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Mongoose Traveller: The Third Imperium - Spinward Encounters

This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in September of 2011, and is reprinted here and in the April 2014 issue with permission.

Mongoose Traveller: The Third Imperium - Spinward Encounters. Various authors.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
150pp. softcover
US$39.99/UKú29.99

This is a collection of adventures that are both done up as 63 Patron Encounters (done in the fashion of 760 Patrons) and 16 Amber Zones. For those not in the know, a Patron Encounter has a one to three paragraph setup for the potential job/employer and then a 1D6 for the resolution. Whereas, Amber Zones are bit more involved that have longer setups and more detailed interactions with multiple NPCs for things to get resolved. They usually have an elaborate setup.

But, the best thing about the book is that they are firmly grounded in the Third Imperium – The Original Traveller Universe written by some of the best writers of that campaign setting – the guys from ComStar/Avenger (sans MJD) collective. These adventure hooks make the Third Imperium come alive much as it did in the heyday of Traveller, sans the “Morally Superior Adventurers Love The World” scenarios instead offering a chance for blowing things up real good (“roll dice, blow stuff up”). That is not to say that there are not premises that are more cerebral than others. But, the emphasis is certainly upon action and violence. And, make no mistake these are guys who love the Third Imperium, as a setting but play with its limitations but also expands its scope. Showing that the Third Imperium is a Campaign Setting far from being stagnant or tired but one that is alive and filled with possibilities and potential for adventure of different sorts. For each encounter is keyed to a specific world in the Spinward Marches.

In this way, it does harken back to the early sandbox play of Classic Traveller. Because of the minimalist design, Referees must either make their own maps and/or NPC descriptions or just fly-by-the-seat of their pants, for in most cases nothing beyond the setup is offered. And, the potential adventure outcomes are quite varied allowing the Referee to use the same setup multiple times with the same gaming group. Disappointing somewhat is that many resolution cite the same solution multiple times…but that is just how the die rolls sometimes and better this than completely off-base ideas.

The Amber Zones are the easiest to run as is. However, it would take a skilled referee to sort of run with them, as with the Patron Encounters – these adventures are not written for newbies in mind. For a new Referee would wonder where are all the maps and NPC write-ups – these adventures are like those ideas that you scroll on the back the napkin after the pizza guy has left and end up the best adventure ever. So, be forewarned that this is a book of adventure ideas – and it is still up to the individual Referee to find the way to make them work.

Behind the gorgeous absolutely cover lie numerous drawings of Bryan Gibson. An artist who is no stranger to Traveller but often generates some controversy for his anime-like style (cool ships, BESM-style people) with some notable exceptions (and those are uber cool). The art has been seen in previous Traveller works but it still remains fresh and appropriate here (although not always appropriately placed). The gritty and mean speak to me what Traveller is all about. The lyrical and amusing are another aspect that I would rather in someone else’s Traveller universe but still more Traveller/OTU than even of the offerings of Mongoose of late. However, as good as Bryan’s work is…it is not gritty enough and lacks a consistent vibe in this book (say unlike the T20 Core rules). But, hey, art is subjective and I understand that Bryan’s work defines many a Traveller Universe just not mine. Mine will continue to be defined the likes of Blair Reynolds and the Keiths from Bad/Good Old Days and contemporary artists like David Seeley and the montage of gritty photo realism that many artists are able to do (without the help of Poser – don’t get me to start talking about Poser). Nonetheless, as I said, Bryan’s art in this volume is very good and lends well to the feeling of the Third Imperium that the authors are trying to convey. I just wish there was more eye candy.

The authors have done a phenomenal job cleaning up the presentation and editing of the work. It is substantially improved from their last offerings – Crowded Hours and Project Steel. The book builds substantially upon Mongoose’s Spinward Marches book and makes that book become even more important. I can only hope that these authors are planning something more for the other Sectors and Subsectors that Mongoose has commissioned. However, I realize that the familiar stomping grounds of the Marches may not be everyone’s cup of tea (as it is only marginally mine) – a Referee need only change the name of the world and find one that matches the profile and do tweaks (such as substituting the Zhodani for the Solomani and presto – this could easily take place in the Solomani Rim). On the other hand, why would you want to do this? The Marches are a rich sandbox of adventure as this volume amply shows.

There are very drawbacks to this product just a few entries, I found odd in that it allowed the Referee to choose the world. Ok, that is very sandbox (good thing) but if you don’t have a copy of Spinward Marches on hand (bad thing). On the whole these adventures offer excellent campaign filler – the cement that binds the campaign together kind of like The Force save no Midi-chlorians would ever be allowed… Referees accustomed to spoon feeding will not be happy here. Another, drawback which is the nature of the product – one just craves more, so be prepared to roll up your sleeves and work. So, it is hoped that this collective gets the go ahead to highlight more parts of the Imperium in the same way or even better be responsible for writing a full-fledged Adventure or Campaign or three… This collective really has a pulse of the Third Imperium firmly in their sights.