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Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition Element Cruisers Boxed Set

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2019 issue.

Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition Element Cruisers Boxed Set. Matthew Sprange et al.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Boxed set, 3 softcover books plus
Price TBD (see note)

Note: The author received this as part of the deliverables from the product Kickstarter. It is unknown at the present time how this material will be offered to the public or at what price.

A nice heavy (for its size) package showed up one day, and sat waiting for me to open it. When I finally did (I need 72-hour days!), I found the box you see in the picture to the right. So, I opened the box, and found some deckplan sheets and three books.

The Books

The three books in the set are Element Cruisers, the core of this set, describing the focal ship class of the set; Naval Campaign Sourcebook, a set of guidelines for using Naval ships (and player-characters as crew thereof) in a campaign; and Naval Adventure 1: Shakedown Cruise, a mini-campaign designed to be used with the Naval Campaign Sourcebook that puts the rules and guidelines of the latter to good use.

Element Cruisers

While by no means the only important part of the boxed set, this book has to be considered the core. The titular ships and their crews and missions are described, along with operational aspects relevant to play.

Chapter One, “Cruisers of the Imperial Navy”, provides an overview of the role of the cruiser in Imperial naval forces, including summaries of missions and unit organization. While cruisers aren’t ideal for everything, they are quite versatile.

“Cruiser” doesn’t designate a single design; Chapter Two, “Types and Classes”, gives an overview of how various kinds of ships, all designated as “cruisers”, can differ based on intended use. Often, a specialized design will be identified by its specialized mission or distinguishing characteristics, such as Armored Cruisers, Escort Cruisers, Bombardment Cruisers, etc. – the number of design specializations may surprise those who aren’t ‘naval geeks’. An overview of procurement and disposal, as pertains to cruisers, is also included, as are a few paragraphs on how the cruiser is often used as a proof-of-concept testbed.

Chapter Three, “Officers and Crew”, discusses the organization of Imperial Navy crews. The various branches and departments are described, along with their role in ship functions and how they relate to each other. The various career development tracks are touched upon, as is accommodating extremes of humanity (e.g., Geonee), humanesque aliens (e.g., (genetic) Luriani, Vegans, Aslan, and Vargr), and Imperial alien extremes (e.g., Virushi, Llellewyloly) as members of Imperial Navy crews.

The design history of the Element cruisers is outlined in Chapter Four, “The Element Cruiser Family”. Originally, the plan was for a single modular design, but other considerations led to two additional designs, one uprated and one downrated from the original. Each of the three resulting designs has a two-page spread for specifications.

“Modular” doesn’t always mean “reconfigurable on the fly”, like in the Modular Cutter. In the case of the Element cruisers, it means that there are a number of non-detachable “pods”, each of which can be customized at build or refit time for specific missions. Chapter Five, “Pod Configurations”, provides specifications for each of the most common pod configurations. There are enough to illustrate just how versatile the Element design can be.

Chapter Six, “Hull Construction and Layout” isn’t quite a walk-through, but it does give you an orientation tour of the ship. If you have the space to lay out a blueprint sheet, this chapter plus locating each area on the plans will serve well as a familiarization tour of the main ship (excluding the pods). The overview includes specifically-tasked areas, like engineering and the bridge; basically, it’s what any crewmember should know about a ship they’ve been assigned to. This section is nonspecific enough to apply to all three of the main designs in the family; the next three chapters each focus on one of those designs and describes its capabilities, common variations, and crew TO&E.

Chapter Ten, “History” is just that – a history of the Element class in Imperial service. Specific missions in which the class served with distinction are summarized; the ship has been used and proven itself across the Imperium, from the Fourth Frontier War against the Zhodani to antipiracy operations in Ley Sector.

Most Imperial Navy ships have Marine contingents aboard, and the Elements are no exception. Chapter Eleven, “Marine Contingents”, gives an overview of the organization and functions of a ship’s Marine contingent, and illustrates that Marine personnel serving aboard ships are Marines first, but must be versatile, as they can also be called upon to serve in purely ship-bound roles.

