Review: Deepnight Revelation, Part 1

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This is the first drop from the most recent Kickstarter I backed, and in my case consists of four PDFs; more on the rest of it when it rocks up.

In a Nutshell: Epic tale of exploration in the Official Traveller Universe, written for Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition.

Book 1: Deepnight Legacy


Adventure, 33 pages long. If Deepnight Revelation were a TV series, this would be the pilot.

The Travellers find themselves assembled as a scratch crew for a supply hauler. The previous ship on that run has failed to return, and their mission is to find out what happened to it if they can, and complete its mission of resupplying a distant outpost regardless.

As it’s an adventure, I will avoid spoilers. I will say that the central theme has been around since 1986 at least, and if you’ve read/watched/played SF any time in the last 20 years, you’re probably familiar with it. And so are your players.

The adventure eschews specific set pieces and stories, instead providing a situation to which the PCs can react. It favours quick and lateral thinking by the players, rather than specific skills or characteristics of the characters. The worst case outcome is not good, the second worst case is a Total Party Kill, and in the best case the PCs return with some useful information and a reputation for solving a particular kind of problem – a reputation which leads to them being offered jobs on the good ship Deepnight Revelation.

Book 2: Campaign Guide


Referee’s guide, 113 pages. This provides an overview of the mission, the crew, the ship and its vehicles and equipment, a couple of new creatures and so forth.

Important early choices include how senior the Travellers are – are they the mission command crew, or do they just do what they’re told? – and what level of detail they want to track supplies at.

The overall mission is in seven principal stages, each of 1-3 game years duration; the ship will arrive at the main objective 10-11 years after leaving her home port, and is expected to return 24-28 years after departure. This is a long trip; the first stage is covered in the Campaign Guide, albeit at a high level, stages 2-6 are covered in individual expansion books to follow in future drops, and stage 7 in the Terminus Point adventure.

The first few jumps are used to familiarise the players with how things usually go, and to allow them to establish routines or standing orders the crew will follow thereafter; in effect, they are a tutorial for the campaign. During the first leg, the PCs are invited to a party by the Duke of Tobia and have a chance to interact with nobility in full dress uniforms. There are also several ‘stopovers’, in effect generic capsule adventure seeds; reprovisioning, mineral strike, biological anomaly. Three specific plot points occur, in the form of somewhat larger adventure seeds, before the ship reaches the last prepositioned supply cache (and a task force sent to repair their ship) and heads out into the unknown.

The bulk of the book covers the ship, its complement, and the vehicles and equipment it carries. The crew of almost 500 gives plenty of opportunities for swapping characters in and out of the player group, and while the referee is encouraged to play fast and loose with NPCs to give himself scope for changes later, there are guidelines on names, personality tags, and likely skills. During such a long voyage, the crew might easily split into factions, and half a dozen of these are sketched in for use as needed. Eight NPCs get a couple of paragraphs each, but most are just a name and a one-line tag. I actually prefer it that way.

The referee is encouraged to take things slowly, and let the campaign build to ensure it’s memorable. Tradeoffs just before launch should be decided by the players, so that they know why the ship and crew are set up the way they are.

Book 3: Referee Handbook


Referee’s guide, 97 pages. Here we find the nuts and bolts of how to run a campaign which lasts at least ten years of game time, maybe more, and who knows how long in real time.

If your players are the mission command crew, they have to balance making progress towards the ultimate goal against wearing out the ship and crew, while also considering which wonders they should investigate. To this end, there are abstract rules for resolving tasks carried out by (say) a team of 30 in Engineering, consuming and foraging for supplies, managing crew fatigue and morale, maintenance, and so on, which take up most of the page count. Fantasy players would probably think of this as “domain level play”.

This book also explains the ship’s standard operating, research and survey procedures, which the PCs are at liberty to change and for which there are abstract resolution rules, and navigational planning – basically they decide where to stop, and the referee generates worlds or even subsectors accordingly, using either the core rules or the modified ones in the Great Rift pack (which I don’t have). This extends into types of worlds the Travellers may encounter.

While you could run this campaign as an episodic planet-of-the-week game, focused on one of the landing parties, I think the author is right to say you’re missing out if you do that. If and when I run the campaign, I intend to give the players a couple of characters each – one on the mission command team, run in a narrative format by email, and one on the landing party, who is a more traditional PC.

One decision the mission commanders need to make every month or so is how fast they are moving; the faster you go, the more points of interest you miss and the more likely the ship is to break. There are large tables of random events for both, which I would use for inspiration rather than rolling on.

Book 4: Terminus Point


Adventure, 73 pages. The Travellers have now reached the mysterious object they were sent to investigate, and most likely do so. Again, the referee is provided with a situation for the heroes to interact with, rather than a specific story railroad. There is a countdown in the background, which will lead to a certain amount of nastiness if the PCs don’t figure out what’s going on in time; but if they’re clever, they can get out in front of it.

Depending on their plan, and their level of success in executing it, there’s a range of possible outcomes, including Total Party Kill (again, this is not the worst possible outcome), heroes’ death, Lost In Space, and Run Away!

Conclusions


By themselves, the first four books form a very basic campaign; a start, an end, and a framework for the middle. This seems to be a trend in Traveller at the moment; any given product provides you with a toolkit for building something, rather than the thing itself. In this case, you don’t so much get an epic campaign, as a set of tools you could use to build one, given the time and the creativity.

This is a problem for me, given that the bulk of the campaign is about addressing a difficult kind of conflict to write: Protagonist vs Nature. There’s a very good reason why the overwhelming majority of RPG stories have a central conflict of Protagonist vs Antagonist – it’s easy to write and easy to play. (In case you’re interested, the third kind is Protagonist vs Himself, and unless you’re running World of Darkness for a single player you’re probably not using that one either.)

For this product to be useful to me, I need playable adventures that make weird, uninhabited star systems interesting; something like the old 76 Patrons, but focused on heroic explorers rather than downbeat noir anti-heroes. The basic four books don’t really deliver on that, but I await the remaining ones with optimism.

Overall Rating: It’s too soon to tell. Either way, I expect this to be the last campaign I buy, since I don’t get enough use out of them to justify the cost.

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