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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The Changed Face of Geekdom

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

Wallpaper flare com 1

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

Cyberpunk Red Jumpstart Kit-small

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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The Joy of Starter Kits, Part Two

Saturday, January 4th, 2020 | Posted by John ONeill


Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set Second Edition,
edited by Tom Moldvay (TSR, 1981). Cover by Erol Otis.

I often wonder how new players discover role playing these days.

I mean, I know how it happens in theory. You’re introduced to the concept through video games, or friends, or a gaming club, or maybe Stranger Things. The whole thing sounds pretty cool. Eventually you take the plunge and shell out for a set of hardcover rule books and dice, and become a genuine RPG gamer. Sure, it’s a commitment. But it’s no more expensive than other pastimes of the idle rich, like polo or yacht racing.

It’s that initial expense that gets me. The D&D Players Handbook, the most fundamental RPG book on the market, retails for $49.95 — and it’s only one of three you really need. And that doesn’t even include dice. God knows how pricey those are these days.

It used to be easier. You used to be able to try D&D the same way your tried Monopoly, with an impulse buy of a single reasonably-priced box. That’s how I got started in the fall of 1979, when I bought the D&D Basic Set after seeing a few magazine ads in Analog and picking up a copy at the local gaming store. The sheer financial (not to mention emotional) commitment required of modern RPGs is a serious barrier to entry, and many game publishers have gradually come to that realization.

In Part One of this article I looked at some of the games that have embraced the old idea of the Starter Kit, an inexpensive box set that includes everything new players need to learn the fundamentals of role playing and have a few adventures. This new generation includes Pathfinder, Starfinder, Battletech, Numenera, Shadowrun, and others. In Part Two we look at Call of Cthulhu, Traveller, Star Trek Adventures, Warhammer, Star Wars, and the new breed of Dungeons and Dragons beginner boxes.

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Vintage Bits: Robert Clardy, Synergistic Software, and the Birth of the Personal Home Computer Role Playing Game

Wednesday, January 1st, 2020 | Posted by Ernst Krogtoft

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In 1978 Robert Clardy released his first computer game, Dungeon Campaign, for the Apple II. Dungeon Campaign, and Don Worth’s beneath Apple Manor, are widely regarded as the very first personal computer role playing games. While greatly inspired by pen and paper Dungeons & Dragons, there were no proven concepts or templates to work from, and it was very much a trial and error effort to figure out what features and elements would work, and not least what was achievable with the limited technology at the time. Today these pioneering games might seem extremely primitive and somewhat quirky, especially from what we now perceive as the standard template in computerized versions of role playing games, but at the time they were truly innovative.

In the mid-’70s computers, how they were used, and who had access to them, started to significantly change. The landscape was starting to move away from mainframes, which took up entire rooms or even floors, to hobby kits that with the right skillset could be turned into a more or less useful (or useless) device, to an environment where non-technical users could buy an off the shelf personal computer powerful enough to run somewhat sophisticated software.

This change in computing can very much be credited to the 1977 Personal Computer trifecta, the year we tend to refer to as the birth year of the personal computer as we know it. It was the year Commodore, Apple and Tandy Radio Shack all released their own take on accessible personal computers. These machines were not only powerful enough to be useful, they were also mass-produced and marketed to the average consumer, who frequently lacked the technical skillset earlier machines required.

The advent of computer role playing games, especially on mainframes and later personal computers, has its roots in the remarkable human nature to innovate – making machines do something they were never intended for. People with access to these mysterious computer colossuses quickly saw the potential for more than just boring analytics and data-crunching.

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From Buffalo Castle to Choose Your Own Adventure: The Evolution of Solitaire Board Games

Tuesday, December 31st, 2019 | Posted by John ONeill

Buffalo Castle Rick Loomis-small Death Test The Fantasy Trip-small Wizards and Warriors Jeffrey Dillow-small

I’m old enough to remember when Choose Your Own Adventure books first appeared in bookstores and supermarkets in the late 70s and early 80s, and what a sensation they created.

I remember thinking how simplistic they were, especially compared to the more sophisticated solitaire fare already available in gaming stores at the time. Like Rick Loomis’ groundbreaking Buffalo Castle (Flying Buffalo, 1976), the first solo adventure for Tunnels & Trolls (and considered by some to be the first published adventure gamebook, period); Steve Jackson’s bestselling Death Test for The Fantasy Trip (Metagaming, 1978); and especially Jeffrey C. Dillow’s brilliant collection of early solo adventures, Wizards and Warriors (Prentice Hall, 1982), which I played to death and passed around repeatedly to my gaming group.

But there was something powerfully appealing in the very simplicity of Choose Your Own Adventure titles, and it didn’t take long for me to become a convert. I wasn’t the only one. Bantam published its first Choose Your Own Adventure book, The Cave of Time by creator Edward Packard, in 1979, and the series quickly surpassed role playing in popularity, selling more than 250 million copies. That’s more — far more — than virtually any RPG or fantasy or series in history. (For comparison, The Lord of the Rings has sold 150 million copies over the past 70 years, and George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones novels a scant 90 million. Only J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, at 500 million, offer real competition). Bantam produced 184 titles in the series between 1979 and 1998.

Role Playing has evolved and expanded enormously since the 70s. You can’t say the same of Choose Your Own Adventure… but the franchise isn’t as dead as you might think. Most interesting to serious games is a pair of cooperative adventure board games released by Z-Man Games that capture the spirit of the CToA line, and take it in some intriguing new directions.

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Corporate Dystopia, Androids, Cults, Science, and even Archaeology: Alien: The Roleplaying Game by Free League

Saturday, December 21st, 2019 | Posted by eeknight

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“You don’t beat this thing, Ripley. You can’t. All you can do is refuse to engage. You’ve got to wipe out every trace. Destroy any clue. Stop its infection from spreading. Make sure there’s no chance of the human race ever making contact with it again. Because the moment it makes contact, it’s won.”
―Marlow (from Alien: Isolation)

Sweden’s Fria Ligan has been running up the score in the tabletop role-playing game industry lately with titles like Tales From the Loop and Forbidden Lands. So when I heard they had finessed a license to an RPG set in the Alien universe, I ran down Grandmaster Games in Oak Park and told Charlie to get me EVERYTHING in my best Gary Oldman voice.

The only absolutely necessary items you need to enjoy the game is the Alien: The Roleplaying Game core rulebook, a couple handfulls of assorted six-sided dice, and an ordinary deck of cards. The game itself is simple to understand yet is role-play heavy enough that seasoned gamers will enjoy it. I’ll go a step beyond and say this would be an excellent game for introducing someone who has never played a tabletop roleplaying game to the hobby.

The world is familiar. There are tons of reference points to explain game mechanics like panic (“you know when Lambert just froze up in terror?”) or a character sustaining enough damage that they are broken (“like after Cpl. Hicks got the acid splashed on him…”). You just need six-sided dice of two colors (or two different sizes) and the usual paper and pencils. The mechanics are simple: take your skill at doing something and add the controlling attribute for that skill and roll a number of six sided dice equal to the total. If you get a six, congrats, you succeeded.

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