Saturday, 4 December 2021

2300AD Changes (1): Introduction and Butterflies


Recently we had a new member join the 2300AD facebook group who insisted that everyone must be slavishly obedient to the new Mongoose version of 2300AD. He insisted we must play the "RAW" (Rules As Written), and that anyone who criticised any changes made between the editions was a religious nutjob or an agent of a rival games company.

This prompted me to take a long, hard look at Mongoose's version, or specifically the post-GDW versions, since I found that most of the changes were made in the 3rd edition and simply doubled and tripled down on in later editions. I was aware there were random changes for no reason, and that some very "out-of-universe" elements had been added.

The Various Editions

There have been 5 editions of the main rulebook, thus:

  1. GDW Traveller: 2300 (1st edition, 1986)
  2. GDW 2300AD (2nd edition, 1988)
  3. QLI 2320AD (3rd edition, 2007)
  4. Mongoose 2300AD (4th edition, 2012)
  5. Mongoose 2300AD (5th edition, 2021)

I own 1-4, but not the new 5th edition. I am acknowledged in the 3rd edition, but had my acknowledgement struck out in the 4th edition. There is an alternative universe where I was less busy in 2003-4, and was the author of the 3rd edition. I can remember that the brief for 3rd edition was that we were not allowed to make any changes in the background. How I'd have done 2320AD is a completely separate issue, and of little import. I certainly wouldn't have tried to write the Kafers out though.

Due to the "no changes" edict, the 3rd edition still follows on from GDW's Twilight War, and the German space navy is still called the Deutches Stern Kreigsmarine for example. There were, however, a number of insertions and changes that crept through. Amongst the changes is, for example, the fact that in the GDW universe Britain mined Antarctica (Ships of the French Arm pg 60 and Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook page 28). In fact Antarctic tantalum was the basis of an independent British merchant fleet, and the reason why Canada had starships at all. By writing out Antarctic tantalum, both Britain and Canada should have been stunted, with butterflies that also stunt America (see appendix 1).

Looking at the preview of 5th edition, I can see that even the Earth map is completely changed. There has been a strangely selective sea-level rise. Looking at the Bristol channel and other points, a > 70 m sea-level rise is needed. Cities which canonically still existed, like London and New York, are gone. Yet, bizarrely, the low countries (Nederland, Vlaanderen, French Flanders etc.) are unchanged, as is the Jutland peninsula and northern Germany. Heel gek.

The Universe as Originally Written

2300AD is an interesting 1980's sci-fi RPG created by GDW. To generate their future history, they ran a grand strategy economic/ strategic game they called "The Game", advancing history in 5-year turns. This history was tweaked for the final game to introduce some conflict. An example of such a tweak was the War of German Reunification - Germany was a unitary nation throughout the whole of the game, and had no need to be unified. This tweak created some inconsistencies as some of the writers followed the original history wherein Germany was always a unitary nation.

Two of the core factors that created the universe were:

  1. History proceeds from the Twilight War of the game Twilight:2000 forwards;
  2. The rare element Tantalum restricted the production of stardrives (see appendix 2).

In Mongoose Traveller 2300AD (MgT 2k3), both of these factors have been removed by author fiat. In MgT 2k3, there was no Twilight War, but rather a mystery box called "The Twilight Era" which occurs in our future. This may only be a 4th edition issue, as the 5th edition preview suggests the mystery box was opened, which nullifies the whole point of having it in the first place. You will never hit the moving target of the true future history because it is a game.

This, of course, sets up major problems. In the original 2300AD (Core 2k3), the nuclear war largely spared France, who were last man standing. This led to France being the dominant nation throughout the 21st century. The war knocked out current big nations like the USA, Russia and China, who spent a century or more recovering from the deaths of 95%+ of their population from the war, the resulting nuclear winter, civil wars and the widespread collapse of civilisation.

In MgT 2k3, all (or most) the effects of the nuclear war are still there, but the war never happened, or happened very differently. This would have produced an alternative future history.

