I’ve finally started making use of the Mongoose 2 Traveller Central Supply Catalogue. As predicted, it’s been handy to have two sets of armour listings, which is as far as I got last time with my page-by-page.
The players — all 13-14 year old boys — liked the catalogue just to look at. Rules aside, it added coolness to our Traveller sandbox game. One or two of the items proved invaluable, including the Diplomatic Vest, which the rogue character leapt on with unholy glee. (He should, however, have considered something more powerful than the flechette gun.)
So, now we’re onto Survival Gear, Electronics, and Computers, sections that continue the faux catalogue conceit.
2. Survival Gear
As with Armour, this section duplicates and expands on the equipment in the core rules. For example, it tells us more about “Artificial Gills” to make clear that these must be worn with a mask, and includes lots of new items.
Spacers in Ganelon Navy uniforms cram the bar. These guys have a reputation for trashing bars and brawling with strangers. However, this evening, they are beyond well behaved. They keep their hands off the waiting staff, even tip them generously. They are almost painfully polite — “I’m sorry I nearly jostled you! Please accept my apologies, and further apologies on behalf of my ship and indeed my culture…”
This is a problem!
Or at least a problem for the three hard-up traveling companions huddled around a small corner table… let’s call them Travellers... sipping beer from bulbs designed to cope with the 0.15G (these are real!). They have a contract to catch the Ganelon spacers behaving badly so as to compromise that star kingdom’s naval goodwill tour. So far, they are not seeing any bad behaviour.
Somewhat direct in mentality, Charadack, the retired marine sergeant in the group, starts loudly boasting about a battle in which the Imperium forces utterly thrashed those of Ganelon Star Kingdom. Perhaps he can provoke an assault?
After about fifteen minutes, a Ganelon officer carefully navigates the crowded bar and addresses Charadack: “I hear you are talking about your great victory. May I compliment you and the entire Imperium for your chivalry? You are brave and noble fighters, and indeed were exceptionally polite and gracious to the POWs captured as a result of your glorious success…”
At this point, our Travellers are starting to freak out. What is going on?
Go on a Traveller RPG forum and ask for book recommendations, and somebody will suggest Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series — a series that has just spawned a rather good sequel, Vatta’s Peace.
The Vattabooks are, of course, a really good read. They’re gritty and realistic — it helps that Moon’s ex-military. They’re also fast-paced and well-written, they have vivid characters you enjoy hanging out with, and a strong female protagonist (or two). The same can be said of her other big SF series, affectionately known among my friends as “Scary Horse Aunts In Space” (*) but it’s the Vattabooks that come up because they feel a lot like Traveller, meaning they fit my definition of Star Punk:
Set in [a] spacefaring civilization… where… technology has somehow failed to eliminate the human element, where you still need a human to pull the trigger or pilot the scout ship, and where nanotechnology, 3D-printing and vertical farms have neither eliminated trade, nor ushered in a crime-free post scarcity society. They all involve individuals or companions — adventurers, traders, investigators, contractors — pursuing goals of only local significance. (*)
Except for not being an ensemble piece, the series really could be a superior Travellercampaign! It even kicks off with Ky operating as a free trader having left Naval Academy due to a scandal — did somebody fail her survival roll during character generation? It expands to encompass family corporations, commercial espionage, romance, family drama, conspiracy, politics, atrocity, piracy and ultimately set-piece space battles.
However, it rarely loses sight of the business of space travel. Our intrepid hero must deal with crew, repairs, finance, quirky local custom, in addition to the issues around using a civilian ship in armed conflict against pirates and other enemies… this is like a story from the 1970s, but with a tighter plot, modern diversity and values, and much better writing.
The setting — the worldbuilding — is also very Traveller-like in that the technology is limited in such a manner as to create a near-future-but in spaaace feel. Moon achieves this mostly by deploying the third of the options identified in the my last article: she turns the technology against itself.
You know the genre I mean. It’s the one that takes in Firefly, Dumarest… it’s Space Opera’s Sword & Sorcery. It’s Han Solo: The Early Years or Indiana Jones does Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, or Almost Any Clint Eastwood Movie Ever But In Space. It’s what Traveller RPG supports in all its incarnations.
It doesn’t have a name, so I’ve taken to calling it “Star Punk.” Here’s how I tried to define it in my guest post for uber SF meister Charles Stross:
They are all set in spacefaring civilizations where technology has somehow — with an authorial handwave — and my handwave is particularly cunning and internally consistent — failed to eliminate the human element, where you still need a human to pull the trigger or pilot the scout ship, and where nanotechnology, 3D-printing and vertical farms have neither eliminated trade, nor ushered in a crime-free post scarcity society. They all involve individuals or companions — adventurers, traders, investigators, contractors — pursuing goals of only local significance.
In other words, they could all be transcripts of particularly good Travellercampaigns.
Writing Star Punk, as I discovered when I started planning The Wreck of the Marissa, poses certain worldbuilding problems. (And, yes in this case, I really mean “universe building” but worldbuilding now has a specific technical meaning for writers and other creatives.)
The issue is this bit: where you still need a human to pull the trigger or pilot the scout ship, and where nanotechnology, 3D-printing and vertical farms have neither eliminated trade, nor ushered in a crime-free post scarcity society.
In a nutshell, any realistic starfaring future is unlikely to be like this. In fact, our technology is already breaking the Star Punk future.
Seen from one angle, the Traveller RPG has always been a Science Fiction midlife crisis simulator, “40-somethings Innnnn Spaaaacccce.”
The character generation system is a mini-game that lets you play through your character’s career all the way into middle-age, a career that most of the time ends in disaster, and always ends with you mustering out to go “travelling.”
Kurtzhau (13) and I rolled up a party and ended up with:
A scientist, feeling the bite of age, who’d made a big discovery in his youth, but had been stuck in admin ever since and now craved adventure.
A senior NCO soldier forced by job cuts to muster out and now very much adrift in search of a purpose.
A pilot who’d unwillingly ended up in the Scouts and spent most of his time as a courier and now belatedly wanted to do something less boring.
A veteran of the Merchant Marine who really wanted to be a Free Trader.
You could put them all in a shared apartment and make a quirky sitcom about them. (We put them in a ship and sent them to our Dacre Sector.)