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Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue.

Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. Various authors
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
6 volumes, 128pp. each, PDF (from DTRPG)
US$14.99/UKú12.04 each

Editor’s Note: This review refers to a boxed set of digest-sized paperbound editions, delivered as part of the Kickstarter that led to their production. It is unknown at present when or at what price the paperbound volumes will be available; the PDFs for the first five volumes are currently available at DTRPG.

The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society has seen many incarnations. Perhaps as an ‘in-world’ periodical of some standing, it’s had longevity in the real world that befits its stature; perhaps it’s just too useful a construct to be allowed to fade away.

It first appeared as 24 digest sized volumes of around 48 pages quarterly between 1979 and 1986. These are extremely fondly remembered by fans and really fleshed out what was, at the time, a very bare bones rule set with the beginnings of what would become the Charted Space setting. Classic adventures such as “Annic Nova” in the very first issue, through the atmospheric critter art and descriptions by the Keith brothers, to the introduction of now familiar aliens, all first saw light of day in its pages. Four ‘Best of…’ compilations were spoilt for choice in material to include. JTAS ran for a few more ‘issues’ (#25-#28) as a section of Challenge magazine which replaced it until Traveller articles became merely another of the many systems it covered.

The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, as a title, was briefly revived in 1996 for just two issues from Imperium Games supporting Marc Miller’s Traveller (or T4). These were US letter sized, had glossy covers and continued the numbering as issues #25 & #26 ignoring the Challenge sequence.

In 2000, to support the then new GURPS Traveller line, Steve Jackson Games produced an online version of JTAS edited by none other than Loren Wiseman – one of the originators of Traveller. For a year this ran weekly but it then switched to fortnightly and ran until 2015. It’s easily the largest incarnation of JTAS although, at present, entirely electronic. As a side note, #2 of the Mongoose JTAS includes a short tribute to Loren.

In 2007 Marc Miller published a CD-ROM containing PDFs of all the original GDW issues which was entitled The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society and in 2018 another CD-ROM compiling all the online issues from Steve Jackson Games, again titled The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. Keep up at the back!

Now, for Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition, comes another instance of the title in the form of a boxed set of six ‘issues’. Not strictly a periodical, this was published as a one-off Kickstarter funded project, but it harks back to the original 24 issues in many ways. Firstly, although PDFs can be purchased it is a physical collection of nearly digest sized volumes; secondly the content is not only similar in style to the originals, it actually reprints some of it; and thirdly it captures the eclectic joy of the first issues of JTAS in having something for everyone and interesting glimpses into the much wider universe.

Of course, all that comes in a very modern packaging suitable for 2020. Gone are the card covers, stapled booklets and the black & white illustrations. In line with other Mongoose publications these are all colour, printed on glossy paper and attractively slipcased. The slipcase is sufficiently sturdy for the weight of the six volumes and has additional artwork by Shen Fei on one side and a word cloud on the other. Shen Fei also illustrates the six individual covers. The back covers have a standard introduction and then highlights of the issue’s contents. Oddly enough, there’s also an ISBN for each issue further emphasising their book-like nature rather than as a regularly issued periodical.

As for the contents, it’s a mixture of recapturing some of the flavour of departments in the original JTAS as well as matching new Mongoose publications. So there are adventure and bestiary articles alongside Central Supply and Vehicle Handbook entries. Meanwhile, other departments are slightly renamed but immediately recognizable: Contact! has become Alien and Casual Encounter is now just Encounters. There are also a good number of High Guard articles covering specific ship designs as well as less rules-based articles in the department Charted Space centred very firmly in the familiar Traveller setting. There are also three combat-oriented articles in a small department called Mercenary. In addition, you’ll find new material throughout but you’ll also find reprints of classic material updated of course where appropriate to Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition rules. Very roughly half the material is all new and half has seen the light of day previously. However, that latter category ranges from exact reprints of articles to reprints but with rule elements (e.g. characters skills) converted to MgT2. Or from slight revisions, through heavily edited changes or additions, to ‘uses the title/concept but nothing of the original remains’. Personally I find the eclectic choices to be well made and give both a variety and modern slant which is welcome. It’s good to see old favourites appearing in the new style, but it’s also good to not only have rehashed material but the new as well.

