#RPGThursday Retrospective – Manufacturer Settings (2009-2010)

At the end of the 2000-aughts my roleplaying collection again took a different turn. For a few years, I turned away from new game systems and instead invested in campaign settings. At the time, the seemingly most popular settings were published courtesy of major publishers, or what I term “manufacturer settings.” I realize the term is not totally fair; in more than a few cases the setting was a labor of love from a small-time or alternative author that teamed with the larger publishing house because they had the experience and marketing prowess to bring the product to market.

pic544013_mdUniverse of Babylon 5 used Mongoose Publishing’s Traveller (1E) game engine. This campaign setting was translated from an earlier D20 series. UoB5 suffers from poor editing and sloppy game system translation as well as poor production quality. Given how rich a setting the B5 Universe is, to have the game version be so poorly done is a travesty. A major disappointment.

pic651616_mdReign of Discordia (Mongoose/Gun Metal Games) was another campaign setting using the Traveller 1E-engine. Another system translation (originally True20) it suffered from many of the the same issues as U0B5. Another disappointment.

pic760617_mdWhen I saw Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose) I just had to get it. Here was going to be the RPG version of my favorite military science-fiction series! Even better, it used the Traveller 1E-game engine that I was so familiar with!

What a let-down.

The fact that it was Mongoose should of been a warning. That and the cover art – that soldier is nothing like I imagined Hammer’s Slammers to be. Opening up the book, the maps were so amateur and very un-military-like. The rules were an expansion of the basic game engine, and links to future products were promised (and never delivered).

In my disgust with Mongoose – they had obviously tried to cash in on the Hammer’s Slammers name and ended up doing a great disservice to the IP – I turned to another recognized gaming name. pic797297_mdSpace 1889: Red Sands (Pinnacle Entertainment Group – PEG) was the campaign setting book for Space 1889 using the Savage Worlds game engine. This was by far the best of the setting books I tried as it was a good match of setting (steampunk) and game engine (Savage Worlds – “Fast, Furious, Fun”). The campaign setting also works well with the

Courtesy Wessex Games
Aeronef  (Wessex Games) miniature rules I had recently found. Indeed, long ago I used Red Sands to create Aeronef characters.

By the end of 2010 my flirtation with campaign settings died out. Looking back, each of these settings I tried was backed by a major publishing house and closely tied to their game engine. In the case of Mongoose the poor production values reflected to me a cash-grab attitude the turned me off then like it does today. The second part of the problem was that there was little “new” in these settings; in each case the setting was a translation of an older IP or license into a newer game engine. Red Sands was the best done of my lot, but I was looking for more.

In retrospect, this era – 2009 thru 2010 – was a major disappointment. Interestingly to me, I purchased each of these settings in a dead-tree form. This was among the last times I did that. The rise of online publishing and the availability of content through sites like RPGNow or DriveThruRPG (and more recently the Open Gaming Store) were starting to dramatically change not only how, but what content was being delivered to RPG customers like myself.

All images courtesy RPGGeek except where noted.

Christmas Games 2010 – Reign of Discordia (Mongoose Traveller RPG)

Courtesy PRGGeek

The Game:  Reign of Discordia: Interstellar Adventure in the Ruins of Empire.

The System: Mongoose Traveller RPG.  Note that the setting was originally developed and published for the True20 rules system.

The Appearance: Full-size hardcover (electronic pdf also available).  Traveller logo figures prominently across the bottom ensuring you know what system this is for.  I find the title a bit hard to read (especially on the spine when the book is on the shelf).  I also think the cover art is a bit too dark; in the image here you can sorta see the two aliens on the right but on the book cover one gets lost.  The front endpiece is a color map of the known galaxy.  Unlike most Traveller starmaps, there are no hexes but only a “1 inch =40 light years” scale.  Interior is black & white.  Artwork seems appropriate to the setting.   Some color would have been nice, especially for the planets which all look alike in greyscale.