Further in Core 2k3 history, the French developed a workable stardrive in the early 22nd century, and it needed tantalum. Knowing this, the French, allied with Britain, Germany and perhaps Japan, moved to secure as much of the worlds supply of tantalum as possible. In the process they offered South Africa and Spain deals - join with us as partners and we'll go forward together. South Africa (recast as Azania in 2k3) joined ESA and founded colonies on new worlds. Spain's player released the news that France and allies had invented a stardrive, and that tantalum was the key element. They promptly sold their entire tantalum stock to Argentina (?). This is why Spain has no starships, and why the tantalum poor nation of Argentina was a big player in the early space race. Of course, Argentina got nerfed over time but that's another matter.

The availability of tantalum to a few nations with sufficiently advanced technology meant they get to build starships and go exploring and settling other worlds. Tantalum was so valuable that Britain mined a lode found in Antarctica as humanity scoured the Earth for it. The last remaining unexploited tantalum on Earth was the Turkestan (an area of Kazakhstan) deposit. The Central Asian War, the most significant war in centuries, was fought over the possession of it. Manchuria and Russia both wanted it so they could build starships using it. With French, German, Japanese etc. help, the Russians secured it.

Tantalum was found in the colonies. However, there's a chicken and egg situation - in order to reach that tantalum, one needs tantalum. Hence the history has "The Tantalum War" of 2142-3 wherein Indonesia seized a small tantalum lode from Bengal. As an aside, the Earth/Cybertech SB conflates the Tantalum War with Indonesia's invasion of Indochina in 2264. Indonesia has had some tantalum since 2142, but it didn't convert into colonies etc.

Thus, the nations that secured Earth's tantalum supplies, by various methods (i.e. France, Britain, Germany, Azania, Japan (from Mozambique), Manchuria, Argentina (from Spain), Brazil, and America (from Australia)) became the starfaring nations. Large and powerful nations that lacked tantalum access, such as Russia, were largely shut out of the space race.

The Mongoose Universe

MgT 2k3 has a lot of random changes to the original universe. Some of these are, I believe, author fiat, and some are simply a lack of fact-checking. For example, in Core 2k3 the German Space Navy is called the Deutches Stern Kriegsmarine (DSKM, German Space Navy), but in the recent MgT 2k3 it's called the Raumwaffe, and the old space force of the Federal Republic of Germany was the "Bavarian Space Force", named in English, not German. This is likely just poor fact-checking, especially the English name for the German space navy.

There are two major changes by author fiat that were inserted in 4th edition:

  1. The Twilight War of 1996-2000 never happened.
  2. Tantalum doesn't matter.

The first I sort of understand, but it creates huge problems. For a small number of people, the idea that they're now playing in an "alternative future", i.e. one whose history has diverged from ours, is problematic. Some other universes, such as Cyberpunk, simply embraced their status as "alternative future". 

The problem with writing out a major element of the history is that the history no longer flows. In core 2k3, the nuclear war was the explanation as to why France was dominant. There has been an unsuccessful attempt to superimpose these two realities in the 5th edition, but it is thin and unconvincing.

The removal of tantalum as a limiting factor in building was explained by the 3rd-5th edition author as due to the fact that he simply didn't understand why drives could be relatively inexpensive to build, and yet tantalum could still be rare. A lot of this was a problem he created himself with his ship design rules, because whilst GDW ship costs were dominated by the stutterwarp drive, in MgT the cost is trivial. Consider that for a GDW Anjou the stutterwarp was 71% of the construction cost, but for a MgT one it's 1%. This will be explored in a later post, as will some of the effects of having a different Twilight War.

The Effect of No Tantalum Limitations

It's worth considering the effect on the games timeline if tantalum was never an issue. Taking events as per the timeline as unaltered up until stutterwarp is discovered, but there being no tantalum requirement.

