'Beowulf' Free Trader Starship Plans for Traveller
'Beowulf' Free Trader Starship Plans for Traveller Capsule Review by Scarecrow on 10/04/02
Style: 2 (Needs Work)
Substance: 1 (I Wasted My Money)
Despite being more than twice the size they need to be, these plans are no more creative or visually inspiring than if someone had drawn them out with a pencil - irrespective of their artistic ability or lack thereof.
Product: 'Beowulf' Free Trader Starship Plans for Traveller
Author: Loren Wiseman, Kieren Yanner
Company/Publisher: Steve Jackson Games
Page count: 13 sheets
Year published: 2000
Comp copy?: no
Capsule Review by Scarecrow on 10/04/02
Genre tags: Science Fiction Far Future Space
This product has been available for a year or two now but I felt I'd like to air my feelings on it, so here they are.
Before I start, let me just qualify my stance on this product. I am a role-player of some twenty years experience having played and GM'ed many fantasy and sci-fi systems including Classic Traveller, Mega Traveller, Traveller New Era and Traveller 2300 (2300AD). I have not, to date played GURPS:Traveller or any GURPS system for that matter - I feel I may proceed with this review however as it has no direct baring or reflection on those systems. As an artist I find myself having a more visual (even directorial) approach to role-playing rather than a rules-and-tables, pure game play approach. This is my first submitted review for RPG.net.
This is something that Steve Jackson Games seem to be addressing in their adaptation of this long-lived science fiction game system. The artwork that I've seen to date on the covers and the insides of the GURPS Traveller publications, whilst still not particularly outstanding were still far superior to previous versions.
So it was, with interest that I noticed the Beowulf 200 Ton Free Trader floor plan set and decided to have a look at them. Not having a local games store, I mail-ordered the set without seeing them first, from Leisure Games in London.
I was already a little concerned before the set arrived as I'd read a rather positive review on this site that had appeared to get the scale wrong. I'd also read somewhere else that the sheets making up the main deck, when laid out were nearly five feet long. Just a cursory glance at the plans I had already found on the internet, made me think that this seemed a little on the large side.
So, two days later the plans arrived. Thirteen separate 16.5" x 21.5" sheets folded into quarters with a cover, poster, sheet of cardboard heroes and sealed in a plastic grip-top bag. Not a terribly classy presentation to start with but this isn't a major concern for me.
The cover is rather nice if a little un-inspiring. One of the better pieces of art I've seen on a Traveller product of any kind, consisting of a 3D render of the Beowulf Free Trader by Jesse DeGraff. More work by Jesse can be seen here -
Aside from the sheet of Cardboard Heroes, this, sadly is about as good as it gets. Firstly, as I suspected they are completely the wrong scale for the cardboard heroes included in the bag. Merely a brief glance at one of the beds in the passengers quarters reveals it to be some 60 millimetres in length which is more than twice the size of the 25mm cardboard heroes. A scale indicator on the furniture legend inset confirms this. So, unless you don't mind playing futuristic midgets, you'll need a set of 50-60 millimetre figures - As none exist in white-metal to my knowledge, I heartily recommend Sparks fonts figures - a series of True-Type Fonts that allow you to print out sci-fi and fantasy figures in unlimited quantities and at any size that you wish. You can find them here -
This isn't the only major thing that disappointed me about the plans. Despite their size, they were also very lack-lustre - being no more detailed or visually interesting than a set of plans rendered on a page of one of the rules supplements. Despite their impractical size, these plans are no more creative or interesting to look at than if someone had drawn them out with a pencil - irrespective of their artistic ability or lack thereof. Certainly, the print quality of the plans is clean, clear, crisp, black and white and on first glance seem rather graphic, stylish and pleasing to the eye. However, it's the design and feel of the piece I find disappointing. Very little thought seems to have gone into the layout and use of space on the vessel. A good example of this is the rather bizarre method of transporting between floors favoured by Traveller, the Iris Valve. Some sort of lift system I believe, the Iris Valve's in question being the doorways that seal off floors. All well and good, but why do they appear scattered, almost randomly throughout the floor spaces of the ship. Surely they would be worked into the general anatomy of the hull. One is situated rather inexplicably in the passenger dining room floor just a foot or two from one of the tables. Another example is the remote and difficult to access weapon turret control points that feel squeezed in to odd corners as an afterthought. And it goes on. The various areas of the ship are liberally sprinkled with furniture that looks no more futuristic than if it had been purchased from Ikea. There is no attention to detail. There are some half-hearted attempts at illustrating control consoles but not everywhere. Again, the fire control points consist of an iris valve and what appears to be a comfortable armchair. No fire controls to speak of. Further to this, I can't help feeling that faster-than-light engines and indeed mere manoeuvre drives would look a little more complex than a series of irregular shapes shaded grey.
