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.
Following the 1985 release of The Spinward Marches Campaign, it was ten years before GDW returned to the area in any serious way. During the MegaTraveller era, they focused more on the big picture of the Rebellion. Then with the release of Traveller: The New Era, they did their best to eradicate all of their old continuity, by jumping the timeline forward another 75 or so years and simultaneously setting their new edition in an area of the (lost) Imperium that had never been covered before. It was only in GDW's waning days that they decided that perhaps one of the oldest settings in roleplaying might have some use after all.
This eighth review discusses The Regency Sourcebook: Keepers of the Flame. It was meant to be the first part of a multipart Regency Manual, but only part two was released, and won't be covered here since it focused on vehicles. Like DGP's MegaTraveller take on the Spinward Marches, The Regency Sourcebook covered a wider area of space, including planets in all four of the sectors that were covered by the former Domain of Deneb, which by 1202 has become its own political entity, The Regency. The Regency (and thus the book), doesn't totally control the area, and thus only 45 of the possible 64 subsectors are covered; still, it's a lot, and a solid foundation for any game.
An Overview of the Book
Though The Regency Sourcebook clocks in at only 96 pages, it packs an immense amount of material into that space (primarily because of the miniscule fonts used throughout much of the book, which I'll complain about later).
Really, "immense" is an understatement, because The Regency Sourcebook
was the first truly
comprehensive look at the Marches. The original Spinward Marches book in 1979 has been very scant and everything since had been pretty scattered, but this new book did a great job of giving real details on every subsector of the former Domain of Deneb. It also was filled with wonderful cross-references, showing the issues of Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society
and The Travellers' Digest
, plus a few other primary sources, that every pre-existing detail in the book came from, making it easy for GMs to track down more information on a variety of topics.
The Regency Sourcebook is broadly broken into five parts: an overview of the Regency, a look at the Spinward States, an astrography of the 45 subsectors that make up the Regency, an A-Z of library data, and writeups of several Regency starships.
The overview of the Regency covers a bit of the history of the Domain of Deneb, but moreso discusses the changes that turned it into the Regency of 1202--the last holdout from the fallen Third Imperium. It also highlights the major developments of that time period, including new attitudes toward psionics and nobility. Overall, it's a good look at the state of the Marches in 1202, though enough of it is in contrast to the "antebellum" Third Imperium, that I'm not certain it makes a good reference on its own.
"The Spinward States" looks at the major forces in the area other than the Regency: the Zhodani, the Aslan, the Vargr, the Darrians, the Sword Worlds, and the Islands. Every one of these sections includes an overview of the culture, an extensive timeline, and notes on creating characters from those cultures using the TNE rules. It's overall the best overview I've seen of all these cultures (and also the first one I'm aware of that really goes into the Islands--a few subsectors in Reft that were colonized by generational ship from Terra).
The astrography section details all of the Spinward Marches, all of the Deneb sector, a bit more than half of Reft, and four subsectors in the Trojan Reach--together, all of the subsectors that make up The Regency.
The maps and UWPs for these sectors previously appeared in The MegaTraveller Journal #1 and The MegaTraveller Journal #3, but this new book adds to that with about half-a-page of text for each of the more populous sectors. This text tends to highlight the most important worlds of each subsector, but at times also mentions organizations or other locations that aren't exactly planets. At the time of this book's 1995 printing, this section represented the most detailed look ever at the Domain of Deneb. Nowadays you can find more detail on the Spinward Marches proper in other books (notably GURPS' Behind the Claw, the topic of my next review in this series), but this volume still remains the most intensive look at the sectors of Deneb, Trojan Reach, and Reft that you can find in one place (though some other information on the sectors can be found scattered about, especially in late issues of The Travellers' Digest and across the entire run of Third Imperium).
The library data section offer2 looks at a lot of the big picture issues of the Regency. It has library data on everything from "Aledon, Avery" (the son of the last Emperor, Strephon) to "Wildside". About half of it is pretty specific to the New Era timeframe, but the other half provides interesting discussion on general topics from Traveller space warfare to how Jump Space and psionics work. This Library Data also includes (for I think the first time in Traveller history), a "referee's only" section of library data, which describes many of the secrets of the universe which had largely been buried away in Traveller adventures previously. Overall, this section provides another good (but not overlapping) description of the background for a Regency campaign.
The book ends with complete stats for several ships common to the Regency (which presumably didn't show up in other New Era books because their Tech Level was too high).
