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2300AD: Then and Now

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller.

This short article endeavours to look at some at the differences between GDW’s 2300 AD: Man’s Battle for the Stars of 1988 and the Mongoose volume of 2012 simply called 2300 AD. It’s not a formal review of either product, it isn’t suggesting that one is better than the other, and it doesn’t attempt to go into great detail. Hopefully, however, it will give those who are curious some pointers to where the main differences lie and what you might need to consider if using both editions or choosing to ignore one or the other.

Physical differences

This is an obvious and predictable difference in the light of a nearly 25 year age gap. The GDW (second) edition came as three booklets (Adventurer’s Guide, Director’s Guide and Play Aids) – of possibly the cheapest RPG production this reviewer owns, just paper covers – in a box that has stood up well to a quarter of a century. The new Mongoose volume is a single handsome hardbound volume of 300 pages that shows off the development of the games industry in the intervening years. Internally, the same is true. The GDW booklets had sidebars throughout and these are gone in favour of a two column layout. Artwork is completely new in the Mongoose volume – there is less of it and in this reviewer’s opinion has lost something over the clarity of the original. The Donna Barr illustrations are a particular loss. Having said that, there are world maps and deck plans galore in the new volume where the earlier edition didn’t include any. The photo-realistic illustration on the cover of the Mongoose book is also a couple of orders of magnitude on from the colour line art of the GDW box. Various tables, like the artwork, however are considerably clearer in the GDW volumes.

Mechanics

GDW produced 2300 AD as a standalone role playing game – and even dropped the Traveller connection after the initial Traveller: 2300 offering in 1986. That means the box included all the rules you might find necessary. It grew out of Twilight: 2000 as a development of that ‘history’ in a project GDW called ‘The Game’ which built the future history by actually playing it out with a large group of participants. It used six sided dice and ten sided dice.

Mongoose 2300 AD is based on Mongoose’s Traveller rules and the Core Rulebook is required for play. Gone is any reference to Twilight: 2000 and that period is now simply referred to as Twilight or the Twilight War. Any mention of development via ‘The Game’ has also gone. (Although errors of the original such as Finland being counted as ‘scandinavian’ rather than Nordic have been retained. ) This ‘Travellerisation’ of the rules means that many of the supplements (such as starships or vehicles) are compatible and it also means that many of the rules found in the GDW volumes can be dropped as they’re included in the Core Rulebook: task (or ‘Event’) resolution, combat, animal encounters, world generation, space combat and of course character generation. These latter two have some additions to the Core Rulebook in Mongoose’s 2300 AD volume: space combat has a couple of pages of tweaks added (combat rounds of three minutes, ‘tactical movement’ instead of thrust rating, variations to missiles and submunitions, etc) and character generation has Advantages/Disadvantages, Core/Frontier differentiations, and the very welcome Focus and body types carried over from the 1980s. For those who learned the words ‘ectomorph’, ‘mesomorph’ and ‘endomorph’ thanks to 2300 AD they’re retained, as are the clubs, diamonds, spades and hearts method of determining Focus (previously a way of determining motivations for NPCs). This latter however has been somewhat revised from the original – aside from being part of PC generation rather than NPC – and spades now stand for curiosity rather than the personal power of the original. On the subject of NPCs, the original books had sidebars of tables to assist in generation such as stature, age, skill levels, clothing and personality which haven’t made the new book. However, there are some example civilians, starship crews, military types and animals towards the end of the Mongoose volume. GDW included some typical crew salaries, Mongoose maintain these – all in the standard Livres of course! – but add “Expert Rates” for crew with higher skill levels.

Of course, one of the major differences between 2300 AD and Traveller is starship engines. Instead of the Jump drives of Traveller, 2300 AD has Stutterwarp drives – limited to 7.7 lightyears. This continues and is maintained, along with the lack of anti-grav, nuclear dampers and meson guns for example, as a key difference between the milieu. This gives 2300 AD a grittier feel with more realistic technology it’s claimed. Ships are also generally smaller with a 900 dton cruiser typical instead of the 57th century’s 50,000 dtons and a maximum ship size for 2300 AD of 10,000 dtons. And of course, the Third Imperium has some 11,000 worlds whereas the universe of 2300 AD has a mere 30 which is a considerable change of scale. One thing missing from the Mongoose book is the rather interesting ‘further look’ notes on the Stutterwarp Drive which amongst other things looked at whether or not it might be possible to break the 7.7ly barrier and so on.

Experience and renown are also gone from the original which some might feel is a loss but does bring the volume into line with the Traveller rules. The loss of the world generation section also means that two pages of advice on world mapping has also gone which is a shame. The loss of the animal encounter material means that the interesting food chain pyramid diagrams are gone, as well as the rather iconic animal (and sentient) hit location diagrams of course. Task/Event resolution was based on a d10 roll (Simple 2+, Routine 6+, Difficult 10+, Formidable 14+, Impossible 18+) but in removing this entirely to the Core Rulebook it standardises it with Traveller as a d6 roll.