Immediately, ESA (France, Britain and Germany) would not have had to secure tantalum; thus they would not have approached Spain and Azania, and would not have invested in Africa and Antarctica to secure the tantalum. This means that the news of a working stardrive would not have leaked "early" to the world and the first people would know about the technology was when the ESA warped to Alpha Centauri in 2137. This has two effects; (1) Argentina etc. aren't in any immediate position to challenge ESA and (2) nations can just build starships once they've discovered how to.

Without any immediate challenge to ESA, the First Interstellar War never happens, and ESA are not forced to back down on the Melbourne Accords. Ergo, ESA are in a position to claim whole planets by right. Tirane becomes an exclusively ESA world, meaning France, Britain and Germany.

ESA are not restrained by the initial lack of tantalum in their exploration and colonisation efforts. They expand much, much faster. They've probably got all the nearby planets sewn up before the other nations complete their research programs and get starships. Perhaps they even divvy space up into a French Arm, British Arm and a German Arm.

America has no need of Australian tantalum, and thus the special relationship never forms. Australia never develops into much of a starfaring nation. Similarly, the British-Canadian relationship is not as close, and Canada never develops into much of a starfaring nation. Azania (South Africa) never gets into ESA and never develops into much of a starfaring nation.

On the alt-American (now, say, British) Arm, King is interesting, but never settled. DNAMs are never developed. In fact, the general pattern of early settlement is far more European.

Eventually, other nations will start building their own fleets of starships, and this will bring them into conflict with the Europeans, who hold out against the Melbourne Accords and thus claim basically all the colonisable worlds in reach. This will bring about conflict between Europe and the rest of the world and a very different history will emerge.


Clearly, by changing a major part of the universe's background, a whole new future should have been spun out. To be clear, I'd be quite supportive of different "alternative futures". What I find more concerning for the sake of universe building is that the effects of major changes in the history are simply not implemented. This means the universe effectively becomes "Schoedinger's Universe" - it is a superposition of the original GDW universe and a new universe. Changes are made in the history that do not resonate down the timeline are paradoxical, and the universe is not coherent.

To be clear, the GDW universe also has a number in inconsistencies. For example, the author of the GDW book Ranger completely missed in the description of stutterwarp that it explodes when it goes further than 7.7 ly, releasing lethal radiation. Hence he explained the Eber drive going > 7.7 ly by them having greater resistance to radiation. Ignoring the explosion problem, if it were only the case that the drive started emitting gamma rays after 7.7 ly, humanity would simply put a lead shield around the drive and keep on trucking. All changes need to be fully thought out, and checked for unintended consequences to the universe. For their part, GDW planned to retcon this with the Ebers having a real, working > 7.7 ly drive termed "Stutterwarp 2" which would break open the frontiers post-2300, and the PC's being involved in discovering what the Ebers did differently on an expedition to their homeworld.

The question of what to do about the incoherence between GDW and MgT is a vexed one. I personally consider any universe breaking changes to be null and void. I wouldn't mind so much if it was clearly stated this was an alternative timeline, and the changes were fully implemented. This is what, however, brought me into conflict with a newly appointed "canon inspector" who insisted on immediate unconditional surrender to Mongoose fiat, and has cause me to look at MgT with a far more critical eye.

In the next post I intend to examine the mathematics of how ship construction and tantalum scarcity are cogent, and how MgT 2k3 fails in trying to fix the maths.

Appendix 1: British and Canadian Starships, and the Effect of No Antarctic Tantalum on the Timeline

Britain built the ESAS Pathfinder which conducted the initial exploration probe of the near French Arm (Nyotekundu Sourcebook, page 3). However, the lack of tantalum was a major stumbling block for ESA as a whole, and Britain and Germany in particular. The French expanded their influence in Africa, and the British and the Germans got a chunk of South African (Azanian) tantalum in exchange for that nation's ESA membership (NSB, page 3).

The Germans colonised Neubayern, and got lucky in finding an off-world tantalum source on the 4th planet of the system, a cold and uninhabitable world. The entire colony (on the 1st planet) was based around feeding miners on the 4th planet, who sent tantalum to orbit of the 1st planet for use in making German starships. The mines were dry by the 2230's, but Germany had established colonies of their own outside of ESA.