As I already said, this is a truly comprehensive look at the Regency, offering a blueprint for what a setting sourcebook really should be and blowing away previous Spinward Marches books with its breadth. It's also intelligently written and very respectful of the full history of the Traveller universe while not being afraid to tread on new ground. As such, it earns a full "5" out of "5" for Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Alright, so it's a great book, check. But, how can a book set 97 years after the time frame of Mongoose Traveller offer the least bit of useful information to it? I originally figured the answer was that it couldn't, and I was planning to skip the New Era books in this review series. However, when I pulled The Regency Sourcebook off my shelf and started paging through it, I was surprised to see how much good information there was.
Here's the most important fact: the astrography of The Regency Sourcebook contains two sets of UWPs for every world. One is set in 1202 and the other in 1117. I assume that GDW was trying to show how each world had changed over that 85 years, but you'll probably be interested in the 1117 data all on its own; it's probably close enough to use in a Mongoose game, since that was only a year after news of the rebellion got to the Marches. Sure, this same data is available in The MegaTraveller Journal #3, but this volume is more accessible.
As for the rest of the book, I figure something this far forward can have three uses to a GM running a campaign set way back in the Golden Age of Traveller.
First, if you want to create a generation-spanning campaign ala The Great Pendragon Campaign, this book will certainly let you. It gives a pretty good history of all the high points from 1105-1202. Sure, you'd have to fill in lots of details, but it could be pretty neat. Still, I figure most of you aren't interested in this sort of thing, so this is likely a pretty minor advantage.
Second, it can give you insights into how characters who are alive in 1105 might act. I think The Regency Sourcebook offers particularly interesting insight into Norris Aella Aledon, who was the Duke of Regina back in 1105, but who eventually becomes the First Regent. This volume makes it obvious that he's somewhat friendly to psionics, and that he has troubles with how the Imperium allows planets to rule on their own. Those ideas suggest lots of interesting uses to put Norris to in 1105, and I'm sure there's more that you could draw from the book. However, Norris is perhaps the only character who's important enough in both 1105 and 1202 for you to apply this sort of retconning.
Third, a book of this sort could offer historical background that's set far enough back that it would be equally useful in 1105. And here is where The Regency Sourcebook can really shine for a Mongoose GM. Lots of the planetary information and the info on the Spinward States and some of the library data is all quite useful to a Mongoose GM. Perhaps as much as 50% of the material in The Regency Sourcebook overall could be used in this way. Even better, as I've noted, a lot of it is cross-referenced right back to Classic Traveller (or MegaTraveller) material, and that's going to be even more useful to a Mongoose GM.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of cruft you'll have to dig through to use this book. The vehicle section is almost entirely useless, for example. The overview of the Regency is only useful for the insight it provides to Norris. The other sections are about 50% New Era material, and for some of the sector that I wanted to see discussed the most (namely Deneb and Trojan Reach), that percentage goes up, because author Dave Nilsen had less Golden Age material to build upon.
However, what's left is still very fertile ground for gamemasters wanting more "official" background to help them fill out their own Traveller universe. The Regency Sourcebok isn't quite a "must buy" for a Mongoose GM, but it's at least "highly useful". Given that Traveller: The New Era was both a critical and commercial failure, you can get a copy of The Regency Sourcebook for $10-20. I think it'll be worth that to most Mongoose Traveller GMs, and it definitely will be if you don't have UWP data for Deneb, Reft, and the Trojan Reach elsewhere (though the last is both lightly covered here and should be in Mongoose's upcoming Aslan book as well).
(Broadly, I think The Regency Sourcebook is the third best general Spinward Marches sourcebook for the Mongoose GM, meaning that if you feel the need for three of them, this should be one.)
Style & Design
Unfortunately, The Regency Sourcebook is one ugly book. It's a shame, because GDW had a really good eye for old-school printing. That expertise just didn't seem to carry through to desktop publishing. And, this book uglier than any of the rest of the New Era designs (which were more average). It had a few major problems.
First, all of their grays are printed with dots. This looks just sorta bad in the main text, but it practically ruins the maps because all of the amber zones, the red zones, and the hex grid come out badly pixelated.
Second, the book uses a microscopic font for most of the book (then randomly varies the font at other times, so that page spreads always came out right).
Third, this book loses GDW's old ability to layout things as singular units. Instead every pair of pages sloppily sloshes together two subsectors (and in the last several pages of astrography, even that balance is lost).
Generally, the typesetting of The Regency Sourcebook is extremely amateur. This was another reason that I almost didn't review this book: because it looks so bad. But, as the old adage goes ...
Oh, and I should say that it's not all bad. The spaceships section looks pretty good. But that doesn't save the rest, which earns a "2" out of "5" for Style
The Regency Sourcebook is a superb (if ugly) sourcebook for its New Era of Traveller play. It's so packed full of useful information about the Spinward Marches and environs, that it should remain quite useful for modern-day GMs and is thus worth hunting down, especially since New Era books tend to be pretty cheap.