Campaign Notes: Updating Traveller for GURPS 4E

As far as settings for science fiction role-playing, there are few with as long and interesting a pedigree as the Third Imperium (3I)- the default setting for modern Traveller. I demur here, referring to modern Traveller, as many who were there in the beginning will tell you that Traveller no more had a default setting in the old days than D&D did back in '79 when I first got into gaming. But soon enough the 3I setting became a sort of de facto standard, and a metric ton of supplements were designed for and around it.

When that setting came to GURPS, I was taking a long hiatus from gaming. Had I known it was happening, it might have been enough to pull me immediately back into the hobby, but it never came up on my radar, and so I missed out on the heyday of GURPS:Traveller.

Stepping back in now, with GURPS 4E, I find that there's a dearth of information for playing in the 3I universe using those rules. The Interstellar Wars (IW) sourcebook is sound, and does attempt to bring some of the details around to use the new system, but as it is associated with the First Imperium and it's demise, there's a pretty significant gap, not just in time but in technology presented. So while it's useful, for a fan of 3I such as myself, there's a bit of work to be done to get back up to speed.

The first thing that strikes me is the nonchalant, almost cavalier way that the IW sourcebook eschews the inclusion of weapons specific to the setting, suggesting that the weapons listed in the Basic Set are sufficient to play the game. That might be fine from a mechanical perspective, but part of the allure of Traveller for many was the nature of the weapons that were included in those rules, most of which have been preserved through the many editions.

Yes, you can give someone who wants a discreet slug-thrower a pistol modeled on the .380 Holdout, based on the fact that it's easy to conceal and has a low magazine capacity, but unless you're an old-timer like me, you'd never know that it should actually be a much smaller round (closer to .22), and it ought to be made from non-metallic parts, to allow it to be smuggled by a spy or an assassin. And, perhaps more to the point, you'd never know that it was known as a Body Pistol. That bit of lore would be absent from your 3I game.

Now sure, GURPS will give you even more options for weapons than just Auto Pistol, Rifle, Shotgun and SMG, which can't help but be a good thing, but where weapons that were known at the time that Traveller was written got short shrift in the naming department, fantastic weapons got evocative names that left you with a certain image in your mind. Everyone who ever laid hands on the Army and Marines specific rules in Mercenary (Book 4 in the Little Black Books line of Classic Traveller) will remember, you have a mental image of just what a "Fusion Gun, Man-Portable" looks like. 

The FGMP-15 was the be-all and end-all of munchkinry in weapon lust back then, and it should still evoke a visceral response today, if we're allowed to consider the possibility rather than missing it entirely by only using the Basic Set. But even if you bring in Ultra-Tech, you're stuck with the rather prosaic Heavy Plasma Gun and Plasma Battle Rifle. Gone are the military nomenclature, and also gone are the special rules for different tech level versions of the weapons - the PGMP-12 was barely man-portable, while the PGMP-13 and -14, and the FGMP-14 were man portable, but required Battle Dress armor to use, as the weapon lacked a proper stock, replacing it instead with an interface that fit into the shoulder of the high-tech armor. Only when you got to the FGMP-15 did you go back to a weapon that anyone could use, armor or no.

And god help me, I just quoted those figures on the PGMP and FGMP series of weapons from memory. I can't remember a list of more than three items for a trip to the store, but weapon stats I first read when I was 12, for weapons that don't even exist? Got 'em locked away for good...

Maybe this is no more than the fevered ramblings of a middle-aged man, lamenting change in something from his youth, but it definitely makes me want to put together some design notes for a better Traveller Third Imperium sourcebook for GURPS 4E - something with the soul and flavor of the game that I recall from my youth, perhaps perked up a bit in areas where it was found lacking.

Comments

  1. Yes x 1000.

    I bought GURPS Traveller because I couldn't come up with a decent setting for GURPS Space. I bought Classic Traveller because GURPS Traveller ground away so many crucial nuances. I ended up walking away in frustration (you only needed a half dozen books to run 3e GT, after all), and later plundering the big mess for bits to use in a GURPS Prime Directive campaign.

    There is some unfinished business between me and GURPS Traveller, I must say....

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    1. It doesn't help, really, that the flagship game is being made into a generic sci-fi game by Mongoose. Some of the flavor is still there in the Third Imperium supplements, but the rules themselves have been made a little too broad to suit.

      That said, I think that books like the old Library Data from CT, plus much of the new Third Imperium books, can be stitched together with GURPS rules to give a somewhat firm foundation upon which to build.

      I think one of the things I'm most torn by is whether or not to try to salvage the gloriously intricate ship building rules from GURPS: Traveller, glom onto the streamlined rules from G:T(IW), or just use the Spaceships series of PDFs with RPK's published tweaks for Traveller.

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    2. (Followed you over here from Jeffr0's.)

      A flaw in GT:IW is that it was a relatively early book, being written at least before Ultra-Tech had come out, and therefore didn't have that installed rule base to build on.

      I would certainly be inclined to use the Spaceships rules simply because of the extreme ease with which one can work up craft (and if the cost doesn't matter, that's half the remaining work cut away) - though I think PK's tweaks may pre-date the general-purpose rules for smaller and larger systems that came out in Spaceships 7 and 8, and I'd use those by preference.

      I'm still a great fan of Far Trader, which needs practically no conversion to be used in 4e.

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    3. You know, I never thought to look at the publishing information on GT:IW - I had assumed that it was much more recent than Ultra-Tech - a book that is roundly criticized for being rushed out before it was ready, simply because it was needed, and suffering for it (though not as maligned as Magic is, for similar reasons).

      I think the thing I liked best about PK's ideas was the Jump Drive always only taking one slot (though even that is excessive given that a Jump 1 drive was, if I recall correctly, as little as 2% of a ship's tonnage), and then allotting fuel units to provide the necessary jump fuel. And the use of missiles as sandcasters, with a minor adjustment in ammunition values.

      I have Far Trader, but, to my shame, I've not yet read it. Perhaps that is what I'll entertain myself with this evening while the missus watches television.

      Oh, and welcome! Glad to have some company over here - you participating in the orgy of GURPSy goodness going on over in the Google+ community as well?

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    4. No, I don't do social networking. My own GURPS (and other) stuff goes up at http://tekeli.li/ .

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  2. +jason packer. The far trader book was by far my favorite of the 3E Traveller line. I love tables and it was full of em.

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    1. I loved it, but I'm an economist by training. My podcast co-host found it completely alien to him. (This gets mentioned in episode 11, which we recorded last weekend and will be releasing on 1 November...)

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