The British, however, did not strike tantalum on Beowulf. At the end of the 22nd century British trade was mostly carried on French vessels. (Ships of the French Arm, page 60) British minerals came from their mines in Greenland and Antarctica, and from Tirane carried aboard French vessels. However, the British gained access to tantalum of their own and started to construct the own merchants. (SotFA, 60) This coincided with the beginning of a renaissance of British power as great (mineral) wealth started flowing from British Tirane in the early 23rd century. (2nd edition Adventurer's Guide, page 17) This tantalum came from Antarctica. (private communication with T. Brown, long ago)

The tantalum that propelled Britain into being a truly independent player came from Antarctica. In the mid-22nd century, Argentina attempted to confront Britain over their exploitation of Antarctica, but Britain had the biggest (wet) navy in the world at the time, and with Canada's help faced the Argentinians off. (Earth/Cybertech Sourcebook, page 28). Britain became the first nation to have 50% of her population offworld, that event happening in 2298. (1st edition Referee's Manual, pages 29-30) However, one should note that this is in the context of 13 or more York class colony ships running colonists to Crater, and later New Cornwall. This would roughly make both multiple "heavy efforts" - at deep load each York could make 12 runs a year, and 13 would deliver 70,000 people per year to Joi.

Canada, for their part, didn't build their first starship until 2290, decades after they founded a colony. (E/CS page 28) They certainly had starships before this, (SotFA, page 52) but it appears they were constructed by a foreign partner, probably Britain.

In a universe where Britain didn't exploit the Antarctic for its tantalum, a whole bunch of butterflies happen, such as:

  • Britain not developing a separate space program, and not founding the DeVillebis outpost or settling Crater or Joi.
  • Canada not getting into space with British ships in the 2250's, and hence not founding the Canadian finger.
  • Without Canada involved, there is no Slaver War. Manchuria starts a trading relationship with the Akcheektoon Sung nation. There is no regime change.
  • America doesn't expand as quickly down the American Arm without British aid. The discovery of King is delayed ca. 20 years (with America needing to build the outpost at Clarkes' Star). Without Canadian involvement, there are no DNAMs, and King remains unsettled.
  • Without settlement of King, America and Australia never has the tantalum to expand up their fingers. There is no "American Arm".
  • Without British investment along the Chinese Arm, colonisation there would be a little slower.
  • Without British aid, Trilon would at least be delayed settling Kie-Yuma, but, of course, Kie-Yuma would not have been discovered until 10-20 years later as without Britain pushing up the Joian finger, things would be delayed.
  • Without a large and effective British space navy (and American one due to no King settlement), the Kafer Invasion would likely reached Earth and been victorious.

One can see how a change in an established timeline, especially one ca. 150 years before the "present" of the universe, can have a huge effect.

Appendix 2: A Handout from "The Game" transcribed by Steven Alexander.

This was given to "Game" players when they researched Theoretical Physics enough to build a stardrive:

This sheet presented when a nation approaches the necessary technology for stardrive.

Congrats!  You now know how to build a star drive.  There is one unusual requrement for construction of them, however -- Tantalum.  This is a very rare element currently mined in only a few locations.  World reserves (currently known) are:

  • Chile:                           1
  • French Guyana:           1
  • Brazil:                          6
  • Spain:                          9
  • Portugal:                     6
  • Nigeria:                       4
  • South Africa:               9
  • Zambia:                       5
  • Namibia:                     1
  • Mozambique:              17
  • Malaguay Rep:            2
  • Australia:                     5
  • Turkestan (USSR):       3
  • China:                          2
  • Kenya:                         4
  • Zaire:                           5

 Need the following:

  • Probe:                         1 unit
  • Frigate/Survey:                       2 units
  • Cruiser/Carrier:          3 units
  • Transport:                   5 units

No comments:

Post a Comment