Review of Mongoose Traveller, Part 2
Posted by Journeyman GM
Two weeks ago, I started my review of Mongoose Traveller (i.e. the version of Traveller created by Mongoose Publishing) and talked about the amazing character creation system. Gameplay in Mongoose Traveller is slick, although it’s not quite as stellar as the character creation.
The typical adventuring party in Traveller is a group of people working together on freelance missions. Sometimes they have their own ship, sometimes they’ll have one on loan from a patron. Generally this leads to sort of a Firefly vibe with people from different walks of life all working together.
Because there are so many skills, it’s possible to have missions that don’t have any combat whatsoever. Want to go on a science mission? It’s easy since there are multiple skills that are related to science. Want to have Battlestar Galactica-style drama? You’ll be using skills like Admin, Advocate, Deception, Diplomat, Investigate, Persuade, and even Carouse. And how do you do stuff? Roll 2d6, add your modifier from an appropriate characteristic (such as Intellect, Dexterity, or Education) and add your modifier from an appropriate skill, generally aiming for an 8 or higher. Quick and easy. Because skills just add flat modifiers, this also means that characters still have a shot at doing things that they aren’t well trained for.
But if you do want to do combat, be forewarned that it is lethal. Say you’re on a mission and some goon wants to shoot you. He makes a Gun Combat roll, adds his Dex Modifier, and gets an 8. If you’re not under cover or anything, then you’re shot. The goon rolls for damage and your Endurance characteristic is reduced by the number of points you got hit for. Did it get to 0? Then you reduce either Strength or Dexterity for the remaining number of points, which abstracts the kind of wound that you’re getting. And did either of those get to 0? Then you need immediate medical treatment or you’re dead. Lethal, but really, really fast (faster even than Savage Worlds).
If there’s a weakness to gameplay, it’s that it’s really hard to advance. If you think about it, your character only earned one or two skills over the course of four years during character creation. It takes about as long in gameplay. The official way to do it is that the number of in-game weeks it takes to advance a skill is equal to the number of skill levels you have. Got ten skill levels? It will take you ten in-game weeks to advance. Although realistic, this can be hard to manage if you’re used to a D&D-style power progression. The real reward for completing missions is generally money and contacts, not experience.
Besides those things, there really isn’t anything special about gameplay. There’s a lot of potential for a variety of mission types, combat is lethal, yet really, really fast, and the focus is on getting contacts rather than getting experience. If you don’t like for the system to get in the way of your storytelling, I think you’ll be happy with how Mongoose Traveller feels in game. Still I imagine that there will be some who find gameplay less interesting than the awesomeness of character creation. I can’t think of another system that has that problem.
At any rate, I definitely recommend giving Mongoose Traveller a try at least. It’s a nifty system that is an update to an old classic. Simple, diverse, and fun.