State of the Mongoose 2017
Mongoose Publishing has just finished its 16th year and, it has to be said, things are looking good!
The State of the Mongoose is our yearly address to gaming community, covering how we have been getting on over the past 12 months, and looking forward to our plans for the following year. So, with no further ado…
After the big changes over the previous two or three years, things have become remarkably stable here at Mongoose. Studio 2 Publishing and DrivethruRPG handle our printed books and ebooks respectively, allowing Mongoose staff to focus almost entirely on design, which is where we are most certainly happiest.
We have maintained our policy of using guidelines to channel publishing dates rather than deadlines and we have managed to keep to the odd one here and there. What is more important is that books are only released when we believe they are ready, rather than being pushed out because of an artificial date – this does lead to books being delayed due to last minute ‘wouldn’t this be great?’ ideas, but we feel the final work is all the better for that.
Under this system, we try to release a big hardback book every three months, with smaller adventures and ebooks either side but 2016 saw us wedged firmly in some very large projects. The biggest, without a doubt, was the Pirates of Drinax mega-campaign set, a slipcase with three hardbacks and a massive poster map (available at Drivethru, and at print right now). However, we have also worked on a number of boxed sets, including the new Traveller Starter Set, Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues (Remastered) and, more recently, the Great Rift.
The latter two are great examples of how Kickstarter can be leveraged to take a good project and make it so much better, while keeping players engaged in the whole design process. Yellow Clearance Black Box Blues (Remastered) is, of course, based on the classic Paranoia adventure but doing it through Kickstarter allowed us to not simply reprint the old book with some tweaks to bring it up to the latest edition, but do it as a four-book box set in its own right with all sorts of added material. The Great Rift (now available on PDF and about to go to print) was intended to be a 200-odd page box set with a giant poster map – it now spans nearly 400 pages with three giant poster maps, and has had three standalone adventures added to get you going immediately.
All of that was a direct result of using Kickstarter.
So, I think it fair to say we will be doing some more ‘special’ projects in the same way in 2018. The combination of increased resources during the development stage wedded to direct involvement with backers not only make the whole process a lot of fun for us, it also results in projects with a much grander scope, taking them to a whole new level, and thus far no project has demonstrated this better than the Great Rift.
It would also be fair to say that we have now ‘cracked’ the Kickstarter process. The last of the Paranoia Kickstarter is done and now at print, and the Great Rift Kickstarter has been turned around in record time, despite nearly doubling in size (and is at the printers right now). We still have a tiny number of obligations with older Kickstarters that involved miniatures, for which we now have to rely on third parties to fulfil, but the Judge Dredd project is now complete, and all metals for Rogue Trooper have been sent out – we now have only a few dozen resin vehicles to follow which will be completed in the first quarter of 2018.
The ‘secret’ has been to bring as much work as possible in-house, and prepare the majority of each project before the Kickstarter so much as goes live.
Here in the United Kingdom, the word on everyone’s lips is Brexit. I won’t get into the politics here (suffice to say the Powers That Be seem intent on turning it into a disaster), but the effects are already making themselves felt. And if you are an effective exporter in the UK, those effects have been fairly positive up to now.
Pound Sterling crashed after the referendum and while it has recovered a little since, Dollars from the US and Australia, with Euros from Europe, are worth a little more now than they once were. Which is good if you are selling books and PDFs to those countries. The flip side is that as we have our books printed by Studio 2 in the US, our cover prices are linked to the Dollar, with the result that UK gamers are paying more. We have kept the prices flat for now (those Traveller hardbacks should be nearer £40) but literally no one knows what is going to happen over the next couple of years.
Within the context of Mongoose, we do not foresee any major issues with Brexit. However, the thought does occur that it does not really matter how well Mongoose is doing if, outside our offices, the rest of our countrymen are re-enacting scenes from Mad Max as they fight over the last tin of baked beans…
New Year, New Office
We have made some real changes around Mongoose HQ, improving both the environment and the tools used to produce games.