Background

One controversial presence in the original game was the ‘Near Star List’ based on the Gliese catalogue with stars from a 1969 survey. At the time, this three dimensional map was considered cutting edge for a role playing game and was as up-to-date as science allowed. Of course, knowledge and science have moved on in the 25 intervening years and much is known that makes the map somewhat outdated. However, because the map is so tied up with the setting and invalidating it would make a lot of the 2300 AD background worthless, the decision was taken to keep the Near Star List as the core of the setting. For purists this may be a big stumbling block, for those more interested in the milieu it should present no problems and means that the older material remains useful. Having said that, GDW’s presentation of the list was much clearer than the Mongoose version which is considerably harder to read – although it is in keeping with tables across the rest of the book. And where GDW listed stars in alphabetical order by name, Mongoose have chosen to use the Gliese number order which isn’t perhaps as useful. (They have however reverted to the proper Gliese numbers rather than the Gliese number 10 which GDW used.) Also, Mongoose have integrated the companion star information rather than place it at the end of the list. Having said all that, the representation of three dimensions on a flat map is still no easier to use than it was 25 years ago!

The ‘Colonies of Earth’ list has become the ‘Settlement List’ and it adds UWPs which is extremely helpful, but it loses the year of colonization which is less so. Various colonies have been added: the American, Australian, British, German and Manchurian colonies on Alpha Centauri – which existed in GDW but weren’t listed. Wellon and Santa Maria are also added to both the list and the setting. Others which have appeared: the American colonies Hermes, Avalon and Far Station 19; Warkington’s Drift for the British; Eriksson for the Canadians; Geroellblock for the Germans; Sechura for the Inca; and Trilon 14 for the Trilon Corp. (The French colonies in the Mongoose book have descended into some alphabetical muddle as well.) Gone are the homeworlds of the Eber and Sung for example and there are some errors such as the Life Foundation colony DM-3 1123 becoming DM+3 1123, not to mention that some of the +/- symbols are simply missing from the Mongoose volume. The Nations of Earth list is retained, but as mentioned above is not as clear in its new incarnation.

One big disappearance is the alien race of the Klaxun. While all the others are present and correct – if somewhat minimally described, perhaps leaving the way open for future supplements, the Klaxun have gone without a mention. There’s no obvious reason for this. Also gone is the sidebar information on typical alien NPC stats. Perhaps part and parcel of the development of science fiction role playing games is the lessening of the emphasis on the alienness of the alien races. In the late 80s there was much reaction against aliens that were merely ‘men in suits’, thus the GDW text encourages referees and players to consider just how strange the universe can be. Either this is more taken for granted by the Mongoose volume, or the play balance of actually role playing the truly alien has left us settling for what we know. Another subtle difference is that the Mongoose volume is generally more upbeat in its introduction to the background the history to the milieu. One suspects that the cold war was still too much on the minds of the original writers. Also the Kafers aren’t immediately introduced as an implacable foe. Interestingly, the GDW volume covers ‘history’ from 1700 whereas the Mongoose volume picks things up around 2000. Some of the “major wars since 2000” have also been removed including the Kafer war.

The world descriptions have been much revised and considerably beefed up – although not as lengthy as the descriptions found in the Colonial Atlas. The Mongoose volume also includes a ‘Universal Nation Profile’ (based on UWP) and world maps which are a great addition. Some adjustments have been made however, for example, correcting language as Tirane ‘Provence Nouveau’ becomes ‘Nouvelle Provence’, and ‘Provincia de Brasil’ becomes ‘Provincia do Brasil’, or adjusting the background a little: Wellon and Santa Maria being added as colonies on Alpha Centauri. Most of the organizations such as foundations or military units are present, often with text reproduced exactly as it was, but some have been reduced in terms of description. One omission that seems a shame is the loss of the shoulder patch insignia used as illustrations in the GDW volume.

The ship listings are one area where the Mongoose volume really does excel. The ships have been redesigned for the new rule set and have new illustrations that are based on the old ones – your mileage may vary on whether or not you prefer old or new. Deckplans however are included now which will make the vessels even more useful in play. A few of the original craft have been retained (the Anjou, Trilon SSU-21, Aconit Frigate, Kennedy-class cruiser) but most are gone including the Kafer vessels (a possible future supplement?). However several others have been added including for example a bulk carrier, a new fighter, and a beanstalk capsule which given the interest in this particular technology is very welcome (though this was covered in the later GDW volume for the setting, Beanstalk, as well as Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook.)

