RPG Thursday – Traveller Vehicle Handbook Review

A squadron of Imperial Marine Trepida grav tanks on patrol (by A. Boulton at http://www.traveller3d.com)

BOTTOM LINE UP FRONT – QUALIFIED FAILURE

The new Supplement 5-6: The Vehicle Handbook from Mongoose Publishing (MGP 3868, published 2012) has three major sections. In order they are New Vehicle Rules, the Vehicle Design System, and Vehicle Examples. My review will address each in a slightly different order.

The Vehicle Design System is more streamlined than the older Supplement 5 Civilian Vehicles (MGP 3821/2009) and Supplement 6 Military Vehicles (MGP 3822/2009) which generally makes it faster and more useful. As noted in the Introduction, the authors bought into the “design for effect” school and dropped much of the “gearhead” details. I like this – as a GM one needs to be able to quickly design vehicles to support the story. Unfortunately, the text is often hard to follow and the design process can be difficult to understand. Somebody needs to introduce Mongoose to bullet lists! The (sadly) traditional Mongoose editing/proofreading/format errors are here which means it is that much more challenging to make sense out of rules.  Even given all that I rate this section 4 out of 5.

The Vehicle Examples are a mess. Most examples have errors. Cargo and armor and weapons ranges and stacked modifiers for price are often done incorrectly. So much so that I cannot trust any example. I will admit I haven’t checked every entry, but I have looked at 20 and found only one correct.

I was happy to see Hammer’s Slammers vehicles in this book. I was hoping that Mongoose would finally live up to the back cover of Hammer’s Slammers (MGP 3817/2009) where they stated “With all vehicles created using the Traveller Vehicle Creation System, this book is guaranteed to be fully compatible with every other Traveller book, allowing you to mix and match supplements as you desire!” Alas, Mongoose has failed yet again to live up to that “guarantee” since it is still impossible to recreate the Hammer’s Slammers vehicle designs since many weapons are missing or details are poorly translated/updated between products. I am not sure the designer of the Hammer’s Slammers vehicles actually understands the source material since many design decisions are at odds with the source literature (like no Fusion powerplants and Explosive Reactive Armour vice Explosive Belt). Indeed, it looks like many vehicles don’t add the cost of the weapons, a bit understandable since none of the weapons are described in any Traveller product beyond Hammer’s Slammers which didn’t give cost.

I also tried to recreate the Sword Worlds vehicles but that too proved impossible since several weapons are not to be found in the new Vehicle Handbook, the Sword Worlds guide (MGP 3865/2011), the Central Supply Catalogue (CSC, MGP 3819/2009), and even Mercenary (MGP 3801/2008).

Given all the errors in the vehicle examples and the inability to recreate iconic vehicles, I rate the Vehicle Example section 1 out of 5.

Lastly, there are the New Vehicle Rules. The most significant new rules in my mind are vehicle movement, extended ranges for vehicle weapons, and interactions between Tech Levels. The vehicle movement rules are simplistic yet not very clear with some rules found in the construction section rather than with the new rules. Weapon ranges are messed up with many at odds with CSC or other previous publications. In contrast, the new Tech Level interactions rules are nice but there are many skill check or hit modifiers spread out through the book they are never brought  together in an easy to understand way.

Mongoose had previously published an expanded set of vehicle combat rules in Hammer’s Slammers, but it appears the new Vehicle Handbook was written without referencing that work at all. Indeed, the vehicle movement rules and expanded ranges are at odds with Hammer’s Slammers (comparing ranges in CSC and the new Vehicle Handbook is also difficult to follow – and mostly wrong as noted above). Mongoose missed the chance to bring in useful items from Hammer’s Slammers like Crew Roles, new Actions, as well as Special Considerations like Air Defense, Booster AI to explain the usefulness of computers, and Expanded Damage Rules. The net result is a further weakening of the “Hammer’s Slammers guarantee” and (IMHO) a missed chance to make vehicle combat better. It seems quite clear that Mongoose has abandoned the Hammer’s Slammers product so why bother to put the vehicle examples in?

I fully believe Mongoose could have incorporated expanded vehicle combat rules in this product. Within the Vehicle Design section there is much repetition and it is possible more space could have been used for new rules. This book also screams for an index which is not to be found.

I rate the new rules 2 out of 5. Too many missed opportunities!

At the end of the day I am torn on what to recommend my fellow Traveller players and GMs. The Design System is useful, but the actual vehicle designs are riddled with errors and the new rules are a mixed bag. Don’t buy the hardcover! At $40 it is not worth it. Wait for the softcover? Maybe. Buy the .pdf? Probably your best bet but be ready to do a lot of (re)work on your own.

Oh, I know that if the Mongoose forums see this I will get crucified by the Mongoose Traveller Fanboys for being too nit-picky. After all, I bought the product, eh? Actually, I took advantage of the forum offer where buying the new book gets two free books to replace the older vehicle supplements. Well, shame on me for being greedy. It doesn’t change the fact that Mongoose has quality control issues. Burying one’s head in the sand doesn’t help fix the Mongoose’s problems.

 

I am (cautiously) looking forward to Prime Directive: Traveller but have to admit that after this disaster with the new Vehicle Handbook I am not optimistic.

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