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 this review, I'll be continuing my look at Classic Traveller books describing planets in the Spinward Marches.
review discusses Beltstrike: Riches and Danger in the Bowman Belt
, a boxed module that looks at a solar system in depth. It was the second expansion for the Traveller Starter
edition of the rules, following the Tarsus
An Overview of the Book
As a companion to Tarsus, Beltstrike was laid out in the same manner and with similar goals. It was intended to help introduce players to the game and to show off how much detail you could put into a single star system (and thus how many different adventures you could place there).
Like Tarsus, Beltstrike also includes 4-page folio adventures (though just four of them this time), some pre-generated characters, and some cardstock maps. Rather than having a single reference book, Beltstrike fits its reference material into two 12-page books, one system reference and one belter's handbook.
The Belter's Handbook
is the starting place for this collection of booklets. It features all the rules you'd need to play among asteroids, including belter character generation, asteroid mining rules, zero-g and low-g rules, and new ships and equipment. This is a nicely comprehensive set of information, though dry at times. I expect it was exciting and useful when the supplement was released, but up here in 2009 I mainly skimmed this information (for reasons that I'll talk about below).
The Bowman System Reference Book was what I was most excited to see, because it contains the actual Spinward Marches setting material. I was not disappointed. Just as Tarsus did a great job of describing a single world, Beltstrike did a great job of describing a solar system that doesn't contain a central planet.
Beltstrike starts off by creating a number of different places that you might visit, from the starport to the seedy entertainment asteroid to a number of research stations and digs to the actual belting areas themselves. I particularly like the way that this is all integrated with the history of the Spinward Marches. Both the Darrians and the Sword Worlders visited the Bowman Belt at various times. They had some influence on the system (and left some interesting artifacts), but in a way that feels very true to their own histories as well.
Without a doubt, Beltstrike succeeds at its stated goal of making a single system interesting for more than just one adventure. I could envision several weeks' worth of play in this locale.
Unfortunately, Beltstrike's own adventures don't live up to that promise. There are only four 4-page folios, and each one of them has more than a full page blank, resulting in something like 10-11 actual pages of adventure.
The first two are particularly disappointing. #1, "Lodes of Adventures", is mainly about arriving in the system. It fulfills the same role as a similar "adventure" in Tarsus and it's one that's only of any interest to entirely new players. There are a few plot seeds here as well, but they were very skeletal (and not that interesting). #2, "On the Rock", is mainly detail about the entertainment asteroid rather than an actual adventure. The plot consists entirely of a bar brawl.
The latter two adventure sare more complete. #3, "Claimjumpers", nicely sets up a dramatic prospecting opportunity. #4, "Archaeology", offers some nice exploration of the past of this system, though the plot is a bit spare at times (at one point saying, "The referee should prepare a plan of a small outpost"; why the designers couldn't print a map in the blank page and a half of this folio, I dunno). I wouldn have enjoyed these last two adventures a bit more, I suspect, if I weren't already pretty disappointed by the first two.
Finally, Beltstrike contains just a single map, showing the entertainment asteroid in nice color.
Overall, I'd say that Beltstrike had good rules, good background, and poor adventures. I also find the total contents of the box pretty scant, but that's less important in 2009, when you're now paying for the collectability of the box rather than its actual contents. I give it a high "3" out of "5" for Substance: slightly above average.0
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
I recently reviewed Mongoose's Traveller Adventure 1: Beltstrike so that I could measure this older supplement against the newer one, and in the process try to determine which was the better for a modern Mongoose Traveller GM to buy.
I was pretty surprised to discover that the new Mongoose supplement used the Belter's Handbook of GDW's supplement as a very precise blueprint for its own section of Beltstrike rules. Nothing is directly copied; all of Lawrence Whitaker's text in the recent 2008 book is brand-new. However, it covers all the same topics of character creation, belting, zero-g movement, low-g movement, equipment, and starships. And, I think that's a good thing, because those are all good rules to have on hand; it just reduces the usefulness of this older book.
So you're left with two other things: 12 pages of good background on the Bowman Belt and 12 pages of so-so adventures. Even though I love having the "official" background for a setting that I'm running, those 12 pages of background are hardly critical enough to warrant the purchase of this entire box unless you get it cheap.
And getting it cheap is pretty unlikely, as these boxed sets are among the rarer Classic Traveller items. I paid around $20 for mine last month, which was more than the material would be worth to me, if I weren't finishing off my Classic Traveller collection. Of course if you just want the 12 pages of setting material, you can find them (and the rest of Beltstrike) on FFE's Classic Traveller CD-ROM (along with everything else Traveller from GDW).
I think this is a fine example of material where an electronic copy is good enough.
Style & Design
As is usually the case, GDW's classic, sparse layout doesn't look as good at 8.15x11". There's pretty much no internal art. Though having a box of different materials is nice, I didn't like all the blank pages it resulted in among this box's folios. My Style rating for Tarsus went up a bit because of three different cardstock maps. Here, there was just one and I wasn't stunned by it.
As a result I give Beltstrike a "2" out of "5" for Style; it's a bit lacking.
Though Starter Traveller's idea of really developing individual systems was good, this release comes up short. There are some good rules and background, but the adventures don't live up to expectations and overall the box feels sparse. For modern-day GMs, you might as well just pick up Mongoose's Beltstrike rather than this one (though you'll have to convert the non-Imperial adventures if you do).