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Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition Starter Set (Boxed)

This review originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue.

Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition Boxed Starter Set. Matthew Sprange et al.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Boxed set, 3 softcover books plus
$US69.99/UKú54.11 (The price in Sterling is estimated based on the exchange rate reported by Google on 2019-04-23.)

If you have the Traveller Core Rulebook for the second edition of Mongoose Traveller, you don’t need to purchase this. What you will get if you do is three softcover books, six characters, and a sector map.

The three softcover books provide the basic rules of Traveller, plus a starter campaign. I should note here that the general thrust of the rules for combat and encounters is toward dealing with situations that may turn exceptional, not the sort of routine situation that doesn’t have any significant implications if it ‘goes south’. In other words, don’t expect to use the rules to cover ordering a sandwich at a local deli (where the worst thing that may happen is that you get chili aioli on your roast groat sandwich instead of mustard) – but do use them for walking up to a soldier and asking (with a strong accent) ‘Where are the nuclear wessels?’.

Another important thing to note is that the rules as given here generally assume that any adventuring based on them will be in a standard Third-Imperium-compatible setting, rather than an alternative or homebrew with significantly different core assumptions (like Clement Sector, 2300ad, or any number of homebrews).

The first book, Book 1: Characters and Combat, covers creating and outfitting characters (which the text calls “Travellers”), personal combat, and a selection of equipment of all types. The information is presented clearly and in a logical sequence, starting with an overview of what Traveller is, and what the various notational conventions mean, in the Introduction. This is followed in Chapter 1: Traveller Creation with generating a character and putting him/her through a career, including pre-career education options and post-career benefit descriptions, plus the information needed to generate Imperial Vargr or Imperial Aslan characters, wrapped around the career descriptions and tables; a detailed discussion of skills and checks, including more complex aspects such as task chains and boon/bane, and skill descriptions, can be found in Chapter 2: Skills and Tasks. Chapter 3: Combat, is exactly that: How to game out the situation where you haven’t been able to avoid a fight, whether that’s a barroom brawl or an organized response to an organized attack. It does not include vehicle-to-vehicle combat, though a sentence in the introduction to Chapter 3 of Book 2 suggests that these rules should suffice.

Chapter 4: Equipment briefly covers buying and selling equipment, and gives basic figures for determining a standard of living. Based on those figures, although no actual equivalent value of the credit is stated, one can reasonably estimate the value of a credit as anywhere from two to three units of your preferred present-day “reserve currency” (e.g., US Dollars, UK Pounds, or Euros). This overview is followed by a catalog of equipment of all types, with the exception of vehicles, which get their own chapter in Chapter 5: Vehicles, giving not only a showroom catalog, but the basic rules for using vehicles in combat.

Notable by their absence in this book are rules for creating new equipment or vehicles; however, the selection of pre-generated/described equipment and vehicles will be adequate for most starter campaigns.

Book 2: Spacecraft and Worlds picks up where the previous book left off. There is no Introduction to this book; Chapter 1: Encounters and Dangers covers encounters other than combat, including animal encounters and environmental dangers. A sample selection of animals is presented, many of which have fairly obvious real-world analogues. You also get a quick summary of what a patron is, and several pages of tables of patron encounters and random encounters with people; the tables are grouped by the type of location where the encounters occur. There is enough information presented in this chapter for a referee to create people, animals, or other things for encounters, but you don’t get a set of cookbook rules, just tables to roll on – which is, really, enough.

Chapter 2: Spacecraft Operations covers what you need to know about spacecraft, both starships and non-starships, to use them in an adventure; it’s not (nor intended to be) a comprehensive nuts-and-bolts guide to routine button-pushing. You get an overview of financing a purchase, of the main adventure-related systems and associated tasks, and of general costs for operations. There is also a table of spacecraft encounters (i.e., “encounters that you can have in a spacecraft”, not just “other spacecraft that you can encounter”), with explanations or expansions of some of them. Following this is some more detailed operation information, including the general travel sequence, types of passenger passages, keeping order among those passengers, and travel times.

Where Chapter 3 of Book 1 focussed on personal and small-group combat, this book’s Chapter 3: Space Combat focusses on combat between single ships and/or small groups of ships. Skills of characters acting as crew are assumed to play a very definite role in space combat; ships, after all, do not act on their own, even if you assume that computers have processing power close to what we might call artificial intelligence. The overall structure of this chapter matches that of the personal combat chapter in Book 1, but includes rules relevant to ship-to-ship combat, such as hit locations, boarding actions, and repair actions. Some of this should have equivalents for vehicle combat (e.g., hit locations) in Book 1.

