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Traveller (Classic) is one of my all time favorite RPGs and I am awaiting the release of Traveller5 with great anticipation. In the meantime I've decided to go back and take a look at several books in the Classic Traveller line. I am going to continue in the order that books were published, with the exception of JTAS issues, which I will tackle at the end of the book reviews. I have already reviewed the first 3 little black books, and supplement 1 - You can read reviews of those books here:
Book 1: Characters and Combat: Service, possible death, and lasers, and the game has yet to begin!
Book 2: Starships: Passenger berths can kill you and the captain bets on it!
Book 3: Worlds and Adventures: Billions and Billions, and Animals on Every One!
Supplement 1: 1001 Characters Troopers and Thugs, and 816 other people

The Book

Book 4: Mercenary was published in 1978 and is the fourth rulebook published for Traveller (Classic). It came after the three main books of the Traveller boxed set and the first supplement (Supplement 01: 1001 Characters). After book 4 comes Book 5: High Guard (published in 1979).

Like the other books in the little-black-book line, Book 4 is a saddle stapled book slightly smaller than 6x9 inches. This book has more pages than its predecessors, clocking in at 52 pages, a full 8 pages more than any of the previous books in the line. That doesn't sound like a lot, but that is 18% more material!

Like the previous books, the layout is easy on the eyes with good use of headings to call out section breaks and a sanserif font. This book has only one piece of artwork - a picture of a lone Mercenary Striker. As with the others, the layout of Book 4 is simple enough that it remains pleasing to the eye despite the lack of illustrations.

As I said in my other reviews, the simple lines on the cover of the little black books add to the whole package of the Classic Traveller line, and this became the defining look of the game. This book uses an orange line rather than a deep red one and, unlike supplement 1, has no header or footer lines.


Introduction: It is in this section of the book that we get the first mention of the Imperium - the centralized, but distant government that rules this part of the universe. This introduction is not an introduction to what's in the book as much as it is an introduction to the Traveller Universe. That is, this is a couple of pages that open up worlds of possibility. The reader is informed about what types of planetary incursions a mercenary PC may participate in and why such small scale infiltration makes sense in a sci-fi game that spans the universe.

The Regular Army-O: This 14 page section details a new character generation system for PCs who have an army or marine background. It is explained that the type of PC created using this generation system will be well suited to planetside ground troop operations (i.e. no wet navy or air/space troops are discussed here).

The biggest immediately noticeable change here is that each 4 year term of service is split into four 1 year terms in which the PC is given different assignments. These can be general or special assignments and allow for the character to earn different skills and possibly specialized training. This section describes how a PC may go to advanced training school and/or possibly gain entry into officer candidate school. Commissioned officers then have the opportunity to go on to even more advanced officer training in the form of intelligence, command, staff, or commando schools.

This section ends with 7 pages of new skill descriptions and the specific game effects of using that skill during play. The final half page consists of the resumes of two sample characters generated using the mercenary PC generation tables from this book. They use the term resume here to distinguish between a PC's UPP (universal personality profile) from a mercenary's service record-style profile.

Tickets: A ticket is a contract between a client/patron and a mercenary leader in the traveller universe. More specifically, it is a contractual obligation to perform a specific mission, and it is treated as a binding legal contract. The ticket contains all necessary information needed by the mercenary squad in order to complete the mission, including conditions of payment, type of service required, financial support for the mission and who provides it, and a required repatriation bond (to get the mercenaries out of there if their patron government is overthrown before the mission is complete).

The rest of this section discusses a procedure for getting hired into a mercenary unit and how to negotiate remuneration. This is followed by 5 sample tickets, one for each kind of major mission (striker, commando, cadre, and security) along with a 'dream ticket" which is a straight forward striker mission that could prove to be very lucrative for a new group of striker style PCs. Striker units as defined by the traveller universe are complete mercenary units hired to provide spearhead forces to a largely indigenous army. This is a smallish group of mercenaries that can easily be run by a small group of PCs.

Recruiting: This section provides rules and guidelines regarding hiring NPCs into an existing mercenary force in order to complete a ticket. This includes how to obtain a recruit, how to train a recruit, and how a mercenary organization might be structured so as to allow for a chain of command and an efficient fighting force. The minimum number of critical duty personnel at each level of the organization is discussed as well (e.g. each platoon must have medical skill within it equal to 10% of the platoon's strength).

Battles: This 5 page section details the use of 2 of 3 possible combat systems used in Traveller. The Traveller rule-set divides weapon based conflict into three resolution categories: conflict between two or very few combatants (referred to as combat, as in book 1), conflict between small to medium sized military forces (referred to a battles as described in this book, a.k.a. abstract resolution), and conflict between large armies (also briefly touched upon in this book, but not given a name other than free-form). It is explained that these rules:
Traveller Book 4, page 31 wrote:
... are intended only as a general guide to the referee, not as a definitive miniatures rules set.

