The fate of the starship Traveller and her crew lies in YOUR hands!
Sucked through the nightmare of the Seltsian Void, the starship Traveller emerges at the other side of the black hole into an unknown universe. YOU are the captain of the Traveller and her fate depends on YOU! Will you be able to discover the way back to Earth from the alien peoples and planets you encounter, or will the starship be doomed to roam uncharted space forever?
Starship Traveller, the fourth Fighting Fantasy gamebook and the second solo effort by Steve Jackson, ditches the fantasy setting of the previous three books and instead presents a sci-fi space exploration adventure. It's a bold move; the series was massively successful at this point, and the safe thing to do would have been to churn out another fantasy. That's not Steve Jackson's style, though. Jackson has always been an innovator, and no two of his gamebooks are alike (unless you count Sorcery!, but that's really just one huge gamebook split into four).
As innovative as it may have been, however, the end result comes across as rushed and sloppy. Spoilers, folks: I've never really liked this one. But, for the sake of the blog and my desire to complete every FF there is, I'll soldier on.
Your role in this adventure is the captain of the starship Traveller, pride of the AstroNavy. Basically, you're Captain Kirk, which is something I approve of greatly. Not only do you control Kirk, but you also get to play as Spock, McCoy, Scotty and a few red-shirt security officers. Or, you know, reasonable facsimiles of said fellows, if you're not of a mind to embrace the Trek-ness.
The first major difference between this book and the ones that came before is that you have a lot of stats to roll. Not only do you your own Skill and Stamina, but you have to the same for your Science Officer, Medical Officer, Engineering Officer, Security Officer and two Security Guards. These are done in the same way as usual: one die roll added to 6 for Skill, and two die rolls added to 12 for Stamina. Skill in this book determines how good each character is at their job; as such, characters that don't have a focus on combat (your Medical, Science and Engineering Officers) suffer a -3 penalty to Skill in combat. The Security types fight for a living, so they don't suffer the penalty, and the Captain is, of course, very handy with his fists. This is original-flavour Trek, not The Next Generation with its namby-pamby "diplomacy" and "counsellors".
My crew was rolled up as follows:
Skill - 11
Stamina - 20
Skill - 10
Stamina - 16
Skill - 10
Stamina - 17
Skill - 12
Stamina - 15
Skill - 11
Stamina - 17
SECURITY GUARD 1
Skill - 8
Stamina - 16
SECURITY GUARD 2
Skill - 7
Stamina - 15
That is one elite crew. Sure, the security guards are wimps, but everyone else on this ship knows his job, and knows it well. I've got a good feeling about this one.
I need to roll stats for my ship as well, for Weapons Strength and Shields. The former is determined by rolling one die and adding 6. The latter is determined by rolling one die and adding 12. My luck with the dice continued, as I rolled up a ship with Weapons Strength 12 and Shields 18. I kind of wish that I could save all these sixes for when I'm playing Deathtrap Dungeon.
Finally, I need to determine Luck, by rolling one die and adding 6. My result was a 9, which is acceptable. I don't recall Luck being much of a factor in the book at all, so I don't think this average score will hinder my chances of success.
With my crew ready, it's time to begin the adventure.
The adventure began with my starship in desperate straits, a malfunction having locked the warp engines into a constant increase in velocity. We were headed right into a black hole known as the Seltsian Void, and not even the best efforts of my Science Officer were enough to help us escape. The ship was sucked through the black hole and spat out into another dimension, and it was now my goal to get my crew home safe and sound. It's all a bit Voyager, but thankfully this book came out at a time when Star Trek was still good.
Even though this book is in a different genre, it still begins with the classic FF dilemma: which way should we go? I had the option of a life-bearing system ahead, a life-bearing system to port, or a barren system. I was pretty sure that the barren system would be of no help, and I was reluctant to waste fuel on turning the ship, so I opted for the system straight ahead. (In other words, I have some of this book committed to memory, and I know which way to go.)
