|Mankind Discovers the Stars|
|Genres||Hard science fiction|
|Originally titled Traveller: 2300|
In 1984, GDW published the unrelated and much grittier post-apocalyptic role-playing game Twilight 2000, set in the year 2000 following a nuclear war. Two years later, wanting to follow up with a similar-themed "hard science" space-based role-playing game, GDW took the Twilight 2000 storyline, moved it forward three centuries, and created a new game where humanity has recovered enough from the war that they are able to travel to nearby star systems. Although this new game, published in 1986, had no ties to Traveller, and used a completely different game system, GDW titled it Traveller: 2300. The game was published as a boxed set that contained:
The similar titles caused confusion between Traveller and the new game, and in 1988, GDW released a second edition retitled 2300 AD. Perhaps because of the initial confusion, Traveller: 2300 / 2300 AD sold poorly compared to Traveller.
About the same time, several competitors released cyberpunk-themed role-playing games which proved to be popular, including R. Talsorian Games's Cyberpunk (1988) and FASA's Shadowrun (1989). In an attempt to ride this wave, GDW published Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook in 1989 to give 2300 AD a cyberpunk theme and also return the focus of the game to Earth rather than space.
GDW also quickly published several other cyberpunk supplements for 2300 AD, but sales remained poor. As games historian Shannon Appelcline noted in the 2014 book Designers & Dragons, "The last few 2300 books supported this darker cyberpunk future, but it wasn't enough to sustain the line, which came to an end in 1990.": 172
The game was revived twice, first in 2007 by QuikLink Interactive as a supplement titled 2320 AD for the Traveller20 game (based on the d20 System), and then in 2012 by Mongoose Publishing as a 2300 AD setting sourcebook for their version of Traveller.
The game setting follows on from that of GDW's military role-playing game Twilight: 2000, in which a worldwide conventional war with limited nuclear exchanges at the end of the 20th century nearly brought about the end of civilization. In the intervening three centuries, mankind has rebuilt and returned to space. A Space Elevator orbital interface has been constructed, connecting the city of Libreville, Gabon to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit. Also, practical means of faster-than-light (FTL) travel have been discovered, leading to the exploration and colonization of planets orbiting nearby stars. The post-Westphalian nation-state remains dominant, and most space colonies are considered the territories of various nations back on Earth, resembling the European colonial era of the 18th and 19th centuries.
The dominant power, both on Earth and in space, is France, recently reorganized (in 2298) as the Third French Empire, and incorporating much of Africa. France was able to survive the nuclear war relatively unscathed by abandoning its NATO allies and officially withdrawing from hostilities at the start of the Third World War, retaining enough assets and skilled people to develop a significant head-start in the race for postwar rebuilding, political leverage, and technological development. Competing powers include the United Kingdom, Manchuria, Germany, and an alliance between the weakened United States and Australia. All of these control certain extrasolar planets themselves. There are three major lanes of explored space, called Arms, named after the nations which dominate them (the French Arm, the American Arm, and the Chinese Arm). Lesser routes leading off the arms are called "Fingers".
It is still early in mankind's expansion into space, and exploration has reached little beyond 40 light years from Earth. As of the time period of the game, each of the three Arms is saddled with a particular difficulty. The French Arm is the route along which the alien Kafer are pushing an aggressive invasion into human space. The Chinese Arm is beset by an insurgent terrorist faction. The American Arm has reached a dead end, further expansion along it impossible under available technology.
Mankind has met with several intelligent alien civilizations, all of which are decidedly strange and non-human, from the genetically-engineered Pentapods to the reflexively bellicose Kafers.
A faster-than-light device called the Stutterwarp Drive allows mankind to achieve practical travel between planetary systems. Ships can usually reach a speed of 3.5 light years per day; the real limitation of the Stutterwarp drive is that it can only propel a ship up to a maximum of 7.7 light years before it needs to enter a gravity well into which it can discharge accumulated lethal radiation that would otherwise kill the crew. Because ships need to reach a world within this distance, the effect of this limitation is the creation of lanes along which travel and commerce are conducted and along which wars are fought, the Arms mentioned above.
