My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Failing d20 Modern with The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (Mongoose Publishing, 2004)

I’ve mentioned it before, but if if you go back through this blog and look at my tabletop role-playing game (TTRPG) history, you will not find Dungeons & Dragons. You will find lots of Traveller RPG, but not the other grandparent of the hobby. So to show you how really dark my RPG milieu from 1994 to 2005 was, we’re going to talk d20.

In that dark milieu I was desperately seeking a new role-playing game system. As much as I loved Traveller I felt that it wasn’t “fresh” anymore. Someway, somehow, I “heard” that you could play an RPG in a modern setting using a variation of the D&D rules. All you had to do was get this thing called a “Handbook.” So I searched, and in those early-Internet days I found a publisher all the way across the pond in the UK called Mongoose Publishing that sold this thing called The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (Mongoose Publishing, 2004) for a very respectable price of $19.99. So I bought one. The first envelope arrived—empty. Fortunately an appeal to the publisher resulted in another copy being shipped “With Compliments.”

Sitting down, I immediately started out to try to make a character…and failed. What went wrong?

Remember, I had not touched any of the d20 D&D world. I had no idea about “Edition Wars.” Most confusing was the text on the back of the book that talked about something called, “Modern OGL rule set.” What the heck is OGL?

Little did I realize then, I had encountered what I later learned was called a System Reference Document, or SRD. As the back book matter states:

The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is a simple guide to the world’s most popular Modern roleplaying game system. It contains exactly what a reader need to play the game and nothing else.

With this guide to the intricacies of the Modern OGL rules set, Players and Games Masters can make use of any other setting material or devise their own for a campaign that is uniquely theirs while still retaining the basic framework of the Modern OGL game. If it is a basic rule covering character creation, combat, equipment, vehicles, creatures or magic, it has a home in these pages.

Back matter, The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook, 2004

Way too slowly did I realize that The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is not a fully formed RPG but just like it says a basic, generic, set of rules. Still, you can create characters and put them in your own setting, right?

Creating a modern character is a simple, but well-detailed, process that requires several basic steps.

“Modern Characters,” The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (2004), p. 18

Reading through the Modern Pocket Handbook I jumped to the character creation chapter. The first step to making a character in is to pick an occupation. This was familiar given my Traveller RPG history. Then I encountered classes.


What I came to realize years later was that many of the “classes” in The Modern Pocket Handbook were actually archetypes. Further, like The Babylon Project before this, you don’t really randomly create a character, you methodically “develop” them.

As I worked though the Modern Pocket Handbook I encountered classes and talents and feats in character creation. What also threw me off was the lack of a setting. The last real “setting-less” rules set I used was my original Traveller RPG, but even that one had moved to the Third Imperium setting rather quickly.

I also realized that character creation chapter skipped a major part of character creation; abilities. For that you had to go back to the first chapter of handbook that discussed concepts.

Each character in a d20 game has six basic abilities.

“Ability Scores,” The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook (2004), p. 5

After learning all about occupations and classes and skills and talents and feats I tried to make a character using the Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook. I wanted to introduce you to Joe Mundane. But I can’t. The book simply does not give me the “ability” to do so. Really.

Nowhere in The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook is there a single sentence on how to generate the basic ability scores. No “roll a d20.” No “roll d20-2” or “Roll d20+1.” Nothing. Zilch. Nada. So how do I even start? Since I was not a d20 player, I had no “background” material to look at to see how others did it.

I didn’t look further…I just gave up and moved along.

Only later did I find another version of the Modern SRD and then have the confidence to make my own decision as to how to establish initial Ability scores. That time came only after I became more aware of different RPG system designs and actually paid close attention to the math behind the numbers.

As poor as my expereince with The Mongoose Modern Pocket Handbook was I did learn a few things:

  • I learned what an SRD is.
  • I learned about the Open Game License (OGL)
  • I discovered Mongoose Publishing which in a few years grew into a love/hate relationship with Mongoose Traveller.

What I didn’t learn was how the d20 system worked in play. This would take another few years to change…but (not-so-spoiler alert) not for the better. For the time being, my dark RPG age continued.

Pocket sized but not complete… © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Exploring the Traveller Explorer’s Edition from @MongoosePub #TravellerRPG

“Traveller for just $1!”

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.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

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.

