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Attack Squadron: Roswell

This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in April 2013, and is reprinted here and in the August 2013 issue with the author’s permission.

Attack Squadron: Roswell. Paul Elliott.
Zozer Games http://zozer.weebly.com

Once again, Paul Elliott and Zozer Games, redefine Traveller not as dreary and uninspiring Space Opera heuristic but a heuristic for all types of Science Fiction games. In this case, Zozer Games, with Attack Squadron: Roswell, returns to the same wonderful mix of Hard and Soft by using Traveller to explore the genre of Alien Invasion films of the 1950s. Like Outpost Mars and Orbital, this is strictly an Alternative Traveller Universe (ATU) that could be ported over to the OTU but with some modifications to both this product (in the form of modifying the Invaders) and the OTU, but, works perfectly fine as a standalone campaign concept. Using Traveller in this way, players take on the role of USAF fighter pilots that are charged with photographing and shoot down the seemingly endless incursions of UFOs into American airspace… as players move from the shooting gallery, the referee can flesh out more of the back story of this being a full-fledged invasion of Earth itself. This a valuable sourcebook for anyone who wants to play a lower powered Traveller in real world conditions without sacrificing some of the crunch value of aliens.

So what does this book include?

The core of this sourcebook is 14 aircraft designs from the 1950s drawn from the USAF squadrons of the 1950s forming an invaluable resource for Traveller worlds that are TL7 or the actual 1950s. Thus, anyone wishing to have “generic” but realistic jet aircraft should check out these outlines. New speedy rules (‘lite’) for air-to-air combat, appropriately themed for the 1950s aircraft (either aircraft to aircraft or aircraft to UFO missions), largely based off the Mongoose rules, emphasize flexibility and dynamism rather than a comprehensive simulation of the entire battle space. Additionally, there are rules for ground attack missions that are suited for the 1950s, in case the plans of the Invaders are to launch a ground assault using mutated giant ants or other similar “monster” tropes.

Although Traveller is frequently called “shotguns in space”, the ironmongery of Traveller largely dates from the late 1960s and mid-1970s with some “futuristic weaponry”, but the 1950s had a different sensibility – indeed, more akin to shotguns and similar lower powered weapons. My problem is weapons that the Invaders are equipped with… I do not expect a full fledged Men in Black arsenal but I would expect more nods to the main Traveller rules, albeit with 1950s chrome.

Next up, there is a partial history of the alien invasion, and, yes, Virginia, they have been with us longer than we would have suspected. I loved the inclusion of a mutant rebellion and the mutants escaping into the wilderness in around Tunguska, Russia in 1908. However, details of the “international” dimensions la Dark Skies, or my Traveller Now will have wait until this is fleshed out in print form (I hope) or future supplements/adventures. They want more than our women, and endanger our way of life, but, as every referee is bound to take on a slightly different track for the Invaders, I will not reveal too much of the master plan that is outlined in the sourcebook. With Invaders, there are the 4 flying saucer designs, with two deck plans spelled out along with their capabilities. As with the comments on firearms, I would have preferred standard Traveller technology but given a 1950s gloss, for instance, the alien communicator description screams a meson communicator but instead given another name. I understand, why Zozer avoided this, in some ways, it would have made the Invaders impossible to defeat…as a TL15 civilization would have squashed us like bugs. But, the essence of role playing and science fiction is always one person overcoming the odds with luck, fortune and simply chutzpah – otherwise, how could some farm boy blow up the Empire’s prime battle station that had been 18 years in construction and costing trillions of credits, simply because a someone did not decide to fortify the heat exhaust pipe?

Naturally, any game that is Top Gun along with a smidgen of The Right Stuff will need rules for creating fighter pilots; those rules are solid, but I would have liked to see advanced rules covering the beginning of astronaut/cosmonaut training…for players beginning to take things to the next level. Also, missing are the rules for genders…for the 1950s had very strict gender conventions but were frequently broken in real life – such as the first astronauts were going to be women. Similarly, there is a full range of stereotypes that could make for more interesting play, if gender was explored in both concrete (real life) and fictional (TV/movie tropes) terms.

Background for New Mexico, Roswell and the USAF – this is the section that one would want to see more. One can go to Project Blue Book and dig up case files of “real” encounters across the continental United States and beyond, but it would be nice to see more “global” stories being told here. There is a growing literature of UFOlogy coming in from the Other Europe (i.e. behind the Iron Curtain) showing the same fears and insecurities plagued them, as well, as cozy catastrophes of John Wyndam and some French/Japanese films of the era all show the uncertainty were global in nature. Certainly, any referee could already do this, but, it would be pleasant to see it reflected in a supplement lest it descend to games of “Yanks saving the day” constantly. So, it is this lack of global interaction that pulls the supplement down – somewhat.

Historically relevant event tables, sample PCs and adventure seeds round up this product to make this a well rounded sourcebook for the 1950s. Again, I would have liked to see more global adventures that might account for things. When I bought the product, I was excited to see, if I could make the Red Airforce the heroes fending off the Invaders that seem to be engaging the airforce from the Russian-Mongolian-Chinese border (from the Plateau of Leng), this supplement certainly gives inspiration but nowhere is the sense of a globe trotting adventure evidently built-in.

In short, this PDF is very good value for its money, if you want to play USAF versus the aliens…however, if you are looking to play Traveller in the 1950s versus the aliens…you might want to hope that the print version does carry with it a little more meat. For this provides an excellent skeleton building upon great Traveller products of the past like the flawed COACC but does not quite reach the global scope that Traveller demands. One should certainly buy this product, if they are looking to expand one’s own Traveller universe either in the direction suggested by the ATU or as I said, with modification, the OTU. For as I read the supplement, images of how to incorporate these concepts into my TNE game floated past. Certainly, a few good campaigns can be set in the 1950s, as Atomic Age Cthulhu or the author’s own GURPS Atomic Age shows the time period is a rich era for role playing…and the sheer profusion of films novels highlighting this pulpish yet hard science fiction makes it perfect for Traveller players who crave the mixture of hard and soft. Thus, I wholeheartedly recommend this product.