Reviving the Rich History of Traveller

Monday, February 10th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, Volume 1
Various authors
Mongoose Publishing (128 pages, $14.99 digital)

Traveller is a popular science fiction role playing game originally released in 1977 by GDW. To support its community of gamers, GDW published The Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society (JTASfrom 1979 to 1985. (JTAS saw subsequent revivals for later versions of Traveller.) In 2019, Mongoose Publishing — publishers of two editions of Traveller — Kickstarted a three-volume revision of classic JTAS articles, intended for their second edition rules. Additionally, they would incorporate some new material and also mine some fanzines for articles. They Kickstarter was a success, eventually unlocking six volumes. Volume 1 has been released digitally (hard copy to follow) for sale to non-Kickstarter backers.

Volume I is 128 pages and includes two adventures, two new alien PC races, seven creatures, seven vehicles, two starships, eight articles providing background and fluff, and several items beyond that. The table of contents is organized by article type, making the job of finding those stats for the burst lasers easy.

The meat of this volume is in the eight articles broken into two sections: Charted Space and Travelling. Here, you can learn about a typical Imperial megacorporation, SuSAG; a listing and short description of the emperors of the Third Imperium; a history of the Vilani, the human race responsible for establishing the First Imperium; piracy — whether of the Vargr Corsair nature or what generally works for piracy in the Spinward Marches — an interview with the K’kree ambassador to the Imperium; a tutorial on smuggling; and an overview of the Gazulin starport. The topics covered do not provide new rules (with the minor exception in the smuggling article). Rather, they are intended to provide background and information to add flavor and hooks to your games, along with providing a quick bit of history for the Traveller default setting of the Third Imperium.

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Rely on Your Friends to Escape the Dark Castle

Sunday, February 2nd, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Even kids love board games at Gen Con

I’ve been slowly tracking down the board games that caught my eye at Gen Con last summer. (And to do that, they really had to be something. I wandered a gigantic Exhibit Hall filled with hundreds and hundreds of booths, thousands of new games, and tens of thousands of attendees, and it took three full days to do a complete circuit.) There was no time to investigate anything in real detail, so if it looked good I snapped a quick pic and moved on.

For the past few months I’ve been sifting through those photos, and three weeks ago I came across the one above, of one of the glass cases scattered around the exhibit floor. The first thing that caught my eye was the cute kid — he sure looks like he was having fun. But the second thing was the game in the case: Escape the Dark Castle. The custom dice and oversized cards looked interesting, but most intriguing of all was the cover art, reminiscent of the British Fighting Fantasy game books of the early 80s.

It didn’t take long to find out that Escape the Dark Castle was the debut release from Themeborne in the UK. It was funded by a successful Kickstarter campaign in June 2017, and shipped more or less on time in 2018. Themeborne followed up with a second campaign to fund three expansion packs a year later. A little research uncovered some great reviews (at sites like Coop Board Games and Brawlin’ Brothers), but by then I’d already ordered a copy.

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Mystery Surrounds Everything: Return of the Obra Dinn, by Lucas Pope

Friday, January 31st, 2020 | Posted by Joshua Dinges

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What an absolutely stellar game to start off the new year with. Yes, yes, I know it’s two years old, but suffice to say I’m kicking myself for not hitting Play on this one earlier than I did.

The Return of the Obra Dinn, by Lucas Pope.

One of those rare instances of every single aspect of the game coming together in harmonious perfection. The pacing, the writing, the near-wire-frame Zenith ZP-150 retro graphics, the music, the puzzles, the general sense of oddness, and most of all… the truly earnest sense of mystery that surrounds everything.

It being a very well-constructed mystery game, there’s not going to be a lot of replay value, but the modest entry price is more than worth it for the sheer gaming bliss you’ll encounter in that single play through.

The gist of this masterpiece is that you’re an insurance investigator for the East India Company in 1807, charged with the task of assessing the claim involving a derelict trading ship that reappears after five years in the wind… and the insurance settlements for all 60 souls on board.

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The Changed Face of Geekdom

Tuesday, January 28th, 2020 | Posted by S.M. Carrière

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A party of travelers arrive in a city…

Good afternoon, Readers!

I had a thought – literally just this moment – about geekdom and how much it has changed. Some people’s perception of it appears to be slow in catching up, but that is to be expected, really.

When I was a young girl, growing up in small town Australia, geeks were a bad thing. They were variously sun-deprived, pimply walking skeletons, or sun-deprived, pimply fat blokes. Either way, they were unhygienic outsiders with zero social skills, or, indeed, any redeeming qualities whatsoever.

Rarely now, except for a certain talkshow host who shall remain nameless, do people conjure such an image when speaking of geeks and geekdom any more.

