This review is one in a series which will look at some of the many Spinward Marches setting books which have been published over the years and which describe the area. It'll offer advice as to which ones were the best and which will work the best with Mongoose's current, fifth-edition, Traveller gaming system.
review discusses The Spinward Marches Campaign
, GDW's 1985 book focusing on the setting.
An Overview of the Book
Looking at The Spinward Marches Campaign, you'd think it was an expansion of the 1979 Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches into a much larger and more extensive gamebook. And it is ... sort of ... the end result just misses the coherence that you'd really want from a big picture campaign sourcebook of this sort. Instead, the result is really scattered, with some nice specifics, but ultimately not a whole lot more breadth than the 1979 book.
The Campaign contains the following sections: Hundreds of Worlds, The Fifth Frontier War, The Spinward Marches, Al Morai, 154th Battle Rider Squadron, The 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment, and Citizens of the Imperium.
"Hundreds of Worlds" is the nominal campaign in this book: an excuse to take players from one side of the Marches to the other. I find it somewhat poorly written, as it first summarizes the campaign, then describes it--with not much more detail than the summary. It's also kind of hackneyed and really doesn't give you a lot of details for what to do. Basically, the players stumble across something illegal, get setup for a much bigger crime, and escape across the Marches to try and clear their names. Biter and Garda-Vilis are the only Marches locations that get a shot out; there's also a mention of the Al Morai shipping line. I really can't imagine this being used in the modern day, because if the GM wanted to start from scratch as much as this campaign requires, he'd probably start with something a little more original.
"The Fifth Frontier War" is one of the highlights of the book. It's a nine-page outline of many of the major events in the Fifth Frontier War, which enveloped the Marches from 1107 to 1110. There's nothing specifically gameable here, but this is the vital background that you'd want to have at your fingertips to run a story in the region during the time period.
"The Spinward Marches" is essentially the contents of Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches, pointing out again why that 1979 supplement is superfluous at this point. It contains a few paragraphs on each subsector, a description of the UWP data format, a listing of the data for the entire Spinward Marches, a nice two-page map of the sector, and an index of worlds. That should all sound pretty familiar if you read my previous review. There's one difference: where the previous data was from around 1105, before the Fifth Frontier War, this if from 1110, after it, which means that some of the political boundaries are no longer the same.
The next twelve pages contain in-depth looks at three of the (many) institutions found in the Marches: the Al Morai transport line; the 154th Battle Rider Squadron of the Imperial Navy; and the 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment, which are the Duke of Regina's huscarles. The huscarles article was drawn from JTAS #9, but as far as I can tell, the other two articles were original. They all provide some of the specificity that you really need to run a Traveller campaign, and that the big-picture data doesn't cover. However, they're so scattered that I don't find them very effective at filling in much of the big picture.
The last section of the book reprints another early GDW release, Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium. It includes additional career paths for Classic Traveller, but unfortunately with no specific relevance to The Spinward Marches.
I can sort of imagine the creation process that went into The Spinward Marches Campaign. Someone said, "We got Supplements 3 and 4 which are both out of print, so how about we combine those into of our new, larger books." "Sure, someone else said, but that only gives us 21 pages." So they dumped in whatever else struck them.
At least that's what it looks like to me, because The Spinward Marches Campaign is such a hodge-podge. On the one hand, too general to be anything more than a very rough skeleton of campaign, and on the other hand, containing a trio of really specific organization, any two of which will probably never up in most compaigns. It's a very uncomfortable melding, and even though I find some of the information pretty interesting, you really have to dig to find it.
Given that, and my problems with the nominal campaign itself, I think The Spinward Marches Campaign was at best average: a "3" out of "5" for Style.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
So, as a modern Mongoose Traveller GM, is this book worth getting? Maybe, a little.
Clearly, the Citizens of the Imperium section is of no use. Similarly, The Spinward Marches section is entirely redundant. I've also noted that I don't think the campaign is very good. That's over half the book, gone.
The best part of the book is probably the section on the Fifth Frontier War. I have to believe that Mongoose will release more extensive coverage of the war at some point, but if your campaign is heading into 1107 ahead of them, this is a pretty good overview.
Whether the other three sections are of use will depend on your campaign. I will generally say that I'm not aware of any of the three group overviews being reprinted, so I think The Spinward Marches Campaign remains the best place for them. I think almost any game can use the writeup of Al Morai, particularly trader campaigns. I find the information on the 154th Battle Rider Squadron and the 4518th Lift Infantry Regiment less likely to be of general use, but if you were going very military heavy, you'd certainly benefit.
So my final call on The Spinward Marches Campaign is, "It depends on your own needs." And you should probably know whether this 1985 book meets them by this point.
Unlike the little black books which had many printings, GDW's color classic Traveller books usually only had a few and are thus rarer. This one seems to run about $25-30 on the internet, though I've seen an occasional deal. Currently, this is the only way to get the Campaign, as it's one of just a handful of major Classic Traveller products that Far Future Enterprises has opted not to reprint.
Style & Design
In its fonts and layout, The Spinward Marches Campaign is as crisp and clean as its predecessor, Supplement 3. However, I think it shows pretty well how the style doesn't work as well on a larger page. There's lots of text in this book, and it really shows. Ther also isn't as much attention to neat page spreads in this edition of the game, and so (for example) the subsector data, text, and maps are now all on different pages for any individual subsector.
My favorite graphical elements of the book are the two maps of the full Spinward Marches. One is printed at 8.5x11" on the inside front cover, while another is printed at 11"x17" in the middle of the book. If I print a map for my current Traveller game, it'll be one of these (though I don't think their political divisions quite match either the pre OR post Fifth Frontier War boundaries because the Entrope Worlds are marked as part of the Darrian Confederation, but the Border Worlds and the Metal Worlds are still part of the Sword Worlds.)
In any case, the layout isn't any better than average, and just barely that. I've given it a "3" out of "5" for Style.
The Spinward Marches Campaign is a partially redundant book, that still has some nice background in it. If you want better information on the Fifth Frontier War or on a few different institutions of the Marches, this is still worth picking up.