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|Designer(s)||Marc W. Miller, Timothy B. Brown, Lester W. Smith, Frank Chadwick|
|Publisher(s)||Game Designers' Workshop|
|Publication date||1986 (1st edition - titled Traveller: 2300)
1988 (2nd edition - titled 2300 AD)
|Genre(s)||Hard science fiction|
|Originally titled Traveller: 2300|
2300 AD is a hard science fiction tabletop role-playing game created by Game Designers Workshop, originally offered as an alternative to the space opera portrayed by the company's leading science fiction role-playing game, Traveller. In fact it was originally titled Traveller: 2300, but this caused confusion as the game used neither the rules system nor the setting of the original Traveller. The game was therefore renamed in its 2nd edition.
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. This fin de siècle society is analogous to the European colonial era of the 18th and 19th century.
The dominant power, both on Earth and in space, is the Third French Empire (founded in 2298). Intriguingly, the Empire's currency is the livre rather than the franc—even though, in real life history, livres have not been used as currency since 1794. According to the storyline, France was able to the survive nuclear war relatively unscathed, on account of having made a choice to abandon its NATO allies at the start of WWIII. Much more so that other countries, France retained enough assets and skilled people so that it managed to develop a significant head-start in the race for postwar rebuilding, political leverage, and technological improvement. Competing powers include the United Kingdom, Manchuria, Germany, and an alliance between Australia and the reduced United States of America. All of these control certain extrasolar planets themselves. There are three major lanes through known 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 alien species, all of which are decidedly strange and non-human, from the genetically-engineered Pentapod to the vicious Kafers (the game writers coined this name based on the German word Käfer, meaning "beetle", not on the Afrikaans ethnic slur "kaffir".) The Kafers are the most humanoid of the alien species, but unfortunately a quirk of their physiology makes war between Kafer and mankind inevitable. Kafer physiology features a hormone, roughly analogous to adrenaline in humans that also functions as a neural accelerant. Kafers literally become smarter once they start fighting. Consequently, their entire civilization is dependent upon institutionalized violence, which makes them extremely warlike. In the year 2301, the Kafer start an invasion of human space that will be costly to both attackers and defenders and serves as one of the major dramatic events of the game line.
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 and discharge 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 terribly more advanced than the modern day. What is depicted refines or updates currently used technology, with occasional instances of breakthroughs predicted by modern science. The "wonder-tech" of space opera is deliberately absent (with the notable exception of FTL). 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 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.
The following sentient species are known to humans in 2300 AD:
- The awesome AGRA Intelligence (found by the Bayern expedition in the adventure of the same name).
- Ebers: confined to one planet in 2300, they once had an interstellar civilization with a presence on at least three other planets, although all that is left of them on those planets are ruins from a destructive war.
- Kafers: humanoids with heads and integument similar to some Terran insects (the human name is from the German for "beetle"), with technological advancement close to humanity's, including interstellar travel capability. Kafer individuals normally have an intelligence equivalent to a human with an IQ of 40, but their equivalent of an adrenaline reaction makes them smarter (increased situational awareness, speed of reasoning, and creativity). Their society contains a great deal of ritualized violence and is ruled over by a small minority of "permanently bright" individuals. They are the primary adversary species in 2300AD, with many published materials dealing with their invasion of human space (they are terrified by humanity, since to them we resemble the "smart barbarians" that periodically destroyed developing civilizations on their home planet).
- The primitive Klaxun (in the adventure Energy Curve).
- The "Little Guys" (found by the Bayern expedition in the adventure of the same name).
- The long-dead Medusae (from the Nyotekundu Sourcebook).
- Pentapods: an amphibious species with a preference for aquatic environments, with a biotechnological technical infrastructure (including starships that are massive living beings). The fact that some Pentapods show signs of genetic engineering and are treated as tools by other Pentapods masks a deeper secret regarding their origins.
- Sung: a species of winged humanoids of smaller stature than humans, whose technological development is close to but not as great as humanity's (they are currently only capable of interplanetary travel).
