveller

…the book works…

..so could a tabletop RPG adventure.


Shout out to Andrew Liptack at Transfer Orbit for the tip off on the book.

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#SciFiFriday – Rediscovering @GerryAndersonTV Space: 1999 and thoughts of #TravellerRPG, #CepheusEngine, & other #TTRPG systems

This past Christmas, I gifted myself the new Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual (Post Breakaway Revised Edition) by Chris Thompson and Andrew Clements with illustrations by Chris Thompson. This nice coffee table book is published by Anderson Entertainment and is an “in-universe” book based on the 1970’s TV series Space: 1999.

I was but a wee lad, a bit less than 10 years old when Space: 1999 burst onto my TV screen (and it was a small screen, still black & white). Space: 1999 was cool—cool spaceships (Eagles forever!), cool uniforms, and cool science (not that it all made sense to young me). I took in the first season and remember being absolutely frightened out of my skin at the episode “Dragon’s Domain.”

Fan created trailer for “Dragon’s Domain”

I also remember being so confused at the second season of Space: 1999 with shapeshifting aliens and…well, better to forget that season.

So I did. Ever since then Space: 1999—Season 1 at least—continued to exist somewhere in my headspace. It helped that I had a few Space: 1999 toys like a die-cast Eagle and several models. In more recent years I “rediscovered” Space: 1999 and added UFO to the lore as well as the graphic novels. The RockyMountainNavy Boys helped me find new plastic models and kept my memories alive.

UFO Intro

Breaking Down the Breakaway Manual

It’s bigger on the inside (whoops, wrong British TV show…)

Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is a 272-page book formatted in a 9.5″x12″ hardcover. The cover illustration is a faintly lined Eagle Transporter that I wish was a bit easier to see. Inside, the Manual is organized into seven major sections (chapters):

  1. History and External Layout – I finally have a good description of of what my MPC Moonbase Alpha plastic model kit depicts
  2. Internal Layout – Covered in 73 pages (~25% of the Manual) this is a great mix of set photos and illustrations; many details I never noticed in the series
  3. Nuclear Waste – At first I was like, “huh?” but after reading I better understand why this essential story element gets the attention it does
  4. The Eagle Transporter – In many ways I love the Eagle Transporter over Star Wars vehicles and this chapter reminds me why (it also gives me details to help me paint up my other MPC model of the Eagle Transporter)
  5. Supplementary Craft – Much more here than I remembered; give me the Hawk Mk IX for the win!
  6. Uniforms & Equipment – What good sci-fi fan of the 1970’s didn’t have a jacket that looked a bit like one from Moonbase Alpha?
  7. Current Command Roster – Only later did I learn about how the production company, ITV, used international stars; I always though that Moonbase Alpha was simply “international” much like Star Trek was.

There are also two major Addendums covering “Alien Technology” and “Emergency Evacuation Operation Exodus.” Buried within individual chapters are other addendum boxes of relevant subjects.

[Warning – Spoilers Ahead] Sometime in the past decade I became aware of the connection between the TV universe of UFO and Space: 1999. I was really excited to see some connections in the Technical Operations Manual. What I appreciate the most about the connections is the secrecy; there are little references to UFO in the Manual like “the Straker Doctrine” but as a whole UFO is treated as, well, a secret. There are other nods too but I’ll leave those for you to discover on your own.

Generally speaking, my personal experience with “in-universe” background books based on pop culture intellectual property (IP) is mixed. In order to enjoy many IP-based productions I have to really, and I mean really, suspend my disbelief. Books like Star Wars: The Essential Guide to Warfare (Jason Fry, Ballantine Books, 2012), which as a military veteran and wargamer I should have wholeheartedly embraced instead helped me realize that I am a science fiction fan that hems more towards “gritty” or “hard” sci-fi rather than “space fantasy” like Star Wars. All of which is a round-about way of saying the Moonbase Alpha: Technical Operations Manual is much more “believable”—and enjoyable—than I expected.

Roleplaying Space: 1999

As I also play science fiction roleplaying games (RPG), “in-universe” books like this Technical Operations Manual serve as a great source of gaming inspiration. I have played the Traveller RPG (Marc Miller, Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) since 1979 and science fiction RPGs are definitely my thing. As I look across my science fiction RPG collection, there are several different game systems that are candidates for use in a Space: 1999 RPG. Generally speaking, I look at each set of rules from the perspective of character generation, technology, and narrative support (story generation) when looking at how they might be used to create a Space: 1999 game.

Characters – When creating a character, most systems I am familiar with use careers. Moonbase Alpha is staffed by departments which might be a good starting point. The Manual tell us the different compartments are Command, Main Mission, Services, Flight, Technical, Medical, Science, and Security (pp 209-210). We also can see in the series the Space Commission (Politician?). If we expand our “canon” to include the 2012 Archaia Entertainment graphic novel Space 1999: Aftershock and Awe we also find other “careers” like the United Nations Coastguard using Eagle Transporters.

