Sunday, 24 May 2015

Dungeons & Dragons: Neverwinter MMO

I've done quite a lot of online gaming over the years. I started out as did many others, with World of Warcraft (just as the Liche King expansion came out) and then played quite a few other games; Warhammer Online, Rifts, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek, Star Wars, Guild Wars and many others that have been installed/uninstalled/reinstalled over the years.

A few years ago D&D Online came out and, even though I did enjoy it, it didn't feel enough like a proper MMO for my tastes. I like the Eberron setting just fine, but never thought it was a good choice for the official D&D MMO and it never came close to the open-world fun of Warcraft; and, to be honest, I don't think any MMOs really do. I've begun to enjoy the Free-To-Play options in games lately as my time is limited and if I paid a subscription for a game I'd feel obliged to play it and end up sinking a lot of time into it. Even though a lot of the Free-To-Play games are a lot of fun, you hit a point where you can' really progress unless you spend money and you end up running around trying to find things to do.

The D&D Neverwinter game has really changed my perspective on that. I've built a level 60 character decked out in Epic gear across the board, and even though I'm sure that a few paid options would have got me to 60 faster and really made the character excellent, I've not yet spent a single penny on the game.

My character Conran, a Great Weapon Fighter

It's probably the best free MMO I've played and now that I have the option of going beyond level 60 I'm looking at spending some money on it. It's not as open world as I'd like, and you travel from the central Neverwinter city to zones scattered about the world - there are still other players around so you're not placed in these zones alone - and there's an excellent thing called the Foundry, where players can fashion their own adventures for other players to have a go in. Yep - every gamer can spend time creating their own adventure, with characters, dialogue, maps and foes, for any other gamer to play through. The campaigns such as Tyranny of Dragons and the new Elemental Evil story, connect to the D&D 5th Edition tabletop roleplaying game, so the MMO is keeping up with new and improved edition. You don't need one to use the other - both mediums are doing their own thing.

I can recommend Neverwinter for casual gamers like me, and even for paying players who want to get the most out of their game. 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

RPG Review - Ancient Odysseys: More Treasure Awaits!

Ancient Odysseys: More Treasure Awaits!By Brett M. Bernstein

Published by Precis Intermedia

‘Unleash even more of your imagination... pious clerics and resourceful pathfinders join mighty warriors, powerful wizards, and crafty rogues. Their exploits are no longer limited to ancient dungeons and catacombs, as they venture through the wild landscapes of the surface, and face the crime and trade of towns. 

This supplement for Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! adds new options for play, from creating new types of adventurers and building landscapes to spending time in town and procuring goods to tackling new spells, traps, and creatures. Go beyond the basics, while maintaining the same fast-playing and flexible experience. 

This digest-sized book requires the Treasure Awaits! PDF, Boxed Set, or Pocket Edition. The optional printed softcover is designed to match the size of the Treasure Awaits! Pocket Softcover and fits in the Boxed Set.’

I’m going to be honest - the first thing I thought when I received this slim little book was ‘Great! It’s the same size as the books in my boxset!’ The layout, design and feel is exactly the same as the previous books, and I placed it into the box with glee, and it fitted as if destined to belong in there, and all was right with the world.

It’s strange, but it is true. It means that everything fits into the box and I can keep it together and safe, and it’s easy to transport around. That’s neat and really helpful. As with the original book the artwork is sparse but suited to the design, and the full-colour cover is well designed and atmospheric.

Looks and design aside, this book is a great addition to the original Treasure Awaits! I’m a great fan of that game, I love the simplicity and ease-of-use, but I also love the feeling that you can create a quite well-rounded character with little effort, either randomly or by design. The die mechanic is quick and easy, and we’ve gotten some good fun out of the dungeon bashes we played through. There was always that need to get out of the dungeon, of course, as all game must spread out and diversify as they grow in size and the players explore. We did try a couple of games outside in the wilderness, and used ancient England as our backdrop, but we knew we wanted to explore a much more exotic, unpredictable world.

