Mindjammer Takes Traveller To Transhuman Heights
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  • Mindjammer Takes Traveller To Transhuman Heights



    I don't think that I am stepping out onto a particularly fragile limb when I say that Mindjammer is one of the best original science fiction settings to be created in the contemporary era. It also isn't much of a risk to that that the setting, and the games attached to it, isn't as well known as it could be. We're facing a resurgence in science fiction, and science fantasy, gaming right now, and Mindjammer should be a game that you check out as you are looking for things to scratch that science fiction itch.

    Right now, Mindjammer is available in a couple of flavors: the original Fate-based rules, and the newer Traveller-based game (using the most recent version of the Traveller rules published by Mongoose Publishing). While the Fate-based is one of my favorite implementations of the Fate Core rules, in this column I am going to focus more on the more recent Traveller rules version of the game.
    The Mindjammer Traveller edition is co-designed by Mindjammer creator Sarah Newton, and ENnie Award winning designer John Snead. When I picked up the Traveller edition, I thought that the game would have an enormous hurdle to pass over because the original Fate-based version was so good. I had faith in the designers that paid off in this game.

    I've played Traveller in a number of flavors, from Classic to the newer Mongoose version of the game. The game has a simplicity to it that has contributed greatly to its longevity. The system is robust, provided that you character survives character creation, and the Mongoose version of the game offers some "upgrades" to the system that gives it more appeal to contemporary gamers. If the game has a flaw, it is the fact that it is enmeshed in a particular flavor of space opera science fiction, a flavor that was especially popular in the 60s and 70s. In my attempts, Traveller could get creaky in more contemporary styles of science fiction like cyberpunk and transhumanistic fiction. This was the problem that I thought that Mindjammer would run into.

    But the game bore out that, in the hands of creative and talented designers who are well-versed in the tropes of the genre, you could craft a solid transhumant science fiction game using the Traveller ruleset.

    Mindjammer Traveller has the options that Traveller players are used to, and augments them with options for characters who are "vegetable intelligences," cephalopods, large scale synthetic beings like starship sentiences or corpuses (sentient buildings sometimes used by corporations), and a number of hominid species unique to the setting. These rules are supported by a robust system of traits, advantages and flaws that allow for a great deal of customization of your characters. These later traits are built off of the existing rules within the Traveller game itself. These new traits use the same rules that you would use for building animals and other creatures within the game.
    One thing that Mindjammer assumes is that characters will be much, much longer lived. With the advances in cybernetic and genetic science that is a part of the setting, people live much longer than they would, even in a more "normal" science fiction setting, like that of the baseline of Traveller. Characters in Mindjammer measure their lives in hundred, or thousands, of years, so the career system of Traveller has been modified to take this into consideration. Your Mindjammer Traveller characters will have a less likely chance of "aging out" of careers than in baseline Traveller. In fact the Mindjammer careers mostly have longevity packages written into them that will make the characters longer lived.

    There are also rules for the more abstract entities within the Mindjammer setting. Everything from organizations and cultures to organizations like corporations and government agencies are covered under the game's rules. Mindjammer is not your father's Traveller game.

    The basic setting of Mindjammer is known as The Commonality. This is a confederation races, worlds, cultures and other groups that are bound together by faster-than-light travel and a unique method of communication known as the Mindscape. The Mindscape combines instantaneous communication with near unlimited data storage and access. With the Mindscape the setting gets around a lot of the issues that can come up with science fiction societies that span across many galaxies.

    Transhumanism isn't for everyone. As an idea it tends to extrapolate scientific concepts into directions that many think go past the boundaries of science. In comparison to baseline Traveller characters, your Mindjammer Traveller characters can seem preternaturally or superhumanly powerful. In fact, the reaction of species and cultures outside of The Commonality when they first encounter citizens of it is to think that they are encountering space gods, or god-like beings. This isn't going to be for everyone, but it can open up some interesting new directions for your science fiction/fantasy gaming.

