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Starfarer’s Gazette #1

This article originally appeared in Freelance Traveller’s March 2012 issue.

Starfarer’s Gazette #1. Martin J. Dougherty.
Terra/Sol Games, LLC http://terrasolgames.com
72pp, softcover

Allow me, first, to thank the publisher (Michael J. Cross of Terra-Sol Games LLC) for gifting a copy of this hardcopy volume for the purposes of this review. I had purchased the PDF but I do like paper more than PDF. Thank you very much.

The Traveller RPG has long had a history of small endeavours creating vast empires, even the founding company prided itself on calling itself a workshop rather than corporation. Or the Keith brothers who single-handedly transformed FASA and Gamelords into a mighty vision or Digest Group Publication started by two friends. So it is always interesting to follow what is happening at the margins of this great game – for often this is where innovation and creativity has flourished. True, there have been disappointments and major disappointments that even bore the famous Traveller licence, “Approved Use for Traveller” or in its more recent incarnation, the OGL. Fortunately, Mongoose Publishing has produced a wealth of Traveller material that is dynamic and innovative (even as the grognards grumble, as grognards tend to do)…Mongoose has brought new audiences to Traveller and in some cases brought them back. So, if you are interested in Traveller – check out the Mongoose rules.

The above lauding notwithstanding, this is a review only marginally about Mongoose Traveller; it is rather about a company and a product at the margins that is making an impact on how we view the Grand Old Game of Traveller. It is a very much in the margins because it is not part of what is called the Original/Official Traveller Universe (OTU) but rather an Alternate Traveller Universe (ATU); but this in no way means that it could not be reconnected back to the OTU in the ways that I have modestly suggested in another review.

One of the principal ways that could be done is through Starfarer’s Gazette, a commercial “fanzine” that can readily be obtained through DriveThruRPG or hopefully, as I lucked out, a small batch through Terra/Sol Games LLC. It is not my intention to discuss each of the articles’ individual merits; I always find in reviewing magazines that it is a matter of individual preference, and more importantly, if some of my players happen to read this review…they do not learn the secrets of my inspiration. But, as it should be evident, I found both Style and Substance to be in the 3 or 4 ranges, and some of the pieces climbing up to 5.

What makes Starfarer’s Gazette interesting that is largely the work of one Traveller writer: Martin J. Dougherty, who has produced a great deal of interesting things for the OTU and is now turning his hand to this ATU. It retains all the trademark style of a Martin J. Dougherty product: the dry sense of humour, ironic and emphasis upon lively adventure (which does involving some rolling of dice and blowing stuff up or occasionally lots of guns). Each article is carefully crafted to maximize mood rather than producing more Tables & Charts (T&C) with the emphasis upon encountering something new – as one would expect from a game called Traveller. For this reason, Martin J. Dougherty’s writing is some of the best Traveller stuff currently out there. His style emphasizes fun; that is not to say that there are no Tables & Charts but the emphasis is certainly more upon narrative and atmosphere. This is why this pairing of MJD and Starfarer’s Gazette makes a perfect fit for Terra/Sol Games – Twilight Sector, where an entire new ATU is waiting to be explored. Similarly, for the principal authors of the Twilight Sector, they have peeled away another layer of the proverbial onion and shown their ATU in greater detail and colour than what has previously been on offer. And while this ATU does have quite a few faults/quirks, they are really no more or less than what the OTU has or has had had in its long canon.

Does this product have drawbacks? For the price, very few. It does require that one purchase the main campaign setting sourcebook, or you only get half the picture. It can stand alone but will require some serious thought. It very much is a workshop where ideas of this interesting ATU are being flushed out. So, if you don’t want to work and/or invest in the sourcebook, then don’t buy this book – it might give you ideas for your Mongoose Traveller game, it might not.

The art is not terribly good. I am whining about art once again mainly because of the high standards set by the previous Twilight Sector offerings. So, there are good pieces in there but also a lot that has been recycled or is just simply bad. But, if your fanzine does not showcase the best, then you might have a harder time selling the primary product. Also, I know, that fanzines appear and disappear like mushrooms on a hot summer’s day – but there is no subscription or information when we might see Starfarer’s Gazette #2 (something that I am really looking forward to). [At the time of publication of this review, SG#2 is a recent TSG release –ed.] So, if this was a one-shot, they certainly hit the target but the other ship is still sailing even if it is listing. It is a great effort from a small company and I want more. Finally, the most obvious drawback (for me): it still remains largely PDF. Maybe I am just being an old grognard, but when it comes to gaming magazines in particular, I like deadtree.

In conclusion, this is a great product when combined with the other excellent offerings of Terra Sol Games LLC. I think this a company worth watching, if you play Traveller RPG or any other generic SFRPG. I would place the caveat that it is necessary to remind oneself that this is a workshop product not a final mass produced – so it is naturally rough around the edges. But, it is well beyond a labour of love or an angry testament, it enhances the Traveller Universe and future Starfarer’s Gazettes will determine – the different directions that the Grand Old Game can take. Overall, this product does truly deserve its 4 out of 5 for substance…I know, you are wondering why not 5 out of 5, simply because it does still require work – even simple things such as the PDF version was missing a cover, small things like this annoy me – rightly or wrongly. Or as I said when the art does meet the expectations already created by other great products… Or that, this product it still largely the voice of one person (rather unfair, as that is what all start-ups are) but the voice is rather preachy and haughty – and this might turn away first-time buyer. This will hopefully be remedied as more people take note of the Grand Old Game. The product will continue to map out this ATU and continue to inspire my game set in the OTU.