More Treasure Awaits! gives us more creatures, whole new rules for wilderness and town adventures, newe spells, a new adventure, a world to explore and (most importantly to two of my players) two new adventurer options, the Cleric and the Pathfinder, and a new race, the Draconian. That’s not bad for a book about 94 pages long.

The two new adventurers, the Cleric and the Pathfinder (a kind of ranger) are a welcome addition and give the players more options and scope. I allow my players to choose their optins instead of rolling randomly, but the original book did a good job of random character creation. Instead of adding these on as options, the book includes the two new adventurers in the random tables, so instead of rolling in the original book you now roll in this book. That’s great, but I can’t help but wonder if adding new races and careers down the line might make the random tables redundant, especially in regards to the race and vocation tables. It’s not really an issue - these first few options are fine for beginning games but once players decide to start choosing the character options, with maybe a little randomness thrown in, anything new can be added as a choice.

There are new rules for the wilderness covering animal companions and traps, new actions, and landscape construction. Landscape construction is very much like dungeon construction, except you’re changing out rooms for areas of interest such as clearings and encounter points, with trails linking groves, marshes and the like. It’s designed very much with the dungeon designer in mind, so that the action is easy to navigate and you can funnel the players in certain directions to make sure that you can still control the environment, which is something dungeons are very good at, but there’s nothing stopping you from ignoring that and running open-world adventures as you see fit, or as you have always done. The landscape mapper is useful but certainly not essential, and would most likely suit newer gamers starting their first fledgling wilderness adventures; as Treasure Awaits! was designed with the beginning gamer in mind, it’s a handy tool.

More gear and a lot more spells really fill this book out and spellslingers will love the new options, and a whole plethora of new creatures boosts the bestiary by 52.

Then we hit The Known World, which gives us the bare bones of a world for the characters to explore. And it really is the bare bones - if you’re expecting a full-on gazetteer then you’ll be sorely disappointed as what we get is a simple beginning of a campaign world, with a simple map detailing such places as ‘Elven Dominion’, ‘Draconian Wildlands’ and ‘Goblin Keeps’, with a basic layout, a brief description of each of the major locations (no cities or towns are detailed) and a hint at the history of each location. This is a bit of a shame as once you break out into the wilderness you want a place to explore and experience, but sadly you don’t get that here. You certainly get the building blocks of a world - and you can go nuts with this and create all kinds of fancy places, people and locations - but as an introductory game it should have been a little more fleshed out with a little more atmosphere. Perhaps this would have worked better in a separate campaign book so that there could have been a lot more detail included.

Then we get an adventure, which is good fun and can be played solo or as a group. A few handy charts and tables end the book.

Is it any good? Absolutely - it's excellent. It’s a wonderful, if not essential, addition to the core rulebook and really fills out the gaming potential. I would have liked to have seen a little more of The Known World, and perhaps a little more flavour to boost the atmosphere, but it does exactly what it sets out to do, and that’s expand the options and scope of the Ancient Odysseys: Treasure Awaits! game. I’ve found it a great book that’s given me and my players plenty of new options to explore and routes to take, and we ‘re going to get a lot of use out of this.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Boardgame Review - Star Wars: Imperial Assault

By Fantasy Flight Games

This review has been a long time coming but I wanted to be sure about a couple of things; for one, I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t simply surfing the wave of Star Wars excitement that’s washing over the beach of fandom at the moment, what with the most recent Star Wars Celebration now over and the wonderful Episode VII trailer still ringing in my ears. Secondly, I’m always wary of boardgames and their longevity, as some seem to run out of steam as you play them for any length of time and then end up gathering dust on a shelf somewhere.

So, with that in mind, let’s get to business.

Now, I would go into a lot of detail about the rules and how to play but there’s absolutely no need - you can download and read the rules for yourself right here.