“This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…we are under attack…main drive is gone…turret number one not responding…Mayday…losing cabin pressure fast…calling anyone…please help…This is the Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday…”

Traveller box cover, 1977

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. © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. The author is not affiliated with either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity.

Lost in the Role – or – Why so Little RPG Talk?

If you look back on my blog, you will see that up until this year I had a heavy focus on roleplaying games, especially science-fiction RPGs. This year I have turned hard into boardgames with a mix of tabletop family games and wargames landing on the table. RPGs have definitely fallen off to the side.

I recently took a look at DriveThruRPGs Black Friday to Cyber Monday Sale and made a few purchases, but at the same time I asked myself why I lost my RPG mojo. Last year I really tried to like Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius Entertainment. I participated in part of the Living Playtest and offered (few, very few) comments. In the end, instead of liking Star Trek Adventures, I was turned off to RPGs and only now am (sorta) giving them a chance again.

I have talked elsewhere about the art in Star Trek Adventures and how I find it totally opposite what I imagine. I also talked about how the now-decanonized Klingons Sourcebook for the FASA Star Trek RPG was more inspirational. But the part that turned me off the most was this:

Courtesy Modiphius Entertainment

This is the Star Trek Adventures Borg Cube Collector’s Edition Box Set. To me, this is not an RPG.

I cannot fully explain why I have such a visceral reaction to this offering. I understand that I don’t need the extra maps, and dice, and miniatures, and tokens, and other baubles to play an RPG. I know that all you need to play is a simple set of rules and imagination. I know because that is what I did with Classic Traveller for many years.

I think when I saw Star Trek Adventures I saw the continuation of a trend towards bigger RPG rulebooks and more IP-related gaming. To a point I had bought into that market with Serenity and Battlestar Galactica and Traveller 5 and Mindjammer and Atomic Robo and Firefly and Star Wars Roleplaying Game finding cherished places on my shelf.

But then something changed.

The first was that Mongoose Publishing brought out Traveller Second Edition and repackaged it in a way that makes it totally a price grab. This was just after they changed the rules for third-party publishers and stifled creativity (no…that’s not fair…they monetized it in an unfair manner). This was followed not long after by Star Trek Adventures and the Borg Cube trying to assimilate my wallet.

I rejected them…and walked away from the RPG hobby for a bit.

I am slowly finding my way back, thanks to small publishers like Gypsy Knights Games and Zozer Games and Stellagama Publishing. For a while that’s where I think I am going to stay for RPGs, on the smaller side of the spectrum with publishers who offer material that stimulate my creativity in a more rules-lite, non-restrictive campaign setting.

220791-thumb140I have found my RPG mojo…it never left and it is actually little changed from the late 1970’s. It just doesn’t need a large box and multiple rulebooks and maps and tokens and minis and hardcover expansions. It needs nothing more than the PWYW Cepheus Engine and a setting like The Clement Sector. What I need is like what Zozer Games is offering; the very simple 1970s 2d6 Retro Rules. With these simple tools I can make grand adventures; I don’t need a huge Kickstarter box or endless hardcovers or miniatures or tokens to do have fun.

#RPGThursday – Passing on Mindjammer Traveller

If you look at this blog, it should be apparent that the Traveller RPG is one of my favorite game systems. It should also be apparent that I have something of a love-hate relationship with Mongoose Publishing. Unfortunately, they are the current banner-carriers of the Traveller RPG system in the form of their Traveller Core Rulebook for Mongoose Traveller Second Edition.

To be clear, I don’t like it. Basically, I don’t see it as any real improvement over the original version and, when coupled with a more restrictive license that limits – even harms – third-party publishers, I am loathe to support it.

I also own Mindjammer: The Roleplaying Game (Second Edition) by Modiphius/Mindjammer Press. Mindjammer 2E uses the FATE Core rules. I am not a real fan of Transhuman adventure but I saw much good press about the game and tried it. I even liked it.

pic3340140_mdThis month, Modiphius released Mindjammer: Transhuman Adventure in the Second Age of Space using the Mongoose Traveller 2E rules. So I was challenged; I like Mindjammer but dislike Mongoose. What do I do? Do I invest in the Mindjammer: Traveller Edition for $22.49 (pdf) or not?

So I picked up the Dominion Quickstart for Mindjammer Traveller from DriveThruRPG. This is a free 48 page intro game with a few pages of rules changes from Mongoose Traveller 2E and then an adventure.

