Review of The Third Imperium: Sword Worlds by Mongoose Publishing
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    Review of The Third Imperium: Sword Worlds by Mongoose Publishing

    If anyone should ever ask me what my favorite role-playing game was, I’d have to say “Dungeons & Dragons“. But if anyone should ask the same question and add the words “science-fiction” to it, I’d answer without any hesitation: “Traveller!” Traveller was the second role-playing system I ever learned as a teenager, and I’m rather proud to say that I still have a storage box full of those “little black books” which contained all the rules and supplements to my original Traveller game.

    Not surprisingly, the original GDW science-fiction RPG is just as old as D&D, and yet Traveller has seen far more editions of the game, since it was first released, than a certain fantasy RPG known for its “edition wars”. All told, there are about eight or nine versions of this iconic game, including a d20 version written under the OGL called version using the revised Traveller 20 (or T20), a Hero SystemChampions rules, and a version written for Steve Jackson’s GURPS.

    And over the successive versions of the game, the history of the Imperium has changed many times from its original concept in the first release of the game. The timeline has altered to include a Rebellion against the Emperor (MegaTraveller), the release of a AI virus bent on the destruction of all life (Traveller: The New Era), and a version of the game that occurred over a dozen millennia before the Imperium ever existed (2300AD). And I understand in the GURPS version, the Rebellion and Virus never happened at all!

    Just a couple years ago, Mongoose Publishing acquired the Traveller license, and released a new version of this famous and long-lived science-fiction role-playing game. Revising the original “little black book” Traveller rules to a more modern format, the most recent publishers have rolled out a setting it calls the Original Traveller Universe (OTU), or simply The Third Imperium. In just a short time already, Mongoose Publishing has released sixteen supplements for The Third Imperium setting, with more on the way. Their recent supplement details a well-known sub-sector of the Spinward Marches, known for its unusual system names - like Hrunting, Excalibur, Orcrist, and Sting – the names of famous weapons from the history and literature of old Terra, and known to The Third Imperium as Sword Worlds!


    Sword Worlds

    • Author: Brian Steele
    • Illustrators: Miguel Regodon Harkness (cover), Nuno Nobre, Javier Charo, Nick Egberts (interior), Ian Stead (deckplans)
    • Publisher: Mongoose Publishing
    • Year: 2011
    • Media: Large Paperback (126 pages)
    • Cost: $24.99 (available from [ame="http://www.amazon.com/Sword-Worlds-Traveller-Bryan-Steele/dp/1907702326/ref=as_li_tf_mfw?&linkCode=wey&tag=neurogames-20"]Amazon.com[/ame])


    Sword Worlds is a supplement for The Third Imperium setting of Traveller by Mongoose Publishing. The book offers detailed historical information on the various star systems in the sub-sector, as well as data on “current events” which can be used to create adventures in that region of space. Sword Worlds also includes details on creating characters and npcs in the sub-sector, and offers three new careers specific to the region. The supplement offers additional information on new gear and equipment available in the confederation, new vehicles and starships, and important npcs, alien animals, plot hooks, and more.


    Production Quality

    The production quality of Sword Worlds is very good, with information presented in an easy-to-read layout, and using formats from the revised and updated Traveller rules from Mongoose Publishing. The writing in the book is sharp and very detailed, which one would come to expect for science-fiction RPG with a tradition as old as Traveller’s. The book contains both a short table of contents and an index to help navigate through the information.

    The illustrations in Sword Worlds are fair to very good, with the full-color cover art being a bit lackluster compared with the black-and-white illustrations found in the supplement’s interior. Sadly, the amount of art is a bit scanty overall, and I would have thought that there would have been illustrations of at least some of the gear, vehicles, and alien animals discussed in the book. On the other hand, the starship deckplans were very well done, and reminded me quite a bit of the old plans from the original GDW Traveller supplements, offering a bit of nostalgia in addition to some very nifty new ships.

