Why I Love Mongoose Traveller, Why I Won’t Get the New Edition

As with many games that have been revised and reissued regularly since the 1970s, Traveller is in the precarious position of having a rather startling number of different versions of it available. This is particularly the case if you consider that actually the term Traveller refers, in the minds of many, to two connected and distinct things: there’s Traveller in the sense of the game systems that have carried that name, and then there’s Traveller in the sense of the Third Imperium campaign setting which became the default setting of the game reasonably early on in the lifetime of its original incarnation (known today as Classic Traveller).

As far as the setting goes Marc Miller, its creator and custodian of most of the old Game Designers’ Workshop RPG back catalogue, has been very generous with the licensing rights over the years, so if you want to play in the Third Imperium there are an embarrassment of choices available. Hero system? There’s a Traveller for that. D20? There’s a Traveller for that too. GURPS? Why, some people swear that GURPS Traveller is their absolute favourite presentation of the Third Imperium! I admit to losing track of which of all these variants are still in print, but I do remember getting the impression a while back that the answer was probably “too many” – although each licence probably gave Miller a nice injection of royalties, at the same time I do wonder whether they have been a double-edged sword: each successful adaptation can only have fragmented the fanbase further (with a big question mark as to whether it grew the fanbase sufficiently to compensate for that), whilst each unsuccessful one can’t have done much to build the fanbase further.

If you just look at the system, though, that’s had a convoluted history of its own. Once upon a time there was just Classic Traveller – available in many forms (the original boxed set, the expanded Deluxe Traveller box, the Traveller Book which edited together all the stuff in the boxed set and sprinkled on some extra Third Imperium setting material and adventures, the Starter Traveller set which provided a basic version of the rules…), but basically the same game in all its iterations. Edition wars were unknown, the game sold extremely well – easily becoming the dominant science fiction RPG in the English-speaking world – all was golden.

Then there was MegaTraveller, an ambitious revision of the rules which incorporated much more Third Imperium-focused material into the core set. Whereas the original Traveller box had presented a mostly generic set of rules (albeit one whose systems presented an implied setting which the Third Imperium ended up closely resembling, much like the original D&D rules presented an implied setting that the likes of Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms would closely follow), over time the product line had become more and more intertwined with the Imperium, so this change made sense. It also made sense to farm out a lot of the work to Digest Group Publications, a third party outfit who had been turning out exceptionally well-received support material for the game.

Unfortunately, due to a basic incompatibility between the word processor software used by DGP and GDW, all the books had to be retyped by hand, and as a result a startling amount of errata creeped into the game. On top of that, it was decided to majorly shake up the setting by having the Emperor get assassinated, shattering it into warring factions. Whilst a cool idea in principle that made the setting feel less static, it would be a change which would bring about the first, albeit minor fragmentation in the fanbase: some people didn’t like the idea of the civil war, whilst others who might have gone along with it soured on the execution, since DGP and GDW struggled over the course of the MegaTraveller product line to give a real sense of what was going on with the war and how PCs could pitch in. (GURPS Traveller actually presents an alternate timeline where the Emperor’s assassin died in a shuttle accident on the way to do the dirty deed, preventing the civil war from kicking off in the first place – and there’s a substantial number of Traveller fans who embrace it for precisely that reason.)

This was as nothing compared to the fan backlash faced by Traveller: the New Era, which made a series of decisions which… well, let’s sit down and list them.

  • The game system that had originated in Classic Traveller and had been refined for MegaTraveller was tossed out of an airlock and replaced with the GDW house system that had been developed for the second edition of Twilight: 2000 after a long gestation period drawing from the original Twilight: 2000 and 2300AD. (The latter game was originally published as Traveller: 2300, confusing everyone since it had nothing to do with Traveller in terms of setting or system.)
  • The civil war in the Third Imperium ended with an anticlimactic stalemate. Nobody won, everybody lost to a varying extent, nothing anybody did during the civil war accomplished anything beyond making galactic society frighteningly vulnerable so that when a major crisis came along it collapsed completely.
  • The collapse came about due to an AI computer virus inflicting a massive apocalypse on the galaxy by infecting everyone’s ships. This felt a bit out-there in the context of the comparatively sober style of hard SF that Traveller had previously been known for. To be fair, the Virus was inspired by a minor feature in an obscure (but official) Classic Traveller adventure, so it wasn’t as though it came entirely out of left field, but it would have seemed that way to anyone who didn’t own the product in question (which had been out of print for years due to being a Classic-era release), and the means of the Virus’ propagation involved inventing a starship part which hadn’t been mentioned before (an identification transponder) and then giving that transponder massive access to all the other onship systems, which many found wrecked their suspension of disbelief.

