Friday, April 8, 2016

GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars

Written ReviewApril 7, 2006
by: Britt Reid

GURPS Traveller, Interstellar wars has arrived and is mostly a good product with, unfortunately, a few interstellar sized warts marring an otherwise well written product.

IW opens yet another chapter in the Traveller universe: The 200 years of warfare that came between Earth's contact with the First Imperium and the fall of the first imperium to the Terran Confederation.

While this is the first traveller product to cover the IW period, an awful lot of the background material will seem awfully familiar to anyone who's into GURPS traveller, as much of it was covered in the excellent GT supplement "Rim of Fire".

IW does expand on the background given in RoF and in that it does very well. It sets up a basically acceptable story of how earth goes from more or less today to a united world government under the (Snicker) UN (HAW! HAW!), which in all fairness HAD to be done because it was official Traveller canon and they weren't going to monkey with that.

Once past the "The human race finally accepted UN domination" bit things get better, with detailed history on the first contact with the Vilani Imperium, the periods of wars that followed and so on, leading, plausibly enough, to the fall of the first imperium and the ascendency of terran descended humans.

The book also does an excellent job of setting up the background for the two main factions in the game setting: The Terran Confederation and the Vilani Imperium.
I don't think any other traveller product has covered these two polities in this level of depth, and it does a very good job of making both sides 'fleshed out'.

The culture and society of the Vilani imperium gets an extensive description and, I noticed, the book seems to brush off the explanation for Vilani conservativism and lack of innovation that was offered up in GURPS traveller. (In that book, the Vilani's attitudes towards innovation were explained as being the result of the fact than on Vland, their homeworld, the surface was littered with Ancient artifacts that could and often did kill anyone who tried to tinker with them, and that most foods on Vland were toxic unless processed carefully, resulting in curiousity and innovation being bred out of the VIlani!)

Fortunately IW does a much better job of explaining why the Vilani were so tradition bound, and this also explains exactly why the huge, millennial Vilani Imperium basically imploded under the attack of what began as a single world that had just discovered interstellar travel popping up on it's doorstep.

So, as a background book for the IW period and as a setting book for the Vilani Imperium, IW does the usually great job we expect from SJG products.
As to the rest, I'm sorry to say it's a mixed bag.

There's a 'star system generator' table that's pretty good and tries to balance the original traveller star system creation rules with reality and modern knowledge of cosmology. This bit would be good for any SFRPG.

We have a ship construction system that's very similar to the one used in GT, with is good as the one in GT was good. It's basically a modular system where you buy everything as pre-made modules and fit them into the hull size you've selected. Nothing awesome here, but a good, fast, workable system that holds true to traveller canon on technology.

The ship combat system is similar to the one in GT, again not a bad thing and it is a system that creates a working mix of realism (Ships move along a vector until and unless they apply thrust to change vector) and playability. Nothing really wrong with it, although there are some things that will no doubt be dealt with in eratta soon. (My review deals with seriour structual issues, not things that can be corrected with a line of eratta.)

Now we come to some of the glaring problems that keep IW from being a great product.

Most of these are 'sins of omission', and most glaring among them in the weapons list for IW. Simply put, THERE IS NONE!!!!!!!

Believe it or not, there are no weapons statted out for IW. Not a single one! No plasma gun man portables, no Gauss machine guns, no fusion guns, NOTHING!!!! (Ship weapons are statted, I must add, but not personal ones.)

Instead of even a basic weapons list, putting traveller staples like the FGMP into GURPS 4e terms, we are blandly referred to the generic weapons listed in GURPS 4e basic books.

It's no exaggeration to say my blood boiled as I read that incredible and inexcusable lapse. One of the main reasons I got the flipping book was to get G4e stats for some traveller weapons and gear. Instead, I get ZIP.

Whatever reason SJG had for this, it's wrong and I don't care who says otherwise.
Speaking of traveller canon items, that long term staple of traveller combat, the battledress, is likewise omitted and instead we're told to use the generic version from G4e.

That right there knocked several points off the rating. Just a page or two of stats for common traveller weapons and battledress would have given them a higher rating, but they came off like lazy bums instead. Maybe they want to get people to buy a gear supplement for IW later. Whatever the excuse is, that dog don't hunt as far as I'm concerned.

Another annoying thing was the lack of ANY illo for an odd alien species that could have used an illo. Meanwhile some 'humans in makeup' type aliens got an illo even though it wasn't needed, as they were just humans in makeup or not even that in one case.

That old alien race, the droyne, are in IW under a different name, but only one set of stats are given despite the fact the droyne come in 6 castes with different stats. Sigh. And since when were the droyne 'toothless'?

Other traveller favorites, the Vargr, K'kree, Aslan and Hivers, are not statted or even mentioned, except that the Vargr are referred to in passing but not by name. Would have been nice to have G4e stats for them...mutter mutter mumble grumble.
All in all, GTIW come soff as an overpriced hardback sourcebook that should have been done as a sourcebook for GT, or GT4e, instead of being done as an incomplete game book. Several things could have been done to make IW worth it's 40$ price tag, like adding in a weapons and armor section, or adding a section on updating the already excellent and well supported GT line to the fourth edition GURPS rules.
In fact I'd have liked to see a book updating GT to G4e, with the IW as a setting for it instead of an overpriced and underequipped game book. They could have probably done that in the space used to reprint the GT ship construction and combat rules and just updated the already existing, and excellent ones.

GTIW will be several things to several types of people, so I'll give it several scores for different groups.

Die hard Traveller grognards will love it, for them it'll be a 5/5.
GT grognards will like it but be disappointed by the lack of updated stats for traveller weapons. 4/5.

GURPS players in general, as well as SFRPG fans, would find some goodies in the book, but not enough to justify it's hardback price. for them it'll be a 3/5.
With just a little more work, it would have been a lot better.

1 comment:

Don M said...

I've been looking for a copy of this for some time, it is currently out of print.
I was lucky to find a reasonably priced copy on ebay. I'm not too concerned with
it's lack of weapons stats as I plan to use a modified set of the old Imperial Commander as my ground rules and Full Thrust for the space component.