Overall, the technological level of 2300 AD is not significantly more advanced than that of late 20th century industrial society. What is depicted refines or updates established technologies, boosted by a few scientifically reasonable breakthroughs anticipated at the time of the game's publication. The "wonder-tech" of space opera is deliberately absent, with the notable exception of faster-than-light travel. For example, most personal combat is still conducted with guns firing chemically projected rounds even though energy weapons do exist. Also, no sort of gravity manipulation exists, so spaceships must be built to account for micro-gravity conditions, and transferring from orbital space to a planetary surface (or vice versa) is still expensive. The properties and limitations of the Stutterwarp drive and all other technologies are defined in considerable detail, to prevent the use of technological deus-ex-machina to resolve intractable situations.
DNA Modifications (DNAMs) are what colonists would undergo to adapt to life on their respective planets. GDW 2300AD originally had DNAMs for one colony, the high-gravity world of King. Mongoose 2300AD has expanded this so that a DNAM would be configured for each colony. These would involve both internal and external physical changes that could include DNAMS such as Dry World Adaption where a character would retain all their water and urinate crystals. Another more extreme DNAM is Merman, which enables a person to live underwater.
The following sentient species are known to humans in 2300 AD:
Every sentient species has certain mysteries that are unknown to humans in 2300 AD and which can be unlocked through adventure and research. One of the main parts of the drama in 2300 AD campaigns is the unfolding of these mysteries.
Some of these mysteries can help humanity in its "battle for the stars", while others are simply curiosities, and a few are dangerous and even potentially disastrous for humankind.
In many cases, human nation states would be willing to go to war with each other to get some of these secrets and some are a necessity for humankind to survive the future war with the Kafers.
The background history of 2300 AD is a continuation of the nuclear war depicted in the Twilight 2000 role-playing game by the same company. A custom strategy game called "The Great Game" was used by the authors to develop the background history for 2300 AD.
A Cyberpunk element was added to the game with the publication of the Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook and two adventures for the same, "Deathwatch" and "Rotten to the Core". GDW catalogs began to present the game as "2300 AD - the Cyberpunk game of a Dark Gritty Future" although this genre was never expressed in the core materials. The Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook states that Cyberpunk can be a fringe element in any society, its members being cyberpunks by self-definition.
In Issue 36 of Casus Belli, Pierre Lejoyeux reviewed the 1st edition Traveller: 2300 game, and was completely mystified as to why GDW would publish two unrelated games with similar titles, fearing that GDW was trying to replace the old game with the new game. "Will they consign Traveller to oblivion by releasing a new game of the same inspiration?" he asked. "Why make the two games incompatible, condemning the many Traveller supplements published to date to dust?"
In the March 1987 edition of Adventurer, James Chapple called Traveller 2300 a better introduction to science fiction role-playing than its predecessor Traveller because the setting was closer to modern-day Earth. He thought the equipment and weapons included in the rules were "well thought out and reflect the beginnings if a high-tech civilisation." However, he found that the "Referee's Book" "is where the complications set in." He called the overarching Task Resolution system "probably the most generic rule I have ever seen" and said the simplicity of the rules suggested this game was aimed at a younger audience who found the rules to Traveller too complicated. He also found three major errors in the rules that he felt should have been caught through better playtesting and editing. He concluded "Overall the game is well-produced and set out [...] Apart from the apparent errors I have found, the game seems well-balanced."
In Issue 4 of Third Imperium, Mike Jackson thought that the game had potential, "but that may be all it has." He found the rules "confusing and difficult to understand on the first read", and found the game overall "poorly balanced and very incomplete." He pointed out that a quarter of the book is taken up by historical background, "while so much is left out." He also questioned the priorities of the authors, who only included 30 pieces of equipment but spent a lot of that space on four types of satellites and organic contact lenses. He also noted that although several alien species are mentioned, they are not described. He concluded, "if you like detailed background and don't mind filling in major gaps in rules, Traveller: 2300 is the game for you."
