Traveller: High Guard. RPG review

Traveller: High Guard, Mongoose Publishing, Website

Review by Rick Hudson

Back in the olden days when the Traveller RPG came as a nifty looking set of three booklets in an even niftier looking slip case, it was soon followed by two supplementary rulebooks: Mercenary and High Guard. Mercenary was great little booklet which was aimed at PCs with a background in the army. The first part of the booklet gave you an advanced and more detailed method of creating a character from specific branches of the army. The second section gave details on military grade weapons such as the Gauss rifle (yay!), military vehicles and so on. This was all jolly splendid and contributed to gaming sessions no end. High Guard was a different kettle of fish all together.

GDW’s High Guard started absolutely fine, the opening section was similar to that of Mercenary, except it targeted payers with characters with a navy (space navy, that is) background. The following section introduced new weapons and equipment for spaceships, and the rules for designing bigger ships than detailed in the basic rules (mmm – just getting slightly bored now). In the final section of High Guard things really went awry. Here we were introduced to what the designers liked to call the ‘advanced space combat rules’. If by ‘advanced space combat rules’ they meant ‘a bunch of rules that takes the quite nippy and exciting space combat rules from the basic set and turns them into a tedious, time consuming administrative process that bores players and GM alike to a whole new level of ennui and dispair’, then the designers can congratulate themselves on exceeding their remit. There are two things that make the space combat in the original High Guard interesting: 1. They are so boring it is quite interesting how boring they are; 2. They must be the most universally ignored ruleset in the entire history of role-playing, I have never, ever, not once, met a single Traveller player or referee who has ever, ever, ever, ever used these rules.

Anyway, moving on … Mongoose’s High Guard differs greatly from the original (thank the Great Architect). It covers the same area as the GDW booklet: it fleshes out the space-based elements of Traveller by giving us ship design rules; more info on life in space; info on the navy and belt mining; and much about weapons and equipment for ships. However, Mongoose have had the audacity to make it interesting and understandable to those who haven’t studied Physics at post-graduate level, the sly rogues. There is a rejig of the space battle rules to include fleet sized battles, I can’t see me using these in my campaign myself, but I could read them without tearing my eyes out with tedium.   The final section of High Guard provides deck plans and stats for a broad range of ships, including military vessels. These are all generic types and very useful for a referee to have at hand when either planning or running adventures. Everything from ubiquitous runabout launches, shuttles, couriers, prospecting ships, and merchant vessels are here, as are military ships ranging from fighters to capital ships through escorts. Unless a referee wants to design something explicitly alien and exotic, I can’t think of a gaming situation where a GM would need to design their own ship.  Of equal importance, Mongoose’s High Guard beats GDW’s hands down on the clarity front. It not only explains things – like what a Mass Drive actually is – but it does so in unambiguous and clear English.

The technical sections of High Guard will probably divide the house; there are those who will love this element, and others who will find it too technical and will not be bothered about designing their own ships. Nevertheless, the deck plans and ship details account for just over half the book, so even if you just want a spaceship Monster Manual then Mongoose’s High Guard is a worthy buy. Once again, Mongoose have taken Traveller materials and improved on, not merely reproduced, the original product.