The first thing we did in 2017 was replace the office computers, as we had been lumbering on with the same tired old machines for a few years now, and they badly needed updating. The old computers were effectively thrown into a skip, and replaced with dual screen Alienware systems that run silky smooth and are VR-ready (perhaps Amy and Sandrine can start putting books together by waving in the air, Minority Report-style…). Amy, being the principle artist, also has a third screen, a massive graphics tablet that allows her to draw/paint directly into the art packages we use (Adobe Creative Suite).
We have also revised our back up procedures so that everything is backed up in at least three different locations (including off-site), installed a 300 meg broadband line (no more waiting for massive art files to download), and most of our software is now cloud-based, meaning we can work from any computer, anywhere in the world.
For my part, I just picked up a humble Alienware laptop because, you know, Microsoft is going to bloat Word. Nothing to do with me feeling left out over the other new computers in the office…
We did not stop on the technology front though. Since Mongoose began, I have always wanted it to be different from a ‘normal’ working office – I wanted it to be a fun place to be in. For several years now, we have had one side of the office dedicated to gaming space, where the local club comes round every Tuesday night, but I felt that this alone lacked… ambition.
For the past couple of years I have been adding display cabinets and filling them with miniatures (mainly Star Wars and Warhammer), but this year we have added another block of cabinets, plus shelving upon which we have placed ‘cool stuff’. If you have a close look, you will see we have IP represented from Star Wars to Bagpuss, plus the start of a World War II fighter collection.
We also have (finally) a table big enough to play Talisman with all the expansions, and a TV/Xbox set up. This is an ongoing process, and there are still things I want to add (such as the 8-bit gaming area with Commodore Vic-20 and Spectrum +2, and I am debating whether to start a fantasy sword collection…). However, even as things stand, out of hours at Mongoose HQ is pretty fun.
We have also added a new recruit to Mongoose, the Office Vargr, named Stug…
2017 and the Mongoose
In the end, we did not release often this year – but we released well.
After a setback or three, Paranoia finally arrived, the Red Clearance box set surfing ahead of a wave of supplements, including expansion decks, adventures, and the world’s first Interactive Screen for Gamesmasters (seriously, check it out…).
If anything, Traveller had an even mightier year, with the boxed Starter Set arriving and the Great Rift just going off to print. The heavyweight, though, has to be the Pirates of Drinax mega-campaign, a true tour de force written by Gareth Hanrahan that provides a strong storyline in a massive sandbox that will provide months (if not years!) of gaming. In my own not unbiased opinion, the Pirates of Drinax stands as maybe the best thing Mongoose has ever released – it is available on Drivethru right now and the slipcased, three-volume printed edition will be arriving any day.
If you have any interest in Traveller at all, this is not one you will want to miss…
We also managed to squeeze out some new Traveller adventures, as well as PDF missions for Paranoia, which are always worth a look!
Traveller in 2018
So, what can you expect in 2018 for Traveller? We have oodles of books already in preparation…
The Shadows of Sindal: This was actually intended for 2017, but was a casualty of the increasing size of the Great Rift box set. This is the last of the initial Pirates of Drinax expansions, and is an entire ‘bolt-on’ mini-campaign that can be inserted into the main storyline. The Travellers will learn of a new biological weapon that has been deployed against the Aslan, and its mere presence threatens to overturn the balance of power in the Reach…
The Traveller Companion: We have been talking about this one since the release of the new edition! However, it is almost with us, with over 50% of the text done, dusted, and we are just waiting for the rest (Martin Dougherty is working on that right now). This book mirrors the Core Rulebook closely, adding new options and rules every step of the way for you to expand your games. Think of it as a Traveller ‘toolkit’ with, for example, new ways to create characters (including ‘point-buy’ systems), new characteristics (such as Luck), more weapon types (disintegrators!), more Alien Traits, and more… well… everything!
Behind the Claw: One thing we really wanted to avoid doing with the new edition is treading too much old ground. However, our work on the Trojan Reach and, within the Great Rift, Reft, has convinced us that, approached correctly, there is value in it. Added to that the desire to build a HUGE block of sector maps covering Charted Space, and we were sold – if you look at how the sectors of the Great Rift and Trojan Reach all tessellate together, we just had to go back to Deneb and the Marches and fill that gap!