I’d also go into detail about the components of the game, but you’ll find that in the downloadable rules, as well. Just so you know, what you get us the following:

A learn to play rulebook, a rules reference, a campaign guide, and a skirmish guide
34 detailed plastic figures
59 double-sided map tiles
Eleven custom dice
Over 250 cards
Over 150 assorted tokens
The Luke Skywalker Ally Pack and the Darth Vader Villain Pack

That’s a lot, right? And it shows - the box is solid, big and quite hefty so you know you’re getting a lot of blasters for your buck. The figures are solid and well made and the counters and interlocking boards are made of good quality stock and will last you a long time.

I originally played this game with composer James Semple and Jedi News boss Mark Newbold, and James, being the guy with the game and the man in the know, ran the games for us. We got three sessions in, and since then I’ve played the game on and off over the last few weeks.

Me, James Semple and Mark Newbold

Thanks to James the game was very easy to get into and it only took the first session to really get to grips with the rules and the layout. I’d say it took us the better part of an hour to set up and play through the first encounter, and James said that he’d only run some practice games, so I reckon that if you got this out of the box with no prior experience it’d take about ninety minutes to to a couple of hours to get the first game off the ground. That’s not bad going for a game this size.

I’m not a huge boardgamer - I’m more a tabletop RPG man myself - but there are elements to this that reminded me of an encounter-based RPG session. Both me and Mark knew our chosen character’s abilities and skills so we played to our strengths and covered each other’s weaknesses against James’ Imperial onslaught. And here have the core enjoyment of the game; Imperial Assault is a combat game, pure and simple, and there’s a degree of tactics required not just from a positional standpoint but through knowledge of the game mechanics, how far a character can move and what they are capable of etc. Out of the three encounters we played we won two of them; by the second one we realised that our chosen character’s abilities and the victory conditions were intertwined, and we started shouting orders, calling ideas and planning the next round’s actions, making sure that we were covering all the bases and not biting off more than we could chew. I still maintain that with one extra round we’d have nailed that last mission.

This is what you want from a game such as this. It’s a tactical combat game and it does just that - makes you think tactically. There’s an element of utilising the game rules to help manipulate the encounter slightly, but this is true of any boardgame, and this is what made it fun to play; I found that I was thinking two or three moves ahead, and planning carefully where I should go and what I should do.

I’m still not a fan of the dice that FFG use in their games but it wasn’t too much of a distraction, but even though we got used to the rules it felt we had to spend the most amount of time figuring out what the symbols meant. The encounters were quick and fun but games like this do concern me as far as longevity is concerned, but to be fair the missions can be accomplished in many different ways and this is what I found playing it since this first session in February. I’ve got some good games out of this over the last three months and it feels like there’s still some use I can wring out of it. FFG will no doubt be supporting the game with new figures and expansions, so there’ll be other missions to run. There’s nothing stopping you from creating your own missions, as well.

Am I excited about this game because of the heightened exposure of Star Wars at the moment? Yes and no. It’s a great game and great fun, and between the three of us we had a great day shouting orders and blowing up Imperials. As Star Wars and game fans this was right up our alley and I’m looking forward to more sessions. Yes, the recent trailer release had me getting the game out, but for an everyday gamer and maybe casual or non-Star Wars fans it’s still a great game; however, in their case I can see the game being played ferociously for a while but then only being pulled out every now and then. The game doesn’t break any new ground and veteran gamers might not find anything new in here to ‘wow' them, but it is a solid game and deserves to be in any serious gamer’s collection.

We really enjoyed it and we’re looking forward to more, and even though I’m not playing it as often as I did I can see myself getting Star Wars: Imperial Assault out for a blast on a regular basis with a group of like-minded friends.

