Traveller: Drinaxian Companion Review

I’ve previously written about the The Pirates of Drinax, and I believe that it’s for good reason. It is one of my favorite published campaigns, and I would argue that it is the best I have ever seen in terms of being a true sandbox. It begins with a promise that the players are being brought in to take a miniscule star nation operating between two behemoths, and to make it an Empire in its own right and not only is it possible, it offers a chance to have the players take an active stance in the government that is formed. The campaign is not only flexible enough that it offers the ideas that players might want to spurn their patron and carve out a kingdom of their own, but it actively sets rules for how to go about it. There is a story seed for virtually every planet, for which there are multiple populating each of dozens of subsectors. You could likely make an entire campaign about dealing with the Pirate Lords of Theev, a group of politically insulated pirates that operate out of a planet is a surprisingly open secret. All of this is on top of a ten module progression of the campaign as players take a single ship and try to form a pirate flotilla.

And as much as I love it, I do not think I will ever run another session using the rules as written. So, it was with a bit of hesitation that I picked up the Drinaxian Companion. Yet, as a result, I have found my interest rekindled.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks that I ran into is simply the scale of the campaign. It’s…well, as vast as multiple subsectors in space. The issue isn’t simply with the sheer size of the sandbox that you are meant to work with, it’s that the creators of the campaign, straight out of box,  attempted to anticipate nearly every detail might come across. There are records of the disposition for each planet you come across, detailed descriptions of each type of port, tabs on the size of fleets you might run across, even the speed of loading stolen cargo and the value for square footage of cargo space. Even for an organized GM (of which I am not) there’s a lot of plates to keep spinning and a lot of accounting to do. 

The Drinaxian Companions is, from my best guess, a way to combat this issue. I would say that there is little that they have created that is actually new, but rather it is a curation of a the door-stopper sized base campaign, with useful sections of the some of the supplemental books that I happened to pick up. Just to be clear, when I say “streamlined”, it’s not as if we are talking about a double sided piece of paper. The Drinaxian Companion is still 200+ pages long, and to be clear it can’t be used as a standalone, requiring the GM to still go ahead and purchase the extended length campaign notes. To that end, the Drinaxian Companion’s value to the purchaser lies heavily in whether they will use at least a good chunk of what’s inside. So, what do you get for your money?

  • A cliff notes version of the most active and commonly visited sectors, with simplified maps that include common navigational routes, descriptions of each system, and the immediate repercussions of piracy attempts within their borders. For the most part, this is repeated in the long form campaign notes, but they are a nice, compact reference.
  • Eight modules for the GM to use. I should note that these are in addition to the missions that are meant to drive the main plot. They might be valuable if your campaign gets bogged down. I, personally, think that the main plotline offers plenty, and my group tends to “dig their own hole” with their choices, meaning that their choices and interactions tend to generate more meaningful side quests and stories than rote modules, but I can see potential value by grafting the setup in.
  • Codified rules for ship repairs and procedures for getting the party’s Harrier-class up and running at full capacity. These seem less detailed than some of what is included in the Harrier-specific splatbook, but these seem to be the essential ones.  This is again something included in the core, but is laid out a bit easier. They do spend a bit of time with crew requirements. The core of what you need is almost certainly filled by PCs, but it would certainly offer a roster for PCs looking for a role to fill, and provide potential NPC characters to woo/recruit to the cause. 
  • How to Pirate: Essentially, how to go over the processes and dangers of piracy in the Traveller universe in regards to technology and social consequences. Essentially, it breaks down the most basic way for pirates to operate: waiting in the parts of space where hyperdrives reach their limits near a gravity well but are not yet within the sphere of planetary defenses or patrols. It offers some nice rules for how to address the amount of attention that the players will get for, well, being pirates: merciless slaughter, stealing whole ships and attacking large ports will bring down heat, while politely forcing a ship to hand over their cargo, or even a portion of it will maybe generate a vague condemnation from the government, or might even be ignored.
  • A list of Ship Encounters. The core game has tables to roll on to see what sort of potential prey the players encounter. This gives special examples of reactions and lists of ships and crew to spice up encounters. There are surprises in every batch: sometimes, you get ship captains looking to cash out with a bit of insurance fraud, sometimes insidious booby traps as you go to retrieve the cargo. Sometimes, someone onboard is a loved one of a famed Pirate Hunter…and WHOOPS, they decided to charge one of your marines and are now a bloody smear on the deck. I am sure that will have no consequences. 
  • Finally, a list of personalities and factions to interact with. Much like the modules, I feel like player generated complications get more buy in, but I can see value if the GM is flailing for a minute and would like something to grasp onto.

All in all, it’s a pretty big list of stuff once I sit down and put it all out. While you don’t strictly need any of these things on hand to run The Pirates of Drinax, you may very well find a few of these helpful for quick annotation. I think that the Drinaxian Companion makes a handy reference for GMs who feel a bit overwhelmed trying to run it all. As I read through though, other ideas began to occur to me. With the Companion, do I really need Traveller at all?

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy the aspects of Traveller that make it unique. I really enjoy the (in)famous character creation, and its take on hyperspace is crunchy enough to actually make players think about their route without becoming endlessly bogged down. However, for a lot of players, the very idea of taking on Traveller was enough for them to balk at the idea of my campaign, regardless of the plot. For some (one friend in particular) the character creation was enough to drive them to apoplexy. So, if you love the story of your game, and the mechanics are preventing people from enjoying it, and you now have a shiny supplement that is all about quick references, and whose plot hooks are all isolated tables…why stick with those mechanics?

Even mentioning the idea, I heard some backlash. There is a legitimate question to be had in that “if you remove the things unique to Traveller, is it still Traveller? Does it stand on its own without it?” I have dwelled on this question for months now, and it’s a decent part of why I have been working on this article for months now. In the end I have come to a conclusion: I do think that determined DMs could hack Drinax into other systems. My first instinct was into Genesys, as it already has a cousin that relies on space travel (FFG Star Wars) and that the astronavigation and ship stats were likely the best option, while the Shadow of the Beanstalk is a good example as to how to skin various starting backgrounds, including the Aslan and Vauger races, but also for the Noble members of Drinaxian society or the Laborers of Asim. You could possibly do Stars Without Number for the focus on space travel, or I could see going with Scum and Villainy, the Forged in the Dark space game if you are thoroughly tired with crunchy play. All of these though will come with a twofold caveat First, as the GM you would be responsible for working out the conversions, and believe me, there are a lot of things to convert. Even with these systems that I understand better than Traveller, there is so much unique about the system that there is no perfect one size all fit. Which leads to the second part: the more you change to make it easier for you to understand, the less your final product is like the original. There is no perfect answer as to whether or not you, the GM, should do this. Maybe the buy in from players is so great that the extra work seems like nothing, but that is something you are going to need to figure out on your own. To change the campaign over promises to be a balancing act, and while I think it is possible, the question of should you is very much something that the purchaser will have to decide for themselves, and I hope that my information has helped you make that call.

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