So, we are giving these two sectors a spring clean and will be releasing them fairly early next year as a big hardback, complete with a poster-sized sector map for both. We have completed the revision of the Marches already, making sure everything ties in with the latest stats on Travellermap.com, and adding lots of new material, such as Dolphin Travellers (and their equipment – Amy cannot wait to start doing art for Dolphin Battle Dress!), the Abyss Rift, the Planetary Aerospace Defence missiles used on Dorannia, and a hand-cranked dirigible… Martin has now re-written Deneb, and we are just putting the finishing touches to that.
Psion and Mercenary: We wanted to avoid ‘career’ books in the new edition, unless they actually added something truly worthwhile to game play. This is somewhat easier with Psion, as the core rules do not dwell long on the subject, but we wanted to find a proper angle for Mercenary. We are working on a brand new system that will (we hope) fully support a mercenary-centric campaign that is easy to get into – to the extent that you will see it backed up with Mercenary Adventure 1: The Wardn Conflict (for example). This is an area of Traveller beloved by veterans but rarely touched upon by newcomers.
We are aiming to change that with this book…
Starter Set II: We haven’t got a name for this box set yet, but we know where it is going. Our approach is two-pronged – on the one hand, it is to the current starter set what D&D Expert was to the red box Basic edition, expanding the rules and horizons of players. We will be doing this by adding High Guard mechanics to the set but, instead of all the ships you see in the current hardback, we will be detailing the vessels of the Refugee Fleet as it tries to get out of Dodge and leave the ruins of Tanith far behind. The campaign in this set will extend that storyline as the fleet tries to find a new home…
Another Box Set?: The thing is… we have really enjoyed not only working on the Great Rift, but seeing it grow and expand due to the efforts of all the backers. It really would not be the set it is now if it were not for them. So, we kinda want to do it again!
The current plan is to, somewhere towards the end of February (when the Great Rift and its adventures will be on its way to backers), run a new Traveller Kickstarter. This will be another box set, this time covering a single class of warship, adding blueprint deck plans, adventures and technical information. If you are old enough to remember the Azhanti High Lightning boxed set, you will sort of know where this is going – but we want to really knock the ball out of the park this time round.
There are all sorts of ways we can expand on the basic idea of this set, making it perfect for a Kickstarter and the input of backers. We hope you will join us!
Oh, and what ship will it be? We have settled on the Element family of cruisers (including the Ghalalk-class Armoured Cruiser in High Guard – this is actually three classes in one), as the modular nature of this ship will allow us to go to town on the deck plans, adding compartments for fighters, marines, additional weaponry, and exploration roles (very suitable if you also have the Great Rift).
The Sword Worlds/Florian League/Glorious Empire: This is actually three books, each of which looks at one ‘empire’ in the Marches or Reach. Martin Dougherty has already begun preliminary outlines of a new Sword Worlds book, and I am very keen to push forward on the other two. Each will be a 160-200 page hardback, packed full of information, ships, vehicles, and rules for playing Travellers from (or affected by) the empires. As well as expanding these areas of space, I am hoping each book will look, well, glorious!
2300AD: A new version is indeed coming, and we already know the core rulebook will be supported by the Aerospace Engineer’s Handbook and a newly revised Bayern. Sandrine will be taking the lead graphical role in this line and, between her and writer Colin Dunn, we are expecting great things…
Fifth Frontier War: This is another one we have talked about for a long time – since our first edition of Traveller, in fact! We now know what we want to do with it (a hardback Expedition to Zhodane mini-campaign that leads into three – count them! – slipcase campaign sets, each the size of Pirates of Drinax, taking the Travellers across the Marches and Zhodani space, and on into the Extents, a truly epic journey that will allow them to witness the war from both sides of the border…), but how we go about it is another question. We are talking well in excess of 2,000 pages of Traveller goodness, including bringing Vargr and Zhodani properly into the new edition (and you might now guess why we are pushing forward with Behind the Claw and Sword Worlds, laying the foundations for this RPG epic!).
