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Megan Robertson's page

Pathfinder Society Member. 5,456 posts (5,753 including aliases). 503 reviews. No lists. No wishlists. 1 Pathfinder Society character. 2 aliases.



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An RPG Resource Review

****( )

As soon as a civilisation ventures forth from its original planet, it's going to start building space stations - even we here on Earth have, despite not having developed interplanetary travel yet! In the starfaring community of the far future envisioned by Traveller, it's likely that most inhabited systems will have space stations as well as settlements planetside. Indeed, they may be the main habitations in some systems, for example when the main world is resource-rich but not suitable for major long-term colonisation. They are also good places on which to have adventures!

The first chapter, Space Station Design, dives straight in to present a system for creating space stations with the customary wealth of tables and options to enable you to custom-design the space station that you want. Most are built in the orbit that they will occupy once completed, with components being delivered and bolted together in space. There's a checklist to work through, beginning with the essential decision of whether you wish to have artificial gravity or to spin your station to generate gravity within it. Then you need to decide on a configuration and size, and it goes on from there. An important consideration is the orbit in which it will be situated, which will depend on the use to which it will be put - and also determine what facilities need to be provided. It may also be necessary (or at least prudent) to arm the station.

Once these basics have been determined the next chapter, Station Equipment, comes into play. This looks at the various uses to which the station may be put and the equipment that will have to be installed. Perhaps mining operations are conducted from the station, or - especially if the station is located in an asteroid belt - ore is brought there to be refined. There are likely to be facilities such as shops and entertainment for visitors and residents, docking facilities for visiting ships and maybe even a dockyard for ship repair or construction. Communications and sensor gear will be required and so on.

Now that the station has been constructed and equipped, turn to the Combat and Operations chapter to find out how to run (and defend) your brand-new station. This provides the details you need if there's a combat involving the station itself - generally defensive actions as they are fairly easy to hit but unlikely to mount attacks. In terms of more peaceful operations, space stations work pretty much like starports and you may wish to refer to Supplement 13: Starport Encounters as well as the material here. Due to size limitations, ships wishing to dock may be limited as to how long they can stay or may even have to hang around waiting for a berth to become available.

The next chapter, Space Station Generation, provides tables to aid in determining what stations are present in a given system and what they are doing there. Amred with that information you can then loop back to the first chapter and design those for which you need that level of detail - after all, if your party is not interested in asteroid mining, just knowing that there is a refinery station in the asteroid belt is sufficient, but if their business (or your plot) takes them there, you will need a lot more information about it. This chapter also provides plenty of inspiration about what sort of space stations there may be in a system - from naval bases to commercial operations, Imperial consultates, scout bases, pirate havens and much, much more. I once played in a campaign where an entire sub-sector was embroiled in a war and the party - rather than working for one side or the other as the Referee had intended - set up a 'neutral zone' entertainment facility space station where members of either faction were welcome as long as they left their dispute outside!

Next up, for the budding traders, there's a chapter Maintaining Trade, which actually goes well beyond actual trading to look at the economics of running a space station. It's quite fascinating, and easy to imagine a campaign based around keeping a station operational - cutting deals, dealing with problems and so on. This is followed by a chapter called Docks and Yards which goes into detail about the operation and economics of docking and shipyard facilities. If you run a construction yard, there are two options: build ships to contract or build speculatively and hope someone will purchase them. There's plenty of detail here to facilitate either kind of shipbuilding.

This is followed by Agave, a chapter detailing a complete system in which planets are at best harsh and mostly incapable of supporting life, so most inhabitants live on space stations instead. There's a history and description of the system, notes on military and other significant groups, places of interest to visit - and several Patron Encounters that could lead to a series of adventures here. This chapter ends with notes on several other possibilities if you want a station-rich system... these are just ideas and you'll have to flesh them out for yourself.

Finally, Space Stations is a chapter of ready-made stations that you can drop into your game wherever the need arises. There are descriptions, plans, illustrations and full statistics for an antique station, a research station, a manufacturing station, a trading station, a mining station, a construction station, a fleet station, a defence station, an interdiction station, and an X-boat hub station. The plans are somewhat uninformative and sketchy and the illustrations also leave something to be desired - with each station getting two or three virtually identical ones supposedly showing it from different angles.

The usefulness of this will depend on what's important in your game. In many games, even if you visit a space station there is no need for this level of detail, the Referee can just describe the areas as needed. If you want to base your game on a station though, this material will come in very handy! And, like every system in Traveller, there's the potential for using the design system on its own as a form of 'gearheading'.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This supplement offers up a whole new way of playing Traveller, as well as ways in which to enrich your Traveller universe with a deeper complex history than ever before. To start with, the Introduction provides an overview of the scope of the book and presents a wider definition of a 'dynasty' than the typical concept of a succession of rulers from a single family - here it can refer to any group which gains and retains power from generation to generation, it could be a corporation or an association of like-minded individuals.

