With an offer like that how could I not try this new Traveller role playing game core rule book? Here is the Mongoose Publishing ad copy:
Traveller is the science fiction roleplaying game of the far future. The Traveller Explorers’ Edition is an introduction to the game for newcomers that provides all of the tools you need to create adventures or even an entire campaign. Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.
Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.
The Explorer’s Edition provides all core game rules for Traveller, plus a universe creation system that allows referees to create new star systems on the fly for their players to visit and explore…
The universe awaits. Welcome to Traveller!Traveller Explorer’s Edition
First challenge – making sure I get that dang apostrophe in the right place because Mongoose uses it both before and after the ‘s’.
I duly paid my single dollar and, after waiting for a day for the purchase to hit my Mongoose account (why not right away? I know…shoulda used my DriveThruRPG account…Sigh) I downloaded the 74-page, full color pdf.
The “Introduction” of the Traveller Explorer’s Edition sets out the modest goals of this book. To quote, “The Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to introduce new players to the game using just one of its many genres; the exploration campaign.”
Hold onto that thought…
Opening the Traveller Explorer’s Edition, the cover art is pretty much what I expect from Mongoose these days. To my eye I can see a Type-S Scout there but the perspective seems screwy.
Most people don’t pay any attention to the legal print on the contents page, but I have my reasons. I note that this game contains no Open Game Content. This has long been a problem I have with Mongoose Traveller; they play legal games. The “core rules” for Traveller are taken from the Traveller System Reference Document, which is covered by the Open Game License (OGL), yes? For the longest time I “understood” that the core rules are covered by the OGL but “setting” specific items (like the Third Imperium setting) are Product Identity. When Mongoose Publishing declares all their product is not subject to the OGL it means they can make legal claims on anything YOU make using their product.
The next page in the pdf is a full color “setting” image. Here I see (somewhat more) recognizable Type-S Scout ships.
The text is a quote from Carl Sagan spoken in Cosmos. As for a call to adventure…well, nothing has ever really come close to the original, “This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…” I mean, I see what they are trying to do here here (“bold scouts and intrepid scientists”) but I’m just really not convinced this Carl Sagan quote delivers the message they want.
The next several chapters of Traveller Explorer’s Edition are “Traveller Creation,” “Skills and Tasks,” “Combat,” and “Encounters and Danger.” These are the core game rules:
- There are two career fields available; Scholar and Scout.
- Experienced Traveller players will note there is no chance of death in character generation.
- Skill checks are bog-standard Mongoose Traveller with 2d=8+ for success or rolled against a Task Difficulty.
- I note that the “Boom & Bane” game mechanism where you throw 3d6 and take the two best/worst from 2nd Edition is not here.
- The skill list is also pretty standard, though a few Third Imperium setting examples creep in.
- Combat is the same, as is the encounters and dangers section.
The “Equipment” chapter in Traveller Explore’s Edition goes out of its way to ensure you understand this is “The Core Collection.” What this practically means is that the equipment list is a cut-down version. This same “Core Collection” approach is used in “Space Combat” when it comes to ship armaments. That same philosophy delivers a single ship type in the book—a Type-S Scout/Courier.
“Spacecraft Operations” in Traveller Explorer’s Edition is again very, uh, standard for those familiar with the rules. Likewise, “World and Universe Creation” is (again) the standard star mapping and basic world creation system long used by Traveller. The star map uses the “standard” 1/2 chance of a world in any given subsector hex.
Let’s look again at the “intent” behind this Traveller Explorer’s Edition:
Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.
Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.Ad copy
The Traveller Explorer’s Edition certainly meets the first part of the intent. Create scouts and scientists? CHECK! Travel aboard a Type-S Scout/Courier? CHECK! It’s the second part that becomes problematic:
- “Dock you ship at advanced starports” – I guess so, but that’s not what I imagine as the edges of known space.
- “Visit strange worlds” – The basic Universal World Profile can be a start but a Referee needs a good imagination; no help is found here.
- “Encounter alien beings and animals” – Referee gonna have to totally make up aliens cause ain’t nothing in the book about ’em; at least some basic animal traits are defined in “Encounters and Dangers.”
- “Take on the challenges the galaxy sets before you” – This needs a good Referee but this Explorer’s Edition has no help for Referees.
So just what is an “exploration campaign.” Let’s go back to Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition and see how they describe it in the “Introduction – Campaign Ideas”:
The Explorer Campaign: In a game of this type the player characters go beyond the borders of known space, looking for objects, planets, and civilizations of value or curiosity. The characters will have to be highly self-sufficient to survive away from known space for long stretches. For inspiration look no further than the original series of Star Trek.Traveller Pocket Rulebook, p. 2
That’s a better explanation, though I still bristle at using high-tech, utopian Star Trek as inspiration for a Traveller campaign. Maybe it’s a personal preference but I always saw Traveller as having an element of desperate survival more like Firefly than the cleanliness of Star Trek.
Given that Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to be a simplified version of the game suitable as an introduction, perhaps the campaign should be simple too? I like the defintion of an exploration campaign that Paul Elliott gave in SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games, 2017):
Campaign: Survey Scouts – Exploration and adventure go hand in hand. In this campaign, the player characters are the crew of a survey ship – far from help or assistance, members of the scout service exploring new planets and sometimes making contact with alien races.SOLO, p. 7
SOLO goes on to deliver a game system that can be used to create a Survey Scouts campaign. A similar campaign game system is missing in the Traveller Explorer’s Edition. This certainly is an introduction to the rules, but it is far short of being an introduction to a campaign—or even a one-off session for that matter.
The Traveller Explorer’s Edition can be used as an introduction for new players; think of it as something more akin to an extended player hand out. The core rules are there and the players can experiment with creating their own character. The book delivers basic familiarity with equipment and combat and space operations and even the rough outlines of worlds. But the Traveller Explorer’s Edition does not deliver a campaign, or even the basic seeds of a campaign.
Not bad for a single dollar…but not really great either.
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