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Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition: Behind The Claw

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue.

Behind the Claw. Martin J. Dougherty.
Mongoose Publishing https://www.mongoosepublishing.com
289pp., Hardcover or PDF
US$59.99/UKú45.00(H) US$30.00/UKú25.00(P)

Day 120 of lockdown. Can it really be 4 months since I last went out save for exercise near the house, a couple of mercy errands for neighbours and one trip to work to fetch chair and monitor? In fact it has been a little longer as my employer saw the inevitable and started those of us who could work from home a week or two early. Having booked time off for TravCon I never returned to work at the University after that weekend at the start of March.

But I’d volunteered for a two hour stint in the atrium outside the student union bar where we’d arranged for students to dump their books while the Library building was shut and it was a chance to drive round to Portsmouth and see a different part of the world. That meant there was also a chance to try dropping into the University post room where I was aware that Behind the Claw had been sitting for some months as I’d not quite changed my postal address in time. It could have been difficult to find in any one of a number of sacks and boxes but I was fortunate in that was in the first I tried.

And what a monster! Somehow, despite having had the PDF for some time, I hadn’t translated that into the physical size the book would be. Don’t drop it on your toe. At just short of 300 glossy, hard backed pages, not to mention two poster maps stuffed in the front and the back, there aren’t many Traveller books that weigh more. But it looks great and with a “Vasburg” cover between the usual Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition stylings it is already becoming a favourite volume. The cover, appropriately enough for release in this present clime, is of a masked onlooker, perhaps under lockdown themselves, seeing a city (port? shipyard?) in the distance with a beautiful aurora borealis type sky behind. If it gives the impression of life being viewed from afar with dullness ‘here’ and light & life ‘there’, well, perhaps the timing was serendipitous.

Into the book itself and if you’re not careful you’re immediately picking up one or both of the poster sized maps that are tucked in front and back and are likely to drop out. One is of the Spinward Marches and one is of Deneb Sector. They’re the glossy large single-sided sheets that we’ve seen before from Mongoose in full colour and terrific to look at if somewhat difficult to spread out on a pub table during a gaming session. It’s a shame these weren’t put in pockets so they don’t slip out but that’s a minor nit. Also, it would have been terrific to see both maps reproduced as proper end-papers as well but presumably that would have added to an already expensive book. Interestingly, the back cover describes them as one double-sided poster map so I’m curious to know why that plan changed!

Readers may have already noticed and buyers should certainly beware that this isn’t the first Traveller book to use the title. In 1998 – quarter of a century already! – Steve Jackson Games published Behind the Claw for GURPS Traveller. It was written by Martin Dougherty and Neil Frier. You might think that a book with the same title, by the same author would be covering the same ground but that’s fortunately not the case. The 1998 book had the subtitle ‘The Spinward Marches Sourcebook’ and in 144 pages didn’t cover Deneb Sector. Even where there’s an astrographical overlap its treatment was somewhat different in that it had background material on the Domain of Deneb, looked at the polities and races of the ‘Spinward States’ and included referee information. A large chunk of the book then covered every subsector, with small grey scale maps, and gave a paragraph on every world – with GURPS Traveller world data which isn’t immediately compatible with any other version of Traveller.

The Mongoose edition, on the other hand, has a very welcome introduction to Charted Space which is perhaps long overdue, has a section on each sector and its races and polities etc, and then goes subsector by subsector – through both The Spinward Marches and Deneb sector – but with larger colour maps and the more recognizable world data in standard form. It doesn’t, however, attempt to cover every world in detail and instead picks out some more important or interesting planets, 107 in total. Interspersed in the encyclopaedia-like data and information are a variety of beefed up ‘side bars’ that cover a wide variety of subjects, often relevant to the area of space on the surrounding pages. Describing them as side bars doesn’t really do them justice as they’re often more like small sections of their own taking one or two pages. You might have as equally well found such material in Mongoose’s Traveller Companion or the new JTAS volumes. Details are given below to help Referees find items or for buyers to have a little more idea about what they’re getting. Arguably there is some oddity of arrangement here as many but not all of the Deneb ships are collected into a Jayne’s Guide…(in the same styling as High Guard) but those in the Spinward Marches aren’t; the Deneb minor races, but again not all, are gathered together instead of being spread throughout the sixteen subsectors. It’s not a major problem but doesn’t aid findability and means that the Deneb half of the book is less broken up. It’s almost as if the two halves were designed separately. Fortunately there is an index or rather six indexes: worlds, aliens, fauna, equipment, vehicles and ship. Note however that the world index is arranged by subsector rather than purely alphabetical by planet name but that does help spot which worlds have been picked out in each subsector which is useful. The Krvn animal is missing from the index, as is the planet Otomisi; Palique technology has become Plaigue, and while I’m nitpicking, Hnaefir has morphed into Hnefir. Unfortunately not all the page numbers in the index are correct, so some care – and perhaps pencilled annotation – needs to be taken. [See corrections, elsewhere].

Irksome though that last is, it doesn’t detract too much from the overall excellence of this book. Both production values and the writing we’ve come to expect from the author are generally excellent. There are occasional glitches in the text such as Pretoria being linked to the Aramis Trace via Marz which is odd (easily fixed by changing Marz (0201) to Teh (0208) or referring to the Towers Cluster instead of the Trace) but in the vast majority of cases the planetary descriptions are well done and it’s hard to read them without being inspired to visit and use each and every one in an adventure or scenario. All anyone can ask really.

