Outpost Mars is a Mongoose Traveller-compatible PDF available from Drivethru RPG written by Paul Elliot of Zozer Games priced at $9.99. It is 59 pages long, including contents and license. The book is broken down into 9 sections, entitled; Introduction, The Situation on Mars, Character Creation, Character Agendas, Team Equipment, Mars Planetology, Running Mars, The Military, Movies and Books. Colour images from planned NASA images have been used to break up text in the book and it is well laid out with only a couple of typo’s.
The book is set in the near future of 2040 where man has landed on Mars and established permanent settlements. Though many of Mars’s inhabitants are scientists, a growing contingent are surveyors, miners, drillers and explorers. A number of governments are working on Mars, along with a growing variety of private concerns.
The book is pitched as a slightly different way to role play using this near-future background, where players take the roles of the scientists, geologists and engineers working on the planet. Why would you want to play people who go looking for rocks? To present this as an interesting and challenging supplement for Traveller, the writer has put a great deal of thought into this premise and come up with a number of ways for the referee to set up their game. Character generation is handled slightly differently where they are required to have an agenda and ally themselves to a particular faction on Mars. These factions all have particular aims for what they want to achieve on Mars, for example one has a radical view on how it should be terraformed, another view is that the European Union (through ESA) should be the dominant organisation on Mars.
By giving characters particular aims, such as being allied to the ‘Red Faction’, they are influenced in the way that they deal with colleagues. The writer is pitching the book where the aim is to encourage more inter-personal conflict, rather than using guns to solve difficult situations. By getting players to use their characters personal aims to drive how they interact with their fellow players, a more ‘devious’ environment and lack of trust amongst a party is generated, rather than the default co-operative stance players take.
I’ve tried to think how this would actually work in a gaming session and unfortunately I can only envision some difficulties. If players are going to have to think more on achieving their players personal aims, rather than the party as a whole, I would imagine that the referee would have to take players to one side to impart information that is relevant to them only. Would that make for a flowing gaming session? From personal experience, I would be wary about trying to run a ‘soap-opera’ style game where players are trying to back-stab each other and persue their own agendas. Some people would be happy to run this type of game, but considering the writers aim for the book, I don’t think it is for me. However, the writer has done quite a bit of work in giving plenty of examples how such a game could be run, under the premise that players are scientists exploring Mars. This background information is well-written and if that is something that you be happy in running, I think you will find the supporting material useful.
In addition, and what excites me about the book, is the number of scenario ideas (the ‘Complications’ page) that are listed that fit very nicely into the co-operative style of gaming, that I would use the book for. Evidence of alien life has been found on Mars and a great deal of work is under way to try and find out who the Martians were (or are they still around, undiscovered as of yet?) Rogue drillers roam the planet in search of their own aims and pirates attack exploration teams for water and resources. I would use the supplement to set up a more co-operative game where, for example, players would take the part of private exploration teams tasked with missions such as find out what happened to a lost scientist in a previously unexplored region of Mars. Equipment is limited and weapons are banned due to the great potential damage they could do to in a sealed environment dome. So it looks like using harsh language against whatever you might find in that dark Martian cave…
The writer has used a number of sources to build the background for the book; recently proposed NASA missions, films such as ‘Mission to Mars’ and asked for ideas from RPG.net users on what Martian life could be like. A great deal of information about the Martian arcology is detailed in the book which can be a little dry reading, the writer does have a disclaimer that it doesn’t have to be used! At the back of the book, a number of books, movies and websites are listed to help provide additional resources for the referee setting up a game. A bit of a shameless plug here – I have a number of images on my ray tracing gallery ‘Digital Waterfalls – Spacecraft 2000-2030AD’ which though designed for the ‘Terran Trade Authority books background’, they do fit into the timeline of Outpost Mars. I hope you may find some useful material there!
I like Outpost Mars; the writer Paul Elliott has put a great deal of work and research into the product and he should be commended. The books designed aim of inter-personal conflict between players, I personally would have reservations about running such a game. However, if you enjoy that type of game then this will be a great resource for you. In addition with a little work I think it could be an interesting diversion from the usual Traveller high-technology background and presents an enforced way of dealing with situations, considering the challenging environment characters are in. This is a very good product and is of a much higher quality compared to the first two Zozer Games releases.
A suggestion to build on the background presented – I’d like to see some more information on the spacecraft and vehicles of the age and perhaps some more detail or the settlements on Mars. Might help to create that sense of the environment the players have to live in. Perhaps there is enough to write an accompanying supplement Paul?
I’d like to thank Paul Elliot of Zozer Games for sending me a review copy of Outpost Mars and the chance to review it.