Originally posted at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/04/26/tabletop-review-travell
Back in 2009, Mongoose Publishing released two new supplements for their Traveller line – Civilian Vehicles and Military Vehicles, Supplements 5 and 6 respectively. I came to them late, and didn’t have much chance to use them before I discovered that they were in the process of rewriting them from the ground up.
It seems they were poorly received.
I read through them, and found the system presented in the original books to be deliciously complex. You measured volume in honest-to-god cubic meters. You worried about the total mass of the vehicle in comparison to the propulsion system you chose, and just how large a propulsion unit it was, and how much power it would need, and therefore how large a power unit you’d need to power it! And once you’d determined the armor it carried, and the weapons, and the people, and the cargo, you ran through the list of a dozen plus possible modifications or optional features for each item you’d picked. Then you ran the numbers and went back to the drawing board to tweak things so that your tank could, in fact, move. Or have enough fuel endurance to fight a battle.
It turns out, people – normal people, I should say – don’t like that sort of thing.
Aside from any mechanical (heh) issues with the system, and I’m assured that there were some, people balked at the complexity of the system. It wasn’t quite as thorough and math intensive as, say, GURPS: Vehicles 2nd Edition – the gold standard for vehicle design systems that have a degree in mechanical engineering as a prerequisite – but it was enough to turn them off entirely to what was, in all actuality, a perfectly serviceable little design system.
In addition to this, there were two volumes, one for civilian vehicles and the other for military – and they were the same design system! The only place they differed was in the list of pre-built vehicles in each one. Folks, understandably, cried “foul” at this, feeling like the people who read the fourth and subsequent books in Piers Anthony’s “Incarnations of Immortality” series – “Hey, this is the same stuff, repackaged! I’ve been taken for a fool!” They didn’t quite rise up in angry protest with pitchforks, but the response was, say, a touch cooler than tepid.
So, a new edition was put together. This time, the book was a single volume called Supplement 5-6. If you bought one of the earlier edition, you could return it to Mongoose and they’d give you the new one in trade. If you bought both of the prior editions, you got the new version, plus another book from the collection. Honorably done, Matt, and just plain good business sense.
Now, you’re wondering what I think of the new version. Let me begin by quoting the introduction in brief:
The new vehicle design system was created to be quick. With practice, you will be able to create small, basic vehicles in just a few minutes, allowing you to create vehicles, almost on the fly, during a game. Even a large, multi-turreted super-heavy battle tank will not take much longer than five minutes’ work.
The key to this is that the design system focuses on effect rather than components. You will not find complicated charts of different engines, reactors and other power systems – in terms of effect, we really do not care how a vehicle is propelled, we just need to know how fast it goes and what it can carry.
At the same time, you will find the system to be very elegant, taking into account changing Tech Levels that bring new forms of propulsion, new materials that are lighter and stronger and new control systems that require less crew. All of this is factored into the very simple system.
Creating vehicles in under five minutes? A laudable goal. No complicated charts of different engine types? I’ll admit, I paled at this, fearing that realism would be sacrificed at the altar of simplicity. So I went into it with more than a little trepidation, expecting the worst.
Happily, everything turned out okay.
The steps are very easy to follow, though the breadth of options will make some of them take longer than their brief description might imply: choose your chassis, choose chassis mods (if appropriate), add armor, add weapons, choose universal (as opposed to chassis-specific) mods, calculate stats.
A ground car can be had, at any tech level, in a matter of seconds complete with most of the details you’d care about, on either side of the GM’s screen, for play. The first time through the system, you read every option, and debate whether or not it would be valuable for the vehicle in question. On future builds, you start to build up a mental library of those options, and when they’ll be handy. As you build more and more complex vehicles, the time you invest definitely goes up – a quick grav tank I did in a back-of-a-napkin style while testing the system out took me closer to fifteen minutes, but it was the first time I’d really closely looked at the weapon and advanced armor rules. I’d argue that that’s still a fairly quick turn-around.
The system does gloss over power and mobility. You still have to consider things like tracks versus wheels versus anti-gravity, but they’re factored into the type of vehicle chassis you choose to work with.
The weapon list is a strange mix of oddly specific and maddeningly broad, for my tastes, and needed a bit more proofreading before the book was let out the door (the concept of a “destructive” weapon was omitted, unless you already have the Hammer’s Slammer’s sourcebooks, and have run into it there, for example) but provides you with a goodly selection of weapons to choose from, from a range of tech levels. The armor system is very nearly primitive in comparison, assigning a single number of points per facing, and a token bit of fluff in the name of the materials used at that particular tech level.
An area that does suffer in the simplification is weight. The vehicles wind up with a “shipping weight” that’s valuable for determining how much space they take up in a ship’s hold, but cargo is limited simply to “spaces” – and you’re left with not even a sentence telling you “as for how much weight you can carry in that cargo area, you’ll have to wing it…” It’s the biggest failing in the system that I’ve found yet.
Another failing of the book is in the build examples. I’ve talked to the author and it seems the examples were written fairly early in the process, and didn’t get updated correctly when core rules were changed after playtesting. They’ve been noted, and hopefully will be corrected for future printings and in the PDF versions.
An unexpected gem from this book, especially valuable if you’re intending a Mercenary campaign, or are keen on anime/manga style gaming, is a full set of rules for building custom Battle Dress – the long-standing Traveller version of light powered armor. It gives broad ability options for GMs to choose from, as well as adding flavor to a formerly just-barely-two-dimensional element of the Traveller universe.
The rest of the book is a huge collection of vehicles, both civilian and military this time, from a broad range of tech levels, and from a broad range of polities – Aslan, Vargr and the like from the Third Imperium, plus entries for the other universe books supported by Mongoose – Hammer’s Slammers, Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog, specifically.
So, should you buy it? If you’ve already purchased the original Supplement 5 and/or 6, you’d be foolish not to trade them in – especially as I think you only need to send them the covers to do so, meaning you can keep the meatier, juicier rules if you like that sort of thing. If you’re intending to play using the Mongoose Traveller rules, I think they’ll be hugely beneficial to you if your game is anything but primarily cerebral. If you gloss over things like ship specs or vehicle chases, you might be wasting your time with this one – or you might find that it opens your eyes to a whole new level of crunch to apply to your campaign.