The first chapter is Creating the Core Dynasty. This can be done by one of three methods: rolling lots of dice, a point-buy system or by building it around your own group of powerful player-characters. Each dynasty will have rankings in certain characteristics which define what it is and how it behaves, ranging from how cleverly it behaves through how greedy it is and including things like is it militaristic and how popular it is, as well as how much attention it pays to its own history and traditions. If you are going to roll them randomly, each one has a value generated on 2d6. Point-buy makes high values extremely costly. Although it's suggested that the point-buy version is suited to Referees who want to keep a tight control on things, there's no real indication as to how, and a flat 100 points is given as how much you have to play with without any pointers as to how to vary that depending on the outcomes you wish to achieve.

Once you have those basic characteristics, you then need to sort out how that dynasty came to be, choosing things like a power base (the starting point - a noble family may choose an estate as their origin, a corporation may have a headquarters and so on...) and an archtype which determines something about the nature of the dynasty - a religious faith operates somewhat differently from a conglomerate or a military syndicate... or of course you can be traditional and establish a ruling family. You also need to decide (or roll) on how the dynasty is run - a single leader, or some kind of management team, with various options for both. Each choice confers certain bonuses and restraints on the fledgling dynasty. The chapter ends with brief notes on how to adapt the process for when your party of player-characters decides to establish its own dynasty.

The next chapter, Background and Historic Events, enables you to detail how the fledgling dynasty rose to prominence. This covers the first 100 years or so of its existance (but is skipped in the case of player-characters creating their own dynasty, their adventures to this point substitute for 'historic events'). Depending on the sort of dynasty it is, there are tables to roll on to determine what happened, as well as a general table of events that can happen irrespective of the nature of the dynasty being created.

This is followed by Through the Generations, a chapter that talks about what happens to the dynasty's resources and assets as time passes, enabling you to create a rich history of its rise and fall over a considerable period of time. There are optional 'goals' for the dynasty to aim for, quite grandiose and hard to obtain but conferring significant advantage if you manage to achieve them... but penalties are incurred if you fail. There are also threats and obstacles that beset any dynasty to contend with, and decade events that happen like it or not... sometimes a dynasty will fade or even fail completely and vanish from all but the most obscure histories, others will be strengthened or will even grow and flourish on the galactic stage.

The next chapter, Pawns, Schemes and Gambits, continues this theme. This contains a variety of tests and mini-games that model a single dynasty's growth and development as it seeks to influence the galaxy around it. Unlike character actions which are quick, these can take months or years to resolve. It can get quite complex but repays careful study if you want to get the most out of it.

Up until now, we've been discussing a single dynasty pretty much in isolation, but the next chapter - called When Dynasties Clash - goes some way to redress this, with some more mini-games that deal with dynastic interactions. This chapter in particular provides scope for a whole new way of playing Traveller - each player creating and running their own dynasty rather than a single character. It could also provide a meta-game background against which a more traditional campaign involving a party of characters - perhaps in the employ of one of the dynasties involved - is played out. Again it is quite involved mechanically, but the potential is here for some quite epic interactions - hostile takeovers to all-out war and quite a few 'dirty tricks' along the way. Some actions can be resolved quite quickly, others will take months or years before the outcome is known.

Next is Heroes and Villains... for these are not faceless organisations but ones headed by individuals. Whose name rings through the ages as a typical leader of a dynasty, an outstanding paragon who exemplefies its core character or an out-and-out rogue who flew in the face of all its values? In essence this is a specialised variant on character creation, to enable you to generate these notable figures - and perhaps even play them as a critical moment in dynastic history is played out. Special dynastic life event tables are provided, and the character may also use the appropriate ones for the career(s) that he has chosen to pursue. Perhaps these characters could be scions of different dynasties thrown together by some quirk of fate or design... or they might hail from the same dynasty and be in competition to become its next leader. Plenty of potential here for novel campaigns and adventures!

The final chapter, Roleplaying Traveller: Dynasty, looks at a whole raft of ideas about how you can incorporate the material in this book into your game. It includes ideas for adventures, and a collection of ready-made dynasties which serve as good examples or which can pop up as rivals, allies or enemies to your own or player-generated dynasties.

This can be classed as a game-changer: it widens the whole scope of Traveller from the individual character to larger groups which can occupy centre stage or mutter along in the background as you choose. There is plenty of potential here to add an epic dimension to your game... and like most things Traveller, much of it can occupy spare time when you are not actually role-playing if you fancy creating dynasties and using the rules to model their growth, conflict and eventual decline (or triumph) by yourself!


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

This book takes a look at a long-neglected aspect of Traveller which is, after all, a space exploration game: the creatures that you may encounter on other worlds. If you take the premise that life has developed on multiple planets (which given the sheer number of 'habitable' ones is pretty obvious), that life is not going to be identical wherever you go. Indeed, having exotic (to our eyes) lifeforms is part of the 'otherness' of visiting different planets during the course of your game - and if so inclined you can weave them into your plotline, anything from specimen-collecting or hunting trips to being attacked by some savage beast you didn't even know existed.

