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Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Sourcebook, Revised Edition

Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in Freelance Travellers December 2011 issue.

Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Book Revised Edition. Michael J. Cross and Matthew Hope.
Terra/Sol Games http://terrasolgames.com
120pp, softcover
US$19.99

Preamble

This sourcebook is a Space Opera milieu and while it is true, like many other gamers, I grew up in the long shadow of Star Wars; however, I do not really like Space Opera. So when it came to SFRPGs, I gravitated toward Traveller which while not truly Hard SF…it represented the more firm end Space Opera games on the market. And, Traveller in all its incarnations has been an eclectic mix that I have termed Hard Space Opera. So, it is up to the referee if the starships go whoosh but enough handwavium exists alongside harder aspects. And, this secret formula combining careful and gradual innovation (sometimes a tad too careful and not hard enough for others) is what has accounted for its staying power. Therefore, it was with some hesitation and trepidation that I approached the Terra-Sol Games LLC Traveller line – where the production by-line says: Twilight Sector: Space Opera. I am happy to report that more or less, Terra-Sol Games LLC has maintained the balance. Fair warning: this is strictly an Alternative Traveller Universe.

The Good

I found the premise of an alternate Earth (in fact, two alternate Earths) intriguing, it being a fertile area for adventure of the familiar and the alien. For the basis of the milieu, is that, somewhere out there, some unknown agency known as the Precursors transported vast amounts of humans plus the planet’s flora and fauna to an as yet uncharted area of space to an exact duplicate of our own Earth along with the entire Solar System. Ironically, for a space opera, there are no alien sophonts detailed keeping true to Traveller’s fundamental premise that we will live in a human dominated universe for some time. Other than those strange and mysterious Precursors… In which the inhabitants of this new Earth also called their world Earth. And, on that Earth, parallel evolution meant that many of the familiar things like recognizable nation-states, with the same names appeared at the same time.

Why the two Earths? As the authors explain, it is easier for players to navigate and think their way around, if the adventure is to take place in Rio de Janeiro then they will know approximately how to get there from Berlin. I found this aspect rather creepy, as if it was channelling nuBSG with the line that: “All this has happened and will happen again…” Assuming for a moment that it was an older civilization than Traveller’s Ancients that performed these wonders of engineering and geneering to get humans up to current Homo Sapiens Terras, it could happened in the distant past away from Chartered Space.** Or indeed, just let parallel evolution take its course after being deposited. Anyhow, the time is somehow the 30th Century (their time). Keeping this straight is one of the more annoying and enjoyable things about the setting.

The Original/Official Traveller Universe postulated our future and past remain unchanged until about 2100AD allowing it to date quickly but various tweaks namely altering our Earth’s own past could create a feasible OTU future (but this is not the place discuss the OTU, save in the elegant way that TSG dealt with it). The setting is internally consistent and logical, as events do unfold the way they ought to from logical outcomes (if anything in Space Opera can be true). I do have some nitpicks which will noted in The Bad.

The first chapters are all about getting you acquainted with the history and politics of this region of space by providing interesting references and background to how the different interstellar polities or as they term it – Interstellar Nations contained within this region of space. These vary from a polity ruled by AIs to a successful quasi-communist state. Each of these interstellar nations has different worldviews and alliances with each other and antagonisms making the whole milieu dynamic and conflict-rife beneath a tranquil veneer. Interesting and rather central to setting is the addition of the Traveller rules is Mutants.

While having a respectable tradition, in SF, I find Mutants a little hard to stomach but the milieu does an excellent job in providing their raison d’Ítre and even furthermore, dividing mutants into two broad categories – Scientifically Induced Mutants (SIMs) and Naturally Occurring Mutants (NOMs). The first were created in the early 21st century to acclimatize humanity to the different environs that large scale human colonization of space would bring (so more Transhumanist genetic tampering). The latter was more the result of spontaneous changes arising from deep and random changes within the genome that have spontaneously arisen on some worlds. As humanity is grappling yet again with “what it constitutes to be human?” with the dawn of the mutants; the setting has thrown in Artificial Intelligences (AIs) into the mix.

The AIs form one of the main mysteries of milieu, as nobody can entirely sure what agenda they have. Certainly, they do not wish to replace humanity as redundant and inefficient organic machines – for humanity is much too numerous to let that happen. But, at the same time, they remain in the shadows and numerous darker corners of cyberspace. Furthermore, some AIs are intelligences that have been transferred by living human brains – what is their status? Are they machine? Or are they human? Lots of fun role playing the “Ghost in the Machine” to be found here with or without cyberpunk trimmings.

