Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday 10 September 2022

Holding Off the Hard Times

With The Zhodani Candidate and Eve of Rebellion, the author Stephen J. Ellis brought his experience of freeforms and LARP—Live Action Roleplaying—to the Third Imperium, the setting for the Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller and published by March Harrier Publishing via Mongoose Publishing. In traditional scenarios and campaigns for Traveller, the Player Characters own a starship, such as an A2 Far Trader or a Type S Scout, and as the eponymous travellers, move from world to world, trading, thwarting crimes, uncovering mysteries and making discoveries, and so on. Alternatively, they go to war, undertaking contracts as mercenaries in low-conflict engagements. Either way, the focus is firmly on their adventures and their narrative. In both The Zhodani Candidate and Eve of Rebellion, the play switched to high above that. In the former, a team investigate a marriage between a war hero and potential sleeper agent and an important noble, whilst in the latter, the events leading up to the assassination of Emperor Strephon are explored, with the players taking the roles of those present. These two scenarios take place on a grander scale, their events often having wider repercussions, and with their mixture of secrets and secret agendas, designed to clash and interact through play, often offer more of a roleplaying challenge then the average scenario. Mirabilis, the author’s third scenario, is likewise inspired by freeform play with its often-interlocking secrets and agendas, but shifts focus whilst retaining a grander scale of play and whilst also being radically different. Mirabilis is diceless.

Mirabilis shifts the focus in both terms of time and space, but is still set in Traveller’s Third Imperium. It takes place on the world of Mirabilis, a low gravity, resource poor, but technologically advanced and important planet in the 82 Eirdani system of the Capella subsector of the Solomani Rim, near the border with the Third Imperium. The year is 1125. Strephon Aella Alkhalikoi, Emperor of the Third Imperium, has been dead for almost a decade and the Third Imperium is beset by rebellion and civil. In response to what it saw as a weakened enemy, the Solomani Confederation made a dash for Terra in an attempt to reclaim the Solomani Autonomous Sphere. Unfortunately, the Solomani Confederation has overextended itself, leaving it vulnerable to disrupted trade, pirate raids, and internal strife. Mirabilis has not yet suffered this fate, but it is up to its ruling Tech Council to ensure that if it cannot avoid such incidents, then it can at least survive them, and potentially survive the dangers to come. The Tech Council of Mirabilis consists of five members, controlling and representing different aspects of its society—Party Chairman Boris Gupta (Technical Maintenance & Party Administration), SolSec Co-Ordinator Jamal Goren (Solomani Security), Admiral Helen Treygar (Military Forces), Commerce Secretary Mario Niemeyer (Merchant Marine & Traders), and Chief Scientist Esme Hawking (Science, Research, & Education). Each council member has his or own agenda and secret, but also knows a secret about a fellow council member and has the means to bribe another. Each also has a power. For example, Admiral Helen Treygar can launch a military coup, Party Chairman Boris Gupta can declare someone guilty of unSolomani activities and strip them of Party membership and thus eligibility to sit on the council, SolSec Co-Ordinator Jamal Goren as the head of Solomani Security can imprison and interrogate anyone as a traitor to the Solomani cause, and so on. Thus, every council member has his or her advantages and disadvantages.

Mirabilis is designed to be played by five players exactly, who will each take the role of a member of Tech Council of Mirabilis. Each is provided with a character sheet and background information on the situation on the planet and its surrounding systems in the year 1125. As the Tech Council of Mirabilis, they take control of five levers of power or planetary stats—Tech Level (Science), Population (Maintenance), Law Level (Social Order), Wealth (Foreign Relations/Trade), and Military Power (Defence)—in order to push their agenda and respond to threats and dangers. Over the course of five turns and a decade from 1125 to 1135, they will negotiate, bribe, and blackmail each other to place these in order of priority. Those given priority will improve, but those not given priority, will suffer and not be as capable of responding to future situations and threats. The planetary stats are the only numbers given in the scenario, and will go up and down over the course of the scenario depending upon what the players and their characters decide. For example, a population increase might come about because of refugees, but a decrease because on of the planet’s flying cities crashes, the military’s capability is increased because the construction of new fleets or is reduced because maintenance time is neglected. Every turn there are trade-offs between improving a planetary factor and not improving planetary stats.

Mirabilis is based on the Prisoners’ Dilemma game theory. In a Prisoners’ Dilemma, the participants have the reasons and the means to individually do better if they betray others, but better overall if they co-operate. Ultimately, the outcome of this scenario and the fate of the world of Mirabilis being in the hands of the players and their negotiating ability and how they react to events revealed from one turn to the next. If events and the actions of other council members do not go his way, a Player character has the means to conduct a single coup, although a coup has a deleterious effect upon Mirabilis’ planetary stats.

For the Game Master there is a complete guide to staging and running the scenario as well as the rules. There are also events from year to year that the Game Master will provide as briefings to the council. These are all made available to the council members, but for a more complex game they could be handled as individual briefings given to the appropriate council members who then have to brief the council—or not. As an aside, there is everything here to run this game as a play by email instead of a convention one-shot.

There are some elements of Mirabilis which some players may find unpleasant or uncomfortable playing. Most obviously, they are roleplaying Solomani and Solomani in the Traveller setting tend to be racial supremacists. There is also a race of Uplifted Apes on the world of Mirabilis which are regarded as lesser. In addition, the players will find themselves controlling the fate of millions, who may well die because of their decisions. The scenario though, is definitely about the latter rather than the former.

Physically, Mirabilis is lightly illustrated and laid out in simple fashion. It could do with a slight edit in places.

Whether run as a one-shot or a convention scenario, Mirabilis is a really taut, fractious scenario, forcing the players as members of Tech Council of Mirabilis to make difficult decisions over the course of a few hours. Together they hold the fate of a planet in their hands in the face of encroaching Hard Times and what they decide will determine if it survives the coming dark age or falls to it.

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