Talking Traveller

While freelancing on Primeval, The Laundry and various GUMSHOE books has taken up the bulk of my time, I’ve also contributed to several Traveller products over the last year. (Anomaly One is still on the back-burner, but should see some development work once Primeval‘s done.)

The biggest of these is Secrets of the Ancients for Mongoose Publishing. The original Secret of the Ancients came out back in 1984, and brought the characters to meet Grandfather himself. While the scope of the adventure is impressive, the early stages lacked conflicts and the climax is basically a long monologue by an all-powerful NPC. The updated version adds more factions, and adds a whole adventure arc after the Great Monologue. There are another five installments in the adventure to come.

Meanwhile, I’m blogging over at TerraSol Games (or, more accurately, I have written blogs for them; posting seems to have stopped for the moment, but there are more in the pipeline). I’ll also be contributing to other T/S books later in the year, as writer and general Traveller guru.

Over at DriveThru, the Traveller main rulebook has finally gone Gold, putting it in the top 0.48% of products. Other third-party publishers are picking up on Traveller, too – there’s a list here. With luck, Milkyfish Press will join them before the end of the year.

Dragonmeet 10

The fact that Dragonmeet is still mentally tagged as ‘the new con’ despite being ten years old in its current incarnation is somewhat alarming – where did those ten years go?

I arrived two days early for this year’s event, to the slight surprise of my gracious hosts (“Want anything from the airport?” “Sausages and tea.” “Cool, got them.” “Great, see you tomorrow.” “Er, just landed.”) but the usual hospitality was undiminished. Thursday, I was invited for dinner Chez Wallis, where we discussed gaming, writing and sundry matters, as well as James’ delight in the Most Boring Book Ever. (It’s a book of statistics, from 18something. If you ever want to know how many weavers there were in Antrim, it’s in there. If you ever want to know what eternity feels like, it’s there too.) Friday, I wrote and wandered, and was delighted to find a reprint of The Stress of Her Regard.

Saturday was the con itself. It started excellently with friends old and new, freelance gigs, and shiny shiny copies of The Laundry. I was on the Cubicle 7 panel where we announced my current big project. the Primeval rpg (due out sometime next year). It’s using the same system as Doctor Who, should you wish to pit dinosaurs against UNIT. Well, more or less the same system - for one thing, the cherished DW initiative system really doesn’t hold true in the Primeverse (“I start talking and -” “The Future Predator bites your head off. Next!”)

After lunch and the plotting of future C7 stuff, I was tangentially present for the Pelgrane GUMSHOE Showcase, aka the investigative gaming seminar, where Robin and Ken spoke intelligently about adventure design and I muttered and babbled. I also grabbed a copy of Bookhounds of London – which I might use as the basis of a mooted RPG in the Lonesome October next year, of which more anon. Any free space was filled with a pile of author’s copies and reference books from Mongoose.

I was very good in the auction and didn’t buy anything.

Sunday, I made a flying visit to the Book of the Dead exhibition in the British Museum. Apparently, the Ancient Egyptians believed the afterlife was a dungeon crawl you could rules-lawyer through with the right spells. Actually, it was possibly more like playing Magic: the Gathering for your soul, as rich people could afford custom decks. Anyway, there’s a game in there. The exhibition itself was good, but crowded beyond belief. After that and pancakes, there was the post-con pub meet, where I gave my report on the Irish debt crisis (tl;dr: DOOOOM).

And then home, through snow and tube strikes. Here’s to next year.

Rakehell At Gaelcon

Using the FATE system for Rakehell started out as a marriage of convenience. I’ve loved parts of FATE since I first played it – Aspects are a wonderful piece of game design, some of the stunts are very creative, and the whole game is nicely simple yet comprehensive – but I had intentions of writing up an original system for the Rakehell setting when I first started. After Gaelcon, I’m now committed to using FATE for it.

Admittedly, one of the reasons is nakedly commercial – FATE’s got an established userbase and is very popular. (Dresden Files is a huge success, Strands of Fate is sitting right on top of Drivethru as I type). What really sold me on the system for Rakehell, though, was the use of Compels. In my previous experience with FATE (primarily SOTC), Compels only got used once or twice a session, and even then mostly on NPCs. We were all playing Pulp Heroes, so there wasn’t much scope for conflicted emotions and self-destructive drives.

