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The Legend of the Sky Raiders

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2021 issue.

The Legend of the Sky Raiders. J. Andrew Keith & William H. Keith, Jr.
FASA no website found.
48pp. (print), 55pp. (PDF)
Print price varies (secondhand market)
PDF US$6.00/UKú4.39 (DTRPG)
(also available on FFE “Apocrypha” (1) CDROM)

The Legend of the Sky Raiders is always purported to be up there with the best Traveller adventures that have ever been written for the game. I’ve never played it, or refereed it; I’ve read it, although it was a while ago when that happened. But I’ve used it as a reference myself against other Traveller products that I’ve reviewed that were published at the same time. Having done so recently I asked myself “So is it really that good? Does it deserve its reputation?”

A 48 page ‘Little Black Book’ produced in the FASA house Traveller style, it’s got a William H. Keith picture on the front and the production quality is high. You open the book and the first thing that happens is the map comes out, and it’s a decent map for that. Opening this up you find it’s Map 2, 3, and 4 so there must be another inside as well. We get the outback, a river delta region, and a city overview of Val Preszar all of which integrate together well. And you know what? If you send 50 cents to FASA you can get another copy, or rather you could back in the day, it says so right on the copyright page. So you could use the map as you might wish, by drawing on it, marking stuff up on it directly and have a pristine one to keep with the product or to use the next time you want to run the adventure. Nice touch; thoughtful.

It’s obvious from the picture on the front that the guy is a safari type, and the dedication on the first page is to Indiana Jones “who would love this”. This just sets it up really well. I pretty much know what I’m going to get. Some adventure, a trek into the deep swamp (says deep swamp on the map), with some archaeology, possibly a puzzle, a bit of combat, probably with some bad guys, and I’ve not even started reading the adventure yet. Looking at the back page I get to know that a band of adventures is going to be lead into the swamps by a beautiful archaeologist searching for the Sky Raiders who in the past pillaged dozens of worlds … I’m loving it already.

Slightly an aside but possibly worth noting is that one of the things for me in any RPG product is production quality around presentation. I'm neuro-atypical, and my diagnosis is dyslexia. I have a harder time than most reading and writing, especially around unusual words and spelling, so making a product easy to read means that I can concentrate on the content of the product, what the author is trying to get across, as opposed to poor quality presentation.

Opening up, we are presented with a picture of a stone carving and an extract from a book about how the natives of Mirayn have never obtained high tech but the carving has a native in a space suit and helmet etc. which is a really nice touch, and will make, I presume, a player hand out. I’d certainly be using it as one. Opposite we get the normal standards and assumptions, although this adventure takes place in Far Frontiers beyond the Imperium.

We get a Referee’s check list, some pregens and some additional equipment over and above those in Books 1 and 3 with odd touches of referees advice every now and then. You need to remember that this is only 4 years after the publication of Traveller, Advanced and Basic Dungeons and Dragons, and only 7 years after the publication of the original Dungeons and Dragons. Experienced Referees were few and far between, so while this type of thing is probably not needed so much now, back then it would have been useful even if just as a reminder.

Some of the advice is that this adventure should probably be run over a couple of session as a mini campaign, and that while there are pre-gens it could be slotted into an existing campaign. We’ll come back to this.

We are then given the data on Mirayn the planet/system where the adventure take place, and after some detail on the planet we get to a nerf. The planet has constant low-lying cloud cover and a nearly perpetual mist making it virtually impossible to map even from orbit. I can understand that this is a premise to get people onto the ground and why no-one has found what the players are going to find before, but it is a nerf. Back in the day mist, fog and cloud were definitely problems for sensor technology, and they still are, but we are breaking ground on systems that are better and applying the best and the brightest to sorting the problems. Extrapolate sensor technology a couple of thousand years in the future and this is unlikely to be a problem. That aside, the colonists of the world uncover ancient native civilisations that flourished to TL3 and then died back leaving only a few aboriginal tribes. Off world trade is mainly archaeological tourism and treasure hunting, and the government imposes strict laws to stop smuggling in antiquities.

