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.