Thursday, 6 January 2011

Dilettante

Book 8: Dilettante - cover from Mongoose Publishing and used completely without permission
Mongoose Traveller Book 8: Dilettante

by Peter Nash

Want a character with access to great steaming piles of cash? Need a Patron who puts the “rich” back into “filthy rich”? Then, this character class expansion book from Mongoose could just be the thing for you.

As with previous expansion books, Dilettante adds seven career paths and 21 specialisations to the growing galaxy of Traveller Character Generation options:

· The Adventurer, through the specialisations of Explorer, Hunter and Archaeologist, is driven to be first-in, or to be first to shoot/tag a new creature, or to discover and explore ancient ruins.

· The Aristocrat - Courtier, Chevalier or Paramour - is one of the entourage of the Great and Good.

· The Celebrity specialises in either Actor, Musician, or Luminary – the latter being famous for being famous.

· The Competitor, be he/she Sportsman, Athlete or Gamer, strives for fame through the game –carrying the hopes and dreams of the masses with him (or her).

· The Connoisseur – Critic, Artisan or Collector values art in its myriad forms.

· The Dilettante can be a Wastrel, a Socialite, or a Philanthropist. Money is usually no object and the Dilettante spends it.

· The Humanitarian, whether an Idealist, a Raconteur or an Investigator, has the cash to bring the injustices of the Galaxy to light.

What I was struck with initially was how evocative these career pathway titles were for scenario ideas. While there is the temptation to run some sort of interstellar Jeeves and Wooster game with lots of Hooray Harrys, a closer look reveals quite a broad swathe of character possibilities. These can range from the “self-funded-Heinrich-Schliemann” type of gifted amateur archaeologist with fusion cutter in hand; to the high-profile sophonts’ rights activist; to the loyal retainer battling to protect the honour, status and good name of her noble employer; to the socialite who is always in the news feeds but of whom no-one can quite remember what exactly she is famous for.

In Dilettante, the author concentrates on the Social Status character stat, showing how it can be used as an indication of exactly how famous a famous person is – their reputation – and how far this recognition can extend. Ways that a character might increase their Social Status, either temporarily or permanently, are suggested, as well as the possibility that a character’s Status can mean different things at different times depending upon the social context.

Wealth – a dilettante needs it to maintain the lifestyle that he or she has become accustomed to. Deftly, the author has replaced the Cash benefit roll in the character generation section with a Portfolio roll. This has the effect of supercharging the mustering out cash benefits a character can receive. First, one discovers the nature of one’s Portfolio investment from each term – whether it consists of Business Investments, an Estate, a Pension, Property, a Stipend or Stocks - and then one rolls the value of that particular Portfolio Asset. Portfolio Assets range in value from Cr10,000 to MCr5.0 per roll. Social Standing Modifiers are added to the Value roll which, in theory, can push the cash value up to MCr50.0 per roll. From this Portfolio, the character receives a monthly income.

For those interested in the metagame, the character can adopt a more hands-on Portfolio Management style and attempt to accelerate their financial growth. This, of course, can all go horribly wrong.

There is a nice section that examines the pros and cons of Fame (high Social Status) and how the Dilettante can use high Status to their advantage, though this is balanced with a section of pitfalls that can trap or otherwise damage our socialite.

Along with the usual section on Equipment (which includes several starship deck plans), there is a look at ways of separating the unwary Dilettante from their wealth (or at least trimming it) through events and clubs.

Lastly, a chapter on campaigns looks at possible roles for Dilettantes, from patron to enemy to wild card, as well as possible Dilettante campaigns.

Dilettante, or at least the first printing, suffers from what can only be described as crap proofreading. I do not know if this is because deadline crunch forced the latest file to go to the printers before the proof-reader was finished, or whether the editor and proof-reader just aren’t up to the job, but to copy and paste the Book 6: Scoundrel cover tagline onto the cover of Book 8: Dilettante, and then miss-spell the book’s title on the contents page is pretty poor form. There are a number of spelling mistakes through the book that are just plain annoying. If Mongoose is still replacing faulty copies, as they should, then this shouldn’t be a problem – but it must be costing them so you’d think they’d sort this sort of thing out. I believe the typos were corrected for the second printing but I have not seen this.

But on the whole, Dilettante is a good work and could easily open up new and fertile fields for referees and players. If I were to buy a dead-tree version, I would check it out in the shop, first, but Pete Nash has done a fine and fascinating job in offering Players the chance to play high rollers, while offering Referees some mechanisms that help not to blow their campaigns apart with excess cash.