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Comic Review - Elric Volume 2: Stormbringer

[Cover Art Image]Writers
Jean-Luc Cano, Julien Blondel

Artists
Didier Poli, Jean Bastide, Julien Telo, Robin Recht, Scarlett Smulkowski

Published by Titan Comics

‘Yyrkoon fled Melniboné with Elric’s beloved Cymoril. Left behind, heartbroken and humiliated, the albino emperor pursues them with the help of Straasha, King of the Sea Elementals. Finding that Yyrkoon is hiding in the ruins of Dhoz Kham, in the heart of the Young Kingdoms, Elric prepares to challenge his treacherous cousin and rescue Cymoril. But little does he know that this quest will forever change his destiny, as he finds the legendary cursed sword Stormbringer…

Continuing the stunning new comic adaptation of the classic Elric of Melniboné novels by Michael Moorcock!’

Sequels are always a difficult thing in most formats and this isn’t so much a sequel as a continuation of the first graphic novel, and after the Alan Moore introduction we get straight into the story. The opening panel doesn’t have the grandeur of the first book, but it does get into the action with aplomb. The artwork is still of excellent quality and the design continues to be amazing, although it is missing a little of the sweeping grandeur of the first book.

If I had to make a single complaint about the art then it would be one thing - that sword.

Stormbringer is the soul-sucking black blade of the anti-hero, and it's gone from a slim longsword to an oversized anime-esque broad-bladed monstrosity. The design works in that it really shows the strangeness and otherworldly qualities of the black blade, but it didn't work for me. It simply felt like an improbable weapon to wield in a fight and even though I fully appreciate that this is a fantasy and that there's probably a thousand different reasons why a magic blade with a will of it's own could be wielded in an amazing fashion, it visually fell flat. 'A wizard did it' simply doesn't cut it for me this time.

By page three the imagery of the cruelty of The Dreaming City then topples over the edge. The fact that the Melniboneans are cruel was well established in the first book, so to go even further with their disregard for any life of any age is somewhat distasteful and over-the-top, and there's a sense of 'Okay, they can be bastards - we get it!'. Then, a few pages later, we’re shown Elric surrounded by corpses, and any kind of sympathy we may have had for the man starts to slip away. Later on we witness him savagely execute a small family and from then on I lost any kind of interest in the fate of the character, a character who I originally thought was doomed to tragedy but was starting to feel that he now deserves the cruel destiny that awaited him. If this series ended with Vol 2 then that would do me fine, and I would appreciate it as a story about the doom of a cruel and vicious man. If this continues on in this vein then I’ll no doubt treat it the same way, but any kind of attachment I had to the main character won’t be there and I’ll enjoy it for what it is; a version of Moorcock’s original book.

Perhaps, as with Vol 1, seeing the actions of the people of Melnibone and reading about them are two different things. You can edit your imagination, not so when the images are stark and plain in front of your eyes.

Now, it may seem like I didn’t like Vol 2 but I did – it’s well written, the artwork is exceptional and I can still recommend it. It didn't gel with the memories I have of the book or how I felt about Elric, but it was good to read about the emperor from a wholly new angle.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Comic Review - Elric Volume 1: The Ruby Throne

[Cover Art Image]Writer
Julien Blondel

Artists
Didier Poli, Jean Bastide, Robin Recht

Published by Titan Comics

'The ancient island of Melniboné has been ruled by Elric, the albino emperor, for millennia. Reliant on magic and herbs for his strength and prolonged life, Elric’s grip on Melniboné is crumbling, as his people slide into decadence. Now his envious cousin Yyrkoon, Prince of Melniboné, plots to overthrow him and claim the Ruby Throne for himself!

Lavishly illustrated, this new comic adaptation has been produced with the full and enthusiastic endorsement of Moorcock himself, who has written an original introduction for this edition.’

This hardback graphic novel seems a little slim at first, but once you open the pages to reveal the stunning maps on the inside covers and the touching introduction by the creator himself Michael Moorcock, you’re then plunged into the world of Melnibone and all it entails.