In between trashing the old system completely, abruptly ending the major metaplot of the previous edition with a big fat “nobody wins” fudge, and transforming the setting radically through a mechanism that a lot of experienced Traveller players found difficult to stomach, GDW bravely and self-sacrificingly offered a chilling example for the education of the rest of the industry. If you want to know why radical changes to well-loved games are an enormous risk which might do incredible damage to the health of a previously successful game line, one edition transition provides the absolutely archetypal example. Before WFRP 3rd Edition, before Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition, Traveller: the New Era saw GDW vandalise the product line that put them on the RPG map for reasons which I am sure made sense at the time, but which are, shall we say, a wee bit difficult to appreciate now.

For what it’s worth, the part which bugs me the most about The New Era was the junking of the system in favour of the House System one. GDW already had a perfectly good SF RPG with a system substantially closer to the House System than Traveller – namely, the aforementioned 2300 AD, which wasn’t a monster hit but it was pretty respectable in its time and had been out for a fair few years by the time Traveller: the New Era came about. What possessed GDW to imagine that anyone interested in a sci-fi game using a Twilight: 2000-influenced 1D10-based system was not already playing 2300 AD? What made them think that the masses of Traveller players would embrace the new system if they hadn’t migrated to it already? Part of me wonders whether someone at GDW simply didn’t like the original Traveller system and wanted to squash it, used the titling of Traveller: 2300 as a test balloon for the idea, and eventually managed to push through their agenda with The New Era.

GDW shut down in 1996, a mere 3 years after putting out The New Era. The business had endured a run of bad luck and was quite troubled at the time, and Marc Miller reports that whilst they weren’t flat-out forced into bankruptcy, most of the main players there were burned out from the workload of running GDW and churning out products at the rapid pace the company had set for itself. This is an explanation which sounds credible to me: I can see why they’d decide to pack it in whilst some glory still remained rather than get involved in a tough and draining fight to save a job that just wasn’t fun any more – and I’m sure the fan backlash from Traveller: the New Era can’t have been fun either.

But the major reason I am inclined to believe Miller’s take on the end of GDW is a simple one. Traveller: the New Era isn’t really the sort of product you’d put out if you were really invested in and cared about the Traveller product line, and in many respects the decisions involve bear all the hallmarks of GDW trying to make life easy for themselves rather than trying to do what was best for the game line.

Think about it: dumping the civil war and advancing the timeline by centuries means that the designers don’t have to worry about keeping things consistent with the MegaTraveller-era setting material, save for references to history. Dropping the system and substituting in the GDW house system means that designers don’t have to keep up to speed with multiple different game systems. Using the Virus to wipe the slate clean on a galaxy-wide basis means that the resultant setting ends up much simpler and easier to handle. If you are on the verge of publisher burnout, I can see how all that would feel extremely attractive.

The same year that GDW closed its doors, a fourth version of the game came out from Imperium called Marc Miller’s Traveller. Rush-released and sloppily edited, by Miller’s own admission, it brought back the old system and presented setting material from the foundation of the Third Imperium, but wasn’t a hit. It has its advocates, but its reputation has never been great (the botched editing will do that), and is likely to get worse in retrospect due the game being published as part of a business collaboration with Ken Whitman. Ken’s got a long history of such dealings unravelling under cloudy circumstances, and he has been attracting a wee bit of mild controversy lately, due in part to the spectacular collapse of a series of Kickstarters – including one for Spinward Traveller, which was supposed to be a pilot for a Traveller-inspired TV series. Given how Whitman has burned a lot of bridges in the RPG community in general – and the Traveller community in particular thanks to Spinward Traveller – I suspect that for more than a few people, the prospect of tinkering with an edition of Traveller that Whitman was intimately involved with may be hard to stomach.

As a matter of fact, part of me worries a little that Whitman’s various high-profile blunders might hurt Traveller as a whole, at least in the short term. Marc Miller can be forgiven for being burned by Ken Whitman’s tendency to let people down back in 1996 – after all, who knew back then? – but Miller came in on Spinward Traveller as an executive producer. Fool me once, shame on you – fool me twice, won’t get fooled again shame on me; although I don’t think Miller’s reputation has been irretrievably stained by what happened, I do wonder whether at least a few fans who were burned by the deal resent him a little, especially if they backed the project on the strength of his name being attached to it. It doesn’t help that whilst Jolly Blackburn of Knights of the Dinner Table fame – another business partner left holding the can by Ken – has been extremely visible and active in trying to make things right for the backers of the KoDT Live Action Series project to whatever extent he can, I’m not aware of Miller taking similar actions.