- Xiang: a species inhabiting a gas giant's moon in the Sung home star system, formerly enslaved by the former but now free after a brief military action by a number of human nations. Relations among the Sung are governed by a principle that the strong dominate the weak but provide the weak with requested assistance to bring them up to their masters' level, and they took advantage of the fact that the Xiang never made such requests. The Sung now consider humanity to be their superiors in this system and are chafing at humanity's refusal to improve them (by showing them how to perform FTL travel, for example).
- The Ylii (a multi-species culture enslaved by the Kafers, detailed in the Kafer Sourcebook).
These aliens are mainly speculation on how a sentient being would evolve from a certain path of evolution. Particularly Ebers (described in "Ranger") and Kafers (mostly described in "Kafer Sourcebook") represents well-described, highly "alien" forms of intelligence that seem reasonably evolutionary feasible. For physiological reasons the Eber has a compartmentalised brain which means that if you met an Eber as a social being, he might not recognise you when he is in parental or professional mode. For evolutionary and physiological reasons Kafers do not need permanent high intelligence but rather intelligence in crisis and develop a sudden increase in intelligence in the face of pain or fear. With rather strict logical coherence the books describes what types of societies these forms of intelligence have given rise to.
Sentient species mysteries
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 Mankind 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.
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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.
In various supplements and adventures, one can find characters, situations and equipment that strongly resemble items from popular science fiction movies and novels. Equipment described in the game is similar to guns and the power loader from the movie Aliens and a buggy from Silent Running, for example.
Finally, the authors added a Cyberpunk campaign to the game with the publication of the Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook and two adventures for the same, "Deathwatch" and "Rotten to the Core" contemporaneous with the Cyberpunk movement of the 1990s. GDW catalogs advertised the game as "2300 AD - the Cyberpunk game of a Dark Gritty Future". The Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook states that Cyberpunk can be a fringe element in any society, its members being cyberpunks by self-definition. References to influential cyberpunk works such as Neuromancer and Blade Runner appear.
- 2320 AD, from QuikLink Interactive, was released in PDF format in late April, 2007. It is a sourcebook for the Traveller D20 rules and advances the 2300AD timeline by 20 years, including consequences from the expected outcomes of published 2300AD campaigns and adventures (particularly the Kafer War and the events of the adventure Bayern).
- 2300AD, from Mongoose Publishing, was released in March 2012. It converts the setting to use Mongoose's version of the Traveller ruleset.
- 2300 AD boxed set - 2nd edition basic rules
- Star Cruiser - Starship construction rules and tactical space combat boardgame
- Traveller: 2300 boxed set - 1st edition basic rules
- Aurore Sourcebook
- Colonial Atlas
- Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook
- Equipment Guide
- Ground Vehicle Guide
- Kafer Sourcebook
- Nyotekundu Sourcebook
- Ships of the French Arm
- Tools for Frontier Living (sourcebook for the Mongoose version)
- Ships of the French Arm (Mongoose version)
- Deathwatch Program (Cyberpunk subcampaign)
- Energy Curve
- Kafer Dawn
- Mission Arcturus
- Rotten to the Core (Cyberpunk subcampaign)
- French Arm Adventures (Beanstalk, Energy Curve and Kafer Dawn reworked for the Mongoose version)
- The Tricolore's Shadow (Mongoose)
- Terror's Lair (Solo adventure by Mongoose)
- Rescue Run (Mongoose)
- Salvage Rights (Mongoose)
- The Grendelsaga (Mongoose)
- Libreville - Corruption in the Core Worlds (Mongoose)
- Liberty (Mongoose)
Third party products
- Operation: Overlord (Kafer War adventure, published by 3W Games)
- S.S. Virginia (deck plans, published by Seeker Gaming Systems)
- U.S.S. Hampton (deck plans, published by Seeker Gaming Systems)
Several RPG magazines carried articles for 2300 AD, but GDW's own Challenge stands out for its quality 2300 AD contributions.
- *Codling, Stuart (February 1990). "Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook". GamesMaster Magazine 2 (6): 29. Review