Sunday, June 28, 2009

Hammer's Slammers

This time last year I was reading The Complete Hammer's Slammers collection of stories. Apparently someone at Mongoose Publishing was doing the same thing, because they just released the Hammer's Slammers supplement for Traveller.

Physically, this is one of the best products I've ever seen from Mongoose, which isn't saying much given their track record, but in this case the work is adequate. It's a 208 page book, full color, and hardbound. The bindery and printing are of good quality. The artwork is acceptable, if not exceptional. I believe a good portion of it has been recycled from supplements for the Hammer's Slammers miniatures game, but I could easily be mistaken since I've only seen excerpts of those books. There are cut-away views of both a tank and combat car, which should be a nice treat for most Slammers fans. The only really bad art in the book comes from the tactical maps used in the sample adventures and history sections. They are cheap looking cut & paste jobs.

The layout is generally good, and so far I haven't noticed any glaring typos. This is apparently due to the work of Will Chapman, a professional layout and graphic design artist who was recently hired by Mongoose. This is one of his first projects with the company to reach print. Hiring him was a long overdue move by Mongoose, and one that can only lead to good things for their product lines.

The book itself is a supplement to the Traveller core rules, and requires those rules to be used. It starts with short overviews of the Hammer's Slammers Universe (HSU), and the way the mercenary business works in it. Both of these are of interest to both the gamer and Slammers fan, but are limited in the amount of information presented.

Next up is Character Generation. It looks like they did a good job with the new character careers covering the different specialties within Hammer's Slammers, but I think there could have been a little bit more effort put into harmonizing the careers from the core Traveller rules with the HSU. For example, there's no evidence of an equivalent to the scout career in the Hammer's Slammers universe (HSU). There's also not much evidence of a Traveller style navy or marine force. It's questionable whether any of these three careers should be allowed in Hammer's Slammers character generation. Another example is in the mustering out benefits for the core book careers. There's no TAS in the HSU, and ship shares are going to be pretty useless in the average HSRPG campaign. There probably should have been a discussion about replacing these with something more appropriate to the setting.

After the Character Generation rules is a History of the Slammers. This is one of the more interesting sections from a fan's perspective as it organizes all the different campaigns from the stories into a coherent timeline. In the books themselves there's a definite beginning and end, but it's unclear where a lot of the stories in the middle occur. The narrative of the history makes it appear that there's no room for additions, but the year by year timeline shows that there are plenty of gaps where the GM could create his own missions for the Slammers to participate in, if he doesn't want to accept the default situation of setting the game after the Slammers have once again become a part of the Nieuw Friesland Army.

After the general history is a Character Roster of many of the main characters from the books. As an interesting point going back to the character generation, write-ups of these characters make use of the nobility, rogue, army, and citizen careers, in addition to the new careers presented in the Hammer's Slammers book. There's also a chart of stats for generic Slammers personnel, but no equivalent chart for any opponents they might face.

The Equipment chapter comes next, and this is another of the sections that fans will find most interesting, with descriptions of small arms technology in the HSU, including cut-away illustrations of a powergun, coilgun, and flechette gun. There's new rules for dealing with how powerguns deal with cover, and how coilguns use energy and penetrate armor. There's also a description of armor available and a short section of other equipment and technology that appears in the HSU.

After Equipment comes the real Equipment, the Super Tanks and Other Vehicles. The Slammers are all about the tanks, and they get lots of good coverage here. Fans will enjoy the detailed descriptions of the vehicles, including cut-away views of a tank and combat car. Another section of high interest to the fan.

The Table of Organization of Hammer's Slammers is next, which also includes a few pages of camo patterns used by the Slammers in different environments. I suspect this was recycled from the miniatures game, but don't know for sure.

If you're only interested in this book as a fan of the stories, then you're pretty much done here. Next is new vehicle combat rules that introduce a new scale between personal and ship to resolve battles between military vehicles in the HSU. I haven't looked at these very closely, so I can't say how well designed they are. Generating missions and running the game are the topics of the next chapter, and there look to be some interesting ideas there that could be mixed in with the stuff from Mercenary or adapted to other games, but I haven't spent a lot of time going over them. A pair of adventures and an index round out the book.

There is one issue that makes this book slightly less useful to fans of the books. The RPG obviously draws its information from the books and the miniatures game, but it ignores three novels that weren't Hammer's Slammers novels, but were set in the same universe. This may have been a conscious decision as ignoring those books allowed them to slide the HSU more easily into the core Traveller rules. Since the Hammer's Slammers stories don't go into how space travel works, borrowing the core starship rules from Traveller works fine, but these other stories do go more into FTL travel and communications, and the details don't mesh very well with the way it works in Traveller.

Adopting the information from these books would have required creating a whole new rules system for starships for inclusion in a game which really doesn't deal with starships, so it's understandable if they chose to leave them out, but it does make the book a bit less useful as a sourcebook for the stories as certain assumptions in the book directly contradict the way things work in the established canon.

Even taking this into account, I think this book is worth getting for most Hammer's Slammers fans; however, as a game book I'm not sure how valuable it is. There's already Mercenary for Traveller, if you just want a military based sci-fi campaign using the Traveller rules. The assumptions of the HSU do create some different possibilities given the relative impotence of air power, so that might make it worthwhile for some groups. If you have a group that likes playing military style RPGs, then it's probably a good purchase, but for the general roleplayer it's probably not going to have much use.

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