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21 Plots Samaritan

This review appeared on rpg.net in October 2014, and was reprinted in the July/August 2016 issue.

21 Plots Samaritan. John Watts.
Gypsy Knights Games http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com
44pp., Softcover or PDF
US$11.99(s)$4.99(p)/UK£8.29(s)£3.45(p) (Out-of-print at the time of this review)

This review appeared on rpg.net in October 2014, and was reprinted in the July/August 2016 issue.

I have a theory about RPGs…not only did they grow up in the Tolkien and Wargaming tradition but they also grew up in the post-Vietnam War milieu whereby small bands of adventurers (a.k.a. squads) would go into the dark and go to kill some monsters (the “enemy”) with the whole purpose of stealing their stuff. Now, that simplifies the dungeon crawl to a simple looting and quasi-hooligan actions of many an early gonzo band of adventurers. Sometimes, they did for King and Country, sometimes, they were nothing more than paid thugs, i.e., mercenaries (or in today’s language, “Independent Military Contractors”).

This was very similar to experience of many veterans who participated in the Dirty War and brush wars of the 1970s and 1980s from the events in Argentina to Vietnam. A military sensibility grew up parallel with RPGs. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Traveller, created by a number of ex-serviceman with a background in creating military and quasi-military simulations for the University of Illinois. Traveller has always attracted a large number of servicemen (and lesser extent women) to play on the darker side of human nature who have peered into the Heart of Darkness and continue walk in the shadows inhabiting both the light and dark, as they tried to make sense of their experiences in combat. In Traveller, there were jobs by patrons frequently being on the wrong side of the law, sometimes, to do the greater good. However, as Traveller matured there was less emphasis (as there was in role playing as a whole on the s/laying of one’s foes) on the illegal or quasi-legal toward a sort of Rebel-like mentality epitomized in MegaTraveller, where players could be ranged against an “Evil Empire”, if they liked, or they could be just misguided followers of some blind ideology or be a voice of reason or simply retreat into convenient isolationism. Later versions of Traveller tried to whitewash this into a titanic struggle of humankind (or sophontkind) against the forces of the impersonal evil machine epitomized by the Virus or the obscurity of Galactic post-Dark Ages.

That said, Traveller, especially in its current incarnation with the OGL, has gone the way of becoming squeaky clean. Which is unfortunate, because, many people do still play Traveller and RPGs in general as safe zones of acting out their darker tendencies in a safe environment. Thus, it is often a challenge for referees to come up with scenarios in which players can do “good” whilst perhaps skirting the wrong side of an unjust law or simply bad people.

That is where Gypsy Knight Games has come to the rescue of the referee who needs the feel-good adventure either as an intermission in a campaign or to run as a one-shot to introduce Traveller to new players. In one of the most innovative of Alternative Traveller Universes, Gypsy Knight Games has created believable and futuristic adventure seeds (as the title implies, 21 of them) that allow players to feel good about themselves whilst performing the mission. Each seed comes with 1D6 resolution mechanism after a short description for the setup. Most can be undertaken with simple role playing or using mind mapping software a number of possibilities along with maps that either readily available online or can be done on the fly. It painlessly integrates the Clement Sector worlds into a believable narrative that adroitly combines the setting with the seeds. With very little modification they could be ported into the OTU or another ATU without the feeling of being generic and vanilla.

The art of Gypsy Knight Games has been steadily improving; it still uses poser art but clearly they are becoming more and more tailored to the setting, thus achieving a consistent and clean look. The writing is reliable and vibrant. Rounding the product out is an index to previous adventures—a very nice touch—when referees want to be able to link adventures together. Gypsy Knight Games is rapidly setting the gold standard for third-party publishers for Traveller. In some ways, it does also surpass the parent licensing company (either Far Future Enterprises or Mongoose) by producing suitable, necessary, and unique gaming products in consistent and timely manner. This undoubtedly has led to their success as being one of the leaders in the Traveller market.

Does this product have flaws? Aside from the kiddie nature of the adventures, it is hard to see significant problems. The absence of support documents either as suggested further sites—to pull images of NPCs or a collection of pregens with character art—might be mark an improvement but conversely might add to the total cost of the item. Perhaps these could be archived on the publisher’s website in convenient PDFs to print off for a gaming night – as I would hate to see the product 21 Characters as I hated when GDW (original Traveller publisher) created 1001 Characters… that and TNE’s Forms and Charts were nothing but money grabs.

So, if your players want to be virtuous or pursue virtue then referees are strongly recommended to pick up this product. However, if referees (like me) who walked in the dark, light and the absurd parts of the world, either as combatants or just struggling in life, might find this product a little bland and wholesome. While Traveller might never get its Dark Imperium supplement—reserving that area for W40K—Gypsy Knight Games can be counted on to produce quality and entertaining supplements for Traveller. And, in terms, of the unwritten history (i.e., the confluence of RPGs and events in the World Order), well… that history should still be written. Vietnam had a deep and profound impact upon the generation that grew up with RPGs. Look forward to hearing the “war stories” of that generation. Chances are they will be darker than the Book of Vile Darkness and more promiscuous than The Book of Erotic Fantasy. The market I think is mature enough to accept darker tales and lighter tales. I realize that parents of the 1970s generation might feel apprehensive about introducing “mature topics” to their children, but, we turned out all right despite the proliferation of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. We should not transfer the moral panic of 1980s and the dead zone of the 1990s to the new generation. And, in that way, we can understand how RPGs did liberate an entire generation of the conformist thinking to create the great hobby that we all enjoy.