The latest BattleTech (BT) setting sourcebook to be released, Interstellar Players 3: Interstellar Expeditions (ISP3: IE) looks at the mysteries of mankind’s settlement and use of both near and deep space. As this reviewer’s work revolves around archaeology, the combination of my work and hobby in one book was something to look forward to.
The Deep Periphery and its inhabitant have been a source of wonder and mystery for both in universe characters within BT, and for many fans fascinated by the activities of those who reside beyond the reach of the Great Houses of the Inner Sphere.
The first concrete details on some of these realms and worlds was provided in the original Periphery Sourcebook, published in 1988, which detailed the major and minor realms that were close to the borders of the Successor States in 3025. Players would then have to wait for nearly a decade for an update, one that came with an in universe date of 3059, over thirty years after the first report.
The first releases in 1996 was the second edition of the Periphery Sourcebook, which updated the powers of the original edition, especially with regards to the Clan Wars and technological renaissance. However, the other 1996 release, Explorer Corps, looked at an area far beyond that which had previously been examined, stretching deep into the Coreward Sector of space, as ComStar sought out the Clan Homeworlds.
Deep Periphery powers, never detailed in the game before, were brought to life by Explorer Corps, as were numerous small colony worlds and way stations that existed along the Clan’s supply routes to the Inner Sphere. Several of these realms would come to play a larger role in the history of the BT Universe going forward, with their motives and actions effecting both the Clans and Inner Sphere.
In 2005, the first of the Interstellar Players series was released, a book which looked into the deeper mysteries of the BT Universe, providing players with a wealth of gaming material, some obviously canon, with other sections open to interpretation or just fanciful tales. Interstellar Players also introduced Interstellar Expeditions (IE), a private archaeological and explorations group that was involved in work across the length and breadth of known space.
2008 saw the follow up volume to Interstellar Players – Interstellar Players 2: Jihad Conspiracies, which did not focus on the Periphery so much as expand the reach of the series into a whole new set of conspiracies and background material. Some of this material was then updated and re-examined in 2009’s Masters and Minions, but the work focused on the larger powers and ignored many of the small powers and independent worlds.
With all this detail that had come before, any future product looking at the Periphery would need to expand out beyond existing material and Interstellar Players 3: Interstellar Expeditions (ISP3: IE) would do just that. With IE now a large and vigorous corporate player, a vehicle for providing a look at the deeper Periphery realms and mysteries of the Word of Blake in the Inner Sphere was at hand.
ISP3: IE takes the reader on a journey across massive interstellar distances, many times larger than the Inner Sphere, where the successes and failures of humanities colonial drives of past times have played themselves out in complex and differing ways. As the latest work in the BT Universe to look into the Deep Periphery and the Word of Blake, ISP3: IE, takes players to the edge of human space and both backwards and forwards in time, providing detail on some of the earlier colonial surges and their results.
ISP3: IE is set in 3095, allowing the work to provide some in universe updates, but those are mainly focused on the Periphery. Although the many new realms and systems included are a huge positive, information is not provided on all those shown on the new maps. However, this is not unusual for BT, as this leaves room for expansions, future products, or just plain in universe mystery. There is some recycled material from previous works, but this is limited and most of the book in new material, covering new factions and worlds, with earlier material simply providing context.
ISP3:IE is written by several BT authors including Herbert A. Beas II, Johannes Heidler, Ken’ Horner, Philip A. Lee, Michael Miller, Aaron Pollyea, Christopher D. Purnell, Craig Reed, Ben H. Rome and Luke Robertson, some of whom are well known for their excellent work on previous sourcebooks.
The overall style of ISP3: IE is in the form of a report from the CEO of IE to Directors and shareholders, with several forms of reporting used, a hangover from the Jihad series of books, but far more organised and easy to read, making ISP3: IE a halfway house between the Jihad books and other BT products.
Many sections and sub-sections also include a Gamemasters heading, which provides some behind the scenes information and insights and suggestion on possible campaigns and adventures. These handy tips are useful for old GM’s, but an excellent resource for new GMs.
ISP3: IE comes in at 122 pages, making it a fairly small book compared to some of the other recent releases, which have gone closer to 250 pages. As such a small work, it seems that there could have been space to present detail on all the systems mapped in the book, however, as stated above, these details were likely left out for specific reasons, both in and out of universe.
The cover art for ISP3: IE, by Mark Molnar, has been fan speculated to be an IE investigation of the world known as Barbados, from the BattleCorps series Betrayal of Ideals, which was the tale of the fall of Clan Wolverine. However, this tantalising cover is not backed up by much Wolverine information on the inside.