What I found was very few rules changes from Mongoose Traveller 2E and a lot of background. Background I already have in the FATE Core Mindjammer version. After careful consideration, I concluded that there is not enough new or attractive in the Mongoose Traveller 2E version of Mindjammer to purchase it.

So I’ll pass, and pause to ponder. Why do I find Mindjammer Traveller unattractive? It is the rules or setting? In this case, I don’t see a good marriage of rules to setting here. Maybe my experience with the FATE Mindjammer version has biased me, but I just don’t  feel the Mindjammer setting is best served by the Mongoose Traveller 2E rules. Indeed, I feel the story-telling or narrative basis of FATE is much better for Transhuman Adventure than the very mechanical Traveller engine. The possible results are much more wondrous – like a Transhuman setting should be.

Furthermore, I realize that my unbounded desire for anything Traveller has ended. These days, I appreciate a bounty of different RPG systems from the Cepheus Engine to Traveller 5 to FFG Star Wars to FATE games like Mindjammer or Atomic Robo to CORTEX Plus games like Firefly. Each of these games captures or compliments a setting in unique and positive ways – Mindjammer Traveller just doesn’t give me that same feeling.


#SciFiFriday #TravellerRPG Legal Wars – Give me Advocate-1!

When can you write about the Traveller RPG? Can you sell what you write?

Traveller, in all its forms and editions, is copyrighted. Copyright protects the publishers (Far Future Enterprises and its licensees) from unauthorized copying or publication. Traveller and associated words and terms are trademarks. Trademark protection protects the publishers from unauthorized use of marks.

We have a liberal Fair Use Policy. If your activity is non-commercial, you can make copies to support playing the game, you can scan copies for your computer, you can write short programs and spreadsheets which automate processes within the game. You can make copies of pages as handouts for players. You can make web pages in support of Traveller.

Fair Use Explicitly Applies to non- Mongoose Traveller editions….Only Mongoose Traveller is governed by both the OGL and TTL….


3. May I rewrite the game in my own words, scan parts of the book, or create any other derivative works.

No….You can write about the Traveller universe, and put it on your web site… but you can’t reproduce the rules (or reproduce re-writes of rules, etc.) except for about a page (because we give you permission to do that, provided you post the proper acknowledgement).

Far Future Enterprises Fair Use Policy, (C) 2008

Here is the copyright notice in the Mongoose Publishing Traveller Core Rulebook, (C)2008:

Traveller (C)2008 Mongoose Publishing. All rights reserved. Reproductions of this work by any means without the written permission of the publisher is expressly forbidden. All significant characters, names, places, items, art and text herein are copyrighted by Mongoose Publishing.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

In September 2008, Mongoose made available the Traveller Developer’s Pack. The pack included a series of Open Game License (OGL) System Reference Documents (SRD) for Traveller, Mercenary, High Guard, and Vehicles. These SRDs pertain exclusively to the rules of Traveller, not any setting.

Legal rights were explained in the Read Me First document of the Developer’s Pack:

I want to produce material based on older and out of print versions of Traveller, and publish them on a non-commercial basis.

Consult the Fair Use Policy Document.

I want to produce and publish my own original material using the current Traveller rules – both commercially and non-commercially.

Consult the Traveller Logo License.

The Read Me First document also stated:

What Can’t I do?

The following is not permitted under the Traveller Developer’s Pack – if you wish to attempt one of these projects, you should contact Mongoose Publishing for further information at This is not a comprehensive list, and you should get in contact if you want to do anything not covered by the Fair Use Policy or Logo Licenses.

  • Publish material for older and out of print versions of Traveller, and release them commercially.
  • Publish software based on the current edition of Traveller.
  • Publish Original Traveller Universe material beyond the confines of the Fair Use Policy or Foreven Free Sector Logo License.

This arrangement was fine; third party publishers like Zozer Games and Gypsy Knights Games could legally publish alternate settings using the then-current Mongoose Traveller (MgT) first edition Core Rulebook. That is, until Mongoose stopped selling the first edition, thus making any commercial release based on the first edition rules ILLEGAL.

