Tuesday, January 27, 2009

No Game for Young Men

If you're an old Traveller hand, the fellow above needs no introduction; you know exactly who he is. Heck, you might even be able to rattle off his UPP -- 779C99 --and tell me how many tours he did with the merchant service before being forced out.

Drawn by the incomparable David R. Dietrick, this illustration of Captain Alexander Lascelles Jamison is for me one of the iconic images of Traveller. Gamers not familiar with this classic SF RPG might not understand the power this image holds. After all, Captain Jamison is just some jowly, middle aged guy who's grown his hair a bit too long to compensate for his rapidly receding hairline. What's so special about that?

It's hard to explain, but part of the appeal of Traveller for me is that it's always been a game about "real life." Yes, yes, I know that's absurd, but that's how it looked to me as a kid. I mean, how many games assume your character has a mortgage, let alone a mortgage on his starship? Traveller characters go on adventures not gain XP -- they don't improve through play -- but to make enough money to meet their next mortgage payment. Combine that with the fact that most Traveller PCs were in the 40s or 50s, collected a pension, and had already had a career before they took to traveling Charted Space and it's a recipe for a game unlike any other I'd ever played.

It certainly was utterly unlike what I expected from science fiction, this being the era of Star Wars and its many imitators. Playing an old ex-military guy who undertook missions to make ends meet probably isn't anyone's vision of what a SF RPG should be about -- unless they've played Traveller for years. Now, it's hard to shake that vision out of my head. It's become my default assumption of what an old school SF RPG campaign should be like. Anything more "glamorous" somehow doesn't seem right, as if it's somehow a violation of some deep principles. It's not, of course, but such is the power of Traveller for me, a game that had the benefit of not only being the first significant SF RPG (spare me the corrections; I'm aware of the other contenders) but also one with a unique vision that defied expectations.

That, right there, is why Traveller endures, despite a mountain of bad design decisions by its creators over the years: it's a SF RPG that defies expectations. It's a relic from an age when books were the main engine of speculative fiction and before the success of Star Wars had fully taken hold. Like OD&D, it's a game that, to many people, probably seems very odd, because it's not at all in line with popular conceptions of what a game of its genre ought to be. I think that's all to the good, especially as I find myself and my gaming group looking more like Alexander Jamison every day.

62 comments:

  1. Bravo! I want to go play some Traveller now.

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  2. Does anyone else think that Jamison is a spiritual twin with Nicholas Van Rijn?

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  3. I thought the original Traveller books didn't have any pictures?

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  4. The original Traveller LBBs did not have any illustrations. This piece originally appeared in, I think, The Traveller Book, which is a compilation of the LBBs under a single hardcover, with some additional supplementary info. It appeared in 1982,

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  5. You make me wish (again) that I had had a chance to play the game. Bought the boxed LBBs and a Double Adventure BITD, and absolutely loved the feel of the game for much the same reasons you put forth, but never found any takers. Ah well.

    ...Star Wars is science fiction?

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  6. I wonder if this is the reason that the player character in the Elite computer game series was called "Captain Jameson"?

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  7. Different age, different society. The people who were writing these books believed that they were ordinary and content, wanting to dream and dare to be extraordinary in their achievements. It's also reflective that the astronauts and explorers were usually older adults who had experience to give them that chance.

    Compare to today's ideal which says everyone is a "hero" and that you are entitled to extraordinary things because it will make you happy. It's no wonder games reflect those beliefs.

    I prefer the former, because as I grow older, I realize that my heroes were ordinary people who did fantastic things... and that our myths, fiction and legends really do come down to that as well.

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  8. James Maliszewski said...

    I'd be curious to see how much of an orouboros effect in later sf can be attributed to Traveller - I think not much, but Firefly seems to show clear influence.

    Traveller has exerted almost zero influence over modern sci-fi. Lots of people claim to see its influence in various places, but I just don't see it.

    James Maliszewski said...