We then get to the next bit that I do not particularly like, and that’s the job offer. The PCs are railroaded into the job offer. If you’re using the pre-gens then this isn’t too bad, you just explain the situation to them, they were conned, they’ve run out of money, they can’t find any other jobs, and away you go. If this is part of an ongoing campaign, you have to do a lot of work to get your PCs to the planet. Nothing in the book helps you do this, and if the players have their own ship then there is no incentive for them to take on the job. As a referee you’ll have your work cut out for you. I would have liked a little help here from the authors. If you are fitting a published adventure into a campaign you’re going to need to do some work to fit it in. I understand and accept that, but helping me with a couple of options would be nice. What they do have, though, is a bunch of handouts for the players. Library data extracts from books, write ups about the Natives. Lots of things that you can use to set the scene for the planet and the job and what you are looking for.

Once your players have accepted the job offer, they travel to the frontier town where they need to fit out the expedition. They need to bribe the corrupt government officials (to get permits) and hire guides to put together the equipment that is overpriced but can be brought down to better prices if the PCs notice. Not only that but there are rumors, interactions with people who can benefit the PCs with clues, with the natives, and ultimately with some bad guys who warn the PCs from going on the expedition. There is lots of stuff to do here, lots of role-playing, a bit of confrontation, the odd side track, information the PCs can gain that will help them further down the adventure, and give them clues to what’s going on. The authors give you advice on how to set the scene, how the place might come across, and give you some references to work from to create the atmosphere. Now this is what I am after. This is help from the authors. This is taking what I need to know and being able to work it at the table.

Then we set out on the trek itself, and again I’ve lots of help from the authors. I have how to travel in the outback with the map. I have encounters. I have places to go and things to see. I have a full listing of animal encounters and what they look like and drawings as well. I have conditions, hunting, interactions with the natives, need and use of water. I have a plot twist or two, some discoveries. Again, all good stuff to make it work at the table.

There are two parts to the travel in the outback that are railroaded, and I don’t like this. The authors make the referee set-up the scene so that a certain outcome will be achieved. And it’s a story or plot point in the adventure. The authors are banking on the players reacting and doing it in a certain way. Not once but twice, in fact three times. They aren’t unreasonable railroads but they are railroads. The author’s adventure proceeds in this manner and you as a referee are persuaded to make it so by fudging rolls, killing off various people, and keeping others alive for further adventures in the series. In order for this to work you as a referee are going to have to play the NPCs in such a way as to try and give hints to the players that they should proceed in a certain way without blatantly telling them to do it like so, and that’s just not easy. I won’t go into any detail here because it will give away the plot.

Ok, returning to answer the questions “So is it really that good? Does it deserve its reputation?”. It’s good; there is no question about that. There are parts to the adventure that just make it good, that stand out as looking like they will be enjoyable to play with some good results. There are whole sections of the adventure that you can re-use elsewhere, such as moving though swamp, or animal encounters, NPC stats to highlight just some, so not only can you use them in this adventure but you can use them to create your own. Having said that, it’s a railroad. Back in the day when adventure design was new this probably wasn’t seen as much of an issue, but nowadays it is more of one (to me, at least). I certainly don’t like railroads myself, and I wouldn’t like to run it as a railroad, so in that aspect it would take a serious amount of work to set-up clues and different avenues for the players to take to get to the plot points where you would like them to get to, or to allow them to completely miss the whole thing, or uncover the bits that they are not supposed to etc. and still provide an enjoyable adventure. From re-reading it 40 or so years after it was written, I’d say its reputation is slightly better than it probably should be.

As it’s part of a trilogy I should probably also re-read the rest of them. I’m now expecting more of the same; some good bits, some railroad. We’ll have to wait and see.

The Legend of the Sky Raiders is available from DrivethruRPG for $6 for the PDF, and the preview will give you a flavour of the layout and presentation, but if you’re thinking of getting the trilogy, the FASA Adventure bundle is better priced because you get the Sky Raiders trilogy, the double adventures (one I reviewed earlier: The Stazhlekh Report/The Harrensa Project) and a few of others as well all rolled in for $17.50, or for $35 you can get the CD from FFE with all (most of) the FASA stuff and the GameLords stuff as well. Is it worth it? Good question. $6 to spark off some good ideas? Or for a lot of work to run as an adventure? Hummm. And if you want a paper copy I expect it will cost you a fortune on the second hand market.