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CD-ROM: Apocrypha II—Judges’ Guild et alia

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2019 issue.

CD-ROM: Apocrypha II—Judges’ Guild and other licensees. Various authors.
Far Future Enterprises http://farfuture.net
PDF and other files on CD-ROM, ~685MB
US$35.00.

As part of their efforts to make electronic versions of all historical Traveller material available, FarFuture Enterprises has released this collection of licensed third-party material for Classic Traveller and MegaTraveller, from Judges’ Guild and other publishers. Two other discs of Apocrypha, from other historical licensees, are available separately, and one, containing material from FASA and Gamelords, was reviewed in the March/April 2016 issue.

The vast majority of this disc is in fact the Judges’ Guild material; other publishers represented on this disc include Paranoia Press, Games Workshop (before Warhammer), an early Canadian fanzine called Third Imperium, and a dozen articles that appeared in various gaming-related publications. As with most of the early third-party products, the quality is uneven – there are definitely some gems in the collection, but there are also clinkers alongside.

Many, but not all, of these items are text-behind-image PDFs; in general, if the text was clear enough to successfully put through OCR, it has been; as I did not make any effort to actually copy-paste text, I can’t say whether the OCR was accurate, or whether the text was corrected after the OCR process. Production values are uneven; some material comes near to what might be accepted as ‘professional’ quality today, while other material looks like it might have been run off on a mechanical office printer (common at the time) and then photocopied.

You get three Sector Surveys (Spinward Marches, Solomani Rim, Dark Nebula) by Micki Kaufman; each of these is a 1000+-page document with standard subsector listings and maps, followed by a “description” (really a ‘canned’ textual interpretation of the UWP) and animal encounter tables for each and every world in the respective sectors. It is acknowledged in the preface that this is essentially computer generated; obvious signs of this are the lack of names for the subsectors (they’re called “Subsector One” through “Subsector Sixteen”, although the page with the list of worlds in GAL/SEC format does give the actual subsector names) and the use of fixed-pitch fonts (Courier) in places where proportional fonts could have been used without causing formatting problems. These are documents that I wouldn’t think are ‘wastes’ if I saw them on DTRPG, but they could have been improved with a little hand-editing. Nevertheless, they’re potentially useful works for a referee who needs or prefers “grab-and-go” data to generating it on-the-fly or custom prepping.

The Games Workshop material is limited to four items (two clunkers, one high-quality product, and a historical document): (1) a book of ship designs, done to a high standard of quality – except for some minor choices of title font and the imposition of margin decoration, one might easily believe this to have been done by GDW; (2) “Personal Data Files”, which is nothing but the cover from the original product, displaying (most of) a filled-out personal data forms; the actual product was actually a package of 50 blank forms. It would have been nice to have a PDF version of a blank form included, as such a form would be useful even with modern versions of Traveller; (3) the cover for GW’s “Ship Layout Sheets”, which was really just graph paper ruled in half-inch squares; if you used these as the standard 1.5m grid for Traveller starship plans, you’d end up with workable playmats for 15mm miniatures. Of course, with today’s computer and printer capabilities, one can take a high-resolution deckplan and print it to scale for any size miniature desired – the utility of this product in its original form was simply that it was a grid size that wasn’t normally available in off-the-shelf graph paper; (4) GW’s Writers’ Guidelines, a three-page document describing the sort of material that GW would (or would not) accept and how to submit it. It is of principally historical interest, although it wouldn’t be unreasonable to use it as a starting point (with suitable company, location, etc., substitutions) for writing guidelines for any version of Traveller, even today.

The Paranoia Press material was more uniform in quality, close to if not matching the contemporary GDW material. This disc contains three advanced character generation guides (Scouts and Assassins, Merchants and Merchandise, and SORAG) and two sectors (Vanguard Reaches and The Beyond). S&A and M&M could easily have been used to replace Book 6: Scouts and Book 7: Merchant Prince from Classic Traveller, and SORAG was a credible attempt at differentiating the Zhodani from the Imperium, before we really knew that Zhodani society and governance was strongly influenced by psionics. Both sectors were well-fleshed-out, though I felt that there were problems with this version of The Beyond; either sector could be put to good use for a campaign setting. This material isn’t ‘canonical’ (hence the disc title, ‘Apocrypha’, but that doesn’t detract from its quality.

The Third Imperium fanzine was published out of Vancouver BC, and followed in the same footsteps of the original JTAS that the JTAS section of early Challenge issues, later resurrections of JTAS, and eventually the magazine version of Freelance Traveller all did. Given the commonly-available production ability of the time, it was a credible job for a fan operation, with hand-drawn art and text printed on a mechanical printer (‘daisy-wheel’, not cheap dot matrix). Each issue had a selection of articles covering all aspects of Traveller, and ran about 22 pages (8 11) per quarterly issue. There are 11 issues on this disc, representing just shy of 3 years of publication, in an era where other fanzines generally seemed to last a year or less.

Traveller miniatures weren’t unknown, and there are guides to those produced by Grenadier, Citadel, and Martian Metals, plus the actual Steve Jackson Games Cardboard Heros (pictures printed on cardstock to cut out and fold into stand-up “miniatures”; one could still use the concept today, and with appropriate scaling, even “resurrect” these). Along with the Grenadier guide, you get copies of the scenarios that Grenadier included with their miniatures sets, and their adventure, “Disappearance on Aramat”, which is still occasionally mentioned with respect even all these years later.

