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Sunday 5 January 2020

Imperial Destiny

Since its publication in 1977 and development as the Third Imperium setting, only one event and time and date has mattered in the Traveller roleplaying game. That time and date is 1517 hours on 132-1116. The event is the assassination of Strephon Aella Alkhalikoi, the Emperor of the Third Imperium, his wife, Iolanthe Abartii Guuibataashullibaa, and their daughter and his heir, Grand Princess Ciencia Iphigenia Alkhalikoi, and the Aslan Yerlyaruiwo ambassador, at the hands of Dulinor Astrin Ilethian of Dlan, Archduke of the Domain of Ilelish. Although Archduke Dulinor would assume the throne by Right of Assassination, the bullets he would fire from the Magnum Revolver it was his perogative to carry it loaded anywhere within the Imperium—even into the Imperial Throne room—would topple the Third Imperium. This event and its subsequent Rebellion changed the future of the Traveller timeline, the conflict between the leading claimants grinding each other into technological regression and making Humaniti’s greatest empire vulnerable to attack by external forces.

It does not have to be though… For example, between 1998 and 2015, Steve Jackson Games published and supported GURPS Traveller, a version of the Third Imperium setting in which Dulinor’s assassination attempt was foiled and the Rebellion never took place. Alternatively, a gaming group can explore what happens on the date 132-1116 and perhaps decide the future of the Third Imperium with the scenario, Eve of Rebellion. Now in most Traveller campaigns, players take the role of ship’s crews, being the eponymous travellers, moving from world to world, trading, thwarting crimes, uncovering mysteries and making discoveries, and so on. Alternatively, the player characters will go to war, undertaking contracts as mercenaries in low-conflict engagements. In Eve of Rebellion though, the players take the role of those present at the events leading up to the assassination of Emperor Strephon. Each has his motivations and reasons for being at the Imperial Court—all of which will drive them to act in the best interests of the Imperium (or so they think).

Published by March Harrier Publishing via Mongoose PublishingEve of Rebellion is a one-shot scenario suitable for conventions or campaign breaks, designed to be played between four and five players—though it will play best with all five players, plus the Referee. In terms of mechanics, Eve of Rebellion is written for the current rules for Traveller, but is so rules light, it can be run by almost every previous version of Traveller, or indeed, be adapted to almost any system of the gaming group’s choice. Indeed, the primary game content in Eve of Rebellion in terms mechanics are the stats and skills of the five characters involved, although stats are also provided for the Cepheus Engine.

The five characters in Eve of Rebellion are Emperor Strephon Alkhalikoi, Grand Princess Ciencia lphegenia Alkhalikoi, Prince Varian Alkhalikoi and Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi, Dulinor Astrin Ilethian, Archduke of Ilelish, and Duke Norris Aella Aledon. Of these, one player will take the roles of both of the twins, Prince Varian Alkhalikoi and Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi. It should be noted that Empress Iolanthe is not amongst these five. In the first of two non-canonical elements in Eve of Rebellion, she is not included, having died in 1112. The other is that Duke Norris is present at the court prior to when the asassination attempt took place in the official history instead of being in the Spinward Marches restoring the ravages of the Fifth Frontier War. Of the five, Emperor Strephon Alkhalikoi wants to continue his reforms and ensure that he has a successor to continue them; Grand Princess Ciencia lphegenia Alkhalikoi wants to maintain her status and power of Iridium Throne and possibly marry a suitable suitor; Prince Varian Alkhalikoi and Prince Lucan Alkhalikoi want maintain their louche lifestyle; Dulinor Astrin Ilethian, Archduke of Ilelish wants to reduce Imperial taxes which he sees as unfair and a cause of corruption; and Duke Norris Aella Aledon wants to learn why he is at the Imperial court. Now it should be clear that these are not all of their motivations, but their motivations interlock with each others, some opposing, some in alignment.

Now there is a very good reason for this, and that is the fact that the author has experience in writing LARP—Live Action Role Play—scenarios where the emphasis is on interaction, talking, negotiation, and scheming, rather than on physical actions, such as sword fights, use of magic, running and jumping, and so on, but with tightly bound and opposing characters that possess strong motivations to encourage roleplay. And this is what is, a LARP scenario, written for the Third Imperium and around the most significant event in its history. Unlike a LARP scenario, the players do not have to dress up as their characters, but rather Eve of Rebellion is played around the table with a Referee, just as a standard tabletop roleplaying scenario would be. Of course, with the scheming and intriguing going on, the players are allowed to leave the table and perhaps conive, intrigue, and confide in their fellow players, but they still need to keep the Referee informed.

To support Eve of Rebellion, the author provides everything necessary to play. This includes an explanation of the plot and its set-up and intricacies for the Referee, a guide to running the scenario, labels for each character—including two for the Varian/Lucan player, full stats and briefings for each character—these are two to three pages in length, a set of library data which can be printed out for each player, a quick briefing for the Referee and list of who has what skill for her reference. Every character is illustrated and comes with detailed background, goals, and resources. The goals and resources are very clearly marked and easy for the players to grasp.

Physically, Eve of Rebellion is a 1.29 Mb, twenty-seven page, black and white PDF (though the cover does use colour). It is well written, the characters are superbly designed, and the advice is excellent throughout. 

If there is a problem with Eve of Rebellion it is that the casual player is not going to grasp the nuances and significance of the situation in its set-up. This is very much a Traveller scenario, and for the players to really get the most out of this scenario they very likely want to be au fait with the background to the Third Imperium and its events. Now the Library Data undoubtedly helps with that, but this is still very much a scenario that a Traveller fan will get the most out of. Similarly, this is not a scenario for Traveller devotees more interested in the technical and technological aspects of the setting rather than the background and roleplaying. That said, if you are a Traveller fan, and a Traveller fan with some knowledge of the setting, then this is a scenario that you absolutely have to play. With its superbly designed set-up and support, impressively presented characters and well-explained, interlocking goals and motivations, Eve of Rebellion is an opportunity for you to explore and play out a pivotal event in Traveller canon, to redirect its history in a way that no other scenario does. 

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