State of the Mongoose 2016

It has been a tradition over the past 14 years to make a public post on how Mongoose has been getting on over the past 12 months, as well as taking a gander at our plans for the following year. You are all welcome to make any comments and ask any questions regarding this address on our forums HERE.

Short Version: The State of the Mongoose is pretty good, actually.

Longer Version: We have some issues here and there, but they are all manageable, all being fixed one by one, and none are company threatening in the least.

Full Version:

 

Changing Business

Late last year, we released the new edition of Traveller with the printed hardback following just a short few months after. This heralded not only a change in Traveller itself but also a fundamental shift in how we approached our games here at Mongoose.

The new Traveller was, in a way, a culmination of a number of changes made over the past few years and what we chose to focus on, as a company.

For most of our history, we have dabbled in the miniatures market with several games, starting with Mighty Armies and ending with Judge Dredd. The closure of our miniatures production facility in Ohio naturally led to a hard look at how we were going to proceed with miniatures overall. The upshot of that? A decision that we were just not built to handle the production and sales of miniatures, and that was a problem that led directly to the top of the leadership of Mongoose (that would be yours truly).

Now, I flatter myself to say that we are good (very good?) at miniatures games… just not the miniatures themselves. So, it was decided that we would pull out of miniatures production completely and leave that to companies built upon such expertise (like our friends at Warlord who took over the production of the Judge Dredd miniatures range).

This approach was then applied to the printing, warehousing, distribution and sales of printed books. For a couple of years now, Mongoose has printed no books. At all.

Bit weird for a publishing company?

We engaged the services of a US-based company called Studio 2 Publishing, who may be familiar to some of you (they provide the same services for the Savage Worlds RPG and, indeed, were first recommended to us by Shane Hensley). Studio 2 is now responsible for the printing and distribution of our entire printed RPG line – if you have seen one of our books in your local store of late, it came from them.

These changes, and others like them, resulted in a big departure from the way we did business.

At a stroke, it annihilated, utterly trashed, the admin required to run Mongoose. We used to have full-time staff members doing nothing but counting beans (actually, there was a bit more to it than that, and they were very good at what they did). Today, admin revolves around 10-15 minutes every day doing the accounts and keeping on top of customer service emails – a role I can easily cover myself.

In addition, we no longer have warehouse staff, warehouse rental fees, bills from shippers and, that holy grail of publishing, no bills from printers. This means cashflow becomes flat – steady, and very, very predictable. Few medium and long term businesses go bust because they run out of money; they go pop because of cashflow issues.

This in turn results in Mongoose being more stable now than it has ever been. I am not going to use the term bulletproof, but we are now in a very good position to weather any storm that sweeps through the industry (such as Pound Sterling sinking faster than the Titanic, which has provided us with very much mixed blessings overall).

So, no-stress cashflow and lower outgoings – this led to something I have wanted to enact for years but could not do so until now.

The majority of gaming companies (at least 90% of them) all have a front-loaded model. The reason they have constant releases every month or so is not because they enjoy releasing products, nor even because they can. It is because they must.

It is no secret that most sales of a gaming book occur within the first three months, with some (very few) products becoming ‘evergreen’ and having long sales tails. The thing is, if you have a nice big, respectable gaming company, you need those three-month sales just to survive, to the extent that if you go three months without a release, you begin seeing serious cashflow issues. Beyond that, gaming companies start imploding.

This is why we work to deadlines in publishing.

However, here at Mongoose, we found ourselves in a rather special position. Through a combination of a (very) large ebook back catalogue and increased royalties (this year, for the first time, we received more income from royalties than we paid out, which is not bad going at all when you consider our fondness in the past for licences), Mongoose can go a very, very long time without having to release new product. Going a full year without a new release might be a stretch… but I think with careful management it would be doable.

This means we no longer have to release books just to survive. We can release them when we feel they are ready, and not a day sooner.

This policy was instituted with the new Traveller from the start. Deadlines were replaced with guidelines, and nothing would go out until we were sure we liked it.

The upshot of this?

We broke every single dead/guideline set. Every single one!

However, the flip side is that the new Traveller is far, far better than it might otherwise have been, and it is a game we are well and truly proud of.

