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Saturday 17 September 2022

Lost & Found: Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1

Three decades after the release of the last supplement for MegaTraveller in 1992, a lost book comes to print, and it is fitting that it should come from Digest Group Publications. Published in 1987, it was in effect the second edition of Traveller, updating Games Designers Workshop’s classic Science Fiction roleplaying game with both a streamlined cohesive set of mechanics and an updated background. This updated background would begin with the assassination of Emperor Strephon and over the course numerous supplements see open rebellion and civil war break out across the Third Imperium, which would ultimately lead to a long decline in terms of trade and technology known as the Hard Times. Worse was to follow. Digest Group Publications designed 
MegaTraveller, but Games Designers Workshop published it, a relationship which would continue for five years. When Digest Group Publications closed its doors in 1993, it left behind it a legacy of some highly regarded and subsequently, much in demand, supplements and sourcebooks that have not since been reprinted. It also left behind a number of books which never print and are so regarded as having been lost. Notable amongst them would have been Digest Group Publications own roleplaying game, A.I. However, there were supplements for MegaTraveller too, and Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is one of these. 

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 was originally projected for publication in 1990, but is now available for the first time, more than three decades on, thanks to some digital archaeology which was able to rescue the original files. It is an adventure module set in the years 1119 and 1120 prior to the Hard Times which concerns the adventures of the crew of the Robin Ascendant, a Type J Class Seeker. The crew is seeking the location of the Victory Belt, a legendary asteroid belt said to contain enough Onnesium-118—a highly efficient metaconductor—to give a man enough wealth to last not one lifetime, but several. This quest will begin on Trin, the capital of Trin’s Veil Subsector in the Spinward Marches and take them trailing through the Corridor Sector and into the Restored Ziru Sirka. Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 consists of two adventures—‘Cometfall’ and ‘Fharnas’—which take place at the beginning and end of the journey outlined in the supplement. In between there is plenty of scope and distance (over one hundred parsecs) for the Game Master to insert her own adventures and encounters and the supplement includes several detailed ideas for ‘transitional’ adventures which can be worked into the journey.

In ‘Cometfall’, the crew of the Robin Ascendant track down an elderly Vargr scientist who is conducting research into comets from a highly advanced base built into the rock of a comet! The crew hopes that the scientist knows of the location of the Victory Belt, and although he is welcoming, he seems to be prevaricating when it comes to actually telling the crewmembers what they want to know. Eventually, he will tell them what he does know, but not before they join him on an exploration of the comet’s surface—an incredibly dangerous environment, the base being attacked by pirates, and their managing a desperate escape. This information consists primarily of a destination, a Scout Service base on the world of Fharnas in the Kasear Subsector of the Vland Sector, the location for the second scenario, ‘Fharnas’. Here on and in another hostile environment—hostile because the world has ammonia oceans and an ammonia-tainted atmosphere and hostile because the Restored Ziru Sirka does not welcome speakers of Galanglic, the language of the Third Imperium and the Solomani, as opposed to the Vilani of the Ziru Sirka—the crewmembers find themselves conducting a ‘raid’ on an Imperial Interstellar Scout Service to obtain some information in return for the information that they want. With this information, they are ready for travel further trailward to the world of Antares in the Julian Protectorate. The adventures were to be the subject of the next supplement, Antares Down: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 2 and then concluded with Beyond the Seventh Moon: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 3.

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is designed to be played with the four pre-generated Player Characters, crewmembers of the Robin Ascendant. These consist of Fencil Tufo, a driven Belter and owner of the Robin Ascendant; Shalya Lyric, an ex-Navy engineer who simply wants to travel and see the universe; David Janier, a religious ex-Merchant; and ‘Mak’, a translation robot who owned by Janier. In this it follows the same format as seen in the campaign which ran through the pages of the Traveller’s Digest magazine—also published by Digest Group Publications. Suggestions are given on how to use the scenarios with different Player Characters and a different starship, but the default is the Robin Ascendant and its crew (or at least another vessel with Jump capability of Jump-2). As well as the stats and background of the crew, which also come with illustrations, the supplement includes deck plans for the Robin Ascendant and a passenger submersible, floor plans for both the comet base and the Scout Service archives (the latter having a weird maze-like layout designed to confuse), and the stats and details of various other vehicles. These are of course designed for use with 
MegaTraveller, but an appendix provides conversions for both Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller and Game Designers’ Workshop’s own Traveller 5.

In terms of background, 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 includes information on Onnesium and the Victory Belt, as well as details of Trin’s Veil Subsector and Trin itself and Fharnas and the Kasear Subsector. This background is well written and presented for what would have been the first time back in 1990, which includes a detailed description of the Kur’Apaa. These are the ammonia ocean dwelling sophonts native to Fharnas, a lobster-like species which was the first to be encountered by the Vilani when they began their first steps into space. Again, this was the first they were presented as Traveller canon. Some of this, of course, has been superseded by later supplements—as outlined in the supplement’s fourth appendix, ‘Wonderful Things’—and some of that later information has been incorporated into the setting background for Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1.

Rounding out 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is a quartet of appendices. These detail the Player Characters and their ship, the latter complete with deck plans, provide conversions for the most recent rules used for Traveller, and in ‘Wonderful Things’ provides some historical background to the relationship between Digest Group Publications and Game Designers’ Workshop, the origins and intent of Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1, and how it was finally brought to availability and print. This provides it with some welcome context and is a particularly good read.

In terms of story structure, 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is a quest and involves a long journey of more than a year across the remnants of the Third Imperium. This does mean that it is linear in nature and ‘Visual Nugget’ format of presenting the plot and various scenes does contribute towards this. However, the format neatly organises the plot and its various scenes for the Referee, as potential alternative scenes as well. The Referee will also need to do more than just prepare the two scenarios at either end of the journey if she wants to run Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 as a fuller campaign. One suggestion given is have the pirates which appear in ‘Cometfall’ chase the Robin Ascendant and its crew across the Third Imperium, and that is a good idea, since it adds an element of continuity between the two scenarios, which could be strengthened by the pirates’ patron also chasing the Player Characters as well.

The obvious issue with 
Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is that it takes place in a timeline which is not currently supported. Suggested sourcebooks such as the Rebellion Sourcebook from Game Designers’ Workshop and The MegaTraveller Alien: Vilani and Vargr from Digest Group Publishing are long out of print, although the Rebellion Sourcebook is available as a PDF. So, anyone not steeped in the lore of Traveller is going to have a harder time preparing this supplement than those who are.

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is cleanly laid in the style of a Traveller book of thirty years ago. Entirely done in black and white, the artwork is straightforward and has an understandably technical feel to much of it. The deck plans are all excellent, but the writing is dry in places.

Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 is a piece of history, but not an unwelcome one. Its two scenarios are still playable, with some development upon the part of the Game Master, the space and time between them can be used to begin an entertaining space quest. Fans of Traveller will very much appreciate having Manhunt: The Onnesium Quest Vol. 1 available at last—especially if they are fans of MegaTraveller—whilst anyone new to it will appreciate it as a snapshot of Science Fiction roleplaying from another future.

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