Traveller: Universe of Babylon 5 – or “Ruled by Shadows”

Courtesy RPG Geek

The Game: Universe of Babylon 5 (Mongoose Publishing, 2008)

The System: Mongoose Traveller. Only the Core Rulebook is required for play.

The Appearance: Full-size (8.5”x11”) pdf with 200 pages (pdf is 204). Cover appears to have been taken from the series, but the tones are weighted towards the blues and much of the color is washed out. Interior layout is a mix of single- and double-columns. All pages feature edges that add to the ambiance. The softcover version is in grey scale tones and each page has a light grey background (apparently the hardcover version was full-color) which appears to be watermark-type images from the series.The unfortunate effect of this watermarking and the black print makes the pages VERY hard to read. Call-out boxes are even harder to read since the background becomes a darker shade of grey with the same black print on it. Images are taken from the series but are – again – VERY hard to see since they are somewhat pixilated. In the pdf version, the pages are on a white background (no watermarking images – better for printing!) and the images are color. The overall color scheme still favors blues but all-in-all the pdf is at least legible!

The Setting: This is the Mongoose Publishing adaptation of the Babylon 5 universe using the Mongoose Traveller RPG engine. It apparently was also an adaptation based on a previous d20 version by Mongoose.

The Content: The back cover of this book states “…this book is a one-stop resource for Babylon 5 fans….Comprehensive rules govern everything from character creation through to Starfury combat with Traveller’s tried and tested systems tailored to the unique environment of Babylon 5.” In trying to live up to this boast, the book is broken down into the following sections:

  • “Introduction” (2 pages) which spends 1/4 of its time talking about how it differs from the OGL d20 version
  • “Welcome to Babylon 5” (19 pages) focuses on some history (with a definite Earth/Human/Earthforce slant) as well as introducing various races; a 2-page spread on the Starfury fighter is also here
  • “Characters in the Babylon 5 Universe” (8 pages) modifies the CharGen system by introducing the different B5 races
  • “Careers” (45 pages) has 10 different careers (Agent, Army, Citizen, Diplomat, Fleet, Lurker, Marines, Merchant, Ranger, and Scholar)
  • “Equipment” (14 pages) is a standard Traveller ironmongery
  • “Space Travel and Ships” (25 pages) modifies the starship travel rules as well as introduces new weapons and ships related to the B5 setting
  • “Telepaths and the Psi Corps” (16 pages) introduces modified/expanded rules on how to handle psychics in the B5 setting
  • “Babylon 5 Revealed” (29 pages) provides background information on the B5 station itself as well as characters from the series
  • “Voices in the Wilderness” (40 pages) provides Traveller-style subsector maps and info for most of the B5 universe
  • “License” (1 page) which interestingly is BLANK in my softcover copy

The Verdict: This may be a good setting but users may never know because it is just so darn hard to read! The page colors make it so shadow-like in the softcover are so bad I can only read it directly under strong lights. Besides that, this book needs a proofreader! At least check the layout; the section “Voices in the Wilderness” keeps the “Babylon 5 Revealed” headers. The most egregious error to me is on page 89 where a picture of an unpainted miniature tank is is used. Come on! At least you could spring for a stock-art image of a futuristic tank or just not include the picture!

On a bit of a calmer note, this book shows its OGL d20 roots. Like several other Mongoose translations, this one to falls short of hitting the mark when it comes to rules translations. For instance, look a the station itself. On page 133 the station defenses are listed as follows:

  • 8 x Quad-Linked Heavy Particle Beams
  • 8 x Independent Heavy Particle Beams (fore, aft, port and starboard arrays)
  • 48 x Triple Turrets, each housing x3 Pulse Cannons

So lets see; the Quad-Linked Heavy Particle Beams are NOT/NOT found in the Core Rulebook unless there is a new quad turret, or is the Quad-Linked Particle Beam a Bay? Even the New Ship Weapons section (page 97) doesn’t list a Heavy Particle Beam either. The new weapons list does have Pulse Cannons, but lists them by light/medium/heavy. So what sits in the Triple Turrets? This is but just one example of the poor rules translation found throughout this book.

What about the setting and the boast “one-stop resource.” Try again. This setting is too vague and lacks details to bring it to life. There is no Game Master section that talks about the themes of B5 and how to bring it to life. One needs to find a good wiki resource to fill in the gaping holes in the background needed to make this game playable.

Somewhere way back in this blog I swore not to buy another Mongoose product. Shame on me, I had a coupon from a FLGS and tried to do my part to jump start the economy. Universe of Babylon 5 is a reminder that I need to keep away from richly themed Mongoose products because their track record tells me – and you – that you will most likely be disappointed with what you have and even more upset at what you should have but don’t.

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