Anyway, at some point in the 2000s Miller ended up deciding that the best way to go with Traveller was to fork the system in such a way that two games would have the Traveller mantle at once, a situation which is a bit confusing but which, considering how many other systems had Traveller versions put out for them by that point, probably didn’t seem like it added too much complication and may have been a necessary step for Miller to accomplish his creative ends. Mongoose would get to make their own version of Traveller, whilst Miller would turf out the vastly more complex Traveller5 – a game whose editing and index issues and complex approach hasn’t exactly made it a monster hit.

Of all these versions, by far my favourite is the first edition of Mongoose Traveller. You look at the cover of the book and you instantly (if you know your Traveller history) see what the intention is – going back to basics and recapturing the anything-can-happen spirit of the original box, which the game does with great success whilst giving the systems a bit of modern polish. The end result is a game which has successfully updated the approach of Classic Traveller for the modern day whilst at the same time making substantial improvements to it.

I have written previously about how much I enjoy Mongoose Traveller‘s character generation process, and I stand by that article; it provides more depth (and medical debts as a useful alternative to dying in the middle of character generation!) than the Classic Traveller version, plus allows you to create a character who has had terms of service in different careers quite elegantly, and yields a character sheet which by and large will be entirely comprehensible to someone who has played Classic TravellerMegaTraveller or Marc Miller’s Traveller. Characters will tend to have more skills than in Classic Traveller, but as I discuss in the comments of the prior article that makes sense given how the task resolution system is implemented here.

On which note, the inclusion of a decent task resolution system is probably the deciding factor in putting Mongoose Traveller ahead of Classic Traveller in my estimation. Though I find a lot to love in Classic, it’s seriously hampered by the lack of any sort of unified task resolution system. Every individual action in Classic Traveller has an associated task roll which is assessed in a slightly different way, which allows for flexibility in task design to a certain extent but I suspect slows down play quite a bit. It’s no surprise that when DGP did MegaTraveller they added a task resolution system as a high priority, basing it off the Classic Traveller task resolution they had presented in some of their earlier supplements.

Various subsequent editions have had mildly different mechanics, but Mongoose Traveller has a fairly solid one: you roll 2D6, you add situational modifiers, a modifier for your skill (or an unskilled penalty, if applicable), and a modifier for one of your attributes, and you try to get 8 or more. In situations where the degree of success or failure is important, you subtract 8 from your roll to get the level of Effect – Effect 0 means you just about scraped a success, positive Effect gives additional benefits, negative Effect is a measure of how badly you failed.

The application of a set bonus to rolls based on the governing attribute may be borrowed from D&D 3.X – which Mongoose got their start churning out third-party products for – but it works out well in practice and feels like a natural part of the system, particularly since Classic Traveller was crammed with tasks where having especially high or low scores in a relevant attribute would give you a bonus or penalty, so the move has the effect of standardising a feature which was already kind of present in the original game rather than introducing a brand-new concept into the mix. In general, in fact, the task resolution system feels like a very natural addition to the game.

For the rest of it, Mongoose Traveller‘s core book provides an updated equivalent of more or less everything in the original Traveller box – space travel and combat, ship design, world and sector creation, trade, psionics, and so on and so forth. What is notable is what isn’t included: aside from the inclusion of some alien races from the Third Imperium setting (a very useful way to illustrate how the system can be used to model alien races, so I’m basically cool with it), there isn’t that much in terms of explicit setting information. This is, in fact, by far the most setting-agnostic version of Traveller since the original box, and I think that is greatly to the game’s advantage; like the original game, it provides you all the tools you need to craft your own universe in a compact and easy-to-use package, and making it as generic as it is not only helps encourage those who aren’t sold on the Third Imperium setting to take a look at the game but also opened up the door for Mongoose to do a range of neat setting tie-ins, like a Babylon 5 line and a serious of supplements based on 2000AD properties like Judge Dredd and Strontium Dog. (In an ironic twist for those who remember the Traveller: the New Era debacle, Mongoose also released an adaptation of the 2300 AD setting, scrapping that game’s system so it could be used as a Mongoose Traveller setting. Some would call that karma.)

All good, right? So why am I not upgrading to the 2nd edition?

Part of that answer is that I don’t like what that edition takes away from the core. From the original release of the beta onwards, Mongoose were quite clear about their plans for the starship creation system: they weren’t going to offer one. At least, not in the core book – there, they would offer a bunch of example ships, but if you actually wanted to design and customise ships of your own you would need to get the new High Guard supplement. This was a major gear change both from 1st edition Mongoose Traveller, where a basic ship design system was provided in the core book and High Guard simply provided an advanced equivalent of it, and also Classic Traveller, which Mongoose took that model from. It also means that the core 2nd edition book is intrinsically less complete and less useful than the 1st edition core book. Whilst the old version had everything you needed to create and customise your own universe in one book, just as Classic Traveller gave you everything in one little box, this new version now requires you to buy multiple separate products to get the same functionality. (And not even the same functionality – since 2nd edition will have no “basic” ship design system as a compromise between just using off-the-shelf ships and using the full High Guard system, those who really want the customisation but would prefer to keep it reasonably simple are left out in the cold.) This feels like both a significant step backwards and a major betrayal of the ethos of the previous edition.

