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Mongoose Traveller Supplement 12: Dynasty

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.

Mongoose Traveller Supplement 12: Dynasty. Bryan Steele
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
96pp, hardcover
US$24.99/UKú16.99

Here is a supplement that many were looking forward to and me…well – my first reaction was meh…having being burnt on Imperium Games – Pocket Empires. Boy was I in for a surprise. This is an excellent supplement for Traveller filling a void for those who like to power game at very high levels of play.

What makes Dynasty so interesting is that it takes a simple mechanic, basic Traveller chargen, but magnifies it to stellar proportions (pun intended). STR, DEX, END, etc. have been replaced: Cleverness, Greed, Loyalty, Militarism, Popularity, Scheming, Tenacity, and Tradition. Each of the characteristics are descriptors for players to decide what path their interstellar entity (power base) will be built upon – true they can go outside the box – but it is better to leave that to individual player characters.

As a result, in the place of careers one has dynasty archetypes (power bases) – Conglomerate (industrial enterprises), Media Empire, Merchant Market (financial enterprises), Military Charter, Noble Line, Religious Faith, and the Syndicate (criminal enterprises). And, the brilliant thing here is that players are not restricted to following a narrow path, although, they cannot have multiple power bases until later. Power bases provide the human (alien?) resources needed to engage with other players who may play within the same dynasty or a rival dynasty. From this simple premise, it creates the framework for macro-level play, in which players can shift between humble PCs doing day to day adventures whilst running an interstellar entity. For regular characters can be servants of the larger entity. Simple, elegant but highly effective. This sounds a bit railroadish, I admit; to introduce this level of play, it would have to be brought about through the consent of both players and Referee but the reward would be adding a whole new layer or dimension to play. Perhaps, it is the legacy of level based play; I always assumed that players reach these heights through their hard work but having it as a framework makes more sense and congruent with what Traveller is all about.

There is the option of then using Build Points to augment your Dynasty archetypes. Background and Historic Events give the context and depth to the dynasty in the same way that Mongoose chargen adds personality to players. My only beef is the inclusion of Ancient Visitor which was also in parts of the original chargen – and I have since changed it to Ancestor. Heirlooms, gifts from the past (including knowledge) are more important than anything left over from precursor civilizations. {Mongoose seems to have a fixation upon the Ancients...but for me the Ancients represent the ultimate McGuffin and the Ancients are not who they say they are...} ‘Nuff said, there are players probably reading this and back to the content of Dynasty.

Rules then are provided for building up what happens Through the Generations. Those events that shape and mould a particular long term viability of a dynasty over the long haul. Nicely paralleling Traveller chargen, it even asks “does the dynasty survive?” This is followed: Pawns, Schemes and Gambits. And, naturally all is not peaceful in the kingdom – thus there are rules for When Dynasties Clash – and the damage wrought by mini games that can be the result of: a Crime Spree, Hostile Takeover, Public Malice, Space Race and Waging War. Space Race, at first seems the most absurd, given that Traveller takes place in the Far Future but even in the Third Imperium – space is limited yet there are still frontiers, so it would take the clever Referee to put this in the right context...maybe it is funding a mission beyond Beyond or even planets one jump away that the Main World’s tech cannot exploit. Waging war is the most easy to imagine. Kudos to Mongoose for thinking about more events.

This is then followed by a chapter entitled Heroes and Villains – those standard PCs and NPCs we all create but just giving the overlay of how Dynasty will impact their choices, life events, skills, etc. Followed in succession with Roleplaying Traveller: Dynasty, reminding us that Traveller is not some elaborate simulation or wargame but also a game where players do choose their own path even if they are constrained by a larger destiny...Reminding us, that

All the universe’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one sophont in his time plays many parts, etc.
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side,
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

— by the reviewer, with apologies to Wm. Shakespeare

So, does the average Referee need Dynasty? It depends upon the level of play that you and your players want to engage in. Certainly, if Campaign play is the norm, then Dynasty offers much in the way of making a campaign richer. If it is one-two shots, then Dynasty offers little. I personally like Campaigns, as I like to be able to tell a story over a long period of time and Dynasty comes around and provides me with a nice set of tools to do so. As I said, in the introduction, I was lukewarm by the announcement of Dynasty but at the end I was blown away.

I really appreciate how easily Dynasty allows creating a simple SFRPG into a more nuanced and complex one without sacrificing any of the fun of the role playing aspect of Traveller. This supplement provides an easy rule set that makes that high level intrigue possible and painless to execute. But, as with all supplements of this nature (unless you’re one of those who does solo or very small group play) – it is important to role play the rolls. For this book, if it does have a weakness is that it is very heavy on the Tables & Charts aspect. A secondary weakness or strength (I know the Traveller community is divided on this one) is that it is not grounded in the Third Imperium – rather it is generic. I can see, how one can build the Third Imperium (or any other balkanized galactic polity) around this framework but first time Referees might find that task a little daunting. But, if you build it will be yours and YTUMV. My own view of the Third Imperium is that it is in constant flux. Dynasty provides me with the tools to maintain that flux, that said it might be better suited to Fading Suns or Twilight Imperium (both games colour MTU).

Art, of the little that exists (which is fine) is absolutely excellent. There could be more but that would probably up the price of the book and I should imagine as this type of high level play is not everyone’s “cup of tea”. I speculate that sales will be good but not excellent, as they would be for say something like Zhodani. Nevertheless, this book provides much in the way to think about for Traveller play and I strongly urge that all long time players/Referees who have a desire for campaigns to at least look at it. Maybe, your workarounds are better…however, maybe, you can learn something new just as I did and was surprised by what I learnt. Therefore, it is easy to say this book comes highly recommended to those who like High Level Play and those who still wish to live in a small ship universe will still find much to think about.