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Mongoose Traveller Supplement 10: Merchants and Cruisers

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of the downloadable PDF magazine.

Supplement 10: Merchants and Cruisers. various authors.
Mongoose Publishing: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
130pp, softcover

My first reaction upon receiving this item was: “WTF another book of deck plans and no fluff?” having been burnt by Supplement 3: Fighting Ships. However, I am happy to report greater care has been taken by Mongoose in providing the reader with many more useful ships and deck plans (gone is the redundancy of the endless levels of ships like the Tigress). If deck plans are your thing—they’re essential for boarding action games—then this product is the one for you. However, if you’re not interested in the internal arrangements, or if you already have a vast array of ships populating your Traveller universe, you may wish to give this product a pass.

The deck plans are still presented in the traditional vector method of Traveller games past, save the graphics are now clearer and cleaner. Purchasers of new fangled deck plans who are used to 3D representations may be disappointed by the presentation offered in this supplement; while 3D representations are certainly prettier and more evocative of a sense of space in which action takes place, they are (in my opinion) much more difficult to use. I also consider it more problematical that they leave far less to the imagination. I have thus been turned off the new treatment of deck plans for Traveller. Essentially, ships so presented are going to be dungeon crawls, rather than having a ‘personality’. I prefer to bring out a ship’s personality by adding fittings and quirks myself, or with a gaming group, rather than relying on the publisher to do so. So, I have come back to the notion that this minimalist aesthetic is superior for Traveller, especially after seeing too many poorly conceived 3D deck plans.

Long-time Traveller players will spot more than a few familiar ships now given a Mongoose treatment. The ships in this supplement come from the military services, paramilitary (e.g., Scouts or Search & Rescue) and the merchant branches. The volume is nicely rounded out with ships of Aslan, Darrian, and Vargr designs. Each ship is nicely illustrated as a line drawing, with certain areas and objects shaded in grey tones, allowing the Referee to colour the ships as they see fit. Unlike the main rulebook, which used greys and black to accentuate chrome, these drawings are much plainer. I realize Mongoose is doing this to give Referees a chance to add the chrome on their own but it would have been nice to see more trimmings on these ships. Therefore, while the art is far superior to the ship art of prior versions, it lacks excitement and is not very stimulating. Hopefully, in the future, Mongoose will commission artists to show these ships in action; now that the fundamental visual design principles have been laid out.

To this end, I would wonder why Mongoose would not have wanted to included a section of chrome/fluff in the supplement. If at all possible, a 3-4 page spread (colour in an equally ideal world) of these ships and those presented in earlier supplements/books in action would have been quite attractive. Yes, it would have increased the cost of the production of the book but certainly would have increased the value of the book to purchasers, and made it more of a ‘keeper’ rather than just another resource. Perhaps they might consider this for future ship books, or possibly a downloadable PDF supplement.

Although this is a minor flaw to pick on it does reinforce opinions about the lack of vibrancy in the Mongoose Traveller line. I do realize art is expensive but art is often one of the reasons that players or referees choose to buy RPGs or particular supplements. Art adds to any sense of wonder induced by a product, and nowhere is this needed more than in SFRPGs. Although the appropriateness of the selection of a particular artist’s work on a previous version of Traveller was much debated, there is no question that that edition of Traveller had a very distinctive look.

With text dominating over art in the Mongoose offerings, I find that Mongoose does not really have a distinctive look for their line. Alien Module 3: Darrians was excellent, for the most part, because art nicely complemented a great text. Starports had great text but no art. Merchants and Cruisers does have art but not great art and not much text. There are fine lines between ‘underdoing’ ‘doing’, and ‘overdoing’ when it comes to balancing text with art, and Mongoose has in the past been on all sides of them. One can hope that Mongoose will include more fantastic art in future supplements, without it being at the expense of the textual ‘meat’. Although I would prefer more chrome and fluff, the other side of the equation, that there are those who do not want more art and do want more Tables & Charts, must be acknowledged…so the debate will undoubtedly continue. If Traveller still has its sights set upon joining the pantheon of Science Fiction imaginations beside the likes of Star Wars and Star Trek, as Marc Miller once wished for, Mongoose Traveller must, in my opinion, become more visually appealing.

Supplement 10: Merchants and Cruisers is certainly a worthy addition to any Traveller library, despite the drawback of lacking chrome. It does not get a high Style rating because it is missing the coolness factor; there are lessons that can be learned from the 3D presentation of starships, even if one dislikes them as I do. One can liken this supplement as presented to looking at the skeleton and sketches of the human body to learn about anatomy; doing so can teach some of what you need to know, but it takes seeing accurate diagrams of muscles and organs to fully grasp the subject. So too with this supplement; it is missing the additional information that could have been provided with “in situ” pictures of cabins, common areas, and so on. If Mongoose had included more of this fluff, I would not hesitate in giving this supplement a much higher rating for Style.