Another problem I have with these plans is their permanent nature. Numerous references are made in the accompanying text to the almost infinite variations the Beowulf is capable of and yet even the apparently moveable furniture is printed on to the plans. Whilst I think it would be difficult to incorporate a system of elegantly customising the wall layout of the ship, Would it have been too much to ask to leave furniture off the plans and provide them on a separate sheet so at least that much of the plans were customisable?
Finally, on a less important level, there are also discrepancies between the floor-plans themselves and the outer hull of the ship - as is common with many official traveller deck plans. For example, the forward Steward's section of the ship on the upper deck has an angled ceiling with what appears to be an average headroom of around two feet. Also, the pilot and co-pilot's seats on the bridge appear to be much further forward than the external illustration. Whilst this isn't really a boon to playing using the maps, it just further illustrates the lack of thought, time and effort that appears to have gone into producing these plans.
Aside from the deck plans themselves, the sheets also contain insets of information and whilst rather spartan, does have some nice touches. The key that details the areas of the ship has some small and interesting notes on their design and general operational use and the history of the Beowulf class itself whilst brief again, is quite entertaining.
Aside from the deck plan sheets, there is also the so-called 'poster' which I felt was pretty useless other than simple advertising. It contains small images of the covers of some of the GURPS:Traveller products and lacking any dominating central image, it can't really pass as a poster in my opinion. You'd have to be a pretty rabid GURPS:Traveller fan to want to put it on your wall.
The sheet of 'Cardboard Heroes' included in the set are possibly my favourite thing about this product. Favouring a contemporary feel to their clothing design which seems popular in Traveller character illustrations, they are nicely drawn and coloured. Each character comes with an armed 'hijacker' duplicate but there is no explanation for this as no adventure is provided with the plans. The sheet also has a top-down view of two Air rafts - the favoured mode of surface travel for Travellers - One is geared to cargo transport, the other for passengers. The seats seem a little large but are about the same size as the figure bases. Also dotted around on the sheet are a selection of separate weapons and equipment which is a nice touch.
So, what would I have ideally liked to have seen in this set? The plans, I feel should be firstly the correct scale for the figures provided and much more intelligently designed. They should be illustrated in full colour with floors and furniture fully painted and textured. The designers should really celebrate and make use of the fact that these are large, quality, printed plans and not just a black and white source book illustration. I'd like to have seen ship furniture provided separately - except fixed furniture like computer consoles, bridge seating and engines etc. Which should have been better designed into the ship's hull. I'd like to have seen these plans provided as part of an adventure or campaign pack where it could provide the core, linking feature of the adventures. Despite numerous references to the fact that these ships are highly customisable, it isn't possible to customise the plans themselves so why not make this a specific ship and really go into it's personal history as well as it's more general class history?
So, in summary, whilst upon first glance these plans seem rather a slick production, the truth is, I feel rather to the contrary and they are really no more useful or inspiring than a source book illustration. I will either get a refund or use them to line my cat's litter. I certainly won't be buying any more in the series. Someone at SJG should seriously consider what they are paying the production team of these plans for.
April 10th 2002