Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Retrospective: Azhanti High Lightning

I suspect that nearly every gamer has at least one, if not several, "Moby Dick" products -- something they've been chasing after for a long time but have never managed to get hold of. I have quite a few such products, one of the longest standing being GDW's Azhanti High Lightning by Marc Miller and Frank Chadwick. Because it was published in 1980, before I started playing Traveller, I don't believe I ever saw it in any store I visited. If I did, I certainly didn't realize what it was, let alone desire to purchase it. That's because it came in a big box and looked little like any of the other Traveller products I'd seen, even though, as you can see from its cover, it's clearly a sci-fi product and even mentions Traveller in its subtitle.

Azhanti High Lightning consists of a 44-page rulebook, a 44-page supplement, several sheets of deckplans, and cardboard counters. According to the rulebook's introduction, it's "a game of close-action combat between individuals on board a large military starship," namely a vessel of the 60,000-ton Azhanti High Lightning class of cruisers. The rulebook consists primarily of a modified version of Traveller's combat system (pared back in some places, expanded in others) and some scenarios. As a stand-alone game, Azhanti High Lightning is about running battles aboard a starship, whether those battles are the result of boarding actions, hijacking, alien attack, or something else. In that regard, I never found it particularly interesting. Rather, it was the supplement and -- especially -- the deckplans that made it so appealing.

Taken together, Supplement 5 (Lightning Class Cruisers) and the deckplans provided the referee with a wealth of information about these large military vessels. This was like catnip to me. When I was a kid, I remember drooling over deckplans of the Enterprise from Star Trek and I kept that memory in mind when I started playing sci-fi RPGs. Certainly other games included deckplans, but they were always very small and/or "unrealistic," whereas the plans for the Lightning-class cruisers were neither. Just seeing them filled my head with all sorts of ideas about running a "big ship" military campaign rather than the already-standard "tramp freighter" approach.

The problem was that, while I knew of the existence of Azhanti High Lightning from reviews and advertisements, I could never find a copy to buy. The first time I ever saw a real copy was at a local game gathering, where some older guys were playing Traveller. I spent a good portion of that gathering staring at the maps rather than playing games with my friends and the other assembled gamers. I knew then that, if I ever found a copy, I'd make it mine. Alas, I never did or at least I never did at a reasonable price. As the years dragged on, Azhanti High Lightning's value shot up considerably and nowadays, if you can find an original copy in decent condition, it sells for $100 or higher -- far more than I'd ever pay for a product I'd be unlikely to use.


  1. By "
    several sheets of deckplans" you mean, of course, "a stack of deckplans as thick as the Muncie phone book."

    I was making a point to pick up the weird Traveller and semi-Traveller (like Double Star and Belter) products for a while. I think I have them all now. The hardest one for me to run down was Fifth Frontier War, which I would like to play some day as an adjunct to a Traveller campaign set during the war. I didn't pay anything close to $100 for either product - more like $50 each, so likely I got in ahead of the curve.

  2. John Harper BrinegarJune 13, 2012 at 9:51 AM

    You do know that you can get the Lightning Class Cruisers supplement as a reprint from Far Future Enterprises, don't you?  Here's the relevant URL:

  3. Yes, I have a copy, but it's not the same as having the whole box with the counters and the deckplans.

  4. John Harper BrinegarJune 13, 2012 at 10:21 AM

     Very true...I bought a copy of Snapshot recently for just that reason.

  5. I had this in High School and it was glorious. I got to have one "big gift" for Christmas each year and this was what I wanted. Classic, classic stuff. I gave all of it away when I was in college, and the kid I gave it too (the little brother of my then girlfriend) cherished it and, I believe, still has my copy.  He curates his huge collection of RPGs online frequently.

    I am happy to see this post because it goes a long way towards explaining just how iconic this box really was. To some of us, the AHL was even more important than the Enterprise or Millennium Falcon.

  6.  Bought this the week it came out back in the dark ages and still have it.  It was an amazing game. Part wargame, part RPG supplement, it was astounding at both. 

    The book was full of adventure hooks and plot ideas and we made a lot of use of those deckplans.

    Great stuff.

  7. For me that game is Magic Realm from Avalon Hill.

  8. Maybe you should suggest it as a stretch goal for the Traveller 5 Kickstarter?   Not likely, but at 500% funded with 19 days to go who knows! 

  9. Yeah, a copy of the boxed set of AHL is one of my "Moby Dick" products, for sure. Another Traveller one is the super-rare The Arctic Environment from the Keith brothers. The other three "Environment" books are easy to find, but the arctic one was a seriously limited print run from an obscure publisher (and I think it was the only product they ever produced).

  10. Pretty much all my "white whale" products are Traveller related these days. Tarsus and Imperium being at the top of the list currently.

  11. James PontolilloJune 20, 2012 at 3:57 PM

    I have owned AHL for many years.... have never played it, but have used its map many times for other gaming purposes.

  12. James PontolilloJune 20, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    I have owned AHL for many years, but have never actually played it.... although I have used the maps many times for other gaming purposes.

  13. My dad gave me his copy a couple of years ago. It is glorious.

  14. Looking for some help. AHL have become impossible to find at a reasonable price. I've purchased the "Classic Traveller" CD from FFE. Unfortunately the PDF versions of the counters sets are poor, especially the Red/Black Zhodani and Black/Grey Vargr. I am reproducing them in vector format using Profantasy Campaign Cartographer software. I am looking for a high-definition scan of the counter silhouettes (2400 dpi) in order to craft a suitable copy. Anyone out there willing/able to assist?

    1. If I had a better scanner, I'd offer to scan my counters for you. It's disappointing that the official FFE version isn't up to snuff.