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1248 Sourcebook 3: The Spinward States

This article originally appeared in the September/October 2020 issue.

1248 Sourcebook 3: The Spinward States. Mike West.
Comstar Games/Avenger Enterprises (no website found)
186pp., PDF
Available as part of TNE-2 CD-ROM from FarFuture Enterprises

Traveller 1248 Sourcebook 3: The Spinward States by Mike West was published in 2008 (as a PDF, 186 pages) by Avenger Enterprises, in association with Comstar Media, LLC., under license from Far Future Enterprises. It is currently out-of-print but available on the Traveller: The New Era-2 CD-ROM from Far Future Enterprises. As its title suggests, it is the third sourcebook in the Traveller 1248 setting of the Traveller: The New Era campaign milieu but familiarity with the previous sourcebooks is not necessary and the material is not specifically tied to Traveller: The New Era rules or any other Traveller rules set.

Traveller’s Classic Imperium campaign setting began with Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches (GDW, 1979) which first introduced this frontier region. More material appeared in various sources about what became the Domain of Deneb—the Spinward Marches (Supplement 11: Library Data (N-Z), GDW, 1982; The Spinward Marches Campaign, GDW, 1985; Imperial Encyclopedia, GDW, 1987); Deneb Sector (Travellers’ Digest #1, DGP, 1985; Travellers’ Digest #19, DGP, 1990), the Trojan Reach (Travellers’ Digest #20, DGP, 1990) and Reft Sector (Travellers’ Digest #20, DGP, 1990)—as the campaign milieu moved on to MegaTraveller and the Rebellion era (MegaTraveller Journal #3, DGP, 1992). The Domain of Deneb became the Regency and the entire domain was revisited in The Regency Sourcebook (GDW, 1995), a comprehensive work that moved the campaign into the early stages of The New Era milieu that followed the collapse of the Imperium and the devastation of Virus. (The Spinward Marches were also revisited in Behind the Claw, SJG, 1998, but this work is set in an alternate setting where the Rebellion and Virus never occurred.)

The Spinward States returns to the former Domain of Deneb once again, presenting the region “now known as the Spinward Domain” for the Traveller 1248 campaign milieu. It is every bit as comprehensive as any of the earlier works for previous eras. The sourcebook begins with an introductory section in which Mr. West describes his approach to designing the book and lays out some basic assumptions about Traveller play and the Imperium campaign setting. He notes that the sourcebook “is not a standalone game” and that “one or another of the Traveller rules sets” will be needed to play in the setting.

A brief introduction is provided to the Traveller 1248 milieu, set half a century in the future of the original New Era campaign, at a time when civilization in most of what had been the Third Imperium—including the many Factions of the Rebellion—has collapsed and those who have survived have even learned in live, in a fashion, with the remnants of Virus. An extensive history is presented, focused on the Spinward Domain, beginning with the Ancients, the long-gone, starfaring civilization which, among other things, transplanted Humaniti across Charted Space, including to several location in the Spinward Domain. Early activities in the region by the Vargr, the Vilani, the Zhodani and Humaniti from the Rule of Man are described. Then comes the slow, steady advance of the Third Imperium into the region, eventually brought to an end by the Rebellion—the Second Civil War, the Aslan incursions, and the advent of Virus. The dawn of the Regency and its efforts to impose the Quarantine to guard against Virus are recounted.

Next comes an extensive description of the more recent history of Spinward Domain which includes interactions with successor states in what had been the Imperial core, with the Zhodani and the Aslan, and ultimately a rupture of the Regency itself. The result is three distinct successor states and a nascent consolidation among several smaller powers—the League of Spinward States. Here are some of the most substantial bits of new material in the sourcebook. The history section concludes with capsule reviews of the important figures in this recent history which begins with Norris Aledon, the late First Regent and long-ago Duke of Regina, and includes, among several others, his young, great-great-granddaughter, Arbella Alkhalikoi.

Following this history, “Facts of Life” lays out several elements of the Traveller 1248 campaign in the Spinward Domain. These include the remnants of Virus, the “Empress Wave” emanating from the galactic core, and capsule surveys of the principal states and societies of Chartered Space trailward of the Spinward Domain. (These are discussed in greater detail in the three other Traveller 1248 sourcebooks: Out of Darkness, Bearers of the Flame and The Freedom League.) The next section presents the familiar “major” sophonts of the campaign, with particular emphasis upon their circumstances in the Spinward Domain. Information about the “minor races” in the Spinward Domain is also presented.

The next section, “Spinward States”, presents extensive information about the major and minor states of the Spinward Domain. These include the Imperial Regency, what remains of the original Regency, with its capital at Tobia in the Trojan Reach; the League of Deneb, with its capital at Deneb in Deneb Sector, the first to break with the Regency; the Republic of Regina, which left the Regency under the leadership of Galin Aledon, great-grandson of Norris; and the League of Spinward States, a confederation of confederations, led by an uncertain alliance between the Darrians and a collection of Sword Worlds successor states, headquartered at Entrope in the Spinward Marches. (Mr. West’s admiration for the Darrians—Daryens—and the Sword Worlds was expressed on his Traveller website—http://caddocourt.com/traveller—as far back as 2002.) Details about the many members of the League of Spinward States and the many other, minor, independent states in the Spinward Domain, including remnant Zhodani, Aslan and Vargr states, are also presented. This is the most substantive tranche of new material in the sourcebook.

