Unmerciful Frontier – The CCA Sourcebook Review

Unmerciful Frontier – The CCA Sourcebook (which I’ll refer to from now simply as the CCAS) is the latest ‘system’ supplement for Gypsy Knights Games setting ‘The Clement Sector’. Available now on Drivethru RPG for $9.99 as a PDF along with a printed edition for $24.99.

This is a pretty major publication from Gypsy Knights Games (GKG) and opens up a whole new area of exploration beyond the Clement Sector. It has been on my mind what would GKG would do next to ‘go beyond’ the Clement Sector as I’ve noticed that they have an extremely comprehensive product portfolio containing supplements and adventures in the Clement Sector area. I was getting a bit concerned that they would fall into the trap (as some publishers have done in the past) of publishing materials simply to keep the momentum of releases going. Unfortunately this is where the quality starts to drop because ideas get rehashed or you get the feeling things have reached saturation point. GKG’s releases in the past few years (I feel) have been of a consistently high standard and there was a danger this could fall if this limit was ever reached by them.

However, I’m extremely pleased to see that GKG are now expanding their frontiers and are now moving into the relatively unexplored regions beyond the Clement Sector with the help of the CCAS. It is a 192-page sourcebook which is divided into three major parts:

1. The Cascadia Colonisation Authority (who they are, equipment, careers, processes and procedures).

2. System Generation (building an entire star system based on real-life astronomical data).

3. The Tranquility Sector (subsector maps and locations of known star systems).

Part 1 – The Cascadia Colonisation Authority

Covering pages 6 to 43, you get a complete background of how the CCA came into being, founded by a certain James Lancaster in 2240. Originally a shipping magnate, he used the Independent Worlds Treaty to help set up an agreement to ferry colonists to the newly-founded worlds on the other side of the worm hole conduit. This agreement was pretty successful and Lancaster started to ferry colonists to worlds that had only been scouted by the CCA a matter of months before. After his death Lancaster the CCA continued to grow into the organisation it is now, an arm of the Cascadian government. This introduction continues to expand on the various branches of the CCA and the type of operations it is involved with, which includes not just exploration but anti-piracy as well. There are political interests which push and pull the ultimate direction of the Cascadian government in how the settlement of new worlds should be viewed; the creation of a number of independent worlds similar to the way that the first worlds in the Clement Sector were created, or the creation of a new Empire.

The CCA’s main aim (political influences aside) is exploration. You are presented with the CCA’s plan, which involves three main steps:

1. Confirmation – from long range observations, a CCA ship will confirm what is actually in the system being visited.

2. Examination – ships orbiting worlds, the physical nature of a system, use of probes and landings.

3. Settlement – establishment of forward bases and settlements prior to the arrival of colony ships and settlers. Securing the environment.

A secondary, but vital aim of the CCA is anti-piracy; working with the Cascadian Navy and Marshals (but also operating under their own authority) to disrupt pirate vessels and bases so that they move elsewhere.

To help put some substance on how the CCA looks, you get some detail on the uniform worn and the chain of command.

Page 14 is where things get really detailed; you are taken through the full CCA standard operating procedure for exploring a new system. This is interspersed with gaming notes and skill checks for the completion of certain operations.

All good exploration teams have plenty of equipment and the CCA’s experience in this area is reflected in the next part of this section, equipment. There are some tasty devices listed; in the vehicles heading, there is the ‘PLED’ – ‘Personal Lift Extenuation Device’. Basically a miniaturised personal jet pack which is very nicely illustrated by Bradley Warnes. You also get the stats for the ‘PREV’ – ‘Planetary Reconnaissance and Exploration Vehicle’. For me, this has quite an unusual design; its ‘retro’ styling reminds me of the American cars of the 1950’s, or of a Volkswagen Camper Van Type 2:

A PREV Mk.001? License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The final part of this first section is the CCA Career generation process, which covers Crew, Explorer and Escort branches. This is presented in the same way as other GKG career generation procedures.

I’ve been mucking around with my POV-Ray galaxy generator again; an young blue star emerging from its surrounding nebula

Part 2 – System Generation

The author John Watts has made this part of the book (pages 44 through to 149) as Open Game Content (with exception of the ‘proprietary‘ material such as Zimm drive information, artwork for example – full details are provided) so it can be used by the Cepheus Engine and 2D6 SF RPG community. As a visual reference, the text is of a slightly different font and style.

The original Classic Traveller created the system generation procedure, which was expanded on in Book 6: Scouts. What John has written in these pages is an extremely comprehensive star system generator that will surely satisfy any ‘builder’ of worlds. You are taken step by step through a process that will detail what stars are present (note I said ‘stars’ – I think this is something that was always noticed in Book 6: Scouts in that it only allowed one star per system if I recall correctly). You then go through the types of stars, how close they are together (if multiples), the number of gas giants and asteroid belts and habitable zone.