The first part of this section expands on the Traveller combat system presented in book 1, complete with updated morale and weapons info. The second part of this section describes the abstract mission resolution system that can be applied to tickets and forces/squads generated in book 4. The last part is a single simple paragraph that explains that larger conflicts (between armies) should be resolved using a free-form system managed by the referee, but that it should have no explicit rules because it relies on the "on-the-spot interaction between the referee and players."

Ironmongery: This large, 12 page section describes weaponry in Traveller. The first 7 pages describes, at length: small arms, high energy weapons, support weapons, grenade launchers, and miscellaneous equipment. The last 5 pages describes the type of equipment in each category that may be found on a particular world, and it categorizes these based on tech level. This is a very helpful section because it give the referee a strong idea of what a mercenary force on a tech level 8 planet would look like as opposed to a mercenary force on a tech level 11 planet. This also goes a long way to describing the kind of universe we are in, and the range of technology available to some but not others.

Field Artillery: The last 5 pages of the book are taken up, mostly, with tables and matrices for weapons and equipment. general descriptions of certain weapon classes are described (e.g. high energy weapons).

What it Has

New PC Gen Rules - Want a military, ground trooper style character with extensive experience and specialized skills? This is the book you will want to have. Your PC needs to have a background in intelligence, but you don't want him to be a true mercenary? This is the place to look to get a PC with that training. This PC will still play nice with the PCs created with book 1.
The Imperium - This is the first book where the Imperium and the extent of its control is directly referenced.
Battle Plans - Want to provide battle on a different scale? You want your party to be able to be only tangentially involved in a planet-side conflict, but it needs to have a variable outcome? This book has the rules for that abstraction.
Tickets - Want a new way to get your party to accept a job in the game-world? Tickets are the answer - they provide structure and goals to a patron's request. Also, there are guidelines on how to get the PC the job!
Recruiting and Mercenary Organization - Need to provide a stricter structure to the organization your party belongs to? This is where to look to create that organization and fill it with appropriate people.
New Tech and Equipment - This book is not a complete equipment guide for mercenary characters, but some new things are briefly described (e.g. plasma guns, VRF gauss weapons, and anti-laser aerosols). While this is not a vast sourcebook for new equipment and vehicles, it does provide a few new items to fuel your imagination.
Tech Level Categorization - Need to know what sort of infantry equipment would be used on a tech level 5 world? Easy, just look on page 44. What kind of power source do military vehicles on a tech level 11 planet use? Look on page 47.

What it doesn't have

Encounters - This is not a book with scenarios detailing mercenary vs mercenary encounters.
Naval Occupations - This book only details and expands upon characters with a background in ground forces. No naval forces or jobs are discussed. For that matter, no scouts or other paths are discussed, only army and marine ground forces.
Detailed Miniatures Combat - Rules for mercenary forces in miniature scale are provided in the Striker Boxed Set released in 1981 and are not discussed in Book 4 at all.
Safe Character Generation - PC generation is just as dangerous in this book as it was in book 1. You can still die while serving your terms of service.

Evaluation for the Referee
This book is a must have if you are running ground based military campaigns in your Traveller game. Even if you aren't, the rules for hiring on to a unit and for recruiting NPCs to a unit are very useful even in non-military campaigns.

Evaluation for the Player
If you have any interest in playing a hardened veteran of the last war who is now a gun for hire, this is the book for you. If you have any interest in leading a group of strikers or commandos on a quick incursion, this is the book for you. If you want to run a simple security detail for your favorite corporation, this is the book for you. A must have for any long-time Traveller player.

What Comes Next?
I have now reviewed the core of the system, the first supplement released, and book 4. Following those, book 5 and supplements 2, 3, and 4 (all published in 1979) are on my radar to review.

This is entry 6b in the 2013 Iron Reviewer Contest
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Art Gorski
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A couple of additional comments:

Marines are mostly used on-board starships, so there are opportunities to gain "Shipboard" skills like Gunnery, Ship's Boat, and Vacc Suit. Even the Army character can be assigned to Protected Forces Training and gain skills like Vacc Suit and Zero-G Combat. These skills make these characters somewhat useful for adventures aboard starships.

I've generated hundreds of Mercenary characters using the Mac app I wrote (Mercenary). It's interesting to note that it's not impossible to generate Marines of Brigadier General rank, but the highest rank I've ever seen an Army character get is Colonel, and that is exceedingly rare. Not a huge issue, as most Traveller players like to muster their characters out after 3 terms to avoid aging effects anyway.
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Yeah, it's funny, just about every game of Traveller I have ever played is using PCs that served 3 terms or less. In fact, I can think of only one character who played in my game long term that started with 5 terms. I think my players would all rather play young vets than old grizzled vets.
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