Attack Squadron: Roswell is the latest release written by Paul Elliott of Zozer Games, as a standalone supplement for Mongoose Traveller. It is available as an 86-page watermarked PDF, available from Drivethru RPG for $5.99. It is also available in soft back book form from lulu.com for $14.24.
This is quite an unusual supplement for Traveller (to which I’ll refer to as AS:R in the rest of his review), instead of being set in the near or far future, it is set in the recent past – the early 1950′s. The backdrop is the start of the cold war, early developments in nuclear weapons and the jet age, the end of the Korean War and the start of the worldwide UFO phenomenon. The media reports of the time were full of headlines about ‘flying discs’ and speculation if these were visitors from other worlds. Some were just hoaxes or a case of mistaken identity, but others were harder to disprove and hinted at something more sinister.
Players take the part of pilots who investigate the reports of UFO incursions into US airspace and if necessary – shoot them down! This is a secret war – where the players are in the front line as members of the 93rd fighter-interceptor squadron. The US has declared a secret war against the alien invaders and it is up to the players to defend US airspace. They take the part of investigators who follow up reports of UFO’s and if necessary, take action to defend the USA from the aliens… whatever their nefarious plans may be!
The book starts with a 9-page background to the UFO phenomena, based on real reports and encounters from the late 1940′s and 1950′s. For example there is the famous Kenneth Arnold sighting at Mount Rainier in June 1947, or the incident with a UFO where Captain Thomas Mantell was killed whilst chasing a a strange object in the sky in his F-51 Mustang. The descriptions are well researched, very detailed and really help to set the scene for the book. For me, they help instil the sense of ‘fear’ that the US is under attack from unknown alien invaders and the war against them needs to be conducted in secret, for fear of creating mass panic amongst the general populace.
The next 9 pages describe character creation and their background. Players take the part of pilots who have flying experience in World War II or the Korean War and have attained some sort of senior rank. Because of circumstances, the pilots have ‘special’ clearance to investigate UFO sightings and alien plots and follow them up with military action, if necessary. The fighter pilot creation sequence is based on the Mongoose Traveller process but with modifications appropriate to the time period. In addition, other equivalent careers and skills for the time period are detailed, so there is a conversion process available.
The following seven pages describe ‘Project Pounce’, the program instigated by the US Air Force designed to photograph and defend the skies from UFO’s. The various squadrons, air bases and command structure are described so the players know where they ‘fit’ within the overall command structure.
The next 20 pages describe the background to the development of the jet fighter and the current front line aircraft of the USAF. A number of aircraft are covered in great detail, along with a single page ‘vehicle record sheet’ for each of the 14 key aircraft. Some advice is also provided how to convert other types of aircraft if the referee wants to expand the range of types beyond what is provided in book. The aircraft are pretty well historically accurate, with a few minor changes to fit the book (for example, the F-85 Goblin ‘parasite’ fighter, which is available for players to use but in reality never made it beyond the initial prototype development stage).
The next section, ‘air combat’ describes how interceptions between the USAF and the UFO’s should be handled and a different system is used rather than the (assumed) Traveller RPG style using markers and a map. Instead, a more abstract system is used, with a chain of tasks (for example, starting the intercept, spotting your opponent, gaining the advantage) to resolve an interception. Various DMs are applied according to the stage of the encounter. The same system is used to resolve a ground attack (in case you spot a UFO on the ground) and finally, a section on sustaining damage and its resolution is described.
The next 12 pages are a great strength of the book – setting up scenarios and finding the right balance between fighter combat and on the ground investigations. This is the key to running successful AS:R adventures, (to quote the author) in that too much fighter combat makes the game a shooting match, too much investigation on the ground and the game becomes a crime drama. The section is profusely littered with scenario examples and descriptions of 1950′s equipment (including weapons and costs in USD) with conversions for their use in the game.
The layout is well-presented with not much white space left on the pages. I didn’t spot any typo’s and all the images inside are in monochrome, being actual photographs of aircraft or pilots from the period, which are available in the public domain. The UFO diagrams are hand drawn sketches by the author / artist, the only colour artwork being the cover of an F-86 Sabre fighter intercepting a UFO, by the prolific sci-fi artist Ian Stead. USAF communications such as letters ‘of the period’ are presented in a courier typewriter font, to help give a look and feel of a letter from a senior commander.
With the exception of the last 4 pages of the book, the penultimate section is most definitely for the referee only. The background to the UFO incursions and secret war is presented with information on the types of UFO encountered, the aliens and their origin and what the aliens aims are. The book is based on a number of sources from popular TV series, primarily ‘The Invaders’ from the 1960′s. I remember watching the repeats of this series in the UK in the late 1980′s, which ran for 43 episodes with Roy Thinnes playing David Vincent and his attempts to thwart a secret alien invasion. For the referee, there is a great deal of source material to draw upon, including such shows as ‘Space Above and Beyond’ – which I waited for 10 years to come out of region 2 DVD! There are another 2 pages of resources (such as other TV shows, films and games), to which I’d like to add:
Dark Skies (1996-97 TV series) – essentially a very promising 1990′s version of ‘The Invaders’ which unfortunately only ran for one season and was cancelled in 1997. Has some interesting alien creatures for players to deal with…
Project UFO – an ideal source of material for AS:R – it has only ever been broadcast once in the UK in the 1970′s, the theme for the programme is two USAF investigators follow up reports of UFO incidents, in a similar vein to AS:R. Originally created by NBC, there is currently no DVD release available. However, I’ve tracked down a site dedicated to the series that will hopefully prove useful, including the 26 episode listing.
Overall, I enjoyed reading AS:R; it offers an alternative environment for a referee to throw his / her players into. Paul Elliott has compiled a number of different sources of material (TV shows, games, historical fact and disputed USAF reports) to create a consistent background that a gaming group will get a lot of value out of. I think the author is starting to get a bit of a reputation / found his niche for developing these ‘non-standard’ environments for Traveller players and I think the game is all the better for it. In difference to ‘Outpost Mars’ where I felt the book needed something else to develop the background further, AS:R stands on its own as a single product and I don’t feel it immediately needs something else to help make the environment feel ‘complete’. Paul has done a lot of work to streamline the conversion from your usual high-technology Traveller background, to what is essentially a TL6 world. I think the simplification of the aircraft combat rules have helped in this way as well.
A few ideas came to me whilst reading the book, that expands the books usefulness beyond what the author has written. Back in the 1980′s, I remember reading some ‘White Dwarf’ adventures where the Traveller players were transported back in time… the 1880′s in ‘An Alien Werewolf in London’ and another where the players were trying to stop the Nazi nuclear weapons programme (I can’t recall the scenario name…) I think there are a number of crossover opportunities here which allows players to use existing characters.
1. Players from the USAF are trying to stop Traveller players from the far future from obtaining parts to allow them to get back to their own time.
2. Traveller far future players have joined forces with USAF players to fight or capture a common enemy (the alien werewolf (Vargr) again?)
3. The creation of an alternative TL6 world becomes very easy as a lot of the conversion of TL6 equipment / vehicles has been done for the referee.
Attack Squadron: Roswell is a great Traveller RPG supplement and I think a lot of referees and players will get a lot of value and long-term usefulness from the product, therefore I can highly recommend the book – at $5.99 its an absolute steal! Finally, I’d like to thank Paul Elliott of Zozer Games for sending me a copy of Attack Squadron: Roswell to review.