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Hub Federation Ground Forces

This review originally appeared on rpg.net in June 2015, and was reprinted in the January/February 2018 issue.

Hub Federation Ground Forces. Michael Johnson.
Gypsy Knights Games http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com
104pp., PDF or Softcover
US$29.95(S)$9.99(P)/UK22.50(S)7.50

Traveller Career books are often very hard to review because of the inevitable blowback of “I don’t want to play an XYZ” or “what does it matter because I am retired anyhow”. Classic Traveller solved this problem quite elegantly with Mercenary – postulating that the future would be run by small bands of semi-professionalized soldiers to fight in small wars and leaving the big wars to a vague notion of planetary and Imperial armies bisecting with the omnipresent Imperial Marines. Perhaps, it is the effect that Warhammer had on Traveller or just the fact that many servicemen (women) do play Traveller they wanted to see their experiences and stories told. There was finally a half-hearted attempt with GURPS Traveller: Ground Forces and a smidgen gets mentioned in the various discussions of the Imperial Navy. Thus, it is into this murky water that the ATU of the Clement Sector now treads – how to do justice a future military and honour those who serve now.

Haldeman and Heinlein were early pioneers, but since then there has a venerable explosion of Military SF – notably with David Weber which, basically is the Napoleonic wars in Space. And, given that Traveller is often touted as the Second Age of Sail, it might be natural for authors to follow Weber’s lead. I am very happy to report that was not a path taken by GKG. Here is an honest-to-goodness account of modern warfare told from the perspective of those who have “boots on the ground”. GKG has the right measure of enhancements from the Traveller rulebook with the default Traveller background (generic SF) and a future-present feel of the book and done in the economy of a small press imprint. Nice transitions with purple prose make a great alteration between just dry tables and charts or dreary rules. Great art and well thought out rules and supplementary materials make this a worthy addition to any Traveller campaign. Although firmly grounded in the ATU of the Clement Sector (with which it works best), it could be expanded perhaps to include a 2300AD milieu.

That said, it is very much an economy product, in spite of weighing in at 104 pages; there are few frills, but on the more positive side there is little wasted space. Not only do we get a history of the regiments (including the continuance of the Black Watch – though screeching German-accented men in kilts bobbing over the cratered moonscape of an unknown world has undoubtedly been played out in countless Traveller campaigns) but also enough of the history of the Hub Federation that any first-time buyer would feel well-acquainted with the milieu. We are treated, naturally, to the expanded charater generation, along with hooks to bring players together as a party. Wonderful vehicles are lovingly described from a gravtank to a glorified troop carrier. The art of the vehicles is really top notch, but, in keeping with the overall economy and signature look of GKG, Poser art is used for the characters. Clearly they are improving their portrayal of characters all the time, as the art is showing more and more a slicker and professional look – it being computer generated still does not have the gritty realism of some digital art that is overlaid by a painter but it’s getting there. And, given how difficult future character art is (because it straddles past, present and future) GKG is doing a remarkably good job.

Where the product does fall short is in giving the reader a really an in-depth feel of the change of battlespace that has occurred with the ubiquity of portable mass communications and satellites entering into the arena of war. That would require a more exhaustive look at NATO, Russian, and Chinese training manuals and clearly that was not really done here. It rather has a modern feel – right up to Vietnam – but even smaller armies (e.g., Slovenia, Argentina, or Mexico) would provide a useful counterweight. Even the contemporary German or British Army Training manuals might offer some of these insights. Even though these smaller armies do have readily the ability to launch satellites – they still must operate in a battlespace that does have an orbital component to it and merely the orbital drop capacity – but what militaries call the full spectrum dominance.

Furthermore, a great opportunity was lost when it did not detail rules and situations for mutiny, as each of these historical armies have a grandstanding tradition of revolt, either as an officer revolt or swelling from below. There have been many historical precedents whereby the revolt has a dynamic of its own, including science fiction riffs, such as Clarke’s Songs of a Distant Earth. Mutinies also are sometimes instrumental in setting up new regimes. Classic Traveller hints at this through the concept of a mercenary ticket. However, sometimes, the point of a mutiny is correcting an alleged wrong by one’s superiors or to change an existing order with soldiers acting as the catalyst. Perhaps, GKG will address this in a book of adventures dealing with soldier’s tales.

Also, missing were comprehensive “Wet Navy” or “Air Forces” rules, for Traveller at higher tech levels with the wider use of gravitics does postulate a merging of vehicles, scarce mention of how that would affect military tactics is absent. For some it heralds the return of the uber-warrior where battle dress is a man-sized mecha la Warhammer 40K or more Battlelords with sleek vehicles that reconfigure for different world conditions. The whole idea of a standing army also means what to do during peace times and this is scarcely addressed; and on the converse side – is the Hub Federation engaged in all-out war with a foe larger than pirates? For the Third Imperium was founded upon many successful anti-piracy raids combining with new technology. Is the Hub Federation moving toward the Third Imperium model? That would mean that war is around the corner. Or is it moving toward the TNE model, many small polities waging war against each other as much as they war among themselves? Time will tell.

That aside, this is a very good and comprehensive book from GKG and a welcome addition to any Clement Sector campaign. However, in porting these rules into other settings, it has to be remembered that the Hub Federation is very small – smaller than the nascent Third Imperium of Milieu 0 which is another reason that it might fit well with more 2300AD. Although, the 2300AD is much harder and would be better served with a separate ground forces supplement. So this is a nice introduction to Ground Forces, notable for what it includes than what is excluded from a small press for a small milieu.