    Playing an old ex-military guy who undertook missions to make ends meet probably isn't anyone's vision of what a SF RPG should be about -- unless they've played Traveller for years.

    pantheogen says...

    Or unless they've watched Firefly.

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  9. "Compare to today's ideal which says everyone is a "hero" and that you are entitled to extraordinary things because it will make you happy. It's no wonder games reflect those beliefs."

    That's today's ideal?
    Bitter much?

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  10. Or unless they've watched Firefly.

    The characters on Firefly are in their 40s and 50s, have a mortgage, and collect pensions from the Service?

    I had no idea.

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  11. I wonder if this is the reason that the player character in the Elite computer game series was called "Captain Jameson"?

    Given the nature of the game, I'd be frankly amazed if it weren't.

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  12. So I know we're not drawing comparisons between those two giants of 1977 SF imagining, but... can't we talk about Han Solo as the Traveller archetype? Admittedly, he's probably 40 rather than 50 and I suspect he was drummed out of the scout service, which is why he has to rely on a crime lord to front his ship loan, but that's an interrupted career, which seems like the very essence of Traveller chargen hardcore. He's even deliberately contrasted with the brash young idealist who, BTW, in the first film seems like a quixotic disciple of a relic from the lost past. What's not to love?

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  13. @Blotz - bitter? No. Reflective of how generational ideals and goals have changed? Yes. One has to just look around at the mass media, the popular culture, even the education system in how nobody is allowed to fail to see that.

    James, sorry if I've started a political discussion out of a reflection of Traveller. I think our games and what we enjoy out of games has a direct correlation to what we see in society and our myths.

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  14. Star Wars actually has a lot of visionary lessons to be learned. Most saw the flashy special effects and the long tickets lines. One thing that many people forget is that Lucas made Star Wars look used, lived-in and dirty — things that on film sci-fi had never tried to be before. When I picked up the LBBs back in the late 70's, it was this aspect of Lucas' vision that I saw all over the pages of Traveller. In many ways, it's this lived-in feel to the game that keeps me coming back.

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  15. Twelve men have walked on the moon. Here are their ages when they did so:

    Neil Armstrong: 38 (just shy of 39)
    Buzz Aldrin: 39
    Pete Conrad: 39
    Alan Bean: 37
    Alan Shepard: 47
    Edgar Mitchell: 40
    David Scott: 39
    James Irwin: 41
    John W. Young: 41
    Charles Duke: 36
    Eugene Cernan: 38
    Harrison Schmitt: 37

    Admittedly, these men are on the youngish side for Traveller characters, but please note that there is NOT ONE "young hotshot" amongst them. The youngest was 36.

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  16. Jim and James: A later printing of the LBB did indeed contain a handful of illustrations including one of Jamison. It also included the TAS Form version of several sheets (originally from JoTAS), most notably the character sheet and subsector map.

    My first set of LBB was in 7th grade (so 79-80) and my second set was either 8th or 9th so mid-1982 at the latest.

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  17. addendum to my previous comment: I'm talking here about Han as he appears in the first trilogy - given the insane spread of the franchise over the past 30 years and the Greek-tragedy-meets-Mahabharata direction it took, I have no doubt that there's now several thousand pages of canon text about him, that shows he was considered for Jedi training, that he's secretly related to all the other main characters and that he and Chewie are somehow supposed to be Gilgamesh and Enkidu reimagined. But before that, when he was just this guy with a ship in the Mos Eisley Cantina, who was later promoted to a general in the Rebel Alliance (military background?), doesn't he breathe Traveller?

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  18. James, sorry if I've started a political discussion out of a reflection of Traveller. I think our games and what we enjoy out of games has a direct correlation to what we see in society and our myths.

    No need to apologize, because it's actually relevant. In fact, I'd say that one of the blog's many sub-texts is that the changes that have occurred in RPGs mirror changes that have occurred in society at large -- often unhappily so.