The Content:  Reign of Discordia (RoD) is a setting book.  There are few new rules.  The 168 pages of content is divided as follows:

  • “Forward” by author Darrin Drader explaining his reasoning on RoD
  • “Introduction” (as listed in the Table of Contents) which is actually the general setting describing the history and major technical/cultural issues
  • “Major Worlds” which provides UWP and background on all the planets
  • “Character Options” which describes the major species by Physical Appearance, Communication, Society, History or Behavior; this is where you also find equipment listings
  • “Politics and Organizations” which populate the RoD setting along with generic NPCs
  • “Starships” with standard Mongoose Traveller descriptions and deckplans
  • “Running RoD” is a short GM ideas section
  • “Rovers Beacon” is a developed location (think Babylon 5) with several undeveloped NPC’s and organizations of interest
  • “Sample Adventure: Virus” is a short adventure using Rovers Beacon; several NPCs are included
  • Lastly, the “Index”

The Verdict: Well, where do I begin….  In no particular order:

  1. The setting is interesting.  Empires crumbling make for many adventure opportunities.  This is nothing like the 3rd Imperium of the Original Traveller Universe.  Some might even say the setting is like Megatraveller or Traveller: The New Era.
  2. The map raises more questions than answers.  Starships use the standard Traveller jump numbers but what does that relate to in this setting?  At 14.5 inches across the map spans 580 light years or ~177 parsecs/Traveller starmap hexes.
  3. The UWPs in the “Major Worlds” are horrible.  For example, the text for the Earth entry states the planet is densely populated but the UWP is a “7” meaning tens of millions.  The given population number is almost 12 million.  This makes no sense!
  4. The “Character Options” section is good on describing each species, but the meat of what is needed (modifications to the CharGen rules) is buried at the end of each race.  Again, these changes to the base rules raise more unanswered questions.  For example, for the R’Tillek you are supposed to replace Social Standing with Aptitude.  What is Aptitude?  I can’t find that rule anywhere!
  5. The Equipment section adds a few new rules (notably recoil for energy weapons) .  It also uses the standard Traveller tech levels (TL) for weapons.  The TL’s used range from 7 to 16.  The only other place TLs are used is in the starship descriptions.  But if you want to know what TL a given planet or race is at, good luck finding the answer!  For the non-weapon equipment there is no TL given.
  6. The best part of the “Politics and Organizations” section is the “Benefits of Membership” section that gives examples of advantages for belonging to a given group.
  7. The “Starships” section uses a standard Mongoose Traveller approach, meaning the deck plans are all-but-useless with their too small squares.  The ship stat tables are inconsistent with some entries listing a TL and others not. It appears that most ships were constructed using Book 2: High Guard (but the back cover tells you that you only need the Traveller Core Rulebook to play).  The Starship Size Comparison graphic at the end is nice but the greyscale (mostly black) image is hard to decipher and even fuzzy.
  8. The Rovers Beacon material lacks NPC stats.  Given the NPCs provided elsewhere this seems like an oversight to me.
  9. The “Virus” adventure again has rules issues.  How does the result of a Streetwise check have a “DM-2”?  Does this mean if they fail the Streetwise roll by 2 this is the information they get, or does this refer to the effect of the roll (per the standard rules)?
  10. There are many spelling errors or outright misplaced/displaced/lost text.

Remember that I told you this setting was originally developed and published for True20?  Well, many of the problems noted likely resulted from problems of translation from True20 to Mongoose Traveller.  Personally, I find the translation problems and grammar/format errors too burdensome.  For a product that was supposedly already “mature” how can there be so many spelling mistakes?  Lack of attention to detail in this case is fatal.  But even more troubling are the rules issues which practically bring you to a halt.

I have looked at various Forums that support Traveller, in particular Mongoose Traveller and COTI.  Several questions raised above have been asked.  I must say the answers have been far from what I believe is helpful.  The basic theme seems to be “fix it yourself.” Do you want to be “fixing” a product that retails for $34.99?

Reign of Discordia is a great idea.  Reign of Discordia is an interesting setting. Reign of Discordia needs an editor and proofreader.  Reign of Discordia needs better rules translations. In the end, I shouldn’t have bought Reign of Discordia and I recommend you don’t either.