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 their two Spinward Marches Planetary Survey books, Steve Jackson Games put out one last book set behind the claw, a large tome covering an entire sector.
This sixteenth review discusses GURPS Traveller: Sword Worlds. The title pretty much says it all: it's the first intensive look at the Sword Worlds systems.
An Overview of the Book
Sword Worlds is a fairly unique release for GURPS Traveller. It's the only book that took a more intensive look at an entire cluster of stars. It also represents perhaps the largest gaming work produced by any of the three co-authors (and one of the few, for that matter). You couldn't tell the authors were inexperienced from the results, however.
is broadly divided into five sections: History, Worlds, Library Data, Characters and Equipment, and Campaigns.
History offers an extensive, 16-page look at the Sword Worlds, from the Sword Worlders' exile from Earth in -420, all the way up through the GURPS Traveller present of (alternate universe) 1119. It's full of names and events that will provide a very solid basis for using the Sword Worlds in any campaign. The Sword Worlds break apart, fight against each other, and rejoin together a sufficient number of times to get a little tedious, but nonetheless it's nice to have all the specifics together. Supplementing the textual history are a set of five timelines. The last one covers the Sword Worlders part in the Fifth Frontier War, from 1107 to 1110, in considerable detail.
Worlds is the core of the book. It runs 52 pages total and give specific details and maps of all the Sword Worlds, including the Metal Worlds, "reserved for future development". Each one includes details on the world's history, geography, culture, and government.
These descriptions got a little hard to read, all at once, but they'd be gold for running adventures on these planets. I was particularly impressed by the scientific verisimilitude of the descriptions. If one of the authors of the book isn't a scientist, he certainly fakes it well, because the descriptions of domed cities, of tainted atmospheres, of tidally-locked worlds, and such sound entirely plausible.
Library Data expands details found elsewhere in the book by offering up 33 pages of additional background for the Sword Worlds. Some of the entries--such as those for the Gram Hegemony and the Federated States of Sacnoth--just cross-reference events found in the history, though usually in an expanded form. There are also some great cultural notes in entries like "mercenaries" and "corporations" and many other nice details on the Worlds. This Library Data will be a little harder to directly use, in my opinion, but I do think you could skim a couple of entries at any time to quickly come up with an adventure seed for the Sword Worlds.
For example an entry called "kjede og galge" talks about the fact that the Sword Worlds substitute menial servitude for capital punishment. The idea of an adventure to free an off-worlder now in menial servitude springs immediately to mind. And if the players start to learn that there's a good reason for his sentence, they might be faced with a moral dilemma ...
Up to this point, other than a few characters, the book doesn't include any GURPS rules. Characters and Equipment, the fourth chapter, contains the vast majority of the GURPS content. It runs 20 pages and features rules for making Sword Worlder characters (including lots of ideas for playing them), Sword Worlder equipment, and several distinctive space ships. The Sword Worlder character creation seems evocative, but I can't comment on much else, as I don't play GURPS.
The book ends with Campaigns, which features several broad campaign style suggestions, then some specific adventure ideas for each. I didn't think that this section sparkled as much as the setting background that fills most of the book, but I still intend to look it up when I start running games in the Sword Worlds area.
GURPS Traveller: Sword Worlds is one of the top RPG background books that I've read. Its level of focus is just perfect for Traveller, offering a small enough area of space to really get into the guts of it, while still offering a lot of worlds to travel among. Beyond that, it feels authentic, both in its history and in its science, while not getting too dry.
I've given it a full "5" out of "5" for Substance.
Applicability to Mongoose Traveller
If you're running a Spinward Marches campaign for Mongoose Traveller, go buy this book!! With that said, let me get a bit more specific about what's easy to use, and what isn't.
The biggest problem with using any GURPS Traveller book is, as I've said before, that they're set about 15 years forward from Mongoose Traveller's timeframe and in an alternate reality from the original Traveller universe (OTU). However, that's rarely a big problem, given that those 15 years are relatively peaceful in the alternate universe.
In fact, there's just one thing you have to worry about as a big change for the Sword Worlds (or for any place in the Spinward Marches) between 1105 and alternate 1121. That's the Fifth Frontier War, which did have a pretty major effect on the Sword Worlds, because it allowed the Imperium to occupy several of the Sword Worlds and turn them into a puppet client-state called the Border Worlds and grab the Metal Worlds too.
Despite that, I think 80%-90% of the material in Sword Worlds is still very applicable for a Mongoose Traveller GM. There are one or two planets where you just have to throw out most of their background notes, because they concentrate on post-FFW events, but they're in the minority.
And, if you're moving your campaign forward, I suspect most of that Fifth Frontier War material, including the great Sword Worlds chronology of the conflict, is going to be very useful, very quickly.
Overall, Sword Worlds is just about a must-buy for anyone wanting to run a Mongoose Traveller game in the Marches. If you're going anywhere near the Sword Worlds subsector (and, certainly, the Darrian, Sword Worlds, and District 268 subsectors form a great nexus of printed material), this should be on your shelf.
Even better, it's very easily available as I write this. Steve Jackson Games still has copies, but since it's GURPS 3, they're selling them off for the very low price of $10 through Warehouse 23.
Style & Design
Sword Worlds is generally an attractive book. My favorite part of the book is that second section, covering the worlds, because it features attractive maps of the planet every couple of pages. Beyond that there is nice grayscale artwork as well as good sidebar boxes, all scattered through the text with a low-to-medium frequency.
Finally, as I've already mentioned, the book is evocative, with good science in particular keeping the book from being too dry.
I've given it a "4" out of "5" for Style.
GURPS Traveller: Sword Worlds is a must-have book for any Mongoose Traveller player who is running on the spin-coreward side of the Spinward Marches. It serves as a superb example of how to detail a large cluster of stars in the Traveller universe.