If one is not familiar with naval operations, it might be reasonable to think that Imperial Navy crews are all vetted, and that therefore “Internal Security” aboard a Navy starship wouldn’t be all that important. Chapter Twelve, “Crew Dispositions and Internal Security” discusses the role of Internal Security both in ordinary operations and when the ship is at “action stations”, and also discusses when and how shipboard personnel may be armed.

Chapter Twelve, “Hardware and Ordnance” is a catalogue of weapons and other equipment relevant to securing a navy starship. Personal weapons, armor and “space suits”, and robots are included; this section acts as a supplement to the Central Supply Catalogue for items available to the Navy only.

Chapter Thirteen, “High Guard”, is a supplement to the eponymous book, outlining new options for weapons, tactics, and support systems intended for use in constructing fighting ships. Some of these may be of interest to those who want to build mercenary ships as decommissioned naval assets, but for the most part, these should probably not be within the reach of independent player-character groups.

Overall, this book is a good look at cruiser operations and the Navy’s philosophy pertinent thereto, and at the Element family of cruisers in particular (as intended).

Naval Campaign Sourcebook

Traveller has classically and consistently been focused on player-characters having “prior service” or “prior careers” operating independently, rather than being at the present orders of one of the Imperial services. The Naval Campaign Sourcebook offers the referee a way to use active-duty Navy and Marine characters in an adventure or campaign.

It is important to realize that the “standard” motivations don’t apply to Naval campaigns; the player-characters aren’t doing this for the benefits that might accrue (credits or otherwise), they’re doing it because the Navy said “go forth and do…”.

Because of this, the standard ad-hoc character generation process won’t do. Chapter One, “Travellers in a Naval Camaign”, and Chapter Two, “Creating Travellers” present a streamlined process for putting together a party of Navy characters and determining character skills.

Chapter Three, “Running a Naval Campaign”, gives an overview of the kinds of campaigns that Navy missions would allow for, and how the player-characters can be rewarded, and/or “kept hungry”. There are similarities with some “classical” adventures, but there are also significant differences, and a nod is given to the portrayal of similar tropes in SF shows like Star Trek.

Chapter Four, “The Ship and Crew as Characters”, discusses how the ship itself and the crew other than the player-characters can be “characters” in an adventure. Previous versions of Traveller have used “ship quirks” and morale, but Mr Dougherty pulls it all together and ties in crew efficiency, to give us an entire package that can play a role in an adventure even before the player-characters are fully briefed.

Sometimes, you want members of a ship’s crew to be more than ‘spear chuckers’ or ‘redshirts’, but they don’t need to be as fully developed as player-characters, or even “major NPCs”. Chapter Five, “Crewing the Ship”, offers a quick and easy way to define a supporting character, with enough information that the referee can quickly (with a few rolls for relevant additional skills, personality traits, or events) convert the character into a major NPC. The chapter goes on to discuss “recruiting” (sometimes a captain or a prospective crew member can ‘play’ the Admiralty’s system for assigning personnel to ships), rewards and punishment, courts-martial, and medals (with some nice illustrations – a minor surprise was that the Purple Heart (the ‘Wound Badge’ in other versions of Traveller), although it no longer bears George Washington’s profile, still bears the Washington coat of arms where the medal itself depends from the ribbon. Deliberate, or an oversight?).

Chapter Six, “The Campaign”, discusses activities that can affect the adventures, before an adventure starts, after one finishes, or between them. Although these activities are discussed as being outside of missions, they nevertheless do serve as hooks that you can hang an adventure on, or use to keep an adventure from being either too much of a cakewalk or too much of a headache. Or not, depending on how you as a referee want to run the campaign…. The three areas discussed in this chapter are Intelligence, Supplies/Stores, and Repairs, and a clever referee can easily use the material in Chapter Four right alongside this material.

