Originally posted at http://diehardgamefan.com/2011/12/30/supp11animalenc/
Supplement 11 is a very traditional entry into the Traveller supplement line: take an element that exists in the core rules in a rudimentary form, and expand upon it. In this case, it takes the basic rules for animals, all manner of non-terrestrial animals, and turns out 96 pages of support for them.
Alien life forms, in the form of animals, are a staple of all forms of science fiction, but are especially important for a space opera campaign. The original Star Wars trilogy gave us riding lizards, trash compactor monsters, the yeti-like creature on Hoth, and both the rancor and the sarlacc in Jabba’s service. If you like to include such critters in your games, or want to be inspired to do so, this might be the supplement for you. (I had to go look up how to spell Sarlacc, I’ll have you know. You see what I do for you people?)
The book begins with a few pages on animal psychology, and other information on how to play the animals your characters encounter in a believable way. Then, into the meat of the information, an expanded set of rules for creating random animals. The same notions from the core rules are included and expanded upon, giving you more options, as well as providing information on how your animals could evolve additional abilities appropriate to their natures, and tables of quirks to make each encounter with a Pouncer or Hunter type subtly different.
After a brief discussion (and appropriate tables for random determination) of how to stage encounters with the creatures you’ve designed, including the range at which the attack occurs, the bulk of the mechanics are completed. The next fifty or so pages are filled instead with the most comprehensive random encounter table collection you could imagine.
Broken down first by the temperature profile of the world (Cold, Temperate or Hot), and then internally first by atmosphere type (Thin, Standard or Dense), and then further by the environment the encounter is taking place in (Woods, Hills, Plains, Riverbank, Ocean, etc), each table is a 2d6 roll to determine the kind of critter that your players will encounter, complete with special events on a natural 7, and stats rolls for the critters in question.
In addition, the next few pages include encounters in unusual locations that didn’t fit the mold of the previous tables, including Gas Giants, Asteroids (giant space worm, anyone?), Nebulae, Low Orbit and Deep Space. Very nearly every possible place that you could desire to have an encounter with a non-sentient alien species is covered.
Finally, the book closes with a few page of pre-designed animals, and a table to aid in costuming those animals based on the situations in which they are encountered. Some brief blurbs are given for the animals, to fire the GMs imagination, and help lead him or her to designing interesting, well thought-out animals of their own. The final page is a handy animal record sheet for easy reproducing.
Is this an essential supplement? No, not hardly. I’ve played Traveller for a number of years (very nearly back to it’s inception in 1977), and have never spent a great deal of time on animal encounters – which is odd, given their prevalence in science fiction, and the general, “Go out and kill some monsters.” feel of many fantasy RPGs. But if you are interested in having more animal encounters in your game, and you find the existing rules to be limiting or uninspiring, I think you’ll find that Supplement 11 gives you all the information you need to make that happen.
Happily, there are little tidbits of fluff decorating the book, often at the head of each chapter, but also associated with some of the pre-built animals near the end. They’re not specific to any one game world, and don’t assume a Third Imperium game over any other, but added a nice break and some inspiration for how you, as the GM, can bring more animal encounters into your player’s lives. This helps to counter the near-absence of art in the book – if you buy RPG books at all because of the art, this will not be an essential “must-buy” for your collection.
The real strength of the book comes from the flexibility it gives. If you’re very interested in creating specialized animals for your characters to encounter, the rules are there, and they’re very thorough. They have a kind of veracity to them, that makes one think that a zoologist was consulted during their creation. And if you don’t care that much, but think that an encounter makes sense given where your players have found themselves, there are random tables to make that a no-brainer decision – a call-back to the wandering monster tables of (some of) our youth.
I’ll simply close by saying that, having access to this information, I feel like I am more likely to use it, to include some animal encounters in my games, than I was before I read Supplement 11. A chapter of the core rules that I used to gloss over has been made much more interesting and useful because of it.