Traveller HERO CDROM Review

Before I move onto the Traveller HERO CDROM review, I’d like to mention a few new releases:

Gypsy Knights Games have published ‘Manhunters: Bounty Hunters in Clement Sector’, out now on DTRPG for $9.99.

Stellagama Publishing have released ‘Uranium Fever‘, also available on DTRPG for $5.99.

I’ll be reviewing both products in the very near future!

General Observations:

The Traveller HERO CDROM is available from Far Future Enterprises for $35 and contains a lot of material that hasn’t been available to purchase for a number of years, previously released by Comstar / Avenger Enterprises. Ordering from the FFE website, it was delivered to my UK address in 8 days in a strong jiffy bag. It is presented in a DVD-style case with some gorgeous sleeve artwork by Bryan Gibson.

The CDROM contents can be best compiled into four groups:-

The Core Rules (5 PDFs)

Hero System References (8 PDFs)

The Golden Age Starships (8 PDFs)

The Supplements and Adventures (12 PDFs)

The Core Rulebooks

To kick off the contents of the CDROM, you have five books:

Core HERO1 Adventurers in Charted Space (163 pages)

Core HERO2 Adventure in Charted Space (159 pages)

Core HERO3 Starship Construction in Charted Space (12 pages)

Core HERO4 Starships in Charted Space (22 pages)

Core HERO5 Psionics in Charted Space (11 pages)

To use these rule books, you will need the HERO system rules, fifth edition although there is a supplement supplied elsewhere on the CDROM with advice how to convert to the sixth edition. You also get print versions of the HERO1 and HERO2 books if you want a copy in dead tree format.

The HERO System

I can only make observations about the Traveller HERO system from the perspective that I don’t own the rules set, so my perception of the system comes only from the stats that are provided in the books. Therefore, I’m comparing it – perhaps unfairly, against the Classic Traveller rules set. What I do see from the HERO rules set is that there are a lot more stats needed to describe an individual, creature, object, robot or vehicle. Unfortunately, this puts me off the system because I see things like from book 1, page 135, the description for a ‘Laser Pistol-16’.

LASER PISTOL-16 Effect: RKA 2 ½d6, AP, AF (3 shots), Inv. to Sight Shots: 32 Combat Modifiers: +1 OCV, +2 RMod STR Minimum: 6 Range: 320” Mass: 3 kg CR: 4000 Description: The Laser Pistol-16 is the TL16 version of the laser pistol. [Notes: Experimental Advanced Laser Pistol]

Laser Pistol-16: (Total: 95 Active Cost, 27 Real Cost) RKA 2 ½d6, 32 Charges (+¼), Invisible to Sight Group, Source Only (+¼), Autofire (3 shots; +¼), Armor Piercing (+½) (90 Active Points); OAF Fragile (-1 ¼), STR Minimum 6 (STR Min. Cannot Add/Subtract Damage; -1), Beam (-¼), Real Weapon (-¼), Limited Range (-¼) (Real Cost: 22) plus +2 with any single attack with one specific weapon (Real Cost: 2) plus +2 vs. Range (6 Active Points); OAF (-1) (Real Cost: 3). Total Cost: 27 points.

From what I understand about the HERO system is that everything has a ‘cost’, in points. So I what I started to notice reading through the book is the repeated line ‘Active Cost: <value>, Real Cost <value>’. I must admit I found this to be getting repetitive reading the same thing after several times. This combined with the lengthy descriptions of each ‘thing’, made for some heavy going working through the books.

The HERO system presents a bit of a paradox; the rules set is aimed at creating characters with extraordinary abilities, ie. in the mood of superhero’s. However, the Traveller HERO books are pitched to creating characters that are exactly like you would create in any of the GDW books, ie. ordinary people doing extraordinary things. To me this seems like a terrible contradiction. I’ve never played Superhero games, nor have any desire to play them. I’ve already preferred my characters to be ordinary people who through choice or not, try to do ‘heroic’ things. This contradiction in the Traveller HERO books seems to me to be a fatal flaw.

The books are based in the Traveller OTU, the Third Imperium. However, the books attempt to combine all the timelines from Classic Traveller, Mega Traveller, Traveller the New Era and Traveller: 1248 so that referees and players have a choice of what background and setting they can base their games in.