The artwork from page one is somewhat amazing – the first full-page image alone pretty much punches you in the face with the sheer awesome imagery of the gates of Melnibone, and the design and atmosphere – glory touched by decay – is evident in that very first image alone. We’re then treated to a quick introduction, and then we see the man himself, a well-realised and gaunt Elric, upon the amazing Ruby Throne… and it’s here that I’m going to have to stop talking about the artwork. Every page is a glorious delve into the darkness and rich decadence of The Dreaming City of Imrryr. There’s no pulling back with the imagery here – the denizens of this once-great island are cruel and revel in the base things in life and it’s here in all it’s black glory. It teeters on the brink of overwhelming but never quite topples over the edge, moving from artistic to gratuitous, and seems to be much more dark than the book I remember reading; but then, reading it and seeing it are two different things.

The writing is sharp and well done, with the narrative being enough to accompany the images without telling the story for the artwork, and the dialogue is excellent. The characters are well captured and Elric himself is exceptional, but I always felt, in the books, there was a side to Elric I could find sympathy for, giving him the chance to prove his worth in my eyes before falling foul to another tragedy. I didn’t get that feeling as much in this as he does take part in some questionable acts. This isn’t much of a problem as this is an interpretation of Moorcocks novel and hits home with the alienness of the Dragon Isle.

And an interpretation it is, as it does deviate from the original. From the new opening scenes to the change of design of the Melnibonean warships, you will find differences in this to the original book, but that’s a good thing as you get to explore different aspects and takes on the setting and story.

Elric Vol. 1 is stunning to look and a great read. It lavishly brings the world of Elric to life and the details at the back of the book explaining how the graphic novel was conceived, with some concept sketches, only makes me highly recommended this book even more.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Movie Review - HALO: Nightfall

Director: Sergio Mimica-Gezzan
Run Time: 94 minutes

Review by Richard Williams

I'm sad to report that this film is terrible. I'm going to open with that bold statement because it's inescapable and I don't feel any need to dance around the issue as though I owe the film anything. If anything it owes me 94 minutes of my life back. I think part of this opinion stems from the fact that this is a Halo product and therefore my expectations were high. After the triumph that was Forward Unto Dawn I couldn't wait for the next slice of live action Halo goodness. Had this film had been advertised as a run-of-the-mill low budget sci-fi film, without any of the Halo branding, then... well, I probably wouldn't have sat through it but at least it wouldn't have been a Halo movie.

So what exactly is wrong with it? Firstly it looks like a cheap sci-fi film, the kind you expect to see on the Syfy channel at 1am. Very basic sets and outfits with fairly dodgy CG effects. When you think of the effort that was made for the Forward Unto Dawn mini-series it's shameful that 343 Industries let Nightfall be released looking the way it does. Considering so much noise was made about Ridley Scott producing Nightfall, I'm doubly disappointed. Although, having said that, I've thought for a while that Ridley Scott's work came off the boil some time ago.

The script it also incredibly dodgy and basically boils down to a simple tale of soldiers enduring hardship. You have the ones that make it, the ones that don't and the ones that crack. There are precisely zero interesting characters in this film and that's a real shame because it's supposed to be an introduction to the character of Spartan Locke, a major character in the next Halo game. This lack of interest stems from the fact that the dialogue is too formulaic, the action (such as it is) is too uninspiring, and the characters are so two-dimensional that you'd have to be a saint to give a damn about any of them. It doesn't even set up Locke's transition into the upcoming game, which is what I was hoping for.

This film also doesn't feel like a Halo product. I've already commented on the lack of polish you would hope/expect to find but, aside from the few cosmetic elements like ships and guns, there is almost nothing about this film that screams Halo at me. There's even an alien, at the start, that is right out of the Star Trek 'alien of the week' closet. I've read most of the Halo comics, read most of the books (including the visual guides), own all of the concept art books, watched all previous live-action and animated videos, bought the Halo: Risk board game and, wouldn't you know it, played all of the games. I consider myself something of a fan. So I'm fairly confident that the alien I'm talking about has never appeared in a Halo product before. Maybe they're going to feature them in the new game but I'm more inclined to think that a producer somewhere thought that any old alien would do and the budget was limited to what they could grab out of a drawer. There's none of the depth, intricacy or drama of a usual Halo product. In these, and other ways, this film doesn't feel like it fits with the Halo universe.

