This article originally appeared in issue #006 of the downloadable magazine.
Sirius Treaty. Tim Bancroft et alia
Sceaptune Games http://www.sceaptunegames.co.uk
UKú18.00/US$27.00/EU€24.00 (PDF UKú9.70/US$15.00)
Editor’s note: The author of this review is the designer of Hyperlite and an employee of Sceaptune Games.
Based on the Mongoose Traveller (MGT) Open Gaming License (OGL) System Reference Document (SRD), this extends the much-loved 2d6 Traveller into a very different future history - early 24th century Earth and its colonies.
This article is meant as a quick and introductory overview of what Hyperlite: The Sirius Treaty is, and how it differs from Traveller. Due to the curious operational constraints in the universe of the Sirius Treaty, the base MGT had to be adapted and adjusted to better cope with those differences and provide a richer gaming experience. The technological assumptions are also very different, being a projection of now, and due to the nature of the Sirius Treaty, lower-level TLs have had to be much more granular.
The key difference between The Sirius Treaty and Traveller is the setting, so we’ll go over that below before explaining any rule modifications. More information can be found on the Sceaptune Games website (http://www.sceaptunegames.co.uk) under “Hyperlite”. Above all, it’s worth bearing in mind that anyone who has played MGT or Classic Traveller has found Hyperlite very easy to run with. We’ve also found that newcomers to the 2d6 SF rules have also quickly picked the rule base without it getting in the way of a really fun game.
The Setting: A new future, a renewal of history.
Space is big, but it's history is even longer than can be imagined. Stars and star-systems are still being formed and are still evolving, their worlds cooling and, sometimes, even being lucky enough to end up in the habitable zone around a sun. It’s this depth of time that’s a problem for alien contact: even after the United Nations of Earth (UNE) developed a faster-than-light drive in the Foldspace Transition, it only found four other, colonising, starfaring species around our galaxy. But it also found the relics and artifacts of the Precursors, starfaring species from way back in time.
Of course, such artifacts are sometimes simple, and sometimes stunning in their complexity. Quite which is never known, but the advanced artifacts give a tremendous technological advantage to those discovering them. The struggle to claim and recover Precusors sites led to a series of low-key conflicts on backward planets that sapped the resources of the starfaring species. Many of these escalated, causing severe problems to the resource-stretched starfarers and catastrophic damage to the homeworlds of several primitive societies. Finally, a peace treaty was signed, the Sirius Treaty, and a monitoring force was constructed: the Invigilators.
Originally intended to be an independent oversight body drawn from representatives of all the signee species, the Invigilators quickly grew out of control after they found the treaty not always being properly enforced. Using a synergy of technology from the member races, they developed their own monitor ships, weaponry and medical technology. Now they rigidly enforce the treaty's tenets, especially as regards first- or primitive- contact protocols. They permit the signee species to use technology from their own history, providing it is comparable in period to the world on which they operate.
So, now, some twenty years after the Sirius Treaty was signed, whenever a backward society is found, the UNE's Sirius Treaty Special Forces (UNEST-SF) must ONLY carry equivalent technology. So the augmented, jacked-up, chipped-up legionnaires of the UNEST-SF must go into hostile lands armed with swords and spears. Oh, and shields, of course.
But there have been problems re-engineering the ancient technology and materials and reproducing the manufacturing techniques. This leads to a great deal of negotiation along the lines of "We're so sorry, Mr Invigilator, but the cotton plants have been contaminated by our GM'd crops. We know the tunics are waterproof. And windproof. Oh, and tear-resistant. But, but... it's still cotton, and it contains no impregnated artificial chemicals or nanobots...". What’s more, sometimes the discovery of a new, habitable planet by Earth exploratory craft is lost or tied up in the bureaucratic jungle that is the UNE’s under-funded, Invigilator Liaison and Notification Department.
Our convention scenarios are focussed around the exploration of new planets and are meant to highlight the potential wonders of the Precursors, the fear of the Invigilators, and pose problems based around what happens when the Treaty is broken. Of course, players take the role of Humans in the UNEST-SF and are part of a squad sent down to investigate or sort out a problem.
Such squads include Specialists, scientists given UNEST-SF training and enlisted into the Sirius Treaty Special Forces. These get fast-track promotion and tend to look down on the military types (who, in turn, can regard looking after them as ‘baby-sitting’). Some squad members may even come from industry or academia and be given temporary officer rank, but as Observers. This leads to a wonderful tension between the characters with seniority and helps limit the mismatches that occur when you grant unknown players an in-game authority over the rest of the group.
What we’ve found wonderful about the gameplay is that, most often, players try to actively avoid combat. Whilst they initially fear their opponents using hi-tech weaponry against them, they even develop a fear of the low-tech weaponry, even with the advantages of their own armour. For the problems with re-engineering technology may well give them an edge, but they are heavily reliant on their own augments, such as subdermal armour, and the combat-focused squad members become acutely conscious of their role in defending the scientists, negotiators or specialists...
