Reading Traveller – Science Fiction Adventure in the Far Future by Marc Miller

Across the pond the Old School Renaissance rages, people are going back to the roots and play D&D and clones the way it was when first released. But as James Edward Raggi IV discovered – Old School is not universal.

My own personal OSR would be to go back to Drakar & Demoner and Mutant, but those are BRP derivatives, and frankly speaking not much has happened on the BRP front since the 80s. I still play those games in their new incarnations sometimes. The difference is much smaller if you compare the first edition Mutant with the (recently OOPed) Mutant:Undergångens Arvtagare edition than if you compare first and fourth editions of D&D.

When I later got into English language games it was GDW rather than TSR that got my pocket money and we played Twilight 2000 and Mega Traveller, even if we never quite got the hang of the combat rules in either game.

A week ago I stumbled across a thread on the TravellerRPG forums. I sent my $15 and yesterday the reprint of the revised first edition Traveller came in the mail. Should I go retro and play a game of the same vintage as myself?

The book
The reprint puts the three original booklets into one single book, while retaining the page numbering in each. Characters and Combat, Starships and Worlds and Adventures, at 48 pages each. There is also a 10 page short story by Martin J Dougherty and a 2 page introduction to the history of classic Traveller. There are no pretty pictures in the book, just two diagrams. One showing a grid to track movement in combat and one showing how a spaceship accelerates and deaccelerates during a voyage between two planets.

There is a striking lack of examples in the text, some things I had to read several times and I’m still not sure I’ve gotten all the details in the combat rules right.

The setting
The setting is Sci-Fi, of the hard kind. Actually there is not much setting at all in the game itself, the new short story does more to present an actual setting to play in. But we do learn the following:

The society is feudal and characters can get noble titles, there are spaceships and they can jump between star systems, there is a society for travelers TAS, there are psionics and an underground movement that teaches them and swords are still considered relevant in combat, alongside with laser rifles.

The rules
The rules are simple, the basic resolution mechanic is roll 2d6 + modifiers and get 8+ for success. Character generation with a life path mechanic, and PCs can really die during char gen, just like the rumor says.

There are elaborate subsystems for world generation, starship design, vector based starship combat using minis, and interplanetary trade.

The form

There are three basic ways to play Traveller: solitaire, scenario and campaign. Any of these may be played unsupervised (that is, without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation).

The excerpt above is taken from the introduction in the first book. Unsupervised play sounds a lot like story gaming to me, play together and invent stuff as you go. But the traditional GM(referee)+players approach is implied in most other sections of the game and we never learn more about the unsupervised play style. There are tables for randomly generating encounters for those that want to play unsupervised though.

The game does not really give any firm indications on how it should be played, I think that if the reader is unfamiliar with role playing it would not make much sense at all. There are rules and tables but no real context in which to apply them.

A veteran role player finds a rule set for playing the crew on a small starship on trading/scouting/combat adventures in space.

The setting is weak, almost nonexistent. The official setting that followed in the expansions and later editions can only be seen in very faint contours. If you want to build your own setting (alone or with your players) the rules are very accommodating, especially if you want a hard sci fi setting in the 60s or 70s style.

The rules are ok, simple in places and quite complex in others. The starship combat actually uses vector based movement! Easy to tweak, combat is very lethal as written, I think.

The form is weak, not much information is given on how to play the game, other than a vague feeling that you should have starships and some kind of adventures around them.

Will I play it?
When I started reading I was quite enthusiastic about the prospect of coming back to Traveller again. Now that I have read the book properly I am not so sure. I will never bother with the starship combat system. But the basic mechanic looks fine for a rules light game. Even the ordinary combat rules look fine, but they would be greatly helped by character sheets that present information in a clearer way.

My current situation is that I have one game with ok rules but no setting to speak of (Traveller) and one game with a-bit-too-heavy-for-my-tastes rules but awesome setting (Dark Heresy, the Warhammer 40K RPG). Perhaps I should do some conversion work and port the life paths from the latter into the former? – Forum post with ordering information, and a good cause to go with it.


1 Comment

  1. January 3, 2011 at 20:52

    […] travel; the stuff our SciFi dreams are made of. A while back I took a look at the old Traveller game, and found it nice. Diaspora leans heavily on that tradition, but offers a more modern rules […]

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