One difference that is actually noted in the Mongoose volume occurs on page 35 with a reference to New Canberra having a “discrepancy” in the population figure from that given in the Colonial Atlas. The figure was 98 million and is now 6 million. But in fact Amaterasu (was 119 million, now 10 million), Tirania (was nearly 18 million, now 3 million) and New Albion (was 212 million, now 6 million) have all been seriously altered as well. Tunghu has crept up to a little over 3 million (from 2,200,000) and of course as noted above Wellon and Santa Maria have been added as two further colonies not mentioned by GDW. These major reductions (and small additions) feel about right for the world as described so it’s easy to see why they’ve been made.

On the equipment front, it’s much the same list but prices have (mostly) gone up! That’s inflation for you. Things are approximately three times more expensive but some have gone up by a lot more and there are some reductions. Also sadly lacking, again, are all the illustrations of equipment and weapons. Particularly in the case of the latter, for this non-specialist, they were inordinately helpful in visualizing what was being described. Weapons haven’t completely transferred over, many if not most have but some have gone AWOL (the Ramirez-Abruggo BF-1, Arno 5-15, Mueller-Rivera F-7). In general these are either less useful or more marginal and in their place are new weapons (the Stracher ‘Wolf’ Hunting shotgun, Stracher Modell 6, Rockwell 12-39 Magnum, Traylor MX-99 Gauss Pistol, Kasakaia M-97, Guiscard F-44 Gauss Gun, DunArmCo M-600 Rotary Gun, a whole section on submachineguns and a rocket launcher). There are also now non-lethal weapons such as a plasma bazooka, flamethrower, and a DunArmCo Web Caster. There was much more in the way of guided ordnance, but now we have Pentapod weapons and various weapon accessories. The Armour section has been beefed up somewhat but is still based on the GDW material.

Vehicle design has added some variations to the Core Rulebook - or rather the rules presented in Supplement 5-6: The Vehicle Handbook. (This revises and considerably simplifies the rules given in both Supplement 5: Civilian Vehicles and Supplement 6: Military Vehicles). Example vehicles in the book all used this revised rule set. The vehicles from the 80s are all reproduced here under the new system, they’ve also been re-illustrated – again opinion may differ on whether the new pictures are in improvement, but it’s good to see them. Three additions are the Pichot 4020 cargo handler and two combat walkers utilizing the new walker design rules of Supplement 5-6.

Aside from sections that have been considerably revised or beefed up, there are some that are new in the Mongoose book: cybernetics and DNA modifications (some of which of course appeared in the Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook), robots and drones, cortex hacking (modifying Traveller psionic rules to allow mind reading), starship encounter tables, sample animals and NPCs, and a list of sources including all the original 2300 AD material (which can be found on the Far Future CD-ROM for those who’d like to use it as additional support material) and other fiction, films, tv, comics and so on which can be used as inspiration. There’s a good chapter on space travel and combat which includes interface travel options from beanstalks through spaceplanes to catapult operations.

Additional Material

One sad loss from the original is the Travel Time table of both the Adventurer’s Guide and the Play Aids—one of the most useful tables of its kind. There is nothing like this either in the 2300 AD book from Mongoose, or the Core Rulebook. There is, however, a table that didn’t appear in the original: a calendar (including important holidays) which is useful for keeping track of the passage of time in an adventure.

Another missing item is the solo adventure – possibly a first for Traveller – ‘Terror’s Lair’ with the reader as American Marshal Obadiah Thomas on the trail of a drug smuggler. As the adventure was bound up with the rule set, it’s unsurprising this has been removed but its passing deserves a note for rarity value.

The world map for Earth has become a Traveller-standard isomorphic map and although it’s very attractive, the addition of physical features make it rather unclear and hard to read. The boxed set from GDW also included a Near Star List map as a separate chart which was useful, this of course is not included with the Mongoose book, but may perhaps yet be an additional pack such as the Spinward Marches Map Pack and its like.

Conclusions

It is unsurprising that there is considerable revision to 2300 AD in its rules and setting. Role playing game design has moved on quarter of a century, Mongoose have their own style and requirements, but there’s little here that should cause problems either for those familiar with the older books wanting to update, or for those unfamiliar with the GDW work wanting to explore a new setting for which they have no previous experience. There’s much great gaming goodness in both editions and with Far Future making the old material easily available on CD-ROM, no reason why the best of both worlds, as it were, can’t be had. Colin Dunn and team should be congratulated on keeping the spirit of the original. It should be easy enough to adapt existing material – published or homegrown – to the new rules; but those new to 2300 AD might also want to obtain the older books for additional material and background. It’s always good to see alternative milieux for Traveller and great to see this particularly setting brought up to date and reconnected with the Traveller brand after so many years.