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Saturday, 6 March 2021

Magazine Madness 1: The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1

The gaming magazine is dead. After all, when was the last time that you were able to purchase a gaming magazine at your nearest newsagent? Games Workshop’s White Dwarf is of course the exception, but it has been over a decade since Dragon appeared in print. However, in more recent times, the hobby has found other means to bring the magazine format to the market. Digitally, of course, but publishers have also created their own in-house titles and sold them direct or through distribution. Another vehicle has been Kickststarter.com, which has allowed amateurs to write, create, fund, and publish titles of their own, much like the fanzines of Kickstarter’s ZineQuest. The resulting titles are not fanzines though, being longer, tackling broader subject matters, and more professional in terms of their layout and design.


The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society
has a long and storied history. The long running magazine dedicated to GDW’s classic roleplaying game of Imperial Science Fiction originally ran to twenty-four issues, before being folded into Challenge magazine. The twenty-fifth and twenty-sixth issues were published by Imperium Games in 1996 and 1997, before appearing as an online magazine licensed by Steve Jackson Games. More recently, The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society was resurrected as a set of six volumes by Mongoose Publishing for the second edition of its version of Traveller and funded via a Kickstarter campaign.

The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1 is a one-hundred-and-twenty-eight page digest-sized book, done in full colour and organised into nine different departments which provide all together provide a range of content and support set across the charted space and history of the Traveller universe. The volume opens with the first entry in the issue’s department with the most entries—‘Charted Space’, which covers a wide variety of different subjects. This is ‘SuSAG’, a history of Schunamann und Sohn, AG, one the Third Imperium’s largest megacorporations and one that specialises in biology, chemistry, genetic engineering, and pharmaceuticals, both production and research—the latter resulting in a wide range of closely guarded patents and discoveries. The article provides a history and an explanation of how the company works, both within the borders of the Third Imperium and without, notably the secret production of psionic drugs. It also covers its policies, goals, corporate and government relations, and the major spheres of operation. It is a good overview let down by first by a diagram of the corporation’s organisation that is astounding in its utter pointlessness and second a certain lack of advice as to how to use the content.

The entries in the ‘Charted Space’ department continue with ‘Emperors of the Third Imperium’, a list of the forty-two individuals recognised as Emperor of the Third Imperium. This is the straightforward iteration of material which has been printed over and over—to the point that it can be found verbatim online—and only of interest if the reader is wholly new to the Third Imperium setting. The ‘Vargr Corsairs’ article is more interesting and useful though, examine how the lifecycle of the atypical Vargr corsair band, from ships coalescing around charismatic leaders and growing and collapsing or growing and growing. It is supported by a history of the Kforuzeng corsair band as an example, which should inform the Game Master should she want to use one as an NPC faction and the players should they want to run one! ‘A Concise History of the Vilani’ covers the thousands of years of history from the first time the Vilani explored space through the Grand Empire of Stars, the Ziru Sirka of the First Imperium and the ossification of the empire to its eventual conquering at the hands of the Terran Confederation. It provides a decent introduction to the broad history of charted space and the lead up to the Third Imperium. ‘Within the Two Thousand Worlds’ is more interesting, primarily because it engages the reader in a first perspective, that of the Noble K’agzi, a K’kree diplomat posted to Capital, the seat of the Emperor of the Third Imperium, as he answers questions posed by an interviewer. It does an excellent job of showing how alien the K’kree really are. Last in the Charted Space department and entry in the magazine is ‘Gazulin Starport’, a description of Gazulin Highport and Downport on Gazulin, the capital of the Gazulin subsector in the Trojan Reaches. Accompanied by a reasonable map, the article will certainly be of use if a campaign visits the world, but can also be a source of inspiration for the Game Master too in developing descriptions and details of her own starports.