Courtesy goodreads.com

Technology – Space: 1999 is a near (alternate) future heavily grounded in technology we would recognize as our own. The major handwaves I see are nuclear fusion rocket engines, artificial gravity, and a hyper-light drive.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Although Space: 1999 the TV series was of the “adventure of the week” kind, different episodes covered many different genres and adventure types. A Space: 1999 RPG needs to be able to handle a wide range of story lines, from military to exploration to horror and more.

Cepheus Engine (Samardan Press, Zozer Games, Stellagama Publishing, 2016+)

The easiest approach to making a Space: 1999 setting might be to go to a near-cousin setting. Orbital 2100 by Paul Elliott from Zozer Games is a sublight, near future setting using the Cepheus Engine rules. Of course, Cepheus Engine itself comes in a few flavors (“Standard,” Light, and Quantum) but using the latest Cepheus Deluxe version as a starting point seems like a good place to jump from. Cepheus Deluxe has the advantage of being the rules set I am most familiar with, seeing how it traces it’s lineage all the way back to my first role roleplaying game, Traveller by Marc Milller from Game Designers’ Workshop (1977) which I first found in 1979.

Characters – No single rules set has the right combination of careers to represent Moonbase Alpha staff, but by synthesizing careers from Cepheus Deluxe, The Clement Sector Third Edition, and Hostile a fairly representative collection of careers and skill could be assembled.

Technology – Using Cepheus Deluxe, the “average” Tech Level (TL) is 8 to 9. To create the spacecraft of Space: 1999 will likely be a kludge of Cepheus Deluxe and Orbital: 2100 rules for sublight craft.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Cepheus Deluxe does not focus on a single genre of science fiction so it should be flexible enough to cover a diverse set of adventures.

Star Trek The Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983)

Going way back in my collection, I have the first edition FASA Star Trek Roleplaying Game (FASA, 1983). Seeing how the characters in Star Trek are all academy grads (or at least Starfleet personnel) the similarities to the Space Commission Moonbase Alpha arrangements jump out.

Characters/TechnologyStar Trek assumes the characters are in the service after attending the academy and served prior terms to gain experience and rank. The various Departments in Star Trek map directly to Moonbase Alpha Departments though the skills will be different because of the different technology assumptions.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Like Space: 1999, episodes of Star Trek (The Original Series) were episodic. The game system is capable of handling most any genre, but is highly dependent on Game Master preparations.

The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997)

Long forgotten, The Babylon Project (Chameleon Eclectic, 1997) is in many ways similar to Space: 1999. Overtly, both focus on characters on a “station” or “base.”

CharactersThe Babylon Project uses a concept-driven character generation system. Using the roster in the Manual, it’s possible to map most any character in terms of the Attributes/Skill/Characteristics which can be a good example of how to make a Moonbase Alpha character.

Technology/Narrative Support (Story Generation) – Technology takes a backseat in The Babylon Project. Instead, story comes to the front. Much like Babylon 5 was one of the first TV series to do a story arc, The Babylon Project gives advice on how to do the same for your adventures.

FATE Core (Evil Hat Publishing, 2013)

Another rules set that is a candidate for Space: 1999 is FATE Core from Evil Hat Productions (2013). FATE Core claims the game, “works best with any premise where the characters are proactive, capable people leading dramatic lives” (emphasis in original). Character generation in FATE Core is not a lifepath or point buy system, but rather “concept” driven which I find a bit harder to imagine. The core mechanic, using FATE dice, is also more suited to “pulp” gaming than gritty or hard sci-fi. Technology is what you make of it.

GENESYS (Fantasy Flight Games, 2017)

A more recent game system that might be useful is Genesys: Core Rulebook from Fantasy Flight Games (2017). Genesys powers FFG’s Star Wars Roleplaying Games series.

Characters – Character generation is a form of point-buy built around archetypes. The generic career list would have to be tailored, but there are many examples in the various Star Wars Roleplaying Game books to draw inspiration from.

Technology – Technology is again what you make of it. Unlike Cepheus Deluxe which tends to portray technology in “harder” sci-fi terms, in Genesys technology is there to aid the narrative.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Genesys is a highly narrative game system that again is suitable for many different genres of play.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin Publishing, 2019)

With some work, Green Ronin’s The Expanse Roleplaying Game (2019) may also be adapted.

Characters – The Professions list of The Expanse Roleplaying Game is not that far removed from Space: 1999.

Technology – Technology-wise the two settings are not all that far apart.

Narrative Support (Story Generation)Green Ronin’s Adventure Game Engine (AGE) system uses a three different encounter types—Action, Exploration, and Social—for games that in some ways is very suitable for a Space: 1999 setting.