There were magazines that covered RPGs as a hobby, without necessarily being ‘house organs’ or having a specialty in choice of game. Traveller articles would occasionally appear in them, and eleven of the best are included here, including some by familiar names such as Marc W. Miller and Frank Chadwick. There are also three expanded character generation processes by Bill Paley (a name which I could wish had better recognition now that I’ve seen his work) covering two aspects of the mercenary career that were mentioned, perhaps as throwaway lines, in Book 4, but never developed: Nautical Forces Command, or “Wet Navy”, and Air and Close Orbit Control Command. The latter was eventually covered canonically in MegaTraveller, as COACC (swapping “Close Orbit” and “Air(space)”), but Bill’s article predates even Classic High Guard. Bill also generated a career path for the “Other” career, using it to cover Spies, Civil Servants, Criminals, and Smugglers, all in advance of later canonical material. It would have been a shame if this material had been forever lost; while I can’t say that this material alone makes the CD-ROM worth the price, it definitely adds value. You also get Patrick Larkin’s take on the Merchant career (in advance of Book 7: Merchant Prince), Robert Camino’s adventure, “Canard”, an adventure, “Exonidas Spaceport”, by Jeff Swycaffer (perhaps better known by his full name, Jefferson P. Swycaffer, and as the author of several Traveller-based SF novels reviewed by Shannon Appelcline as part of his Fifth Imperium column). All of these were quality articles, and may well have served to ‘spread the gospel’ of Traveller in those early days. Again, it’s good that these have been preserved for us today.

Whew! That’s a lot of stuff right there, and we haven’t even done more than mention the centerpiece: the material from Judges’ Guild. Thirty-four files make up the bulk of this disk, covering the JG corpus.

You get all four sectors that JG put out – Ley, Crucis Margin, Glimmerdrift Reaches, and Maranantha-Alkahest (M-A sector was renamed Gateway sector in later canon-compatible material). These products came with a large map of the sector (roughly 1522 if you assume the scan at 67002400 represents the size at 300dpi); subsector maps and listings for each sector, in the familiar landscape format with the map on one side and the world listing on the other; encounter tables for various environments, including deep space and circumplanetary space, along with capsule descriptions of the encounter (rather than just a single-line description like “pouncer, armored as jack, wound/weapons as dagger, A4F2S1”); world maps for a few of the worlds (in the familiar unfolded-icosahedron format); and an index, listing all of the worlds in the sector and their coordinates.

JG’s Referee Screen for Traveller was originally black-on-green; if the banner on the first page of the PDF is any indication, it would have been … uncomfortable … to read. The PDF is black on white, and could be printed on off-white paper to make it less glaring, but still easier to read than the original. There were four pages each for the players and the referee, and when assembled, the referee and players were peering at each other over an 1134 screen.

The Traveller Logbook contained tables for character generation, including such things beyond the regular UCP and career progression as habits, the reason for adventuring, elements of cultural background,… all in advance of DGP’s World Builder’s Handbook. You also get overviews of starship operations, various tables that may come in useful at various times in an adventure, and forms that you can print out and use as part of your character record or ship record. This document is provided in both ‘upright’ and ‘rotated’ form; at the time this CD was released, it wasn’t common for PDF readers to allow you to rotate the view, so many of the pages in the ‘upright’ form will be sideways. The ‘rotated’ form ensures that all of the pages are oriented for proper readability without ‘kitzeling’ your PDF reader.

The Astrogators’ Chartbook is a book of blank forms and instructions – really, guidelines – for using them to create maps. It was a good idea in its time, but you can get essentially the same thing with much better production quality today. The Navigators’ Starcharts is essentially the same thing for sector and subsector mapping. Again, good for their time, but you can get better, and even computer-generated, today.

Fifty Starbases is a ‘junior sourcebook’ for creating starports; it also contains example maps. As with most Traveller, and especially early Traveller material, it is fundamentally table-driven, with additional notes providing ideas and guidelines. The expectations seem to be somewhat different from those of contemporary canon, but not irreconcilably so.

Starships and Spacecraft gives you the JG version of a starship stat sheet, plus line drawings and textual descriptions. Their early ship esthetic was significantly different from the designs that became iconic later; one can see a marked preference for squared-off boxy designs maximizing space-utilization (or minimizing wasted space, if you prefer). It’s surprising how little has changed in nearly 40 years…

The Lazer Tank was intended to be cut out and used with 15mm miniatures for resolving armored combat. One can still use it this way, but you’ll likely want to print it on cardstock for a bit of extra durability.

Ten adventures round out the set, ranging from those that are still named with respect, like Dra’k’ne Station and Darthanon Queen, to those that were forgotten but probably deserved better, like the Border Prowler trio, to those that were forgotten with good reason, like Waspwinter.

Overall, a good collection and a good complement to the Classic Traveller CD-ROM. Well worth the price, especially if you already have (or if you purchase this with) the Classic Traveller and the other two Apocrypha CDs.