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Six Guns: Lasers

This review originally appeared on rpg.net in July 2015, and was reprinted in the July/August 2021 issue.

Six Guns: Lasers. Martin J. Dougherty.
Terra/Sol Games LLC https://terrasolgames.com
60pp., PDF

This is the end of an era or the start of a new one for Terra Sol Games. For after a long absence, TSG has finally returned with a firecracker of a product. Six Guns is their trademark sourcebook series for detailing various aspects of their particular Alternative Traveller Universe.

So, as the name implies it deals with proverbial laser gun. In Traveller, lasers remain one of the more archaic aspects of the game. Perhaps, due to designers’ experience in ‘Nam or just realistic projections from the 1960s – lasers were powered by backpacks. Which goes against almost every Science Fiction convention/trope since almost the dawn of “ray guns”. However, gritty realism soon gave way to Star Wars in which troopers and rebels alike did not carry laser “backpacks” – so all sorts of modifications without invoking the MacGuffin of the “Ancients” to allow backpack-free lasers. Thus, this book follows in this tradition of balancing the two descriptions. The traditional backpack laser and the cartridge/magazine laser are both described with lots of loving detail with sample manufacturers of each weapon highlighted. It is this level of personalization that Traveller, like all RPGs lack (although Runequest has some nice rules to address the challenge) – why does the future have to be so homogeneous? Marc Miller’s Traveller (T4) tried to address this by coming up with the primordial Third Imperium developing a futuristic equivalent of an Interstellar ISO. Solves why Megacorporations are the only businesses that matter in the future. Notwithstanding, left cold with many fans turning to BITS (and now Mongoose which has reprinted the contents) 101 Corporations, as a remedy. So, kudos to TSG for making this explicit, in their ATU.

Then we have some rules that were not covered, but, players are likely to find themselves in. Such as, is it wise to hide in a cardboard box when coming under fire? Or different aiming/focusing strategies. And, concluding the product is a nice one-shot adventure. One that does not really tie-in into the rest of the product. But, a well-written and imaginative adventure that pulls in several elements of the ATU that can be a springboard or just finish that night with a feeling of resounding victory or crushing defeat. Pregens (sadly without character art) are supplied.

The writing is rich, terse, and exciting, as one has come to expect from Martin J. Dougherty. It is beautifully illustrated with original drawings that I wish the main Mongoose line would employ these artists, as they certainly catch the right Traveller vibe without resorting to stock images. And, if this small press can afford this… Traveller art has been always contentious. So without opening the proverbial can of Megadrilacea, let us say, that I want to see more art like this… Nevertheless, art has always been TSG’s strong point – and – as it has a very distinctive style – it reminds one of when the Keiths essentially hijacked FASA.

This product has few flaws. The odd typo here and there. It is very short but well priced for the market. The sad thing is that we are not likely to see more print copies of TSG as they move toward a more PDF-only business model. Having these things on store shelves would actually probably drive more people to Traveller. However, the push and pull of the PDF market remain one of the greatest challenges for all publishers of RPGs or the book trade, in general. I still like the old fashioned feel of a book and I am greatly appreciative that TSG did produce this one. It was the subject of two Kickstarter campaigns. With the first one not receiving enough funds. That I fear might be the canary in the notorious mine that might be the fate of Traveller as a whole. SFRPGs are waning because our interest in Science Fiction is fragmented. Traveller has always been a toolkit to make all those things possible. However, with time, it also evolved backstory, and love it or hate it, the OTU or Imperial Campaign defined Traveller.

I personally love the social science elements of Traveller, which includes the backstory and I think the Imperial Campaign has always been flexible enough to accommodate all sorts of different tropes ranging from the Transhumanism to 1920s explorations of the consequences of industrialism (a la Lang’s Metropolis). There has been a marked shift to trying to move Traveller back to being a Second Age of Sail… I think that approach has been a fatal mistake. Traveller has been always about absorbing the culture around it, and we are not living in the age of sail, but, nuclear powered aircraft carriers and drones being commandeered by people safely ensconced in bunkers on the other side of the planet and man-portable thermonuclear devices that could turn a small war into something much bigger, and larger meme wars which have both hot and cold components – such as the War on Terror or War on Drugs. Traveller with its clunky computers and backpack lasers, although they have been gotten rid of through workarounds. The background and sense of an epic story have not kept pace. Smaller publishers have stepped in with their ATUs and the 2300AD line of Mongoose have addressed some of these developments. So, I applaud and hope that TSG will continue developing and deepening their ATU in the future. As they have all the elements of the social science and technological aspects of where Traveller ought to be.