CORTEX Prime (Fandom Tabletop, 2021)

Another “generic” system that may prove useful is the CORTEX: Game Handbook (Fandom Tabletop, 2021). CORTEX comes in several flavors and different versions have powered the Serenity Role Playing Game (2005), Battlestar Galactica Role Playing Game (2007), Smallville Roleplaying Game (2010), Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Game (2012), and Firefly Role-Playing Game (2014). The CORTEX Prime System described in the CORTEX: Game Handbook is highly modular and tailorable to genre and setting.

Characters – CORTEX Prime characters come with three Distinctions (Background, Personality, Role) and then a “Power Set.” Looking across the options, I feel a Power Set combining the Classic Attributes (Agility, Alertness, Intelligence, Strength, Vitality, Willpower) with “Roles” based on Department assignments may be a good starting point.

Technology – There are plenty of examples of how to define a piece of technology in the other CORTEX rule books.

Narrative Support (Story Generation) – The different flavors of CORTEX can support different genres of adventure; CORTEX Prime attempts to synthesize those different play types under one rules set.

Which one should I work on first?


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#Sci-Fi Friday – Finding the Lost Signals of the Terran Republic (edited by @cegannon1)

AS MUCH AS I LOVE SCIENCE FICTION, I find few series of books worthy of my time. As a rule I hate book series in the Star Wars universe (except the Thrawn Trilogy) or Star Trek (except the Vanguard series). I love my Hammer’s Slammers books, although they really are more a collection of stories in the same shared universe.

Then there is the Caine Riordan series, or more officially Charles Gannon’s Terran Republic.

Although the series follows one protagonist, each book in the series a different style of story. From first-contact to intergalactic war to intergalactic conspiracies, it all can be found in the series. For me, the Terran Republic has just enough, but not too much, handwavium to keep me from rolling my eyes. I might also be influenced by the fact series author Charles Gannon also wrote for the Traveller RPG.

The latest installment to reach me is Lost Signals of the Terran Republic. This was not a normally published book but a Kickstarter project from November 2017. Originally to deliver in May 2018 delays meant it would not be until May 2019 that the product actually arrived.

It was worth the wait.

Lost Signals is Charles Gannon’s way of letting others play in his universe:

However, no world is defined by a mere handful of experts and heroes. Rather, just as our own world is full of different people and perspectives, Lost Signals expands the universe of the Terran Republic by bringing together new voices and new stories in a unique format that intentionally blurs the line between fact and fiction.

Lost Signals Kickstarter campaign

I am still reading my way through the book but halfway through I am quite pleased. I am also intrigued. You see, the Traveller RPG universe of Marc Miller is one of my favorite settings. My RPG history is literally that of the Third Imperium. Although later years would see me explore other settings the Gold Standard, so to speak, has always been Traveller and the Third Imperium. Marc Miller wrote his own novel, Agent of the Imperium, that was another Kickstarter project. It opened my eyes to seeing Traveller in a new, refreshing way.

Which makes “A Fragment of Empire” in Lost Signals all that more interesting. Marc Miller wrote the piece, and it’s (spoiler alert) pure Traveller. Or is it? The Terran Republic doesn’t fit into Traveller canon…or does it?

Hmm….

#SciFiFriday – #Triplanetary (@SJGames) Third Edition @kickstarter

I first played Triplanetary: The Classic Game of Space Combat back in the early 1980’s. One of my friends had the GDW version and we (kinda) liked it, but all that vector movement seemed like so much work. Worse, moving in space using vectors made it impossible to do all those fancy X-Wing maneuvers like in Star Wars.

When a new Third Edition was Kickstarted by Steve Jackson Games, I jumped in. The game was promised for an August delivery; I got my copy in June! You can see more about the game at the SJGames.com website which also has some neat older, and newer, materials.

2fe0713e5322babe1e80c1f70a0e45a9_original
Courtesy SJGames.com

My first out-of-the-box impressions are positive:

  • Classic Feel – The counters are retro but it reinforces the “classic” game feeling.
  • White Maps? – I first thought it silly that space would be a white map but it has to be to plot your vectors!
  • Game Mechanics – The rulebook is 16 pages, inclusive of rules and scenarios. The core mechanic (vector movement) is dead simple with an uncomplicated combat system included.
  • Model Enough – As game designer Volko Runke (@Volk26) says, all games are models. This model of space movement (vector movement) is a 2D representation of a 3D problem presented on a map that is NOT to scale. That said, the basics of moving in space are here. Want to see what a flip and burn is? How about a gravity slingshot? Watch your fuel supply! It’s all here!

I am looking forward to playing this one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, especially Youngest RMN who has an interest in aerospace engineering. As much as he likes the (legitimately awesome) Kerbal Space Program, and as much as Kerbal shows about space engineering, I think Triplanetary will deliver another level of learning and discovery. That is because it is a boardgame, where the model is manipulated by the user and not hidden in a black box like in a computer game. What I saw as “useless work” back in the early 80’s I now see as a very useful model that is fun to play AND enlightening.

Featured image courtesy SJGames.com

#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.

 

 

#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.