Verdict: Highly recommended
Note: A tabletop RPG (Role Playing Game) is where a GM (Games Master, aka Referee), runs a game, with the key characters (aka the Travellers) being played by the players.
Mongoose launched a new era for the Traveller tabletop Role Playing Game (RPG) in 2008, with the first edition of its core rule book (CRB), as a hardy A4-sized hardback book. This was the first time I ever got my hands on a Traveller book. Printed in black and white, with some art, the first edition of the core rule book was part Universe-agnostic and part Third Imperium of Mankind based. Subsequent books took in other Universes – Babylon 5, 2300AD, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog, Hammers Slammers – and these were only the tip of the iceberg. Traveller was first published in 1977.
The second edition of this book was published 2016 and saw the introduction of full colour and improved artwork. An index and a glossary would have been helpful – and, to aid rapid access whilst running games, I’ve had to 1) create my own extended contents and 2) paste the tables from the Traveller Referee’s screen to the inside front and covers (useful when running a game in a coffee shop). During the lockdown of 2020, this book completely sold out; but it should be available again now.
The default setting for Traveller games is in the Spinward Marches sector, in proximity to The Third Imperium of Mankind, The Aslan Hierate, The Zhodani Consulate and The Vargr Extents.
There are some assumptions made about the standard Traveller game. The default currency is the Imperial Credit. There is no warp drive – ships travel from one subsector to another, using a Jump drive. This enables faster than light (FTL) travel: where a ship travels beyond the 100-diameter limit of planetary or solar bodies, makes the jump into Jump Space, spends a week in Jump Space and comes out into normal space, one or more parsecs away from their starting point. There are no FTL communications. Solar Systems, as published in the sourcebooks, have a collection of worlds with some rough details, but only the two most interesting settlements are documented. The rest is up to the GM. Worlds are defined using a string of hexadecimal digits called a World Profile which lists Star Port quality, world size, atmosphere type, hydrographic percentage, population, government type, law level and tech level (TL). There is a lot of scope for an ambitious GM to create a unique version of the standard Traveller Universe and still be roughly compatible with sourcebooks and adventure modules based in the Third Imperium. An even more ambitious GM is free to abandon that heritage and create their own, totally unique Universe or even one based on their favourite sci-fi books/films.
On to the book itself. A Traveller game starts off with a group activity – Traveller Creation (Chapter 1). is in its own right a mini-game. Every action in Traveller is skill-based or characteristic-based (Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intellect, Education and Social Standing), which are covered in Chapter 2. Combat (Chapter 3) is deadly, complicated to run and best avoided. Encounters and Dangers (Chapter 4) is a mixture of hazards that Travellers are routinely exposed to and mainly of use to a GM. A small selection of available equipment (Chapter 5) is present, which is supplemented by an additional book, the Central Supply Catalogue. Chapter 6, Vehicles similarly presents rules for common vehicles and is supplemented by the Vehicle Handbook. Spacecraft Operations (Chapter 7) covers a mixture of details (power requirements, maintenance, running costs, mortgage costs etc). Chapter 8 is devoted to space combat – deadly, complicated and expensive. Chapter 9 covers common spacecraft and is supplemented by the High Guard core rulebook. Chapter 10, Psionics, is an optional magic system for the system. Trade, Chapter 11 (pun intended?), is all about interstellar trade and is a mini-game in its own right – one of the original authors of Elite was a Traveller fan. Finally, Chapter 12 is all about world creation. Although the book can stand on its own merits, there is also the Traveller Companion, a 166 page compilation of variant and alternate rules. More information can be gleaned from the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society Volumes 1-6.
In the Internet based world we live in, support is available. Mongoose’s website is an online store for all of its in print products – out of print products, where licensing permits, are available as PDFs. Mongoose Publishing takes part in the Bits and Mortar scheme where purchasers of their titles gain a free PDF of that title. This is particularly helpful for searching because, until relatively recently, indexes weren’t provided in these books. Their website offers forums (forum.mongoosepublishing.com) for the discussion of games and is a good source of help as is the downloads section. Other support websites include the Traveller Map (travellermap.com) – possibly the most detailed RPG map ever and The Traveller Wiki (wiki.travellerrpg.com), a library and game resource.
As can be expected, Traveller is a game, not a simulation. A GM has to be at least familiar with the contents of this book and be able to ad lib at a moments notice. The books all portray the setting in broad strokes. There is room for customisation and specialisation everywhere.
In Conclusion, Traveller is a more pro-active way to spend leisure time – and Mongoose’s books do it justice.