This is where the author’s research really shows; the next twenty (!) pages list tables of the various types of stars (variants of Giant, Dwarf, you name it, its there!) which describes the star class, temperature, mass, luminosity, inner limit, habitable zone, snow line and outer limit in AU. You then round off with main world and gas giant placement. What I like is that John Watts has taken two schools of thought (a traditional ‘doubling‘ of distances of planets from our sun and the ‘varied’ distance method) and integrated a few examples of how this would work within the system generation process. That way, you have a process that expands on the type of results you would get to produce a similar system to the format used on Book 6: Scouts, but also has a process to produce results that is more in line with current scientific observations and understanding of solar system creation. I always find having lots of examples applying a set procedure is always very helpful to getting to grips with a new set of rules, especially where there is lots of mathematics involved.

The next set of pages describe (at least from a gaming point of view) what the rocky planets in the system are like. You have twenty-five pages broken down into the types of world (Mercurian, Subterranean, Terran, Superterran and Dwarf) according to what zone from the star they fall into. This is followed by Asteroid Belts, Starports, Zimm Points, Moons and ‘Quirks’; those unusual occurrences that make exploring a system so interesting! This is backed up with a couple of comprehensive system generation examples so you can get used to the whole thing.

The next part ‘Beyond the Codes’; this is where you really need your plastic brain or handcomp near by. Its an optional section, but it does get into some quite complicated maths. This part is to help the referee really put some flesh (Rocks? Dirt?) on the planets they have just created by working out size, density, mass, gravity, orbital period, rotation period, axial tilt, atmosphere, pressure… I’ll end there but there is a lot presented!

If you ever thought the maths behind the Classic Traveller gravitational strengths calculations (page 37, Book 2: Starships) was complicated, then you can calculate average temperature by the formula (from p.140):

And then:

As I said this is an optional section so don’t be put off by the level of detail and the maths involved to calculate such information. I know some people will love this sort of thing after reading various posts on forums over the years. However, this is probably the one part of the book that would have benefitted from a few examples to help with the explanation of the calculations. Its been quite a few years since I had to use any (electrical and electronic engineering) maths similar to what is described here, so unless your maths ability is used to such formulae, some people may struggle with this part of the book. The author should be commended though for producing such a comprehensive process that allows you to flesh out the details of your newley-created worlds and it won’t stop you from getting the most out of the CCAS.

A blue hypergiant star visible from across the galaxy

The Open Game Content stops at page 149, which leads onto the final major section of the book:

Part 3 – Tranquility Sector

Named after the original Tranquility base on the Moon, this sector lies trailing to Clement Sector and is formed of 16 subsectors 10 long by 8 parsecs wide. It was the third sector on the Clement Sector side of the wormhole to be settled and as such hold the most recent settlements. This is where the CCA continues to push deeper with its explorations.

The subsectors are named after peaceful or tranquil concepts, hence examples such as ‘Dusk’, ‘Dawn’, ‘Harmony’, ‘Aurora’ and so on. After the 16 subsector grid, you are presented with the first individual 10×8 subsector map. However I found I was having to turn to the next page to find out what the subsector name was, as there was no name listed on the grid page. As I worked my way through the book, I found I was constantly flipping back and forth to keep a point of reference between the subsector grid map and the description page, which was a bit of a minor irritation. Hopefully the subsector name could be added to the grid map in future editions of the book.

The book rounds off with a few tables (system scale, list of CCA vessels in service and a blank subsector hex map) along with a list of references to books and websites the author has used to help write the book.

In some ways, this is the sort of book that has been wished for over the years by the Classic Traveller community to help with creating astronomically-accurate star systems. It is up to date with current observations and theories on star system formation and John Watts has taken this scientifically and mathematically complicated piece of research information and melded it into a useful tool for the referee. There is plenty of colourful artwork by Jennifer Leonard, Ian Stead, Bradley Warnes (along with some single pieces by other artists) which helps to illustrate the CCA uniform, starships and Volkswagen Camper Van in space… sorry the PREV!

Aside from the optional (and for me, complicated) ‘Behind the Codes’ part of the book which could have done with a few examples and my comment about the subsector map labels, this is a book every 2D6 SF RPG referee should own as there is such a useful amount of content, it will help to form the basis of many an adventure and is well worth the money. I would like to kindly thank John Watts of Gypsy Knights Games for his generosity in sending me a copy to review.

Now, I’m sure Classic Traveller enthusiasts could use this to re-run Adventure 0: The Imperial Fringe…!

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About AlegisDownport

Musings on the Traveller RPG world, technology, astronomy and digital art.
This entry was posted in Cepheus Engine, Classic Traveller, Clement Sector, OGL and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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