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2300ad Core Rulebook

This review originally appeared on rpg-resource.org.uk in March 2016, and was reprinted in the July/August 2016 issue.

2300ad Core Rulebook. Colin Dunn.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
310pp., PDF or Hardbound
US$49.99(h)29.99(p)/UKú29.99(h)20.71(p)

The original Traveller: 2300 (from Game Designer’s Workshop) had little to do with Traveller proper, being set far earlier and having a different ruleset. In this revisualisation by Mongoose Publishing, the ruleset is brought in line with the rest of their Traveller product, but the original setting and flavour is kept intact… and some cunning additional rules are added to enable it all to work well.

The Introduction explains the setting clearly. The date is 2300AD, as in but 300 years into the future, human beings have left Earth and colonised some 20-odd habitable plants in other solar systems… and the single SF element is the faster-than-light ‘Stutterwarp’ drive that got them there. Earth nation-states still exist, so colonies regard themselves as being French or Australian or… rather than ‘of Earth’, although some large corporations and other groups wield as much clout as nation-states. Five alien races have been encountered, with varying levels of hostility. Although now core Traveller rules are being used, this is not Traveller per se; it is more realistic, probably a bit more gritty—and yet it’s still a game of adventure and exploration.

The first chapter, Background, covers the history that got us to 2300AD. It’s not quite the same as the original 2300AD game, but it is pretty close. Starting at the year 2000, it appears things went from bad to worse, with 2000-2089 being regarded as Twilight, a time little understood, not least because of widescale destruction of records during (perhaps because of) a nuclear war the origins of which have been lost. This caused considerable damage to much of Europe, Russia, North America, China and India, though France somehow managed to remain relatively unscathed. The war was followed by further devastation from several pandemics, possibly caused by bio-weapons. Eventually France started taking an interest in space travel and slowly some semblance of civilisation returned… leading to renewed scientific endeavour and a new age of exploration. Of course this wasn’t completely peaceful and reading about the various squabbles shows how the current state of affairs developed.

Next, Core Worlds introduces the sort of life to be lived on the core worlds of Earth and Tirane (in the Alpha Centuri system), but which can also be found the more advanced urban areas of long-settled colony worlds. Life can be luxurious, at least if you’re a knowledge worker, but far too many are unemployed and scrabbling for anything that they can get. There’s a surveillance culture that many from outside find oppressive and restrictive, the payback being security and convenience. There’s a lot of cultural homogeneity—one of the reasons many people decide they want to move on out to the stars. This overview leads into a more detailed look at Earth, the rest of this solar system, and Tirane.

Then comes a chapter Frontier Worlds, which provides similar information on what life is like out in the colonies, and details what they are like. One interesting feature is Planetary Adaptation Syndrome: human beings are designed for Earth and even the most Earth-like world just isn’t the same. You have to adapt to live there and it may not be easy, even with DNA therapy and drugs to assist. This is a good place for a discussion of disease, as people do not have natural defences against the bugs on a new planet either. There’s a good overview of all the current colonies, so read through and decide where you want to visit first… or maybe settle. Planetary Adaptation Syndrome means that most people do not flit from world to world all the time, a key difference from mainstream Traveller.

The final part of the setting information is a chapter on Foundations, Corporations and Terrorists. Not everything revolves around nation-states, so here we meet some of the other major players, with plenty of detail and examples. Characters might end up working for one such entity, or opposed to it… they are certainly likely to interact in some way if only by purchasing corporate products or hearing about a terrorist outrage on the news.

Then we get into rules territory, with a chapter detailing Character Generation. It is similar to the system presented in the core Traveller rulebook (which you need to possess to play this particular game line) but with differences based on this setting, so read through carefully as you decide on what your character will be. Again, wonderfully-detailed characters result, complete with the outline of a backstory to explain how they reached their current state as you start play—it’s quite a distraction; you want to sit creating characters instead of getting on with reading the rest of the book!

This is followed by Alien Races. Most of this is quite general and could be regarded as what a well-educated human being might know about them. The implication is, however, that aliens will be NPCs (there are no alien character creation rules), so the Referee may restrict access to this material.

Next comes Cybernetics and DNA Modifications. Here you will find all the rules you need to allow characters to take advantage of these augmentations. Beware, most places in the Core Worlds don’t like people who have had their DNA changed! Material here provides for a fairly ‘low-cyber’ style of game. If you want more, try Mongoose Traveller Supplement 8: Cybernetics—the advantage of sharing a common ruleset! The really interesting bit is the discussion of DNA modification, a new introduction to the ruleset.

Science and Technology covers the current state of play in the biological sciences, computers and information security, mechanical telepathy (this sounds… interesting) and transportation. Robots and drones and materials science are also mentioned. Then we get a bit more practical with chapters of Equipment, Weapons and Armour, Robots and Drones, a spot of Cortex Hacking, and Vehicles.

Next we move on to Starship Design—the concepts and rules—followed by Starships, Spacecraft and Space Stations (loads of examples), Space Travel and Space Combat and finally Starship Encounters. Loads of information, all honed to this setting yet fitting in to the underlying ruleset. We then turn to NPCs and Animals, with plenty of samples of both.

Finally, there’s the 2300AD Referee’s Guide. This provides additional guidelines and a wealth of ideas about the sort of campaigns that you can run—exploration, trade, combat (ground or space), or maybe you fancy a party of troubleshooters or an anti-terrorist spin on things. There’s also an extensive list of sources you might use for inspiration: fiction, films, TV shows and more. There's a calendar for the year 2300AD, and the Near Star List used to set up space for this game. Interestingly, it’s the original 1988 one used in Traveller: 2300—it maintains the flavour of the setting better than contemporary knowledge of what's out there!

Overall this is a masterful blending of a very original setting with an established ruleset and—with the good range of supplements available—makes for some interesting gaming.