Review of 1248 Sourcebook 1: Out of the Darkness

Review Summary
Capsule Review
Written Review

July 3, 2009


by: Shannon Appelcline


Style: 3 (Average)
Substance: 5 (Excellent!)

A superb book that bridges the gaps between the Golden Era, the Rebellion, and the New Era of the Traveller universe--then goes 50 years' further as well.

Shannon Appelcline has written 681 reviews (including 45 rpg reviews), with average style of 4.03 and average substance of 3.85. The reviewer's previous review was of GURPS Traveller: Behind the Claw.

This review has been read 3693 times.

 
Product Summary
Name: 1248 Sourcebook 1: Out of the Darkness
Publisher: Comstar Media, Avenger Enterprises
Line: Traveller: 1248
Author: Martin J. Dougherty
Category: RPG

Cost: $29.99
Pages: 166
Year: 2006

SKU: 0021
ISBN: 1-933866-05-5


Review of 1248 Sourcebook 1: Out of the Darkness


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Traveller: The New Era died in 1995, along with GDW itself. With it, the future history of the Traveller universe seemed ended, for when later Traveller products came out they instead turned to the past (such as Traveller 4's Milieu 0, T20's Gateway Era, or GURPS Traveller's Interstellar Wars) or to alternate realities (such as GURPS Traveller's extended Golden Age).

Not only were the questions of The New Era--like what lay behind the Black Curtain and what the Empress Wave really was--never answered, but The New Era itself had failed to offer definitive completions to the stories of MegaTraveller, since it was so intent on totally divesting itself of Traveller's backstory. Thus, ten years worth of Traveller metastory lay incomplete.

And another ten years passed.


1248 Sourcebook 1: Out of the Darkness is the book that provides the definitive (and official answers) to the history of the Traveller universe following The New Era. It's authored by Martin J. Dougherty, and was published by ComStar Games in 2006.

An Overview of the Book

Out of the Darkness is broken into five sections: A Unified History of Charted Space; Charted Space in the New Era; Referee's Information; an appendix on generating 1248 UWPs; and an appendix on the County of Ukse.

A Unified History of Charted Space is not only the longest section of the book (at approximately 65 pages), but also the best. Its attention to early history is pretty brief, but then that's probably not what you're looking for in this book anyway. It only really goes into detail starting with 1116 and the supposed assassination of Emperor Strephon.

Approximately 30 pages are given over to what happened between the warring states of the Shattered Imperium--from the Rebellion era, on through the Hard Times, and into the Dark Years, when the Virus was released and drove the entire Imperium into a new night. This is great material, because it provides the backstory that GDW refused to reveal while publishing the New Era (except in Survival Margin, which largely stopped 70 years before the New Era). At last, you can learn the final fates of all of those factions during the Rebellion, who deserved much more respect than given to them by the late-period (Marc Miller-less) GDW. Full backstory, up to the year 1200, when TNE was set, is included.

The rest of this sections covers the period from 1200-1248, starting in that young potential New Era that GDW touched upon in its abortive game, but continuing through almost fifty years of uplifting civilization, so that by the end Virus is a lesser threat and there are numerous empires, each about a sector in size, that have come out of the darkness.

Dougherty's writing style shows an innate understanding of the Traveller universe and is also engaging. Together those elements make the history section of Out of the Darkness a pleasure to read for any fan of the Traveller universe who wants to know "what happened next," after future history started spinning out of the publisher's control in the late 1980s. I think this history is worth the entry fee for the book alone.

Chapter 1, the history, is pretty tightly tied to chapter 3, Referee's Information. In the history chapter some of the questions of the New Era were already answered, such as what was behind the Black Curtain.

The Referee's section contains all of the rest, from what the Virus really is to what the Empress Wave is and how it's linked to various expeditions coreward. These answers are not always the answers that we might have expected if The New Era had continued, and though I might not like some (such as the nature of the Virus), most feel to me like good extensions of the Traveller universe.

The Referee's section also contains some information on why some historical things happened the way they did and what direction history is going to move in from 1248 onward.

I found this section somewhat scattered and at times too vague (particularly regarding future directions), but it's filled with great plot hooks that GMs could use to run a campaign in the 1248 era of the Traveller universe.

And that's what the other half of the book is about, because Dougherty isn't just intent on creating a bit of historical fiction. Instead his goal--two years before Mongoose managed to get an original Traveller system back on the shelf for the first time in a decade--was to create a new setting for Traveller adventure.