The ‘High Guard’ department has three entries. The first of these is really only a paragraph, but offers ‘Burst Lasers’ as an option between pulse and beam lasers. The other two are longer and provide two alternative ships small enough for a group of Player Characters to operate. The ‘Soho class Light Freighter’ is a variation upon the Empress Marava Far Trader, refitted to carry cargo rather than passengers in frontier regions and be able to protect itself using a triple pulse laser turret and a laser barbette! They have also been adopted as Q-ships and been employed by pirates as corsairs. The other ship is the ‘Delphinus-class Starliner’ or pleasure yacht. This is a mini-starliner, just one hundred tonnes, completely streamlined and capable of operating submerged in planetary oceans, intended to carry a limited number of High Passage passengers in greater comfort than is standard for a High Passage. However, it has a light hull, energy-inefficient thrusters, late-Jump Drive, and other detracting factors, but it would be suitable for a campaign which focusses on interaction with NPC passengers or as an alternative to the noble’s standard yacht.

The bulk of the departments in The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1 have two entries each. These begin with the ‘Adventure’ department. The first adventure in the issue is ‘The Ship in the Lake’. This is set on the world of Hazel in the Trin’s Veil subsector of the Spinward Marches where mineral survey data has been lost following a rebellion. The Player Characters are hired to locate and retrieve the data, believed to be at the bottom of a lake in the wreck of a ship lost during the early days of the rebellion. They will need to locate and dive on the wreck, but do it without alerting either the planetary authorities or the rebels. This is a nicely done adventure which will need some preparation upon the part of the Game Master especially in terms of developing NPCs, vehicles, and the politics of Hazel—in particular, why there is a rebellion going on. The second adventure is ‘Embassy in Arms’, which is set on the world of Aramanx in the Aramis Subsector. Vargr mercenaries, ideally connected to the Kforuzeng corsair faction or band, are hired to conduct an extraction mission from an embassy using air carriers. Again, the scenario will need some development upon the part of the Game Master. Of the two, ‘Embassy in Arms’ is the shorter and will probably only provide a session or two’s worth of play, whilst ‘The Ship in the Lake’ will provide two or three. What is interesting about both scenarios is their preoccupation with low-military conflicts. ‘Embassy in Arms’ in particular is a nod to the Iranian Embassy occupation in the late nineteen seventies and an attempt to conduct a rescue in-game when the one in the real world failed.

One issue is that both scenarios involve Sternmetal Horizons, LIC, a megacorporation specialising in mining operations and manufacturing. No information about the corporation is given in the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1, yet there is a whole article dedicated to SuSAG, which has no support for it. There is an obvious disconnect here and it makes no sense. Why not curate the content so that articles and adventures are connected and support each other? So that the reader and the Game Master are not forced to ask, “How do I use SuSAG?” and “What is Sternmetal Horizons, LIC?”. Now to be fair, the Vargr Corsairs article does support the ‘Embassy in Arms’ scenario to some degree, but the connections between the various articles in The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1 could have been given stronger consideration.

Equipment is covered by two departments—‘Central Supply’ and ‘Vehicle Handbook’, both of which have two entries in the magazine. The two for ‘Central Supply’ are the ‘Remotely Piloted Reconnaissance Drone’ or RPRU, a half-metre sized Tech Level 11 sphere, and the ‘Assault Rocket Launcher’, essentially a magazine-fed mini-rocket launcher, suitable for use in low or zero gravity environments. The first of the entries in ‘Vehicle Handbook’ department details the wheeled ATV or All-Terrain Vehicle in all of its variety. All at Tech Level 12, they include the standard ATV, the Large ATV, the Grav-Assisted ATV, and the Aquatic ATV. The second details the Light Patrol Vehicle and the Light APC—essentially the armoured car/scout and armoured personnel carrier. These are both Tech Level 9 vehicles and the type that can be found across numerous worlds. The contents of all four articles lean towards the utilitarian more than the interesting, especially the vehicles, though the likelihood is that the entry on the ATV will add a little colour to a game since that is what many Player Characters will find themselves crewing in adventures.

