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Mongoose Traveller Supplement 9: Campaign Guide

This review originally appeared on RPG.net in May of 2012, and is reprinted here and in the April 2014 issue with permission.

Mongoose Traveller Supplement 9: Campaign Guide. Uri Kurlianchik.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
176pp. hardcover
US$34.99/UKú24.99

Now, I do understand every so often in the life a gaming line, there comes a lemon; what makes this worse is that this book was widely anticipated and built-up and when it falls very far from meeting expectations it is particularly hard to stomach. Traveller adventures can take many forms – as all sorts of environments can challenge – from submarine skirmishes in the undersea depths, to using airships convoys over dangerous and icy mountains, to searching in the hellish atmosphere of a Gas Giant to find a lost ship, to trekking across the volcanic plains of an acidic and scorching planet with a runaway greenhouse effect. Or maybe, it will be combat between two starships, or laying siege to an entire world with a fleet of ships that players take command of the flagship, or rallying a Mercenary company to hold onto the world’s Starport against the invading armies. That said, there are certain conventions that are laid down as to what Traveller is and what it is not. It is Hard Space Opera grounded in Real World Science with handwavium kept to the minimum; before Firefly, it was said to be “Shotguns in Space” where ordinary people not seeking to be hero(ine)s scale the challenges in an uncaring universe. And, maybe fame and fortune will always elude them but Trade and Profit though picking up an odd job along the way will keep the adventures flowing and themselves in the black. Some Referees will emphasize the Opera, other the Hardness but one thing is common – they try not to break too far away from what has been seen in previous supplements, adventures, campaigns, etc.

The Campaign Guide gives this notion, its best shot by creating a book of tables that could conceivable carry any Traveller adventure into a full length campaign (that is beyond 3-4 one-shots strung together). It sounds like a good start but the author clearly had no idea about how the Original Traveller Universe was constructed or laid out, thus committing the error replicating the worse of Mongoose products (and there have been some lemons or at least grapefruits). The problem with the Campaign Guide is that names, concepts are all dropped in at the drop of a hat, without any reference to history of Traveller that went before it. Ok, for example there was one table where major races are given a shallow description that could have been the description of a breakfast cereal rather than intelligent species controlling vast regions of the galaxy. The mistakes jump out – page after page, example after example. Granted that this is meant to be used as a generic product – it is after all a Supplement – but in that case, do not make references to the Official Traveller Universe. The Generators invariable spew out adventures that are more suited to “B” movies rather than any form of Traveller – including Zombies, even the author makes a point of joking about it. Furthermore, the indexing does not always line up, in which one table says turn to page x and then page x does not have the encounter table that is thought to be described. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. There are diamonds amidst the rough and rubble but whether they are diamonds or simply quartz, the slap-dash nature of the book makes it hard to determine. And, what’s more the seeds or suggestions are really nothing that a particularly creative Referee would have already come up with independently. So what is going on? Was it this book was farmed out to different authors… and is this a collective work 9,990 monkeys just 10 monkeys short of Hamlet? No, it is the case of 9,990 monkeys just hammering on the keyboard creating chaos. This product needs to be recalled as it tarnishes the entire Traveller line and has to be completely rewritten by someone who actually understands Traveller. How this got by the quality control circle that supposedly checks manuscripts… I don’t know, but it would seem that whoever cleared it is playing a vastly different game of Traveller than I have been playing since 1985… MTU, which has been heretical and has included a planet that was one big Amusement Park and other adventures that can engage frivolous side of the game. So, I think that I am pretty generous by saying, “don’t sully the brand with crap like this.” I’m sorry, Mongoose, but this one is distinctly sour. Please, hire someone from BITS or Gypsy Knight Games if you want something written for the Official Traveller Universe or even as a generic Traveller supplement but maintain the Traveller vibe for a Campaign Guide.

Many a time, I have said that Mongoose Traveller is not your Granddaddy’s Traveller game, by that I meant that Mongoose was updating concepts and getting rid of some of the sacred cows that dominated Traveller by modernizing key areas of the Traveller experience. For the most part, it has been a compromise with the past, as there is no Traveller writer’s bible and if this book is to be judged it is left to the original author to research on their own particular aspects of Traveller. At least GURPS Traveller when soliciting manuscripts provided cues of where a writer must look. I strongly wished that Mongoose had given Uri Kurlianchik similar advice for his book on Robots was written equally without reference to Traveller tropes instead using the ABC Warriors, as its model. I have no problem with exploring beyond the Official Traveller Universe but these products are beyond the internal logic of the game that they produced and also the assumptions when one hears Traveller. If they had wanted making a generic Science Fiction game – then they should have not gone for the Traveller license. That said there are a few products that break the mould and still remain remarkably consistent with a Hard Space Opera. And, if the small presses are doing it better – soon the flagship line will be abandoned, in favour of the small presses when both should be existing in symbiotic relationship.

However, if there is said to be something positive about this product is that interspersed throughout there are fabulous illustrations that capture the dirty, gritty Traveller vibe perfectly—I just wish it could have been the text. Similarly, the binding is strong but it will be sitting on my shelf with me occasionally wiping down the dust to get a concept from outside the box or more likely will just wilt there like some other lemons that are there.

This product is stinker and sinker, undoubtedly some might find some gems that are really diamonds, as did I when I read through the third time. But, they are too interspersed to call it campaign guide – rather it serves as a generator no different than any of the other d66 that have been produced before. I cannot recommend this product to neither seasoned Traveller players nor newbies alike.