Sci-Friday: Traveller and why I love it so

You know what? I love the Traveller RPG. Or rather, I love the idea of it. I love parts of it more than others. And it influenced me at a young and impressionable age. My exposure to Traveller and The Third Imperium in middle school influences my thoughts on science fiction gaming to this day.

I love the impacts of Jump Drive technology. It's a little bit Age of Sail, with the disconnect between systems leading to a sort of information wave that propagates through the universe as events transpire. I'm not such a fan of the elimination of high-seas combat - you don't encounter one another in jump space, after all, so the vast Atlantic ocean becomes a tiny bubble instead. I do love that it gives you a week of time when there are no other characters to introduce, and the focus is dialed in tight on a batch of people stuck inside a ship together.

That's another great thing about Traveller - the ability to change that level of focus. "Interstellar trade? Here's a sector map, tell me where you want to go" can give way to "We're on Regina, and we'll be here for a while until we deal with these twelve problems. Then we can talk about booking passage on a ship for another system."

Oh and the places you'll go! There are so many, you'll never get to them all. The Imperium and all of the other states that border it are truly epic in scale, and you can place your game anywhere in space and by virtue of that choice tweak the results. The time scale is big, too, with a thousand year old empire - the successor to prior empires as well - as your backdrop. Yes, it's a universe defined in the '70s, but it's still very rich in its own right, albeit very pulpy.

From a game mechanics standpoint, if you're not an OSR guy you probably don't know the joy that can come from random character generation. Traveller really got that right - and the Mongoose version may be the most refined version of it yet. It's so easy to weave a story out of the background history you roll up that I've been known to do it for fun, just to pass the time. "Let's see what three terms as a merchant and two terms as a pirate gets us..." leads to a character background you'd never imagine, with failed attempts to start careers taking you in directions you never intended to go.

The ship design system, cheesy as it seems compared to, say, GURPS Vehicles, was a paragon of flexibility in those days. You could, with the right supplements, build the most intricate vessels, to suit any campaign. To this day I judge a science fiction game by the detail of the ship design system it provides.

Traveller was the game that taught me to love science fiction gaming. It's the reason I started playing Starfleet Battles and Star Frontiers and Gamma World. And every Friday going forward, I intend to talk about SFRPGs, either waxing rhapsodic over (or perhaps gently mocking) some game you've never heard of (I'm looking at you, FGU games, for both cases!), or brining some new mechanics forward for a modern system that I know and love, Fridays will, from now on, be all about the science fiction gaming.


  1. Traveller was my first SFRPG (and third RPG of any sort, after D&D/AD&D and RuneQuest). Traveller taught me just how huge an influence an FTL system is on the shape of the universe. It taught me t=sqrt(4s/a).

    It also taught me that only one world in a system matters, and that it's perfectly acceptable to die during character generation (and I then worked out for myself why that was a bad balancing mechanism - like high stat requirements for AD&D classes, it does nothing to ameliorate the power once someone's passed it).

    To be fair, I at least didn't get much of a story out of "classic" chargen; the Mongoose system certainly does it better, but the first game which really pushed my buttons for that was Cyberpunk.

    I'm all in favour of chat about SF gaming. I've always enjoyed it more than fantasy...

    1. It's funny, it was the Classic Traveller Scouts book that really grabbed my attention with the rules for rolling up a whole random system, including all the gas giants, moons and other dead forms. It was the first supplement that actually made me consider a game without a starship at the character's beck and call, as they could just hop a pinnace for the next world in-system.

    2. Yeah, once Book 6 actually arrived things changed a lot. But it wasn't available when I started.

  2. Traveller will very likely be the next SFRPG I run after Transhuman Space (which will make it the first starfaring RPG I've run in years). For all the reasons you state, it's a great game. However, my players HATE random chargen, so I'll be using GURPS.

    1. Well, you'll get no complaint from me on that one - GURPS is the One True System after all.

      The question there is do you play 3e, do you try to adapt the 3e Traveller stuff to 4e, do you cook it all up yourself in 4e, or do you play in the Interstellar Wars timeframe?


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