Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/01/02/tabletop-review-supplement-12-dynasty-traveller/
One of the strengths of a long-running RPG series is that, over time, rules that were only briefly covered or considered peripheral in the core are eventually taken aside and given real consideration.
In the early days of Traveller for example, world creation was quite utilitarian. You had a system. It had a primary world that had some statistics to help define it. Maybe there was a naval base, maybe a gas giant. All that really mattered was that one, main world. Then they released the Scouts book, and provided hardcore geeks (like me) with the tools we needed to generate whole systems – what kind of star is it, how far out is the habitable zone, how many gas giants are there, could any of their moons support life? It gave you a level of optional depth to work from that had been lacking.
I was expecting Supplement 12: Dynasty, to be the same sort of addition. Advertised as, “A complete guide on founding, growing and running your own world in Traveller,” I fully anticipated a very traditional supplement: one that took the base rules for generating worlds and systems from the Core Rules and blew it up into a fully-fleshed out system.
Instead what I found was a totally new game that just happens to take place in the same universe.
Most RPGs, by their very nature, are character focused. You take on the “role” of a character that you “play” throughout the “game”. It’s right there on the tin. Different situations will, of course, cause the focus to zoom in or out. All of the characters are on a space ship, and a fight begins. The focus is now less on the individual characters and more on the ship to ship combat. In fantasy games, maybe you’re running a castle or a keep, and need to protect it from the hordes of goblins. The combat becomes one of armies instead of individuals.
Dynasty takes that zoom out feature, and goes two levels bigger. The focus is not on individuals, nor ships, nor even armadas. No, in a Dynasty game, you play the entire dynasty as a cohesive whole, with “dynasty” redefined to include criminal syndicates, religious sects, mercantile operations, military groups and noble houses, just to name a few. New characteristics are derived for you to use to describe your dynasty, including Cleverness, Greed, Loyalty, Militarism, Population, Scheming, Tenacity and Tradition. Same concepts, just on a different scale entirely.
At the end of the chapter on creating a dynasty, a few brief paragraphs dictate how you can take a currently running Traveller campaign that has hit a certain level of competence (high skill levels, high social standings, a significant number of allies and contacts, and 10 million credits in liquid funds) and form a dynasty. This is the first instance of specifically zooming between the levels of focus, and while it is brief, it does allow the players to skip the dice rolling and go straight into a Dynasty game with a point buy system based on the competence of their characters.
The game is intended to still be effectively a roleplaying game, with the role being that of the dynasty as a whole. The time scale dilates as well, giving you turns (generations, in Dynasty parlance) that are thirty years long. During these turns, you can have all manner of machinations going on, coups de etat, pandemics, rebellions, inventions, and all other manner of large-scale events, which impact your stats and future direction. The rules are full of ideas for what the various types of dynasties can do with their resources, how long those operations take, and how to resolve the results.
A chapter is devoted to conflict between dynasties as well, with five self-described mini-games (Crime Spree, Hostile Takeover, Public Malice, Space War and Waging War) and rules on how they are resolved. This gives you tools to determine the results of dynasties clashing against one another.
In my opinion, the most interesting part of the rules starts in the chapter called Heroes and Villains. This chapter is about taking your dynasties and extracting individuals out of them, at different points in time, and playing those characters using the traditional Traveller rules. Remember, dynasties are based on generations, so your characters might not last more than one or two generations before they’ve passed on, leaving the reins in other, capable hands. As the book suggests, you might find yourself playing the children and even great-great-grandchildren of your original PCs.
This section gives special die modifiers for characteristics based on what sort of dynasty you’re from, as well as preferential treatment for certain career paths. A nice addition is the specialized Life Event tables by the type of dynasty your new character is from – and the Life Event table has always been on of the weakest ones to me, so anything that spices it up is a bonus.
The book closes with a chapter that is targeted at both players and GMs, on how to role-play dynasties. It’s very helpful in wrapping your brain around this new way of looking at the things you took for granted as being “bigger than you” in the original game, as well as how to make the game stay interesting for all involved. Also included are some sample dynasties for you to use as allies or enemies of your player’s new dynasty.
Drawbacks include the presence of a scant dozen images, and very few examples. As this really does include a totally new game, it would have definitely benefited from an example of play as well, to give players and GMs something to build upon. Because that extensive example is absent, I suspect that most will require multiple readings before a real understanding of how best to use the game can be acquired.
Dynasty wasn’t remotely the book I was looking for when I picked it up. It went head and shoulders above what I’d expected in terms of details, but in a direction I never expected that it would go. I’m not sure it’s the sort of book you’ll want early on (unless, like me, you suffer from a need to complete collections), but it may be the book you wind up needing if you have a series of successful campaigns under your belt, and are looking to change the scale of your games to reflect, “what happens after you win.”