When not playing engineers or the ship's chef, I quite often play a 'xenobiologist' whose very reason for being out in the black is to study the flora and fauna on the worlds he visits. If your game is one about exploration or colonisation, you are going to need to know about the creatures on the planets you investigate. Even if your game involves trade, or war, or going for a holiday, it may become important. Robert Heinlein, in his book Tunnel in the Sky gives a wonderful example when a survival instructor says "Beware of the stobor". His students spend ages looking for a stobor before they realise that it's not an actual creature but the concept of an unknown animal that might well be dangerous that they are being warned about!

The introduction begins with a discussion of what an 'animal' is and how animals behave... they are not cute, furry, people! Animals react to circumstances, they are not sentient, and respond to scary situations with a flight or fight response rather than a reasoned one. As general points of animal psychology are discussed, ways in which to make use of them within your game are suggested in a neat and useful manner.

Next comes A Walk on the Wild Side, a chapter which provides a comprehensive animal creation system. Based on a series of tables in typical Traveller fashion, it is designed to enable you to create believeable alien animals with little effort, complete with all that you need to use them in play. Animals evolve to fill particular niches, so you need to decide early on in the process what sort of terrain your creature will be found in - this may, of course, be dictated by other aspects of the adventure you are planning. The creature will fall into one of several classifications (avian, reptile, insect, mammal, and so on), and will have appropriate modes of locomotion and behaviours to go along with it. Like many such systems, you can have hours of innocent fun just rolling up animals even if you have no specific use for them right now. Whilst this book is about animals, you do have the option of 'fungals' - now most people lump fungi in with plants rather than animals, but there is certainly biological evidence to view them as a third kingdom, and here they might be able to move around. You can use the same section if you want a few self-mobile plants... why not, this is alien biology we're talking about, after all!

Now, there are lots of interesting things you can do with the animals you create, but this being a role-playing game combat is never far away, so the next chapter is When Animals Attack. It provides numerous tables to allow you to set up animal encounters based on terrain type. Of course, these encounters do not need to involve conflict if that's not what you want. Wherever you plot takes the game, there will be some options for random encounters - or you may choose to set them up in advance as part of your story. This section is also replete with little snippets of ideas and events that add more life to the proceedings - interactions, events and so on, all helping you to create the air of 'otherness' that reminds the players that their characters are not in their home town any more. This is, due to the multitude of options, the largest part of the book.

Finally, The Galactic Menagerie provides an array of ready-designed critters for you to let loose, or at least to serve as examples for your own designs. There are also some charts to allow you to modify creatures depending on the environment in which they are to be found - so you can have a tropic rain forest or open plains version of a given animal, similar enough that the relationship can be discerned but different enough to be distinct... and of course, fitting in with wherever it is that they live.

Overall, this provides a good and comprehensive if mechanistic way to come up with animals to be found on all those worlds that are out there for your Travellers to explore. A few examples of how to take a creature from fiction and slot it in to the system, so that you can generate the essential statistics to use it in your game, would have been a useful addition... and I do wonder what they all taste like and how you cook them!


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

If you are running Midgard Tales and like showing your players what their characters see, grab a copy of this...

It's packed with maps, floorplans and illustrations apposite to each of the Midgard Tales adventures - each one occupying a full page (so no trying to hide other things when showing the players something) and unlabelled so that nothing is given away.

The plans are particularly useful as many of the complexes visited in the course of these adventures are of unusual shapes and prove quite tricky to describe in words. What is it that they say: a picture's worth a thousand words?

The illustrations, in a range of different styles, will also help you bring various scenes and characters to life as the game proceeds.

OK, you don't need this to run Midgard Tales, but using it to effect has the potential to enhance your adventures with some quality visuals.


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An RPG Resource Review

*****

If you cannot get enough adventure on the high seas (you are not alone), this work contains four complete new islands in Midgard's Western Ocean (already featured in Journeys to the West and Pirates of the Western Ocean) along with a glorious 2-page map, more monsters, a selection of NPCs and more.

The islands are described as 'lesser' but come provided with a wealth of information on history, geography, interesting locations and notable inhabitants. There's a nice colour map too... everything you need to facilitate a visit by the party to the island in question. Even better, there are interesting features to investigate and full-blown adventure hooks to kick matters off to a flying start. Snippets of poems and songs, and exerpts from the journals of one Bellalucca Caravicci adorn the pages too, building up a rich and living background that you can present to your players.

If you enjoy Bellalucca Caravicci's contributions, she is also written up as a full NPC, perhaps the party will meet her - maybe even feature in future journals!

The monsters are fascinating and unusual... the Diving Bell Spider (which traps air in its webs so as to live underwater although it's air-breathing!) and the Carnivorous Ship stand out, but there are other intriguing creatures there to meet/fight with.

Finally, there's a full plan of a galleon: views of each deck from above and a side elevation which helps you make sense of the layout.

A good addition to the Western Ocean, and even if you don't play in Midgard the islands could be located in any suitable sea with little modification - and of course the NPCs, monsters and the galleon are useful wherever you play.


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