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Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed. High Guard

This review originally appeared on rpg-resource.org.uk in August 2016, and was reprinted in the November/December 2016 issue.

High Guard. Matthew Sprange.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
216pp., hardbound or PDF

What’s Traveller without, well, some travelling… especially in space? High Guard is designed to provide a toolbox to empower every aspect of spacefaring in your game from designing and operating starships to using them in spectacular combat.

The Introduction begins by explaining where the name ‘High Guard’ comes from in the first place—it refers to a vessel standing overwatch in a position that is higher in a gravity well than other ships. That’s a useful place to be, as if combat should take place when under the influence of a planet’s gravity (or indeed that of any object in space) it’s advantageous to be higher in it than your opponent. Harking back to the age of sail, one would speak of having the ‘wind gauge’ when in a position where the wind conferred an advantage—here it’s the ‘gravity gauge’ instead, but a very similar concept.

Other topics explored in the Introduction cover terminology, the various types of space navies to be encountered—Imperial, subsector and planetary (assuming you are using the Third Imperium default setting)—and the concept of the Ship’s Locker (standard equipment carried aboard all ships such as vacc suits and emergency equipment). It ends with a listing of different types of ship, including a useful size chart.

Chapter 1: Ship Design then gets down to detail of how the process of designing and building ships work. You can use existing designs ‘as-is’, modify them or come up with wholly-new ones… but you’ll need to hire a naval architect to oversee the project. For those who want to have this level of control, there is a thirteen-step process to follow starting with creating the hull. It’s a detailed process, one that will keep you happily occupied for a while and, like many design processes in this game, can become an end in itself, an enjoyable pastime rather than the more utilitarian designing of a ship for your next game. As well as cost, you need to keep track of tonnage and power requirements.

Next is Chapter 2: Weapons and Screens. This goes into detail about the weapons and defensive systems that can be mounted on a spaceship. There’s a huge range of weapons that can be employed, and this chapter concentrates on what you need to know to install them: cost, power requirements, hardpoints to attach them and so on. Fighting with them comes later, never you fear! There’s also a bit about defensive technology, mainly point-defence weapons and screens. Physical armour is covered in the construction chapter above.

Still looking at building ships, Chapter 3: Spacecraft Options gets quite interesting as it looks at how to customise your ship and presents a wide range of options from alternative drives and power systems to adding acceleration couches… and far more. Everything is described in terms of cost, tonnage and power requirements, linking it all back to the original ship design process.

Next, Chapter 4: Primitive and Advanced Spacecraft looks at vessels which differ from the norm presented in the previous chapters. These range from custom-built ships utilising the latest concepts and technologies to ones built by less-advanced species who have at least begun to reach for the stars.

This is followed by Chapter 5: Space Stations, which looks in equal depth at space-based constructs designed for living in space rather than travelling through it. A similar thirteen-point checklist is provided for you to work through if you wish to design one from scratch, and there are also notes on some of the specialised space stations that are to be found out in the black.

We then take a look in Chapter 6: The Ship’s Computer at the ‘brain’ of your space vessel in more detail. It’s an interesting balance between modern advances in computing and the original Traveller concept of ship computers as being massive—a concept derived when real-world spaceship computers had about as much power as the average smartphone of today [far less –ed.] and computer facilities covered acres of land! There’s information on the sort of programs you might need for your ship computer and how much they cost.

Next comes Chapter 7: High Technology which explores some exciting ideas about what happens beyond TL15 (the upper limit covered by the construction rules presented so far). Perhaps you’d prefer not to use a Jump drive at all… well, here are details of alternate drive systems such as hyperdrives, warp drives, space-folding drives and even time drives allowing temporal as well as spatial travel. There are equally exotic weapons and screens and other equipment to browse through as well. Here it’s a matter of what the Referee is willing to let you have or, if you are the Referee, how you want your universe to look.

OK, now we know how to design a ship from the keel up (and how much it will cost) but what does it look like? Chapter 9: Creating Deck Plans... hey, hang on a minute! We've lost Chapter 8! Seriously, there isn’t a Chapter 8 in this book. Fortunately this appears to be just about the only error I’ve found, and all the indexing and hyperlinks work, so it’s no real biggie… So, this chapter looks at how to draw deckplans that reflect the ship you have just taken so much trouble to design accurately. It’s all a matter of scale, and relating the known tonnage of different elements of your design to the whole. Some talent at technical drawing or a good drawing package might help here, though.

This is followed by Chapter 10: Fighters. Never mind these big ships, what about those swarms of single-seater ships you see swarming about in science-fiction movies? For a start, they are generally more fun in a space battle than capital ships from a player perspective. There are some design notes, although the main process introduced in Chapter 1 is sufficiently flexible to construct fighters as well as larger ships. There are also notes about how they are used in combat and even how they are recovered by their mother ship when the fight is done.

Next is the bit you’ve been waiting for—combat itself—in the shape of Chapter 11: Capital Ship Battles. Whilst it is possible to use the core combat system presented in the Core Rulebook—which does work for ship-to-ship battles as well as for when people brawl—it gets a bit cumbersome if you want to stage a mass battle of capital ships. So here is a vastly streamlined system based on, but separate from, the space combat rules detailed in the core rules. It takes a while to set up, but once that’s done the actual battle proceeds at a suitably dramatic pace.

Finally, there is the Jayne’s Guide to Spacecraft of the Third Imperium (presented by the Travellers’ Aid Society, of course). This provides a whole host of ready-made ships (using the design process outlined in this book) complete with statistics, price, running costs, crew requirements, external illustrations and isomorphic floorplans—starting with a single-seater light fighter and working all the way up to battle-wagons like fleet carriers and dreadnoughts. There are a few interesting ones along the way—the Type S Scout and the Far Trader are still in there, which will be remembered by many Traveller players from previous versions of this game, a laboratory ship built on a ring structure, and even the Annic Nova… an alien craft which formed the basis of a classic exploration adventure back in the days of the Little Black Books!

Overall, this contains pretty much all you need to know to get travelling… with an elegant design system that’s infinitely scalable and flexible whatever sort of spaceship you need.