Some other, smaller, changes were made along the way to aid this process; we cut down the number of writers that work on our games, focussing on those with a demonstrated ability to write for Traveller (and Paranoia, for that matter); we also cut out the old editorial process – it was far too variable in the past, so now I have bitten the bullet and do all editing myself (an additional benefit here is that if any given text is boring the hell out of me, it gets cut immediately, and I am not sure I can say that was true of all our previous editors…).

This is going to result in a big slowdown of new products from Mongoose, compared to what you might have expected in the past – I think we are looking at one hardback every 3 months or so, with the odd adventure book and smattering of ebook support.

On the face of it, this means less income for Mongoose but that is something we can sustain now, and there is the (admittedly vague) thought that better quality books will mean more sales individually, once the word gets around.

That is okay. The Mission Statement for Mongoose today is not to rule the world, but to produce games we like at the best possible quality.

 

2016 and the Mongoose

The big hit of the year was the new edition of Traveller.

For this game, we wanted to a) streamline and enhance the previous edition (which, frankly, did not have a great deal wrong with it in terms of mechanics) and b) make it a pretty book!

We started from scratch with the artwork, and introduced copious amounts of 3D designs for both vehicles and spacecraft. The equipment section has been presented as a type of shopping catalogue (a conceit we extended to the Central Supply Catalogue, also released this year), and we have revised the way we present sector maps, in a way that allows useful notes to be made directly onto them (no more black backgrounds!).

At every stage of the new game, we inspected every rule and took a long look at how it was actually played during a game. Traveller has a history of leaning towards simulation, sometimes at the expense of gameplay, and we wanted to very much reverse that. The result is a game that will feel extremely familiar to players of our previous edition or Classic Traveller, but will feel much smoother and more intuitive during play.

We backed up the release of Traveller with a flurry of ebooks and adventures, dividing the latter between the familiar Spinward Marches and the rough and ready Trojan Reach – both sectors are adjacent, so Travellers can voyage easily between the two and while we are continuing to explore the Marches, we will be very much having a focus upon the Reach with this edition.

As mentioned before, our new design policies have led to several books being delayed. However, most are in an advanced state of completion and will be appearing early to mid-2017.

Vehicle Handbook: This one is being laid out right now (it will be the first of the big titles to appear next year) and does for vehicles in Traveller what High Guard does for spacecraft. We have taken the previous Vehicle Handbook and streamlined it further, making it even easier to build pretty much any vehicle you can imagine, from a humble bicycle to a fusion-powered super-heavy drone-controlled death tank with grav drives and a burrowing attachment! As well as the design system, we have also filled this book with all manner of vehicles that can appear on Traveller worlds. Here, we have tried hard to avoid the ordinary (we are not going to give you a lorry, followed by a family car from the 21st century) and reach further for what is a) likely to appear on worlds far from our own and b) start to feel for the limits of the design system. We have ensured there are vehicles for all pockets, so if you have a hard up mercenary force, we can point you to the (very) lightly armoured gun skiff that has room for a massive weapon and very little else, while those rich folk wanting to travel in style can board the hypersonic Concordia II jet…

Traveller Companion: This is the one title we did not properly get to grips with in 2016, but it is well on its way and being handled by Traveller-supremo Martin Dougherty. This book is intended to be married to the Core Rulebook and provides, well, options for referees and players wanting to develop their campaigns. Think of it as a toolkit for Traveller – if you want to introduce new aliens and animals, new technologies, non-random character creation, explore worlds in new ways, introduce new hazards for both planetary and space travel… the Traveller Companion will be for you!

Traveller Starter Box Set: The one title I was most disappointed at not having brought out in 2016 was the all new Traveller starter set. This is a boxed set that will now be appearing in the second quarter of 2017 and, well, it contains everything needed to start playing Traveller. It contains a full set of the Core rules (not cut down, you get everything in the Core Rulebook), along with a brand new campaign that is set in the same galaxy as the Third Imperium, but far, far away – we have some ideas on how to extend and expand this campaign over two or three more box sets that also introduce rules into the game, but that will (as always) depend on you chaps and what you think of the first.

 

Traveller in 2017 – Overview

Our first priority for 2017 is getting the books we are currently working on out of the door. But we have some real crackers in the works for you beyond that…

 

Drinax & DLC

A while ago, we released the Pirates of Drinax mega-campaign as a free download, and very well received it was too.

We are going to be re-releasing Pirates of Drinax in early 2017 and, this time, we are going to ask you to pay for it.

