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Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
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Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
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Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
Publisher: Mongoose
by Megan R. [Featured Reviewer]
Date Added: 07/10/2015 09:06:23

Described as "A Referee's Essential Lifeline", this work is primarily aimed at the referee who doesn't have the time or inclination to prepare detailed adventures or campaigns of their own but who does want something other than a published adventure to run. The Introduction refers rather rudely to 'lazy' referees, but backpedals to include those whose real-world commitments intrude on game prep time as well. Even those who do like creating their own material can benefit - the well-spring of ideas may come up blank or they may need something in a hurry when (as is quite often the case) their carefully-prepared plot does not survive its first encounter with the players!

Two main campaign types are presented: the Automatic and the Semi-Automatic. An Automatic Campaign is almost self-generating, using the tables provided to give the characters things to do and complications to contend with. A Semi-Automatic campaign requires a little more input from the referee. Whatever you decide upon, you'll need a sub-sector to let the party loose in: either roll one up using the rules in the core rulebook or use one of the published ones.

The first section deals with the Automatic Campaign, which is handled via a sort of flowchart. This begins with the characters on a planet, seeking work. Once found, they make any necessary preparations then set off to wherever they need to be - possibly on another planet entirely - to do the job. When they get to their destination, they undertake the task, and then travel back again. At every opportunity, both planetside and travelling, there are options for random events - not necessarily connected to the task at hand - to occur; and once everything's over and done with, the party can rest and relax before the whole cycle begins again. There's a selection of random missions for you to use, or of course you can turn to 760 Patrons or the adventure suggestions in other supplements, depending on what you have available.

The next section, Planetside Events, provides copious events that can take place anything the characters are planetside. Using the above flowchart, they could be job hunting, preparing, travelling or even resting when one of these events occurs. Layered tables provide countless opportunities in both urban and rural settings. A few might be ignored by the party but most demand a response. Naturally, as in any such random system, you are free to choose the option that appeals most if you prefer - or if you really don't like what the dice rolled for you. There's even an option for unleashing a zombie apocalypse, complete with suggestions for alternative names for the 'zombies' as many players may baulk at the term. There are also a series of complications to be used when the party has found (or think they have) the patron or service for which they are looking.

This is followed by a Space Events section, which covers both things that might be encountered when travelling in the black and events that might take place on the ship in which the party is travelling. Again, there's plenty and enough here to make whole adventures of their own from, never mind being incidents occuring when the party is trying to do something else.

This is followed by a Life Events section: there's nothing like making the event personal to one or more members of the party. This is a shorter, but nonetheless potent section of the book. Really devious referees will also make use of characters' backstories to weave people and events from their past into whatever's going on.

The next section, Hooks, is rather interesting. It looks at ways other than a patron encounter to get the adventure rolling by bringing it to them rather than their going out to find it. Something to be used sparingly or players are liable to get fed up with the lack of perceived control they have over their characters' actions.

Then comes Campaign Generation, a detailed discourse on adventure design in general, and about adding depth and complexity to what is going on. It starts off by defining most Traveller adventures as being journeys or exploration. The journey is the classic patron-led adventure where the party has to go somewhere and do something to get paid (or gain some other award), the exploration is generally more character-led as they poke around a location - anything from a single place on a planet to an entire sub-sector - to see what they can find or in pursuit of some other end. All manner of conflicts, complications, time constraints and other things can then be stirred into the mix. It then moves on to discuss tips for referees, such as setting the tone and mood for the adventure. This section's advice is useful for those who like to write their own adventures or those starting with the Automatic Campaign system but wanting to inject a bit more originality into it.

Next is a section on World Building which talks about the creation of cities, villages and wilderness areas from scratch. Samples are provided in an appendix. There's a vast number of options here, many of which set potentials for adventure or provide a dynamic backdrop which may or may not affect what the party is up to but does give the feeling that there's a lot going on irrespective of what they are doing, a good way to build a feeling of reality into your game.

This is followed by a section on Investigation, a popular type of adventure. Whether it's a murder or other crime to solve or something else to uncover, there are some standard processes involved. Unlike the rest of the book, this section is more guidelines than tools for random(ish) generation: if you want to run an investigation you need to know what's really going on and supply appropriate clues to enable the party to find out.

Finally there's a copious collection of random events for just about every situation: things happening during a foot chase, graffiti on a wall, items on a table, random rooms, health events (even characters catch a cold!)... even one for what's on TV! Never be stumped again when the party asks an unexpected question. There are also some sample maps for different locations and a massive Appendix with ready-made examples of places and people to use as you see fit.