On top of that, some of the flexibility of the core book systems has actually been dialled back. For instance, the world creation section in 1st edition includes options for tweaking it to create a more hard-SF or more space opera-esque interstellar society than the default – as I understand it, that is no longer there. Once again, parts of the core book I consider extremely important – I really enjoyed the world creation process – seem to have been made less useful and adaptable in the new edition.

The other part of the answer to “Why won’t Arthur buy MongTrav 2E?” is that I don’t like much of what has been added, and those bits that I don’t actively dislike don’t seem to be enough to compensate for what has been taken from us. Throwing in a sample subsector in the core book is a nice courtesy, but takes up page count that could have given us a ship design system and feels a bit redundant given the sheer volume of setting material you can dig up for the game by yourself. The Traveller Map website presents a mass of sectors with world information for all the star systems depicted for free – point people there, recommend a good starting point, and most competent referees should be able to get cracking. In addition, incorporating an explicitly described sample setting into the core book undermines its generic nature, which I think threatens to undercut one of the big strengths of Mongoose Traveller.

The major system tweak is the changes to task resolution – variable target numbers have come back, and Boon/Bane dice are in. This is a mechanic similar in intention but not effect to the advantage/disadvantage mechanic in 5E D&D. Positive circumstances can give you a Boon on a roll, negative circumstances give you a Bane. If you have a Boon, instead of rolling 2D6 you roll 3D6 and drop the lowest; with a Bane, you roll 3D6 and drop the highest.

Rob Conley in a discussion of the new edition made some nice charts using AnyDice to illustrate the different effects of the mechanics. D&D-style advantage and disadvantage basically applies a steady incline to the formerly flat probability distribution, whilst MongTrav2-style Banes and Boons shifts the bell curve and changes its shape somewhat. The peak of the bell curve shifts up or down, but the probability of your roll hitting that peak exactly actually remains the same, whereas the probability of getting 1 point away from the peak, or 2 , or 3, or whatever does change, but only by a few percentage points either way – a difference slight enough that I frankly think that if you just gave a +2 modifier instead of Boons and a -2 instead of Banes, whilst the probability distribution would be different on a mathematical level the difference in outcome wouldn’t really feel that different to the participants in actual play.

Actually, there is one significant difference that the Boon/Bane mechanic makes: because it shifts the bell curve without increasing or decreasing the range of outcomes, it means that adding on Boons and Banes doesn’t change the extent of the Effect possible from the roll. If your target number is 8 and you roll 2D6+2, your potential Effect is -4 to +6, whereas if your target number is 8 and you roll 2D6 with a Boon your potential Effect is -6 to +4 – exactly the same as if you were rolling 2D6 with no bonus. This is significant because Effect has many more, well, effects in 2nd edition Mongoose Traveller, but I frankly don’t like the implementation. The way the system works, if you have advantageous circumstances and get a Boon out of them, it’s mathematically impossible for you to get a better Effect than if circumstances were against you and you had a Bane – and if you have a Bane, you can’t screw up worse than someone who has a Boon. Frankly, that doesn’t make much sense to me.

The other thing which bugs me about the Boon/Bane mechanic is the half-assed way it’s apparently implemented. Whereas in D&D advantage/disadvantage is applied to radically scale back the use of little bonuses and penalties here and there, allowing 5E to run much more smoothly and easily than 3.X in my experience, and apparently earlier versions of the MongTrav2 beta did strip away a lot of modifiers, many modifiers ended up getting patched back in during the playtesting process, which ends up undermining one of the major advantages of such a system.

I haven’t walked away from Mongoose completely here. There’s apparently going to be a companion book coming out in the near future which delves into the system and shows ways to adapt it to a range of different settings, and there’s still enough in common between the two systems that I reckon that release will still be useful with MongTrav1. But I won’t be upgrading to the new system at this point. Engaging in fusspot edition warrior bullshit like this is a terrible habit of gamers, especially when they get hung up on what are only minor changes between editions. That said, if the changes are that minor, it seems just as unreasonable to put out a new edition as it does to refuse to adopt the new edition, and when it comes to major changes like differences in the way the task resolution works and the complete removal of a crucial subsystem from the book it suggests that Mongoose are taking the game in the direction I have no interest in going in.