I must say that the amount of work the writers have done to combine all these settings is immense and they should be applauded for what they have achieved. Generally, through all the books, it makes for a very comprehensive source of background material; for example the combined Imperial timeline from 1105 to 1248 where each GDW / DGP / Comstar / JTAS product is listed with Imperial date.

The rule books are very text heavy and are only spaced with literally, one or two images over the entire edition, with the exception of a few deck plans for commonly-found starships. The layout and quality of writing is exemplary, just be prepared to thoroughly read the books as there is a huge amount of material presented.

Another example is the 63 pages (!) describing all the major and minor races that can be found in or near Imperial space – that makes for about 40% of the first book.

There are a few ‘oddities’; the GM Vault: World Generation system found in book 2, page 147 goes into great detail describing the World Data Format (which from what I can make out is the same or near as dammit as that in CT), but this is only mentioned at the very end, summarised in a three line paragraph, with one example. There is no example hex grid and half a page of blank space which could have been filled. Very strange.

The Golden Age Starships series; there are some inconsistencies with the deck plans, Book 5: Cutters and Shuttles features a couple of module deck plans, but the hex grid used is too prominent and has obscured the deck layout. I think the use of a hex grid instead of a square grid is a poor choice. At the back of each GAS book you get a minimum of a page of adventure seeds, roughly a paragraph per idea, though you get five pages of ideas in GAS7: LSP Modular Starship.

HERO System References

You are supplied with 8 PDFs:

HERO Fifth System Basics (1 page)

HERO Fifth Edition System Reference (1 page)

HERO Fifth Edition System Wikipedia (6 pages)

HERO Sixth Edition Character Conversion Summary (2 pages)

HERO System Basics (1 page)

HERO System Reference (1 page)

HERO System Wikipedia (6 pages)

Introduction to the Traveller HERO CD (1 page)

A few of the pages are more or less adverts for the system, or introductions to the product line. There isn’t enough here to get you started without the full HERO rules set (not included with the CDROM), even though the Wikipedia web prints will give you an idea of some of the rules terminology used in the other books.

The Golden Age Starships

This is an eclectic mix of ships, the smallest being the equivalent of a cargo pod up to (my personal favourite) the 300dTon LSP Modular Starship. The nice touch is that you get both Classic Traveller and HERO rules statistics, so there is a decent collection of craft for those of us that prefer CT.

Each book presents a short history of the ship, plenty of stats and variants and a set of scenario ideas, that range from 1 to 5 pages in total. The deck plans continue to use the hex grid (which I personally dislike), I think it makes the layout messy – but that must be my OCD… Probably the most archaic spacecraft described in the book is the Saturn 1B launch vehicle, dating from 1961 to 1975CE! Illustrations are minimal, except for deck plans for the major vehicles and transports. The GAS are the same as what was available in the Traveller 20 edition.

The list of books includes:

Golden Age Starships 1: Fast Courier (36 pages)

Golden Age Starships 2: Sword Worlds Patrol Cruiser (40 pages)

Golden Age Starships 3: Archaic Small Craft (42 pages)

Golden Age Starships 4: Ships Boats and Pinnaces (42 pages)

Golden Age Starships 5: Cutters and Shuttles (37 pages)

Golden Age Starships 6: Corsair (33 pages)

Golden Age Starships 7: LSP Modular Starship (31 pages)

Golden Age Starships 7: Armed Free Trader (27 pages)

The Supplements and Adventures

For me, along with the Golden Age Starships PDFs, represents the ‘value’ in owning the CDROM. However I was intrigued by the adventures mentioned in the Hero CD-ROM listing, having seen the titles mentioned somewhere many years ago and the publications never being available to purchase.

Sourcebook 1: Grand Fleet HERO (122 pages) details the Imperial Navy; it’s history, structure, personnel, capabilities, tactics, weapons, equipment and its opponents. You also get an appendix describing (in Hero stats) some of the more common types of ship, such as the Broadsword-class Mercenary Cruiser or Fiery-class Close Escort.