    [Author’s Note: The new Traveller rules from Mongoose Publishing are available in the “bare bones” SRD format for download. The SRD PDF can be accessed through the Traveller forums on the Mongoose Publishing website, and gives a good overview of the basics of the revised game system.]


    Sword Worlds: The Contents

    Sword Worlds is divided into seven chapters, with an introduction and an index to help guide readers through the book. The book is a mixture of GM and player information, although the vast majority of the book is meant for the game master to run a campaign in this sub-sector of the Imperium.

    It was fairly clear from the start that the author did some extensive work expanding on the scant references to the Sword Worlds from the original GDW sources such as Supplement 11: Library Data (N-Z), The Spinward Marches Campaign, and Alien Module 8: Darrians. It should be noted that in 2004, SJG released a Sword Worlds supplement under the GURPS rules for Traveller, and I did not have a copy of this earlier release to use as a comparison to the version from Mongoose Publishing. But given the differences in the SJG Traveller setting to The Third Imperium setting by Mongoose Publishing, it’s unlikely that the books treat the subsector in the same ways.

    It should be noted that the author of the Sword Worlds supplement appears to have been strongly influence by the H. Beam Piper novel Space Viking. Certainly, this is not too surprising, as the original authors of GDW’s Traveller also found inspiration in this work of science-fiction, naming at least one of the planets and the sub-sector itself from places found in the novel.

    The first two chapters of Sword Worlds are likely to be quite useful to Traveller players, while the remaining five chapters contain information best left to the GM, with the information doled out to players on a “need-to-know” basis. Players will find that the first two chapters, entitled Sword World Characters and Life Among the Sword Worlders, offers them an opportunity to create characters which have their origins from this sub-sector of space.

    The supplement opens with Sword World Characters, and discusses not only the physiology of these heroically-built people, but also their psychology and attitudes toward the various standard careers which players might choose for their characters, as well as modifications to rank names, starting skills, and other minor adjustments to the setting. The author also creates three new careers specific to the Swords Worlds, complete with advancement and event tables: the Aesirist Church, Confederation Patrol, and the Jäger Kommand. As is quite obvious by this point, the Sword Worlders have a VERY strong Scandinavian influence to their society, in many respects embodying the idea of space vikings.

    Life Among the Sword Wolders describes many social aspects of the culture, including its origin, history, and how it came to be the embodiment of a pseudo-viking Scandinavian culture. The author gives great details about the culture, from examples of names and words in the Sword Worlder language (called Sagamaal) to customs, money, alcoholic beverages, and laws.

    The next chapter in the book is titled The Sword Worlds, and details two dozen planets in the sub-sector. Each planet’s physical characteristics and codes are given, as well as its ecology, history, and points of interest. This section of the supplement is well-detailed, and gives information most likely available to characters owning access to a Library program, but there are still some information which might be more fun to discover in the course of play, rather than reading it in a supplement. It’s one of those chapters which is hard to judge as to whether it should be open to players, or should be for GM eyes only to use in adventure development.

    Sword Worlds Equipment opens with details as to the general tech level (TL) of sub-sector, and then goes into explanations of new equipment manufactured and used in the Sword Worlds. Some of the items are quite nifty, even if their names are a bit campy. Naming a cybernetic replacement hand Tyr’s Fist or an cybereye as Odin’s Eye makes them sound more like magic items from fantasy than science-fiction devices, but it does remind players how seriously the Sword Worlders take their culture. There is new types of armor and armor augmentations, new melee weapons including Viking-like axes and mauls, new firearms and explosives, and around a dozen new vehicles. There are also new items which the author calls “oddities”, such as meading tabs to turn water into a mead tasting beverage, solsdag ink which produces glow-in-the-dark tattoos, and a child’s toy called an odinstone – sort of a futuristic norse version of a “Magic 8 ball”.

    The section on Spacecraft discusses not only several new types of starships known in this sub-sector of the Imperium, but also some special rules that apply to those ships and to space travel among the Sword World systems. There are five new ships, complete with stats and deckplans, although only one of them, the Sceaf class Personal Yacht, would be available for non-military use.