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  19. In many ways, it's this lived-in feel to the game that keeps me coming back.

    Don't misunderstand me: I love Star Wars, despite it all (much like Traveller), and am more than willing to concede its many virtues and salutary effects on both film making and "sci-fi" movies generally. But it's exercised a baleful influence over both as well and that influence has made it harder for older styles of science fiction to get the airing I think they deserve.

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  20. But before that, when he was just this guy with a ship in the Mos Eisley Cantina, who was later promoted to a general in the Rebel Alliance (military background?), doesn't he breathe Traveller?

    I think Han Solo could well have been a Traveller character, although Star Wars itself isn't a very Traveller movie, if that makes sense.

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  21. @Chgowiz, I should apologize, I was being impetuously snarky.

    I don't like generational stereotyping and react poorly when my spidey sense goes off.

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  22. @Blotz - Thank you, but you've the right to call me on it when I make a strong statment. It is a strong statement to make and can certainly become quite a topic on its own. In raising children (and now raising my granddaughter), dealing with the educational system, observing the standards and popular media that our children are exposed to, it's something I feel strongly about - and in a negative sense.

    Games and fiction, including movies, reflect what we see as a society. It's fascinating that we can look at D&D and other RPGs and trace certain societal evolutions and beliefs in how the games are played.

    Personally, I find the latest editions of RPGs to be very much in line with how today's pop culture and fiction/comic books reflect our beliefs and viewpoints. I think it reflects certain attitudes that are less about ordinary and more about people are heroes to begin with. I don't agree with that viewpoint. I don't want to fill Jame's blog with my rantings on the subject, so I'm going to post on my own and go from there.

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  23. I dunno how old Mal Reynolds is. Mid-30s, anyway. I don't know if he financed the ship or if he owns it free and clear. But he's ex-military, doing cargo runs to make ends meet.

    Firefly is very, very Traveller in its basic setup...but then Traveller is Small Merchants In a lawless frontier. This, is, of course, the great thing about Traveller: your characters are not big shots; they're slightly-richer-than-ordinary Joes. They're basically semi-truck owner-operators. In spaaaaace.

    Post-Firefly audiences will find Traveller a more familiar model than pre-Firefly, is what I and Pantheogen are saying.

    Adam

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  24. I'm just burning with the urge to make this aside, so I apollogize in advance if it seems like too big a tangent.

    In regard to cultural markers for who's a hero or not; I've noticed that most of the big ticket action movie actors, while having varying degree of reality in the movies they star in, are all older upper 30s and up. Whether this is just the way the movie business works or if it's some unknown urge to see a more mature and believeable character on the screen, makes me wonder.

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  25. I have used Firefly frequently as a way to get people interested in Traveller. It works, though it isn't the only way to imagine Traveller.

    There's another issue here, though, which relates back to an earlier post by James about Traveller - I'm definitely a 3LBB guy - in D&D terms, "original boxed set" - rather than the full-blown Third Imperium later Traveller guy. Seems to me that the original Traveller rules provided a marvelous framework for creation of your own universe, in much the same sense at Original D&D. The fact that there were starting assumptions was to be expected (and you can change them if you want - it is, after all and always your own game).

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  26. I hope this doesn't sound too stupid (I guess I started my own blog to write about my less than laudable gaming history), but my favorite character I ever had in Traveller was based entirely on my favorite TV show character of the time, James Rockford. If you know the show The Rockford Files, then you know Jim was an ex-military man (Korea) in his late 40's, who late in life decided on a career in investigation. In every episode he was barely able to break even and pay the mortgage. In this I just transplanted him to space. In retrospect, I guess I thought this broke middle age hard luck dude was perfect for Traveller.

    The GM liked the idea too, and even came up with a flow chart based on the type of things that would happen to Jim on the show - get threatened by mobsters, get in a car accident, get sued, get knocked out and framed for murder...

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  27. Don't forget the grognard side of Traveller. The brilliant use of games within games.

