Mongoose Traveller Supplement 8: Cybernetics
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the February 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller.
Traveller Supplement 8: Cybernetics. Lawrence Whitaker.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Cybernetics is one of those funny things in Traveller: it has them but nobody really wants to talk about them. In fact, some editions of the rules purposely shy away from them. Many Traveller games that I have run had high powered enforcer-types with glittering metallic extrusions or had games where the objective was to hack into computers in order to get the security plans that players were charged by the patron to get a hold of (only to find out an old fashioned B&E was compulsory/complemented to complete the job). The one set of rules that defined the chrome and set the mood of the 1980s was Cyberpunk 2020 and this volume is very much a homage to that work, save that it focuses more upon cyber than having a punk in its attitude, thus bringing it more in line with traditional Traveller.
First off, the rules present a clear and easy method of incorporating cyber careers into the game system. Like all Mongoose Traveller careers, they are meant as add-ons for character development, thus one could have one term in a cyber career and multiple terms outside of one. This was not clearly stated, but became clear after reading the entire section. Fortunately or unfortunately, the section was not illustrated in the manner of previous books/rulebook. The artwork done for the careers sections of different books has been a real mixed bag – brilliant in Alien Module 3: Darrians, but abysmal in the main rulebook (for example). Cyberpunk 2020 had a definite style—one grounded in the punk ęsthetic of the 1980s/1990s in which chrome becomes an extension of “cheesecake” art. Any Traveller book/supplement aping it would be in danger of not fitting in with rest of the Traveller ęsthetic. The rules for character generation are seamless and mesh very with the previous rules offered. One complaint: the career entitled “Army” really ought to be named “Military”, in line with other parts of Traveller, as Army was one too many nods to a certain astronaut who cost the US establishment several MCr.
Next, there comes a chapter entitled: “Before the Chrome” – guidelines to make your characters into cyborgs. I liked it. While it does not under power cybernetic implants, it does a great job in bringing balance to their usage (again, in line with a Traveller game). It does describe some of the drawbacks of having bionics, without going into the cliché of man-machine rejection syndrome that has gotten tiresome in some Science Fiction stories and styles (yes, I am looking at you, Anime). There is even a section on biotechnology and the possible uses of biotech enhancements that had not occurred to me. The discussion on alien cybernetics was scant but did provide good guidance for referees. Here was an opportunity to touch upon cybernetics in the Official/Original Traveller Universe (OTU), but sadly, no real discussion transpired. So, we might never learn that the Vilani are gung-ho about cybernetic implants and the Solomani would not augment themselves with a 10 foot pole. Or vice-versa.
Next up come a series of chapters on augmentations – essentially an equipment list of possible cybernetic add-ons. These are separated into “Body Augmentations” and “Head Augmentations”. The art in these sections is phenomenal. Although I might not see the need to replace one’s torso with that of a K’kree mechanical construct, my Traveller universe will be richer now that it’s an option. They have a nice chapter on chips and plug-ins to augment the mind. This chapter I found one of the weakest and am not sure how it can be improved. Perhaps it is simply still too much in the 1980s (Cyberpunk) ęsthetic than the more contemporary (read: Transhumanist) SF ęsthetic.
The next chapter discusses weapons, which I found to be more on the punkish side of the equation and a marked difference from the other chapters. I was never a fan of comic book superheroes that had these “powers”, so I never really saw the need to incorporate them into my Traveller game. While the rules are solid, it is perhaps just not my cup of tea.
What discussion of cybernetics could not be complete without a discussion of cyberspace or hacking? This is where one leaves the constraints of the body and allows the mind to meld with that of the machine. The rules cover “low brow” hacking exercises and “high scale” heists that may involve entering a Matrix-type virtual world. It does use the language of cyberpunk quite liberally here, possibly to keep the language familiar and in line with the expectations of the reader; however, in a Traveller supplement, I thought it might be more fun to create a new vocabulary. The book concludes with a discussion of patrons or potential employers/jobs. The jobs are generic and can be fitted into almost any Traveller universe.
Now, I understand that Mongoose did not and does not want to be constrained by the OTU in their generic supplements (which this is), but more nods to it would have been appreciated. I found more nods to The Six Million Dollar Man and Cyberpunk 2020 than I found references to the OTU; more focus on incorporating cybernetics into properties that have been developed under the Mongoose Traveller umbrella would have certainly been appreciated. The art as noted above is fantastic but meagre – it would be nice to see more art, but it would likely have clashed with the cyberpunk ęsthetic that this book wanted to avoid. We need to see more art like this in Traveller. So, if your game can use cybernetic augmentation without destroying its persona, buy this book. If your game already incorporates Transhumanist ideas then you might find this book slim pickings and not enough for your needs.
This supplement brings some the notions of cyberpunk into the Traveller game by focusing upon the cyber and trimming away much of the punk attitude. It is a worthy supplement that allows one to play in the worlds bequeathed by The Six Million Dollar Man and/or The Matrix without ever leaving the conventions (Hard Space Opera) that underpin Traveller.