Chapter Seven, “The Mission”, discusses the actual assignment of the ship that will serve as the framework for one or (hopefully) more adventures. The mission has an overall structure with several components, any of which can provide the opportunity for adventure, from a reception at the Admiralty where the ship’s officers will interact with staff officers (and possibly increase the ship’s chances of getting a good – or bad – mission), through briefing (where the intelligence may or may not be accurate), to mission preparation (do you have everything you’ll need in the way of supplies, crew, stores, etc.? Can you get them before you have to get under way?), to launch, to the various tasks that are part of the mission (anything from routine patrol that doesn’t turn out to be routine, to interdiction of hostile shipping, to showing the flag, to…), to return and debrief, lather, rinse, repeat. Each segment or task can succeed or fail, and ‘success’ or ‘failure’ in individual adventures may or may not affect overall segment/task success, or even mission success/failure. There are plenty of options for individual missions, tasks, and segments, and tables to assist in determining events and success. This is a very rich chapter, and worth reading through at least twice (or more; the well-prepared referee has probably gone through this entire volume twice, and this chapter in particular at least three times, before even starting prep to run a naval campaign).

Chapter Eight, “Resolving Combat”, provides rules and tools for resolving ‘abstracted’ combat – for example, if the mission focusses on diplomatic negotiations and the ship’s marine contingent is providing security for the Imperial negotiator, a space battle may be abstracted, so that its progress isn’t entirely off-screen, but its progress can affect the progress of the negotiation without overshadowing it for the adventure. Even some actions that might seem reasonable to game out might be worth abstracting, so that you can get to the critical part of the adventure – you don’t necessarily need to game out a boarding action in detail if the critical part of the adventure is to find where the hostage is being kept and rescue him; you can abstract the boarding action to determine how much resistance or interference there might be while searching and extracting, and get right to the search. Of course, if you want (and have the time), there’s nothing stopping you from using already-published rules to game out such abstractable actions in detail.

Chapter Nine, “Appendix: Alternatives and Options” is exactly what it says – most of this book assumes that you’ll do things as outlined in the rest of the book – but if you find that it doesn’t quite suit your group, or you want to try something a little different, this chapter discusses some of the more likely variations and their ramifications.

Overall, a thorough treatment of the naval campaign. Even though it assumes a ship like the Element cruisers, it’s a definite buy with or without the rest of this set.

Naval Adventure 1: Shakedown Cruise

So, we have a good ship, and we have the tools to build a campaign with. And we even have plans for that ship (see the next section of this review). What else could we possibly want?

How about one of Mr Dougherty’s well-written adventures to tie it all together and show how it’s done?

Naval Adventure 1: Shakedown Cruise isn’t quite an “adventure”, even though it calls itself that. Rather, it’s more what should be called a “mini-campaign” with multiple opportunities for adventures. To quote the first paragraph under “How To Use This Book”:

This book presents the framework of a naval mission, with guidance on how to use the rules presented in the Naval Campaign Guide. It differs from a conventional Traveller adventure in that the mission can spawn a multitude of adventures, some of which could be quite lengthy. Most will, however, be quite short.

The rest of the Introduction is a referee’s overview of the structure of the mission, with some of the highlights. It is definitely not a section that can or should be skipped, as introductions so often are.

Chapter One, “INS Sharshana”, introduces the Element cruiser at the center of this adventure, covering a bit of its history and the politics involved in its most recent refit (that led to this shakedown cruise) and assignment. Specifications are provided, as are a list and explanation of the quirks and traits that the ship has picked up in its history; there is a reminder that the ship can be a character in this adventure (as described in the Naval Campaign Guide).

The astrographic and astropolitical “landscape” is set out in Chapter Two, “Referee’s Information”, along with some basic guidance for the referee. It is likely that some of the information here will need to be presented to the player-characters, as part of the mission briefing, in spite of the chapter title.

Chapter Three, “Shakedown”, presents the mission. The introductory paragraph calls out the fact that this adventure may not be linear, even though the information about it is so presented. You get the “printed” orders for the Captain, an explanation of what they mean, and success criteria for the various aspects of the mission outlined in the orders.

As a freshly-refit ship going out on its shakedown cruise, the Sharshana must undergo some trials, and the resulting performance appraised. This is the focus of Chapter Four, “Appraisal and Space Trials”. The discussion assumes that this phase of the mission will be somewhat abstracted, but there is a note that if the players enjoy this sort of thing, the trials can be resolved more actively and in detail.

Chapter Five, “The Mission: General Considerations”, covers some aspects of a naval mission that are often overlooked in the typical Traveller adventure – for example, tracking (and replenishing) supplies and stores. It also covers general information from a naval mission viewpoint concerning ship encounters (and whether the ship would be running its transponder), intelligence gathering, and ‘showing the flag’.