The Bowman Arm (27 pages) describes a group of ten worlds named for their locality to Bowman (District 268 / Spinward Marches 1132). It is designed as a lead-in to a line of books, focussing on each of the worlds in the Bowman Arm. However only two separate books were published, which are included in the HERO CDROM, Flexos (21 pages) and Datrillian (17 pages). The actual Bowman Arm also describes another world in the group, Walston. In many ways, these remind me of the Gypsy Knights Games ‘Quick Worlds’ series, with basic world data, environmental description, inhabitants and adventure seeds. The quality of the text is of a very high standard and sets the scene for events after the end of the Fifth Frontier War. However there is one flaw with the Bowman Arm map, which covers four subsectors namely Darrian, Sword Worlds, Five Sisters and District 268. It is of such low resolution that it is virtually unreadable. I’ve taken a look at Traveller Map and produced a snapshot which covers 95% of the same area. If you want to find the same region, the link on Traveller Map is here. I’ve also added a PDF of the image below if you want to download it, along with a Bowman Spinward World Data Sheet from Traveller Map.

Spinward Marches Supplement:Call of the Wild (46 pages) is an adventure set on the Sword Worlds system of Steel, involving a survey mission and a distress call… Both Hero and CT stats are provided.

Spinward Marches Supplement: Range War (57 pages) is also set on Steel and can be used as a follow up to Call of the Wild.

Special Supplement 1: Robots of Charted Space (77 pages) is a Hero edition-specific supplement that describes the various types of robots that can be found in and around the Imperium. You get some suggestions how to use robots in a game, history and manufacturers and the different types and classifications. Thirty-one standard robot types are listed, with full Hero stats.

Special Supplement 2: Robot Adventures (43 pages) is a collection of 22 scenarios with a robotic influence. It can be used with both Hero and CT. Each scenario is presented with players information, referees information and six possible outcome in the style of the CT Supplement 76 Patrons or the Gypsy Knights Games 21 Plots series.

Special Supplement 3: Patron Encounters (33 pages) contains 34 ready-made adventure seeds, again compatible with Hero and CT. it is divided into two predominant sections, starship required and starship not required. All adventure seeds have the same format again as the previous book, with six possible outcomes. The final few pages list some generic patrons and villains, with just Hero stats presented.

Special Supplement 4: One Crowded Hour (46 pages) is a full length adventure which can be used with Hero or CT, containing stats for both. Unfortunately the deck plans for the featured ship, the Duchess Selene, sufferers from the same problem as the Bowman Arm map, in that they are of a low resolution the layout is very difficult to read. The adventure takes place over the course of an hour game time, where the players have to save the ship they are aboard, which is on a collision course with a gas giant planet due to a course malfunction.

Special Supplement 5: Short Adventures (59 pages) is another collection of adventures broken down into five sections: Amber Zones, Mercenary Tickets, Patron Encounters, Linked Adventures and Generic Patrons and Villains. Some of the adventures do have 1D6 possible outcomes, whereas others are simply descriptions of the situation, background and resolution. Only the final section ‘Generic Patrons and Villians’ contains Hero stats, but the rest of the book is compatible with just about any SF RPG.

The final book in the list is TNE Operation Dominoes 1: Moonshadow (64 pages), which is set in the Traveller New Era timeline. It details the world of Tiniyd and presents two adventures where the players are sent to recon and strategic world, ruled by feuding psionic governments. Though there were actually four adventures in the series, only the first one is included in the CDROM which has been altered to include HERO game stats. Oddly enough, though there are no CT stats for the crew roster or some of the NPCs, there are some CT stats listed for some of the minor NPCs. Possibly an oversight in the conversion. The additional books are available as part of the Traveller New Era CDROM 2 from FFE which I took a brief look at back in 2011.

Overall Conclusions

The CDROM itself as supplied by FFE is a decent collection of PDFs with lots of reference and support material, for both Classic traveller and HERO 5th edition rules.

The impression I get from the PDFs themselves is that the quality of the editing and how four Imperial timelines (CT / MT / TNE / 1248) have been brought together is a fantastic piece of work. There is a ton of useful source material and wether you decide to use Hero or CT as your system, you’ll find plenty to help set you up for many gaming sessions. the lack of artwork is a downside (perhaps I’m too used to Gypsy Knights Games or Stellagama products now) and there are a few (previously-mentioned editing quirks) but there is a lot of text for you to read through. Unfortunately the HERO system is not for me, I find it too cumbersome and ‘bulky’ after the lightness and simplicity of Classic Traveller, but I know there are many fans of the HERO system. However I do think the CDROM is well worth purchasing, especially if you are a CT player and are looking for some additional gaming material.


About AlegisDownport

Musings on the Traveller RPG world, technology, astronomy and digital art.
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