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Reviews - GURPS Traveller: Darkmoon
by Matthew Pook

Darkmoon cover

For the sixth in the GURPS Traveller Planetary Survey series from Steve Jackson Games, there are three notable changes. The first is the page count increase from 32 to 48 pages, which is the reason for the second change, the increase in price from the usual $8.95 to $10.95. The third is the combination of two archetypes from the stable of Science Fiction planets. To date the Planetary Survey series has covered a pleasure planet, a frontier world, a pirate haven, an asteroid belt and a water world. This latest entry from author David Pulver combines a theme already used in Planetary Survey 5: Tobibak The Savage Sea, the water planet, with that of a prison world. But Darkmoon: The Prison Planet isn't merely a simple retread of the classic Traveller Adventure 8: Prison Planet. Rest assured, it is more interesting than that.

The Darkmoon system lies in the Naadi Subsector of the Corridor Sector that connects the Spinward Marches to the core worlds of the Third Imperium (jot the directions down, you may forget). Lying off the beaten track, the main world is Tsenjia, a low population water world with little in the way of indigenous life forms, which has been stocked with Terran sea life. For much of its Imperial history, the system has been home to a Naval base on Darkmoon, a moon orbiting the outermost gas giant. Darkmoon is also a water world, but one that is trapped beneath a thick layer of ice and kept in liquid form by the tidal effect of the gas giant. The base was actually home to the System Defense Boat and Space-Submarine Warfare School, devoted to training in the tactics and methods necessary to assault and defend water worlds (specifically against System Defence Boats operating from under the sea). Yet when the base was closed in 902, life on Tsenjia declined, including a drop in the system's tech level from TL9 to TL7.

Fortunately since 1105, life has improved in economic terms for the seven million inhabitants of Tsenjia, after the mega-corporation, SuSAG, opened the Darkmoon Imperial Prison for over three thousand inmates. The medium and maximum security TL12 facility, lies on the floor of Darkmoon's ocean, making escape rather difficult. Of course, inmates are expected to work while they serve out their sentence and the corporation gives them two choices. The first is as test subjects for SuSAG's biochemical research division, and the second is as part their underwater salvage program. This is where Darkmoon gets interesting.

In the last few decades of the 900s, a millennial cult sprang up in the Corridor Sector. The 'Witnesses of Arbellatra' believed that the Imperium would end in the year in the year 1000. What happened to the cultists after their disappearance in 997 remained a mystery until the SuSAG survey team investigated several of the wrecks of System Defence Boats found on the Darkmoon's ocean floor. They were crammed full of low berths, each containing a cultist in deep sleep. Tragically, the majority of the second-hand berths were faulty and few of the 'Witnesses of Arbellatra' have survived to tell their tale. Each day the prison warden sends out teams to locate and investigate the cult's arks, reviving those that they still can. The work pays better than being a SuSAG pharmaceutical research subject, but discovering and dealing with a stripped spaceship hulk full of corpses can be psychologically traumatic for members of the salvage team and even more so for those cultists that come out of their low berths still alive. The corporation, though, sees the salvage work as good publicity.

Much of the book is given over to the prison - a 20,000-ton Monitor hull stripped of its drives and placed in the silt of Darkmoon's ocean floor - and to prison life. As is expected, prison life is highly regimented and monitored, but getting around this would be a roleplaying challenge in itself. Prisoners are kept clean and healthy with each inmate given an extensive health check on a weekly basis. Because the prison is seen as all but escape proof, the three thousand plus inmates are comprised of some of the Imperium's toughest and worst scum. These include Vargr corsairs, Ine Givar terrorists and contract killers. Within the prison population, three gangs vie for dominance: members of the notorious Corridor Sector-wide criminal gang, the Mudsharks; the Ine Givar terrorists; and a pack of Vargr supremacists, Soegz Sarrgh. Some fifteen inmates are described briefly for the GM to use, to which statistics will need to be added.

It is possible to play Darkmoon as either guard or prisoner. A template is given for those interested in keeping the rest in line. The author discusses in just about the right amount of depth how to get to the prison as either type of character. The book expands this as well, to look at how other types of characters, from attorney to medical doctor/technician to undercover agent, can get involved. Campaign suggestions do include how to get out of and off Darkmoon (both monumental tasks), but the focus here is on prison life and politics. Though neither the series' usual dark or grey alternate versions of the world are given (after all, this setting is dark enough), four variations are included that, if used, enhance the setting. These focus upon the motives behind SuSAG's set up and operation of the Darkmoon Imperial Prison.

As with Tobibak, to get the most out of Darkmoon: The Prison Planet, referees will need more than just the core GURPS and GURPS Traveller books. GURPS Traveller: Rim Of Fire provides the Dolphin racial template, useful for creating both NPC and PC guards (it is a water world, after all). GURPS Traveller: Modular Cutter gives information on the Lowalaa-Class Assault Cutter that the prison uses as a transport, as an assault class vessel is necessary to withstand the pressure undergone during runs to the prison itself. Other equipment and vehicles found on Darkmoon include the Zenda-Class Prison Transport, the Aquapod used by the salvage teams and the Battlepod battlesuit worn by the prison's Dolphin security teams. Finally, GURPS Atlantis and GURPS Vehicles are both useful for the rules on running sub-aquatic games.

Darkmoon is up to the usual standard of presentation for a Steve Jackson Games product. What I would have liked to see added is proving to be a problem with the entire Planetary Surveys series: better maps (of the prison itself, rather than just the single level that is shown, in this case). Though Darkmoon's 48-pages weren't wasted, this sort of information is useful to both players and GM, and should have been included.

There is enough information in Darkmoon: The Prison Planet for it to be the basis of a one-off campaign or to include it as part of an ongoing game. Change a few details here and there and it can be run in other science fiction RPGs as well. Need a corporation-run prison for the Empire in Star Wars or a darker game setting for Star Trek? Darkmoon is perfect for both. With a little tweaking, this supplement could easily find a place in the Blue Planet or SLA Industries RPGs as well, to name a few.

GURPS Traveller Planetary Survey 6 - Darkmoon: The Prison Planet is so good that it almost begs itself to be run. Drag out your favourite prison clichés - your players are going be doing a little time.

The author would like to thank Roj at Wayland's Forge for his assistance


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