The remaining art (credited to John Ariosa, Brent Evans, Chris Lewis, Jamie MacDonald, Randall Mackey, Rudy Valle, Timothy Waddell, David White and Alex Williamson) does not have the same impact as several other recent BT products. Although it tries to convey the feel of interstellar exploration, it does not grab the reader in the way art for several other recent projects has.
The maps included in ISP3: IE are one of the more spectacular additions, showing just how far humanity has spread over the years. The additions of major stellar features, some of them truly enormous, provides these maps with a level of details and feel that contributes well to the overall tone of the book.
Layout and Editing
ISP3: IE follows the standard layout of the Jihad/Interstellar Players BattleTech products in the use of the Nashan computer terminal layout, which accents elements with heavy grey, especially sidebars. Readers will be familiar with this style, as it has been used for some time now.
One negative regarding the layout, which is an in universe issue from the book being compiled from various sources, is the non-standard reporting/lack of reporting on some worlds and realms. Though this is again part of the tone set for the work, a more standardised formatting could have been of more benefit for some players.
The rules and role playing section at the end again follow standard format, but does not introduce new equipment or rules, sticking to new units, affiliations and RAT’s. However, considering the deluge of new rules and equipment that the last decade of sourcebooks have produced, this is a welcome relief in my mind.
ISP3: IE opens with the obligatory short fiction piece, which ties into the feel of the cover. Although it answers a few questions, the fiction also throws up many more and perhaps ends the chance to close some investigations.
Following the fiction is an introduction from the current IE CEO to the Board of Directors and shareholders of the company. The introduction covers why the book is the way it is and is short and to the point. Following the introduction, ISP3: IE is broken into four main areas: the IE operations overview, the investigations into the Word of Blake (WoB), the Deep Periphery Exploration Briefs and the rules.
Interstellar Expeditions: A Primer, outlines the way that IE itself evolved and currently functions. Despite being one of the drier sections of the book, this section does hold some interesting information, especially considering some of the personalities involved. This section provides a brief overview of IE’s history and goals, overviews IE’s organisation and its departments, with more detailed overviews of the exploration and scientific arms and ends with an excerpt from an IE training video. I could not help but think of Troy McClure presenting the video, something that adds a little humour to the section.
The following section: Gone to Ground, covers the WoB remnants and hidden worlds and updates the reader on what was learnt since the end of the Jihad, over a decade before. This section is written from the perspective of former ROM agents, who are now part of IE, an interesting development. The WoB section firstly overviews the Jihad and post-jihad focus of IE on the WoB and assesses the WoB’s potential assets that may remain. Following on from this, some known and other previously unknown information regarding the Hidden 5 and the search for them is added, as well as looking at several WoB secondary bases. The section ends with a discussion of the surviving elements of ROM and the Manei Domini, with an interesting spin on the future of both groups.
Coreward Legacies is the first section to show readers the new material for the regions beyond the Inner Sphere. The first sub-section details the Chainlaine Isles, from the perspective of Clan Diamond Shark and system information from old ComStar records. This provides a very good look at this little region and is one of the stronger parts of ISP3: IE. The information provided on the Isles provides a picture of its fall, rise and current standings, as well as details on some of the Diamond Shark operations and assets in the area.
The Barrens looks at the old Pirate Kingdoms, which were taken by the Clans in 3049/3050 and are now rising again after the Clans brought stability and structure to those worlds. The Barrens sub-section has presented some of the most interesting new/old factions into BT for some time and will focus the attention of players interested in the area.
The Escorpion Imperio sub-section examines this exiled Clan and its new realm, as well as looking at the new social fabric in some detail, providing a unique spin on Clan culture and society. What is unusual is the absence of a section on the Hanseatic League, however, this was intentional according to author comments on the BattleTech Forums.
The second major section outlining the Periphery is called the Anti-Spinward Empires. This is an interesting section, written from the perspective of IE. This sector has the most to offer in terms of new realms and reachable worlds. The Axumite Providence, Union of Samoyedic Colonies and The Society of St. Andreas have been mentioned in previous products with little detail, but each is now fleshed out and all three are a solid addition to the BT factional universe. The last of the three seems to be the beginning of a new conspiracy for BT, one rooted in our own ancient past.