This isn’t, of course, to say that geekdom is without its bad actors. Misogyny and racism (and other foolish ideologies) are still a huge problem in the geek community (though that is thankfully changing, despite the best attempts of a dedicated bunch of morons), but that is a discussion for another day.

Today’s prominent geeks, however, are happily blasting away this stereotype just by being themselves, and it’s wonderful to see. Let’s have a look at some of my favorites geeks in popular culture.

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Start Prowling Night City with the Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit

Monday, January 27th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit
By Mike Pondsmith, David Ackerman, J Gray, James Hutt, and Cody Pondsmith
R. Talsorian Games [96 pages, 6 dice, 2 maps, 6 pre-generated characters, 2 double-sided maps, 2 reference sheets, 23 standees and stands, $30.00 boxed set, $10.00 digital (no dice or stands)]

Cyberpunk, a popular science-fiction RPG first released in 1988, has gone through several editions, the most famous and much beloved of which is Cyberpunk 2020 published in 1990. This year’s much anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 video game from CD Projekt Red (makers of the Witcher video game series) is based on the world and lore of the tabletop RPG.

The Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit, released at Gen Con 2019, is the latest iteration of the tabletop game and serves as a teaser for the forthcoming full core ruleset and as a prequel to the Cyberpunk 2077 game by filling in chunks of the timeline between Cyberpunk 2020‘s 4th Corporate War (a major event in the 2020 timeline). If that is unfamiliar to you, never fear, the included World Book provides enough background to catch you up.

The boxed set comes with six pre-generated characters, two reference sheets, maps, a set of Cyberpunk themed dice (4 d6 and 2 d10), and flat minis (or standees) along with two booklets: the World Book and Rule Book.

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A Classic Science Fiction Simulator: Howard Andrew Jones and Todd McAulty on Traveller

Sunday, January 19th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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Classic Traveller box set (Games Designers Workshop, 1977)

Over at, Howard Andrew Jones and I (under my pseudonym Todd McAulty, the name I use for fiction writing) have posted an article on Classic Traveller, a science fiction role playing game we both dearly love. Here’s a taste.

Todd: It’s fair to say that Classic Traveller was basically a ‘50s/’60s science fiction simulator. It was deeply inspired and influenced by the mid-century SF of E.C. Tubb, H. Beam Piper, Keith Laumer, Harry Harrison, Isaac Asimov, Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven, and most especially Poul Anderson.

Howard: Classic Traveller was very light on setting—

Todd: To put it mildly!

Howard: —but it sketched the scene in broad strokes. Players adventured in a human-dominated galaxy riven by conflict, thousands of years in the future. The star-spanning civilization of that future looked an awful lot like the galactic civilizations imagined by Asimov, Anderson, Jack Vance, Gene Roddenberry and others.

The two of us had a lot of fun, but I have to say the article got a lot more interesting once E. E. Knight showed up to share some of his experiences at the gaming table.

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Exploring Character in Starfinder

Wednesday, January 15th, 2020 | Posted by Andrew Zimmerman Jones

StarfinderCharacterOperationsOne great feature of the class designs in the Starfinder Core Rulebook is that each class has a variety of choices, allowing for distinct builds that can suit a variety of play styles. You can build a Mechanic or Technomancer that is either a weak combat-avoiding technician or a combat-ready armored cyber-warrior, for example. This initial diversity has allowed for many permutations on the basic character options, so right out of the gate there’s little chance of players feeling like they’ve explored everything their characters can do. Over its first couple of years, the expansions have focused on new playable races (across three Alien Archive volumes!) and equipment (in an entire Armory volume), but there have been fewer additional options by comparison to modify the core characters.

The release of Starfinder‘s most recent rules supplement, the Character Operations Manual (Paizo, Amazon), definitely helps remedy that situation. Like Pathfinder‘s Advanced Player’s Guide, this is really the volume that establishes the ability to deeply customize characters … a hallmark of what made the Pathfinder RPG distinctive. In addition to three completely new classes, the Character Operations Manual presents more Themes, alternate racial traits for core races and Pathfinder legacy races, Archetypes that provide alternate class features, feats, equipment (including shields), spells, new starship combat rules, and an entirely new downtime system mechanic.

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Gas-sharks, Jump Bridges, and the Church of Stellar Divinity: Behind the Claw by Martin J. Dougherty

Monday, January 13th, 2020 | Posted by Patrick Kanouse

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Behind the Claw
By Martin J. Dougherty
Mongoose Publishing (288 pages, $30.00 PDF, $59.99 hardcover pre-order, March 31, 2020)

Traveller is a popular science fiction role playing game originally released in 1977. Over the decades several editions have been released, along with a substantial volume of player created resources and supplements.