    Asking if Mindjammer Traveller is a better game than the original Fate Core version of the game is a tough one. The games, while they have the same setting, address two very different, and sometimes opposed styles of play. Mindjammer Traveller will likely be a better fit for those looking for a more "traditional" type of gaming. While the game expands the science and technology of Traveller into directions that are more mind-blowing, it still maintains the power structures of players and GMs that you would expect from a Traveller game. If you want an experience that features more player-facing elements, and a style of play that features a greater amount of cooperative play between all of the members of a gaming group, you will likely want to pick up Mindjammer Fate Core instead.

    You don't have to worry about getting more setting material from one book or the other, or needing the Fate Core version of the game if you want to play the Traveller version. From a setting stand point both books have the same material, and have everything that you will need to play for that game. The Mindjammer Traveller game does require that you posses the current edition of the Traveller rules from Mongoose Publishing.

    Regardless, if you want to play in one of the best science fiction game settings around, pick up Mindjammer. It is available from Mindjammer Press and published by Modiphius Entertainment. If it isn't already at your local game store, be sure to check it out next month at the Gen Con gaming convention. Mindjammer should be on the bookshelves of everyone who is a fan of science fiction gaming.
    Comments 24 Comments
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      "provided that you character survives character creation"...Traveller, you have to love an RPG whose most well known feature is killing characters during generation!
    1. Saracenus's Avatar
      Saracenus -
      Quote Originally Posted by AriochQ View Post
      "provided that you character survives character creation"...Traveller, you have to love an RPG whose most well known feature is killing characters during generation!
      Was a feature, not a bug, of the system when I played it in the 80s.
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      Character generation is designed to be a game within a game. You generate a youthful 18 year old, and then take him/her through a career path in four year terms. For each term, you roll to survive, to see what events take place and what skills you accumulate along the way. At the end of the career, you get to muster out with cash and benefits also rolled for. The survival roll in the modern Mongoose game is actually not as harsh as it was in Classic Traveller - a failed Survival roll leads to a further roll on the Mishap table before ejecting the character from their career. This could be an injury (or or defamation or prison, etc) but the general effect is simply to add medical bills on to a debt. The game element is one of risk taking - the longer you keep going the greater the risk of a failed survival roll, or just the impact of ageing adds up.

      Mindjammer is definitely a 21st century take on Traveller, with sentient (and playable) starships, A.I. of various types and long-lived characters the norm. The setting is quite exotic.
    1. AriochQ's Avatar
      AriochQ -
      Quote Originally Posted by Saracenus View Post
      Was a feature, not a bug, of the system when I played it in the 80s.
      I am aware. My DM in college worked at GDW. I ran some Traveller during that time. It is still a rather quirky feature considering you sometimes ended up with a group of octogenarians as an adventuring party! Reading the article above, extending life spans does make a lot of sense and helps mediate that issue.
    1. Frank Bernard's Avatar
      Frank Bernard -
      I have not played traveler n a LONG time. This sounds like a good setting to me.
    1. Sadras's Avatar
      Sadras -
      I'm wondering how does this compare to Eclipse Phase - and I'm not talking about the system, but I'm referring to the theme/setting, and in particular Transhumanism, which was a big part of the experience.
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      Eclipse Phase is a solar system based setting for the most part, and has some references at least towards the attitudes of cyberpunk and the look of Ghost in the Shell and has characters fighting against existential threats.

      Mindjammer has similar references to transhumance technology, but is clearly a far future space opera setting - a bit like Iain Banks' Culture series in a way - with more of a nod towards a near-utopian society exploring the rest of the cosmos.
    1. Javier Gaspoz's Avatar
      Javier Gaspoz -
      I think Eclipse Phase is more political than Mindjammer. As a setting, EP takes more risks and explores the more exotic transhuman technologies: identity transfers, AIs overtaking humanity, anarco-communes of libertarian pioneers, digitalized people living in virtual arcologies, to name just a few.

