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Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
$34.99 $20.99
Publisher: Mongoose
by Dave S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/30/2012 04:18:49

This book is a train wreck, plain and simple. Where do I begin?

  • Worst. Editing. Ever.

There are tables that, so far as I can tell, simply don't exist. Cross-references to other pages are wrong as often as they're right. Several top-of-section quotes are repeated - and so is a complete callout box ("Using the Good Book: Urban Encounters" appears on both p.94 and p.101 with identical text). There is a section of several pages where ships are consistently referred to as "vassals" rather than "vessels", and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Confusion of similar-sounding words seems to be more the rule than the exception. I have to wonder whether the book's editor is not a native speaker of English or if they simply didn't take the time to actually read this book.

  • The layout is a little better than the editing. A little.

This book has a lot of tables. Often three or four of them on a single page. Unfortunately, it seems to be pretty random as to whether a given table will appear before or after the text describing it, the text and table are often on different pages, and the tables are often labeled unclearly (or not at all beyond "roll 2d6"), which can make it difficult to determine which one is which. Tables are also often split between pages for no apparent reason. Many pages have the bottom third left completely blank. It's not uncommon for these large blank spaces to be at the bottom of pages containing the first portion of a split table, even if the full table could have easily fit onto the page if not for the blank space.

  • The author's familiarity with Traveller seems suspect.

This is not a simple "it's not OTU!" rant. I am not an OTU grognard. I have, in fact, never played in OTU, nor even looked at any edition of Spinward Marches or any other OTU-specific books beyond flipping through them briefly at the store.

However, Traveller has a certain hard-SF (or at least firm-SF) flavor baked into the rules even outside of OTU materials and that flavor is completely ignored by this book in favor of zombie apocalypses (first on p.16, but they reappear frequently through the rest of the book), young women being sacrificed to dragons (p.27), ships and robots randomly becoming self-aware and sapient AIs in general (p.43, 55, 57, and many, many others - while this could fit into Traveller, it would be at least TL16, if not 17+, rather than something you encounter every time you run down to the corner store for a carton of milk), godlike "higher entities" (p.36), and on and on...

"But, wait," you say, "This is a 'Supplement', so it's supposed to be setting-independent and those are all staples of science-fantasy settings!" Alas, it is not so, as the author has also opted to include OTU-specific encounters within the book, with regular appearances by Aslan, Vargr, Telvanni, Droyne, and Hiver contingents.

Even aside from flavor, the author seems a little shaky on the rules, most notably the description of his "Automatic Campaign" flow on p.3, which states that "Jump travel effectively cuts the Player Characters off from the rest of the universe for 1–6 weeks." No, according to the rules in every version of Traveller I've seen, each jump takes roughly one week, regardless of distance jumped. (It's unclear whether the author intends to say that jumps take 1 week per parsec or that they take 1d6 weeks, but RAW disagrees with him either way.)

Finally, the author's description of campaign flow seems rooted in more traditional RPG systems, with the assumption that player characters will have a consistent home city, where they find a job, go out, do it, and then return to their home city for a few months of rest before looking for a new job. Months? Yes, months. The "Resting" section on p.5 shows rolling for Life events once a month during downtime and the text suggests that "more than one event per month creates a mood of paranoia and persecution."

I don't know about you, but I've never seen a Traveller campaign that fit that pattern. More often than not, the player characters have a ship and they have to pay for that ship. Say they've got a nice little Type A Free Trader. That's a relatively cheap (and common for PCs) ship. Even ignoring maintenance costs, the mortgage payments on it are going to run 130-150kCr/month. Sitting idle at home for multiple months between runs tends to lead to your ship getting repossessed. In my experience, the much more common flow is one week planetside, one week in jump, and doing our best to make sure we get paid (whether by patrons or from buying and selling cargoes) at least twice a month, every month.

  • Lack of coherence in game systems.

This mostly shows up in the city generation section - which, by the way, is actually fairly decent if you can dodge these pitfalls - but the rules proposed in this book seem to have been written in isolation, without considering other rules systems or even other parts of the system itself. Two examples immediately come to mind:

First, the rules for determining a city's population on p.82, which say the population will be 2d6 x 10^(d6+3), giving a population of anywhere from 20,000 to 12,000,000,000. Note that the planetary profile does not enter into this at all, so you can apparently have twice the total population of Earth living in a single city... at TL 2. You can also easily roll up cities whose population exceeds the total population of the planet they're on, given that the exponent used in city size is linear (d6+3, avg. 6.5), while that used for planetary population follows a bell curve (2d6-2, avg. 5). These issues are not addressed in any way.

Second, the crime determination system on pp.99-101 includes a table for determining the Crime Rate of a city district, which looks pretty decent. But the rules for determining (again, on a monthly basis...) whether the PCs are victims of a crime completely ignore the Crime Rate - it doesn't matter whether the Crime Rate is Very Low ("Occasional crime of passion, some vandalism and petty theft.") or Insane ("Every single person you meet on the streets is a murdering psychopath."), your odds of being mugged are exactly the same. Also, the planetary profile is, once again, ignored - neither population nor law level figure into determining the Crime Rate or whether you are victimized.

  • Wrapping up

To bring this rant to a close, the book does have some decent random tables for generating just about anything you can think of (What's on TV? p.137 Graffiti on the bathroom wall? p.130) even if they do tend to be a bit too random and lacking in any sort of coherent theme or flavor. Unless you're playing in Grimjack's Cynosure or a similar "cross the street and the laws of physics just might change", absolutely-anything-goes setting, you'll probably end up ignoring or rerolling things on a regular basis. You can also expect to apply Rule 0 pretty frequently, at which point it starts to raise the question of why you don't just draw tarot cards or roll on lists of random words to spur your imagination instead of using this book's tables.

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Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
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