...especially when facing another starfaring species that is currently ignoring the Sirius Treaty and risking all by carrying combat armour or advanced weapons down onto a Protected World.
Character generation is as fun as always in Traveller, the process largely the same. A character is taken through a number of different career terms, picking up skills, experience, Mishaps and Events along the way. We found we had to vary the term length though, and very quickly discovered that a “Prisoner” or “Penal Battalion” career was needed. This turned out to be quite popular, as an enforced period of confinement gives an added dimension to those unfortunate Mishaps.
All characters have several augments (artificial implants), some of which are given to everyone, such as Liphe-cytes (immune system boosters) and subcutaneous communication links, whilst others are gained through experience or from a character background. Most Player Characters end up with subdermal armour or library jacks (database implants) – the argument is that, technically, an embedded database is not actually carried down onto the planet as it’s already part of the human and is not obviously a cybernetic upgrade.
As might be expected for a new setting, the Skills had to be adjusted. On the whole they were simplified and aggregated, but the skill system is still the same old Traveller 2d6 system, with assists and effectiveness, if it is needed. The major difference is in the acknowledgement of ‘Familiarity’ – knowing how another species builds, copes with and makes use of materials and equipment: after all, how is a human going to know how a 2,000 year-old Precursor civilisation puts together its personal transports?
Similarly, combat needed adjusting to cope with the extended use of ancient technology. More ancient weapons are added in, and ranges have had to be adjusted to cope with the prevalence of shorter-range weapons such as bow, slings, spears and crossbows. Again, the combat modifiers are simplified, but a few more ancient twists are provided with a more discrete difference between the use of shields and dodging. It still works fast, and is still as deadly as before; medics are still much-loved members of a team.
Interstellar travel is also very different from the Jump drive. The Foldspace Transition involves creating a fold in space and traversing the junction where the points correspond. Whilst providing instantaneous travel, it needs a great deal of power and is extraordinarily hazardous, the EM effects causing problems in all active electrical equipment – and living organisms similarly reliant on such signals. This means that humans typically need another implant to survive Foldspace transitions, but even then they have to restart their ship and are groggy afterwards. Nano-tech difference engines provide intermediate computing power until the quantum and Turing machines come online again. Foldspace may be accurate, but FTL communications are limited to ships, just like Traveller.
In the universe of the Sirius Treaty, a cruiser captain has as much independence as the frigate captains of old.
What’s not in Hyperlite?
The universe of the Sirius Treaty is relatively ‘hard’ in terms of the science fiction it projects from today’s knowledge. There are no gravity plates on starships and no magical psionics. Though much-loved in many SF universes, shields are non-existent, though if someone discovers a way to create an energy ‘shield’ big enough to wrap around a ship, that acts only one-way and without disrupting ‘solid matter’ then it will gradually be retrofitted onto UNE starships!
Most ‘habitable’ planets in the Hyperlite universe are assumed to be populated by unintelligent (Traveller: non-sophont) life. There are numerous ways that life can evolve without developing sophonts – even on our own world it seems that it took several hundred millions of years in the multi-billion year history of earth. Time is also taken into account, so that whilst only four or five star-faring races are currently extant in the universe, it is assumed an identifiable few had existed over the past, traceable history; many more, perhaps, may have existed beforehand.
The core rules in Hyperlite purposefully do not include any rules on starships or space combat, though an overview of the key space vessels, the cruisers, is provided as background. The majority of Hyperlite encounters are between groups of human characters and aliens, using low-tech equipment; where space-based encounters take place they are typically on the starships. Given the technologies and weaponries involved, Hyperlite starship battles can be much more lethal than Traveller, and it is only the presence of the Sirius Treaty that prohibits the use of space-based nuclear missiles.
Hyperlite is not a licensed Traveller product. Hyperlite: The Sirius Treaty is standalone, containing its own character generation guidelines. To illustrate this, our Hyperlite books have a simple “SF OGL” logo.
Our playtesters and convention players found it is very different, fun and absorbing, many having commented on just how real the setting feels. The rules keep things flowing fast, especially when handled delicately, and players have great fun sorting out the problems on the planets they explore.
Whether investigating a Precursor ruin, rescuing downed travellers, or trying to negotiate an alliance with some primitive natives who do not realise what treasure they are sitting upon, the Player Characters are constantly faced with different and interesting challenges in difficult situations.
We keep updating and adding resources to our Hyperlite website pages (at http://www.sceaptunegames.co.uk/shop/hyperlite.htm). As always, we’re happy to answer questions, whether via email or our forums, both of which are accessible from the website.