As you can tell, I didn't enjoy this film and can find nothing here that would make me recommend it to a Halo fan. Maybe a Sharknado fan, but not otherwise.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Book Review - Clash of Eagles (The Hesperian Trilogy #1)

Inline image 1Author: Alan Smale

Publisher: Titan Books

Review by Richard Williams

In the interest of full disclosure I should probably point out that I'm quite the fan of alternative history. And while there are more than a fair share based around great moments and wars in history (the second world war seemingly accounting for most of them) this is the first time that I've come across a 'Romans in America' story. And the results are so-so. It's not a bad book, the writing style is easy and perfectly accessible, but it's also not exactly wowed me into thinking 'I can't wait for the next book'.

Clash of Eagles is the first instalment of a new trilogy by author Alan Smale based around the premise of the Roman empire not collapsing under the barbarian hordes and instead trying to conquer the Americas (or Nova Hesperia, as it is called in the book) in the year 1218. The book takes great care to be as historically accurate as possible regarding names, equipment and practices, both in regard to the Romans and to the Native American tribes they encounter. There is even a set of appendices at the back of the book in case you wish to get a firmer grasp of the things being discussed and described. However those are names, equipment and practices that are accurate up until the time of the Roman collapse and therefore some of it seems dated by the time in which the book is set. In truth, who can say what the Romans would have devised with an extra eight centuries of imperial domination? The book sticks to a relatively undeveloped version of Rome (in terms of progress beyond 400CE), something that might well be expected in the world that was left after Rome's borders shrank following it's demise but which almost certainly wouldn't have existed had Rome prospered. As great thinkers have said in the past; what if Romans had discovered steam power? I'd like to think that, by the time of the book, this is not at all unlikely to imagine given the Roman propensity for innovation. Perhaps the book would have worked better if, instead of setting it in an alternate timeline, the author had simply sent a legion to the Americas. Why set it in the early twelve hundreds? Possibly to better fit with Native American cultures of the time but even so, the point remains that the Romans should have had some new tricks up their sleeves by 1218.

The main character is a Roman Praetor called Gaius Marcellinus and, without giving anything away (because it's on the back cover) his mission to find gold in Nova Hesperia takes a dramatic turn for the worse when his legion is annihilated by the native Cahokiani. What follows is a fairly run of the mill 'dancing with wolves' style story about a man trapped in another culture who comes to call it home. He is kept alive for his knowledge of warfare and the advancements in weapons that the Cahokiani could gain. I only have one slight problem with this and it is simply the fact that I'm not sure anyone would keep someone alive, for the sake of advice and training, from an army they had just wiped out. Crushingly. Decisively. But, if you can look past this seemingly unlikely situation (perhaps it's actually happened in the past), what unfolds is a richly detailed and decently written piece of fiction. Book one takes place across three years but Gaius seems to become one of the tribe within the first couple of months and develops a strong bond of loyalty to the Cahokiani long before what I would deem realistic.

Overall I would say that this book definitely falls into the category of light fiction and is to be taken with a pinch of salt and a good cup of tea in a cozy chair. There are no particularly challenging characters and I wouldn't say that this book addresses any of the great questions of mankind, as some speculative fiction is wont to do, but rather revels in action scenes and telling a fairly straightforward story (despite interesting developments towards the end).

I'd rate this as good holiday reading material and one for people who like warhammer/40K tie-in fiction.

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Conan RPG News!

This just in from Modiphius Press!

Playtest Pack Launches!
Major New Artists Join Team!