One thing Mongoose fans will note is that the rules-based articles are very similar in length and approach to the chapters of the Traveller Companion published by Mongoose in 2018. It’s very hard to come up with a reasonable distinction between the content of the two. In other words, the rules articles in JTAS could easily be further chapters of the Companion or the Companion chapters could have been additional articles in this edition of JTAS. This isn’t a complaint or necessarily a bad thing, just an observation, but it does make it a little harder for Referees to quickly recall where particular rules might be. This is the reason that my own Minibib 1: JTAS [Mongoose] (available as PWYW on DriveThruRPG) which has entries for every single article in all six issues of this new JTAS, also includes Traveller Companion chapters as though they were articles as a kind of ‘bonus’. It brings all this short form material from Mongoose into one place for ease of reference and arranges it by subject.

On the subject of where material appears, it could be argued that some of the articles here could, perhaps even should, have appeared in the Core Rulebook. I’m thinking particularly of Jump Drive Operations (and Sensor Operations?) or some of the world building material on stars and gas giants. (The same could be said about Gas Giant Operations or Gravity and its Related Effects in Traveller Companion.) However, it’s good to see them here whether it’s something better considered of secondary importance or an afterthought since the core rules were published.

Artwork, as noted, is new throughout. Sadly that means some particularly favourite (or at least very, very familiar) classic images are gone. Views vary on the quality of Mongoose art but here it’s generally attractive, perfectly serviceable, and sometimes really excellent. There’s a moody image of a stock market crash in #3 for example, a very atmospheric illustration in “Last Flight of the Themis” in #2 and the same issue contains a couple of rather good Aslan scenes. One change from old to new is particularly noticeable: the Rampart fighter (in volume #2) is unrecognizable from the original in Challenge #27. Personally I rather like the new version and it can certainly be argued that it’s much more spaceworthy and realistic. Your mileage may vary. On the other hand there’s a revamp of the meson gun illustration from The Traveller Adventure in #4 which is fun to see. Deck plans are of course the MgT2 isometric style which I’ve whinged about elsewhere so won’t go on about. I’m not aware of any online 2D versions for actual use in play, but perhaps they’re yet to come. In their defence, they are very pretty in terms of attracting a modern audience and they are very much in keeping with the overall style of MgT2. I’m very fond of the colour hex maps on offer – usually Jump 3 centred on a world of interest; I’m not so fond of the ‘blocky’ (but otherwise attractive) world map (Ruie) which colours hexes as discrete blocs. I love a good coastline! However, Vland in #1 is particularly good – although split across two pages if that’s an issue for you (as are the otherwise cracking plans for Siduri Station in #4). Other changes can be seen particularly in the adventures. There are 11 across all six of the issues and all of them come from the original JTAS. Generally they’re both revised for rule content and much expanded which, given the brevity of some of the originals, is very welcome for harried Referees. The additions are often along the lines of local area maps/plans or vehicles which will help with running a game and these are nicely presented. Two adventures, “Critical Vector” and “Pride of the Lion”, are now set in Charted Space (Deneb sector and Trojan Reach respectively) rather than the unlocated worlds of the original.

As a bibliographer, one thing I find disappointing is that there are no proper credits for the authorship of the material. The authors of reprinted articles can be tracked down by referring to the original JTAS but each of these six issues simply lists authors in a group on the credits page. There’s no means of determining who wrote what. Indeed, as an author I find this disappointing as well. I can see why it might be difficult to determine the exact percentage of author attribution in articles that have been modified or heavily modified but it still seems an oversight not to give proper credit where it’s due and it seems even odder for the new material.

One really minor note for collectors, the Collopha (herbivore/intermittent) of #4 only appears in very early PDF releases. In later PDFs and in the print versions it has been replaced by the 10 Hit point Eaueal (carnivore/pouncer). My guess is that there were concerns about a 100,000 ton, 15 Hit land animal.

In summary, this is a very desirable collection which will enhance any Traveller shelf. For those using Mongoose it’s not quite a ‘must buy’ but there’s a lot of great material here that will either extend the rules for you or offer lots of adventure opportunity and background material. For Traveller fans using other rule systems there’s probably enough here that’s new and/or generic to make them worth buying particularly for those who haven’t bought, or been able to buy, the GDW JTAS and like printed material in their collection. If you need further details on the contents, don’t forget to check out Minibib 1 mentioned above! I’d recommend the boxed set whether it’s for nostalgia value brought up to date, or for the new material, or for the inspiration that all six issues will offer either way. I’m hoping there may yet be a second set of six in the future.