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Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia

This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in January 2012, and is reprinted here and in the February 2013 issue of the magazine with the author’s permission.

Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia. John Watts.
Gypsy Knights Games http://www.gypsyknightsgames.com
169pp., PDF or softcover

Allow me, first and foremost, to thank the owner/publisher (John Watts of Gypsy Knights Games) for gifting a copy of this softcover for the purposes of this review. Thank you very much. When does more become better when less was viewed mediocre? Clearly the answer lays with Subsector Sourcebook 1: Cascadia. Gypsy Knights has been releasing the Quick Worlds that make up this sourcebook in PDF for some time, now they come together as a coherent whole making the sum greater and better than the individual parts.

Some might balk at some of the worlds on offer as just stereotypical worlds or motifs (i.e. Kyiv just being a stand-in for Kiev) but players who make those assumptions are likely to see themselves killed. Gypsy Knights has made significant headway in creating believable systems of worlds just like in the individual Quick Worlds (I’m happy to report that many of the Gas Giants no longer feature prominent rings – thanks for listening to my earlier advice) and because you have an entire solar system to play around in, you get more detail than any current Mongoose product.

True, Traveller has always had the Mainworld as the port-of-call and the Gas Giants being little more than gas stations but it also has a long and respectful tradition of building solar systems or at least credible ecologies, although very few Traveller game companies attempted this beyond a few key worlds.

Kudos to Gypsy Knight for bringing back this tradition because one of the other things that Traveller is all about is travel and going from port to port for profit and adventure is akin to seeing the Caribbean or other destination by cruise ship…sure, the Purser will give you an itinerary of the high points (including all the overpriced restaurants where s/he gets a kickback) but you will not be travelling; you will be a tourist. While that’s fine for some gaming groups, it is not the essence of Traveller that is to get the Sense of Wonder conveyed by Science Fiction and life on a frontier.

The Cascadia Subsector is certainly an interesting place for adventure. As it is firmly set in an Alternative Traveller Universe, it goes back to the days of when the future of Traveller was wide open (I would argue that even the OTU is wide open but fear that I would be shouted down by all those who closed the frontier by diligently adhering to the written canon – not seeing the trees from the forest and forest amidst the trees). So, whether you want to make these your own, or follow future developments from Gypsy Knights – you have full freedom to do as desired with these worlds. Each world has been given a vast history (some of it interdependent upon other worlds in the subsector) and none of this history falls back into pseudo-SF clones – thus, there are neither Tatooines nor any Trantors.

True, there are some worlds that are akin to being the Las Vegas in Space but their overall history make them much richer than that narrow assessment, making these worlds and this subsector able to fit in anywhere or any when. This flexibility allows the referee to instantly create a frontier from nothing and yet benefit from the supporting products that Gypsy Knights continues to bring forth.

However, this book is also more than a collection of interesting worlds; there are seeds for adventure, as each world is rife with plot ideas and mini seeds to ensure that each visit to the world will be memorable. Should the text not stimulate the referee’s imagination beyond the suggested seeds, then a referee can pick up 21 Plots and 21 Plots Too. I really look forward to the next subsector as the mark of maturity for Gypsy Knights, as I am hoping that it will be as unique and innovative as this one. Nothing would be worst than to find that the neighbor is the big bad empire of the setting…as what seems to work is a collection worlds bound together and using a product like Mongoose Traveller Dynasty – build your interstellar polities up and organically.

Alternatively, they can be set far away from regularly travelled space so as not to interfere.

The greatest strength of this volume, unless, you purchase the PDF and decide to print it out (because it is ink heavy) is the art. This volume is chock-full of inspirational art that magnificently conveys the Sense of Wonder. Some might object that it is not Traveller enough, a criticism that is fair enough—but this is not the Official Traveller Universe, which gets back to the notion that Traveller is about brand new worlds, brand new ships and should not be confined to a particular subset but rather reflect a particular ęsthetic grounded in SF and not the fantastic. Gypsy Knights certainly has done a magnificent job in selecting art that is both reflective of the text but also with creating an overall vibe. It is computer generated art, but like Jesse DeGraff’s work, it is nicely done, rendering beautifully different worlds in full color. However, the book itself is a gorgeous saddle bound volume and well worth its cost. Does this book have some problems? Yes, there are some things that circumspect editing could have caught like the placement of the Table of Contents and some of the paragraphs did not flow. But, this is a small company run by a handful of people for an even smaller number of fans. So, I give Gypsy Knights great credit for coming up with a very nice looking and playable product akin to DGP’s 101 Robots – by all accounts, an ugly book but a classic, as it captures the right vibe of Traveller at the time. I eagerly await what future print items Gypsy Knights will release –for indeed the sum is greater than the individual parts and any referee needing inspiration would be wise to check out these compilations of unique and interesting worlds.