Mongoose Publishing currently sells the second edition of MgT. Like the first edition, the game contains no Open Game Content. At the same time the second edition was released, Mongoose entered into an agreement with OneBookShelf (the company that brings us to create the Travellers’ Aid Society (TAS) and brought the Community Content Agreement (CCA) to the Traveller gaming community. The CCA allows for commercial uses of the MgT Core Rulebook “…provided that they only use the game system rules and game terms found in the current [my emphasis] edition Traveller books published by Mongoose Publishing.” The real interesting part of the CCA is how the agreement grants Mongoose broad rights to YOUR IP:

“User Generated Content” shall be defined as the copyrightable elements included in your Work, such as original characters, scenes, locations and events. User Generated content shall not include the illustrations and cartographic artwork included in your work. Per the terms of this Agreement, you expressly agree that your User Generated Content, once submitted to the Program will become Program IP and useable by other members of the Program as well as the Owner as described in this Agreement.” Web Post by Harl Quinn – 05-02-2016

What this means is if you are a third party publisher who wants to sell an original setting using the MgT second edition rules, the only way you can legally do so is to use TAS and GIVE UP your IP to Mongoose (not to mention that posting to TAS also means you give up a larger portion of the financial proceeds of the sale to Mongoose and OBS).

The combination of no Open Game Content in the “current” MgT second edition and the CCA effectively means there is no allowable commercial use of the “current” edition rules other than that specified by the CCA. Most importantly, any IP you place in TAS no longer belongs exclusively to YOU; Mongoose and ANY OTHERS can use YOUR IP freely.

Gypsy Knights Games in the comments adds: “I would like to correct one small thing in this post. While it is true that Mongoose and anyone else who likes can use any part of your IP in any way they want, it is important to note that the person using your IP must also be part of the CCA/TAS agreement. It is a small distinction but I think it is an important one.”

Mongoose is not the only publisher with a CCA. Wizards of the Coast has their Dungeon Master’s Guild,  Margaret Weis Productions has their Cortex Plus Creator Studio, and Monte Cook Games has their Cypher System Creator. I can appreciate these folks trying to protect their IP, or in the case of Margaret Weis protecting several licensed IP.
I also totally agree with the third party publishers who don’t like this arrangement. I wrote about that earlier this year, when the outlook looked very bleak. I didn’t see anybody taking the Evil Hat Productions approach of releasing most of their line under not one, but two proper-use licenses.

Thankfully, the future looks much brighter now, thanks to Jason “Flynn” Kemp of Samardan Press. Mr.Flynn has taken the Traveller OGL SRDs and created the Cepheus Engine System Reference Document: A Classic Era Science Fiction 2D6-Based Open Game System. Quite a mouthful, but important for the Advocate skill-holders out there.

Please Note: This product is derived from the Traveller System Reference Document and other Open Gaming Content made available by the Open Game License, and does not contain closed content from products published by either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and it makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity. The use of the Traveller System Reference Document does not convey the endorsement of this Product by either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises as a product of either of their product lines. – Cepheus Engine System Reference Document (c) 2016.

The impact of the Cepheus SRD has been near-instantaneous. Zozer Games has published Orbital 2100: A Solar System Setting for the Cepheus Engine Game. This week, Gypsy Knight Games released Clement Sector: The Rules (An Alternate Cepheus Engine Universe). The GKG rules follow a major rework of their entire (formerly) Traveller RPG-releated line to make their products OGL compliant, even going so far as to strip the word “traveller” from all their books. These products are great because the rise of Cepheus has given me my 2d6-based Sci-Fi adventure gaming mojo back!

You know what? I’m OK with that.

I’m OK because after years of disappointing Mongoose content and watching the roll-out of their second edition (which fails to impress me) I now understand Mongoose is making a naked attempt to take back commercial profits of an IP that the OGL SRD release gave away. Mongoose wants to make bank not only on the Classic Era Third Imperium setting, but any other setting that uses “their” rules engine.

Since 1979 I have gamed with Traveller, but Jason “Flynn” Kemp, Paul Elliott at Zozer, and John Watts at Gypsy Knights Games have together taught me I don’t need “Traveller” to play a fun 2D6-Based Classic Era Sci-Fi RPG.


Post Script: But wait, isn’t there another “current” Traveller RPG out there? All this legal wrangling over MgT second edition also got me thinking about Traveller5. According to the front plate in the T5 Print Edition 5.1:

Copyright (C) 2015 Far Future Enterprises.

All Rights Reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without express written permission from the publisher.