We've signed more major artists whose work has appeared in Marvel, DC, Dark Horse and many more including legendary Conan and Red Sonja artist Esteban Maroto (Conan Ace paperback illustrations, Savage Sword of Conan, Red Sonja, Eerie, Creepy and Vampirella) along with the spectacular Tom Grindberg, who is currently illustrating the Tarzan Sunday comic strip alongside Roy Thomas (Conan, Savage Sword of Conan, Conan Saga, Judge Dredd, ERB's Back to the Stone Age); and Jose Villarrubia, one of the top colorists in the business (various Dark Horse Conan titles including the award-winning King Conan, Alan Moore's Promethea, Dynamite's Red Sonja, and many more) 

You can now help playtest the game!

You can download the Alpha Playtest Pack v1-0 here. This features an extensive introductory adventure by Lou Agresta and Scott Oden. You will find an introductory playtest ruleset, the adventure and a rough map to get you going. The purpose of this is simply for you to test the basic rules, get to grips with fighting, moving, skill tests and so on. 

You can discuss this playtest pack, post comments and queries in the forum here.  

In 2-3 weeks we'll be sending a feedback survey for you to give us specific responses and an updated playtest pack. 

Remember to tell friends who want to be part of the playtest, or to be first to hear the news to sign up at http://www.modiphius.com/conan.html

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

STAR WARS D6 REUP re-updated

There are many things to love about the 1st Edition Star wars RPG from 1987, and the torch still burns brightly. These newly covered fan editions look amazing and would look great on anyone's shelf.

The D6 System version is, for me, the definitive version of a Star Wars Roleplaying Game. It was fast, highly adaptable and really atmospheric and considering that I bought the game when Star Wars was celebrating 'The First Ten Years', it's aged remarkably well and challenges any modern game for fun and accessibility.



Sunday, 19 April 2015

Story - Star Wars: Welcome to the Setnin Sector

Welcome to the Setnin Sector
1999 story by Jonathan Hicks
Three years after Episode IV – A New Hope

Based on a West End Games Star Wars D6 RPG session encounter in 1995.

