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.
Though thus far I've only covered the nominal Spinward Marches setting books (specifically, for Classic Traveller and Mongoose Traveller), there are many others that spotlight specific parts of The Spinward Marches and specific events. Among them are a few special issues of magazines, dedicated to expanding The Spinward Marches.
review discusses The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #9
(JTAS #9), GDW's 1981 magazine that kicked off The Fifth Frontier War, a massive event that runs in the Spinward Marches from 1107-1110.
An Overview of the Book
The cover of JTAS #9 boldly proclaims, "War!" Within, editor Loren K. Wiseman reveals, "This issue of the Journal culminates two years of work, months of specific preparation, and some rather subtle publicity at times." Not only would the Fifth Frontier War, where the Zhodani Consulate launches an attack on the Third Imperium, last through the next three years of GDW's publications, but they'd been planning it for two years beforehand, offering hints that only became obvious in retrospective. This book thus acted as a pivot point in a five-year campaign arc that lasted from 1979-1984; it was truly a pioneer in the gaming field.
Broadly, issue nine of JTAS offers a pretty good snapshot of what the magazine was to the early Traveller community. It contains: "Amber Zones", which were extensive outlines of adventures; a "Contact!", which highlighted an alien race; the "Traveller News Service", which listed the events in the Traveller universe; a "Bestiary", which detailed new creatures; a "Ship's Locker", which described new equipment; and several feature articles. JTAS #9 differed from other issues of the magazine not in its general contents, but rather in the fact that most of those contents were directed toward a single goal: running a campaign set in this war zone that the Spinward Marches had become.
Only a few articles were specifically about the Fifth Frontier War or the Spinward Marches. However other articles covered the enemy Zhodani and warfare in the Traveller universe. Together they provide a nice basis for a Spinward Marches campaign, circa 1107-1110.
The Marches-specific articles kick off with "Traveller News Service", a page and a half of reports about the early war, beginning in 186-1107. These snippets provide really nice adjuncts to the historical descriptions of the war that you can find in places like The Spinward Marches Campaign. Fortunately you can get ahold of every TNS announcement ever at the Traveller Wiki. To use them in your own game, just be sure to remember the lag time of the Xboat network (which propagates information from its originating point at an average speed of 2.6 parsecs per week).
"Epithets of the Fifth Frontier War" is a light article that talks about the names that the ethnic slurs that the opponents in the war use. It's a nice bit of background color.
More notable are the two Amber Zones. "Soft Bunk" suggests one scenario for how players could find themselves in trouble when the Fifth Frontier War suddenly interferes with other plans. "Rule of Man Commemorative", meanwhile, involves players in some of the espionage subterfuge that goes on while starships fight overhead.
Finally the "4518th Lift Infantry Regiment" talks about one of the units of the Marches--a regiment that could be quite useful in the war, since it's at ground zero for the Zhodani attack. (This article was later reprinted in The Spinward Marches Campaign.)
"Contact! The Zhodani" is about the main enemies of the Fifth Frontier War--though it could be used more broadly. The information is pretty brief, at just four pages, and the Zhodani were much more extensively detailed four years later in Alien Module 4. Nonetheless, this is a nice intro to them that keeps them from being faceless adversaries. (It was also reprinted, in Traveller Adventure 6: Expedition to Zhodane.)
Similarly the article on "Psi Helmets" is more about the Zhodani (and protection from them), than the war specifically, but it's another nice piece of color (especially the note that psionic helmet manufacturers are suddenly having troubles keeping them in stock). It's got good crunch too, of course.
Finally, a few more articles touch upon the general idea of warfare in the Traveller universe. Despite the name, "The Battle Fleets of the Marches" offers good information on how all of the military fleets in the Imperium are arranged. The details on different types of squadrons--even including scout squadrons--are stuff that I haven't seen elsewhere. Similarly "System Defense Boats" gives a great description of how local systems are defended (though this material has been discussed more frequently). I suppose you could call the crunchy writeups of machine guns and bandages in "The Ship's Locker" warfare-related too.
Sadly, GDW couldn't quite manage an entire issue of material relevant to the Fifth Frontier War. Thus there's an article on "The Care and Feeding of NPCs", which looks dated now but might have been innovative back in 1979. I also am not impressed by the two random animals described in "The Bestiary" (but then the idea of animal encounters in Traveller never enthralled me much). There's a piece of "Vacc Suits" too, which is better than the other non-FFW articles, because it gives some good specifics on the variety of vacc suits available.
Overall, I find The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #9 a really nice springboard for Fifth Frontier War gaming, thanks to its careful attention to the events themselves, its background on the enemy, and it attention to the underlying military element. I don't think any regular supplement could have such a good overview--thanks to an innate broadness that tends to arise in a magazine. However, I do wish that this issue could have been entirely thematic. If so that might have raised my "4" out of "5" Substance rating to a perfect score.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Though some of the articles in this issue of JTAS were broadly applicable, I think this issue reaches its full usefulness to a Mongoose GM if you're running the Fifth Frontier War. Even if Mongoose does put out a Fifth Frontier War supplement, I'm not convinced it'll entirely eclipse this issue (though I'd be happy if it does, because that'd mean it's a great supplement). So, if you're moving toward 1107 in your own game, you should hunt this down.
If you're not running the Fifth Frontier War, this issue isn't nearly as useful. I'd only recommend it for a very heavily naval campaign that might benefit from the discussions of SDBs and Imperial naval structure.
I suppose I should state that some of the articles in this issue feature Classic Traveller stats--especially the bestiary and the ship's locker. However, I think that most of the Fifth Frontier War-related material is pretty easy to use. At most, you'll need to revise some rolls in one of the Amber Zone (which were my least favorite part of that Amber Zone, in any case).
Mid-range issues of JTAS seem to be less common than the little black books, but more common than the later 8.5"x11" Traveller supplements. I've seen JTAS #9 ranging from $10-15 online. It's also available in Far Future Enterprises' collection of JTAS #1-12. The latter's probably the better buy.
Style & Design
Any GDW fan in 1979 was probably pretty stunned when they saw JTAS #9 because it featured something brand new: a full-color cover. It's a pretty cool cover too, showing some sort of fighter skimming over futuristic cities, with beautiful skyscapes over head. It was another year before GDW produced another full-color cover (in JTAS #13), and another five years before they ended their little-black-book line entirely.
Unfortunately the insides don't really live up to that cover. JTAS often made use of some two-color interior printing in its early issues, it just isn't used to good effect here. A lot of the line art also looks pretty sketchy, even though some of its by famous Traveller artists like Paul Jaquays, Liz Danforth, and William H. Keith jr. The end result looks just a bit amateurish, which is why I've given JTAS #9 a Style rating of "2" out of "5".
The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society #9, a self-proclaimed "war issue" was really a first. It kicked off a massive (and early) campaign arc that changed the face of Traveller gaming for a few years. And, it did so by offering up a fairly coherent set of contents, with lots of resources dedicated to setting the groundwork for that war. Even today it remains pretty useful to a Traveller GM considering taking on this major event.