As well as those huge, monolithic campaign sets, there will, of course, be oodles of supporting material, allowing you to really immerse yourself in Charted Space during one of its most perilous events. If 2018 does not see the release of the first Fifth Frontier War campaign by the end of the year, we will certainly have laid down the ground work to support (including the aforementioned Behind the Claw and Sword Worlds).
And All The Rest: There is a lot more in the works I have yet to mention, such as the Mission to Mithril adventure, a revisiting of the classic, again penned by Martin – this one is written, edited, and is now in layout (you may see the ebook edition before the end of January, all going well). Further away is the box set that collates all the old FASA Traveller material (ships, worlds, Sky Raiders, and the Far Frontiers and Reaver’s Deep sectors) and updates it all to the current edition. Then there is the Naval Architect’s Handbook, Core Sector, Twilight’s Peak, and I still have a burning desire to visit the K’kree, as Traveller Inner Circle member Rob Eaglestone has come up with an absolutely cracking angle for these aliens…
Traveller Miniatures Game: This idea has been pushed around for a few years, and we now know where we are going with it. The ‘strategic’ idea is to produce a handful of self-contained Traveller miniatures games over the next few years, rather than try to dive straight in with a 40k-kicking open table game (that would not work anyway).
The first of these will be a game that focusses on boarding actions, whereby two forces (Imperium and Aslan in the main box set) attack and defend a ship. The hook here is that you do not just play through a list of set scenarios but instead engage in a complete mini-campaign where each player allocates resources to attack or defend vital areas of the ship such as the bridge or engineering. These decisions then affect the battles fought through the ship’s corridors as the boarding action succeeds or is defeated.
All the miniatures will be done in plastic, drawing upon our experience with Starship Troopers, and the range will be intentionally limited – at this time we are planning on the main box set (which really will contain everything you need to play, including the corridor sections of the ship and campaign rules) with additional single sets adding a fixed number of new forces, such as Vargr and Zhodani. It will be fast, frantic and, hopefully, a lot of fun!
As for when? Well, we kind of have this pencilled in for development at the end of the year, so it will be 2019 before it appears in stores. However, we also have a lot of big projects this year and, as always, we won’t release this until we are sure it is ready. We just want you all to know that your cries for a Traveller miniatures game have been heard and we are on the case.
We will get to it all, I promise. What I hope is clear is that Traveller has a very, very bright future, and we hope you will all join us as we continue to push back the boundaries of Charted Space.
A good session of Paranoia is one of those glorious moments in gaming that you remember for years, and the current Red Clearance edition has been geared from the ground up to deliver those experiences. We are now working on the follow up of the first wave of expansions with a brand new box set, Acute Paranoia. Its mission brief? Deliver cool new things to do in Paranoia!
This is a project that is being worked on right now, and we are looking to start showing you what we have been up to in the second quarter of 2018. As well as containing three books (Players, Gamesmasters, and Missions) and an extended card deck, Acute Paranoia will be the vanguard of a second wave of expansions released over 2018 and 2019, including the CoreTech card deck, written by Gareth Hanrahan, which allows players to modify their brains. Nothing could possibly go wrong with that.
Gareth has also been appointed Overseer/Taskmaster for a stable of Paranoia writing talent, both familiar and new, ensuring everything meets official High Programmer standards.
Keep an eye out for announcements in the second quarter, as Acute Paranoia is going to be, as they say, a good ‘un.
Victory at Sea
As visitors to our forums keep reminding us, Victory at Sea is still being played and the promised new edition is deeply desired. Up to now, we have held things back as we have wanted to present Victory at Sea as a complete range, complete with model ships. However, this requires us to work with a third party to manufacture and distribute miniatures and, while we have had some bites, nothing has transpired. So, this year, we are going to leave the miniatures to one side (we can always go back to them), and release the new rulebook.
And what a rulebook it is.