Since the 1980s the earliest supplements have been fleshing out the Spinward Marches and Deneb sectors of Charted Space (the Traveller term for the area of the galaxy that has been widely explored), where the Zhodani Consulate and the Imperium have fought four wars with a fifth looming. Meanwhile, the Vargr Extents provide numerous corsairs that raid shipping and planets. Rich with conflict and tension, referees have and continue to find many adventures to send their players on in this locale.

This latest foray into this classic setting comes from Mongoose Publishing in Behind the Claw, a full-color 288-page sourcebook in the style Mongoose has adopted for the latest edition of their Traveller line. The book looks excellent as a result. Crammed with content, buyers will also get two 28×40-inch poster maps of the Spinward Marches and Deneb sectors.

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Pop Dungeon: A Star Wars Pops Game

Monday, January 13th, 2020 | Posted by Bob Byrne

SWPop_OneEDITEDMy son’s birthday is December 22nd. We’ve made sure that Sean, who just turned twelve, gets two events, and two sets of presents: we don’t combine it with Christmas. So, he’s pretty much buried in new ‘stuff’ for a week. This year, the day before his birthday, I took him and a friend to see The Rise of Skywalker. And that set him off on a Star Wars Pops buying-binge. He had a half dozen within a week. It quickly went up to eight, where it’s in a holding pattern.

Sean decided he wanted to be a Dungeon Master, and he created a new game to pay with me: Pop Dungeon. He pulled an oversized red die we had from some toy bin somewhere (it’s not from any game), and as a backup, he set aside two regular six-sided dice, though we rarely use those.

Grabbing a mish-mash of items from around his room, including a rope, a big AT-AT, some plastic apples, a Transformer, a tank, a baseball cap, and more and he placed them all around his room. Then he put six of the Pops  on his school desk, and proceeded to Dungeon Master me through a Pop Dungeon adventure!

Each Turn gives me two options: “Fight or run away.” “Search, or heal.” “Try to fix the jeep, or walk.”

I roll the ridiculously bouncy, giant red die. A 1 is catastrophic. 2 is pretty bad. 3 is not too bad. 4 means I accomplished what I picked to do. 5 or 6 means I succeeded with some type of bonus effect. It is RIDICULOUS how many times I roll a 1. I’m going to record it for one session some time, because it is waaaaaaaaay beyond statistically improbable!

There are a lot of Turns. And he gets to roll the die for his guys after two of my Turns. Even if I string together a couple successes in a row, a 1 or 2 (or a couple of them) knocks the party for a loop. The first couple sessions went an hour-plus, so I had to shorten them up.

Sometimes, the party members are killed and some aspect of the force reanimates them and they are on his team. I think in one adventure, Captain Phasma was killed from my party, then I had to kill her twice more when she was brought back on the other team. Though, Sean’s been thrashing me so soundly, he hasn’t had to do that lately.

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Desperate Heroes in the Oldest City in the World: The City of Kings by Frank West

Thursday, January 9th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill

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The City of Kings at Gen Con 2019

My trip to Gen Con this year was a little overwhelming, to be honest. I’d been invited as a guest to the Writer’s Symposium, and I had a fairly packed schedule of panels and presentations. But I did find the time to wander the enormous — and I do mean enormous — Exhibit Hall, jammed end to end with hundreds (maybe thousands?) of booths, all packed with vendors selling games. It was too much to take in all at once, so I learned to snap a photo or two every time I saw something interesting. I brought home plenty of treasures, but there was no way I could afford (or carry!) even a fraction of the items that caught my eye. So in the five months since I’ve returned from Indianapolis I’ve slowly been sifting through hundreds and hundreds of photos, trying to make sense of it all, and occasionally ordering a game or two that I find irresistible.

This has been a fun process of discovery, actually. Just this week, based on my photos and a small amount of internet research, I took a chance on The City of Kings, an ambitious Kickstarter-funded game designed by Frank West, and I’m enormously glad I did. The display at Gen Con was one of the more impressive sights in the hall — the massive game box comes absolutely packed with content, weighing in at nearly 8 pounds — but I didn’t get the chance to spend much more than 60 seconds in the booth. But of the hundreds of titles I saw, it was one of a handful that really stuck in my mind, and when I had a few extra dollars after Christmas I splurged on the core set.

The City of Kings is a fully cooperative fantasy adventure board game, meaning you and up to three friends must work together. You play the surviving leaders in the oldest city in the world, faced with the nearly-impossible task of overcoming the armies of Vesh over a series of seven stories and twelve scenarios. Each story offers different challenges and objectives. The game is playable with 1-4 players (yes, it has a solitaire option); story games run from 90-180 minutes, and the simpler scenarios 45-90 minutes.

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