Next up are a selection of the worlds of misnamed Twilight Sector. Misnamed, because it is really, in fact, a subsector (by the conventions of traditional Traveller stellography), a solution without rewriting everything would be to have this subsector just to be the top left hand corner of a yet unnamed subsector. I realize that the creators wanted to channel to cool factor – and Twilight Subsector does not sound as impressive, as Twilight Sector – so hopefully they will take my suggestion seriously. For it allows many more dragons/players to have more adventures to play in. Anyhow, back to worlds…the worlds like the setting does cover a lot of Our Earth analogues – not surprising seeing that the main world of the (sub)sector is called Terra/Sol which is an exact replica of their Earth (which is the replica of our Earth but with a different future and location in space). An excellent idea to serve a launching pad for frontier adventures – enough of what people know to be familiar then mess with their brains. In any case, back to the worlds, each one is an interesting backdrop for adventure replete with seeds to go. The worlds make logical reference back to the chronology in earlier chapters that dealt with the stellar nations. The worlds represent a broad cross-section and the UWP interestingly enough has a notation for temperature – yet Mongoose Traveller does not have rules for temperature. So this is another area that will dealt with in a forthcoming volume called the Companion. As I always like worlds, these provide a rich source material to mine should I not even wish to use the setting although; each one is as I said intimately linked to the setting. The best part of this section is the descriptions of Space Stations – those massive things like Babylon 5 or Deep Space 9 – entire worlds onto themselves but scarcely referenced in Traveller (ok, maybe they are High Ports or Space Cities but Your Traveller Universe May Vary). So, to even see the addition of Stations is a big bonus for some of us who have played Traveller too long and lamented what is missing in the OTU.

Following in short order, afterwards we the Encyclopaedia Galactica – the short Library Data for the setting; this was useful but not complete. As I found many times, that I had to go back and remember what particular acronyms such as SIM stood for…this was neither in the Library Data nor the index (which immediately follows this section). So as the setting expands and this volume will get a proper publication replete with ISBNs and wide distribution this is a section that could easily be expanded upon.

The Bad

Not much. This is an excellent work in progress. Terra-Sol Games LLC has done a great job in supplying freely available supplements and adventures that round out the rules and milieu presented in this book. As future expansions will tack on organically to the setting, it is hoped that either all these will be bound together and edited properly (as there were a few strange editing decisions). And, this revision of the revision will be the one in your friendly local game shop, hopefully sooner than later. But, even as is, this provides an invaluable supplement to the Mongoose Traveller rules by expanding its scope both in terms of its breadth and depth. So, as a campaign setting it does feel incomplete but as a supplement it is overflowing with goodness.

My other criticisms would be more setting specific. I am not a big fan of alternate histories and this book is filled with them. For instance, the longevity of Terran nations is to be seriously questioned. True, it could be argued that TSG is not first game company to make that error but given that nation-states are relatively recent inventions – they may indeed persist well into the future and given that there was no catalyst uniting TSG’s Earth – indeed maybe it is not entirely unfeasible that they will persist. It does, however, lead to a criticism of making the future an analogue for the present. Something that has plagued Traveller since it went international in the early 1980s was the criticism that it was “Yanks in Space”. With the Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Book: Revised, you can indeed play “Yanks in Space” just you will be calling The Union of United Planets… Notwithstanding, this is yet another case of reminding you that this is an ATU not the OTU despite my suggestion of locating it deep Coreward in the Scutum-Crux Arm (which I might suggest in their house publication or Freelance Traveller). The other criticism is more a nitpick—but it is still uncertain whether they chose to follow Metric, as is the case most versions of Traveller do or they want to keep with Imperial/US units of measure. Keep Traveller metric is my credo.

Lastly and sadly, there is the issue of cost, as a self-publication and not yet in the distribution chain – this item may cost some individuals a pretty penny. Getting it to the state of mass publication relies upon mass sales of the Betas to justify the expansion into full fledged production. And, the Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Book: Revised Beta Mk 2 is not ready yet…close but not there yet.

The Beautiful

The ART – no question about it. From the cover to guts, the art in this volume is what Traveller art should be. There were a few lemons that unfortunately get reproduced in some of the supplemental material but overall the art makes this a highly attractive collector’s piece and is a thousand times better than even the main Mongoose rulebook (although, I did like a number of pieces contained there within). The setting is next thing of beauty – for despite my criticisms above, it is logical and consistent. It may not be the OTU but it does a good job in keeping the balance that I stated earlier as the essence of Traveller as a Hard Space Opera and therefore is a worthy adjunct to anyone’s Traveller library. I noticed that the by-line stated it was Space Opera—I’m not sure if I would go that far. It certainly enhances the Space Opera experience by bringing in elements of Transhumanist Science Fiction…sometimes directly copying from other sources when it would have been better to be original remained intact because things are lifted without any sort of background…Given the current vogue for Transhumanist ideas, I would caution TSG from going too far into that realm lest it look ridiculous as wired cyber jacks into cyberspace do today. And, I have not even given away some of the best parts in this review…

Conclusion

So what did I think about Twilight Sector Campaign Setting Book: Revised? It is a worthy addition and certainly I see the potential for tacking on elements onto the OTU (as indicated in my first note). Interesting and fun things have always occurred on the margins and the small presses in Traveller. They eventually get incorporated into Traveller which is the second reason for the greatness that is Traveller. We can just look at the history of another Traveller licensee – FASA – back in the 1970s and early 1980s which spawned great Traveller material then had a long run of quasi-Traveller-like things – Renegade Legion, Star Trek Mk 1 RPG, and even the Doctor Who RPG. All could be channelling the original Classic Traveller. For if Traveller can be classed as anything it is merely a heuristic for science fiction adventure.

**I heard the creators suggest that it would be somewhere closer to Galactic Core, not wishing the Zhodani to stumble upon this group of humans, I would choose the more remote location of the Scutum-Crux Arm – that way I can play Stargate: Traveller(tm)…