Star charts—maps at both the sector level and at the four-subsector “quadrant” level—and updated Universal World Profile (UWP) information for all four sectors of the Spinward Domain—the Spinward Marches, Deneb Sector, the Trojan Reach and Reft Sector—are presented in the next section. They are followed by “Referee Notes”, background information on the political situations and history of the Spinward Domain that would not typically be known to player-characters.

The final section is a mini-campaign adventure for a group of player-characters on layover at Regina for the annual maintenance of their ship. The ensuing search for a lost starship is intended, ultimately, to introduce the player-characters to a fascinating new aspect of the Traveller 1248 campaign milieu and presents them with a complex moral dilemma which echoes the grandest traditions of science-fiction. An extensive bibliography of Traveller materials consulted in development of The Spinward States closes out the sourcebook.

As Mr. West says in his introduction, I too have never been “a big fan of Traveller: The New Era” but, thanks to his efforts, I really liked this sourcebook. To be willing to do that I had to approach this sourcebook in the context in which Mr. West wrote it: where the Rebellion shattered the Imperium, where the Virus destroyed what was left, and where—this is the most difficult part—the Regency created by Norris of Regina not only did not re-establish the Imperium but also itself fractured into a handful of successor states, not all of which are ones in which I’d like to live.

In The Spinward States, Mr. West was successful in following what he describes as the vision of Martin J. Dougherty of Avenger Enterprises where the internal Imperium milieu “history was not thrown away, but rather built on and used to give definition to the New Era.” The material in The Spinward States is rich with the long history of the Spinward Marches and the Domain of Deneb. This richness is familiar if you first encountered the Spinward Marches—as I did—in Supplement 3 or in The Regency Sourcebook which brought the Spinward Marches and the rest of Domain of Deneb into The New Era. This richness also means there is a substance to the sourcebook, a sense of the complexity and diversity of the Spinward Domain even if this is the first time you’ve encountered the region.

In some sense, The Spinward States does for the Domain of Deneb and the Regency it became what Traveller’s stewards and designers had hoped to do with the Rebellion: take a campaign that was lacking in the dynamism and mystery which makes for great role-playing gaming and turn it into a milieu that was rich in opportunities for grand adventure. Too many words have been written about why many believe that original effort was unsuccessful and about the widespread disbelief sparked by the advent of Virus, which seemed to wipe clean the slate of the Imperium campaign milieu. With The Spinward States Mr. West has accomplished that intended end for the Spinward Domain.

There are many new opportunities for the adventure in the Spinward Domain. Beyond the political intrigue and machinations of the different Spinward States there are new mysteries among the remnants of the Zhodani and the Aslan ihatei. Many of the worlds in the Spinward Domain have been transformed, from a century of efforts to ward off collapse and a subsequent half-century of efforts toward recovery and renewal. The aristocratic social structure of the Imperium is no more and with it has gone the dichotomy between the bland constancy of interstellar Imperial culture and the isolated diversity of individual worlds. Now the entire cultural milieu changes—along with opportunities for adventure—with every few jumps.

There are also entirely new elements of the campaign milieu, whether it be the transformation of the old Imperial bias against psionics to the emerging relationship with what Virus has become. A Classic Era non-player-character, locked away for a century and a half in a lost low berth, would not recognize much of the new civilization in which they awakened even if many of the names of places would be familiar and they could still fly an air/raft, work in a vaccsuit or pilot a starship from Rhylanor to Lunion.

One minor shortcoming here is that The Spinward States continues to treat the coreward border of the Domain as a sort of “edge of the map”. Ever since Supplement 3—with the remarkable exception of Digest Group Publications’ Vilani and Vargr sourcebook—there has seemed to be a sort of invisible-yet-impenetrable barrier between the coreward boundary of what is now the Spinward Domain and the Vargr Extents beyond. It would have been nice to see as much attention given to the Vargr in the Spinward Domain as is given to the remnants of the Zhodani and the Aslan.

While the content of The Spinward States is excellent the production quality is somewhat rudimentary which detracts from its overall appeal. Other than the stellar maps there is only a single illustration, the monochrome cover illustration of a rather nondescript spacecraft. The maps themselves, from the Domain “dot map” showing political affiliations at the beginning, to the twenty sector and “quadrant” maps in the star charts section are simply basic digital illustrations, as dull as they are practical.

The small, sans-serif font used throughout The Spinward States is difficult to read for someone who is old enough to have purchased their softcover copy of Supplement 3 in a games store. Mr. West notes that The Regency Sourcebook was a key inspiration for The Spinward States but it’s unfortunate that it seems to have been the model for the typesetting too. The first two Traveller 1248 sourcebooks were released in softcover so perhaps that was also the plan for The Spinward States, but given its release as a PDF it would have been nice to have a sourcebook with a few more pages and a bit larger font.

The Spinward States is an excellent sourcebook for The New Era campaigns in the Spinward Domain. It would also be a great resource for players making their first foray into The New Era. There is plenty of material here to support a sustained campaign even if the prospects for additional Traveller 1248 releases are slim.

Furthermore, I enjoyed this sourcebook even though I’m not playing in The New Era. I enjoyed finding out how things turned out for the people of the Spinward Domain. (I especially enjoyed seeing the Sword Worlds recover from the near-death experience they suffered at the hands of the Regency at the dawn of The New Era.)

The price of The Spinward States PDF bundled with other Traveller 1248 material on the CDROM from Far Future Enterprises may seem a bit steep if you bought The Regency Sourcebook in softcover a quarter century ago, but if you’re looking at Mongoose’s Behind the Claw PDF today, it’s quite the deal.