But why would we pay for it, I hear you ask…

Because this edition is going to kick some serious bottom.

The new Pirates of Drinax has been revised from top to bottom, with oodles of new material included – no more vague mentions of mysterious predators on far flung worlds – if your Travellers visit that world, we have got the referee covered and provide description, game stats and artwork of that predator. If a new ship is mentioned, you will have the stats, hull and deck plans for it. In other words, everything you need to run the Pirates of Drinax campaign.

This mega-campaign is going to be presented as a double volume, full colour hardback set in tough slipcase, complete with a huge poster map that will have the entire Trojan Reach on one side (again, in a format that will allow you to makes notes upon it, charting your progress as you cut a swathe through the stars), and (at time of writing) everything you need to know about the Harrier commerce raider on the other. As well as the campaign, these books will detail the Trojan Reach in its entirety, introduce all background and rules for the Aslan (including Traveller creation, ships and equipment), and provide you with plenty of patrons and encounters across the sector for any campaign.

In short, it is not just a campaign, but an entire sector and alien module too!

However, as we were working on Pirates of Drinax, we realised we had way too much material to cram into even a double volume set. So, we started work on supplementary material.

For a long time, we avoided using the term DLC around the office for this. DLC has developed some negative connotations, which were just not applicable to what we were doing. However, we had a good, long think about this and in the end decided to call it what it is – DLC.

This stems from my own video gaming. When I get to the end of Skyrim or Mass Effect, or any other game I have been enjoying, I am more than happy to dive back in and expand the experience. This is what we want to do for Pirates of Drinax, provide additional materials that will expand and genuinely enhance the campaign experience, that have solid value and worth – they are not vital to run the campaign, but we think the campaign is better with them.

We are not going to charge you to add a horse to your game.

What we will be providing are ebooks (most of which have been written by fan-favourite Martin Dougherty) with patron encounters expanded into full-blown adventures, NPC ships with a back story to ensure you never raid ‘just another merchant’, and more detailed world descriptions (such as the ebook Pirates of Drinax: Theev we released recently). We have even taken the chapter in Pirates of Drinax covering the Harrier commerce raider and created a complete owner’s manual for it, with lots of new options for upgrades and repairs.

As well as keeping the campaign set to a manageable size (it is going to be well over 400 pages by itself), this DLC allows you to pick and choose where you want to expand your campaign – if your players never go near one subsector, you won’t need expanded world descriptions for it. On the other hand, if your players are constantly hitting merchant shipping, you might want to add some spice to their encounters.

Either way, we will have you covered.

 

Beyond Drinax

Pirates of Drinax represents a fairly monumental effort for our design team, and we are aiming to make it the best title we have ever released ever.

However, after it is complete, we will be looking to top it. And, it just so happens, we have a candidate that might just do that…

We started thinking about how the format we used for Pirates of Drinax (campaign, alien module, and sector) could be applied elsewhere, and where it would best serve.

For several years now, we have talked about tackling the Fifth Frontier War (FFW) properly, and now we finally have a vehicle worthy of it.

This project is being spearheaded by Rob Eaglestone, a name that will be very familiar to Traveller veterans. The FFW campaign will be another double volume that will have a complete multi-month campaign, an alien race (the Zhodani), and a whole sector (Ziafrplians, but we will be using a ‘common’ name for it that everyone can pronounce!).

The twist for this campaign is that the Travellers will be Zhodani agents in the run up to the war.

If everything goes according to plan and you chaps enjoy the campaign formats, we have this Grand Idea that the FFW will actually be a trilogy of campaigns, released one every year, that will focus on the Zhodani, the Vargr (or, rather, what is going on in Vargr space), and then the Vilani in the Spinward Marches, all backed up with additional and optional material in the form of ebooks.

After that, we will probably have a little rest!

However, before anyone panics, we are already looking at the likes of the K’kree, Hivers, and Solomani. Will they be in this grand campaign format? I would like them to be, but that will be down to all of you and what you think of Drinax and FFW.

On top of that, we have some (slightly) smaller projects we are looking at for Traveller in 2017. We want to cover some of the pocket empires in the Trojan Reach, notably the likes of the Florian League and Glorious Empire, which are both frankly fascinating, and these may be compiled towards the end of the year into an ‘Empires of the Reach’ hardback. By the same token, I would like us to take another swing at the Sword Worlds, and we have plenty more adventures coming, including a complete top-to-bottom revision/reimagining of the classic adventure, Leviathan (entitled Last Flight of the Amuar).