    Encounters offers tables for quickly creating Sword Worlder NPCs for characters t interact with, and a list of detailed patrons which the GM can use for adventure hooks. There are tables for handling random encounters while adventuring on various worlds, as well as NPC and alien animal encounters which can be used to create combat encounters. There is considerable amount of GM information in this section, and players would be well-advised to not to read this chapter to avoid spoilers.

    The final chapter is entitled Classified Information, and contains GM-eyes only material on possible adventures, mysteries, and plotlines in the Sword Worlds sub-sector. The author writes about five different major plots in the region which can be easily developed into adventures or mini-campaigns by the GM, as appropriate for their players-characters.

    Overall Score: 3.6 out of 5.0

    Conclusions

    Sword Worlds is a pretty darned good supplement for Mongoose Publishing’s The Third Imperium Traveller setting. It offers a very detailed sub-sector of the Imperium, with not only new rules for character creation, but for new equipment, vehicles and starships all in one package. The author did an excellent job developing a rich, if somewhat eccentric, sub-culture of humanity, and offers enough details to make it easy for a GM to bring the experience to the players. Although disappointingly light on illustrations, it makes up for it with plenty of good “fluff” and “crunch” for GMs to create adventures and campaigns arcs. And the book is decently priced to be able to offer Traveller fans many, many nights of adventure in just one small sub-sector of the Third Imperium.

    So until next review… I wish you Happy Gaming!

    Author’s Note: This Reviewer received a complimentary copy of the product from which the review was written.

    Grade Card (Ratings 1 to 5)

    • Presentation: 3.25
    • - Design: 3.5
    • - Illustrations: 3.0
    • Content: 4.0
    • - Crunch: 4
    • - Fluff: 4
    • Value: 3.5
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  2. #2
    I'm not terribly familiar with the Sword Worlds. Would you recommend the Darrians supplement for use with the setting?

  3. #3
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    It sounds quite similar to the GURPS Sword Worlds treatment to me. Although that is probably as much to do with the source material they're both working from as any direct influence. It sounds from the description that they've followed the same pattern as their other Alien modules, and I hope since it's covering a much smaller region it has more detail. I might have to pick this up, since I've been thinking of reviving my old Traveller campaign in the area.

    @Whizbang Dustyboots, I'd certainly recommend the Darrians supplement, and that's despite owning a lot of material from previous publishers. It's also light on illustrations, which imo aren't the strong point of Mongoose publications. I will note that it's a hardback, so presumably a little more expensive. But it does give a pretty comprehensive picture of the Darrians, why they are as they are, and what's happening among them. It would be equally good for a slightly strange offshoot of human society if you weren't using the 3I background.

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    2300 AD is not part of the Traveller Universe. It is an alternate future of their Twilight 2000 campaign. And GURPS has published an Interstellar Wars setting that happens in the 21st to 23rd century AD when Terra was fighting the Vilane Imperium (I know I have a copy and ran a short game in a setting where I replaced the Terra of Traveller with the Earth of Transhuman Space).

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Bluenose View Post
    @Whizbang Dustyboots, I'd certainly recommend the Darrians supplement, and that's despite owning a lot of material from previous publishers. It's also light on illustrations, which imo aren't the strong point of Mongoose publications. I will note that it's a hardback, so presumably a little more expensive. But it does give a pretty comprehensive picture of the Darrians, why they are as they are, and what's happening among them. It would be equally good for a slightly strange offshoot of human society if you weren't using the 3I background.
    Thanks. I've actually held off on getting the alien books for some reason. I'll likely get Vargr soon, since I'm running a piratical campaign in the Aramis subsector, adjacent to the Vargr Extents.

    I'm just not sure how useful the others will be to me, as cool as they may be. But if I were running the Sword Worlds, for instance -- which I've considered -- I'd like to have all the relevant alien books.

    I'm still hoping that Mongoose follows GURPS' lead and eventually cranks out books full of minor races, which is probably more applicable to my situation, so I can Mos Eisley Cantina it up at starports.

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