Grim Jim on the Role-Playing Games Based on the Terran Trade Authority Handbooks

The Terran Trade Authority handbooks were a series of SF art books by Stuart Cowley published in the late ’70s and early ’80s beginning with Spacecraft 2000-2100. Cowley took various paintings of spacecraft, published originally as covers for paperback SF novels, and turned them into a future history and typology of these fictional spacecraft. I’ve only got the first book, Spacecraft 2000-2100, but I think there were others on space wrecks, star liners and great space battles. The books were the fictional publications of a future governmental organisation, the Terran Trade Authority, and its subsidiary, the Terran Defence Authority, which regulated trade between Earth and the other planets and civilisations, as well as providing for the planet’s defence. In this future, humanity was only just expanding into interstellar space, but had encountered two nearby alien civilisations on Proxima and Alpha Centauri. These aliens were markedly similar to humans, although not so similar that their ships didn’t need modification for human use. These similarities were so strong that there was speculation about a deep kinship or common origin for the three different species.

I came across the book when I was on holiday and was really blown away by the art. This was by such great SF artists as Chris Foss, Angus McKie, Bob Layzell and others. And even now, about forty years later, the books are fondly remembered by SF fans. What I didn’t know is that they also spawned two Role-Playing Games set in their fictional universe, one published by Morrigan Press.

I found this video by Grim Jim, a game designer, who’s also a fan of these great books. Here he talks about the RPGs, which unfortunately failed to make much of an impact. According to him, the Morrigan RPG gamebook has been long out of print. If you want to play it, you’re therefore reduced to either finding a second hand copy somewhere, or pirating it. Normally he wouldn’t recommend the latter, but this is really the only option for people who want to play it. He talks about the mechanisms of the game system used, which seems to have been a generic game system. For some reason the book replaced the awesome paintings of the original TTA handbooks with computer art. This is fine, but doesn’t have the paintings’ quality. G J speculates that Morrigan may have had to use computer art because of problems over the copyright for the paintings. It seems that by the time Morrigan published the book, the copyright had reverted back to Cowley.

I’m not really into games, but a number of my friends are very much into RPGs, like the classic Dungeons and Dragons and so on. One of these is Traveller, an SF game which I think came out in the 1970s a few years before the TTA handbooks and the games based on them. People are still putting up videos on YouTube about the TTA books and their spaceships, including one which recreated them zooming through space through CGI. This isn’t politics, but I thought people would enjoy this video about a great piece of SF art and literature.

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4 Responses to “Grim Jim on the Role-Playing Games Based on the Terran Trade Authority Handbooks”

  1. Brian Burden Says:

    I don’t do computer games. My taste in SF is limited these days to H.G.Wells and P.K.Dick, though I used to read a lot when I was younger, and still admire Fredk Pohl’s The Tunnel Under The World.

    • beastrabban Says:

      I’ve not heard of the Tunnel Under the World. The last book by Pohl I read was The Day the Martians Came. This is a collection of incidents following the discovery of a race of intelligent Martians. It’s main theme is disappointment, as the heroes of all these stories expect the world to be profoundly changed by the discovery and it isn’t. One of the tales is about an astrophysicist, who comes across a Black businessman interested in the new discovery. The astrophysicist hopes that the businessman is going to help him set up some project about the Martians, but in fact the businessman is just a real estate developer wanting suitable names for the streets in a housing estate he’s building.

      • Brian Burden Says:

        The Tunnel Under The World is a long short story in the Alternating Currents collection. It has been well overtaken by modern technology but I still find it a chilling and thought-provoking narrative. Part One begins (from memory) “On February 16, Frederick Burkhardt woke screaming from a dream.” It is a dream of an agonising death. Part 2 begins, “On February 17, Frederick Burkhardt awoke to find it was still February 16!” The story explores all sorts of issues of human consciousness and what constitutes reality and identity.

      • beastrabban Says:

        That’s interesting – I might look that one up as it sounds like one of the ideas is the day that keeps recurring, as explored in Groundhog Day.

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