    The ability to create the final frontier with a few system rolls the ability to create the Starship of your dreams, or the wierd alien animals that populate the planets.

    It does this without requiring the use of a computer (although calculators helped for some of it).

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  28. Yes, Traveller is great in that people play veterans from otherwise normal careers...which James is the point of the pensions that you should explain...it is an old style military pension or guaranteed income for those who were in service rather the "Freedom 65" or Government Savings Plans.

    However, I have found it somewhat limiting that PCs are drawn from the old which is always daunting when you bring in younger players these days. So I tend to cut off careers in their 30s and then pull in popular images of people who have made "it" in their 30s...now as come up to my 40th year maybe I will be pushing the characters ever further.

    However, a game of Traveller should never resemble a game of Space Cowboys or the Search for Spok. Therefore, to balance things out, it is not so much as Firefly that I would recommend but Classic Trek or indeed novels.

    But RPGs have always to a certain degree been against the "Cult of Youth" even if it expected everyone to have stepped out the pages of GQ or Maxim magazine.

    Traveller game, eh Geofrey, where are you based. I need players for a game in Toronto...

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  29. most of the big ticket action movie actors... are all older upper 30s and up.
    I think that's largely a question of career/reputation building (you have the qualifier right there in "big ticket:" when Matt Damon started doing action films he was young, but not so established). It's also heavily gendered: actresses tend to run younger and get pigeonholed in 'special interest' movies earlier.

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  30. They're basically semi-truck owner-operators.
    ...or mid-20th century tramp steamer operators, which involves pretty much exactly the same crew size (2-6) and long periods of comparative isolation. It's just that most of us don't have much contact with tramp steamers these days. The space = sea trope is a cliche these days, but I still think a better understanding of seafaring has a lot to offer space gamers.

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  31. The characters in Firefly are Traveller-like in some ways, but very un-Traveller like in others, not least in that they're against the big 'galactic empire', not former officers of it with life pensions.

    Also Firefly really isn't interested in the technical details of spaceships.

    I suspect a lot of it is a common influence from Westerns, rather than Traveller directly influencing Firefly.

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  32. Sorry Jamie Mal, but in your continued research for purity, that borders the puritanic, you have omitted the complex relationship Star Wars and Traveller have.
    Traveller was MAJORLY influenced by Star Wars.

    And holy smokes, "bad design decisions"? You call bad what you don´t understand, just like any random (O)D&D detractor. You preach water and drink kool-aid, shame on you!

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  33. Sorry Jamie Mal

    Unless you're Jeff Rients, you haven't earned the right to call me that.

    you have omitted the complex relationship Star Wars and Traveller have.
    Traveller was MAJORLY influenced by Star Wars.


    So, if you and I were to speak to Marc Miller and ask him to name the biggest influences on Traveller, he'd say "Gene" Lucas (as he calls him in Supplement 4)? That's news to me, because the last time I asked him this question his answer included Piper, Anderson, Chandler, Tubb, and other authors but no Lucas. That's probably because Star Wars has had even less impact on the underlying ethos of Traveller than Tolkien had on D&D.

    And holy smokes, "bad design decisions"? You call bad what you don´t understand, just like any random (O)D&D detractor.

    Do you even know what I was referring to in this case? If you don't, you can't rationally impute to me a lack of understanding.

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  34. >Traveller was MAJORLY influenced by Star Wars<

    Oh yeah, and only the presence of Muppets and terrible character names could have made Traveller better.

    Star Wars was based on/ripped-off so many previous properties - Samurai movies, The Dune books, westerns, etc. But Star Wars influenced nothing much more than a few terrible terrible 80's sci fi movies. When I was a kid and looked through those original Traveller books, I saw nothing of Star Wars going on in there. Nothing.