We soon discovered a blue planet that showed signs of life. The most heavily populated area was a city on an island, and I decided to beam down with my Science Officer, my Medical Officer and my Security Officer.
|Yeah, this illustration goes here. I think.|
We materialised on a wide street, lined by small buildings with a larger building at the end of the road. Entering the large building, we found it occupied by many alien creatures who were involved in a debate. Their political system was one of extreme equality and democracy: everyone's voice was given equal weight, and so debates took years, and things were accomplished very slowly. I wasn't particularly interested in their petty problems. Instead I went to the map room, where I learned a bit about the nearby planets: Trax, which was devastated by a war; Culematter, orbiting a purple star; and Macommon, orbiting a double star. It wasn't the most helpful information, so I decided to beam back up to the Traveller and depart the planet.
(At this point I could have restored some Stamina: your crew members all heal a little bit every time you leave a planet. As nobody had been injured, it wasn't necessary.)
Next we opted to explore the planet Trax, orbiting the same sun just a little farther out. There were signs of civilization, but no signs of life. I beamed down with my Science Officer and my Security Officer to investigate.
We materialised in a deserted city, but were soon accosted by a humanoid figure in a flowing white cape. He seemed friendly enough, until my Security Officer gunned him down, claiming that he had been about to shoot me. I had the alien beamed up to the ship, to see if he could be saved, but apparently nothing arrived in the Transmat Room. It was as though he had never existed at all.
We continued down a street, but were forced to take cover when we came under machine-gun fire. Or, at least, I took cover; the others could not hear or see anything, and when they pointed it out to me, the machine guns stopped. We continued our explorations, and found a library, in which we discovered that there was supposedly a black hole in Sector 288. This was valuable information: a black hole might be our only chance of getting home.
We returned to the ship, and with the help of a newspaper found on the planet, we solved the mystery. The planet's fate had been debated by two factions: the tech-loving Progressives (yay!) and the back-to-basics Regressives (boo!). The Progressives had developed a powerful hallucinogen that they intended to inflict upon the Regressives, but when the plot was discovered, the drugs were all stuck in a rocket and shot into outer space. Unfortunately, the rocket exploded, and the drugs spread throughout the planet's atmosphere, which explained all the weird goins-on that I and my crew had experienced.
Our next destination was Culematter, the planet orbiting a purple star. It was civilized, so I decided to beam down with my Science Officer and Security Guard, and materialised in a deserted street (what, another one?). It wasn't deserted for long, as a hover-car appeared on the street ahead, moving towards us. An insectoid creature stepped from one of the small buildings, and frantically beckoned us to safety.
|He's beckoning frantically, I guess.|
Reasoning that patrol cars are never good news, we followed the insectoid, who explained that we were being chased by Population Controllers, who would exterminate us to prevent the planet becoming overcrowded. He should have spent more time running and less time expositing, because the PCs caught up to us and lasered our insect friend to death. We were taken captive and driven to a cell where more aliens awaited extermination.
I tried to contact the ship, only to discover that the signal was being jammed. It was a stroke of luck, however; somehow, my communicator caused all of the aliens around to become motionless. We were soon collected and directed to line up. At this point my Science Officer might have had a good idea, but despite his Skill of 10, he failed to roll under his Skill on two dice. He reasoned that our captors must have energy packs under their helmets, and we tried to overpower a guard and pry his helmet off. The guard was tough (Skill 11), but it was three on one, and we were soon able to knock off his helmet. It rendered him motionless, but did us no good, as more guards arrived to capture us. We were bundled back into line, and marched into the extermination chamber.
Our adventure ended here.
Argh, my first failure! The irritating thing is that I shouldn't have died here at all. The options that I was given read as follows: "Do you have your Science Officer with you? If so, turn to 33. If you have already tried to contact the ship, turn to 238. Otherwise, turn to 309." If I had taken the option presented for having already tried to contact the ship, I would have escaped the planet with little difficulty. But because the first two options were equally true, I went with the first one, assuming that it would be the best option simply because it was first. The Lone Wolf series always did things that way, and it's influenced my ideas of good gamebook design. I suppose that I can't expect every designer to think that way.
Still, I died. There are no take-backs, no do-overs. I'll go back to the start and try again, and perhaps next time I will succeed. That's the rule I'm setting myself here: no cheating. No re-rolling bad dice, no marking my previous choices with my finger, no pretending that I have items I don't. It's just me, my memories, and a whole bunch of random chance. That's all I need to make Starship Traveller my bitch, and I'm going to try again next week.