[Editor's Note: Thanks to an agreement between BITS and Steve Jackson Games, all BITS supplements are available in North America through Steve Jackson Games. You can find contact information for Steve Jackson Games in the Traveller FAQ in the Freelance Traveller Information Center. Ordering information for all BITS products can be found on the Steve Jackson Games Catalog page.]
This review was originally written for the First Edition of 101 Cargos. 101 Cargos is now in the Second Edition, with slightly different and additional content, and a different number of pages. Comments in italics and square brackets are editorial additions to reflect the differences between the two editions of the product.
Little Black Book supplements are back! And back with a vengeance. (Only they're not 'black' any more, they're quite natty colour things that are representative of what is fast becoming the BITS style: slightly mechanistic but colourful and evocative, and most certainly "Travelleresque").
101 Cargos is very much in the style of the old GDW supplements both in physical size and concept.
This book, like its companion volume 101 Plots, is by Jo and Lesley Grant, 36  pages long and divided into five sections and an introduction.
The first section is 6  pages of new rules on generating "instant adventure links". I must say that I thought this chapter had escaped from the 'Plots' book until I studied it more closely and realised that the links were all cargo related. The tables provide easy ways of working out who's doing what to whom - or rather who's doing what to who's cargo (and why). The layout is clear, the system appears to work well (though I've not destructively tested it yet) and the results should provide harried refs with many instant hooks for adventures.
The second section is another six pages, this time a scheme for designating Standard Shipping Codes (SCC) for cargos. This alphanumeric string details container requirements, cargo requirements and any additional hazards. It's not difficult to work out and will add flavour to all those previously non-descript boxes PCs spend a lot of time acquiring/shipping/selling. Certainly by the time I'd read through some of the hazard identifiers I would take much more care over just exactly what was in the container! Scary.
The next section contains the 101 cargos divided into natural resources, processed resources, manufactured goods and information [and novelties]. Aiming to be as generic as possible across any edition of Traveller, you're only given a title and lot size (e.g. Rare Plants (living), Minor Lot') followed by a paragraph describing the cargo. The description is oriented towards role-playing rather than technical descriptions which makes the contents of this book that much more usable in a Traveller game (in my opinion). If I had any complaint it is that no SCCs are provided for any of these cargos - even as an example. Having developed a very usable system, it would have been nice to see it used.
The fourth section is a two [three] page glossary. Not quite long enough to be described as 'Library Data' these entries simply provide brief notes on some of the "entities, institutions and lifeforms" mentioned in the preceeding section. These are easily generic enough to be adapted to any particular campaign and add just enough detail to make the cargos seem useful, relevant and interesting.
The fifth section contains 5 pages of tables for generating cargos randomly based on the trade classification of worlds. Again these are easy to use, well thought out, and well designed. My only criticism of them would be that they don't bear much relationship to the possibilities given in the main Traveller rules. This would appear to make them 'alternative' rather than complementary to the main book. Of course, this may not be a bad thing.
In summary, this is a definite must for referees; certainly if their PCs ever have anything to do with trade. The caveat to that is that players might well want to steer clear of the book. If they don't want their sense of wonder/surprise to be spoiled by knowing about the cargos they might encounter in advance, don't let them near this. Nowhere does the book state it is for referee's eyes only, but certainly the middle section of cargo descriptions contains information players shouldn't know in advance.
An admirable addition for Traveller referees from any era, full of nice touches, occasional humor and lots of bright ideas.