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This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of the downloadable PDF magazine.

Mercator. Paul Elliot.
Freelance Traveller: http://www.freelancetraveller.com
56pp, PDF
Free, originally released as supplement to October 2010 issue

Mercator is a fan-made supplement for Traveller. It is set in the eastern half of the Roman Empire during the first and second centuries of the Gregorian Calendar, and aims to adapt the original version of the Traveller rules to a low-tech setting. To that end, Mercator includes Roman-style careers for character generation, combat, equipment (not just weapons and armor), sailing ships, economics and trading (with a sailing bent), low-tech encounters and a brief survey of the Eastern Empire.

Character generation covers the careers of Legion (citizen soldiers, SOC 6+), Auxiliaries (non-citizen soldiers, SOC 5-), Navy, Merchants, nobles, rogues, barbarians and the ubiquitous “other,” which in these rules represents crafters, townsmen, slaves and the assorted characters which don’t fall under the other careers. These careers follow the standard 2d6 method and start at 18, except for Barbarians which roll 1d6 for Education and start at 14. (In my opinion, the careers of Noble, Rogue, Other and maybe Merchant should begin at 14 as well, as humans usually begin their careers earlier in lower-tech areas—teenagers in this time were usually out working, and many teenage girls were married and/or mothers, more so than today.) The aging table is the one in Classic Traveller Book 1, which is appropriate for the time period—once you made it past infancy you’d be fine until 60, unless someone killed you (never unlikely).

The careers include a mustering-out table, which no good Traveller career is complete without. Money is handled in silver denarii instead of credits, and the weapons are blades instead of guns. Indeed, like in sci-fi Traveller, Nobles and Merchants may acquire a ship—a wood sailing vessel without a mortgage.

One interesting change is that Nobles use the title that is the highest one that their families have held, which doesn’t necessarily mean that the character holds it (I would not allow a PC to hold high titles without it being a political campaign), which is the other reason that I would begin Nobles at 14—they had to undergo a course, the Cursus Honorum (Cursus!), which was designed to give them experience in how the Roman government worked. As opposed to commoners, who were supposed to let the First Families tell them what they really wanted to do).

There have been a few skill changes—for example, “Equestrian”—also a lower-noble Roman who isn’t a senator but just rich—becomes “Riding” or Teamster, which is handling carts (which I would put together with Teamster when it comes up in Chargen—they’re not the same, but a player making a legionary could pick Riding when he gets Teamster—once). There is also Blacksmith, Carpentry and Stonemason, which are specific and highly important subsets of Artisan (I would allow anyone who got a result of “Artisan” skill to pick these three, especially if playing an “Other”); “Artillery,” which is ballistae and catapults, with Siege Engineer complementing them; meanwhile, Pilot and Small Craft refer to sailing vessels instead of starships.

The combat section of Mercator has a sailing-specific section which mentions distance, time and winds, both favorable and unfavorable. This is actually a good idea; I don’t think I’d have thought of it. In addition, there are also rules for fire, boarding, and so on, which can be easily added in to any game.

There are both sea and land encounters, with pirates and jackals and such, with the random encounters including commoners, barbarians and even wedding parties; a patron encounters section is included as well (merchants and Christians, oh my!). This is good, especially for lower-tech worlds; my wish list for further encounters would be more types of animals and more random types of humans (and a fantasy version as well, for those who want a more mystical bent to their low-tech Traveller); the Classic sci-fi Traveller can be raided for such, since it has encounters that are a bit more low-tech than I’d expect for a sci-fi game: e.g. hunters and peasants, as opposed to taxi cabs and computer techs.

The section following Encounters covers ports, such as Alexandria and Corinth, and provinces, such as Egypt and Greece. While the available ports and provinces are among the richest in the Roman Empire, and provide plenty of opportunity for trading and adventure, it is also is my source for complaint—I would actually be more interested in the Western Empire, such as Rome, Spain, Gaul and the author’s native Britain. Also, I’d like more ports and inland cities on the map generally, just in case players say “I’d like to visit Judea, it’s a lovely place, but just once I’d like to avoid Caesarea!” And it’d be good to provide more color for the campaign, even if it’s just news. Likewise, I would love to see other nations on the map—Persia, the German tribes, and desert nomads are good examples. These would be excellent places for military or political campaigns. However, those areas which are mentioned are done well, albeit briefly (especially the comment about how Egyptians of the era are effectively slaves on their own ancestral lands...).

The equipment section covers weapons and armor—good thought on including shields—as well as tools, camping gear, lodging, food and sailing gear. It is well thought out except for a lack of horses and riding equipment (that and clubs being free; like in sci-fi Traveller; I’m sure that there are those who sell clubs for whatever the drachma version of 10 credits is).

In the end, I quite enjoy Mercator; it is an entertaining look at how to handle low-tech, non-fantasy Traveller. The author obviously knows a lot about the Roman period, and the available locations are well done. As I said, my main complaints about this are a lack of Western Empire and other inland locations and (what I feel is) an over-emphasis on sailing. That said, if ever I run a low-tech Traveller campaign, or even a sci-fi Traveller campaign, I shall utilize this, especially if someone in a sci-fi game wants to play a Barbarian (they aren’t all tribal savages, you know!).

My suggestions for this would be: expand the equipment list, especially for non-sailing gear; have a section on horses and overland travel; add a way to differentiate non-citizens from citizens and from slaves (e.g. Soc 4 & 5 are free non-citizens, 6 + are citizens and 2 & 3 are slaves); finally, if someone, or groups of someones, were to write up a series of province books, e.g. Aegyptus Book, Hispania Book, Persia Book, etc., including maps, ports, inland towns and such, I’d be happy (and would contribute, and would write up some NPCs and mythical creatures as well, as I’ve done already).