|A referee's essential lifeline?|
I picked up a copy of Supplement 9 - Campaign Guide during RPGNow's GM's Day sale at the beginning of March for 25% off. I'm really quite dissatisfied (to put it mildly) with the product, even at that price. Normally I would avoid double-posting in one day, but The People Must Know!
The editing is just... godawful. "phenomenona"? "mercanry"? Really? Jesus christ. Mispluralization of Vargr and Aslan to "Vargrs" and "Aslans". "Defendable" is not a word. "Under its civilized veneer lays..." is clearly wrong. "Instil" in place of "install". "Marines in battle dresses" is a slap in the face to those familiar with the best armor in Traveller, called battle dress. "Legendry". NPC typo'd to "NPO". The hell is a "necronumnum"? Apparently a form of infectious zombie (more on those later). "Cybernically" in place of cybernetically and "dischord" instead of discord. This is all less than a quarter of the way through the book, and it doesn't get any better. I'm willing to let some things slide as possibly British spellings (defence, offence, worshipped, armour, metre, etc), but I have my browser's spellchecker set to British and all of those are still showing up in red. Whoever was nominally the editor of this book didn't even make a cursory pass with a spellchecker, and it shows. That's completely unacceptable from an established company like Mongoose.
It's not just grammar and spelling, either. Some of the tables have duplicates of the same entry on them (the Civil Unrest table on page 10, for example). Some of the tables from chapter 1 are duplicated wholesale on page 169 for no apparent reason. A good number of the tables are unlabeled or unclearly labeled, which sometimes leaves the reader guessing which nearby event they're supposed to go with. This is especially problematic when the table comes before the event's description, or there are multiple tables on the same page (and that's true of many pages). The "Using the Urban Random Encounters Table" sidebar is repeated, too. Some chapters or other sections open with quotes from various modern pop culture sources. Some of these quotes are also repeated or re-used between headings. This is quite odd, and poor form. The selection of quotes is likewise uninspiring. I guess I should chalk up repeated use of lyrics from "Teddy Bears' Picnic" to the British culture aspect too... but for fuck's sake, they could've found something more science fiction relevant.
Finally, content. Yes, some of these tables could be used to generate hooks. I would hesitate to actually use most of them during play, since many rely on very particular circumstances. For example, the Accident table on page 9 has entries requiring the players to be on the streets of a city, or up in a skyscraper, or on a boat or coastline. Since these cannot possibly all be true at once, rolling on this table during play is quite likely to generate an outcome which doesn't match the situation the players find themselves in, in which case you either end up re-rolling until you get something useful, or choosing by hand, or forcing the players into a particular setting in order for them to then suffer a calamity there. None of these options sound appealing.
Many of the table entries completely disregard the capabilities of the characters. Consider the following: "You found an injured kitten and spent a week nursing it back to health. Roll 1d6. 1–4: The kitten has made a full recovery, gain a cat. 5–6: The kitten died despite your best efforts." Doesn't matter if you have Animals (Veterinary) 4, Edu 15, a pile of TL15 medical supplies, and a million credits to throw at the problem: any kitten you find has a 1 in 3 chance of dying. Likewise, "You ignored a red light and ran over a boy who was crossing the road. The boy was killed on the spot. The accident was witnessed by the boy’s preteen sister." You could be a professional driver with Drive 4, Dex 15, and a neural jack to your intelligent vehicle (hell, or on a world where cars drive themselves and you cannot possibly run a 'red light', if such a thing still exists), and it would make no difference; you still have as good a chance as any other character of running down some pedestrians.
The author is also evidently unfamiliar with how jump works in Traveller. From page 4: "Jump travel effectively cuts the Player Characters off from the rest of the universe for 1–6 weeks." Emphasis mine. Contrast with the actual rules from page 141 of the Mongoose Core: "Regardless of how far the ship Jumps, it always stays in Jump Space for roughly one week (148+6d6 hours)." Hmmm... those don't look quite the same to me... Upon further, consideration, though, this makes some sense. While checking the inside cover, I was at first surprised to see that there were no playtesters in the credits. That's... mighty unusual. It does, however, explain how this kind of rules error could have made it into the book.
There are thematic issues too, though. Zombies. So many zombies. I swear, under these rules, you couldn't spend three months in a city of any reasonable size without a zombie outbreak. Speaking of which, a hefty majority of the content here seems to be focused on "the city". City generation rules, city events, things like that. This is a gap in Mongoose's coverage of Traveller to date, and arguably the best part of the book (except maybe the maps, which, being images, were a welcome break from the deluge of spelling errors).
