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Mongoose Traveller Supplement 11: Animal Encounters

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

Supplement 11: Animal Encounters. August Hahn.
Mongoose Publishing: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
128pp, softcover
US$24.99/UKú16.99

When one first opens this book they are overwhelmed with abundance of tables and charts thereby confirming the worst prejudices of Traveller – Strike One. Then they read the introductory purpose where an Imperial scientist chances upon a system filled with life (every single world is inhabited) – Strike Two. Then the author asserts that he wishes to follow a scientific path and only fall back into fantasy when absolutely necessary (after all, this is a Science Fiction game) – Ball One. Then as you start to read further the author takes the Classic Traveller taxonomy to a whole new level – Home Run.

Classic Traveller and this Mongoose Traveller product wonderfully complement each other; one could almost ignore the distinction between the two. First, it groups all alien animals into their animal kingdom classification: Avians, Mammals, Reptiles, and so on. Interesting was the inclusion of Fungals. While I completely approve of this inclusion, I would wonder why there would not be an appendix covering botany (maybe a whole new supplement, appendix or Signs and Portents article is planned around it – hint, hint August). Therefore, if you want Triffids, you will have to settle for them being Fungi, or adapt some of the rules until we get that appendix. Subsequently, there is a small discussion of the dietary preference of the animal (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore), which gives the terms of reference for the animal’s behaviour.

It then proceeds with a discussion into the fit of the animal into its particular ecological niche by citing their behavioural model (carrion-eater, chaser, killer, pouncer, reducer, etc.), which was the brilliance of Classic Traveller, allowing one to populate an entire ecology and see the relationship that animals may have to each other without going the route of just plain and misleading Terran analogues (e.g. Mongoosoid or Cobroid). A nicely extensive set of rules are inserted to handle evolution and instinct similarly. Quirks is a nice feature of common things that just explains some of the idiosyncrasies that we observe in the Animal World. Naturally, included are the defensive (armours, scales, exoskeletons, etc.) and offensive (claws, teeth, tentacles, etc) capabilities and modes of the various animal types. The rules presented are solid and are as good as in any previous editions of Traveller, if not better, as they are realistic and stay close to science rather than straying into the realm of the fantastic. That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for difficult-to-explain oddities: although science can explain the platypus, it still confounded the first scientists to try. So, a Referee is advised to keep an element of mystery – no need to blurt out that it is a Hunter Carnivore; just describe it as something blending almost imperceptivity in with the jungle foliage just a few meters behind the PCs, with razor sharp claws and glistening teeth emitting a slight murmur when it cannot be seen. Plendy of examples of Terran animals are provided—but please don’t use that as license to call your own creations “tigeroids” or “pseudolizards”.

What follows is pages upon pages and pages upon pages of random encounters for almost any possible environment and terrain, along with sample representations of animals that could be found in that terrain. What is nice that there is also appreciation of different climatic zones/worlds and the development of unique ecosystems around that. Also listed in the encounter table is something called Event which is Animal or Sophont or Natural Phenomena not otherwise accounted for. These are replete with fixed examples but clearly the onus is on the Referee to create their own Events. So this part of the book is the most intimating but at the same time the part that is most needed.

The book is illustrated but most of the illustrations are more artistic doodles than serious art—which I can accept this time (although normally I would call it amateur), as to do otherwise would render this book into a Monster Manual of sorts. But make no mistake: this is no Monster Manual, it is a Supplement to the Core Rules to help you play a better game of Traveller – a game grounded in Hard SF not Fantasy. It is the skeleton of making a better and fully fleshed out universe and in typical Mongoose Traveller fashion leaves the meat for the Referee to fill in. This can be troubling (and adding to the complexity that Traveller is allegedly (in)famous for) to the new Referee, but I do think unlike many other systems – it is more akin to riding a bike: difficult at first but once you get it, you never forget. And, Mongoose makes it even easier than other incarnations of Traveller, though with same errata and contradictions that drive us all barmy in this grand old game. The same thing with the purple prose; it is very nice and good it is there but is it Traveller? Everyone’s Traveller game is different; one group’s campaign may have many bumbling Dr. Pangloss types running around, while others prefer their Traveller game to be less purple prose and more Star Trek: The Next Generation—just go with it and try not to be annoyed by it. Maybe, what Mongoose authors could do for their purple prose is insert a number of different voices.

The last section includes a Monster Menagerie with examples fully fleshed out. This section is helpful but is just gravy topping. It gives substance and form to all the rules that went on before. So, at the end of the rules, it might have people asking for more and this section is clearly designed for them.

What are the drawbacks? Very few, if you are looking for a way generating alien animals: this is yet another solid Mongoose Traveller product. As noted above, it is in some ways superior to the Classic Traveller offering of the same type. However, if you want something ready made that will do all the work for you (a Monster Manual) then this is not the product for you.

On the down side (not to nitpick), the failure to include the Plant Kingdom was a drawback not really compensated for by the Exotic (i.e., Science Fiction) Terrain (which was also needed, otherwise again it would not be Science Fiction).

Hopefully, someone will get hold of the great BBC series that deals with divergent or future evolution; there are lots of critters in that series just waiting for a Traveller treatment in order to give your players the willies.

So, now that we do have this supplement, the question logically follows: are we going to see an Animal (Monster) Manual from Mongoose? Probably not. When we cannot really fathom the countless variation that exists on our own planet, trying to do it and illustrate it well for even a mere fraction of the 11,000 worlds+ of the Imperium and beyond would seem a colossal—and futile—exercise. Would I buy such a waste? Well, if it were based solely on this product – you betcha. But, in the meantime, Mongoose has provided an excellent and easy-to-use set of rules governing the creation of Animals (not sophonts and may they never go down that path – for it is too fraught with danger).