This article originally appeared in Issue #001 of the downloadable PDF magazine.
Tancred. Dave Sering
Judge’s Guild: (defunct; no website at present)
Out of Print. Check used book stores and websites for price and availability.
I was having a forum conversation about the value of Judges Guild products, and I was arguing that Traveller products from Judges Guild were low quality production and content and thus low value. The alternate suggestion was that the content was quite good, and I was being asked to look past the low quality production and look at the content. So I decided to take them at their word and have another look at Judges Guild products. I started with the first one I owned; Tancred.
Tancred is an approved for use with Traveller product detailing an Imperial world within Ley Sector, the Judges Guild Ley Sector that is.
Firstly let’s look at the production quality. It’s pretty poor to be honest. The paper isn’t good quality, the art work is poor to bad, the layout is poor, there is inconsistent use of fonts and white spacing, the maps are poor, and the table layouts are inconsistent as are those for the NPCs. It’s a mess. I know this is a low budget early 80’s production, but even for a low budget 80’s production it doesn’t look good. Now to be honest this is probably the thing for me, because the bad production quality means that I find it hard to keep reading, and thus I want to keep putting it down. Reading it for this review I found I had to constantly wade through all the bad production quality, and it was a real effort to keep going.
What’s in the book? To start with it has a blank subsector map in the inside cover, and the book continues after the contents page with a two page introduction to the political situation on Tancred followed by a page of campaign suggestions. It has a description of the capital city and three of its bars along with encounter tables for them, 5 group encounters and a half page of rumours. The descriptions expand a little to the other cities on planet and detailed animal encounters are given along with events. The events descriptions cover 4 pages and most of them are mundane. These lead to the starport map and description, along with NPCs and how the starport is run, going into quite some detail. The best bit in the book, for me anyway, is the centrefold spread of the planet/system map of Tancred. This is a blue, black and white affair with a solar system chart running along the bottom. This is actually not bad, but don’t get me wrong it’s not up to today’s standards. The blue colour print isn’t lined up precisely, it’s a little cluttered, the UPP is spread across the whole page, and the solar system configuration doesn’t have a key (you can guess what most of it means, but still). We get crude maps of the cities that were described. There is a quite detailed description of the Mercenary regiment that is on Tancred, with a number of NPCs described along with set-up and equipment, and then follows the Citizens guard and the rebels. There are four scenarios presented to be played with crude and eye straining maps, and the book ends with a description of a small base on the planet Tancred IV with a map of it, and a subsector map of Outreaumer in which Tancred is located. The back cover is 15mm paper APCs, tanks, and jeeps to be cut out for use with miniatures.
And now to the real question; is the content any good? Well the political situation is intriguing. It’s based on 18th century Europe where the lesser nobles are staging a rebellion and are planning to come in and save the government structure at the last minute earning themselves the top jobs while ousting their seniors. They hire some mercenaries to train the government troops, while these mercenaries also run the rebellion on the quiet. The campaign suggestions lay out a host of ideas for the Referee to choose from and again these are intriguing, if a little obvious.
The encounter tables are uninspiring, and the NPCs lack details like their age, their professions in some cases, cash and equipment, although there is some description for quite a few of them, one or two of them (out of about 80) sparked some interest. The animal encounter tables mean that you don’t need to roll them up yourself, or you could reuse them elsewhere, but the event descriptions are pretty much a waste of time and print. The starport description is ok, its map is ok, and it has the best NPCs. The mercenary regiment description is ok, but would likely come across as strange to a real military type.
One of the scenarios was ok; it involves smuggling some “kidnapped” lesser noble children off world on their way to a school, so the rebellion sympathetic nobles’ cover isn’t blown. This could, with some work (it’s a bit linier as presented) turn into a session or two of interesting role playing.
So in the end has going over an old Judges Guild product changed my mind about the content? No. To me there are about 5 pages worth of stuff worth having, or about 10% of the product. The rest, with only minimal effort, any Referee could do better, and even if they weren’t inclined to there are reams of far better stuff on the web.
And value? Well, in my opinion, if you can pick Tancred up for a dollar on the second hand market then I’d say “why not?” there might be something in it you could use. However, any more and you’re not getting good value. The content does not make up for the poor production quality, it doesn’t even come close. I think your gaming cash is far better spent on almost anything else currently in production.