Tabletop RPG Review: Aurore Sourcebook

I’ve written about it a bit before, but suffice to say, the setting of 2300AD is very much my jam.  I always find GDW’s game mechanics to be impenetrable, with some sort of weird hybrid of wargame, miniature game, and roleplaying game, all written like a 1970s instruction manual for assembling a stereo system.  However, the setting material and lore is top notch.  With this sourcebook, we’re brought up to speed on Aurore, a world of extremes, and on the war torn edge of Human space.  If there’s a big bad in 2300AD, it’s the bug-like Kafers, and Aurore is on the front line with the alien menace.

I really need to read Kafer Dawn and The Kafer Sourcebook one of these days, as both tie into this one, and set up one of the major conflicts for the universe of 2300AD.  That said, this book gives you a lot to go on, including a section at the end with a pretty good rundown of the aliens and what they’re up to.

Author William H. Keith, Jr. presents a unique and dangerous world.  Tidally locked around a brown dwarf in a binary star system, it’s just Earth-like enough to be settled, but alien enough to be extremely difficult.  One side is perpetually frozen.  One side is perpetually roasted.  The belt in the middle is beaten and battered by extreme weather, massive shifts in the ocean, extreme tectonic activity, and a biome that is ambivalent or hostile to Earth-type life.  Great.  Sign me up.

Add to the planet’s chaotic nature an invasion of extremely hostile aliens, and you’ve got a prime spot for adventure.  When the Kafers were discovered in a star system not far from Aurore, they turned violent and quickly invaded this system, destroying a great deal of hard-won progress made by its colonists.  In the aftermath, those who survived are struggling, while the Kafers still maintain a beachhead.  It’s not so much a cold war as it is a sort of global stalemate, with neither side able to gain the upper hand, and neither side willing to back down.

If I were to run this game at any point (likely using either Basic Roleplaying or the Alien RPG, as I believe I’ve mentioned before), I could see Aurore being a great planet to take the player characters.  There’s so much potential for drama, action, and tension.  This book really got my brain pumping.  I came away with plenty of ideas for adventures.

I have perhaps two gripes with the book.  One comes down to the maps.  While they look cool, I found them hard to use.  I had a really hard time meshing what was written in the descriptions of locations with the actual global map.  Maybe it’s something about flattening everything out with hexes?  I really don’t know.  But I would feel like I understood the geography while reading.  Then I’d look at the map and try to use what I’d just read, and I’d be totally lost.  I would love to see a color map, and if possible, a  non-hexed, 3d rendering of the planet.  That might help.  I’ll have to take a look around.  The thing about games like this is that they’ve got devoted fan bases and they’ve been around for a long time, so sometimes there are some really wonderful resources out there, if you can find them.

My second gripe is with the organization.  If I were going to run a game using this setting, I think I’d have to go back and read the whole book again, then craft a document with all the pertinent information in bullet points or something.  Sometimes bits of information are repeated and repeated ad nauseam, while other bits of information are mentioned only once, yet seem to be of key importance.  It was sort of like: Part 1: The Setting, Part 2: The Setting, But Slightly Deeper, Part 3: The Setting, But This Time From a Slightly Different Angle, Part 4: The Setting For Players, Part 5: The Setting For GMs.  That’s an exaggeration, but only a slight one.  With a restructuring, I think the book could have been more easily referenced by a GM and less wordy.  Instead, if I want to find information on Tanstaafl City, I’ve got to dig through several chapters to piece it together.  This is not an uncommon problem in games of the era, but it is a problem that I’ll face if I try to actually use it for a game.

Overall, I really dug this book.  I only have stuff from the GDW version of 2300AD.  I haven’t checked out the newer Mongoose material.  I wonder if stuff was clarified and “modernized.”  When last I looked, you could still get a lot of this stuff on eBay for reasonable prices.  And since I haven’t managed to bring the game to the table in 30+ years, I can’t justify buying all the new books.

One last observation that I’m sure will rankle some. I got a chuckle when I got to the full-color art plates in the middle of the book and saw a bunch of character illustrations.  It was a reminder that in the 80s & 90s, the idea of people of color and women being important players in your games, as heroes or what have you, was not at all controversial.  If someone released this book today, there’d be dozens of YouTube videos complaining that GDW had “gone woke,” and was betraying “real gamers.”  These are some profoundly weird and unserious people.

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