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  35. Star Wars had an impact upon the evolution of Traveller, as it moved away from those LBBs. Star Wars began to figure more and more into the imagery and imaginary of Traveller. Even if there was a determined effort to write against the grain, SW, was there as a reminder of what SF film audiences craved until Firefly came around.

    For what Firefly did was present a future where there were no furry creatures from Alpha Centurai but real human drama in a distant future. It did not fall back upon SF cliches but created a new look (along the way appropriating some from anime, Westerns and possibly RPGs). It also was not clearly Star Wars or Star Trek-like therefore spawned the imaginations of those who watched it.

    It also gave us interesting characters rarely shown in visual SF including a prostitute, an anti-hero Captain, selfish Merc/Rogue, Young Innocents (who do not immediately fall in love) and a dirty grimy future where one has to work for a living and sometimes that work is dirty. These are tropes familiar in RPGs especially Traveller hence why the Traveller community latched onto the series like no other. Plus, the characters had shotguns not yet another cliched energy weapon.

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  36. @Lucy and other Firefliers:

    I respectfully submit that Babylon5 came a lot earlier than FF, and had just as gritty of a Persona Dramatae and story-line. Certainly many of the concepts in B5 can be found in Traveller tropes, and I have a hard time accepting that FF is the only "gritty" or Traveller-like SciFi 'human drama' to happen since Star Wars.

    I would have to say that having watched B5 and FF as well as Farscape, I trace lineage from the latter two to the former, a lot more so than directly to Star Wars and Traveller.

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  37. Praytell, which "bad" design decisions were made?

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  38. Oh definitely I remember being 16 and seeing this picture in The Traveller Book. I thought it was cool, but I also knew I couldn't quite empathize with middle-age ex-military dudes. I took it to school to show some friends, who seemed to be of the mind that Battletech was the last word in sci-fi gaming.

    A couple decades later, maybe me and my friends are starting to look like Jamison, but identifying with ex-military types is still a bit of a stretch. We're a bunch of civvie creampuffs, I think our Traveller adventurers might resemble "Wild Hogs", not "Firefly".

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  39. I don't know how it figured into Marc Miller's mind, but in many ways, Vance's Gaean Reach (especially as depicted in The Demon Princes) is the ideal blueprint for a Traveller campaign:
    - completely humanocentric (there were no alien races in the three LBBs, and very little psionics)
    - 20th century technology meets a few space-age devices -- Traveller curiously neglects the gadgets so beloved by almost all SF RPGs
    - the assumed generic civilisation is neither utopian nor anti-utopian; if anything, it is complacent and a bit old-fashioned in a '1930s-1940s America' way
    - there is also the Beyond, lawless space where anything goes, although it is still not quite as violent as most contemporary SF

    I could also recommend Ports of Call and Lurulu, which are almost exactly Traveller - regular folks in a spaceship doing complex triangular trade, flitting among more or less exotic worlds and meeting people. Curiously, the books have no overarching plot at all, unless you count the journey itself as one... an impressive similarity when you consider that Vance hasn't been reading science fiction since around the 50s.

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  40. Melan: In T5 it´s explicitly stated as an influence.

    But in regards of influences, it does work a whole lot differently for Trav, than it does for Gygaxian D&D. Or at least as James M. & other Sword & Sorcery puritans discuss it.

    Trav was, among other things, always envisioned and perceived as a toolbox to emulate the SciFi YOU want. And Star Wars was a canonical option, MANY players did this at the time. Just visit Loren K. Wisemans page...or actually check out what people did at the time, and what they still do.

    The complexity of Traveller is lost to our host, I fear.

    Coming back to the Demon Princes, that´s more concerned not with Trav as a generic game, but rather parts of the Third Imperium setting, the Spinward Marches especially.

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  41. Settembrini -- oh, sure! The three books on their own do imply a setting similar to the Gaean Reach, though; or, viewed through another lens, something similar to Asimov's Foundation trilogy. Star Wars needs a few additional steps away from the core game, and in many ways the system and the tone of the game work against SW-style heroics (Han Solo might have been a smuggler, but he didn't do a whole lot of trading on screen). This did not stop many people, but I suspect the results must have been a lot like trying to fit Tolkien's square peg into D&D's round hole.

