This review originally appeared on rpg-resource.org.uk on 13 oct 2015 and was reprinted in the September/October 2022 issue of Freelance Traveller.
Editor’s Note: Although published by GDW, the original publisher of (Classic) Traveller, this is classified as “Other Peoples’ Toys” because is it not related to any then-extant version of Traveller except in name.
Traveller: 2300. John Watts
Game Designers’ Workshop via Far Future Enterprises
Multiple volumes, PDF on CD (as “2300AD”)
This game, which isn’t Traveller at all despite the name, came as a boxed set with a Player’s Manual, Referee’s Manual, an adventure (The Tricolour’s Shadow) and a star chart. The basic premise is quite simple. The year is 2300AD (surprise!) and Earth is not dissimilar to the planet we know today, although they have fought another world war which went nuclear. Space exploration has burgeoned, and the game revolves around those who have sought their future out amidst the stars, colonising new planets or trading between them. Nation-states have survived as a concept, no world government or anything like that, but the landscape may be different from that which exists today.
The Player’s Manual, after an introduction which presents the basics of what role-playing is, launches into History, starting back in 1700 and using sweeping eras (the Ages of Reason, of Industry, and of Technology) to paint a picture of the world up until the year 2000, which is when World War III broke out between the superpowers of America and Russia (still the USSR, the Iron Curtain did not fall in this alternate history which, it must be remembered, was published in 1986!). The Age of Recovery followed, spanning the next century and characterised by times of shortage and experiments with alternatives—by 2050, for example, oil production and consumption, although much recovered, was far lower than before the war due to the development of alternate power resources. The only European nation not ruined by the war was France, with the rest of Europe, North America, the Indian subcontinent and Asia also suffering devastation. Space travel resumed in the 2040s, with treaties agreeing that colonisation should be open to all. An Age of Exploration (2101-2200), in which various nations and consortia reached out to the solar system and (with the development of a practical stardrive) beyond, was followed by an Age of Commerce as colonies became established and new discoveries were made. Different nations rose and fell, and indeed wars were fought (although these were mere skirmishes rather than all-envoloping conflagrations), resulting in a collection of traditional rivalries and cooperations that colour relationships in 2300AD.
This discussion is followed by one on Political Geography, which examines many different nations and charts their rise and/or fall between 2100 and 2300. It’s well worth reading to get the underlying flavour of what different nations think about it other and the influence that it has on day-to-day life on Earth, in the solar system or out in the stars. Revel in it, it’s quite different from the homogenity many starfaring games assume. Next comes a discussion of Technology looking at the fantastic developments that have become commonplace to people of the 24th century. Again remembering when this was written, it’s amusing to note that ‘computers are commonplace, … an appliance like the telephone or running water’! This first part of the book rounds out with discussions of major colonies and foundations—the pan-national, often star-spanning, organisations with which characters might interact.
The rest of the book deals with generating and equipping the character ready for play. A character is mainly described by attributes and skills, which are given numerical ratings, but you also need to know where he grew up (Core or Frontier world) and the gravity he was born under, which affects size and shape. Attributes are rolled on 4D6-4, and although random rolls are mandated, there’s an option to reroll one physical and one psychological one if you are not happy with the results. Skills, on the other hand, are purchased with points earned from career choices and other options. Each career comes with a list of skills available as well as an initial training package which you pick up automatically. (Oddly, just as I write this, the list of mandatory courses for the PhD programme I’m starting on turned up!) The gear your character might want is divided into equipment, weapons (a huge variety), vehicles and armour, all illustrated with neat line drawings, and the book ends with lists of nations, languages, and colonies, and a note on Upkeep—how to calculate your living costs.
Turning to the Referee’s Manual, this begins with an essay on Life on the Frontier, which looks at issues like how people born on colony worlds view new immigrants (who provide most of the population increase) and differing views on what is ‘home’—a tendency to look towards wherever they were born rather than where they are living now. It then explores some of the ways in which you can earn your keep on frontier worlds, especially those activities likely to be appealing to the characters in your game. We then move on to Tasks: here the task resolution system is explained. A formularic approach is used, the task itself must be stated along with difficulty, assets, time to complete and type. Once you’ve figured that out, roll 1d10 and apply appropriate modifiers, with success coming at a result determined by the difficulty of the task. Then of course you need to work out the results, from spectacular success to equally spectacular failure! There are plenty of ideas and examples and even a diagram.
Next is a section devoted to Combat. A turn sequence is used, with actions being resolved in initiative order (although an action can be held until later if desired). The standard task resolution system is used to determine if the attack succeeded, damage then depends on the weapon being used (and what armour the target has). Again, there’s plenty extra detail to the process, and examples to show you how it is done. The section ends with the treatment of wounds, combat flowcharts and a hit location diagram.
The next section is devoted to Star Travel, and looks at all aspects of the subject from running, equipping and crewing your starship to power systems and crew pay… except for Space Combat, which is in the following section. For this, it is recommended that you use a hex map and markers (or models) to represent the starships involved. This is followed by a section on Ship Listings, which demonstrates how starship data is managed—much of this is needed if you are running a space combat, maybe these two sections should have come in reversed order! Several example vessels are provided.
This is followed by World Generation. There may be 30-odd existing colonies out there, but—especially if the party likes exploring—you may well need to create some more. This can get quite technical if you choose to follow the process in full, but will give rise to star systems that obey astronomical laws. Once you have your worlds sorted, it’s on to Non-Player Characters and a system for determining their motivations (if their role in your plot has not already done so) by drawing playing cards.
Back to planets now with a section on World Mapping for all those occasions when the party wants to roam off, along with a section on Animal Encounters to provide some entertainment for them. Finally there’s a load of forms and flowcharts for character generation and other processes, lists of stars and so on.
Finally, The Tricolour’s Shadow is a short introductory adventure that sees the party given a surveying job in a remote mountain valley in a southern region of the French Continent of Beta Canum-4. They’ll find a bit more than interesting geological formations… The plot is quite straightforward, but should get the whole group, referee and players alike, familiar with the game mechanics. It’s probably best used as a one-off for that purpose rather than as the starting-point for a campaign, though.
Overall this is a good game with some interesting approaches to future history and the exploration of space, particularly relating to the idea of different nations from Earth all being out there exploring and colonising (and bickering) rather than some unified ‘world government’—this adds an extra spin to things. Contemporary gamers may find some of the systems a bit too detail-oriented, some parts do look like you need a high level of mathematics to cope, but it's actually quite straightforward once you get to grips with it—and the most complex bits are some of the design sequences, which you can do at your leisure. Still a good game, almost 30 years after it was published!