      Mindjammer is full of political commentary too, but is less on-the-nose about it. The author manages to offer a very deep yet flexible setting: you can believe that the New Commonality is a new form of tyranny that brainwashes their own citizens, ban independent news media and see democracy as a menace, or you can consider it a benevolent dictatorship that strives to allocate resources and curate educational options so that each citizen gets the chance to reach their full potential through a posthuman and post-scarcity bureaucracy. Or perhaps it is a bit of both, it really depends on your gaming table.

      Also, Mindjammer flat out dismisses identity transfer and virtual immortality as a scientific impossibility and social taboo, yet at the same time it allows itself some room for interpretation regarding the old question, "what it means to be human?" and "What is keeping the illusion of continuity of the self?" "What could happen if we discard our own identities in search of a posthuman existence?"

      If you are willing to waste a great deal of its potential, you could run a Mindjammer game like a an hyperteched space opera romp and you would be fine. I don't think Eclipse Phase has the same flexibility of themes, IMHO.
    1. Hussar's Avatar
      Hussar -
      Loves me some trans humanist SF. Very, very cool. Wonder if the rules are available on Fantasy Grounds and if anyone is running a game. Would love to take it for a spin.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sadras View Post
      I'm wondering how does this compare to Eclipse Phase - and I'm not talking about the system, but I'm referring to the theme/setting, and in particular Transhumanism, which was a big part of the experience.
      Yep, I've been wondering the same thing. I really like the Eclipse Phase setting, but I'm not completely behind the mechanical side of the system.

      I've never really been interested in Traveller, either, though. I guess, I prefer rules-light systems with a focus on story-telling - at least for sci-fi settings.
    1. imagineGod's Avatar
      imagineGod -
      Does anyone else see this obvious pattern: Mindjammer Traveller equals Ian M. Banks' Culture?
    1. Heron61's Avatar
      Heron61 -
      Quote Originally Posted by imagineGod View Post
      Does anyone else see this obvious pattern: Mindjammer Traveller equals Ian M. Banks' Culture?
      That's true to an extent, but the comparison only goes so far. There's actually a somewhat closer comparison Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series. I'd say that Mindjammer is roughly 1/3 Banks' Culture and 2/3 Smith's Instrumentality.
    1. knasser's Avatar
      knasser -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Yep, I've been wondering the same thing. I really like the Eclipse Phase setting, but I'm not completely behind the mechanical side of the system.

      I've never really been interested in Traveller, either, though. I guess, I prefer rules-light systems with a focus on story-telling - at least for sci-fi settings.
      The Eclipse Phase setting is a very fun one (despite the rather overt anti-capitalist views of some authors leaking into it). But the big weaknesses I found in the mechanical side of things were (a) the hacking which was very rudimentary and (b) it couldn't scale. The latter one requires explanation. You had a setting where characters could encounter large creatures and machines - cargo loaders, small drones, tanks, space whales (really!), etc. But attributes all fell on a finite 0 - 100% scale. So you'd have some Fury character (a Fury is an organic human body focused on combat) who had physical stats of 70% or something. And then they'd be in an opposed roll with a cetacean character who was forty foot long and maybe it would have a physical stat of 80%. You simply ran out of room. There was some mitigation, e.g. there was no stat that directly correlated with Strength, it was all about ability to utilise strength. But it didn't really stop the problem for me.

      Wonderful, imaginative setting though. And the rules aren't bad, they're just flawed.
    1. knasser's Avatar
      knasser -
      I have a question if I may. I have never played Traveller. Adding on transhumanism suddenly makes it a game that I am interested in.

      Reading a couple of reviews on Mongoose's 2016 edition of the core book, it seems psionics is a core part of the game. Psionics is an active repellent for me. It reeks of Star Trek Sixties Sci-Fi to me. No offense to those that like it - just trying to convey how much it isn't for me. How possible is it to strip psionics out of Traveller in terms of both rules and setting. Is it a big deal or would it be trivial. Related question for similar reasons - is teleportation a thing in Traveller or not?
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by knasser View Post
      I have a question if I may. I have never played Traveller. Adding on transhumanism suddenly makes it a game that I am interested in.

