This article originally appeared in the August 2012 issue of Freelance Traveller magazine.
Encounters. Various authors.
Mongoose Publishing http://www.mongoosepublishing.com
Avenger Enterprises and Comstar Games team up with Mongoose to deliver a set of adventures suitable for parties on the Imperial Spinward frontier.
On the Shelf
Spinward Encounters is a setting-specific set of adventures for the Third Imperium setting. As such, it maintains the branding established by previous Third Imperium titles, with the embossed-steel “Third Imperium” logo over the title and a full-width graphic, with the standard Traveller-with-arrow line logo below.
In general, the volume is well-laid-out; paragraphs are set off by blank lines before-and-after rather than by first-line-indentation. This mitigates the ‘grey wall of text’ issue that limited artwork tends to emphasize. The sans-serif typeface is not difficult to read, though perhaps a serif typeface would have been a better choice.
The adventures found in Spinward Encounters, naturally enough, take place in the Spinward Marches. A minimum amount (only three pages) of prefatory material is followed by fifty pages of ‘Patron Encounters’, short adventures in the typical “short summary of situation and pick one of six outcomes” not unfamiliar to the experienced Traveller player/referee from past collections of ‘adventure seeds’ or Freelance Traveller’s ‘Getting Off The Ground’. Following the ‘Patron Encounters’ is a set of ‘Amber Zone’ adventures, and that’s it. No index, no library data section, no set of generic characters, no advertising of other Mongoose publications.
On Closer Inspection
One thing that I very quickly noticed was that page numbering does not conform to industry standards—the odd-numbered pages are on the left, not the right, and page numbering seems to treat the inside front cover as page one.
The Patron Encounters are grouped by subsector, running from A (Cronor) to P (Trin’s Veil) in order. Each encounter lists the type of patron (Agent, Diplomat, Researcher, etc.), the skills required (but no specific level of skill), and any equipment required (e.g., weapons, starships with/without specific cubage of available cargo space or staterooms and passage types, vehicles, etc.). This is followed by as much information about the situation as the author felt was needed to establish the scene. Finally, each Encounter has the usual six options for denouement.
The Amber Zones—sixteen of them—are more extensive. Each has several paragraphs of setup material, followed by sections on keys to various parts of the adventure, chronologies, profiles, and so on. Most of them can stand alone; three of them are specifically noted as being the segments of a three-part campaign, and two others are called out as suitable for ‘stretching’ the campaign if needed or desired.
Artwork is line drawings, some of which have textured shading, others with basic grey-scale flood-fill. None of it is bad, but neither is it inspiring—the most one can say is that it breaks up the monotony of text.
The typesetting is visibly inconsistent—part way through the Amber Zones, the line height (baseline-to-baseline) measurement increases noticeably from the default for the font, and this makes it just a little more difficult to read, even though the text is more ‘open’ as a result.
For adventures in the Spinward Marches, the ‘index card referee’ (keeps much material on file for immediate use with little or no modification) will find Spinward Encounters indispensable. Referees who don’t mind doing a little bit of tweaking and filing-off of serial numbers can also take good advantage of this volume. The more ‘self-generation’ a referee does, or the less like the Spinward Marches a campaign setting becomes, the less useful this book becomes—but it can always serve as a bit of quick inspiration or a source of ready-made adventures for when a referee has one of those “Oh My G-d, the game’s tonight, not next week like I’ve been thinking!” moments. Make your own decision as to its worth, but don’t dismiss it out of hand.