In the Gaelcon playtests, Compels were flying all over the place. All the characters had really passionate, conflicted goals, and coupled with the downward-spiral mechanic of gaining Infernal aspects, Compels meant the characters were tempted to embrace more and more damnation to pursue their goals. Half the time, the players were compelling other players, hitting True Loves and Desires for Revenge all over the place. At my table, Jack rode into Hell to rescue Jane, while Timothy tried to Compel Elizabeth to come with him and flee England. She refused, and his True Love got swapped out for Broken Hearted. By the end of the game, two of the PCs were in Hell, two more set off on a quixotic quest to find Heaven, and poor Tim Kestrel was last seen setting fire to Eden House.

A challenge in future development will be encouraging this sort of operatic, tragic, compel-driven play.

Free Download: Rakehell

or, The Highwayman’s Lament.

It is the closing years of the 18th century. England has sold its soul. The burgeoning industrial revolution is, in secret, an infernal revolution. Aristocrats bargain with devils, souls are traded in the financial markets, and dark satanic mills belch sulphurous smoke over the blighted countryside.

Wealth breeds thieves, and the highwaymen who prowl by highways and byways of London Town are driven by more than greed. They are damned men, bereft of the greater parts of their souls. Through black criminal deeds, they seek to reclaim that which they lost – or had taken from them. Folklore calls them rakehells – they rake the coals of hell by their misdeeds, making their eventual fate all the worse through their defiance.

If a rakehell could steal back his soul, if he could reclaim that which he lost or squandered before it is carried away into Hell, then perhaps he could redeem himself…

Rakehell is a FATE-powered game that’s been knocking around my head for several years. I finally used Gaelcon as a deadline to get the basics of the setting and gameplay down on paper, and that scenario is available for download here. It’s a one-shot game, complete with five player characters, and should take 3-4 hours to play.

Depending on feedback, Rakehell may get developed into a full setting and maybe even released commercially. If you do play it, let us know at

Stirrings in the depths

No, we’re not dead.

It’s been a busy few months since the last post, with getting married and many life changes and going back to university and a lot of freelancing, but the fish has kept on swimming.

Patience will be rewarded.

Anomaly One: The Outline

A roleplaying game outline is a wonderfully flexible document that bears little resemblance to the finished product. A narrative like a novel has to go from start to middle to end, you have a procession of events that have to be in order. A roleplaying game supplement is a textbook – you have a few topics you have to cover, a lot of topics you might cover, and the order in which you present them isn’t always obvious. As you write the book, you think of more stuff that should go in, and you find that some sections are redundant or a lot shorter than you expected them to be while others just go on and on.

(Outlining Anomaly One is further complicated by the potential for a print version – the length of the pdf is effectively unconstrained, but a print version really has to be long enough to justify a print run and a multiple of 16 pages long  - 32, 64 and so forth. Anyway, that’s getting way ahead of things.)

The content divides roughly into four sections.

1) The player section – background details on our solar system and the future setting. Earth has fusion power and affordable space travel (TL8 in Traveller terms), but we’re running out of various metals. To the asteroid belt, for profit! There’ll be new or tweaked careers, a few spacecraft, and new event tables to match the new background.

2) Anomaly One – the alien ship, and what’s on board. The ship is five kilometres long (think Rama), but the characters initially have access to only part of it. Exploring the ship is something you can do while in jump space (again, using the conventional Traveller jump drive). After the ship has completed its first jump, the PCs can control where it goes next to a degree. The ship bonds to the player characters to some extent, and only allows them to command it.

There are several other groups on board the ship. The initial outline had half-a-dozen such factions, but that’s too many – there’ll be new alien races in section 3 too, and I don’t want to overload the players with weird aliens. So, some of the previous passengers on board the ship are long dead, but they’ve left relics and ruins that the characters can find.

3) The new region of space that the ship jumps into. A full Traveller sector would be overkill, so it’ll probably be a 2×2 or 3×3 grid of subsectors, which is still plenty of planets to explore. There’ll be another four or five alien races here, and the region is on the verge of open conflict. The sudden arrival of a giant super-advanced starship may tip them over the edge.

