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.
In 2006, Comstar and Avenger's 1248 line of books provided a new setting for the Traveller universe ... and another opportunity to look at the Spinward Marches.
review discusses 1248 Sourcebook 3: The Spinward States
, a totally out-of-print PDF that offers the furthest future look to date at the Spinward Marches.
An Overview of the Book
The Spinward States
is also the lengthiest book in existence on the Marches, clocking in at 186 pages. That's the sort of thing you can do when you're planning a PDF-only release. As with all of the later-period books on the Marches (from the Rebellion era onward), The Spinward States
actually covers a domain-sized area (previously known as the Domain of Deneb), including: The Spinward Marches, Deneb, Trojan Reach(es), and Reft.
This isn't very good top-level organization in the book, but the following are the major sections:
After some introductory material on 1248, we get into the meat of the book with a History. It spends a few pages each on early history, the Third Imperium, the Rebellion, and the Regency before going into more depth on the history from 1200-1248. The early history is all quite good; one of the reasons I like it is because it focuses more on the history of those other three sectors than anything else has. Unfortunately what should be the most interesting part of the history--from 1200 to 1248--is instead the least. There's a lot of material that appears to have been directly copied from the original 1248 sourcebook, and the author does very little to expand upon it. (There is expansion in later sections, starting with "Personalities", and it's disappointing that it isn't organized chronologically here.)
The second main section is on the Personalities
of the time. This gives history and other notes on all of the major rulers of the area. It's something that would serve every other Spinward Marches book quite well--because it puts a human face to the political entities of the area--and is unfortunately missing from most of them.
The third section, on Facts of Life is a somewhat ill-defined collection of miscellanea. It discusses a lot of the major elements of the Traveller universe in 1248, such as the Virus and the Empress Wave. There's also a listing of the major powers of Charted Space, which again seems like a pretty direct copy from the original 1248 book. Though some of this material does give very specific notes on how the Spinward States deal with these matters (such as shipbuilding) other information is totally disconnected from the States themselves.
The fourth section, on Races is equally troublesome. It's a good overview of the Races of Charted Space, but I generally don't know why races like the Hivers and the K'Kree belong in a book on the Spinward Marches at all. I was also annoyed that the Aslan and Droyne were discussed without any attention to their interactions in this area of space. I eventually found the area-specific racial material I wanted later on, which revealed that this section was just intended as a general overview for the races in 1248 ... which again we already had in the main 1248 book.
(In my general opinion the majority of the material in these two sections is wasteful, because it repeats stuff from a book that the reader should already have. The worst thing, however, is that tiny bits of the material aren't repetitive, but instead are Spinward-specific--such as the listing of Minor Races at the end of the Races section. Unfortunately, these small tidbits end up obscured by a pair of sections that seems largely irrelevant.)
Fortunately, the fifth section of the book, Spinward States returns us to a solid focus on the area actually under discussion for this supplement.
This kicks off with a list of major powers of the area--and there are a lot. One of the conceits of the Spinward area of the former Imperium in 1248 is that it's broken up into quite a few smaller states. The result is a very dynamic area of space that offers the potential for constantly interesting and exciting politics. It highlights why people have complained in the past about the Imperium being too stultified and successfully creates a setting which is much more.
Following that are a listing of the smaller powers that make up the League of Spinward States (including the Darrians, the Sword Worlds and more), other minor states, and finally that listing of Aslan and Vargr states that I found missing from the earlier racial writeups.
These writeups generally use the state-listing style that Martin J. Dougherty developed in the original 1248 release, and it's again used quite successful here. The states aren't quite as well differentiated as the original 1248 states were, but there's nonetheless a lot of details provided on each them--enough to give a GM a great basis for gaming in the region.
Next we come to Star Charts, a necessity in any Traveller geography book. With four sectors under consideration, we get almost 90 pages of information, four subsectors at a time.
There's a good amount of information for each quadrant, with information on the politics leading it off, then information on the most significant worlds finishing it up. The world information is very 1248 specific, which is great because it tells a 1248 GM what's going on right now. However, if that GM wants to know more about the foundational state of the worlds, he'll want to look at older comprehensive sources such as Behind the Claw (which covers just the Marches) and The Regency Sourcebook (which covers the entire Domain).
The general information in The Spinward States closes up with Ref Notes, the almost obligatory listing of GM Secrets which have appeared in most recent books on the Marches. These notes are particularly well done. Rather than just repeating info on 1248 secrets like Longbow and the Empress Wave, it instead steps through many of the states and looks at their true (often secret) status. Want to know who's in financial trouble? What the Federation of Arden is really planning? That's all here. There's also some more general information on things that might be obfuscated in the history.
Finally, there's an adventure called The New Hope, which does a pretty good job of showing off some of the politics of the region (here, putting the Imperial Regency and the Republic of Regina in conflict) and some of the major plot elements (here, the Virus and some Empress Wave related history).
Despite my complaints about repetition and organization (which I'll return to shortly), there is a lot of very solid material in this book that offers a nicely comprehensive view of the Deneb Domain in 1248. In particular, the sections on the States, the Star Charts, and the Personalities combine to give a GM a good idea of the area that he'd be running his game in. Based primarily on those solid elements, I've given The Spinward States a "4" out of "5" for Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
So, with The Spinward States
being a solid sourcebook for 1248, how useful is it to a Mongoose GM running in 1105?
Frankly, not at all. That's no criticism, because that wasn't the intent of the book, but by 1248 things have changed so much that there's no way to backtrack much of the info to an 1105 setting. That's made worse by the aforementioned fact that so much of the detail is really specific to 1248.
A Mongoose GM would find this book of sufficiently little interest to his own campaign that there's really no reason he should seek it out, except to complete the set (and the latter is the only reason that I reviewed it for my Spinward Marches series).
And, that's just as well, because this book is effectively impossible to find, because it's an out-of-print PDF, and with no legitimate second-hand market for PDFs, it's pretty hard to find a used copy like you could with a print book.
The book dropped out of print because Comstar's Traveller license expired. They've since started publishing with Mongoose, but since Mongoose is currently only interested in the Traveller Golden Age, it looks like it'll be a long time before anyone has the ability to publish 1248 material again.
Style & Design
I've already spoken about the facts that the overall organization of The Spinward States
is somewhat haphazard and that there's a lot of material directly repeated from the core 1248 book, even when it wasn't relevant to the Spinward States. There's even a bit of repetition within the book.
Generally, the editing of The Spinward States is poor. I came across quite a few missing words, added words, and wrong words--which really brought the problem home.
Combine that with the fact that layout of The Spinward States is pretty rudimentary, largely consisting of page after page of text. Though that was also the case for the core 1248 book, it was saved by good editing and superior writing, while this book is not.
It thus earns a "2" out of "5" for Style.
1248 Sourcebook 3: The Spinward States
offers an extensive overview of the Deneb Domain in 1248. It has great material to run a campaign there, though the editing is unfortunately poor and the layout plain. I
f you want to run a game in the 1248 Spinward Marches, this is your book--but for those running way back in 1105, don't bother.