This article originally appeared in Issue #003 of the downloadable PDF magazine.
Traveller—The Third Imperium: Alien Module 2: Vargr. Simon Beal
Mongoose Publishing: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Alien Module 2: Vargr is Mongoose's second foray into presenting us the Major Races of the Traveller Universe.
Alien Module 2: Vargr continues Mongoose's revival of the Classic Traveller Alien Modules of several years ago. Again in hardcover, Vargr presents some subtle differences between it and the previously released Alien Module 1: Aslan offering. Vargr still supports “The Third Imperium” chrome header, I think, to enable an easy differentiation between Mongoose's Official Traveller Universe offerings from the other licenses they have using the Traveller Core ruleset. They moved the title of the book to just below the chrome “The Third Imperium” banner at the top of the book for Vargr. Additionally, the painting of the subject matter that wrapped around both front & back covers of Aslan appears only on the front cover of Vargr. Both these changes I could conceivably put to increased clarity of the text. However, Mongoose's logo at the back bottom of the book has been considerably simplified. None of these things are germane to the inside content, of course, but it does seem to me that Mongoose is having a smidge of difficulty coming up with a workable “brand” and graphical presentation to stick with.
One of the things that I've liked about Mongoose's treatment of Traveller is the way it strongly evokes the Classic Traveller feelings and yet manages to seem to break new ground. This was the impression I had from Aslan as well. I took the opportunity in this regard to actually compare what Mongoose did with their treatment and what GDW did with their Alien Module twenty-five years ago. The differences – dare I say improvements – show up in several small ways.
Following a very similar format, Vargr starts out detailing character generation. Immediately we encounter one of the additions Mongoose has made to the race, giving us several subspecies of Vargr. The Vargr have been known for decades as a race that couldn't quite seem to keep itself together. The Extents are, at best, a loose confederation. Now Mongoose has extended that metaphor into the very race itself – the Vargr are no longer a monolithic race. The book details new career paths for the Vargr as well, including Scientists, Marines, and Law Enforcement. Psions are also specifically mentioned, giving the first specific, official mention of psionics for the race. Each career has specific specializations and continues Mongoose's format of rounding out character creation with events, and mishaps, as well as the normally garnered skills and training.
The race section, as you might expect, gives details and a bit of history behind the new subspecies and also elevates the importance of the effect of Charisma (and that particular score) and how it works within the Vargr pack society. Specific mechanics are suggested putting a Vargr's charisma, and its effect on the character, on equal terms to that of an Aslan's honor.
You'll find the history, equipment, and starships sections equally detailed. The Gvurrdon Sector section gives a reasonable account detailing what is arguably the most diverse area in Chartered Space, giving this region an historical perspective, a history, and going though most of its numerous major players.
While I think the writing of Vargr compares well to that of the previous Aslan, the layout of this particular book seemed a bit slapdash and rushed. Especially toward the beginning I thought there could be a more logical placement of the tables and some of the graphics. On the first page of the character creation section, for example, you encounter a table of Vargr subspecies almost 30 pages before you are informed Vargr have subspecies. On page 41 there is an unlabeled map of the Extents on the page before the discussion of the Extents begin.
As of this writing Mongoose has not released any errata for Vargr as yet.
Despite some simplification of graphics, a couple of layout problems, and a smaller page count when compared to Aslan, the level of detail given in Vargr make it a worthy addition to the Alien Modules series and the rules themselves. With the release of this volume Mongoose has tacked what are arguably the “easier” aliens. While Traveller has a reputation of its aliens not being simply “humans in rubber suits,” the Aslan and the Vargr are the most human of the aliens in Chartered Space. A bar has been set. It both frightens and encourages me that looking at Mongoose's future release schedule no more Alien Modules are mentioned. We can hope and assume that the rest of our beloved aliens will be detailed and perhaps hope and assume that Mongoose is taking the time to make sure those modules are as good as the bar they have now set.
In the meantime, with the release of Alien Module 2: Vargr we now have cats and dogs living together. Can chaos in the space lanes be far behind?