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Mongoose Traveller: The Third Imperium: Starports

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of the magazine.

Mongoose Traveller: The Third Imperium: Starports. Carl Warmsley.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
118pp, softcover
US$24.99/UKú16.99

I had great expectations for this product and for the most part Mongoose delivered most of my expectations and in some cases exceeded them. Starports are staples of Science Fiction whether they are the drydocks of Star Trek or Mos Eisley of the Star Wars universe. They are centres of trade and commerce yet catering to some of the foulest scum and treacherous villainy of Charted Space. Traditionally, starports of the Third Imperium are no different. And, given the amount that has been produced for them over the years – in fact, almost every version of Traveller has produced some sort of rulebook for starports – it is only appropriate that Mongoose produce one of their own.

Let me say at the onset, I do recognize wading through all those versions of Traveller sourcebooks, consolidating, purging and creating a new vibe is daunting task. Nevertheless, surely all writers that write under the tagline “Third Imperium” must really do so to reflect back to what has been written for the Official/Original Traveller Universe. Don’t get me wrong; this Mongoose supplement does not stray very far from what has been written before—but the tone it imparts is different. Where previous products left you in a state of confusion – just what is a starport? Is it an airport? A port city akin to what one visits on a cruise? A loading area? Or just a big berthing station?—Mongoose settles this question once and for (or at least until their license expires or the next version comes along).

Therefore, it is only logical that the book begins with a short discussion of the Starport Classification Codes that have been a part of Traveller since its early days in the 1970s and 1980s. These helped the referee a little but left much to the imagination and the discretion of the individual referee. This supplement seeks to redefine starports in their essence: starports are akin to the commercial City-States of the Renaissance – an archipelago of trading locales that weave the Imperium together. This places the starport as the pre-eminent Imperial institution on the planetary surface (or in orbit above it, or both) of the worlds of the Imperium. It should be noted here that in spite of “canonical” statements that “the Imperium merely rules the space between the worlds”, starports were always assumed to be Imperial territory. All this supplement does is change the scale, from a small outpost or airport to a city-sized urban conglomeration (which does not include the “startown”). It then proceeds to introduce lots of new and interesting rules such as salvaging for scrap from a scrap yard to defining costs for different repair jobs.

Next up are Starport Encounters, a section which is a venerable mixed bag whose tropes range from the routine to the illicit (even going so far as providing a nice excuse for those referees of a more prudish nature citing that some encounters may be excellent sources of information, even if the players do not avail of themselves of the offered services). Bravo to Mongoose, for keeping the game clean yet revealing that there can be a dark underbelly to Traveller. These encounters are far from comprehensive; rather, they just give the referee a flavour in which to populate their own starports. I was really impressed by this chapter and while most of the tropes are quite familiar, it was nice to see them all in one place. So, these encounters are best viewed either as seeds for adventures or as red herrings; they’re basically sketches that help the referee populate the starports.

Next is a Starport Construction unit, which provides all the costs and assembly components for the most avid of builders. I tended to use this chapter as a checklist for the different components of a starport. Scattered throughout are interesting rules/scenario ideas to make the text less dry and more interesting to read, even, if you are not building starports.

Lastly, there are sample starports which combine a description of the starport along with adventure seeds and seedlings. None of these amount to a full-fledged adventure but they do help flesh out some of the drier parts of what went before it. The adventure seeds are firmly planted in the OTU which is a welcome change (and an expectation as this is marketed under the Third Imperium line) from many of the previous Mongoose books which are nominally Third Imperium. The seeds vary but they do definitely have a soft Space-Opera-like feel to them, but I would have no problem adapting them to meet the harder SF feel of my Traveller universe. This section could really benefit from some art but sadly none was commissioned.

Although the examples of starports are drawn from the Third Imperium, they do not really jive with what has previously been written about the Third Imperium (including the mood set up by the supplement) – take for instance, the starport that is essentially a huge mobile harvester or a starport that serves as a “hunting lodge”: these are very much staples of Science Fiction but fairly radical ideas for Traveller. Good ideas are littered throughout, but may need some modification by the referee to adjust it to their Traveller universe—or perhaps they represent a possibly long-needed shake-up of the Official Traveller Universe (This ain’t your granddaddy’s Traveller). Also problematic is that the locations of the starports are not clearly indicated in all cases, nor are their classification codes. The latter would be listed in the world code, but why look that information up in another book, instead of keeping it all in one place?

We do have some new ships along with their deck plans. The ships look nice and are functional but I would have thought more search-and-recovery ships or loading/unloading vehicles would be more in order. Or, since the product was released shortly after Robot, sample starport robots would be in order, from simple observational drones to massive robotic stevedores—but all this is left to the referee’s imagination.

Drawbacks

There are a few, but they are glaring. First, as part of their Third Imperium line, it implies that that it is part of the OTU yet there are scant references to starports outside of the Imperium proper. We have already had three Alien Modules and Sector Guides that include non-Imperial polities; some discussion of starports in these alien societies is needed. This could also have been an opportunity to lay the foundation for future alien supplements by highlighting some of the differences, but that has apparently been deferred to Signs & Portents.

The omission of the Starport Authority (SPA) as a Career path is not a terrible thing, as one could use the standard template for Bureaucrat; but as all other versions of Traveller highlighted this as a separate career, I was surprised at its omission, as the text implied a discussion of a SPA career path. One never knows when a player will wish to run a career SPA bureaucrat as a character, after all.

There was some discussion of Startown (those areas outside the starport’s Extraterritoriality line) but no real rules…hopefully these interesting and colourful places will get a supplement of their own. Classic Traveller did, after all, have “Startown Liberty”, and an update for the real hives of scum and villainy would be a welcome addition to my RPG collection even if as an Appendix.

As it stands now, these issues will have to be addressed in a Signs & Portents article—not a bad thing, but when I buy a supplement, I expect it to be complete or nearly complete. So, it is yet another sign of haste and poor editing prior to publication that should have should have spelled out these expectations.

Speaking of deficient editing, the text was scattered: rules that should have be logically paired together were often found in radically different sections. This might sound like nitpicking, but it does makes it sometimes difficult to read and comprehend, forcing the reader to reread the whole book to put it all together—not to mention that it makes it hard to find rules later. There are also some glaring typos—for example, in one of the starport descriptions, it first states the name of the world is Mewey then a few paragraphs later, it states it as Dewey then reverts back to Mewey. I realize that this may result from reliance on a spellchecker but the author—or the proofreaders—should have seen and corrected this prior to printing. In defense of Mongoose, however, there seem to be fewer errors than in some of the other books that I have seen out there—but with the name of Traveller comes certain expectations and not meeting them damages the reputation of the brand.

Sadly, the product is almost entirely bereft of art. Art not only makes text easier to read but also serves to inspire. So, in addition to being surprising and disappointing, the lack of art also gives the book an almost dry flavor, quite at odds with its promise. Now, this is not an argument for art for art’s sake but RPG supplements that need to inspire ought to have a healthy dose of art, and I can think of few better place to inspire a sense of wonder than a starport. So, its omission is a strange thing, begging the question: “why did Mongoose do it?”. More art should not be a frill but part of the execution of a Traveller product.

I came to this product with great expectations. While they weren’t fully met, I would say that it is well worth its price if you own none of the Traveller products dealing with starports (especially, Cargonaut Press’s Lost Supplement on starports or the article for MegaTraveller in Far and Away, both by J. Andrew Keith) – this is a solid product that does break some new ground for Traveller. If you are a completist, as many Traveller players are, you will find gems amidst the rough in this supplement.