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Three Supplements from Mongoose Traveller, 1st Edition

This article originally appeared on rpg.net in March 2015, and was reprinted in the May/June 2018 issue.

Supplement 13: Starport Encounters. Andy and Sarah Lilly.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
113pp., PDF
US$14.99/UKú10.61

Supplement 15: Powers and Principalities. Andy Lilly et al.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
160pp., PDF
US$17.99/UKú12.73

Supplement 16: Adventure Seeds. Andy Lilly et al.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
113pp., PDF
US$14.99/UKú10.61

I must say that I have very mixed feelings about the latest supplements from Mongoose. On one hand, they are truly excellent because they represent a binding together to many of the BITS (British Isles Traveller Support) ‘Little White Books’ into nice reference volumes. On the other hand, having sunk money into those 101… books and found them delightful and invaluable in idea generation – but I’m kind of disappointed that Mongoose did not go for a larger enterprise such as giving more artwork and more weight to these books. For the Little White Books were a scarce item in the dark ages between the misadventure called T4 and rise of GURPS Traveller – they kept the flame alive and renewed with a distinctive British sensibility – as opposed to “Yanks in Space” of the Imperium Games and GDW editions of the game, thus paving the way for a more international feel that the game has inherited especially through its 2300AD line.

Maybe, because Traveller is so generic and so old nobody really wants to write for the Third Imperium setting outside the “Alien” modules, as they are immediately attacked by the ‘canon police’. Thus, it behooves Mongoose to actually commission Marc W. Miller or one of the other founders of Traveller to finally settle the dust, and say what this Imperial Campaign is and what it is not. Critics allege that this would take away from the sandbox opportunities in play; I would disagree: both the Rebellion Sourcebook (MegaTraveller) and Milieu 0 (T4) which did this for other time periods than the default “present” of the game merely gave a vast canvas on players could paint in their own actions. With over 11,000 worlds, the Imperium is vast enough to contain numerous tropes, exceptions and vagrancies that will allow for sandbox play, just as it did in Classic Traveller when the game established those principles that the ‘canon police’ hold so dear.

And, that is where we come back to the supplements. I can think of no better authority than BITS to commission to write such a bible, overseen perhaps by a review committee that can check against the vast abundance of documents that are canon, quasi-canon, and outright heresy. They have shown consistent and fervent dedication to Traveller, as I said earlier, in the game’s darkest hours. These supplements merely reinforce their authority to write such a volume.

One of the major drawbacks of cutting-and-pasting is that all sorts of errors do creep in. The main one being that all previous editions to Mongoose Traveller used the Universal Personality Profile, where you could find your stats in a snap. For whatever reason, Mongoose Traveller, opted against using it – it still has the same format – did not employ this neat heuristic – yet these books employ it – leaving the newbie-to-Mongoose-Traveller confused, as I was before I obtained a set of the rules. It is also dumps said newbie into the full glory of the Imperial Campaign – whilst I do understand that Mongoose is going to be coming out later this year with a Third Imperium Writers’ Bible, again, the newbie is left with all these great adventure seeds that have long sprouted into a forest. And, without adequate bread crumbs, it is easy to become lost in the forest.

These nitpicks aside, it is excellent to see that the BITS works getting the larger recognition they have long deserved and to see Traveller slowly being put on a different footing that is neither D&D-based, doing “Yanks in Space”, nor simply rehashing CT’s former glory by tweaking things. I would caution many newbies that it does conform to the Traveller and OSR tradition of Tables & Charts – something that Mongoose should be trying to get away from and create truly new Traveller content. But, the mood that these short trips create is extraordinary. For they take a number and build a story around it. In this era where narrative is seen to clash with fly-by-the-seat of one’s pants this formulation seems a bit of out sync with the times. However, I have noticed many ‘indie’ games adopting a similar formula – so perhaps what is old can be new again, something borrowed might not be blue – but something that is true. I personally prefer more narrativist and well-illustrated supplements rather than endless charts, but as a Gamemaster, I do also appreciate tools in which I can generate a scenario in the course of a day or two. And, as these are essentially BITS products, when it comes to Traveller – as the song goes: “Nobody does it better”. Well, there may be some who do it better, but certainly BITS counts as one of the best carriers of the flame during the dark ages between TNE/T4 and what the OGL of Mongoose Traveller has spawned.

This book is essentially a reprint of different ‘Little White Books’, minus some of the extraordinary cover art but with some nice filler art. If you liked the 101… Series but found that you were always losing the LWB, then this represents an excellent investment for an experienced Traveller player. If, however, you are a newbie, these will become more relevant after the Third Imperium Campaign book is released. For these are adventure seeds that have already spouted a forest, although they can be used with a non-Imperial Campaign, so long as it shares the same ‘Space Opera grandeur’ vision.