Orbital is a major supplement for the ‘Outpost Mars’ background released in the summer of 2012 by Paul Elliott and Ben Lecrone of Zozer Games. It introduces more technology and background to the universe of ‘Outpost Mars’ in a watermarked PDF 223 pages long, set 60 years later from Outpost Mars. It is available from Drivethru RPG for $15.99 and in the past few days has become available via print-on-demand via Lulu.com for $22.29.
The book is broken down into twelve sections, along with an appendix and index. The first three sections detail the background to the state of Earth, its planetary neighbours, organisations, events taking place from the 1960’s to 2100, obviously with an altered timeline. The altered timeline to date doesn’t change that much – only enough to change history so that we didn’t stop going to the Moon after Apollo, humans went to Mars and started to explore the outer solar system. Beyond the present date, the writers develop an interesting background that sets up international rivalries and organisations (legal and illegal) that form the background for players to utilise in 2100AD.
The next section covers character creation and the differences with the main Traveller rulebook, along with equivalent careers and an additional career type.
Spacecraft design and types are handled in the following three sections; this is a major part of the book and is handled very well. Spacecraft are designed using High Guard with suitable modifications to the types of propulsion units, computers and accomodation available in 2100. There are a huge number of different types and descriptions listed here, enough to keep any Traveller gearhead happy! Rockets are still the most efficient way to get into orbit, with DSV’s (Deep Space Vessels) supplying the way to travel the solar system. This is where Orbital differs from Traveller – there are no jump drives or ways to travel in hyperspace! If you want to get from A to B, you have to use some form of chemical or nuclear powered engine.
I’m aware of some earlier Classic Traveller supplements that looked at some TL7-9 designs for conventional rockets and Apollo-type vehicles, but they didn’t cover to the level of detail Orbital has. A number of standard designs are listed, they have a ‘practical’ and ‘realistic’ feel and seen as reasonable developments of current technology, such as the Orion capsule and heavy-lift SLS rocket. Problems such as gravity, weightlessness, travel and fuel are all looked at in great detail, along with ways for players to make some money transporting passengers across the solar system and some encounter tables to roll up along the way, are included.
The hardware section concluded with some detailed work on space (vacc) suits and rovers. Vacc suits are particularly important in Orbital, so this section expands on their configuration and customisation. Orbital players are more likely to spend longer in their suits than their Mongoose / Third Imperium counterparts and have the opportunity to customise a suit to their particular needs.
The final five sections are divided up among the following headings ‘Orbital Society’, ‘Working in Space’, ‘Worlds’, ‘Running Orbital’ and ‘Resources’. The first looks at law enforcement and the problems of maintaining law with such great distances from regular help should there be… trouble! Habitats and outposts are covered – whats it like ‘out there’ and what are players likely to find after a long journey in space?
The zero-g environment is looked at next, players should note that there are no grav-plates as per Traveller of the far future; the only artificial gravity available is in the rotating sections of the larger types of spacecraft.
The ‘Worlds’ section is extremely extensive… listing the full UWP of all the major planets and moons in the solar system. What neatly complements this section is the graphic of each world, with its profile and history.
‘Running Orbital’ details some scenario ideas and what can be achieved in a TL9 deep-space environment. A number of NPCs are listed and a couple of example missions. The final part of this chapter is the most intriguing – aliens and where are they? I’m not going to spoil things with any mention, but lets say I like what I’ve read – there are some very thought-provoking ideas and some great potential adventures. It also just makes you wish you had a jump drive…!
The final main section is an extensive list of resources including films, web links, books and PDFs available that can help a referee create their Orbital background. In addition, I’d like to add the following links or sites that I use for inspiration when creating graphics and general interesting reading:
Beyond Apollo charts the NASA missions that never were, lots of technical information and loads of ideas.
Atomic Rockets – Realistic Designs has some excellent renderings of planned spacecraft and landers – very inspirational.
Haynes International Space Station Guide – I was lucky enough to receive this for Christmas – basically a complete breakdown and construction history of the ISS to the present day. Also includes history of the USSR MIR station and how it came to inspire the construction of the ISS. Very useful to see what the inside of a space is like.
Overall, I’m thoroughly impressed with Orbital – its the book I was looking for after reading Outpost Mars. It fills in the gaps regarding spacecraft and covers them with a foot deep level of concrete (so to speak!) and the level of detail and examples are very interesting to read. In some ways, I feel I’ve only scratched the surface with my review, there is a lot of information that will keep a referee happy for a few months designing spacecraft and scenario’s for their players. In addition, the explanations of how spacecraft ‘travel’ in space and the background to support the world of Orbital make for a very good book to own.
Paul and Ben have obviously done a huge amount of research in ensuring that the technologies employed in the book are believable and based on researched or future developments of ‘real’ technologies.
My only criticisms are a small number of font inconsistencies and it would have been (I’m pushing my luck here…) nice to see a few more illustrations of the example spacecraft designs. However, in stating the latter, I’m looking for something to criticise the book with and I’m finding that task difficult.
Orbital makes for a very worthwhile purchase and with Outpost Mars, make for two books that a Traveller referee will be pleased to own. They provide a more challenging ‘environment’ when compared to the usual Traveller far future background.
Finally, I’d like to thank Paul Elliott of Zozer Games for providing a review copy of Orbital, for using one of my images in the book and back of the softcover book, available from Lulu.com! Ambition achieved!