#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.

RPG Thursday – My Top Seven RPG Internet Meme

James over at Grognardia started it, and I am late to get on the bandwagon.

My top 7 played RPGs in 2012 (and a good marker for the past several years):

1 – Classic Traveller (Admittedly not so much the RPG but the setting. I especially have played the games of Classic Traveller such as Striker, Book 5: High Guard, Adventure 5: Trillion Credit Squadron, Imperium, Fifth Frontier War, and Power Projection: Fleet; as well as using adventures such as Adventure 7: Broadsword as inspiration for Tomorrow’s War.)

2- Mongoose Traveller (including Hammer’s Slammers, Outpost Mars and Orbital)

3 – Battlestar Galactica

4 – Serenity

5 – Prime Directive

6 – Mouse Guard

7 – Others I played around with in 2012 were Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner’s Game. Also messed around with Space: 1889 and A Song of Ice and Fire: Game of Thrones Edition.

RPG Thursday – Traveller Vehicle Handbook Review

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


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.

RPG Combat

Being a wargamer first and a pen & paper RPG player second, combat has always played a major role in my RPGs.  These days there are as many combat systems as there are RPG mechanics.  Much like I did a long time ago, I think a comparison is in order.  This comparison of various combat systems will look at two areas of combat, personal and mass (or unit-level) combat.  For each comparison I will use a mid-level character (whatever that means!).

No production timeline promised, but I will look at the following games:

Is that enough to start with?

Got Your Powergun?

Courtesy RPGGeek

The Game: Hammer’s Slammers (Mongoose Publishing, 2009)

The System: Mongoose Traveller

The Appearance: Full-size (8.5”x11”) hardcover with 208 pages. Cover in muted earth-tones has a very sci-fi feel about it with a soldier in front of an armored vehicle. Interior layout is two-column text on a textured blue background with brown border. Interior artwork is appropriate to setting. Tables can be hard to read as dotted lines get lost on background.

The Content: Complete Traveller setting book for David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers military science-fiction stories. This book is a true tribute to the books. The 208 pages of content is divided as follows:

  • “Introduction” which is a (very) short teaser of the content
  • “Chapter 1: The Universe” is background to the Hammer’s Slammers setting to include worlds
  • “Chapter 2: The Mercenary Business” covers what mercenaries are, contracts, and typical mercenary life
  • “Chapter 3: Character Creation” allows creation of several Slammers archtypes including Tanker, Combat Car, Infantry, Firebase, Technician, Support, Special Operations, and Command; characters can be created in different eras of the Slammer lore
  • “Chapter 4: History of the Slammers” is taken from the books; few new rules and creatures are introduced here
  • “Chapter 5: Character Roster” defines iconic names such as Colonel Hammer himself
  • “Chapter 6: Equipment” covers gear such as powerguns
  • “Chapter 7: Supertanks & Other Vehicles” finally gets to the awesome armor
  • “Chapter 8: table of Organisation” lays out the organization of the Slammers
  • “Chapter 9: Vehicle Combat” expands on the Core Rulebook rules
  • “Chapter 10: Conflict” tailors the World Design system and has rules for “seeds of conflict” to assist in scenario creation; includes adventure seeds and GM advice
  • “Chapter 11: The Kanturk War” is a sample adventure

The Verdict: Let’s be clear about a bias first; I love the Hammer’s Slammers series of books and stories. More than anything else David Drake has defined for me what I think of when I hear the term “military science-fiction.”

This book is a true labor of love and worth the price for the background alone. Finally, in one place you have the entire history of the Slammer together; all the people and places, event and equipment. But how does it translate as an RPG?

Unfortunately, I feel that Mongoose fails to live up to the expectations here. Especially the boast on the back cover that claims, “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!”

So in no particular order, here are some thoughts on the book:

  • What is up with the cover soldier? The outfit is nothing like I imagine a Hammer’s Slammers trooper to be like; blinking lights and the like and doesn’t even match the armor depicted on page 120 which is that used by the Slammers
  • A “Mercenary Roster” is provided on page 21 comparing notable mercenary units; each is assigned a rating but ratings are never explained (ahh, on page 180 when making a Mercenary Contract the quality of a unit is used for a DM; quality similar to but not shown the same way as the ratings on page 21)
  • Joining the Slammers can be direct or through The Connections Rule from the Core Book; you can also joint the Slammers after finishing a military career as per the Core Rulebook or other supplement
  • Who did the maps?  They are HORRIBLE – gridded squares with cartoonish graphics don’t fit this high tech military setting; easily the worst part of the book
  • The characters are great but again the kit doesn’t match what is provided elsewhere
  • Errors abound when cross-referencing items; is the Protection for Light Ceramic Combat Shell (or is is called Clamshell, Light) 10 or 12?
  • Tank Powerguns are really powerful; like they should be in this setting
  • It is impossible to make any of the supertanks using the Vehicle Creation System found in Supplement 6: Military Vehicles; so much for “guaranteed to be fully compatible”
  • Vehicle Combat introduces new range and hit systems; one should backfit this to the Core Rules

In sum, Hammer’s Slammers provides great background but it is not seamless in its integration with existing Traveller books and supplements. Putting them together can be done in places (character generation) but not in others (vehicle creation).