Some of you have already been asking about 2300AD, and what our intentions for it are.

Well, Colin ‘I am 2300AD’ Dunn has been beavering away on a second edition book, married to the new Traveller rules. It is our intention to release this in 2017 (likely at the bottom end of the year) as a full colour hardback with its own styling, along with a handful of supplements we have in the works (such as the Aerospace Engineer’s Handbook, and a revised Bayern).

We are conscious that 2300AD has had a bit of a barrier set up around it, that has made it somewhat impenetrable to non-2300AD veterans. This we are looking to break down.

We are going to be doing this with several approaches:

  1. Graphics and art: We are actively looking at new ways to present information other than big, block text (you can see the stirrings of this in the new Traveller).
  2. Technology: 2300AD has had a habit of adding ‘all the new technologies!’, along with the rules that go with them, and that just buries players. As with the new Traveller, we are looking for ways to properly streamline and simplify this game.
  3. There has always been a line of thought that said ‘yes, 2300AD is all well and good as a setting – but what do we do in it?’ We are looking at releasing 2300AD alongside a proper story-driven campaign that will both get veterans interested in returning to the universe, and introduce it to newcomers.

Ultimately, we want to build 2300AD up so it stands at least shoulder-high to the grand Third Imperium universe. This will take us the next few years to accomplish, but it is going to be a great ride for anyone who wants to get on board early.

 

Paranoia

Ah, now, this is the Big One. If the new Traveller is awesome, then the new Paranoia blows the lid right off.

The new Paranoia was born from an extremely successful Kickstarter and, as I type, it is finally being printed. Kickstarter backers will see their copies in January/February, and it will be in stores a couple of months or so after that (the retail edition is being printed at the same time).

The new Paranoia is, in my ever so humble estimation, and speaking as someone who has played the game since they were twelve, the Best Paranoia Ever Of All Time.

That is not hyperbole. The game is that good.

World Famous Games Designer James Wallis has done an absolute corker on Paranoia, ably assisted all the way by luminaries Eric Goldberg, Greg Costikyan and Ken Rolston.

So, how to describe it?

Well, even if you have never played Paranoia, you can sit down and be playing within minutes of opening the box set. Minutes.

Character creation is a masterpiece of games design that is intended not to create Troubleshooters (that is almost incidental) but foster rivalries among the players right from the start.

The largest book in the box set is the GM’s guide, and it has no more than half a dozen rules within it. In the new Paranoia, it is the players who run the game. The GM is really just there to make their lives difficult (here at Mongoose, we understand the pressures a hardworking and under-appreciated GM is always under – Paranoia is his perfect game).

Alpha Complex itself is exactly the same it always has been. It has also been changed to reflect today’s uncertain world. With the new Cerebral Coretech implants, the Computer truly can watch everything. And, of course, the dreaded Communists have now been joined by the vile Terrorists.

Once we have got the Kickstarter edition out of the door, we will be doing some previews of the new game, but I will just say this – if you have had but the slightest interest in Paranoia in the past, you will want to take a look at this new set. It is, as they say, a good ‘un.

Happily, the Kickstarter also funded several expansions to the game. Released alongside the box set will be the Interactive Screen (who wants a normal, boring GM’s Screen, eh?), and the full colour Forms Pack, printed on a tear-off pad so players can be threatened with bureaucracy at any time (or whim).

Following them quickly will be the first two expansion card decks. The first, The Mutant Explosion, adds many more mutant powers to the game, while the second covers additional Secret Societies… I don’t want to say too much about this one at the moment but suffice to say as well as brand new societies, it brings about schisms to old favourites!

Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues is currently being revised for both the new game and the changes in the setting, and a brand new set of adventures, Ultraviolent, will follow quickly.

Paranoia: A game of the darkly humorous future, upgraded for the post-privacy present…

 

Victory at Sea

This one has been on the cards for a long time – our miniatures game of World War II naval warfare.

When the first edition was released, many, many moons ago, its success caught us by surprise and, over the years, it became clear a second edition might be a good idea. We wrote the new game, playtested it a lot, and created a great many (about 150, as things stand!) 1/1800 scale ships.

