This article originally appeared in Issue #007 of the PDF magazine.
Guide to Magic in Traveller. Jason Kemp
Samardan Press http://stores.lulu.com/samardanpress
US$11.99 (US$5.99 PDF)
Jason 'Flynn' Kemp has brought a well-thought-out magic system to the Mongoose Traveller ruleset.
On the Shelf
The title is in quite large type, making it visible from any reasonable distance. This is set over a picture of an eye with an image of a flame in the pupil. Below the image is the Samardan Press announcement, the Traveller-compatible logo, and a note indicating that the Mongoose Traveller core rules are required.
This is decently-organized book, two-thirds of which discusses every aspect of magic, from general types (e.g., Create, Move, Summon, Illusion, etc.) and their enhancements, to magic items, to the various issues and differences with respect to "low fantasy" vs. "high fantasy" or "ritual magic" vs. "spontaneous magic", to specific skills pertaining to magic use, to guidelines for creating new spells not already described in this volume. This is followed by a (non-exhaustive) list of common spells, with concise descriptions of each. Finally, a career path for Mages is presented.
On Closer Inspection
The discussion of magic is, as per the initial impression, quite comprehensive, and does a good job of covering essentially any reasonably-expectable use of magic in a campaign. The information in the spell list is concisely presented, providing all of the necessary information without extraneous elaboration or ornamentation. A cross-reference by magic skill specialization would have been useful, as would one by 'level', but the list is short enough that the industrious referee with a halfway-decent spreadsheet or database program - nothing even necessarily as featureful as Microsoft Excel or Access (perhaps the Microsoft Works level would be about right) - could generate both cross-references in fairly short order.
Admittedly, the greatest likelihood of magic use would be in a fantasy campaign, and thus the focus on using it in such is appropriate, but it is nevertheless a notable omission that there is absolutely no discussion of the use of magic in a postmedieval environment, or of the potential interactions between magic and technology.
The basic assumption, stated at the beginning, is that magic, as written in this volume, is skill-based rather than power based. Nevertheless, some discussion of power-based magic and power sources, perhaps with references to relevant fiction (or even, perhaps, other gaming systems), could profitably have been included. Discussion on incorporating aspects of other frameworks into these rules (e.g., granting of specific spells by deitic intervention, or deitic limitation on what spells may be used and under what conditions) would also have been a good inclusion.
The typography is similar to that of the early Mongoose rule books, with the same deficiencies. This is only a minor criticism in this case, however; as "Flynn" has not used as much artwork in proportion to text as Mongoose did, nor is it used in the same way, the readability is much less impaired than with the early Mongoose publications.
For the referee that wants to run a classical fantasy campaign with the Traveller rules, this volume should be considered next to indispensible; I can conceive of few treatments that would be better than this one, even given the omissions. The referee who wants to incorporate magic into a more technological setting would still be able to use this volume properly, but would find it necessary to supplement it with other (as-yet-unidentified) works. Most assuredly, money spent on this volume should not be considered wasted.