This is possibly the most comprehensive GM resource I've seen. Just about every section left me wanting to comment that it would be worth getting the book for that section alone. Whether you really are the lazy or time-strapped referee it's supposedly for or you have plenty of time to create adventures, you'll find this of interest and use as you spawn adventures ready for your next game. Unless you are really good at detail off the cuff, though, do the planning in advance... but this book will make it so much quicker and easier!

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
Publisher: Mongoose
by Dave S. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 07/30/2012 04:18:49

This book is a train wreck, plain and simple. Where do I begin?

  • Worst. Editing. Ever.

There are tables that, so far as I can tell, simply don't exist. Cross-references to other pages are wrong as often as they're right. Several top-of-section quotes are repeated - and so is a complete callout box ("Using the Good Book: Urban Encounters" appears on both p.94 and p.101 with identical text). There is a section of several pages where ships are consistently referred to as "vassals" rather than "vessels", and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Confusion of similar-sounding words seems to be more the rule than the exception. I have to wonder whether the book's editor is not a native speaker of English or if they simply didn't take the time to actually read this book.

  • The layout is a little better than the editing. A little.

This book has a lot of tables. Often three or four of them on a single page. Unfortunately, it seems to be pretty random as to whether a given table will appear before or after the text describing it, the text and table are often on different pages, and the tables are often labeled unclearly (or not at all beyond "roll 2d6"), which can make it difficult to determine which one is which. Tables are also often split between pages for no apparent reason. Many pages have the bottom third left completely blank. It's not uncommon for these large blank spaces to be at the bottom of pages containing the first portion of a split table, even if the full table could have easily fit onto the page if not for the blank space.

  • The author's familiarity with Traveller seems suspect.

This is not a simple "it's not OTU!" rant. I am not an OTU grognard. I have, in fact, never played in OTU, nor even looked at any edition of Spinward Marches or any other OTU-specific books beyond flipping through them briefly at the store.

However, Traveller has a certain hard-SF (or at least firm-SF) flavor baked into the rules even outside of OTU materials and that flavor is completely ignored by this book in favor of zombie apocalypses (first on p.16, but they reappear frequently through the rest of the book), young women being sacrificed to dragons (p.27), ships and robots randomly becoming self-aware and sapient AIs in general (p.43, 55, 57, and many, many others - while this could fit into Traveller, it would be at least TL16, if not 17+, rather than something you encounter every time you run down to the corner store for a carton of milk), godlike "higher entities" (p.36), and on and on...

"But, wait," you say, "This is a 'Supplement', so it's supposed to be setting-independent and those are all staples of science-fantasy settings!" Alas, it is not so, as the author has also opted to include OTU-specific encounters within the book, with regular appearances by Aslan, Vargr, Telvanni, Droyne, and Hiver contingents.

Even aside from flavor, the author seems a little shaky on the rules, most notably the description of his "Automatic Campaign" flow on p.3, which states that "Jump travel effectively cuts the Player Characters off from the rest of the universe for 1–6 weeks." No, according to the rules in every version of Traveller I've seen, each jump takes roughly one week, regardless of distance jumped. (It's unclear whether the author intends to say that jumps take 1 week per parsec or that they take 1d6 weeks, but RAW disagrees with him either way.)

Finally, the author's description of campaign flow seems rooted in more traditional RPG systems, with the assumption that player characters will have a consistent home city, where they find a job, go out, do it, and then return to their home city for a few months of rest before looking for a new job. Months? Yes, months. The "Resting" section on p.5 shows rolling for Life events once a month during downtime and the text suggests that "more than one event per month creates a mood of paranoia and persecution."

I don't know about you, but I've never seen a Traveller campaign that fit that pattern. More often than not, the player characters have a ship and they have to pay for that ship. Say they've got a nice little Type A Free Trader. That's a relatively cheap (and common for PCs) ship. Even ignoring maintenance costs, the mortgage payments on it are going to run 130-150kCr/month. Sitting idle at home for multiple months between runs tends to lead to your ship getting repossessed. In my experience, the much more common flow is one week planetside, one week in jump, and doing our best to make sure we get paid (whether by patrons or from buying and selling cargoes) at least twice a month, every month.

  • Lack of coherence in game systems.

This mostly shows up in the city generation section - which, by the way, is actually fairly decent if you can dodge these pitfalls - but the rules proposed in this book seem to have been written in isolation, without considering other rules systems or even other parts of the system itself. Two examples immediately come to mind:

First, the rules for determining a city's population on p.82, which say the population will be 2d6 x 10^(d6+3), giving a population of anywhere from 20,000 to 12,000,000,000. Note that the planetary profile does not enter into this at all, so you can apparently have twice the total population of Earth living in a single city... at TL 2. You can also easily roll up cities whose population exceeds the total population of the planet they're on, given that the exponent used in city size is linear (d6+3, avg. 6.5), while that used for planetary population follows a bell curve (2d6-2, avg. 5). These issues are not addressed in any way.