      Reading a couple of reviews on Mongoose's 2016 edition of the core book, it seems psionics is a core part of the game. Psionics is an active repellent for me. It reeks of Star Trek Sixties Sci-Fi to me. No offense to those that like it - just trying to convey how much it isn't for me. How possible is it to strip psionics out of Traveller in terms of both rules and setting. Is it a big deal or would it be trivial. Related question for similar reasons - is teleportation a thing in Traveller or not?
      I'm not familiar with the latest Mongoose version but psionics was always easy to ignore in previous editions (although one interstellar state, the Zhodani Consulate, in the 3rd Imperium official GDW setting made extensive use of it). The psionics rules I remember didn't make it overpowered or dominating either. Teleportation was one of the rarest and most difficult psionic disciplines. Ranges were limited as was the weight you could move as I recall.
    1. knasser's Avatar
      knasser -
      Quote Originally Posted by R_Chance View Post
      I'm not familiar with the latest Mongoose version but psionics was always easy to ignore in previous editions (although one interstellar state, the Zhodani Consulate, in the 3rd Imperium official GDW setting made extensive use of it). The psionics rules I remember didn't make it overpowered or dominating either. Teleportation was one of the rarest and most difficult psionic disciplines. Ranges were limited as was the weight you could move as I recall.
      Thanks for that. Very helpful. I'm leaning more and more towards getting the 2016 Mongoose version of Traveller. And Mindjammer to add transhumanism.

      Minor thing, I actually meant Star Trek style transporter when I wrote teleporter rather than psionic teleporting - sorry if I wasn't clear. Star Trek style matter transport is one the things that always makes a setting feel like a Soft sci-fi setting to me, and I tend towards the hard end of sci-fi.
    1. R_Chance's Avatar
      R_Chance -
      Quote Originally Posted by knasser View Post
      Thanks for that. Very helpful. I'm leaning more and more towards getting the 2016 Mongoose version of Traveller. And Mindjammer to add transhumanism.

      Minor thing, I actually meant Star Trek style transporter when I wrote teleporter rather than psionic teleporting - sorry if I wasn't clear. Star Trek style matter transport is one the things that always makes a setting feel like a Soft sci-fi setting to me, and I tend towards the hard end of sci-fi.
      No transporters. Just starships, auxiliaries and vehicles.
    1. TrippyHippy's Avatar
      TrippyHippy -
      Quote Originally Posted by knasser View Post
      Thanks for that. Very helpful. I'm leaning more and more towards getting the 2016 Mongoose version of Traveller. And Mindjammer to add transhumanism.

      Minor thing, I actually meant Star Trek style transporter when I wrote teleporter rather than psionic teleporting - sorry if I wasn't clear. Star Trek style matter transport is one the things that always makes a setting feel like a Soft sci-fi setting to me, and I tend towards the hard end of sci-fi.
      Traveller operates in a setting with a wide range of technologies, so things like matter transportation is just a question of which tech level you're at really. Psionics is an occasional controversial element in the game. The rules are there in the core, but not required in play at all. In the default setting they are illegal and expensive to train. You can take or leave them in gameplay.
    1. Shayuri -
      Aw man. Eclipse Phase concept married to Traveller rules? Count me in! Someone run this!
    1. Mallus's Avatar
      Mallus -
      Quote Originally Posted by Heron61 View Post
      That's true to an extent, but the comparison only goes so far. There's actually a somewhat closer comparison Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series. I'd say that Mindjammer is roughly 1/3 Banks' Culture and 2/3 Smith's Instrumentality.
      I believe you just sold me on this game!

      Could you offer a few specifics as to why it reminds you of the Instrumentality, tho? The Instrumentality stories are some of my favorite pieces of SF writing, but not for reasons that easily translate to gaming experiences, i.e. the language & story structures.
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