Many of the events remind me a lot more of Farscape-style craziness than Firefly. I guess that's OK with some people, but that's not really what I think I want in my Traveller, and I'm not a hard-core OTU guy, so I imagine some of these things would have the Old Guard frothing with rage. It's all about the immortality-causing radiation and invading ancient aliens and colossal aliens that live in vacuum and mind control worms and hull-eating viruses and zombie- (and/or mutant)-producing mad scientists and terrible abominations deep beneath the earth and rips in space-time. Oh, and did I mention that "fantastical creatures" like goblins and dragons are a possible random encounter result? Well, let's just say that Traveller now has official stats for them; saves me the trouble for Fantasy Traveller, I suppose. The section on 'campaign generation' is relatively coherent, but fairly standard DMG-type stuff, and then at the end of it there's a real gem of editing: "The realist campaign is more suitable for mature groups interested in exploring complex subjects through the media of RPAGE." That one took me a while to parse.
In summary: this is one of the worst RPG books I have ever had the displeasure of reading. The production value is right down there with Blight Magic (which, while quite decent mechanically, had absolutely awful art. Unavailable in pdf, and the publisher, Mystic Eye Games, has since gone out of business). The editing made even skimming the book downright painful, the content is extremely questionable within most Traveller universes, and even when they set out to produce useful rules, they fuck it up. For example, they provide rules for crime rates in cities on the standard Traveller hex-scale from 0 to 15ish. OK, that sounds like a good idea. Then, when actually making d66 rolls to see whether the PCs are victims of a crime, that rating has no effect on the roll. Neither does PC Streetwise skill, nor ability scores. This roll is, however, modified by a number of other factors including "bears marks of popular religion", "carries a purse or briefcase", and (my favorite for political incorrectness) "immodestly dressed." Really, guys? Really? And then, if you do manage to decipher the haze of inane modifiers, you realize that this is something you're supposed to roll once a month for each 'flavor' of crime listed on the next page. OK... but that list includes the following:
Corruption: Apply this DM to all skill checks made to bribe
policemen and city officials. Apply negative DM to attempts
made to cause the police to actually do its job.
Investigation: Percent of successful investigations.What in the nine hells? There are so many things wrong here that it's insane. There's no system for converting the d66 roll for whether or not crimes occur into a DM for Corruption. Note the grammatical error in "cause the police to actually do its job"; most native speakers of english would probably use "their" there. The whole construction of that sentence is just off. Finally, "Percent of successful investigations"? There's a skill for that, and certainly no place in a d6-only system for percentage rolls. Nor is there any compelling reason for the percentage of successful investigations to be something you roll for when rolling for crimes committed against the PCs; that's a function of Law Level checks, from Core page 173-4. What the hell was the author thinking?
Another of my favorites is the "You missed last session; what happened to your PC?" table, which contains such wonderful party-splitters as "You were tricked into enlisting in the Imperial Navy. The ship leaves tomorrow. Deserters will be shot." and "You wake up on a planet many parsecs away. The last thing you remember is a strange man in a pub asking you if you would like to see a magic trick." The rules for gaining and losing weight are also a standout in terms of terribleness, including a convenient formula for your character's body mass index and penalties to physical stats for being overweight. I honestly wish I could say I was kidding about this crap, but I swear on my dice, I am not.
What really gets me is that usually I quite like books full of random tables. Ultimate Toolbox is pretty nice, for example. I was expecting things more like the Mongoose Core random tables for creature generation, subsector generation, and mission / patron generation; coherent, well-thought-out subsystems driven by tables. The tables in this one aren't even particularly good for random hooks, and well-thought-out subsystems are completely out of the question. See, I'm of the school of thought that a random table is actually a probabilistic description of the state of the gameworld (yeah, yeah, sue me for false advertising on the gamist-simulationist axis). Mongoose Core's tables satisfy this simulation requirement - they function descriptively for common patterns in xenobiology, or star formation and colonization patterns, or what kind of jobs people want done by drifting spacers. It took me a while to come up with what kind of setting the tables in the Campaign Guide would describe, but I did eventually find one: Futurama. The party stumbles upon a village where radiation has made everyone immortal. Fry goes "Wait, that's not how radiation works," the Professor explains the bogus future-science in an amusing way, Bender cracks a joke about pathetic meatbags, and they go back to helping the marines in immodest battle dresses fight off the zombie dragons. If you treat every typo and crazy result as potential comedy gold, this book is a goldmine. If not... well, then it's a steaming pile of mongoose feces.
Unequivocally, a 1/5 rating for this book in all regards. No playtesting was done (or it if was, the playtesters were omitted from the credits), the editor didn't edit, the author lacks any apparent depth of understanding of Traveller, and is not terribly skilled as spelling and grammar (his website confirms this suspicion, and also reveals that he was the author of the problematic Robots supplement, as well as the "D&D With Kids" articles, which I recall creating a shitstorm of outrage when they were first released. Funny, though, that it candidly admits that none of his publications make any sense). I regret that I do not have fewer marks to give, and that I spent $15 on this book, which I can hardly resell since it's a pdf. Better than if I had bought it in paper for $35, I suppose... I can only hope that my dollars did not die in vain, and that I might warn others away from this most terrible product.