This article originally appeared on rpg.net in January 2011, and was reprinted in Issue #014, February 2011, and Issue #034, October 2012, of the downloadable PDF magazine, with the author's permission.
Traveller: The Third Imperium - Alien Module 3: Darrians. Pete
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Again, due to Amazon cock-ups, I am late reviewing this item that I have long had a pre-order for but Amazon deciding when there is a publishing delay because they had not ordered enough copies decides unilaterally to cancel my order forcing me to go to a FLGS 800km away…
I must admit, I felt great trepidation when I saw this product announced. The Darrians had unfairly gained the reputation of being “Space Elves” and I feared that I might see yet another “Dragonstar” or “D&D in Space” rendition. As much as I loved Mongoose’s race books for D&D, they have no place in my Traveller universe. However, I knew much of fandom clamoured for “Space Elves”.
My own view of the Darrians was that they were a minor human race, found in the Spinward Marches, that managed to struggle against all odds to become one of the dominant minor players in the Marches – that is, they were in some ways the Israelis of Chartered Space – whether they had pointed ears or not was irrelevant. Not that one takes exception to looking at pictures of Darrian/Elven babes/beaus. Thankfully, I was rewarded with an excellent product.
Like the other race books that Mongoose has produced, it follows a similar pattern: New careers for aliens, a smattering of history, some starships and other toys, the worlds of the Darrian Confederation, possible patrons and encounters and a section on how to play them.
The careers section is well flushed out and contained excellent descriptions of the differences between the Darrians and the Imperial norm. Here, the right balance between skill acquisition and time spent in a career was perfectly balanced. The author clearly had GDW’s original alien module as a guide but his own interpretation of it reconciles the internal contradictions and makes the society seem more “real”. For example, equating Social Standing with knowledge acquisition was an absolutely brilliant move in the Darrian sphere.
There are deck plans but there are also illustrations of the starships; sadly, the pictures of the starships are sensor profile and in no way resemble the phenomenal starship art of the main rulebook.
While on the topic of art, the art in this book is truly some of the best Traveller art that I have seen in a very long time. Yes, the Darrians are portrayed as Elfinesque, but I was so impressed that I would routinely ignore the hypertrophic ears for the quality of the art contained within. Gone are the cartoonish and silly art that has marked much of Mongoose’s line up to now. Hopefully, it marks a new era where gritty realism and photo-like illustrations come to the fore for at least their Traveller line. Especially commendable was their illustrations of the different character careers. True, there weren’t any Darrian babes/beaus but I understand that their agreement with Marc prevents that.
Pete Nash did a great job reconstructing Darrian history, eliminating many of the grey areas that marked the original Alien Module and updating it to more current understandings of science. For example, the super flares that were so much a paranormal fear in the 1970s get a realistic re-examination that is less paranormal although traces could still be found there - this is sad. I realize that Pete Nash would have had the limitations of the original module to contend with but there was apparently no consultation with some the old Traveller “grognards” who could have at least vetted the manuscript and perhaps incorporated some of the work that SJGames has done on the Darrians. Some of the tech such as the Meson egg cooker is quite fun but really is not Traveller. But other innovations like Pandora’s Box were excellent and well thought through.
If there was one thing lacking which was present in previous Mongoose Alien Module products, it would be a series of tropes or caricatures of how to actually play the Darrians from popular (Science) Fiction films/books. So, I was still left wondering whether the Darrians are “Space Elves” or not… I also would have liked to see more on the Sword Worlds-Darrians conflict played out – I got the sense that the Darrians were as much akin to the Nordic countries who were facing off against a rising Germany as they were Israelis. Traveller claims that it does not ground itself in real world polities but as many know, the war gaming roots of Traveller often show up of simulacra of “the real world”.
All-in-all this is an outstanding product. I look forward to future offerings and hope that Mongoose can keep the excellent cadre of writers that are now emerging on staff. Mongoose’s Third Imperium is starting to look more and more like the Imperium that I know and love…their first independent campaign (Tripwire) left a bad taste in my mouth. Even though I am a big fan of the game system and the changes that Mongoose has made in it…they have to respect the history of Traveller as well as build the future. Despite its high price, I feel this product was worth every penny spent upon it.
Keep up the excellent work, Mongoose!