This review originally appeared on rpg.net in April 2017 and is reprinted with permission in the September/October 2023 issue.
Fate of the Kinunir.
Robert E. Vardemann.
Original Release: 2013 (e-book)
Current Availability: PDF via DTRPG.
This review, the twenty-seventh in the series looks at the first novel in FFE’s new series of Traveller fiction.
About the Story
The Kinunir is doomed. Any player of the classic Traveller game knows that. This is the story of how the ship and its crew meet their fate. It’s the story of Captain Rikart Telson, XO Commander Laurel Franks, and Marine Captain Lefalle — each of who bring their own strengths to the Kinunir.
A variety of problems will beset the fated ship. Pirates, a stranded marquis, illegal mining, and interplanetary fighting each contribute to the end. But most importantly, there’s a malfunctioning AI. Daisy, daisy indeed.
The fate of the Kininur is known. But how its downfall occurred is a totally different story. In fact, it’s this story.
Genre & Style
Fate of the Kinunir is technically licensed fiction as the author is a professional writer who’s also worked on properties such as Star Trek and Tom Swift, but his work for the Traveller setting has enough verisimilitude that you wouldn’t notice. It’s technically military science-fiction, but Vardeman puts just as much emphasis on mystery, espionage, and politics. It reads a bit like gaming fiction, but Vardeman doesn’t cleave to the tropes you’d expect of a gaming session; most notably, he regularly splits up the party! So maybe Fate of the Kinunir is simply an example of Traveller fiction — albeit, with a heavy focus on the military side of things.
Fate of the Kinunir could also have been a tragedy; that it’s not might be its greatest flaw. Though readers might already know the fate of the Kinunir, it’s not explicitly foreshadowed in the text, and an opportunity for tension is lost. Instead, the Kinunir heads off into what seems like a normal mission. There’s nothing ominous about it at all.
From that normal start, problems snowball, but there’s no sense of gathering drama — no portents that things are spinning out of control and heading toward doom. Instead Fate of the Kinunir combines three major plots that seem somewhat improbable when all mooshed together: a humongous pirate base, a rebel base for a somewhat distant conflict, and that malfunctioning AI. Perhaps the idea is that only an unlikely confluence of events could bring down a Kinunir-class starship … but when the protagonists don’t recognize the danger of their multiplying problems, it doesn’t seem notable to the reader either. When Fate of the Kinunir reaches its climax, it seems both sudden and insufficiently final.
Beyond that, the story is OK. The three main characters get some characterization, but everyone else (including the villains) is a cardboard cutout. At times, the interactions on the ship are too Star Trek-like, perhaps due to the writer’s broader experience, but Vardeman is able to overcome that when he steps outside the Kinunir.
As a whole, Fate of the Kinunir feels like it’s just connecting the dots — from the appearance of the Kinunir in the Keng system to its final fate. That’s a pity, as this could have been a great story if it was presented somewhat differently.
Applicability to Traveller Gameplay
In 1979, GDW presented the debut adventure for their Traveller RPG: Adventure 1: The Kinunir (1979). It offered a first look at what Traveller adventures could be like, and it was remarkably open-ended. The adventure focused on the deck plans of the Kinunir-class battle cruiser, but it also offered a number of different “situations” for using those plans. Players might break into a ship on the scrap heap or be imprisoned in a Kinunir-class ship. They might need to fight past a Kinunir … or they might search for a Kinunir-class ship lost over a decade before.
That last adventure seed forms the basis of Fate of the Kinunir. It tells the story of a ship lost in the Shinothy asteroid belt — the eponymous Kinunir that Adventure 1 reveals was lost in 1088. And that’s the very shallow bit of Traveller lore that this novel is based on. It’s not really one of the “Imperium’s Greatest Mysteries”, but it’s a nice connection to the Traveller RPG, and it allows this whole novel to act as deep background that could be used to expand and detail the original Traveller adventure.
Fate of the Kinunir is also set rather firmly in the Regina subsector of the Spinward Marches. It mostly takes place around Keng, the planet next to the Shinothy asteroid belt; it offers considerable detail on that world and its system. However, Fate of the Kinunir also contains references to other planets in the subsector, including Boughene and Kinorb.
Any GM running an adventure in Regina would be thrilled with all these details — not just because they help to fill in the blank spaces of the Regina subsector, but also because the details are full of plot hooks. The piracy, illegal mining, rebellion, and interplanetary warfare could be used to expand Adventure 1 into an entire campaign set in the area.
Besides providing descriptions and story seeds for the Regina subsector, Fate of the Kinunir also details the culture of the Third Imperium. For example, its portrayal of the interactions between navy and marine officers on a naval vessel is quite interesting (and another detail from Adventure 1). Fate of the Kinunir similarly does a great job of showing the sorts of conflicts that rise up between individual planets of the Imperium.
There are minor problems with the depiction of the Third Imperium in Fate of the Kinunir. It uses the word dreadnought to depict what must be a much smaller ship and it confuses some closely related terms such as nobility and royalty, red zone and amber zone. But almost all of these missteps are throwaway lines. When Fate of the Kinunir looks at the Third Imperium in depth, it feels like it gets things right.
Fate of the Kinunir reveals the backstory of a classic Traveller adventure and wraps it up with nice story seeds and nice cultural details. The result is the first novel to offer a really great look at the classic Traveller universe.
In the wake of the successful kickstarting and publication of Traveller5 (2013), Marc Miller began commissioning a series of Traveller novels. The first of these was Fate of the Kinunir (2013), which appeared in ebook form in December 2013. At the time, a dozen books were planned over the course of the next year, but by the end of 2014, just one more had appeared, Shadow of the Storm (2014) by Martin J. Dougherty. Fate of the Kinunir has also appeared as a very limited print edition, sized and formatted like the little black books of Traveller’s youth.
Though Fate of the Kinunir is definitely not the first-ever Traveller novel, it is the first-ever novel to offer a deep depiction of Golden Age era of Traveller play. If this is the direction that FFE is going with its Traveller fiction, we can only hope for more.
Though Fate of the Kinunir is a bit lack-luster in its depiction of a doomed Imperial ship, it does a great job of presenting the deep and rich background of the Spinward Marches in the Imperium. This novel could be mined for numerous adventure seeds, and in my opinion, that’s one of the main purposes of good RPG-related fiction.