Second, the crime determination system on pp.99-101 includes a table for determining the Crime Rate of a city district, which looks pretty decent. But the rules for determining (again, on a monthly basis...) whether the PCs are victims of a crime completely ignore the Crime Rate - it doesn't matter whether the Crime Rate is Very Low ("Occasional crime of passion, some vandalism and petty theft.") or Insane ("Every single person you meet on the streets is a murdering psychopath."), your odds of being mugged are exactly the same. Also, the planetary profile is, once again, ignored - neither population nor law level figure into determining the Crime Rate or whether you are victimized.

  • Wrapping up

To bring this rant to a close, the book does have some decent random tables for generating just about anything you can think of (What's on TV? p.137 Graffiti on the bathroom wall? p.130) even if they do tend to be a bit too random and lacking in any sort of coherent theme or flavor. Unless you're playing in Grimjack's Cynosure or a similar "cross the street and the laws of physics just might change", absolutely-anything-goes setting, you'll probably end up ignoring or rerolling things on a regular basis. You can also expect to apply Rule 0 pretty frequently, at which point it starts to raise the question of why you don't just draw tarot cards or roll on lists of random words to spur your imagination instead of using this book's tables.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
Publisher: Mongoose
by Rory H. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/18/2012 03:53:54

Lots of charts and tables in this book - and while it is useful for it's stated purpose, it really works best in conjunction with other Supplements rather than as a standalone product. A solid tool - but not an indispensable one.

[3 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
Publisher: Mongoose
by John W. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 04/11/2012 23:06:53

The Campaign Guide is, in my opinion, a lot of fun – it offers a long series of tables and suggestions for how to create a campaign (or a scenario or some other shorter section of action) by rolling on as many tables as might be desired. So, one might roll for a life event, then a patron roll, then a space flight event, then a planetary roll, a return spaceflight event, a home planet event and so forth. In each case, the roll provides an option which can then be implemented by the referee according to the specific makeup of the party.

Of course, this will not suit everyone: some people do not want tables of this sort but would prefer to use their own ideas; others will complain if this or that table or this or that result is not quite what the people involved want them to be. This is normal enough – I myself thought some of the events were a little too cinematic for the experience I want to have (e.g. passengers on a ship turn out to be devil-worshippers who aim to capture and eat everyone; characters suddenly taken over by alien parasites and so forth) but in that case I would simply roll again or substitute results of my own.

The best way to use this guide, then, is probably to use it either as a spur to invention or else, as the Guide itself recommends, as a means of generating automatic or semi-automatic campaigns. In that context, referees can choose some or all of the tables to help define events. It is not as if we are unfamiliar with looking up things in tables when playing Traveller and then interpreting the results.

I did not find the mistakes and errors pointed out by a previous reviewer.

The Guide occupies a halfway position between normal play and the solo supplement that we have had dangled before our eyes by Mongoose schedule for release some time later this year. The experience of Traveller, especially for the solo player, involves pursuing a number of sub-systems and it should be quite possible to link these together in some sort of coherent way. Players with imagination and time can do this for themselves in any case; those lacking either or both would welcome some guidelines that would link (for example), character generation with the finding of a merc ticket and then resolving the military action involved. I remember a story from Baxter’s Xeelee sequence (if memory serves) in which generations of young people are born on a moon on which they are destined to be thrown into the war and almost certainly slaughtered in scenes reminiscent of the worst excesses of the First World War. That would be a setting that could be used to support solo play: as characters are generated, they are tested out for different parts of the military service (through participating in missions) and build up to the big one when they go over the top. That would provide several hours of entertainment and, for me, that would be practical and well worth playing.

[4 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
Publisher: Mongoose
by Peter T. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/03/2012 02:32:45

Very useful book for the busy Referee? Plenty of ideas at your finger tips.

[5 of 5 Stars!]
Supplement 9: Campaign Guide
Publisher: Mongoose
by John D. [Verified Purchaser]
Date Added: 03/01/2012 20:18:49

The editing of this book is absolutely atrocious. Spelling and grammatical errors abound, making it painful to read. Many of the tables and events are singularly unsuited to use in a standard Traveller milieux; OTU fans may experience blurring of vision or slight nausea. The events tend to strongly disregard the hard-science basis of Traveller and go for the far-out, with things like "Planetary radiation has caused the villagers to be immortal and infertile", and "An unexplained space phenomenon transports the Player Characters’ ship to another galaxy." The actual rules content is haphazard and often neglects any PC capabilities or actions; lots of chances for summary execution, possession by aliens, or other unpleasant ends with 'no save'. Many of the tables are either so situational as to be useless, or general but have events that could only occur under fairly specific circumstances which will often not be met if rolling just based on the table type.

[1 of 5 Stars!]
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