    I can't comment on further similarities between the developed Third Imperium and the Gaian Reach, since I can only rely on the early materials and GURPS: Traveller. Based on the latter, I am seeing a lower level of similarity than in the LBBs, but then like a lot of things, Traveller built up its own canon and started to rely less on external sources as time went by. That's a somewhat dubios process, but it is how game publishing operates...

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  42. LUCAS appears to me to have ripped off the ideas/ feel (rescue the princess) of Edgar Rice Burroughs - turn to the Glossary of Thuvia Maid of Mars (c) 1916 and you will the words . . .
    jed, banth, sith

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  43. Years ago my friend used to say that if he could re-edit Star Wars he'd make it about Han Solo and the Empire, because those were the most interesting bits. I lost contact with him, so I don't know if he got into 'Firefly'.

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  44. The complexity of Traveller is lost to our host, I fear.
    I really don't think so. AIUI, James is talking principally about the setting implicit in the LBBs (which have very little in the way of explicit setting, but plenty of cultural assumptions built into their rules and writing: cf GURPS core rules). You seem to be talking about the use of appropriation of Traveller in players' campaigns, which is varied and, I'd argue, hard to characterize.

    LUCAS appears to me to have ripped off the ideas/ feel of Edgar Rice Burroughs
    Isn't that called "hommage," or "writing in a genre"? He also rips off any SF that involves spaceships and hyperspace, cowboy and pirate movies, GM's 1964 World's Fair exhibit...

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  45. dammit, should read: use of, or appropriation of

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  46. Praytell, which "bad" design decisions were made?

    Nearly every decision made regarding the presentation of the Imperium has been a mistake or has contributed to subsequent mistakes. Instead of using it as one example among many of how to take the underlying assumptions of Traveller and create a setting, it very quickly became not merely the only example but a normative one.

    If you look at how references to the Imperium change from the early books, where it's just a throw-away example, to later ones, where Traveller becomes a game about the Imperium rather than a broader "science fiction adventure in the far future," there's no denying it was a mistake, so much so that GDW had to destroy the Imperium not once but twice in a vain effort to save the game line.

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  47. But in regards of influences, it does work a whole lot differently for Trav, than it does for Gygaxian D&D. Or at least as James M. & other Sword & Sorcery puritans discuss it.

    You seem to be laboring under the impression that, in the case of both OD&D and Traveller, that I'm denying any influences beyond the core; I'm not. What I am suggesting is that the original designs of both games were heavily influenced by a particular set of authors and that, to understand the underlying ethos of these games, it's a good idea to look to their literary origins. I can't see how that's controversial unless you don't think their origins matter.

    Trav was, among other things, always envisioned and perceived as a toolbox to emulate the SciFi YOU want.

    Correct, which is why I would argue that the inclusion and development of the Imperium in the supplements and adventures was a huge design mistake that eventually crippled Traveller, much in the same way that D&D has become crippled through the accumulation of details that militate against its toolbox origins.

    And Star Wars was a canonical option, MANY players did this at the time. Just visit Loren K. Wisemans page...or actually check out what people did at the time, and what they still do.

    Certainly Star Wars is an option, but it's an option that runs counter to most of the underlying assumptions of Traveller, which has a lot more in common with literary SF of the 50s and 60s than it does with Lucas's vision, which is much more fantastical in nature.

    I know that Loren says he always associates Star Wars with Traveller in his mind, but that's because the movie was released just two months before the game was released. There's a temporal connection between the two, but how much of the design of the LBBs shows any Star Wars influence? How many of Traveller's underlying assumptions jibes with those of Star Wars?

    The complexity of Traveller is lost to our host, I fear.

