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Mongoose Traveller: The Third Imperium—Crowded Hours

Mongoose Traveller: The Third Imperium—Crowded Hours. Martin J. Dougherty
Avenger Enterprises/Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
240pp, hardcover

This review originally appeared on RPG.Net in March of 2011, and is reprinted here and in the January/February 2014 issue with permission.

This review is based upon a partial playing of the adventures (but will not contain spoilers) contained within and partially just reading. I must say that I am very happy that Mongoose decided to bundle them together in a nice hardback edition with an inspiring cover to boot.

The adventures had previously been released by ComStar/Avenger which produced many great Traveller products such as the Milieu 1248 line along with interesting adventures such as Project Steel.

The Good

I liked that these adventures use the Third Imperium as the backdrop for the adventures rather than keeping it generic, allowing the Referee to get a taste of what has gone before. That said, as the writer points out, there is no real need to have it set there, so one can keep it generic if desired. However, this is not the same Imperium as GDW’s Classic Traveller era (which usually featured sandbox scientific puzzles), nor like what has passed for adventures in the Mongoose line (which have been a real mixed bag). These are adventures akin to the (William H. and J. Andrew) Keith adventures in the Gamelords/FASA products from the earliest days of Traveller. “Wham, bam, and thank you Sam” – or in the case of the author’s motto, “Roll some dice, and blow stuff up” – action-packed escapades reminiscent of “The Mummy Returns” directed by Stephen Sommers rather than “The Mummy” films of the 1930s and 1950s.

This is not to say the cerebral element is downplayed but rather the adventures focus more upon creative solutions to problem solving. Most of the adventures revolve around what seems to be a common theme for MJD – rescue and exploration which can lead to a conflict where characters are left to hold the Alamo against overwhelming odds.

This is a healthy addition to the Official Traveller Universe whose adventures from Mongoose tend to be comb the dungeon – gain the magic artifact in the form of something leftover from the Ancients. This is not to say Prison Planet or Beltstrike are not enjoyable, but adventures like Tripwire are positively not how Traveller should be run. Notwithstanding, I find that these Avenger adventures lack a certain je ne sais pas (I don’t know what) aspect that makes halfway a classic adventure and something that is not Traveller.

Littered throughout the text of the adventures are puns which provide a bit of levity to the rather grim adventures. Some of these puns are fine for the convention game but really did not add anything to the game itself. So, as much as I use puns myself – humor is something really specific and one is always in danger of losing the reader let alone the player.

The Bad

What Avenger did here was merely take the pre-existing adventures previously released only in PDF on DriveThruRPG, re-number the pages, slap covers on them, and put them up for sale. And, this is wrong on many levels. More strenuous and vigorous editing was needed to make this a complete product. For instance, circumspect editing to remove redundancies such as virtually the same introduction throughout the adventures, consolidating Library Data and Planetary Data in one section at the back of the book. It would also have been nice if there were some new art or pre-generated characters—there is one adventure that has pre-gens; why not write those characters into the first adventure?

What’s more, how hard would have been to create art could be thrown in for fun? Maybe I am being a ‘pain in the arts’ but I think good art serves RPGs well, by inspiring the imagination, but it also gives the reader a pause – a rest bit for the eyes when all that one has is endless text to digest.

Furthermore, sections marked as characters are really non-player characters. The text tends to jump around without a coherent thread. Yes, it is touted as a framework rather than a flowchart. But, what happens is the text repeats itself in several places leaving the reader at best confused, at worst bored. This is surprising as its style unlike most of MJD’s work (of which I have great respect for) tends toward being rambling and disjointed therefore lackluster. Everywhere in these adventures, one gets the impression of the Vargr just there to make the setting science fiction either in their capacity as serving as an alien oppressed underclass or just exotic trimmings to the background. Nowhere are the Vargr as they are written up in a variety of Traveller sources. Maybe, this is a concession to those who want it generic but when I see the word Vargr, I would expect something referencing back to another product that I purchased, or at least capture that vibe.

As I did buy all the PDFs prior to the release of the book, I wished the good folks at Avenger had thought of ways of adding value not merely posterity to their work. However, I do recognize that this is probably the last OTU Avenger product that we are likely to see for a long time—which is a pity, as they do have a good feel for the Third Imperium, as I play it—but even as a Swan Song, it would been appreciated had they left the scene with a bang rather than a whimper.

The Ugly

Aside from poor editing, there are ugly deckplans (fortunately, Mongoose remedied this by putting nice ones for free to download off the book’s site). The art and the maps look like a 1980s Ultima game with over-sized houses meant to represent villages. Also, the adventures supposedly can be linked together. But, other than the throwaway line saying so, there is little motivation to do so.

The idea that these adventures are a framework and not a flowchart is a good one, one that many Classic Traveller adventures rested upon… notwithstanding there is a balance between creating a sandbox and just giving ideas. And, as much as it is good to get new ideas, I came with the expectation that I was buying adventures not just some random doodles on a page. Unfortunately, many of these adventures seem like the outline for something, as the skeleton is not complete and still bits of flesh cling onto it – therefore, it is something neither fish nor fowl.

Lastly, I am also not certain that framework adventures is where Traveller players are at – I personally like the flowchart or nugget format pioneered by DGP, as it allowed for structure combined with sandbox. It also prevented the author from wordy excesses and a long-winded style.

In short, it is hard to give this one a solid thumbs-up or -down – anyone who buys it cannot expect to run it straight from the box and will have to slog through lots of redundant text to get to the meat.