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 1987 publication of Darrians, the Spinward Marches was largely neglected through the next three editions of Traveller. It thus wasn't until fourteen years later, when Steve Jackson Games had become the main publisher of Traveller, that Spinward Marches cluster & planet books began to appear again. Following the publication of Behind the Claw, Steve Jackson Games would put out three books covering individual sections of the Marches.
review discusses GURPS Traveller Planetary Survey 2: Denuli--The Shrieker World
. This tight thirty-two page book gave excellent detail on a single planet in the Marches that's known as 567-908 to long-term players.
An Overview of the Book
Almost twenty years prior to the publication of Denuli, GDW put out an adventure called Safari Ship. It detailed an attempt to catalog a new alien species on planet 567-908 of District 268 and the complexities that arise when the players discover a sentient species known as the Shriekers living on the planet.
is a direct sequel to that adventure. It details 567-908 (now Denuli) 10 years later and shows how the discovery of that alien species has brought the Imperium and a megacorp to that planet. In that process it also provides far more background on both the planets and the Shriekers than appeared in the original book.
Broadly, Denuli is broken into six sections: History, Denuli Today, The Shriekers, ExtraStellar Relations, Characters, and Adventures on Denuli.
Chapter 1, History gives the backstory of the Shrieker race, extrapolated and expanded from Safari Ship. It's an enjoyable read, primarily because it's got one food solidly in the world of science, with its an inclusion of an asteroid strike and the die-out that follows. It also does a lot to help explain how Denuli came to be.
Denuli Today, the second chapter of the book, offers a lot of nice details on the planet in the present day. As with the best Traveller setting books, this chapter looks not just at a single planet, but also the other heavenly bodies in the system--offering a GM the opportunity to really present the world in its complete context. Despite that, Denuli itself isn't neglected. I particularly liked several native life forms which are described and which have the feel of really alien beings, without being over the top.
The sentient race of the system is described in chapter 3, The Shriekers. Again, good attention to detail helps this section to shine. I was particularly struck by some of the biological specifics offered up. They had a feeling of scientific veracity, just like much of the previous section did.
Other District 268 Source Books
Since the Shriekers were discovered around 1110, a lot of people have gotten interested in coming to Denuli, whether it be to study them, to protect them, or to steal their eggs (the valuable Denuli Gems). The fourth chapter, ExtraStellar Relations
the many reasons that people would come to Denuli. It's full of plot hooks and adventure seeds alike. I particularly like the corporate intrusions that are discussed, since they're realistic and give great reasons for people to be on different sides of an issue.
Chapter 5, Characters, is where Denuli starts to weaken. The first half of the chapter contains GURPS templates which I'm going to guess would be pretty great to have for GURPS Traveller (which I don't play). The latter half of the chapter, however, gives detailed writeups of three different characters that I don't really consider that interesting. These folks are supposed to be the movers and the shakers of Denuli, but the traders and administrators included just don't give me the feel that they're important enough to be featured in adventures. I've already forgotten them, in fact.
The book closes out with chapter 6, Adventures on Denuli, which I also found disappointing. I applaud Steve Jackson Games' decision to suggest Denuli-related adventures both on the planet and away from the planet, but I feel like what's offered here is pretty obvious and not that creative.
Despite the disappointments of the last few chapters, Denuli is overall a strong book and an excellent example of how a single world can be detailed with vivid and believably scientific details. I give it a high "4" out of "5" for Substance: very good.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
Despite being a good book, Denuli has a few strikes against it when considering its use in Mongoose Traveller.
First of all, it's a GURPS system book. Now, few of the GURPS Traveller books have a huge amount of rules in them, but this book has a moderate amount. You've got native life, templates, and characters all with GURPS stats. Fortunately, with the exception of the templates (which are 100% GURPS), even most of the critters and characters are written in generic text.
Second, you should note that GURPS Traveller uses some Traveller terms differently. In particular, Tech Levels aren't quite the same and starport values are flipped from what you'd expect. If you want to use either of these references in Denuli, you'll probably need the GURPS Traveller book (but, though they're used some in Denuli, they're not used a lot).
Third, Denuli is set in 1120 , in a slightly alternate universe from standard Traveller universe. That 15-year difference doesn't usually make a huge difference when using GURPS Traveller products, but here it's of some note, because in the Traveller timeline, the Shriekers aren't discovered until around 1110--five years after Mongoose Traveller--and thus all of the buildup of scouts and corps around Denuli as described in this book comes much later.
Though troublesome, I see three ways to use this material in Your Traveller Universe, set in the Mongoose timeframe.
1. Run the original Safari Ship adventure (pretty easily available on CD, in floppy book from Far Future Enterprises, or via eBay), and use this book to expand and improve the experience. Certainly the information on the world, the history, and the Shriekers themselves can only expand your players' enjoyment of the adventure.
2. After running the Safari Ship adventure, let the renaming of the planet and the other post-1110 changes occur pretty quickly, giving you an opportunity to run a sequel a few years later, using the descriptions and ideas from this book.
3. Alternatively, if you don't run the Safari Ship adventure, assume that the Shriekers are discovered by someone else around 1105 in your timeframe (or perhaps a few years earlier), and have the corporate build-up around Denuli occur in your campaign, as described above.
I think that there are some unique challenges involved in using Denuli in a Mongoose Traveller campaign, but that the setting is rich enough--with or without the original adventure--that it's worth dealing with those challenges, or at least it is if the idea of a first contact situation (and what comes after) appeals to you.
I think this is particularly true because Denuli is available for a measly $5 from Warehouse 23. At that price you should get it if you're running a game in the Spinward Marches, even if you're not sure it appeals to you.
(Get Sword Worlds, which I'll be reviewing shortly, on the same order. I can tell you in advance that it's another great Spinward Marches book.)
Style & Design
Denuli is full of good art and good graphical design.
The back spread of all of these Planetary Survey books is a nice layout of nearby worlds, showing a color map of Jump-6 from the planet to the right (on the inside back cover) and a list of all the worlds within Jump-6 to the left). This spread, of course, centers on Denuli. It's nice to see nearby systems (which actually include Darrian, Orcrist, Steel, and Mithril) without worrying about subsector boundaries.
On the inside front cover of Denuli there's a full-color grid of the planet (though I have to say it's a bit grainy). The rest of the pages are all well laid with a fair amount of good black-and-white art and the occasional sidebar.
I don't generally think of GURPS books as having a very dynamic layout, but this one is attractive and useful; it's the sort of thing that makes you more likely to read the text.
I thus give Denuli a "4" out of "5" for Style.
If you're running a Spinward Marches campaign around District 268, Denuli is a great book to have. It goes into a lot of interesting depth on the world and its inhabitants, though you should be warned that there are some challenges involved with using it, since it depends on some "future" events in the Official Traveller Universe.