4) Adventures and GM advice, including several long-term plot arcs and suggestions on what’s really going on and what the Anomaly One is. You can compare it to Stargate: Universe, with its ancient alien ship to explore, or Farscape with the characters being dumped into the middle of alien space with no way home. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, the Odyssey.

So, the initial outline looks like this:

Read more

The Polls are Closed…

… and Anomaly One wins by the thinnest of margins! A mere two votes separated it from The Basileus of the Stars, so we’ll work on those two projects first.

Anomaly One is intended to be a campaign launchpad. The first two or three sessions of a campaign usually go well, but there’s a lull after that when the initial novelty fades but the game hasn’t yet reached a critical mass of ongoing plot threads. The material in Anomaly One is designed to be a second-stage booster for your campaign, giving it an added boost to make sure it takes flight.

That’s the marketing spiel, anyway. What it means is that there will be enough material in Anomaly One to create your own characters and play through at least four or five sessions of play, and then build your own plots on top of the setting material. Once you exhaust the initial adventures, you can either treat the game as a mini-campaign and bring events to a conclusion, or keep going for dozens of sessions.

Next week: Outlining!

Welcome to MilkyFish

What is Milkyfish?
Milkyfish is the publishing imprint of Gareth Hanrahan & Edel Ryder.

Gar Hanrahan writes interesting stuff, primarily roleplaying games (Paranoia, Traveller and many, many others). Read his personal blog for more details.

Edel Ryder does art, layout and everything else. Read her personal blog for more details.

What does Milkyfish produce?
Right now, our only product is Fish for Fish, a webcomic. You can read the archives here or even buy a pdf copy here. We’ve even got a few print copies – email us at if you want one.

In the next few months, we’re ramping up to produce roleplaying games and supplements. Our first few releases will be for the Traveller roleplaying game from Mongoose Publishing. Gar was the lead designer for the new Traveller, so he knows how to make it sing. These books will explore unusual ways of playing Traveller.

What book is coming out first?
That’s up to you. Either vote in the poll below, or email us at

What are these books about??

Glad you asked.

First, The Basileus of the Stars: After hundreds of years, the UCEC Empire is in decline. The titanic warfleets can no longer maintain the old borders against raiders and barbarians. To preserve the core worlds, the Empire is withdrawing from this region of space. Word has come from Earth that your ancestral holdings are now outside the Pax Sol that has protected you for uncounted generations. As scions of a noble family, how will you survive in this new anarchic era?

The Basileus of the Stars casts the player characters as members of a noble house, ruling whole planets and commanding vast legions. Enemies – barbarians, revolutionaries, raiders and rival families – covet your estates. Your siblings, relatives and trusted servants are your best allies… unless they too are plotting to betray you.

Drawing inspiration equally from Dune and Asimov’s Galactic Empire, this campaign framework gives the players more power than they dreamed possible – and then challenges them to hold onto it.

* * *

Now We Are Here is the tale of the ill-fated passenger liner Batavia. She’s just misjumped and is falling into the atmosphere of an uncharted alien world. Don’t ask questions, just get to an escape pod! Move!

The pod crash-lands in thick jungle. In the purple skies, you can see the fiery trails of dozens of other escape pods and cargo modules as they fall to Earth, but the comm is dead. Was it damaged in the landing, or does something in the atmosphere of this strange planet block communications? Either way, you and a handful of other survivors are all alone in the wilderness.

At least, you hope you’re all alone. There could be anything in the jungle….

* * *
Anomaly One begins in the asteroid belt of our own solar system. Your characters find the first proof of the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence – a derelict alien vessel, with no signs of life on board. Before your characters can explore the huge derelict, it jumps through hyperspace – and you’re dragged along with it!

Congratulations. You’re the first humans to leave the solar system, and the de facto ambassadors of humanity to the greater universe. You’ve got an alien ship five kilometres long that seems to be willing to obey you.

Unfortunately, you’ve just jumped into the middle of a cluster of weird alien species, and none of them seem friendly.