    Simply because you imagine Traveller as being more like Star Wars than I do is not cause to argue I don't see the connections they have. But those connections are, in my opinion, almost exactly like those between Tolkien and OD&D -- superficial and intended to capitalize on a fad rather than anything deeper. Given that the bulk of Traveller's design occurred before Star Wars was released, I simply don't see how it's possible that the movie could have had such a profound impact on the LBBs as you seem to imply.

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  48. This did not stop many people, but I suspect the results must have been a lot like trying to fit Tolkien's square peg into D&D's round hole.

    Very much so. Some people see Tolkien everywhere in D&D and it's true that he's become a huge influence on the subsequent development of the game, but on OD&D? I simply don't see it beyond the superficial.

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  49. AIUI, James is talking principally about the setting implicit in the LBBs (which have very little in the way of explicit setting, but plenty of cultural assumptions built into their rules and writing: cf GURPS core rules).

    Correct. The LBBs are primarily what I mean when I talk about Traveller, just as I mean OD&D when I talk about "D&D."

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  50. You really don´t get it...
    It´s a COMPLEX relationship.

    Start to think this way: Your view of what Star Wars is, isn´t neccessarily what the GDW guys thought & think.

    As an aside, I really don´t like Star Wars. But it´s influence is there, just a sort of influence you seem not be able to fancy.

    Another try:
    Sky Raiders
    Lensmen

    Space Westerns/Operas have been a staple of Traveller since before it´s inception.

    As for the "bad design" decisions, well you are contradicting yourself here.

    Traveller is several things, and the area for old farty/wargamy/gentlemenly style of playing IS the third Imperium in it´s full detailed and modelled glory. There is no bad design decisions regarding that, if you REALLY want to play in a complex interstellar society. The only objectively bad decision was the choice of business partner for T4.

    Now, if you keep talking Firefly & Freedom & Space Tramps: That´s fucking subcomplex/emo/movie Star Wars/Indiana Jones/Flandry-stuff.

    That´s why I´m calling shennanigans to your whole take on Trav. You only scratch the surface, but pontificate about it.

    And the notion that rules should support the action of movies on a director´s level is...let´s just say a thing of the nineties.

    Oh, and it´s gone from mainstream too: just look at crunch-slo-mo-WotC Star Wars.

    No my friend, what you are lacking is a basic understanding of differentiated angles of reception % reconfiguration. I don´t care if you apply this to D&D, but leave Traveller out of your Edwardian fingers.

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  51. I don´t care if you apply this to D&D, but leave Traveller out of your Edwardian fingers.

    Then, please, move on and ignore me and this blog, since I obviously lack the deep understanding you possess. I don't want to upset your delicate sensibilities any more than I already have.

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  52. I'm sorry, but I think the point of this post is getting lost in the wrangling over the finer points of its inspirations.

    What makes Traveller so distinctive as a game is that the rules generate a very different type of character than games today. As a result these characters also challenge today's views on how RPGs define heroes and adventure.

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  53. What I like about the "older guys" approach of Traveller is that it delivers what you would expect out of a group of "adventurers" in a realistic setting: guys who are old enough to have some experience but still physically capable, maybe with enough money or pension income to have some freedom of movement, with military and technical skills.

    That's what one would realistically expect a group of adventurers to be like. Farm boys and college students are generally too inexperienced, poor and/or tied down to manage adventuring, if by adventuring we're talking about smuggling, mercing and intrigue.

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  54. "No my friend, what you are lacking is a basic understanding of differentiated angles of reception % reconfiguration. I don´t care if you apply this to D&D, but leave Traveller out of your Edwardian fingers."

    It doesn't seem to me that you've engaged James' original points at all. Since it is pretty clear that you aren't "getting" one another, why not take James' advice and drop it?

    Past that, your invocation of reception and reconfiguration, while seemingly post-modernist, are unclear as to what you intend for others to take away from your criticism. I mean, if you want to bring up Foucault, Baudrillard, Lyotard (and anyone else), please do so. We might have a more clear discussion that way.