Currently, it weighs in at around 300 pages, and contains just about everything that floated in the major fleets (Royal Navy, Kriegsmarine, US Navy, Imperial Japanese Navy, Regia Marina, and Marine Nationale) during World War II. However, we have gone deeper than that – we now have dedicated rules and scenarios for convoy missions, coastal invasions (including fighting over objectives as forces move inland, supported by naval artillery), refits for every ship we could find information for, and oodles more background information and historical scenarios.
If WWII naval gaming is your thing, this is the book you have been looking for, and we will now be burning some serious midnight oil to get it done this year. This book has been sitting in development hell for too long now, and all your prodding has had an effect.
We will get you the Victory at Sea you deserve.
In the meantime, there are other things happening in the world of Victory at Sea. The first computer game was a greater success than any of us had imagined, and the sequel, focussing on the Pacific War is being released this year (currently penned for late May). After that, Victory at Sea: Ironclad, covering naval actions during the American Civil War, will hopefully appear before year’s end.
But how, you ask, did the computer game developers manage to produce a that if we do not have a miniatures equivalent? Well, umm, actually we do. Penned by Official Naval Boffin David Manley and developed for the second edition Victory at Sea rules, Victory at Sea: Ironclad is actually a thing, and will be appearing in print.
Just let us get WWII out of the way first, and we’ll soon have you running blockades on the river!
All going well, that will not be the last you hear from Victory at Sea computer games, and another (covering a new era) is already being planned and yes, that will also be accompanied by a miniatures game rulebook.
Longer Term Aims
Our immediate aims remain ‘make Traveller and Paranoia the best RPGs in their respective fields’. You can also add ‘release the new edition of Victory at Sea before the mob outside lynches us.’
Each of the properties we are working on now (Traveller, Paranoia, and Victory at Sea) are all so huge, they could occupy our full attention for years to come.
To take Traveller as the example, we have immense scope in terms of both time and space. There is the entirety of Charted Space to explore and even after all this time, we have only scratched the surface ‘behind the claw’. We still have the Rim to visit, the Imperial Core and, of course, the Hivers and K’kree. And then there is the concept of time, as we visit major events of the universe, such as the Fifth Frontier War, and we have a working model to visit different eras such as the Rebellion without us getting buried in supporting multiple sub-lines at once.
All of this we want to cover, and we want to do it to the very best of our abilities. In a nutshell, so long as you all join the voyage with us, we have enough to work with for the next decade and beyond, with all three games.
However, beyond these explorations there are some goals we want to start hitting in 2018. Prime among these is ramping up the level of our graphics design and art even further. We made major strides when the current edition of Traveller was released, and the Pirates of Drinax and Great Rift have already elevated things – but I want to go so much further in the presentation of our books. Not just in the observable quality but also in finding new ways to present information. Feedback on this as new books come out will be gratefully received.
We also want to work with Mr Marc Miller in getting Traveller into other mediums, such as computer games. The Traveller universe is just so broad with so many good stories to tell, and we want you to be able to immerse yourself in it in a variety of ways. We are pursuing leads to do just this but, as is the nature of the beast, this may take a while…
Finally, we want to revisit miniatures games again. We play a huge amount of miniatures games outside of Mongoose and, if we say so ourselves, we are good at creating miniatures games. Not so much manufacturing miniatures themselves but through a combination of miniatures-less games (such as Victory at Sea) and self-contained sets of plastics (Traveller), this is something we can very much do in a convincing manner.
To the (Far) Future
It has taken time, but we have finally manoeuvred Mongoose into a place where we can take our time over projects, and ensure each delivers the best gaming experience we can manage. Now is the time for us to start building upon that and cementing the seal on Traveller, Paranoia and, yes, Victory at Sea.
Ultimately, we are in the business of fun, and our main motivation is delivering to you the passion we have for our games. We genuinely love the games we publish (yes, we play them!) and we always want to find new ways to approach them and then bring the best of those to you with each new release, be it an adventure that is played in just a session or two and yet stays in memory, new rules or campaign styles that get everyone round the table involved, or a grand sweeping campaign with titanic ups and downs that consumes the attention of players for years.
In 2018, we rededicate ourselves to these goals.
See you at the gaming table!