Ancient Trails: Witness to History
Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in March 2012, and is reprinted here and in the May 2013 issue with the author’s permission.
Ancient Trails: Witness to History. Filamena Young, Michael Cross.
Terra/Sol Games. http://terrasolgames.com.
Another exciting chapter in the Ancient Trails campaign arc for Terra/Sol Games that expresses some of the best Traveller writing seen in a long time. And, the fact that this is free and can be used in a one- or two-shot makes it perfect for the aspiring referee. Only basic familiarity with the Terra/Sol (sub)sector is required to playing this game, thus making this the perfect generic Traveller adventure that can be dropped into any Traveller Universe.
The action and basic premise of the adventure is to find out the location of ancient spires of clearly artificial origin, seen in a vision by the party’s patron. Both the glove and whip can be employed to get players on track but not in an overly aggressive way just the way that referees have always done in the past. The problem is that the anomaly is located on a prison planet where a potentially ruthless psychopath has taken up residence. The nice thing is that the description of the planet perfectly captures a prison planet, unlike the GDW/Mongoose version—there is no reason why the planet itself must be so inhospitable that it is the prison without walls. Australia and numerous other penal settlements spring to mind. The environment of the planet is lovingly described; the only thing that was missing was the flora and fauna described—although one could easily consult Mongoose’s Animal Encounters to quickly generate it. The spires present a mystery—which is the best part, as I have realized that Mongoose presents the Ancients as a McGuffin whereas previous versions of Traveller, including Terra/Sol’s take, have always presented the Ancients as an enigma. And Terra/Sol’s Precursors are probably not going to be the Droyne, anyhow (whoops, spoilers).
The writing is clear, crisp and engaging throughout. It reads as a chapter from a saga that the Keeper really wants to share. There is mild nudging, rather than railroading, in the direction of getting tasks done, but nowhere is the overwhelming presence of the referee felt. The writing is designed to make the referee as an equal participant in the adventure. Supplementing the adventure are some audio files, along with truly fabulous artwork, making this series highly desirable. And one cannot beat the price. I am sure that the entire campaign will ultimately be assembled together for a modest fee, along with enhancements to the adventure itself, but no matter—if the quality is maintained, it will be well worth the price.
The adventure makes skillful use of the Traveller rulebook, as well as Terra/Sol’s supplement, but with an understanding of how Traveller works, it could easily be ported into any other system. It is big on description (role playing opportunities rather than ‘roll playing’) that makes it also worthwhile even if you don’t play Traveller but are seeking a top SF RPG.