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Mongoose Traveller Supplement 15: Powers and Principalities

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue.

Mongoose Traveller Supplement 15: Powers and Principalities. Andy Lilly, et. al., eds.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
158pp, PDF

Declaration/Disclosure of Interest: The reviewer acknowledges having contributed approximately 10% of the content of 101 Religions included in this volume, and also assisted in editing. Freelance Traveller’s editor is also a contributor to the original 101 Religions, and those contributions may appear here as well.

It’s not often a Bible verse makes it onto the front cover of a Traveller book, but the strapline of Supplement 15: Powers and Principalities uses the beginning of Ephesians chapter 6, verse 12 most appropriately: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood….” Travellers face many different kinds of opposition in their quest for adventure, their drive to complete the mission, or in the rough and tumble of their journeys from world to world. Rivals or enemies; animals or antagonists; or sometimes, those in charge of the local surroundings. Even if the latter aren’t directly in opposition to the player characters they can often be a force to be reckoned with. These are the flesh and blood. But there are also the more nebulous ‘authorities’ – in whatever shape or form – that can also form part of the ongoing struggle. So it’s quite appropriate that this compilation brings together governments, corporations and religions that might be an enormous influence on what Travellers will find, and how they might behave, on any particular world.

As we’re told in the introductory text, this Mongoose supplement carries on from Supplement 13: Starport Encounters. That volume collected the individuals that might be encountered; this steps up a level to the organizations that could be hindrances, could be helps, or could simply flesh out the details of an encounter, an adventure, or a campaign.

The introduction goes on to say, “The goal is to make every planet in your campaign unique and interesting … with no extra work on the part of the referee.”

It’s a bold claim and certainly this will help to differentiate the nth Impersonal Bureaucracy the PCs encounter. But it will depend on an individual referee’s style as to whether there’s enough detail here in any one entry to be used with no further work.

For those who’ve not gathered, and once again Mongoose have not made it clear, this is a compilation of three British Isles Traveller Support (BITS) ‘little white books’ from around the turn of the millennium: 101 Governments (1998), 101 Religions (1998), and 101 Corporations (2001). These have now been reissued as PDFs on DriveThruRPG or as a single CD collecting them all in an FFE-like package from BITS for those who prefer. So the situation is not quite as clear as when I wrote the review of Supplement 13: Starport Encounters as to how potential users might want to purchase this material. Hopefully, some of the notes here will help buyers make a decision.

The text has been reproduced nearly verbatim (with the exception of the title page fiction of 101 Corporations and each of the chapter straplines), a general introduction has been added and various illustrations have been sprinkled through the text from previous Mongoose titles. A couple of other changes have been made: rule changes have been revised throughout to match the Mongoose system (e.g. ˝D has become D3 throughout and tasks have been updated; there are no longer any references to any milieux other than 1105. So mentions of and plots concerning Milieu 0, Traveller: The New Era or “Year 570” or “post 800” have all gone; cross references have vanished so if a religion, corporation or government is detailed somewhere else in the book, the passing mention in another entry gives no clue to that fact; and perhaps more positively, all of the quotation marks around words to suggest euphemisms or sarcasm and so on (scare quotes) have been removed. This last does lose some subtle nuances on occasion, but makes the text read much more professionally. In a handful of places there are some paragraph break glitches, and here and there a word or two has dropped out for some reason, but there’s nothing major and no doubt these can be fixed for a PDF update or before the print edition comes out. The cover is the standard black with yellow trim of Mongoose supplement covers so again the three BITS covers have been lost as illustrations and, as noted, this is the 15th supplement – number 14 is still in editing and will apparently be called Space Stations.

The corporations are up first and there are indeed 101 of them. There is some prefatory text introducing the Universal Corporate Profile which, as is typical in Traveller, gives a string which summarizes a corporation. The original used spots and triangles to separate out various elements, the new version simply uses hyphens which are less distracting but don’t necessarily make the longish strings easier to read. The introductory text has been slightly revised by removing all the references to using parts of the profile as task rolls. Rather oddly, and with no reason offered, the explanation of ‘revenue’ (given as a percentage of the Gross Regional Product) has been removed making that part of the profile indecipherable to those without the original text. Worse yet, Form 23 – which does look much better in the larger size – mangles the revenue numbers which involve mathematical powers. This makes them very hard to read unless you’ve seen the original. A useful addition is a couple of paragraphs linking the use of this supplement with Book 7: Merchant Prince.

The corporations themselves cover admin, agriculture, manufacturing, mining, transport and more. There are also some old favourites in there that long time denizens of the Traveller Mailing List will recognize, such as Famille Spofulam, Gridlore Technologies and AuricTech Shipyards. A personal favourite is NITS which must be born out of the real life experience (exasperation?) of a certain editor. All of the corporations have a name, their UCP, a description, referee’s notes and up to five plots that serve to get players hooked. This is easily enough to get a harried referee going should the need arise and the variety, interest, and imagination works well throughout the book. Finally this third of Supplement 15 is rounded off by a one-page glossary and three pages entitled ‘corporate scheming’ giving a way of getting PCs involved in business without needing to go into the detail of Book 7.

The second section of the book covers governments and indeed there are 101 of these as well. It runs through the standard world government codes in order and varies from four government examples (codes 1 and 8) to 16 for code ‘D’ or religious dictatorships which links nicely into the final part of the book. As with the original, each entry has a description, notes for the referee, and a plot. It’s simple, straightforward, but does give some ideas on how otherwise identical government types might be presented to players. Again, a glossary ends the section.

I’ll be honest and admit that when I saw that BITS were reissuing the little white books in this way (‘upcycling’ them?), I wasn’t convinced that 101 Religions would make the cut as it is slightly more esoteric and perhaps, in some quarters, more controversial. But in fact, it sits very nicely within the trio presented here and the title chosen for the volume. Kudos to the editor for thinking this through. Again, the text is pretty much verbatim from the original. Each of the 101 religions has a description, notes for the referee and varying numbers of plots attached. Once again, the section finishes with a glossary and this forms the back cover of the book. As with the original, although each of the religions was designed with a Universal Religious Profile from World Builders’ Handbook, licensing restrictions have not allowed that to be given. But the religions are arranged according to ‘World View’ – animism through to atheism – i.e. codes 0-14, and each gets half a dozen or so entries (with ‘Interactive Monotheism’ getting the most with 13 entries). As with the governments section there are lots of serious/humorous, nasty/pleasant ‘faiths’ here to spark ideas and to provide various ways that PCs can interact with those they meet. There is little or nothing to give offence but plenty to give pause for thought both within a game and perhaps without as well.

So should you buy Supplement 15? As I noted with Starport Encounters, it’s certainly going to benefit harried referees, authors stuck for a bit of inspiration, or even players generating their own ‘Automatic Campaign’ – although this likely won’t work quite as well as it might do with the individuals presented in the earlier book. As noted above there are now alternative options on purchasing this material so preference for format or style will need to be taken into account. The Mongoose website suggests that a print version of this supplement should be out in June. Like Supplement 13, it’s terrific to see such great resources collected into one volume and available once again to a new breed of Travellers.

The supplement’s cover strapline, quoted above, comes from a scripture passage that is concerned about being strong in the struggle that is to come. Traveller adventures almost by definition must contain some form of struggle for the PCs to overcome and this supplement provides much in the way of potential ideas and food for thought for referees putting together detailed worlds for their players to encounter. Hopefully the PCs will indeed be strong in whatever trials they face.