At the end of the day, MongTrav2 seems like it has hit the worst of all possible worlds – the significant changes it makes are big enough to turn me off (and I don’t think I’m alone in this), whilst at the same time not really seeming big enough to revolutionise the game, and in the long run I suspect it will have the negative effect of further fragmenting a fanbase which really, truly, honestly doesn’t need to be fragmented any further.

49 thoughts on “Why I Love Mongoose Traveller, Why I Won’t Get the New Edition

  1. I’m in a somewhat similar boat. I really liked MgT, but am significantly underwhelmed by MgT2 and don’t really see it as needed to make the game better. I’m one of those Traveller grognards who has a huge collection of materials, I love the game and the setting. But I have finally reached the burnout stage of not only not wanting or needing another edition I’m increasingly not sure of if I’d ever run it again simply because I can’t be sure that my players will be able to get ahold of a rules edition that I’d actually run – plus because I’d probably have to fudge the little bits here and there to make things work.

    Plus, with T5 (and I was one of the Kickstarter Backers), I had finally reached the point of exasperation with Traveller (setting) vs. Traveller (rules). I love the setting, but it is seemingly inaccessible to new players in my experience – and the rules… well, the BBB is a mess to say the least.

    Traveller is and has always been one of my RPG loves, but I’m not sure if we’d ever go out on another date.


    1. When I ran my short Traveller campaign for my Monday evening group a while back, I found that it’s more or less viable to run it from the core book without the players having their own copies of the rules. It helps that MgT1 came out under an SRD, so whilst stuff like the full character generation rules aren’t available the basic principles are out there for free for people to pick up and read.

      Plus the advantage of running a space exploration game is that you can viably set it up so that discovering the setting in play is part of the experience.

      I have not read T5 and probably never will, but everything I have heard about it suggests that it’s an extremely self-indulgent sort of thing where Marc Miller allowed his love of fiddly little construction subsystems to absolutely run wild, so even a version which wasn’t a casualty of rushed editing probably wouldn’t be my thing.

      I understand that there is a determined fan effort to do the editing work Miller didn’t fancy doing and get a revised version completed so he can put that out, but it’s been hampered by the person spearheading it dying.

      Of course, I have my own Kickstarter woes in relation to Mongoose’s next edition of Paranoia. I’m excited for it and the creative logjam seems to have finally been solved, and the reissue seems to be a bit more well thought-out (especially since Paranoia isn’t really a game where people are very attached to the old systems), but the delays seem to have exposed some ways in which Mongoose’s business practices reflect the new reality that they are a small publisher with only two full-time employees these days.

      Their glory days are behind them, and new powers have risen to take their place – Chronicle City and Cubicle 7, in particular, both seem to be Brit-RPG companies that operate substantially more reliably and successfully in the new environment. I fear that putting out unwanted new editions of old classics is, as we’ve seen in the past with other companies, a roll of the dice on the part of Mongoose to desperately try to rekindle their fortunes.

      I especially fear for the future of the company if the new edition doesn’t gain traction, but not to an extent where I’d actually buy the thing myself.

      1. Yeah, you pretty much have T5 pegged btw…

        That’s good to know (or remember for that matter) about the SRD. I should probably save it all before it disappears in the wake of MgT2…

        The truth is my most successful “Traveller” games have been using the Cyberpunk 2020 rules system. What had me excited about MgT was that it was a similarly simple and “not fiddly” rules system. I am actually kind of dreading the rise of Adv/Dis or Boon/Bane dice in games now, it seems to be turning into the “next big thing” and while I like it, I’m not sure it is quite the Fix that some people try to make it (as you note about Mgt2).

        But I think I am going to make a point of grabbing the couple of MgT1 books that I don’t have but still look interesting before they disappear.


      2. I think Advantage/Disadvantage, or for that matter Boon/Bane, would work just fine if they are used as a means of radically simplifying modifiers. It’s just that they haven’t done that here.

        Like Aspects from FATE, it’s the sort of thing where a lot of people like the idea, but people apply it to all sorts of contexts where the mechanic doesn’t quite work the way it did back in its original context because they think they can just drag-and-drop it without changing anything else to support it.

  2. JMH

    That’s a good idea about using the R. Talsorian mechanics for Traveller, considering how much Traveller AND CP2020 I’ve run in my lifetime I’m unhappy I never thought of it. That R.Tal die mechanic they’ve got spread over CP2020 and Mekton Z (which actually does a fine job at making starships as well as giant fighting robots) is totally classic Traveller: sloshy in the skill mechanics, incredibly deadly combat. Hmmm, thanks for the notion D.

    1. LOL, I just wandered back to this post for some reason and saw this. You are most welcome! Plus, with the Near Orbit and Deep Space supplements for CP2020 you actually have the extra couple rules you need for a space campaign. Add a couple of skills and you’re golden!