FFE maintains a FUP Fair Use Policy (available on request) detailing reasonable uses of the Traveller5 game system (including references to the material, copying, web presences, and derivative works) while still respecting its copyright and intellectual property.

It appears that T5 is not Open Game Content but allows reasonable non-commercial use. Not being governed by the Open Game License will require negotiating commercial-use with FFE.

“The Traveller game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright  1977-2015 Far Future Enterprises.”


#TravellerRPG 2nd Edition Core Rulebook Release

This week Mongoose Publishing dropped the release version of their Mongoose Traveller RPG 2nd Edition Core Rulebook. This is the final edition of the Beta that came out last September that I previously blogged about here, here and here. Of my many concerns with this new edition, today I will only talk about the pricing strategy.

Mongoose offered the Beta rules for $20. For this price one got the Core Rulebook, High Guard (starship construction rules in a .doc draft), Central Supply Catalogue (equipment in a.doc draft), some deck plans , a character sheet, and an adventure. The purchase price of the Beta was good towards the purchase of the final release edition. When the final release dropped this week it retailed for $29.99; so after the voucher one had to pony-up an additional $9.99 to buy the book (electronic version only). As I said before, I expected to pay an additional cost since Mongoose always seems to be on the expensive side of publishers.

Using DriveThruRPG, I looked to compare prices of other similar genre corebooks. I found that Mongoose is indeed priced very high. The Traveller Core Rulebook is 241 pages meaning it has a per-page cost of 12.4 cents. The Firefly RPG Corebook (Cortex Plus system) is 364 pages selling for $19.99 or 5.5 cents per page. Mindjammer (Fate Core system now but after its Kickstarter campaign will get at Mongoose Traveller version) sells 500 pages for $26.99 or 5.4 cents per page. A personal favorite of mine is Diaspora (Fate Core system) which sells 270 pages for $12.99 or 4.7 cents per page. Even the Traveller 5 (T5 system) tome of 759 pages selling at a whooping $34.95 (!) works out to “only” 4.6 cents per page. The price disparity is just as bad even if one looks at “generic” corebooks like Cortex Plus Hackers Guide ($19.99 for 264 pages – or 7.5 cents per page), Savage Worlds Deluxe ($9.99 for 160 pages or 6.2 cents per page) or worse yet Fate Core (“Pay What You Want” or around $5.00 for 308 pages – a measly 1.6 cents per page)!

So what does the $29.99 for the Traveller Core Rulebook get you? The download contains the Core Rulebook (both full color and B&W printer-friendly), deck plans (not labeled as nice as the Beta set), a subsection map (blank but with a legend that is not useful if you are non-Imperium), and a character sheet (no color and again not as nice as the Beta set).

Unlike Firefly, Diaspora, Traveller 5, or Mindjammer, Mongoose Traveller 2.0 is not fully playable with the core rulebook only. Judging from the text on p. 4 of the Core Rulebook, in the future one will have to purchase High Guard to get the ship construction rules, Tour of the Imperium if one wants the setting of the Third Imperium, the Central Supply Catalogue for ironmongery and various equipment, and The Vehicle Handbook for vehicles. Adventure modules will also be sold separately. So while one could play “with the corebook only” in reality it will be necessary to purchase High Guard to even come close to having a functional core set of rules. It will be interesting to the price point of these future products. In Mongoose Traveller First Edition, Book 2: High Guard currently costs 9.7 cents per page. The far superior (IMHO) third-party publisher Gypsy Knight Games sells The Anderson & Felix Guide to Naval Architecture (a High Guard-like book used in their Clement Sector setting) for 8.7 cents per page.

I am sure some will cry foul and say my comparison purely on the basis of per-page cost is unfair. The new Traveller Core Rulebook is in full color similar to Firefly but unlike Diaspora or Traveller 5 or Mindjammer. It certainly has more art than Diaspora or maybe even Traveller 5. After listening to many podcasts I have had it drilled into me that the most expensive part of an RPG publication is the art. I find it difficult to imagine that the art in the new book is of such quality or quantity that it raised the price that much higher than its competition.

At the end of the day I am reminded that I had previously sworn off buying Mongoose Traveller products. On the basis of cost alone, I am not sure I got a great bargain. In future posts, I will look closer at the game mechanics and the content of the Traveller Core Rulebook to help me judge if I got a really good bargain or not.