Venture Class Frontier Courier
This article originally appeared in the November/December 2015 issue.
Venture Class Frontier Courier. David
Blalock and Arthur Pollard.
D.B. Game Design http://www.dtrpg.com/browse/pub/2418/DB-Game-Design
12pp., PDF (plus plans only at large scale in separate PDF publication)
‘Pay what you want’ (both this product and plans-only)
Reviewer’s note: This review will discuss both products mentioned above - the 12-page folio describing the ship, and the large-scale deck plans.
The Venture-class Frontier Courier is billed as a small low-cost general-purpose non-military starship. It can be classed as a “crossover utility” ship, with the J2/M2 performance of the Suleiman (Type S), and cargo capacity lower than the Beowulf-class Free Trader, but likely adequate for frontier trade. The text claims a construction cost of a little over MCr52; the spec sheet shows a total just over MCr39. The ship definitely fits into a “small ship, weak/distant government” Traveller universe, and is suited to be a player-characters’ ship. Whether it’s a good ship is left to the judgement of the players.
The folio product, on the other hand, doesn’t rate better than “better than mediocre”; while it has extensive information on the ship, it suffers from some deficiencies of organization and presentation.
Looking at presentation first, the product is very text-dense, with the typography being set in two columns, apparently in 10-point Arial or Helvetica single-spaced, with large outer margins and a very thin margin between columns. This makes it difficult to read if the zoom level is lower than about 75% on a laptop screen; on smaller tablets, the difficulty would be compounded. The spec sheet and deck plans, however, are nice and clear. There are three small views—forward, port side, and port forward three-quarter isometric—to give an idea of the shape of the ship; they do little to break up the dense “wall of grey” of the text. The spec sheet also shows a silhouette comparison of the Venture and the (now-retired) U.S. Space Shuttle.
The product would have been more readable if a serif font such as Times or Palatino had been used instead of the sans-serif font chosen; setting the line height to 11 points instead of 10 would also have made it more readable—and in a PDF product, page count really isn’t important (my conceits to the contrary as editor of Freelance Traveller notwithstanding). Slightly smaller outside margins and a larger inter-column margin would relieve some of the “grey wall of text” problem as well. More artwork—perhaps some “character-eye” views of various parts of the interior—would have been welcome.
Looking at product organization, the authors provide a few short paragraphs of prefatory material, and then launch right into discussion of design details, without giving even an overview of the ship’s layout. Two pages of this is followed by the deckplans, which are presented as a shaded plan view, showing details of the internal arrangement such as chairs, bunks, fresher fixtures, consoles, and so on, with an inset showing only the rooms, numbered or labelled, with a key to the numbered rooms. Each deck (there are two) is followed by a page with each numbered area carrying a short paragraph of description. The spec sheet follows this, and a half-page of adventure hooks rounds out the product content (the remaining four pages are the front and back covers, a page of OGL, and a half-page of “legal mumbo jumbo” and credits).
I would have preferred to see a bit more prefatory information, covering some of the in-game design history, intended mission, and perhaps a discussion of advantages and disadvantages versus the Suleiman and Beowulf. This should have been followed by the spec sheet, and the deck plans follow that. The two pages of deckplan description should have been combined with the design details, and the whole following the deckplans.
Having said all that, it’s time to look at the content itself. There are a few notes that imply cheap construction and cost-cutting applied to the crew areas, such as modular consoles that need extra maintenance to keep in good operation, a minimal crew “ready room”, and no crew galley, with at least part of the putative savings applied toward making the passenger area more comfortable and attractive (a galley with both autochef and manual cooking surfaces, a garden with a sitting area and soaking pool, and a VR simulator). In general, though, it appears that much of the cost-cutting was managed through cheap construction and designing with priority given to cost minimization over crew comfort and crew efficiency and by having some components pull “double duty”, which strikes me as possibly foolish as should those components fail, they will “take down” two systems instead of one, and might not leave the ship with adequate backup.
There is a fundamental design flaw in this ship: The main airlock’s outer door seems to be blocked by the port engineering module, leaving no way to get into or out of the ship except via the cargo holds.
Generally, though, the text does a reasonably good job of “painting a picture” of the ship, and in many ways it matches the stereotype of the frontier tramp trader, to the point where even a brand-new, shiny Venture might well present an image of cheap shabbiness and “living paycheck to paycheck”.
The three adventure hooks—and really, there should have been a few more to fill out the page—provide varied opportunities for using a Venture as the PCs’ ship. All three feel like adventure setups from the early days of Traveller, however, and a well-prepared referee can undoubtedly come up with something that would suit his/her particular party better, drawing on thirty-plus years of Traveller’s evolution without dipping into clichés.
The large-scale plans are duplicates, on 24"×31.5" sheets, of the two deckplan pages of the folio, with no description. They’re clearly meant as a companion to the folio suitable for use with 25/28mm miniatures if printed at natural size.
Overall, better than merely mediocre, as I said at the beginning, and by definition worth what you choose to pay for it. If you tend to use miniatures to illustrate tactical situations, by all means get both the descriptive folio and the large-scale plans (and print out the latter); if you don’t, get the folio only.