The ‘Alien’ department has write-ups of two different species. The first is the Dynchia, a Minor Human Race known for their warriors, but for not being warlike, their highly refined Tech Level 12 technology, and possessing an honour-driven, competitive culture which transcends territory. The second is all but the complete opposite in temperate. The Girug’kagh are a humanoid, Minor Non-Human Race which possess full subject status in the Two Thousand Worlds, and who are mainly seen beyond the borders of the Two Thousand Worlds as the translators and intermediaries among for K’kree. As the first species to attain full subject status, they see themselves as inferior to the K’kree, but superior to every other species in charted space! Full stats are provided for both and each is detailed enough to create Player Characters or NPCs.

The two entries in the ‘Travelling Department’ are connected thematically, both dealing with crime in an age of space travel. The first, ‘Smuggler’s Luck’ looks at the means and economics of transporting goods illegally due to their origin or their destination. Along with advice as to good regions to conduct smuggling operations, also covered is the best type of ships to employ, tools of the trade—like concealed compartments and fake drive components with secret compartments, and an example region where smuggling can be practiced. This is the Collace Arm in the District 268 and Five Sisters subsectors, but would need to be further developed to bring into a campaign. The second is ‘Piracy on the Spinward Main’ which examines the means, motives, and methods of conducting piracy in general before identifying several worlds which could double as pirate havens in the Spinward Marches. Both ‘Smuggler’s Luck’ and ‘Piracy’ on the Spinward Main could add to, or form the basis of a campaign dedicated to, or involving, smuggling or piracy.

Departments with fewer entries include ‘Bestiary’ and ‘Encounters’, both of which have the one article each. The ‘Bestiary’ article details six creatures found across Charted Space. These include the Bushrunner, an omnivorous grazer known for its blue meat and musk glands which are prized by the perfume industry; the hermaphroditic Tree Kraken which drops onto its prey, wrapping its arms around it and grinding at its with its teeth; and the Speedspitter, a shrew-like mammal which can spit seeds from its nose and is often kept as pets. ‘Encounters’ details ‘Simone Garbaldi’, an academic and linguist who claims to have discovered the lost works of an ancient Vilani poet. However, opinion is split as to the veracity of the text—are they real or forgeries? It is up to the Game Master to decide and several ways are suggested as to how this NPC might be used. Both of these articles are nicely done and their content would be fairly easy to add to a game.

Physically, The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1 is neatly, tidily laid out. The artwork varies in quality, but most of it is reasonable, and the ships’ deck plans are decent. It needs a slight edit here or there.

Now the six new volumes of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society were never going to contain all new material. It was always planned that they would contain a mix of the old and the new, but the old outweighs the new—thirteen to eight—and in the treatment of the old, let alone the new, there is a sense of appropriation and a certain lack of professionalism to The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1. The issue is that although the magazine does list its various authors, it does not attribute individual articles to their respective authors and it does not acknowledge where its various articles have previously or originally appeared. For example, the scenario, ‘The Ship in the Lake’ is by Loren K. Wiseman and originally appeared in Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society 02, published in 1979, whilst the ‘Soho class Light Freighter’ originally appeared in 1997 in the Traveller Chronicle 13, the Sword of the Knight Publications’ periodical. In neither case, is the author or the source acknowledged. (Traveller fandom though, has provided the information where Mongoose Publishing has pointedly not.) In not properly acknowledging either, what the publisher is doing is presenting the information within its pages as its own, presenting it as new when it is not, and taking a degree of ownership that it does not possess. It is disingenuous and it is disrespectful and it is unprofessional.

If the reader is new to Traveller and The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1, then none of the issues with the magazine really matter, since its content will be all new. If the reader is not new to Traveller, then the likelihood is that he will have seen many of the articles the magazine contains before, and yes, some do update content to the current version of the rules, but not all. In fact, the new stats are relatively light in the issue. For the veteran fan of the roleplaying game and its setting, The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Vol. 1 is more a collector’s piece than a brand-new Traveller publication. This is not to say that the content is not good or uninteresting. Much of it is good and much of it is interesting, but that is down to the source, no
t the publisher.

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