Chapter 4: Common Spacecraft provides overviews and deckplans in the now-familiar Mongoose isometric format. As usual, you can say that they’re visually attractive – but you wouldn’t want to use them for combat playmaps for miniatures. You get most of the ship and small craft designs that over 40 years of Traveller have rendered more-or-less iconic. Again, there are no rules for creating ships or small craft.

Chapter 5: Psionics covers psionics in a way quite familiar to experienced Traveller referees and players. The five general classes of psionic action are presented as Talents, equivalent to Skills (and the two terms appear to be used interchangeably), and the various activities that can be done using a talent are described and presented as tasks. Rules for determining whether a character is psionic are provided, as is a Psion career in standard format. There is a mention of psionic technology and basic rules for the use and effects of psi drugs, but only a minimal treatment; recall that the basic assumption is Third-Imperium-compatible adventuring.

Trade and merchant campaigns are supported; Chapter 6: Trade provides rules sufficient for running a small-ship trading operation. As with the Core Rulebook, this is what Freelance Traveller calls a ‘goods-based’ system: One determines what the good available for trade is and its base price, and then modifies the base price based on the trade classifications of the world on which the transaction is happening. Rules for smuggling and trade in illegal goods are also included, as are rules for hiring brokers and guides to improve one’s ability to trade successfully.

Chapter 7: World and Universe Creation finishes out the book by presenting the rules that allow the referee to take the players beyond pre-generated material and into the basics of ‘home-brew’ settings. An overview of the organization of the stellar map and stellar directions is presented, along with some pointers on mapping at the subsector level, but the bulk of this chapter defines the Universal World Profile and gives you what you need to generate it. Imperial Mainworld generation is assumed; there is essentially no discussion of secondary worlds in a system, nor of generating worlds that may hold allegiance to any specific polity. Unlike earlier versions of Traveller, generation of the starport has been moved to near the end of the generation sequence, influenced by the population. An omission as compared with other versions of Traveller is lack of any decision process to determine whether a system contains a gas giant (leaving a world with zero hydrographics and a low-grade port being a dead-end for travel); on the other hand, there are provisions for generating minority factions on a world, and a table of noteworthy cultural features to keep worlds from being generic.

These two books together cover essentially the same ground as the Core Rulebook; with the Core Rulebook, you get an overview of a subsector to adventure in, with no specific campaign or adventure tied to it. With the Starter Set, however, you also get…

Book 3: The Fall of Tinath is a hundred-page campaign sourcebook containing a series of linked adventures that “showcase” different skillsets, allowing inexperienced players and referees to get a good feel for what Traveller is and how it works. While it takes place in the universe of the Third Imperium, that polity – indeed, the entirety of the standard, well-developed setting of Charted Space – is off-screen at significant distance; the subsector and world for this campaign is very definitely frontier, with even the nearest multi-world polity being a minor influence in the campaign. As presented, the campaign does not mandate any particular player-characters or skill sets (allowing the group to generate its own characters if desired), the boxed set does include character sheets for six characters that will serve well, perhaps for use at a convention where playing time may be limited. The campaign is episodic, with each episode presenting opportunities for the player-characters to exercise their skills in a particular kind of crisis, and linking to the next episode (which will have a different kind of crisis as its centerpiece). While there are in-campaign time constraints, there is still ample flexibility for the referee to allow the players to pursue their own interests between episodes and avoid ‘railroading’ them through the campaign. It should be noted that the ultimate outcome of the campaign is pre-ordained; the players can’t change the end result – but they can make a difference in how they get there, and what some of the side-effects will be.

Although the campaign is not strictly for beginners – experienced players and referees can very definitely run through this and enjoy it – it is nevertheless organized well, with explanations where needed for a beginning referee and pointers for running Traveller in general. It does not rely on knowledge of Traveller, either rules or setting, that isn’t presented in this boxed set, and the only thing that the players and referee need to add is dice (and while it’s not a serious omission – after all, standard six-sided dice are ubiquitous in games of all sorts, and easy to purchase separately – it really shouldn’t have been an omission at all) and pencil and paper for any notes, sketches, etc., that may become appropriate during play.

Overall, definitely a good value for the price, if you don’t have the Core Rulebook; the campaign is not worth the price of the boxed set if you already have the core rules (but a little research finds it available separately, at least in PDF, if you do have the Core Rulebook).