The artwork is also good whether it is ship, general illustrations, the attractive colour subsector maps or the multitude of other pictures and graphics. There are very few double page spreads which don’t have something to catch the eye. (Is it just me, or has Land Rover made it to the 57th Century – p.93?) The deck plans are of course isometric and as yet I know of no online 2D versions for printing and actual use. The character generation boxes – often just quarter of a page – are in my view too short but their quantity is welcome and they provide a start point for minor races that have had nothing previously or are new to this book. Personally I think they should have been given a page each and a little more detail on culture. The Ebokin provide a good example of being at slightly greater length. As I happen to be running The Traveller Adventure and was arriving at Junidy as the PDF was released, I was delighted to see our old friends the Llellewyloly included (although I still think they should have a bonus to DEX given all their limbs – particularly if they’re more limited on STR and END) and now we’ve travelled to Yebab, the Ebokin page was very useful. I would still have loved more detail however to get into their minds or ways of working and so on, however this absence gives the Referee plenty of room for world-building of their own. On the other hand, a little more assistance with – let’s take Yebab for example – what a methane atmosphere planet would actually be like on the ground would be welcome. Arguably that should be for a more general book however and there are some all too brief notes in a JTAS [Mongoose] article on atmospheres. To cover two sectors in the kind of detail that that suggests would clearly be impossible in one volume. That Behind the Claw tends to focus on the political and social side of world descriptions is perhaps unsurprising and in fact it is that which makes it more useful for role playing so it’s not a criticism as much as an observation. It’s also not to say that there aren’t physical descriptions – I’m not planning on a holiday to Borlund any time soon as the author has done such a good job of describing a quite hellish place.

If you are adventuring in Charted Space this volume is pretty indispensable. Even if you’re not using this corner of space for your adventures there is a lot of generic material here that might be worth the hefty price and of course world descriptions can often be refitted for other regions. Because I adventure in Charted Space I’d rate this as one of the best and most useful Traveller books now on my shelf and it will act as a companion to rather than a replacement for the GURPS title of the same name. Other Travellers might want to look at it before purchase to determine their own value. The list of generic material below may help with this. For those new to Traveller with Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition there is much here that’s ‘missing’ from other books and will prove very useful. If you’re stuck in lockdown and just want to explore over a hundred worlds (nearly one for every day so far!) and various other features of the Traveller universe, then this is highly recommended. I hope there are more volumes like this to come for other regions of Charted Space.

‘Articles’ in Behind the Claw [Mongoose]

Entries are in book order.

Character Generation
Spinward Marches Deneb Sector
Zhodani Saurian Crenduthaar Segani
Dolphin Darrian Gl’lu Shiawei
Chokari Jonkereen Kirissukyoya Souggvuez
Llellewyloly   Lurent Yafizethe
    Martian Ebokin
Ship stats and isometric plans
Spinward Marches Deneb Sector
400-ton Vargr Advanced Courier 300-ton Gl’lu Trader
200-ton Gagh-class Tramp Trader 2,400-ton Tukera Venturer-class Fast Freightliner
300-ton Sleipnir-class Patroller 800-ton Brilliance-class Long Liner
50,000-ton Shuigabumudkhar-class Dromedary 2000-ton Sydkai-class Detached Frigate
100-ton Ilauus-class Fast Shuttle 30,000-ton Demilitarised Gionetti-class Light Cruiser
  300,000-ton Kehmed-class Dreadnought
  500-ton Khoeurrroe-class Fel Armed Merchant.
  100-ton Cargo Lighter
  100-ton Passenger Lighter
  100-ton Fuel Lighter
  100-ton Gunship Lighter
  5000-ton Deneb Stalwart-class Monitor
  1150-ton Thousand Freighter.
Vehicle Sheets
Spinward Marches
TL10 Ghoerreugh g-carrier
TL2 Hand-cranked Dirigible
TL8 Transport Crawler
TL9 Hnaefir Air/Raft
TL15 Deep Ranger Research Submarine
Spinward Marches Deneb Sector
Chirper Gas Shark
Calamander Sachupe
Kryn Nenlat
Kian Clambrey
Equipment additions
Spinward Marches Deneb Sector
Delphinic technology Vincennes technology
Keng Long-Gun  
Dorannia PAD missiles  
Palique environmental systems  
Short background paragraphs
Spinward Marches Deneb Sector
Distances/directions in space Politics & history of Deneb
starports/spaceports the Imperial Navy in Deneb
travel and communications Ducal powers & dukes & the 8 Duchies
TAS Megacorps in Deneb
the Ancients minor states
Ine Givar minor races
Abyss Rift research bases
Palique (and its passage through a planetoid belt making approach difficult) Rachele Society
The 208th Fleet Church of Stellar Divinity (logo)
Deneb Sector
Jumping to a Bridge
Jumping through Sargasso space
Color System Charts
Regina (Spinward Marches)
Aerfor (Deneb Sector)
Behind the Claw [Mongoose] Index Corrections
Regina, 44
Vanejen, 77
Inar subsector: Otomisi, 248
Kamlar, 282
Krvn, 130
Brilliance-class Long Liner, 194
Cargo Lighter, 186
Fuel Lighter, 190
Gunship Lighter, 192
Passenger Lighter, 188
Sydki-class Detached Frigate, 198
Tukera Venturer-class Fast Freightliner, 182