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Referee’s Aid 7: Type R Subsidized Merchant

This article originally appeared in the July 2015 issue.

Referee’s Aid 7: Type R Subsidized Merchant. Martin J. Dougherty.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
15pp, PDF
US$2.99/UKú1.91

Mongoose’s latest series of eBooks for their Traveller line has finally advanced to the venerable Type R Merchant, lovingly nicknamed the ‘Fat Trader’. The booklet follows the same pattern as its’ predecessors in the semi-detailed ship series—the first part of the book provides some background/source material, followed by a section holding operational information, with the final section being about the ship itself and some sample ship background material.

There are some additional items that Mongoose has stayed true to for their ship booklet series—the low price of $2.99 for the supplement, the lifting of nearly all illustrations from the core rule book, and the same semi-res (not sure if it’s low, and it’s definitely not high) 3D deck plan layout.

A few new concepts/background material on freight handling are introduced in this supplement. First, there is talk of ‘specialist loading cradles’ for ships that can auto-unload a ship: “many ships can be turned around in little more time than they take to get in and out of the cradle.” There’s additional mention of an overhead crane/gantry system to move cargo containers around inside the ship, “handlerbots” (prevalent at class C ports), and then having to use the slower internal crane at D and E ports. An assumption is that a “handlerbot” is a grav-capable piece of equipment, and it’s already stated that it’s a fully-automated piece of equipment. There is mention of cargo tie-downs for containers (1-, 5-, 10-, 20-, 50-, and 100-ton sized) and other cargo. Similar to the ‘mule’ from the TV series Firefly is mention of a small cargo mover that some ships purchase (Cr75,000) that also has the ability to move the container. The description listed later on indicates that this cargo vehicle is also called a handlerbot. It would have been nice to see more clarity in the discussion of the handlerbot as it relates to moving cargo and its uses. There’s nearly half a page background on containers in the book talking about various features and functionality. It’s not super-detailed, but it’s all interesting.

One page is dedicated to the concept of speculative trade, obviously an appropriate topic since we are talking about a trader-class ship here. The information is presented in paragraph-length sections, jumping from topic to topic, with no concept going much more than a paragraph. Most of it is pretty well known or discussed elsewhere (buy low, sell high, speculative trade, selling illegal goods, etc.).

After the section on trade there’s about two and a half pages going into more detail about the workings of the ship and the cargo holds, operational information nuggets, variations on the normal configuration (such as tankers) and a couple of paragraphs on converting the cargo hold to carry more passengers or for specialized missions (for example, turning the ship into a makeshift laboratory vessel for science missions). It’s stated that some ships travel with holds depressurized to reduce the load on the ship’s environment systems. The problem with this item is that, in theory at least, there should be little to no load on the systems if nobody is going in/out of the bay. It does make more sense to keep them depressurized for security—except that means the containers and such are travelling in a vacuum (and unheated one at that) and we have absolutely no data on how well the containers can handle that environment for long periods.

For those that have followed the Type-R trader over the years, you’ll appreciate this little nugget—the location of the mysterious third hardpoint has been finally revealed! According to the explanation given, the two hardpoints (port and starboard) can take energy-based weapons but not any sort of weapon that requires ammunition, as the standard designs have no provision for magazines. The only problem with this explanation is that the third hardpoint is located exactly where the launch is carried. Which begs the question: if that is the case, is there really a hardpoint there? This is the first example I have heard of where an empty hardpoint is also used as an airlock/external craft docking clamp. There’s nothing in the rules to preclude doing this, but it’s the first time I’ve heard of it.

There’s also some interesting verbiage regarding ammunition as a whole. Classic Traveller missed the boat when it came to talking about the actual workings of the missile launcher. Just how many missiles at ready did a turret carry? Was it just one in the pipe? Or could you also store additional ones below in the hardpoint tonnage? This question has vexed many a player and also has generated a lot of commentary over the various versions, including Mongoose’s. Dougherty states clearly that reloading is rather rare for most ships; a typical missile launcher carried one in launch position and two more ready to be auto loaded, which is plenty. So the answer to the perennial question, how many missiles are carried on-mount, is canonically answered: three. The only other question raised here is the “two more ready to be auto loaded”. Which, in my mind at least, means they aren’t set up in a feed system. Of course, one could argue that since there is no adjacent magazine then of course they’d have to be manually loaded (from the two at ready in the hardpoint). I guess it would get rather crowded in there with a triple missile launcher in the turret and six missiles awaiting loading. Based on what I’ve read over the years trying to explain the gaps in the missile systems, I suspect that Dougherty decided what he thought worked well and went with that. It’s certainly not unheard of by authors, and in his defense, missile technology explanations don’t belong in a booklet that focuses on a 400-ton trader. But at some point Mongoose is going to have to go through and straighten out all of their canonical explanations so they all fit together properly—or at least that’s hoped for.

There’s a short section on having players using the Type-R as their preferred means of campaign transport, but it’s only about 1/3rd of a page in length and it’s really not that useful of information to most players (too much success hauling cargo can ruin the referee’s continual attempt to reduce the amount of credits they have earned). There’s talk of giving them a ‘very old’ ship that requires more maintenance work (and costs)—except the rules really don’t differentiate new from old as far as your maintenance costs go.

The last three sections are about operational costs, the 3D deck plan layout and explanation of the various ships environments, and three sample ship descriptions. It’s nice that some of the numbers have been broken out for you and how much it costs for x, while you can expect to make y in return. Though some of the included numbers aren’t very useful (we all know that refined fuel costs Cr500 and unrefined fuel is Cr100 at a starport). In the description of the low berths it’s mentioned that the technology is pretty standard and freezing/revival is done by whoever has some medical training. And basically if you have complications or die, well, you shouldn’t have been cheap and travelled in a low berth.

I’ve complained before about the quality of the graphics and I plan on complaining again. The graphics are simply of terrible quality. While the 3D version is useful, zooming in using a PDF reader just blurs things too much. The included artwork is recycled low-res imagery from the core rulebook, and crammed onto the same page as the 3D deck plan is the one from the book. Though on this one “section 9. Engenering” is a typo that made it through editing.

With the other systems, like the cargo deck, getting additional information and detail, why didn’t the escape capsules get something similar? They are woefully ill explained and many ship designs don’t even include them. In the very first paragraph we get ‘The ship has one 20-ton launch and a full set of escape pods.’ And then… nothing. The design actually puts a pair of escape pods on the lower deck near engineering and escape pods in both port/starboard areas. They even have dedicated escape pods in the crew-only section! Kind of what you’d expect from emergency equipment, but one would also (hopefully) expect more descriptions and/or discussions on their operation.

Overall I think that Mongoose is heading in the right direction with these supplements, but they consistently seem to miss the mark on some of the little things. While they are pretty inexpensive at $2.99 ea. (for the ships at least), trying to cram all four deck plan illustrations on a single page makes no sense because there isn’t a restriction on length. These are being published as eBooks, and thus adding in half a dozen more pages to allow for more detailed explanations or even spreading the artwork out so that each image has its own page should add zero cost to the product. And even if there were some sort of restriction one could easily drop the two pages of filler illustrations that really do nothing for the book as a whole.

For the price, it’s definitely worth adding to your collection. With just a little more effort and thought they could easily put out a much better product at the same price point or slightly higher. Time and again I have said that most gamers are willing to spend money for better production quality, better art, better everything. I am assuming the next ship supplement we will see is going to be the subsidized liner. I have high expectations, but sadly not much hope that they will pay attention to the feedback that consumers are giving them to better their products.