      I ran the games using the Traveller skills for the most part, actually ran them through the Trav chargen (with Lifepath on top of it, very MgTish in that respect), and them gave them some points to buy skills in their Role, and then a couple more for their Pickup skills and it worked out pretty well balance wise.


      1. I guess by using CP2020 you’d also have fairly reasonable rules support for cybernetics (if you buy into the “a prosethetic arm makes you psychologically less human” axiom, which seems pretty dang [citation needed] to me), whereas so far as I can make out Traveller basically didn’t have cybernetics support at all until the Cybernetics supplement for MongTrav 1.

        Which, when you think about it, kind of illustrates why Traveller’s star faded: science fiction moved on and left it behind, and Traveller was stuck emulating an out of date version of the future.

      2. I used the Euro-clinic rules extensively, along with some of the other “reduced humanity” mechanics. IIRC I also had a mechanic where it could nail a variety of the stats, not just humanity. Cool could take a hit (getting twitchy), maybe Int and Ref as well. It’s been awhile.

        There was cybernetics in the old Traveller’s Digest put out by DGP. Pretty basic stuff, but certainly usable. CP2020 was better, not surprisingly.


      3. DGP could have been the best thing to happen to Traveller had the errata issues not blighted their stint designing MegaTraveller and they’d been given a freer hand with it. It’s a crying shame that their material basically isn’t going to come back as long as the current owner is being an ass about it.

      4. Yeah, luckily I pretty much own all of it already, having bought it at the time. I’m just missing some of the CT issues of the Digest, and I eyeball the Internet occasionally to see if I can find them at a price less than my firstborn child…

        I like MT the most for many years, recently I’ve leaned more MgT and now CT/Proto-Traveller. Cepheus Engine is probably going to meet most of my needs in the future – combined with the several shelves of other reference material I own. LOL!


  3. Thanks for an interesting article and analysis of the history of the various incarnations of Traveller. However, I feel compelled to point out that Traveller: TNE does not use the Traveller: 2300/2300AD rule system at all. Rather, it uses the “GDW House System” that was used in Dark Conspiracy, Twilight: 2000 2nd ed and Cadillacs & Dinosaurs. 2300AD had its own system, with elements from both MegaTraveller and Twilight: 2000 1st ed. I imagine that the system probably was a major inspiration when GDW decided to design their House System as it preceded it with many years, but I feel poor 2300AD is taking a lot of uncalled for flak here… In fact, 2300AD is a pretty decent game and one with a very cool hard SF feel as well. And T:TNE isn’t that bad either if you don’t approach it with your grognard goggles on 😉

    However, I do agree with you that MongTrav 1e is nicer than the new edition. Sadly, very hard to get hold of the books now…

    1. Huh! My understanding was that 2300 AD was an early prototype of the house system (hence both using 1D10 rather than 2D6 as the randomiser), so saying that it and the House System are different is like saying that early editions of D&D and Gamma World are different systems – sure, some of the attributes and whatnot are different, but the underlying principles are basically identical.

      I’ve edited the article to reflect that, though I’m not sure it undermines my point that much since 2300 AD was still closer to the House System than Traveller was.

      Also… what flak? I’m not slamming 2300 AD, I’m slamming the business decisions that GDW made surrounding it (and in particular the utterly needless confusion with Traveller).

  4. Pingback: Farewell to Loren Wiseman « Refereeing and Reflection

  5. JR Smith

    I picked up and printed out Cepheus Engine. Just started a new group to play traveller and they all have CE pdf’s for $4 bucks each. CE will be where most people go eventually as third party people balk at MgT2e third party compensation. Plus CE is pretty streamlined. I was quite surprised. Take a look at it now that the cat is out of the bag.

  6. Savage Schemer

    I was actually willing to “accept” the ship design decision and overlook it, even though I agree it should have been in the core and totally goes against the spirit of what Traveller fundamentally is.

    So I went ahead and bought MGT2e in hard cover. Went through it and thought all was ok given my expectations were tampered already, so I decided it was time to roll up a sector of my own. So I go to the back of the book and promptly discover that there are no worksheets. No blank sector map. No character sheets. Nothing. At all. There are no tools with which to make your game.

    Nor is there even an index.

    Ok, I said, I’ll get them from the Mongoose website…they only make the character sheet available there. And so now I’m totally pissed. They charged $50 USD and can’t be bothered to include some *basic* tools to aid players and a GM through putting a game together.

    I’ve been told that the PDF version does have these things, but its another $30 USD. I simply won’t pay that much for a PDF when I shelled out for the printed book.

    The whole thing just smacks of being completely, unforgivably, lazy to me. So, yeah, count me among those who are now exploring Cepheus Engine for my sci fi gaming needs.

    Good on you for not falling for it like I did.

