Wednesday 13 March 2024

Mongoose Traveller Mid-Campaign Thoughts

I'm three sessions into my Mongoose Traveller campaign. That's one session of lifepath character creation and two of regular play. So far we've had a lot of fun, and the players have all brought their A-game, but how has it been to run?


I wanted to run this by-the-book as much as possible, hoping to tap into some of the great things I'd heard about Classic Traveller in play. My gut feel was that Mongoose is close enough to Classic to make this work.

Now some of the difficulty might be down to the fact that I normally run my own systems, and when I'm not doing that I gravitate toward the very light side of things. Mongoose Traveller is far from the crunchiest system ever (assuming you aren't using every optional part of the toolbox), so I haven't run into many mechanical issues, but I feel like the system hasn't done a great deal to inspire my prep and improvisation. In some places it even feels like ballast that I have to work against.

I'm using the Spinward Extents sourcebook, which uses 368 pages to cover two whole sectors of space in great detail.

At least, in great detail overall, but I find myself constantly wanting different types of detail to what is being presented.

Of course Traveller is famous for its spartan Universal World Profiles that summarise a planet in 8 numbers and letters, expecting you to translate that into something table-ready. I'm on board with that. 

Each sector has 16 subsectors, each of which has around 24 worlds described via their universal profiles, and 4-5 that get an actual writeup, anywhere from two to ten paragraphs of description. 

Here's the very first world described in the book:

This is actually one of the better entries! You get a broad physical description, and the present-day situation is somewhat interesting, but it's still sorely lacking in hooks. I've ranted about settings with millennia-spanning timelines before, but this book does a lot of "here's an interesting event... that happened 500 years ago". 

Each subsector gets its own description, but it's similar to the above, not all that much to the ground-level (or I guess deck-level) stuff that's happening in my game. Here's the subsector that Barba Amarilla sits within.

Now the opening description of the sector as a whole details some of its history and polities, but the vast majority of that has been too zoomed-out to be much use for my game. What does it tell us about the Duchy of Mapepire, which controls the world and (most of the) subsector we've already looked at?

For context, the most common year for a traveller game is 1105, so even the most recent event (the Duchess taking the throne after the botched coup) happened over 30 years ago. All the cool stuff about a pirate captain carving out his own domain happened over 400 years ago.

There's some juice in the idea that the Duchy is running, or at least enabling, pirate activity. Imagine if the book had described this as a dynamic situation, perhaps detailing a related incident that happened in the last year or so to make the place feel a little more dynamic. 

It describes their fleet organisation, and mentioned their starport presence, but I get no idea of how to actually represent this. What makes their starports feel different to those of the Corellan League? Do their fleets have unusual protocols that would make one of their ships an interesting encounter?

I did enjoy reading through all of this and learning about the sector, but so little of it translated into gameable ideas for me. If you're prepping or improvising, and you're just looking for a nugget of inspiration, it can be very difficult to find any!

Characters are mentioned, but often some long-dead founder of a world, never an interesting character that the players might actually meet. 

Events are detailed, but usually historical, instead of some flashpoint that's ready to explode when the characters arrive. 

There are rumours, a d66 table for each of the two Sectors, but as each page covers an entire sector it's often not relevant to where the players actually are. 

There are rare exceptions to the above, but far too few. 

The Core Rulebook has some tools to help with this, including encounter tables and a method for generating characters, but it feels like a missed opportunity to not have bespoke content for the part of space I'm reading about. 

This isn't a negative review of Mongoose Traveller or of The Spinward Extents, but an insight into some of the difficulties I've had combining these resources with my particular style of GMing. 

And perhaps a warning that running something by the book can be so much more challenging than winging it. 


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  1. One of the biggest innovations of the OSR for me was the real effort to figure out strategies to avoid a wall of non-gameable text like you see in more mainline rpg publishers. It can be pretty hard to tease out any useful information. What did you think of the mechanics? The few times I ran it - it all boiled down to rolling for 8 on a 2d6 after discussing the desired outcome and figuring out what adds might apply. I thought it made for a pretty improvisational game with a lot of creative thinking on the players side.

  2. I grew up with those 90% unuseable splatbooks in rpgs of that era. Just take the 3 bits you like from each era and push them to the front of the timeline/as an explanation for the next happening.

    I blame Tolkein worship for every writer thinking we needed a detailed 5000 year history in an rpg setting/source/ adventure book. Tolkein did not write rpgs.

  3. I wholeheartedly agree. I love the idea of Traveller but have found the sourcebooks to generic and barren to inspire me. Very frustrating!

  4. Great post. Lore-itis is a terrible waste of money and space. I still think the best way to run Traveller is to roll up a random subsector, spend maybe two evenings explaining the results and then one more to roll up characters, whip up a couple patrons and go.

    Generic supplements like the old Gamelords books or 76 Patroons are the best. Third Imperium just never got me excited.