I think that one of the best ways to prepare yourself to run a game is to immerse yourself in its fiction, and thus get a real sense of its milieu. Thus, this series of reviews, which looks at some of the fiction that influenced Traveller, was influenced by Traveller, or is actually set in the Traveller universe.
The most long-lived series of Traveller fiction is that of Jefferson P. Swycaffer, who envisioned a Traveller universe, but one not set in Charted Space.
This fourteenth review covers the fifth of the Concordat books, and the the first one published by New Infinities Productions (best known as the publisher of Cyborg Commando and the later Gord the Rogue books).
About the Story
The Empire's Legacy is the story of Taviella-i-Tel and her friends, who together crew the Coinroader, a merchant ship which jumps from port to port, trying to make a credit here and there as it goes.
However, the regular routines of the Coinroader
are by three things as The Empire's Legacy
opens. First comes the addition of Stasileus to their crew. He is a member of a genetically engineered race that was once slaves to the Empire of Archive that predated the current Concordat. Second is a jump-space accident that reveals the presence of a laser communication beam through jump-space
. Third is the discovery of an ancient space station from the time of the Empire, located on the other side of that communication beam, and home to technological secrets that have been lost for hundreds of years.
Thus begins a race to uncover those secrets, fought both against others who have likewise discovered the communication beam and against genetic pitfalls that are discovered within the very genome of the explorers: the Empire's legacy.
Genre & Style
For his four books from publisher Avon, Jefferson Swycaffer wrote in a style that I'd call "literary". Or, maybe "high-falutin'." It was clear that he was trying to tell symbolic and thoughtful stories that really meant something. To be honest, I often thought that he was punching above his weight class. He was slowly growing into it, but even the fourth and final Avon Book, which I thought was good, had awkward elements to it.
When Swycaffer revived his Concordat series for Gygax, Mohan, and company's New Infinities, he instead decided to write gaming fiction. And, I say that without prejudice. Gaming fiction--centered around parties of adventurers wandering around and discovering things--is often crap. The Empire's Legacy is quite the opposite: it's the height to which other gaming fiction should aspire.
As a result, The Empire's Legacy is perhaps the best Traveller adventure I've read. It's got exploration, discovery, history, and humanity. It inspires me to plumb the history of my own Traveller setting, so that I can create something both as interesting and as revelatory as this story.
I think the word "revelatory" is an important one, because The Empire's Legacy reveals more about the background of Swycaffer's Concordat than all four of the previous books combined (and I say that having claimed that the previous book, The Praesidium of Archive, did the same thing; I didn't know how little I still knew until I read this). It's a wonderfully interesting background too, with a high-tech Empire that fell before the rise of the current intergalactic polity. Not only was the previous Empire much more advanced than the current one, but it was also much more evil. Thus, lots of potential plots are set up.
Having read this book, I now think it's a darned shame that Swycaffer isn't putting together his game setting under the Traveller license from Mongoose.
On a whole, I think the prose of The Empire's Legacy is good, but doesn't shine. I also think it's packed full of great story and great background, altogether offering a great example of a Traveller adventure in prose form. I've thus given it a "4" for Style and let it eke in a "5" for Substance. The Dumarest of Terra books are the only ones I've read over the course of this series that I liked more (though Dorsai! was close).
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Though The Empire's Legacy is not set in the Official Traveller Universe, it offers a great example of both a Traveller adventure and an alternative Traveller setting.
If you read it, you'll probably want to figure out how to run some variant of the adventure in your own game (as a pre-Maghiz Darrian base, perhaps, run by "evil" Darrians?). If not, you'll at least come away with a lot of interesting ideas and a good feel for the game.
The Empire's Legacy is a fun read, and I don't just mean fun for a piece of gaming fiction. It'll also provide you with a number of interesting ideas for your own Traveller game.