    1. No forms I could overlook if there are decent PDF forms available – after all, how many of us are actually using photocopiers to copy these things from books these days anyway? When was the last time you were somewhere where you had access to a photocopier but not a printer and Internet access?

      No index is a very poor showing though, especially if there is an index in the PDF version. If anything, the hard copy needs the index even more because you can’t Ctrl-F a physical book.

      Classic Mongoose “professionalism” at work, folks.

      1. Savage Schemer

        I kinda thought the same too. No biggie if I can download all the forms you need from Mongoose’s website, but you can’t. You can get the character sheet, but you’ll have to look elsewhere for any of the other campaign planning tools. Its just sloppy. The nano-second they decide to skip putting forms in the books for all the reasons you state, which I’d be totally ok with, you’d best have your website content guy putting those links front and center where people can find em.

        In the end, yeah, I can find *someone* who’s made them available *somewhere* online. So I’ll live and be fine. I just expect a whole lot more from the company who’s officially supposed to be supporting the game line. And that’s what hacks me off.

      2. Wait, so they just plain didn’t bother to design sector and ship design sheets for 2E? That’s… wow.

        To misquote the late, great Ian Dury, “there ain’t ‘alf been some idle bastards”.

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  8. Tim

    A very interesting article. For my mongoose traveller was my the first version I actually dove into and one of the few RPG’s I have a physical copy of, as I tend to stick to PDF’s for most games these days.
    What really interests me is that I had pretty much the same reaction to the 2nd edition, especially with the bane/boon system and lack of ship design, without having the classic traveller background.
    I think what really bothered me about MgTr are the supplements and expansions. Many of them are deeply disappointing and sometimes plain wrong in their examples, yet offer tantalising setting neutral plot idea’s, I’m curious to see if the quality of these books will improve in this new edition.

    Finally while on the subject, while I love what the MgTr system generator does, there are still many blanks left, any moons? are there any other planets in the system? are they habited? etc. If anybody could point me to another supplementary generator for these details I would be very grateful.

    1. The Classic Traveller supplement “Scouts” goes into making full planetary systems, working on the assumption that the world you generated using the core system just represents the main settled world in the star system in question. It’s completely compatible with MgTr and I’ve used it for that purpose myself. I have noticed it tends to make your main world a moon orbiting a gas giant in the habitable zone of the star in question, but you can nudge the probabilities on the tables if you want to avoid that and it actually makes sense for Traveller (since you’d expect people to err towards settling planets with a convenient source of abundant hydrogen to use as fuel).

      If you can track down a copy of the third-party supplement World Builder’s Guidebook for MegaTraveller, that goes down into even more detail, especially for dealing with the local culture. But it’s not available legally anywhere save for second hand copies because the rights-holder for Digest Group Publications’ work has been an ass about making it available on PDF or licensing it out to others.

      1. Tim

        Thank you very much, I tracked down a pdf of “scouts” and I must say this is a nice way to spend a (very) rainy afternoon today.

    1. Interesting read. It’s clearly a product of that odd interregnum when T4 was dead and MongTrav wasn’t a thing yet and GURPS Traveller and other such adaptations to other systems were keeping the boat afloat – in particular, Dave talks about how producing a background-free version of Traveller clearly wouldn’t have worked, and whoops, it totally did work, it totally was the most successful and widely-embraced version of the game since Classic in fact. 😛

  9. Shawn Driscoll

    Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition’s license was running out. So a new license was created for Mongoose to make a new edition of Traveller.

    The new edition is not for players that have 1st Edition already. It’s for players new to Traveller.

    1. Do you have a source on the licence situation? In principle I suppose such a clause could have been written into the licence, but it seems like an odd one – plus MongTrav 1st edition is still available via DriveThru on PDF and Print-on-Demand, so they haven’t actually stopped selling it.

      1. They can still sell 1st edition as PDF. Just not make anything new that would be tied to the expired license. 2nd edition’s license is good for 10 years or so. Licenses can end early if another edition of the game is decided to be made, and FFE is ok with it. A lot of what’s coming out for 2nd edition is expanded content from 1st edition splat books. Mongoose wanted to do full-color books for that content this time.

  10. I quit Traveller for good after three editions in a row had useless ship design processes, that managed to take up dozens of pages. Hours of work only to find at the end that the numbers don’t add up. No proofreading done to make sure it was right. Useless. Great game that sadly never lived up to its amazing potential.

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  12. Interesting read….given that this was written in 2016, wondering how people feel now. I actually was quite frustrated with the many editing and presentation issues of MGT1E and switched to 2E (even with the starship rules being in High Guard), and don’t regret it…MGT2E is a much cleaner ruleset and fixes many little issues I had while being more carefully edited and organized. Once I got High Guard, The SSC and Vehicles Book I realized that Mongoose’s long game was to essentially provide a complete game….with pretty much everything I could ever need….over those four books. Only the Companion is missing at this point.

