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System Book 1: Katringa

This article originally appeared in the September 2011 issue of the downloadable magazine.

System Book 1: Katringa. Richard Hazlewood, Constantine Thomas.
Spica Publishing: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
27pp, PDF

For the past few years, Spica Publishing have been putting out a series of high quality support materials for Traveller and System Book 1: Katringa is the first of their ‘System Books’. After various people oriented supplements for the most part – two volumes of additional careers, a Field Manual detailing mercenaries, and Allies, Contacts, Enemies & Rivals which does what it says – this is the first book to deal with an entire system. Katringa exquisitely details one main world, a belt, two gas giants and assorted other astrographic entities giving plenty of adventure opportunities and ideas.

A third of the book provides details (and images) for the worlds in the system, another third outlines the main world politics and society, and the remainder covers the front matter, the Open Game Licence and four pages of rules about mining in the Idowa (inner) belt and the outer belt of the system. The 27 numbered pages do not include the covers and OGL which bring the actual count to 30 pages.

Katringa is a company owned system – from the inner belt with all its problems of intense heat and radiation to the company run mainworld and starport. Horizons Unlimited Corporation are going to feature big in any one’s time venturing here. But there are tens of thousands of people attempting to make a living in a pretty inhospitable corner of the universe and they are not going to let big business walk all over them!

The system has a deliberate African feel to it – from the groupings of families into tribes, through the names of worlds and people, to the customs and even explicit notes on the colouring of its inhabitants. There is an in-game explanation for this which does not seem forced. For those who would prefer to avoid (present day) race in Traveller, this might be one to miss, but for those who feel this is an aspect of the far future that has been overlooked, this is a welcome addition and sensitively handled. It manages both an air of realism – from, for example, Yoruba style names and some of the social customs – as well as allowing the referee room to transplant as much or as little of current world attitudes, events, and history as desired.

The 10 pages of system detailing could easily, in less able hands, get bogged down in worlds and moons lovingly listed with endless statistics but with little game play usage. However, here it feels as if the various elements of the system have been put together with some thought for how they might contribute to actual adventure and larger campaigns in this setting. The worlds, gas giants, moons and belts are as scientifically accurate as possible given the state of knowledge in 2010 (to this laymen they felt very real). The Celestia software programme has been used to generate attractive colour images of some of the worlds and there are helpful, and well produced system diagrams that bring the tables to life. A world map of Katringa is beautifully produced in colour although it should be noted that this is not a standard Traveller map based on the flattened icosahedrons of, for example IS Form 6 – but then again there has been no such ‘standard’ blank map yet in the Mongoose Traveller line, so this seems fair enough. It would be a great addition to Spica’s own blank subsector grid and career sheet.

Unfortunately, this is pretty much where the illustrative material of the book ends. There is a great front cover, Katringa in full colour with the traditional Spica blue trim and Traveller logo, but aside from the above and one bit of atmospheric art on the last page, that’s it. This seems a pity as a couple more illustrations in main text would have rounded out the artwork handsomely. Perhaps some of the patterned garments that much is made of in signifying tribal affiliation could have been shown. What there is, however, is professional, well executed and hopefully we will see more of it in future system books.

A further ten pages of the book detail the social setting. Here we find out about the colonisation history, the culture, the government, and specific notes on how the law level applies. There are details of 16 important figures in the system, although these are presented as descriptive paragraphs rather than as patrons or with any Traveller UPP statistics. In addition there are nine very short adventure seeds which could spark several play sessions.

Interestingly, this is one of the few Traveller books that suggests present day religions (Christianity, Islam and ancestor worship in this case) survive into the fifty-seventh century. Although it’s suggested that this is a major part of Katringan culture, it’s not a major part of the book so anyone uncomfortable with this aspect could easily ignore it. It would have been interesting to explore how such faiths have changed in the intervening millennia but kudos to the authors for including them at all.

The four pages of rules for mining either the Idowa belt or the outer belt are in effect an extremely simplified version of the Beltstrike book from Mongoose. There are rules and tasks with tables specific to this system. Tables for detecting asteroids, yields of finds, special finds in both belts and tasks for mining and turning finds in hard cash. Referees who wish to set more than one adventure in the system might wish to have Beltstrike to hand, however. The effort would be worth it as there is certainly plenty of room for several adventures or even a campaign set in just this one system. Perhaps a few more locales or slightly more detailed adventure seeds would not have gone amiss, but as background, this reviewer hopes there are many more of these books to come.

Although clearly designed with Traveller in mind, it would be easy enough to use this in any high-tech SF setting. The production values are top notch and although it oddly refers to the Traveller Core Rulebook as the ‘Traveller Main Book’, a minor quibble, the attention to detail throughout the text is second to none. At this kind of price, any referee looking for inspiration, will find much of value here to use whole cloth or to ransack for parts. The former option, however, would provide a wonderfully rich experience that shouldn’t be passed up lightly.