Author: Martin J. Dougherty
Publisher: ComStar Games (http://www.comstar-games.com)
Format: PDF file
First and foremost, this book is the continuation of the Traveller: The New Era timeline, Virus, Star Vikings, Empress Wave, Avery and all. If you believe that giant, Jump Capable Space Hamsters are a more likely explanation, go away now, this book is not for you.
Second, I will assiduously try to avoid spoilers, but I cannot review a book that is 50% future-history without generally discussing that future history.
Thirdly, my own biases. I've often noted that Survival Margin is my absolute favorite Traveller supplement of all time. The story of the Third Imperium has always fascinated me far more than the mechanics of the game; indeed, since the RPG Traveller is now at home in a half-dozen or more different gaming systems, I'd argue that it is the story of Traveller that makes it the game we all know and love (and/or hate, or both).
On to the book....
Out of the Darkness is a system-agnostic sourcebook, telling the story of the New Era from the start of the Rebellion in 1116 on to the founding of the Fourth Imperium in year 1248, over 40 years later than the events in the original GDW New Era books. It is the direct successor to GDW's New Era books, and takes those as canon for this version.
Mr. Dougherty credits both Marc Miller and Dave Nilson as having great influence on the book and the milieu, and it shows, it's very much like the best of the old GDW TNE stuff.
The book is organized into three chapters: "A Unified History of Charted Space", which takes up nearly half the book, "Charted Space in the New Era", which describes the people and polities in 1248, and "Referee's Information", which describes several subjects in more complete detail than the PC's should know.
There are two Appendices, "Generating UWP's for the New Era" and world and astrographic data for a small part of the 4th Imperium on the border of the Wilds.
In the first chapter, much of Survival Margin is retold, although in a less conversational way and proceeds on to discuss the fate of all of the major factions of the Rebellion.
Each tale is different and yet depressingly similar: each battled against each other for supremacy, then the status quo, then, often desperately, for mere survival. Each side thought they were the ones who could win the "prize", if only they stretched a little more, won one more world, defeated one more fleet. By the time Virus swept through Known Space little resistance could be mounted.
Having gone through each factions' end in round-robin succession, the various efforts to recover are outlined, from first cautious steps out into the Wilds to re-contact, to Empire (re) building.
The Reformation Coalition, the main focus of the previous New Era material, is much less the focus, as simultaneous efforts were made in numerous places throughout Charted Space.
Reading this chapter as a history text is more than a little depressing, as so often one or another group will stagger back to their feet only to get involved in yet another hopeless conflict, out of greed, ambition or paranoia; it is clear that the author doesn't think a whole lot of Humanti's ability to learn from it's past. Trillions died, and in the course of this history billions more die, often for the same futile aims. Yet, like humanity everywhere, they keep staggering back to their feet.
At times, the story is a bit confusing, a scorecard keeping the factions straight helps, and at times it's a bit repetitive... there are a few too many "Doomed Grand Fleets Hurtling Toward Their Destruction" scenes, and a couple of truly deus-ex-machina moments. These are minor weaknesses in a generally fluid history. That it seems repetitive in places is often simply due to the fact that the same sorts of things did happen over and over again in the various shattered bits of the Third Imperium.
As a story, and a background for play, Charted Space is at once different and familiar. Playing in the new New Era comes across as mostly Harder Times meets TNE. The vast Empire-ending threats have died down, leaving PC-sized threats for players to contend with.
There are still TED's to depose, Virus to outwit, pirates to chase (or be chased by), shady deals to be made, frontier worlds to be taken, or re-taken, exploration to be done, salvage to accomplish.
As Mr. Dougherty explains in his author's note, his final aim was to end up with an Imperium where there are no real Black hats and White hats, merely shades of gray. Things are not desperate enough that humanity's survival is in question anymore, but it's still unclear how long before or even if anything as large as the Third Imperium will rise again, and no one's hands are clean of the blood of innocents.
There's room for great heroics and great villainy in this Milieu, as well as petty heroics and villainy.
More importantly, there is now hope. PC's don't have to be absolute bastards, killing and plundering just to stay alive. The PC's are bearers of the flickering flame of civilization; but they're as often greeted as targets as they are friends. While it lights they way before you, a light also illuminates you to the universe. It can be uncomfortable and dangerous.
Chapter two lays out the people and politics of 1248. Major and minor races are briefly outlined (and are familiar to Traveller players). The existing major and minor powers of known space are briefly outlined in a few paragraphs, astrography, outlook, a broad overview of aims and relations with other polities.
The third chapter is Referees' Information. Like the RI sections of MT and CT, this gives the real truth of the various mysteries of the New Era: a substantial section on Virus, including PC's as Virus, the truth of the Zhodani Core Expeditions, Longbow, a long section detailing exactly what The Empress Wave is and does, and some more detailed information about The Truth of what's really happened. This section answers many, many questions left lingering by the demise of GDW as to what was really going on.
Mr. Dougherty cautions that this information is still incomplete, and there may be deeper truths inside the 'truth' laid out in this section, but that's the nature of the product. Traveller is an ongoing and evolving story, scattered among a host of publishers, and a half-dozen different time-frames and outright alternate versions.
There's more than enough room to continue a timeline in this milieu for a long time to come.
The book wraps up with two appendices. The first is a UWP generation system for NE; while I haven't compared it directly, this looks like a repeat (or at most a reworking) of the NE UWP generation sequence from the original TNE sourcebook. The starting point is the MT UWP to which various modifiers are applied, ending with the UWP as it is in 1248.
The last appendix is "The County of Uske", a three-world group on the rimward fringes of the 4th Imperium, a growing empire based in Gushemege, with it's capital at Usdiki, Emperor Strephon's last capital, now the home of Avery I, the newly crowned Emperor of the 4th Imperium.
The three worlds making up the County and seven others nearby are detailed
It's set as a starting point for play in the 1248 New Era, convenient to a large expanse of wilderness area, allowing the GM freer reign in creating their Traveller Universe. Four pages of adventure seeds and color maps of the three worlds round out this section. As this area is distinct from any other New Era material, it doesn't step on any other system's toes, so to speak.
This is a very "player-sized" pocket of the universe. PC's in this milieu can have sizable effects on the local universe.
As I said in the beginning, whether or not you like this book is very dependent on your opinion of TNE. People invested in the RC setting of the New Era may well dislike this...the Star Vikings end up rather less than good guys in the longer run of things.
Aside from a couple rather unbelievable moments, (the last battle between the Alliance fleet and the K'Kree Dominate at Gateway, with not one, but TWO miraculous occurrences? That was stretching it a bit, Martin!) the history hangs together, and gives a solid foundation for the Fourth Imperium, complete with allies, foes and shadowy entities who may be either, or both, and new mysteries.
While it won't supplant Survival Margin as my favorite Traveller sourcebook ever, this is a excellent volume for any GM thinking of playing in (or stealing from) this version of Traveller.
For continued development of the New Era timeline this is a solid foundation. I look forward to the rest of the series.