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Mongoose Traveller LBB 9: Library Data

Editor’s Note: This review originally appeared in the August 2011 issue of Freelance Traveller.

LBB9: Library Data. compiled by Colin Dunn.
Mongoose Publishing: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
90pp, softcover

Library Data used to be one of my favourite parts of Traveller systems of yore. Ask some old timers what a library is… This little tool was created in the pre-Internet days of gaming. Essentially, it was a short encyclopaedic capsule of information that may be helpful or not for the players. It was also there to provide information for the Referee to add local colour and flavour. Furthermore, it was authoritative and concise – unlike Call of Cthulhu’s Library Use roll – it was meant to give you a snapshot of information not realms of documentation to wade through. Player-characters could access it on their shipboard computers (assuming they paid the berthing fees) or go to a public access terminal, drop down a few credits to tap into the planetary information net and it would allow these little gems to spill forth. The whole concept reflected a time when information was scarce and often contained in silos accessed by seasoned professionals. Those were the days…<sigh>

In the good old Classic Traveller days, it took on two forms. It was usually published at the back of adventures and also came in the form of two little black books (Supplement 8 and Supplement 11). MegaTraveller updated the little black books and created something called the Imperial Encyclopedia which neatly had a player’s section and a referee’s section (which explained some of the biases and misdirection/red herrings contained in the players’ section). Subsequent editions merely incorporated library data as part of the story line in either supplements or books, save GURPS Traveller which incorporated the old Imperial Encyclopedia into the main rulebook. Now, Mongoose has come around and released a little black book of their own.

With so many versions of Traveller floating around, it would have perhaps more sensible to release a writer’s bible to the Third Imperium or something like it (indeed the compiler of this very volume suggested just that but got turned down at this time by Mongoose). OK then, no writer’s bible… Then let’s have a compilation of all sorts of library data from all that readily exists out there in the Traveller verse? Too many copyright entanglements? So, what are we left with…? A very small compact version of the original two Classic Traveller supplements designed for the Traveller “newby” with some things from Mongoose thrown in for good measure.

Grognards might find this objectionable to pay for something already “out there”. I know, I did at first. But, we have to remember this is not meant for us. We already have either in our collections vast library data books or have committed vast tracts of what has already been published to memory. So get over it. If you were a starting referee, would you like to lug around several weighty tomes to find an obscure reference to a planet that has working toasters from Antiquity or would you want a single volume to accompany your pocket Traveller rules… Even as a grognard, I would have to side with the latter over the former. So I view this as a sort of appendix to the pocket Traveller rulebook that would be to fill in some of the details of the Third Imperium campaign setting.

Why in this era of ubiquitous cloud computing, would such a thing be necessary for Traveller characters? Well, not all worlds are high tech in Traveller therefore like all good stories it might require some legwork to get that information to complete the puzzle or mystery around which the adventure is based. Just as it is now, information increasingly becoming a commodity, there is no reason to believe in the Far Far Future this trend will be abated and having all these things readily available rather defeats the purpose of adventuring. Also, who is to say the information on one planetary grid matches another – a Referee can use this book as a baseline to further create rumours, story hooks and news nuggets.

Well, what are its drawbacks? Its length: I was hoping for a much larger book when I heard Library Data; something that would do some more culling from other sources – one way around the copyright issue would have been to make a direct imprint of Far Future Enterprises (which holds all the Traveller copyrights) tweak them a little but still have everything in one booklet. In some ways, it is also a supplement that could afford to wait (unless good folks at Mongoose do plan to release an Imperial Encyclopedia at a later date) – as despite the Mongoose rules being out some time – there is little that has been not much written for the Original/Official Traveller Universe (OTU). With a mere 380 entries (roughly) and a write-up on the Emperors and timeline, it does seem to be on the small side considering the game has been around for nearly 40 years… So my description of it being an appendix seems particularly apt.

There is also a general lack of art in the volume. What art there is contained within is phenomenal and really captures that dirty realism that Traveller is famous for nevertheless one thing that all versions of Library Data in the past contained was art that had you wanting more – for instance, in the Classic Traveller – it was the Vegans – one of the more alien species that I long wished to see in Alien Module but it never made it (hint, hint Mongoose).

Also, what of causalities on the editing floor? Are they official or have they been unceremoniously removed from the Traveller canon? As this volume does not contain any introduction or rationale behind the selection, merely the encyclopaedic entries leaving the reader wondering – what happened to the other entries from previous volumes? Maybe, I am thinking about this too much like a grognard… Here’s hoping that behind the scenes Mongoose is working on a Third Imperium sourcebook (another strong hint to Mongoose) that will overlay on top this one finely giving further chrome to the grand old setting. For if the main polity (the Third Imperium) in Traveller has over 11,000 worlds and there are neighbouring polities that have similar numbers plus huge tracts of unmapped space – there can never be One Book to Rule Them All but it would be nice to get more chrome that captures that vibe.

So, if you are a grognard who has indeed committed all previous Library Data to memory – this book is probably not for you. But, if you a newbie Referee that wants a quick and dirty guide to the Third Imperium Campaign – then I don’t think you can go wrong in purchasing this volume.