Thursday, July 21, 2016

Product Review - From the Ashes

Stellagama Publishing has released a new rules supplement for Classic or Mongoose Traveller, although for reasons of copyright it doesn't say that directly. Instead, it points to the Cepheus Engine OGL rules set. This booklet brings to my mind the article from the old Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society “Medical Treatment in Traveller”, although the emphasis is different.

What is it?
From the Ashes (FtA) is an optional rules package, concerning mortal injuries to characters and their effects, should the character survive. Two sections discuss replacement of damaged or destroyed body parts with prostheses or cybernetics.

What format is it?
It's in .pdf format, 15 pages.

What can I do with it?
MgT uses nuanced interpretation of task rolls, with regular break points when a task throw misses or exceeds the target by so much. With CT, it's simply roll for the target number and succeed/fail. If the referee wants to apply effects relating to 'just made it' or 'made it by a mile' he can but it is all at the referee's discretion. The FtA rules apply particular results to all surgery and recovery throws; sometimes making the target number still isn't good enough. Yes you succeeded, but . . . Well, medical care is a tricky thing. The FtA rules reflect that well, and continue to keep Traveller at least in spitting distance of reality.
Scars and other physical marks can be a way of distinguishing the PC, and helping the players visualize their characters. In the right circs a scar could help a PC influence an NPC by intimidation or impressive storytelling. The potential for large complications may also encourage even trigger-happy players to try more negotiation and social-skills roleplaying over solving all your problems with a gun.

How easy is it to use?
The document is well laid out. The font is easy to read, charts are well labeled and clear. The sections are all consistent – introductory text, the main task roll results table, explanations of the table results.

Would I have bought this myself?
I'm not sure. I've not bothered too much about wounds and after-effects, although I do like to employ the rules from the JTAS article.

Other thoughts about it?
Many of the effects on PCs who sustain massive injuries will complicate their lives, for sure. Before a referee begins using these options, he should present them to the player group and discuss their likely effect on the PCs. As almost all of the results of surgery or replacement carry some negatives, some players may not want to include them. Don't ruin someone's game by announcing “oh by the way, you lost your leg in that last gun fight. Hope you like crutches.” 
The flip side of that is that these options also give the players new setting elements to role-play. PCs with physical or mental disabilities have lots of new material and avenues for in-game goals, such as finding prosthetic parts, seeking out healers, avoiding the repercussions of their PC's psychotic episodes, etc. Surely it can produce some sympathy and compassion for those in the real world who have to live with the kinds of effects FtA proposes (see below).
The FtA rules make the most sense to me in a Mercenary type game where injuries are common, and where the PCs have NPC companions. The referee can mess up the NPCs with these rules without forcing changes on the players.

Captain Taursus: “Well corpsman, is Corporal Bingley going to make it?
Corpsman: “He's lucky, we got him into surgery within the Golden Hour. Laser burns tend to leave scars, but we might be able to prevent that, or at least minimize them. All the same, he'll be off the duty roster for at least four weeks.
Taursus: “What about Sergeant Gordo?
Corpsman: “He was DOA, but Doctor Schraff brought him back. I'm afraid he'll have to be discharged even after his recovery. It appears he's suffered some brain damage and can't speak or move his right arm.”
Taursus: “Pity. The service's medical disability support hasn't seen a budget increase in years. Gordo was a good man. We'll miss him.
The referee who uses these options must take some time to consider how the cultures in their setting universe will respond to the presence of prostheses and cybernetics. Will the PC with 'bits added' be accepted, reviled, feared? How much maintenance will a cyber-arm need? What happens when it goes wonky?

I've written before, briefly, about the presence of prostheses and cybernetics in my TU. Prostheses restore normal function of a body part, cybernetics enhance those functions or introduce new functionality. While it's not of major interest to me as a player, they do add sci-fi flavor. I favor restricting the superior performance of cybernetics, as a matter of taste and game balance. I am glad that Traveller managed to (mostly) avoid the 80's cyberpunk craze; I was never a fan.

In the real world, whatever your political stance may be, it is humane and compassionate to help those who have suffered injury and disability in the service of their country. I am proud of my children (both play Traveller!) for their support, out of their own allowances, of the Wounded Warrior Project.
Please visit their website and consider giving them your financial support.

If you're in the UK, please support Help for Heroes at

If you're in Canada, please support Wounded Warriors Canada at

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