But what to do with it?

We did not want to produce the game ourselves because, well, we don’t do that any more. So, we have spent the past few years looking for a suitable partner who can handle both book and miniatures… and we think we have found someone. Keep a weather eye out in the first half of 2017 for some exciting news here.

Incidentally, the Victory at Sea video game was released in 2015 on the PC. In development right now is Victory at Sea 2.0, again for the PC, and Victory at Sea: Ironclad, covering the American Civil War. We actually have a full miniatures rulebook written for the latter (heavily inspired by rules written by David ‘I know more about naval warfare than you’ Manley and yes, that will be making an appearance too on the tabletop. But WWII comes first.

 

Longer Term Aims

Our immediate aims are ‘make Traveller and Paranoia the best RPGs in their respective fields’. Although what other RPG occupies the same field as Paranoia might require some thought.

Beyond that, one goal is to properly develop our own original setting. We have messed about in the shallow end of this several times (Deus Vult, Wraith Recon, Infernum, for example) but we have never really, properly committed to any of them, and I am not sure they were the right ideas in the first place.

We do, of course, have some ideas. First among these is the Articulo Mortis setting for Traveller (the name of which has to change, for reasons that will be very obvious once you translate that title), a mixing pot of Third Imperium, Firefly and, yes, the Walking Dead.

Will that be the one we go forward with? No idea yet, but it is certainly a contender.

On a slightly different tack, Mongoose has been somewhat known for producing licensed games in the past (Babylon 5, Conan, Starship Troopers, to name but three). Are we looking at chasing more licences… well, not really, but never say never. The Golden Rule here is that we produce the games we ourselves want to play. If one of us gets a hankering to play, oh, I don’t know, a Halo RPG, you can be sure we’ll get onto the phone quickly.

That said, there is a proposal from us on the desk of a certain someone. It is not a massive mainstream licence (not TV or film), but it is ‘known’ in the RPG world. We think a small number of you would be really excited for it (we certainly are!), and we think we can do a good job. As for what it is… well, a decision is being made early next year, so you’ll just have to wait!

 

Onwards and Upwards

Overall, there has been a new attitude developing at Mongoose.

In the past, we have watched the RPG market like hawks, responding to trends and the actions of our competitors. These days… honestly… I really could not care less about the games other companies produce. Unless they are really good games, of course, in which case I will be playing them!

We are in the happy position that we do not need to consider other publishers as competitors (no one else can really do the games we produce), and so we are free to concentrate on designing the games that we want to play. To that extent, every one of our books today goes through the same three stages:

  1. Make it playable
  2. Make it pretty
  3. Add a dollop of awesome

As a writer, the first of these is the primary issue. There have been too many RPG books in the past (both from Mongoose and other publishers) that waffle on about detail and get into mechanics that may seem realistic when they are being written, but are absolute murder during play. RPGs are intended to be played and it can be easy to fall into the trap of forgetting that.

This was central to both the new edition of Traveller and Paranoia. Previous editions of Traveller had you tracking the speeds of individual vehicles and calculating their acceleration. How boring and time consuming is that, when you are chasing after the rogue agent in your G/Carrier? All you need to know are the relative speeds of the vehicles and whether one can easily overhaul the other (and how agile they are, once you get into the city or jungle). With one stroke, we got rid of a lot of rules waffle and made the game smoother.

Making the books pretty is down to our design team, Amy and Sandrine (I once commissioned a front cover myself, and was firmly told by my staff to never do it again…). Everything art-related you see in the new Traveller and Paranoia comes down to these two gamer girls.

Adding a dollop of awesome to each book is not something that can be quantified, and falls into the category of ‘we know it when we see it’. This takes many different forms, and may be different for each reader. For us it has included rules (the armour rules for Paranoia in the GM’s book, cited by Ken Rolston as a ‘monument to Paranoia rules writing’), art and design (I thought the ship size comparison spread in High Guard was quite funky), and approaches to how games are actually played (take a look at the way racism is handled in the Traveller adventure High and Dry – it will seriously wind up any Vargr player in the group…).

So, what can you expect from Mongoose Publishing in 2017 and beyond?

Some seriously good gaming experiences, I would say.

See you at the gaming table!

Matthew Sprange
Managing Director
Mongoose Publishing

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