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Spinward Marches Cluster Book 1: The Bowman Arm
Reviewed by Matthew Pook, © 2006

Format: Game
By:   Martin J. Dougherty with Hunter Gordon, Eric O'Dell, Michael Taylor, Loren
Genre:   Classic Science Fiction
Review Date:   May 20, 2006
RevSF Rating:   6/10 (What Is This?)

To date the focus for Avenger Enterprises' range of "Little Black Books" (or rather "Little Black PDFs") has been the Gamma Quadrant of the Spinward Marches. Whether in the Golden Age Starships line, the Golden Age Adventure line (begun in Golden Age Adventure 1: The Forgotten War), or the Adventure line (begun in Adventure 1: Call of the Wild), each has added a degree of detail to this region in addition to the given adventure or ship.

It is this detail that Spinward Marches Cluster Book 1: The Bowman Arm concentrates upon, with anything else extra, literally swapping the normal emphasis found in the publisher's releases. The aim of the supplement is to provide an overview of an area of neutral space caught between two regions of the Third Imperium, and in doing so, lay the groundwork for a further series of supplements each focusing on one of the worlds in Arm. The first of these, System Guide 1: Datrillian, is already available.

The Bowman Arm lies in District 268 sector, linking the Spinward Main of Jump-1 worlds through neutral territory to the Imperial systems in the Five Sisters subsector. In detailing the 10 worlds along its length, Spinward Marches Cluster Book 1: The Bowman Arm is a companion volume to Golden Age Adventure 1: The Forgotten War and Golden Age Starships 8: Armed Free Trader that present the other extension of the Spinward Main within District 268.

Like much of Avenger Enterprises, this supplement is set early in the recovery period following the Fifth Frontier War. As a result the Bowman Arm has suffered a loss of both trade and protection in terms of Imperial Navy patrols, and with the ten worlds ripe for Imperial expansion and investment, both the government and the megacorporations of the Third Imperium are eyeing the region with renewed interest.

There are forces that oppose this interest though, including worlds and peoples wanting and willing to retain their independence, Swords Worlders wanting to continue the war that they just lost, and a corporation that sees the region as theirs . . . Another threat could come with the corporate scramble to invest in the region turning "hot" and thus into a Trade War.

Following a quick look at several worlds outside it that have an impact upon the Arm and the overview of the Arm, it gets down to describing its ten worlds. Besides the usual statistics, each world is given a three or four paragraph write-up. Notable worlds include Bowman itself, dominated by an asteroid belt that occupies five planetary orbits; Nirton, Red Zoned by the Imperial Navy for reasons unknown; then there is Shvreeyiyi, inhabited by a low-tech species whose eggs have been mistaken for gemstones (known as "Denuli Gems") and "harvested."

This was previously detailed in Planetary Survey 2 -- Denuli, published by Steve Jackson Games for GURPS Traveller, which raises the question of what can Avenger Enterprises really add to that book that has not already been said -- even if set earlier in Classic Traveller's time period? Otherwise, the worlds are Traveller's atypical mix of petty dictatorships, balkanised planets, and quiet peaceful places.

All told, the potential for adventure in the Bowman Arm is high. Besides the usual trade and survey missions, suggested campaigns include running a ramshackle navy or security force as an anti-piracy measure; undertaking mercenary operations as security forces or raiders; or opposing expansion along the Arm by Imperial or Corporate influences, whether by covert or overt means.

Then there are the region's mysteries amd wonders, perhaps relics and ruins of the Ancients, which the supplement only hints at, leaving it up to the GM to develop further. A few of the ten campaign ideas here immediately spark the imagination, such as the ramshackle navy or the covert war played out to determine the region's future. Any one of them could be the basis of a fuller campaign, and hopefully, Avenger Enterprises will provide one that explores these ideas.

The first of the worlds of the Bowman Arm to be fully developed is that of Walston. Details are given of the other planets in the system, but Walston is the focus.

Economically, Walston survives on its seabed farming and the high quality craftsman based industrial base. Some six adventure seeds are given for use on Walston, ranging from rescuing an out of control submarine to dealing with a pirate raid. Although these deeds are quite detailed, they do need a little effort from the GM to make them fully playable. Their real problem is that they are not all that interesting and any GM will find it a challenge to do much with Walston.

Physically, Spinward Marches Cluster Book 1: The Bowman Arm is up to the standards of Avenger Enterprises' other releases. The 28 page PDF includes the very nicely rendered map of the Gamma Quadrant of the Spinward Marches by Shane McLean that was recently introduced into Avenger Enterprises' supplements.

The PDF format allows the greater use of color, and so borders, routes, and planetary types are marked in a more obvious fashion. The map of Walston is also good, a bright wash of blues and browns. Unfortunately, it is not supported by more detailed maps.

If anything lets the supplement down -- and this has become something of a problem with the greater number of supplements being published by Avenger Enterprises -- it is the editing. One more pass would have spotted some of the small errors present. Finally, it should be pointed out that the supplement would have beenfitted from the inclusion of some Library Data, especially as some of its contents is meant to be false and will be properly corrected in later supplements.

As an introduction to a further series of supplements, Spinward Marches Cluster Book 1: The Bowman Arm does a serviceable job of laying the groundwork for what is to come. In places it is better though, particularly in some of the campaign suggestions which deserve whole supplements of their own. The description of Walston though is so-so, with little reason for the players to visit and too many adventure seeds that fail to rise above the generic. Those that have been more tailored to the world work much better, but a GM will have to work hard to make Walston an interesting place to adventure.

Matthew Pook, SF Revolution’s Games Editor surveys all before him from the comfort of his own armchair, including many planets. That is, until the Overlords want fresh cat litter.

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