Charted Space in the New Era (chapter 2) kicks off that process by running through approximately a dozen interstellar powers that are creating new states within the area once controlled by the Third Imperium.

I cringed at this approach at first, because it looked like Out of the Darkness was going to repeat GDW's mistake with MegaTraveller: putting things onto such a large stage that it was ultimately beyond the sector or subsector politics that players could be reasonably involved with.

However, Dougherty does two things that make this Imperium-wide big picture more usable.

First, he really differentiates between the different states. This is the strength of this chapter, because it provides a really different feeling for each of the states of 1248 (as opposed to the MegaTraveller Rebellion states, which seemed differentiated largely by the demagogues in charge of them).

Second, Dougherty realizes the weakness of not going specific once you've got the big picture in place. This latter problem is largely addressed by the three other published 1248 books, which cover the Fourth Imperium, the Spinward States, and the Freedom League (the former RCES). However, he also offers a little bit in this book, with the appendices, which show how to adapt pre-dark-years UWPs for 1248 and which provide a tiny little section of the Fourth Imperium as a campaign setting. With such specifity, the big picture becomes more useful, as background.

As a piece of Traveller lore, Out of the Darkness is one of the coolest reads around, because it details over 100 years of history found nowhere else, actually tying together the Rebellion and New Era periods and actually providing some conclusion to those stories, left hanging for 15-20 years. As such, I think it's a must-buy for anyone who enjoys the Traveller Universe as a setting.

(And since I'm suggesting a purchase, I'll say, "Do it soon." In Googling around I can still find Out of the Darkness on sale at its original price, but I can't imagine that'll be the case for long. Since Comstar's original Traveller license has expired, and they're now back to publishing in 1105, via Mongoose, I'm suspect that the 1248 books are going to become rare collector items--demanding collectors' prices like the DGP books do now--when the original print run is gone.)

I'm a little less convinced with Out of the Darkness as a setting. Sure, Dougherty has done a great job in creating an evocative background. He says that he tried to combine the best aspects of all of the eras, so that you could have exploration, warfare, and adventures in civilized states alike. Not only do I think that's an admirable goal, but I think he's accomplished it as well.

No, my problem with 1248 as a setting is that it's crunchless: there are no mechanics. That probably made sense in 2006, when Traveller was balkanized between GURPS, d20, and the original Traveller game. But it means that a gamemaster using this book ends up with just an outline, not the nuts and bolts of mechanics (such as really appropriate professions).

(There's one exception to this, ComStar's own Traveller Hero, which at least touches upon 1248. However, even with that I think a GM would really have to do some hard work to create a great quality experience playing in 1248, and only a limited number are going to be willing to do that ...)

Nonetheless, I rate books on their intentions, and Out of the Darkness' intention is to be a great systemless book showing off a new era of Traveller play. It does a great job of doing so, and is one of the most enjoyable Traveller books to read. It also contains a boatload of solid information on both the period from 1115-1248 and on the state of Charted Space at the end of that period. Thus it earns a strong "5" out of "5" for Substance.

Applicability to Mongoose Traveller

As I've been reviewing Traveller books of different eras, I've continually talked about how those books could be used with the current Traveller system, by Mongoose.

Clearly, you could use the Mongoose Traveller system to play a 1248 game. As I said, this book is systemless. Just expect to do some work on the way.

But, my first recommendation on this book isn't really to Mongoose Traveller GMs, but rather to people who enjoy reading about the Traveller universe. If the first has turned you on to the second, that's when you'll find Out of the Darkness useful--or just plain fun to read. There are trying times ahead, and this is a master road map to them (with the aforementioned Survival Margin being another nice source for the years 1116-1130).

Style & Design

Out of the Darkness is generally a very plain book. There is lots and lots of text with very simple formatting that looks like it could have been laid out in Word. The scant pictures are of good quality, but as noted ... scant. I also find the map of Charted Space at the start of the book very hard to read because it tries to use various shadings to distinguish over a dozen empires.

On the other hand, as I've already noted, Out of the Darkness is a lot of fun to read, particularly the front half of the book, with its history of the next 140 years.

Putting together a very plain layout with generally exciting text gives me an average rating of "3" out of "5" for Out of the Darkness' Style.

Conclusion

1248 Sourcebook 1: Out of the Darkness is a must-buy book for anyone who enjoys the Traveller setting and wants to know what happened after (and between) GDW's Rebellion and New Era. It's a one-of-a-kind document that brings much of the Traveller universe together.

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