Review: Star Trader

No, not the boardgame that came with Ares magazine, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth; an expansion for Mongoose Traveller, which expands the trading rules into a solo game. 28 page PDF by Zozer Games, written by Paul Elliot, £2.80 from RPGNow at time of writing.

CONTENTS

Of the 28 pages, you have five pages devoted to cover, contents list, publisher info and the Open Gaming Licence,  leaving 23 pages of meat.

Introduction (2 pages): This discusses solo gaming, why you might want to do it, and the need for an ongoing goal to act as the spine of the game, which for this product is trading.

The Starship (5 pages): This begins by recapitulating ship costs, then offers four options for tracking them; full fat application of all costs and revenues, assume that the background items like life support and passenger staterooms always have average values, ignore the background items, or rent space on someone else’s ship. This allows the player to vary the focus on speculative trading from just one more item among many to the only thing he’s tracking. It’s up to the player to decide what ship he’s operating, why, how much he still owes on it, and so forth.

We next examine the crew. The book assumes that you generate NPCs, or pick some from a supplement; but the new item is the NPC Relationship Table, which has 36 entries. You roll once for each crewman, and each has a relationship, good or bad, with one of the others (including the player’s avatar), for example A is secretly related to B, but only one of them knows that. There are dark secrets, romantic relationships, rivalries and so on. This bit’s a keeper; highly entertaining and easily portable to other games, Traveller or not.

There’s a fast play space combat system, reminiscent of the Ship’s Boat combat rules from the 1977 edition of Classic Traveller; throw to escape, and if you fail, throw to avoid being hit, if you are hit you can be crippled or destroyed.

The section ends with an example ship trading sheet filled in for a type R subsidised merchant and its crew.

Keeping Track (4 pages): To record the campaign, this section recommends a diary. This acts both as a declaration of intent (no do-overs once you’ve written something down) and as a way to pick up where you left off after a hiatus.

There is a fast mission resolution system, necessary as occasionally randomly-encountered patrons will ask you to do something for them – you assign the mission a danger rating, assign the character’s plan as shaky, solid or foolproof, and roll some dice; this determines whether you succeed or not. You can opt to play these out using the main Traveller rulebook, and I probably would, but again the player can focus exclusively on the speculative trading if he wishes.

The rest of the section is a month in the life of our example type R, showing encounters, trading, and fights between the crew caused by their relationships – and incidentally, how to keep the game log.

The Route (2 pages): This is about choosing your setting. You need to create, or pick, a fairly civilised subsector with a range of trade codes, and (if your subsector is not already detailed) expand on each world by writing an explanation for the world profile, bases, trade codes etc.

Trading Checklist (7 pages): This lists the sequence of events in a “turn”, namely search for cargo, buy it, have an encounter on the world (d66 table provided), pay warehouse fees, meet a contact, starport event (d66 table provided), search for a ship (only if you don’t have your own), finalise details, space or ship encounter on the way offworld, jumpspace event (d66 table provided), arrive in new system and sell cargo, then start over.

The meat here basically consists of the d66 tables mentioned above.

Ship Encounters (3 pages): Expanded encounter tables, along the lines of those in the core rulebook but bigger, and (nice touch) each entry has a list of half a dozen possible names for the vessel. There’s also a further random table showing what the ship wants to talk about when you hail it, which can lead to an exchange of data, a sub-mission as the ship needs help, or an attempt to arrest one of your crew.

FORMAT

Colour cover, wrapped around single-column black text on white, laid out to resemble the old A5 Classic Traveller booklets. Simple, effective, gets the job done. No internal illustrations.

SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVEMENT

There’s a filled-in example ship trading sheet, but no blank one for me to copy. Not a huge problem.

Update 5th September: The product has been revised, and now has a blank trading sheet and a new cover. Huzzah!

CONCLUSION

Traveller is perhaps uniquely suited for solo play, and the intrepid merchant plying the trade routes is the character type best suited to it. The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society had an article on that in the early 1980s, and to my mind this product is an extension of that piece, which essentially consisted of a checklist of what the ship did each day during a typical fortnight.

Star Trader is a nice piece of work, the sort of thing that would have made a good Special Supplement back in the day; and although it’s clearly aimed at Mongoose Traveller, I think any incarnation of that noble game could make use of it, except possibly the GURPS and Hero versions. I was sorely tempted to kick a game off right away, and while I haven’t done that, I could see it happening in a month or two when real life is hopefully a bit less hectic.

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5. I keep getting the urge to play some solo Traveller again, and this would fit the bill nicely next time I do.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Star Trader

  1. This sounds really interesting. As you know, I’m a big fan of solo systems and one of my best Traveller Games ever was a solo adventure involving the crew of the Free Trader “No Strings Attached”. I’m currently playing SWN solo, but I do love rolling up Traveller characters (surely THE best chargen system ever). If I do set up a solo game again I’m sorely tempted to run it using the original LBB, with the original trade codes and all.

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