As my vessel, the Bolder Than Most, decelerated from hyperspace, and the streaks of light that denoted the transition to real space were reduced to mere stars, I couldn’t help but feel excited.
Here I was, over the planet Zelon, over the city of Chancai. Chancai! The greatest Trade Centre in the galaxy, or so I had heard. The planet glowed blue and green below me and directional satellites indicated which direction I should go. Hundreds of ships were coming to and from the planet’s surface, and as I watched the great lumbering form of an Imperial Star Destroyer hove into view.
But not even the presence of the Empire could stem my feeling of joy. After all, I had travelled who-knows how many parsecs to get here, right here. From the core, approaching the outer rim. All my friends had told me I was crazy to come here, that most people came to find their fortune and only found death or misery.
Well, with me it was going to be different. I was going to show them all that I had the energy and the confidence to get further than everyone. If you make it on Chancai, you can make it anywhere.
I dropped the nose at the instruction of the automated orbital satellite, and followed the pre-set course to the surface. I hit atmosphere and then cloud, and, as I looked out of my port window, I watched another vessel trailing me, a large heavy freighter with a long nose and a wide rear engine compartment. With a burst of energy it lurched forward and led me down.
My heart leapt from my chest as I saw the city; a huge, mile-high construction with the appearance of a giant pyramid with the very top lopped off to make a flat summit. Down the centre of the construction was a shaft where vessels of all sizes flew in and out, with hundreds of landing bays lining the walls on all sides on all levels. Like insects the ships buzzed around the city, and long lines of vessels formed orderly queues as they awaited landing instructions. The heavy freighter joined the queue.
My ship was small enough to be slotted into a communal landing bay, and I steered her in carefully. I entered the top of the shaft, lowering her on repulsors and thrusters only, and dropped to my landing level. A small circular pilot ‘droid zipped out to help guide me into the bay.
It’s difficult to explain how I felt travelling down that shaft. On all sides were large and small bays and huge plastiglass windows looking into consumer centres and parts of the city that appeared to be small townships built into the walls. Beings of all kinds leaned over railings to look down the shaft and watch the multitude of ships coming and going.
I slotted my ship into position and disembarked. My first conversation was an argument about landing fees! Two hundred credits a day, and Imperial credits at that! That was huge chunk out of my budget already.
I walked angrily from the bay and into the bustling street.
What a sight! A huge promenade stretched out before me. On either side were multitudes of shops and trade rooms, with thousands of beings from all over the galaxy walking about. Repulsorlift traffic sped along the causeway, with four lanes flying above and below each other in some form of organised chaos. I imagined that being in the city was to be a claustrophobic affair, but the ceiling of this level went as high as an eight-storey building.
I took one step and was immediately swept along the tide of beings scurrying off in all directions. I laughed to myself; maybe if I let these streams of life take me I would end up somewhere practical. I decided to follow the flow and just try and comprehend what I was looking at.
White-armoured Imperial Stormtroopers walked in pairs through the streets, shadowing Chancai’s own policing force. I had heard that the Empire had sent a token force here, but Chancai was such a huge source of revenue it wasn’t worth their while invading and scaring off potential spenders.
As I mulled over this particular thought, I felt a huge hand wrap around my upper arm and yank. Before I knew what was happening, I had disappeared into the long alley between two trade rooms and was deposited heavily on the floor.
I looked up to see the biggest, most ugly alien I had ever seen. Even in the dim light I could see a long face and scaly lips, a horned head and a strange cluster of dark eyes. It grunted as it held tightly onto my arm and squeezed. I yelped and grabbed his huge double-jointed wrist.
A small human seemed to materialise behind him, and smiled a thin-lipped smile.  
   "Saw you touch down," he whispered, wiping a sweaty brow with a dirty cloth. "Need a ship".
I explained I had only just arrived and needed my vessel checked out, but this answer just made the alien squeeze tighter.
   "Need a ship," the man said with a movement of his hand, and he produced a wad of credit chips.
As I began to consider the offer, not just for the monetary gain but because of the concern over my health, the alien suddenly slumped forward. I rolled out of the way as the huge form fell flat on his face. The man, shocked and scared, leapt sideways and reached for a weapon at his belt. He squeaked strangely as his chest exploded into sparks, flinging him back and against the wall. The shot had come from the opening to the alleyway.
  "Alive, Galletti! Glann wanted him alive!" came a deep resounding voice, and a huge figure stood over me. I looked up into the face of a man with a concerned expression as he looked down.
   "You okay?"
I explained I was, and he nodded and kicked the alien, holstering his pistol.
   "See, Goah? Stun shot, no mess. Now we take it back and we question it. Why? Because I stun shot him and didn’t blow him all over the alleyway on high power".
The other figure seemed to materialise out of the darkness as he approached, dressed in black with several strange attachments to his headgear and weapon. He looked at me with a stern expression and then looked away dismissively.
   "Stow it, Jan. The sanction has been fulfilled".
The tall man looked back at me and held out a hand to help me up.
   "What are you doing here? Don’t you know it’s dangerous to walk so close to service corridor entrances? This is a dangerous place".
I told him the man’s questions, and that I was just a passer-by. I explained why I had come here, to make my fortune and try to find fame. The two men looked at each other and smiled knowingly.
   "What just happened to you is pretty much the norm around this whole sector," said the dark man as he holstered his own weapon. The beings bustling past the open end of the corridor seemed to be trying their best to ignore what was happening.
The tall man looked at me and smiled, holding out a hand that I took and shook firmly.
   "First rule of this place - buy a bigger gun. Oh, and welcome to the Setnin Sector."


Welcome to the Setnin Sector
1999 story by Jonathan Hicks
Three years after Episode IV – A New Hope

Histories – A short Jonathan Hicks tale that shows the inherent dangers in working and operating in the Setnin Sector.  An outsider, the unnamed visitor comes across Jan Lomona and Goah Galletti, two of the sectors most famous names.