Originally published at: http://diehardgamefan.com/2012/03/07/tabletop-review-sword-worlds/
So, you want to play some Traveller, but you’re not too keen on the usual tropes. Not a merchant ship plying trade across the Imperium – not enough macho. Not really interested in the Imperium at all, now you mention it – a little too staid, too laid back. Not enough opportunities for plundering.
Mongoose Publishing’s Alien Module 4: Sword Worlds might be just your cup of tea, then. Based, sometimes loosely, sometimes blatantly on H. Beam Piper’s Space Viking saga, this add-on to the Traveller product list will give you all of the details you need to create characters in the tiny empire that was founded by Scandinavian colonists hundreds of years ago.
The book spends a good deal of time – a healthy eighteen pages – on character building, including modifications to the standard career paths available to any Traveller player, as well as adding several new, Sword Worlds-specific paths including the religious Aesirist Church, the Confederation Patrol – an interplanetary police force, and the elite Jager Kommand – part Marine Corps, part Byzantine Viking guard. Even going with the traditional roles, you’ll get specific instructions on how you’ll be set apart from an Imperial with the same general career.
The next section of the book involves the culture of the Sword Worlds. They are, to a modern eye, primitive – no matter how hard the author tries to make you think they aren’t, and to defend the generally misogynist character of the Svaerbonir – the Sword Worlders or “swordies” for short. They hold onto a very male dominated culture, with women in a very specific set of roles, in some ways very like the Aslan from Alien Module 1. This grates more in a branch of humanity, however, than it does in a wholly made-up race. Your mileage may vary, but be prepared for the general dichotomy between men and women to loom large in Sword Worlds games.
The most interesting part of this section is the one that deals with some particulars, entitled “10 Points of Great Interest Within the Sword Worlds” and details mercenary units, beer, clothing, sports and terrorist organizations and even a group akin in many ways to the Roma or Gypsies. These are the kinds of things that lend a real distinction and flavor to games run in the Sword Worlds.
The two dozen worlds that comprise the Sword Worlds are broken out in some little depth, with points of interest and distinctive locations on the world, ecology or historical information that would be relevant either to visitors or to the GM in finding hooks for adventure. This section constitutes twenty-six pages of fairly dense text, and yet I think it could have benefited from being longer still. Worlds are large places, and in a page a piece, it is hard to do more than hit the highlights. Some will see this as a blessing, giving the GM additional room to improvise, but I like the idea of a canon world description that goes into some depth.
The equipment section briefly details the general tech levels of the Sword Worlds in a number of areas before delving into specific gear that is relevant to the region. Again, this adds a localizing flavor to the game, when you’re not just wearing “ballistic cloth” but a Brynja – a high-tech variation on ringmail, or you’re wielding a Riddare automatic rifle. So much more interesting than an ACR, or even a generic 4mm Gauss Rifle.
This section includes vehicles that are Sword Worlds specific, but I couldn’t wait for the next section – because space ship designs really are my favorite part of Traveller. And the material presents five ships, from fighters to large-scale warships, all with a distinct flare and decidedly non-Imperial silhouette. These are complete with deck plans, as are most ships in the Mongoose Traveller library.
A section on Encounters provides specific tables for encounters on Sword World worlds, including a handful of sample patrons. The level of detail is solid on these, and they’ll help to provide the flavor of the Sword Worlds in some of the first encounters that the players will role play against. They close the section with a series of pre-built NPCs to suit many different adventure opportunities, and the stats for various native animals for the worlds in question.
The book closes with a section of classified information, with a handful of plots and potential hooks to bring more adventure to your players.
The material is solid, as we’ve seen in many of the previous Alien Modules from Mongoose. The Sword Worlds are a tantalizing place to stage a game, given the general military bent of the people, and the relatively low technology (topping out at TL 12) of the game that you’ll find there. Players who tend to play female characters, regardless of their own gender, may find the Sword Worlds inherently limiting to them, if not outright hostile, but as this is only a game, those sorts of attitudes can be softened if not entirely abandoned by a sympathetic GM.