Roleplayer #28, April 1992

Primary Sources

Reviews of Gameable Fiction

by Steve Jackson

The "Titan" Trilogy

John Varley

These three books tell the Story of mankind's first encounter with an alien intelligence . . . not one race, but many. Much of the appeal of Titan and its sequels lies in the gradual unfolding of one mystery after another, as the explorers learn more and more about the strange place called Gaea. Thus, this review will be especially circumspect, in order to avoid spoiling the story for those who haven't read it!

The story begins about 2025. We never see much of Earth, and what we do see is fairly normal. Almost all the action takes place in space, in interplanetary craft that we ought to be able to build in another 20 years, or on a newly-discovered moon of Saturn.

But, as it turns out, the moon Themis isn't a moon at all. It's a huge wheel-shaped space habitat, with several intelligent species and an ancient control system that has its little problems . . . but is far from dead.

1,300 kilometers in diameter, the giant wheel – whose controlling intelligence calls itself Gaea – rotates every hour. Inside, the gravity is about a quarter of Earth's. The atmosphere is breathable. It's not just a liveable world; it's a wonderful one. But, again, there are a few little problems. And thereby hang the tales. Captain Cirocco Jones of the DSV Ringmaster, along with her highly-trained crew, were well-suited and well-equipped to explore Saturn's rings. They weren't selected or equipped to explore a new Earth-like "planet" – even a small one. And they certainly weren't ready for First Contact . . .

The Background

The star of the trilogy is Gaea itself. . . the huge, ancient wheel, turning in space. Gaea is incredibly complex, with internal passageways, cables, spokes . . . and dozens of separate ecologies in her various sections. Almost nothing there seems mechanical; a lot of Gaea is organic. It's lasted three million years, but it's not quite worn out. Malfunctioning a bit, yes . . . in the most interesting ways.

But though the "machinery" is the star of the show, the "passengers" are fascinating as well. Of the many intelligent races living in Gaea, the Titanides – musical-genius centaurs – are the only ones we meet that seem really suitable as player characters; for one thing, they like people and would happily join a human party. But there are also the fierce "angels," the huge but peaceable zeppelins, the coldly practical Iron Masters, the xenophobic sand wraiths, and many other great NPC or adversary races.

And for every intelligent race, there are a hundred semi-intelligent or unintelligent creatures and plants . . . eight-legged sleeper lizards, jet-powered Luftmorders, log trees, radio seeds, King Kong . . . A bestiary that merely described the creatures from the three books would be dozens of pages long. And Gaea's controlling intelligence can create new living beings for specific jobs – even intelligent ones. And no new beastie the GM can come up with would be beyond the capabilities of the organic "factories" of Gaea . . . if Gaea needed it.

The Books

Each of the three books could be played as a distinctly different campaign. In Titan, the NASA spaceship Ringmaster is captured by Gaea, and her crew become the first humans in the Wheel – exploring, encountering monsters and strange sentients, and ultimately becoming the People Who Know What's Going On when a Terran colony is established. A "First Explorers" campaign would be excellent for players who haven't read the books, the GM could recreate the original encounter with Gaea. A party of six or seven would be just right for the crew of the Deep Space Vessel Ringmaster: Let them get grabbed by Gaea, meet the Titanides and the other races, and start to find their way around. Unfortunately, players who have read the books will know far too many of Gaea's secrets . . . unless the GM makes a lot of changes.

The second book, Wizard, starts more than 60 years later. Cirocco Jones – still hale and hearty – has learned a great deal about the Wheel and is up to her neck in its creatures' intrigues, traveling through a much better understood, but still hazardous, Wheel. Humanity has been exploring, and even immigrating, but much is still unknown. Several different campaigns could be set during this period. The party could be assistants or employees, running hazardous errands they don't entirely understand. Or they could be hunter/traders, looking for artifacts, valuable life forms, and other treasures of the less-traveled areas of Gaea. Any campaign set in the Wizard period could have both human and Titanide members.

The final book, Demon, starts about 20 years later. Cirocco Jones, still looking about 40 and feeling younger (being a Gaean Wizard can be good for you) takes revenge for a shattered Earth and provoke a final showdown with an ancient power. Anything set during this period would definitely be a combat campaign. A tough, fast-thinking party might be able to survive the events of Demon. An all-Titanide party might have a better chance!

And yes, there could definitely be adventures after Demon. Varley seems to have finished his story, but the great Wheel is still spinning out there around Saturn, with strange people and stranger aliens. Gaea always has one more secret.

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