Chapter Six, “En Route”, covers getting to the assigned patrol area for the mission. It involves visiting two backwater worlds, showing the flag and refueling at a gas giant, and an underway replenishment. This part of the mission is a good opportunity to see how well the ship and crew work, and if the refueling and replenishment exercise go well, it can mean that the crew is pulling together and becoming more efficient; this can contribute to success in later parts of the mission.

Once at the assigned patrol area and replenished, the player-characters (presumably the command crew of the ship) have some discretion as to what systems they visit in what order, within the limits of their orders. Chapters seven and eight outline incidents that should take place over the course of the mission; while chapter eight’s incident must take place at a specific world, chapter seven’s can happen anywhere, and the order that the two incidents occur is at the referee’s discretion. Both incidents are of types that aren’t unknown to the typical Traveller campaign, but the players may be in the novel position of being on the “other side”, and even if not, they will certainly find that their options are different, and their hands may be tied – or not – in different ways from “normal”.

Chapter Seven, “On Station”, outlines an incident that can take place anywhere (and anytime) during the mission; how successful they are in achieving the aims of the incident (no, you don’t get any spoilers!) can have a significant effect on their future actions and mission success.

Chapter Eight, “Aid to Civil Power”, is another incident that will impact the eventual success or failure of the mission. The player-characters must realize that they are operating at an entirely different strategic and political level than usual, and the rules aren’t quite the same.

Both of the above incidents should occur before the Sharshana arrives at the world specified in Chapter Nine, “Strike Mission”, as the starting point for a sudden change in orders. The player-characters will have some important decisions to make in this part of the adventure, and how they conduct themselves and perform the mission objectives will strongly influence the overall mission success.

The change in orders represented by Chapter Nine doesn’t cancel their original orders, and the ship should now return to its original patrol. It should be noted that the mission orders include certain activities beyond those of the incidents outlined in this volume; the referee should generate (and abstract) these ‘normal’ activities, and play out one or two; it’s not even out of the question to generate other events like the two presented in chapters seven and eight – but remember that the more that happens in an area, the more attention the Admiralty will pay to the ships that it assigns there, the more intensely the crew and command will be debriefed at the end of the mission, and the more critical their evaluations will be. That sort of mission assessment is summarized in Chapter Ten, “Return to Base”. The player-characters are expected to submit a complete and accurate report; if the Admiralty believes they are being ‘snowed’ (beyond the usual attempt by the commanders to cast their activities in the best possible light), the outcome won’t be good for the player-characters – and the referee is specifically cautioned not to be too lenient on the player-characters; a big part of naval missions involves ship and crew discipline under adverse conditions, and a ship and crew that acts in ways that embarrass the Navy and the Imperium will not find themselves looked on with favor.

I’d recommend purchasing this volume, but you really do want the Naval Campaign Guide with it, and having Element Cruisers would be helpful. Buy this plus the ones you don’t have as a set.

The Plans

This is a collection of poster-sized glossy blueprints, white-on-blue, each sheet printed on both sides. The ostensible scale is given as 1:300 (or, if you’ll forgive mixing measurement systems, approximately 1mm of plan to 1ft of “reality”); these ships are large enough that forward and aft sections of a deck don’t appear together, and the plans aren’t usable as playmats for miniatures. You get plans for all three main variants of the Element Cruiser Project, plus pods and subordinate craft. There’s lots of detail, and if they were marked out for the standard 1.5m squares, you could enlarge sections on a copier for miniatures playmats, but as they are, they’re interesting to look at, but not extremely useful for play – 40”×28” (102cm×71cm) is a fairly awkward size for laying out anywhere other than the floor, and they’re not suitable for framing and hanging on the wall (if your taste in decoration runs that way) because they’re double-sided. I can’t say that a separate purchase of these would be useful, but as a supplement to this boxed set, they’re definitely nice.

Overall, this set is an excellent resource for a campaign type previously overlooked, and even if you’re not into active-duty naval campaigns, it can give you good insights into the mindset and training of ex-Navy characters. Recommended purchase when it becomes available, unless you have zero interest in this aspect of Traveller and its universe.