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Cowboys vs. Xenomorphs

This review originally appeared on rpg.net in March 2015 and is reprinted here and in the September 2015 issue with permission.

Cowboys vs. Xenomorphs. Matthew Sprange, Gareth Hanrahan.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
49pp. Softcover or PDF

Every so often there comes a book that really changes the way that you look at things. While Traveller has often been compared to Firefly or ‘Shotguns in Space’, it never quite had the same feel of a Space Western that e.g., Star Trek did. It had more of an investigation and good people called to do sometimes bad things mood. But, what it kept coming back to was a sort of Western (genre) sensibility where players do form posses and go after bad guys. Which is as much a product of the Western, as it is of the experience of many servicemen/women returning from the theatre of war – whether it was Vietnam or some of the more recent wars.

This adventure/supplement does take a step back in time, and gives a set of rules and ambience to recreate the “Old West”. As the name implies, the antagonists are aliens. The writing and the mood this supplement/adventure creates is far superior to that of a certain Harrison Ford movie on the same theme, as it nicely blends in elements of the Weird West along with classic motifs of isolation and alienation. That means that this adventure/supplement can be ported into any setting but stripping the players down where Colt Rifles replace Fusion guns, horses for speeders.

So, in a mere 48 pages, there are extraordinarily simple rules to transform your Traveller Space Opera milieu into an Old West setting, there is an adventure with a number of xenomorphs of varying difficulties liberally lifted from different tropes each with their own set of motivations, and there are interesting and well-fleshed-out NPCs – including, surprisingly, prostitutes. I had thought the OGL explicitly stated that Traveller would avoid the racier and salacious aspects of ’70s Science Fiction and keep it within the Golden Age. But they have existed in every Traveller adventure that I have run and been a part on, and their inclusion here is done intelligently and with dignity and with respect to any female players. So, kudos to finally seeing a more mature approach to an aspect of role-playing that has always been present.

There are rules that are missing (presumably, because the Old West is going to get a Traveller setting unto itself), such as chase scenes with horses; however, any good Gamemaster can improvise upon the missing rules in the meantime. There is also a definite feel of one-shot here – it would have been nice if, by way of a conclusion, the Gamemaster had been given a small piece of purple prose that could be used to kickstart a campaign. That said, there is plenty of Deadlands, Boot Hill, or Aces and Eights adventures kicking around that can be adapted.

I was deeply impressed by the quality of the writing in this adventure/supplement. It perfectly evokes a mood through its description and atmosphere for a genre that I am not particularly keen on. Thus, it is a credit to the writer that it actually makes me want to try this scenario based upon the images he has implanted in my head. The artwork is extraordinary and I could wish that this was the new standard for Mongoose. However, as we have seen too often, with Mongoose and other publishers, art is something that outside the cover gets very short shrift. Which I think does partially explain the popularity of D&D – yes, the rules might leave something to be desired, but the pictures still compel me to add this to my collection. As it seems to be a lost art (pardon the pun), that art is getting less and less, thrift which is ironic for this day and age – we are far more visually oriented than we have been in any other times outside of the Renaissance. Thus, I think, it incumbent upon RPG publishers to attempt to make a book beautiful as well as practical if our hobby is going to be passed down to the next generation. Hasbro gets this. Pelegrane Press gets this. Chaosium has lately gotten this. Why not Traveller/Mongoose? For Traveller rode in the fiery chariot of the Keith brothers who combined artistic sensibility with great rules.

Overall, it takes a fair bit to surprise me – this supplement/adventure did and in a very positive way. Aside from the above, nitpicks, my major criticism is that it is too short—but reading the ‘State of the Mongoose’, a full setting book seems to be in the works. I only hope they can maintain the quality of the writing and imagination stay consistent.