Darkest Stars (A Classic Traveller Fanzine)
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2020 issue.
Stars. Omer Golan-Joel, editor.
2 issues at time of review, 20 and 25pp., PDF
Darkest Stars is a new fanzine in the old style for classic Traveller. With just two issues so far it’s perhaps a little early to see how it will develop but the 20 pages and 25 pages so far look promising for a good mixture of rules, setting and commentary. With issue dates of April 2020 and June 2020 presumably this will be quarterly or perhaps bimonthly although traditionally fanzines have been somewhat irregular at the best of times. The editorial in the second issue hints that possibly monthly was the original aim. Those who’ve read the editor’s blog ‘Den of the Lizard King’ will recognize some of the material but here it is edited and brought together in traditional periodical style.
The issues themselves are greyscale PDFs with attractive colour covers. A futuristic font which looks great and makes it clear – if the title wasn’t enough – we’re in science fiction territory. Beneath, that is narrowed down with the subtitle ‘a classic Traveller fanzine’. The issue number and month/year balance the lower portion of the cover. There is no formal back cover and one of the two issues is not a convenient multiple of four for those who like print outs. The PDFs weigh in at just over 5MB and 7.5MB respectively so they won’t trouble any limited hard drive space; they’re searchable which means it’s easy to locate any particular word of interest. The font size throughout is on the small side but clear enough so it translates to a slightly less than US Letter/A4 device like the reMarkable well enough. The illustrations are mostly atmospheric black and white artwork with an old school vibe I rather like; I think these are the Public Domain offerings referred to on the credits page. There are also some grey scale pictures.
The ‘About’ page on the website reveals that classic Traveller for its purposes means the three little black books, i.e., Books 1-3 together with Book 4: Mercenary along with the first four Supplements and the first four Adventures. I can’t help wonder why the first four double adventures didn’t make the cut! “Small ships, small empires… straightforward rules,” we’re told, “rolling dice and blowing stuff up without too much paperwork”. Sounds fun. A return to the roots of this venerable game which suggests there is a lot of mileage to be had by the ’zine.
The fanzine is edited by Omer Golan-Joel who fans will recognize as the mastermind behind Outer Veil, These Stars Are Ours!, 50 Wonders of the Reticulan Empire and The Wreck of the Tereshkova amongst other things. Here he has a space to offer opinion and present Traveller content in a magazine format of shorter and longer pieces. Others contribute their own items, maps or art work.
Some of the articles are opinion pieces such as the first in issue #1 reflecting on the “beauty of classic Traveller” and in issue #2 considering death in character generation for which Traveller is of course well known. The rest of the ‘generic’ articles concern traditional ideas and themes which you might have found in old fanzines of the 1980s. Abstract space combat, scout deck plans, quick and dirty vehicle combat, flame weapons, trauma surgery rules and to fill out a bestiary in issue #2, some dinosaurs with Traveller stats. The old school feel of the fanzine and art continues in some of the presentation such as Richard Rose’s excellent colour scout ship deck plans produced in MS Paint. They have a sense of the technical about them without losing clarity and although perhaps a tad small on the page, in my opinion are to be preferred over the new-fangled isometric things. Call me a dinosaur.
Each issue – and again there are only currently two so it’s impossible to guarantee this is a trend, present a little more in the way of UWPs, maps and descriptions of a specific region of space. The setting material is the editor’s own Dark Nebula which he describes as a ‘proto-Traveller setting’ – a variant of the standard Traveller universe set during the early period of the Long Night. It was inspired by the GDW board game Dark Nebula, hence its name. There are certain deviations from the official universe in astrography and, following the Rule of Man’s collapse, various Terran states clashing with each other and the Aslan. It is excellently conceived to allow small ship adventure with plenty of room for PCs to make a difference and create their own (far) future. Thus far each issue presents two subsectors with maps, UWP data, Library Data and some history. Even if you’re not interested in the setting itself, as ever with Traveller there are plenty of ideas here to swipe for your own worlds and adventures.
What’s not to love about a return to the basics such as this? And free as well. Clearly coming out of Golan-Joel’s love for the game and two decades of experience, this provides a platform that offers a lot of potential. I wish the title every success and am eagerly looking out for the next issue.
Oh, and the editor is looking for material. Classic Traveller, generic material or Dark Nebula specific. So the invitation is there to get writing!