In Issue 7 of The Games Machine John Woods briefly reviewed the original Traveller 2300 game and was impressed by the "strikingly simple rules system", concluding "My first impressions are favaourable." Four issues later, in a full-length review, Woods was still impressed by the setting and detail, but felt that after an in-depth examination, the game was badly let down by the rules system. He was especially disappointed in the Task resolution system, which he felt was overly simplistic, pointing out that if the players decide to try something that falls outside of the few examples given, "it is up to the referee to determine an appropriate Task, or set of Tasks, and to choose the difficulty numbers and so on for them [...] which makes life difficult until the referee has had a fair amount of practice with the system." He concluded with ambivalence,saying, "GDW have produced an excellent and entertaining universe for near-future star-hopping adventure. With the various supplements available, the Traveller 2300 world is as well-detailed and as much fun as any you can play. But its rules system is something of a let-down."
In the May 1987 edition of White Dwarf (Issue #89), Jim Bambra reviewed the original Traveller 2300 game, and found the rules "somewhat tedious reading". Having slogged through the rules, he found much to recommend the game, including the character generation system, the skill system, and combat — although he found combat slow compared to the skill system. Bambra felt the starship combat system was "not as good as it could have been... Space combat does not flow very well and is potentially very fiddly once the missiles are flying." Bambra also noted the lack of scenarios, saying, "There is very little information about adventures", pointing out that even in the provided adventure, "vast chunks are left for the GM to develop — a daunting task for most." Bambra concluded, "I would prefer simpler mecahnics and a more exciting background."
Bambra also reviewed Traveller 2300 in the March 1988 edition of Dragon (Issue 131), and to the points he had made in White Dwarf, Bambra also criticized the lack of an experience point system — unlike AD&D, where characters advance in skills and powers through their experiences, "A character can survive for years in this game, but he does not improve with age or experience; he stays the same forever. Sure, the PC can get more hardware, more influence, and so on, but he never gets any better at solving tasks." Bambra again emphasized the lack of scenarios, and also the lack of examples in the rules to provide clarity, concluding, "Experienced GMs will have few problems with the game's less-than-satisfactory handling of adventure staging and description, but novices should look elsewhere for their first science-fiction RPG."
A year later, in the May 1989 edition of Dragon (Issue 145), Jim Bambra had a chance to revisit the game with the publication of the updated 2300 AD, successor to Traveller 2300. Bambra found much to like in the new version of the game, including the upgrade from 96 pages of rules and background in the original setting to 208 pages in the revised setting. Bambra found the new rules for 2300 AD were better organized and had a much more professional layout than the previous version. He also found the sections demonstrating the game to new gamemasters to be very helpful. Bambra concluded with a positive recommendation: "The 2300 AD game is a greatly welcomed development. With its new and improved presentation, revised and expanded rules and background, more dynamic feel, and extensive range of support products, the 2300 AD game can truly be called a state-of-the-art science-fiction role-playing game. I recommend it highly to anyone looking for a game of hard science-fiction that pulls no punches and delivers the goods in a highly satisfying manner. In bringing out the 2300 AD game, GDW has come up trumps and made a good game into a great one."
Rick Swan reviewed the original Traveller: 2300 in Space Gamer/Fantasy Gamer No. 79. Swan commented that "Traveller: 2300 is not as good as Twilight: 2000 and is a distant third behind the original Traveller, although admittedly those games are tough acts to follow."
In a retrospective review in Shadis #28 (October 1996), Matt Staroscik remembered 2300 AD favourably because of its cultural ties to present-day Earth. He also recalled that "All of the weapons and starships have a realistic feel, and the uses they project for biotechnology especially are fantastic." Overall, he thought the game provided an "atmosphere of gritty realism, and that's what I, at least, am after in SF."
2300 AD was ranked 50th in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. Editor Paul Pettengale commented: "The realistic science and technology leads to a gritty, realistic feel. Perhaps one of the best alien species ever created for an RPG, the Kafers are truly alien, with a unique physiology, psychology and society."