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  55. If "Star Wars" premiered before Traveller (a chronology I don't recall), then it was by but a matter of months. I was for that reason not surprised to find NOTHING particularly suggestive of the movie in the game!

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  56. I would agree that B5 & Farscape all have "Traveller" feelings and may have the grit necessary but this was more due a maturing of the TV genre. However, they fell back in to many times a sort of cliched, ok, let's pull an alien out of the magician's hat. Firefly differed because it once again told the story of SF without resorting to all the tropes that had become so much a staple of Science Fiction since...Classic Trek or earlier.

    Traveller players who live in a human centred universe immediately found kinship with their game. True, they should have been looking at Campbell's SF but this was a generation rared on TV...and other than a few examples it was hard to find SF that did not aliens. But still stayed close to the human condition.

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  57. In Chaosium's Ringworld game, one could theoretically start with a character as much as 459 years old ... but GMs were urged to use an average of mid-40s for experienced players, mid-20s to early 30s for beginners (as older characters had many options in generation).

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  58. Vraymond said, "I mean, if you want to bring up Foucault, Baudrillard, Lyotard (and anyone else), please do so. We might have a more clear discussion that way."

    Thank you, Vraymond. Sincerely, Thank you.

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  59. Quite a discussion. ~_^

    I love that most Traveller PCs are accomplished characters retired from their first careers.

    I also love that we often had at least one young guy who washed out career-wise and took up a life of adventure early. Sure, he didn’t have a lot of skills, but that didn’t really matter. We took even a single level in a skill as meaning a considerable amount of expertise. Having skills was good, but you could still do an awful lot without them.

    What I have to say about Star Wars and Traveller is only this...

    When I was young, I always wanted D&D to fit more of a mythic and historical mold. These days I’m more interested in pulp fantasy and trying to make my D&D more like it.

    When I was young, I didn’t want Traveller to be anything like Star Wars. After all, Star Wars is fantasy—not science-fiction.† These days, I really like the idea of bringing Star Wars a little closer to Traveller‡ and Traveller a little closer to Star Wars to find something interesting in the middle.

    It’s funny how those are in some ways opposites, but also parallels.

    †As I probably railed at too much “science-fiction” in my D&D fantasy then, but embrace it more now.

    ‡Kind of similar to the “steampunk Star Wars” idea that I also find very interesting.

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  60. I was one of those 'young men' that the game was not for.

    I think that at that time I was too awestruck by Star Wars to want anything out of the LBB but the specs on stormtrooper armor.

    I think I was probably 12-13. Military service? I couldn't relate.

    Now I can, and I love the game and have certainly managed to shake off Star Wars worship (Thanks Episode 1!). I have definately found that I prefer the 'Average Joe' game-style over the 'Heroic Joseph'.

    (BTW, if I've responded twice, I apologize.)

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  61. Sorry, but Traveller was released in '77 and was intended to allow you to play Star Trek typed adventures. Star Wars came out the same year and did not influence Traveller as was previously mentioned. As a game designer I can tell you that you don't throw a work like Traveller together in a month or so....

    Space Above & Beyond, Firefly, and both Battlestar Galactica versions (but most especially the reimagined one) capture the 'feel' of Traveller in different ways. SAAB is a Marine/Ground Pounder focused show, Firefly is a Merchant/Tramp Free Trader show, and BSG is a High Guard show. While not 'technically' based in the OTU, they capture what Traveller players love about life in the Imperium: gritty human drama in space.

    I love your site here and am adding it to my blog page.

    For those of you who love Traveller, you may enjoy my miniature conversions that I have up on my blog at http://4sparta.blogspot.com/

    I'm using them in my skirmish game as Imperial Marines with either Battledress or Combat Armor, depending on my mood. :)

    Keep up the great work on your blog, and thanks for keeping the Traveller flame alive.

    Strike from Space!

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