The third section covering the Periphery is called Spinward Discoveries, which opens with a sub-section describing one of the regions of lesser human settlement and the reasons for it. The Jàrnfòlk update comes from the Clan Council of Six, but only fills in details from earlier works. The sub-section on the Outworlds Wastes, the vast swath of worlds lost in the SW, was an interesting insight into regional collapse. Additionally, the realm revealed in this area is a fascinating utopia with a curse that binds it to its current existence, something that will make adventures here interesting to say the least. The final sub-section, Spinward Discoveries, is an interesting snippet of worlds discovered by IE, covering a wide range of settlement types and historical outcomes.
The last of the Periphery sections, Rimward Wonders, presents the area beyond Canopus and Taurus as something of an anomaly compared to the other three regions, with historic fears brought from earth given as a possible reason. The world of Farhome, initially described in earlier works, is looked at in detail, through the eyes of academia, an interesting viewpoint for such a discussion.
The Canopian Ruins sub-section is similar, but somewhat more interesting than the Outworlds Wastes, with the worlds presented here a more successful lot than those of the earlier section. The new realm introduced is an investigation into the effects of power politics on a small society, one which shows what could have been so many times before.
However, one question must be asked: Where are the Wolverines? Considering that one of IE’s major efforts was to locate the Wolverines, coupled with fiction and art concerning the Wolverines part of the book, this is an omission for a reason, leaving more unanswered questions regarding this famous group of the BT Universe.
The Competition section assesses the motivations and goals of the other powers and groups engaged in exploitation both within and outside of the Inner Sphere. The Explorer Corps is now cast in a very different light, one that is not all that surprising when thought is given to it, but very different from the image presented in Explorer Corps. Though the activities of the Successor Houses are mentioned, no great detail is given with an even lesser amount provided regarding the major Periphery realms. The sub-section on the Green Ghosts provides more questions than answers, often a feature of these types of works, but summarises what is known to date by IE. The Clan sub-section is coloured by Clan and Inner Sphere perceptions of the Wars of Reaving, which leaves a vast gap in IE’s knowledge, however, one that The Wars of Reavings handily fills.
The Rules section provides role-players with new affiliations for the Deep Periphery, some of which will be very interesting to play, with several new creatures are added, just to spice things up. RAT’s are provided for the Escorpion Imperio and notes on other Deep Periphery military’s compositions, yet this section is very small compared to other BT works. New units and their record sheets include two Mechs, which combine very different levels of technology, a satellite, exploration vehicle and two WarShips.
ISP3: IE is an interesting work for the BT Universe, providing much information on groups and areas which were previously only given limited page space. However, like all such works of the BT Universe, ISP3: IE leaves many questions unanswered and many seeds for future mysteries.
Role-players will find a wealth of information for countless campaigns across many strange and interesting worlds, with the affiliations provided giving a good starting place for many such campaigns and the Gamemaster’s sections in each chapter providing further guidance.
Those who read BattleTech just for the information will enjoy what they find in this work, as a whole new layer is added to the BT Universe, one that will keep providing new surprises in future publications.
There is not much for straight up table top players compared to recent works such as Total Chaos, but enterprising Gamemasters and players would be able to create some unique and very interesting campaigns on some worlds and with or against some of the larger powers outlined.
Overall, ISP3: IE is a solid work, though small, with the opportunity to provide more information not taken. However, as this is part of the Interstellar Players series, this is to be expected, as these works are designed to tantalise and tease as much as they are used to inform.
I would recommend the purchase of ISP3: IE, if you enjoy the mysteries of the BT Universe, gaming in unusual places and environments or love the feel of the Periphery. However, if you are an Inner Sphere focused player, you might not get much from this work and pure table top gamers will find less in this book to use than others. Nevertheless, ISP3: IE is an enjoyable read and solid addition to the BT line.
Overall I enjoyed what is in ISP3 Coreward, Spinward and Anti-Spinward is interesting reads but I found Rimward is a bit dry
Biggest addition for me was the Bug-Eye so nice to see that in print
From what Ben Rome said, ommisions wer intentional.
I get the feeling Clan Wolverine is going to be constantly dangled in front of the players as bait, being a great unsolved mystery since the HARD story was unvieled and it raised a lot of rukus as a result.
Great and detail review. Why didn’t you mention Handbook: Major Periphery States? Doesn’t it have material related to ISP3, such as the older two Periphery books?
Though the Federated Suns may appear to be functioning well, the fact that many of its largest manufacturing centers were completely wiped out, speaks volumes as to the real state of the Federated Suns. With so much lost, it is the future plans that are outlined which may yet save the Federation. The Federation’s plans for diversification will no doubt ensure the combined armed philosophies of the AFFS remain strongly entrenched.