Review: Terran Trade Authority RPG


Introduction
Like many children born in the 70s, and before, I grew up around a lot of hard science fiction, much of it in the form of small paperback novels with semi-abstract and eye-catching covers, either in the shops or as ‘legacy books’ from parents, uncles and cheaply bought in charity shops. In younger days I might conflate similar books into one sort of science-fiction ‘metaverse’ where these things all happened side by side and, apparently, a similar sort of idea struck Stewart Cowley towards the end of the 70s and recycling the artwork of those covers, commissioning new ones and stringing the whole lot together in art books with a solid vision of the future the TTA universe was born. A future history compelling in its authority and its consistency.
I always wanted to play around in the TTA universe, but my attempts were all ship combat games – mostly derived from Full Thrust. This book delivers a roleplaying background of future history that I think is, perhaps, second only to Traveller, if less flexible.

Overview

This is a pretty hefty book at over 400 pages and the hardcopy only seems to be available, in softback, from Amazon rather than any other method. A big part of that size is down to single column, large font text, imitating the original books in format but in terms of presenting RPG information it can’t help but feel wasteful, even if the price isn’t too high. The RPG is packed with information combining the RPG information with most of the information from Local Space 2200AD and Spacecraft 2100 to 2200, though those (non RPG books) do contain a modicum of extra information.The game uses Morrigan Press’ Omni System, which uses a single d20 roll to resolve… just about everything and is a generic system also used, in subtly different form, in their other games.

 

Artwork
The artwork in the book will, mostly, be familiar to anyone who knows the TTA books but they should notice something a little bit.. different about it. The original scenes and ships are recreated but they are recreated using computer modelling and raytracing techniques. While this does look good in and of itself it seems strange to have copied the original books but not to have used the original art. Perhaps there were licensing issues or problems with the artist’s estates or something, but you would think that slavishly copying the original works would have thrown up the same problem. Either way its good to see the old images, even in new form, but I think something is lost in the transferral to digital media – and note that I’m not against computer graphics in any way, shape or form.
There are three styles of artwork spread throughout the book. Firstly the ships – renders approximating the original artwork. Secondly the sketch-style naturalist illustrations of the three races – human, alphan and proximan. Thirdly the equipment sketches, which look a bit more like CAD images. Each works but as a mix the book just doesn’t seem to come together stylistically.

The layout is rather pedestrian but does recall the original books, I just don’t think it is a particularly good use of space and the use of the large font makes the book seem drastically over bloated, even on PDF.

Writing
Like the original books there is no actual ‘fiction’ present in TTA. Everything is instead told in a matter-of-fact historical or scientific manner so that, even though it is make believe, you never get anything like ‘Mack tightened his hand on the control rod and sighted up the proximan raider…’ the closest you get are in character accounts or reports written by fictional people. There is no fiction in-the-moment. This helps make the background feel much more ‘real’ and solid and can make for an easier – if somewhat dry – read since personal taste in fiction doesn’t come into it so much. Everything is well explained in a clear and straightforward manner and the larger text does actually help with this as your eye does wander as much as it might in denser text.

Background
The background of the game is a universe at the beginning of the expansion of man – and other similar races – into the galaxy. Relatively few planets and stars have been mapped and explored, even fewer colonies begun, but already there has been one interstellar war and numerous strange anomalies have been found out in the galaxy, not least of all the apparent common heritage between the humans, alphans and proximans. The three intelligent species intermingling so far

The game picks up at the end of the proximan war, some years after, though terrorism and disruption, along with piracy, discontented nationalists and corporate interests and other factors all contribute to making an interesting game world with many opportunities to play in. You could, very easily, set the game earlier, before or during the proximan war with no problems whatsoever, though the book is lacking the development of the game world onwards into the later books like Great Space Battles – which I actually preferred.

The humans are pretty much as per humans today, though the world has changed a great deal. There’s one world government and trade from the mother world is overseen by one overarching body, the Terran Trade Authority, and I can hear all manner of people shrieking in political terror already at the very idea. Not to worry, there are rebels, secessionists and terrorists who have reacted in much the same way, despite the necessity of a united world in interstellar society, so you could play one of those if you find the politics presented not to your taste.

The background has been tweaked from what it once was, nobody really foresaw the collapse of the Soviet Union back then and so a great many future histories sort of fell over once the USSR broke up and the Berlin wall came down. While there are still potential problems with the new timeline it does feel much more realistic and up to date than the old background – not that that necessarily matters in fantasy games.

The alphans are arch-rationalist, elf-like, semi-tribal and poly androgynous humanoids. Apparently every worst nightmare of the American bible belt flung together in a single species but I think they are quite well designed and while I’m not a fan of humanoid aliens the alphan society seems well thought out and alien enough to be a source of rich RP possibility, as well as giving bishounen yaoi anime fans something to play and coo over.

The proximans, by contrast are a matriarchal and quite conservative society, despite their inbuilt gender switching and acceptance of genetic modification, and they also harbour deep religious convictions and beliefs that put them in natural conflict and contrast with the alphans. The proximans, from a tide-locked planet – are far more satisfyingly alien, at least in appearance, while their societal ideas and religious notions are depressingly familiar.

While no particular hook is set out it is my feeling that characters are best played as TTA or TDA (defence) agents operating between the three planets and their colonies as this would give the broadest scope for play.

Rules
The rules are the Omni system which is basically a d20 roll against a set range of results, with the roll modified by a variety of factors to give a different degree of success from an abject failure to a stunning success. Character creation is a simple business of applying templates over a basic, modified, racial starting point and doesn’t take long at all, as well as giving you a hook on your character’s past.

Combat wise most things are pretty simple, two knocks against the game – in my opinion – are, however, the use of hit points (too abstract for me) and the set damage level of weapons which through the system can only do half, full or double damage which just doesn’t seem granular enough for me in terms of differing results. Far too predictable.

Space ships are treated pretty much the same as characters, which is – in my opinion – a good way to do space opera but not necessarily so good here with a more hard SF game, particularly since there isn’t a hugely broad swathe of ships on offer. The book advertises more ship information and add ons at the website but apart from a character sheet and some old news there really isn’t much there.

Upsides

  • Nostalgia a go-go.
  • Simple to understand system.
  • Very complete book.


Downsides

  • Not widely available.
  • Artistic reinvention of the wheel.
  • No clear adventurer concepts (relatively incompatibility of races)

Score
Style: 3
Substance: 4
Overall: 3.5

 

2 responses to “Review: Terran Trade Authority RPG

  1. I have a very strong feeling that Morrigan Press have actually gone the way of the dodo. Which is a shame as I quite liked Talislanta and was interested to see TTF eventually get into proper distribution 😦

  2. I quite liked the game, and that it was very complete.
    Although it was almost too complete, it is so packed it is hard to take it all in at once.
    The drawings of the aliens were a little too anatomically perfect!
    (and very few of them too)
    I’d rather see how the races dress, which tells you more about them, than see what they look like naked 🙂
    Too much biology and history, not enough culture.
    My only real problem was I wanted to see more on spaceships. While it is all there, it is the pictures of the TTA ships that drew me to the game, so I wanted to see more about the different types than just their different stats.

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