    1. Haven’t done much Traveller for a while, but if I did it again I suspect I’d be looking at Cepheus. A complete system over some four-five books seems very heavy compared to MGT1/CT, which were complete in their basic sets.

      1. Certainly Cepheus Engine has got my full attention and I know for a fact that a print on denand version is imminent. That makes it gameable at the table as far as I’m concerned.

      1. The Companion book probably won’t be out until late 2019. Mongoose has too many other projects going on. I wouldn’t be surprised if the thing ended up becoming a Kickstarter like their other projects. For now though, I’m using the MgT1 books (the yellow and green titled books) to get ideas from.

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  16. Jamie Keifert

    A lot of hate on here for MG 2E, and i’m not saying it’s not deserved, but i would like to offer up a defense of it using my group’s experience:

    Our D&D group wanted to branch out from fantasy, and some really wanted to do a sci fi game, so i began doing a lot of research into various sci fi RPGs and eventually landed on Mongoose version 1 Traveller (2e wasn’t announced yet.) We played for a year or two, and i do think the group liked it, when 2e came out, i decided to splurge for that and transfer my campaign and the PCs to 2nd edition, which really wasn’t all that difficult. Here are mine and some of my players’ thoughts on the transition:

    Keep in mind, the Traveller setting was completely new for all of us.

    We liked 2e more.

    To be fair, there were a couple of things we didn’t like:

    No index? wft? welp, at least buying the hardback book should come with the .pdf, i just had to email MG to get it, and they were prompt and obliged, so that helps with not having an index.

    No ship design? Meh, not the worst actually. I totally get why people would be pissed about it BUT honestly, i didn’t design my own ships using basic rules anyway (hardly ever did). I could mentally make a ship with relevant stats on the fly for ones that are one-offs, and when the players finally did build their own ship, we were happy to have the flushed-out version that High Guard provided. Worst case, you can still use 1e’s version to build a ship and just use the simple math to figure out the hull points in a pinch.

    Advancing skills: the 8 week study program. This was an interesting one, before you had a convoluted way of doing it in 1e (in my players minds) but once you knew it, you knew you were going to advance up. Nothing hurt though, like spending 8 of your study weeks for nothing because you rolled too low. This i home brewed, getting some great feedback from the Traveller Facebook pages. So the that fixed that.

    So all in all, most of our issues had a pretty decent work around that it wasn’t such a big issue.

    What we liked:

    The boon/bane system is just more FUN. I get why a +2/-2 might be equal or better in some regards, but it’s just more fun to role more dice and see how one die really sucked and the boon saved you! Plus, sometimes i just decide, as GM, to use a +2 instead of boon or WITH a boon when i feel that it suits the situation.

    The quality of the book. The paper material, the colored images and even the Catalog-esk setup is pretty fun. Definitely a step up.

    Streamlined Ship combat. Hull points give a sense of HP while the Critical hits still retain the ability to get a “lucky” shot out, and add fun random elements into the fight.

    The skills are more stream lined and make more sense. You don’t have to have 5 different gun combat skills if you wanted to use all guns. Clumping them the way they now have in 2e gave my players better diversity and allowed them to move into new elements they didn’t feel comfortable with before. Your mileage may vary.

    There are a couple of other things, but those are the big ones. Just wanted to add that new-comer experience to this 2e debate.

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  21. Riquez

    Coming back to RPGs after a long cryosleep, I have only ever experienced Classic & MegaTraveller during the 80’s.
    Now I am back in the continuum, Mongoose v2 seems the logical place to jump in again.

    From my perspective, a re-noob so to speak, what I see in Mongoose v2 is a lot of ugly layouts & cheesy video game art. Especially the Vehicles, Equipment, & the 3D floor plans.
    There are one or two ‘sketch’ style images that are ok, but the rest are honestly horrible. I don’t want to buy a book where the art is so jarring to the imagination. I don’t want to play in that kids cartoon world.

    Compare to the Alien RPG book. That has similar computer readout panelling, with the 45º corners etc, but it’s drawn beautifully & not like someone who previously worked on the Argos catalogue. The artwork in Alien is really atmospheric & beautiful to look at, this inspires me to want to play the game & dive into the atmosphere.

    I won’t be buying Mongoose v2 either. So I might just resurrect Megatraveller for a few games, or get Alien & have some atmospheric action, while accepting it’s shortcomings as a long term system.

    1. Mongoose have pretty much always let themselves down on layout and art. They have essentially taken the view that, flashy cover art aside, they will be as lazy as they can be with the presentation, or rather as lazy as they think their licensors will let them get away with.

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