Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Travel(l)ing Man

I've never been able to kick Traveller to the curb, though I've tried many times. I've successfully gone for years without having anything to do with the game, but I always come back to it. Even now, after I've written my own homage to this classic of the hobby, it's hard not to feel that those three little black books -- the other LBBs -- aren't the most perfect roleplaying books ever written.

Certainly there have been many fine SF RPGs written over the years, some of them taking far "science fiction" far more seriously than did Traveller. But then Traveller was never just a science fiction game. As its subtitle proclaims, it's a game of "science-fiction adventure in the far future." I'm not quibbling when I note this, because I think it's key to understanding Traveller's lasting appeal, not just for me, but for many older gamers, who fell in love with this masterpiece of rules elegance and concision.

What Marc Miller understood, as had Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson before him, was that roleplaying games are, first and foremost, about adventures. Adventures, by their very nature, are risky and uncertain experiences and they don't necessarily have any meaning beyond what we invest in them. That's why Traveller's three little black books provide little or no context for the dozens of mechanical sub-systems they present. Each and every one of them, from trading to combat to animal encounters to world generation and, yes, even character creation is an opportunity for adventure and a call to invest them with meaning -- or not. That's part of the point really: not everything has a meaning beyond bare facts and that's especially true in the case of adventures, where what matters is not a grand narrative so much as thrilling escapism.

Taken purely as a vehicle for scientific speculation, Traveller could best be described as "quaint." Even in 1977, its science was outdated and its esthetics old-fashioned. Like OD&D, the game drew inspiration from the literature of an earlier era rather than what was current at the time. That never bothered me as a kid, child of Star Wars though I was, because, then as now, Traveller screamed "Adventure!" and the rest was mostly secondary. That's not to say that the game is incapable of supporting "deep" scientific speculation as the impetus for adventure, but the focus remains squarely on adventure. It's perhaps a simple, even banal, thing to say about Traveller and yet it contains, in my opinion, the secret of the game's lasting appeal.

Indeed, Game Designers Workshop produced a great many adventures during the run of "classic" Traveller -- 13 plus 6 double adventures and every issue of the Journal of the Travellers Aid Society included at least one adventure, plus patron encounters and other "adventurous" bits from which to build one's own adventures. The beauty of the original three little black books is that they consist almost entirely of rules and all of those rules exist to create and/or adjudicate the basic needs of any starfaring campaign. Some, like the economically dubious trade system remain, in my view, among the greatest game mechancis ever created for any RPG. They're literally adventure-generators disguised as simple algorithms. They may not make sense if taken out of their context, but why would anyone want to do that?

Sadly, Traveller very quickly came to be dominated, both at GDW and among its fanbase, by folks who wanted to do just that: make sense of it all. Thus did we get ever more elaborate and "realistic" improvements to the rules of the three LBBs. It was no longer enough to know one's Marine served five terms before mustering out; now you had to know precisely what he did during each of these 20 years in the service. It was no longer enough to know that a world had a "thick" atmosphere; now you had to calculate its albedo to three decimal places. And, worst of all, GDW's example setting, the Third Imperium, ceased to be an example and become what Traveller was all about.

Talk to almost any fan of Traveller and chances are they'll eventually start blathering on about the minutiae of the Third Imperium setting. I say this not out of malice or superiority, because I was once an addict of this kind as well. By the late 80s, I remained a Traveller fan out of my love for the Third Imperium, but I could not be called by any reasonable definition a Traveller player any longer. At some point or other, I stopped treating the game as, well, a game and instead fixated on its every detail, as if this were what drew me to the game in the first place. Gone was the focus on science fiction adventure, replaced by obsession with the details of a setting created by someone else and in which I'd barely ever played. Back in the day, I created my own setting for my Traveller campaigns and, to my mind, that's how Traveller ought to be played; that's where the heart and soul of Marc Miller's brilliant creation lie.

I've read Mongoose's recent edition of Traveller and think it's pretty good -- certainly better than anything we've had in years. Rules-wise, it's a bit too clearly a descendant of late classic Traveller, after supplementitis had set in, and there are a few more attempts to "update" its assumptions than I like, but it looks decent enough. There also doesn't (yet) appear to be much of a fixation on the Third Imperium and that's all to the good. I love the Third Imperium to pieces, but, in the end, it helped kill Traveller.

As for me, I just snagged myself a mint copy of the first edition boxed set from 1977 for a reasonable price. Once I have it, I intend to set aside some time and read all three books from cover to cover. The classics only improve with each reading and it's been a while since I spent time with this one.

68 comments:

  1. "And, worst of all, GDW's example setting, the Third Imperium, ceased to be an example and become what Traveller was all about."

    Bingo.

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  2. Once upon a time you could buy a small (6"x9") book which included the three LBBs. I want to say it was from QLI, or something. I bought that when it came out so I could pack up the old boxed set.

    For what it's worth, I enjoy the 3rd Imperium very much but you are probably right - the minutiae of it helped the fall of Traveller

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  3. I love the Third Imperium too. I think it's an extremely well-done setting that manages to transcend the goulash of influences from which it was created, but it exerted a baleful influence over Traveller's development as a game. Had GDW presented multiple example settings for use with the rules, there's a chance subsequent history might have been different -- and better.

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  4. I remember ordering Traveller via mail-order and waiting for the sound of the mailman to arrive at our door. I don't recall how I ordered it, I believe it was from a magazine or comic book perhaps.

    I spent days and days creating characters, spaceships and worlds to explore. There was something about generating a character that I think I still mentally go through to this day. I never had the chance to play LBB Traveller and I quickly lost touch with it about 1982 or 1983. I remember looking at the rules a few years back and thinking that this was a beast to play.

    To me, Traveller represents the game that "could have been." If I ever get the chance to play it, I will, but I hope it's LBB and not a later version.

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  5. I liked Traveller, mostly because I was a fan of the Chubb "Dumarest" books. I based my short-lived 80’s Traveller campaign on that setting.

    I was not a fan of the character creation method, although it is exactly that a lot of people might have liked. But to sit down and have a character get crippled or killed before you even get the chance to run him. OK, I bitch, but it was kind of fun sometimes. I guess I did laugh out loud at the guy who spent a half hour making the rolls, only to get killed in his last tour of military duty. I guess I think that having all this stuff happen in the characters life outside of actual play reminds me a bit of Superhero 2044's non-role playing patrolling rules.

    Another minor thing I loved was the three core books, just like D&D’s first three. I think the great Bushido game was three black core books in exactly the same format as Traveller. Gotta love the 3’s.

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  6. Mongoose Traveller is under the OGL and I got plans.

    One word

    Sandbox

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  7. I was not a fan of the character creation method, although it is exactly that a lot of people might have liked.

    I consider character creation to be one of the many neat little "mini-games" that existed within the rules -- things you could have fun doing outside of when you got together with your friends to play an adventure.

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  8. One word

    Sandbox


    That one word intrigues me, sir.

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  9. It lost me with the laser guns with backpacks. I thought that was just dumb. Luke and Hon didn't have to wear backpacks! That was before I understood that you can change things to make a game your own. I was 14 and of course my opinion was right.

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  10. That one word intrigues me, sir.

    One of my goals in 2009 is make a product based on my ideas for Traveller.

    Basically it stems from the same reasons I created the format for Points of Light.

    That the existing presentation of Traveller settings can be made better for the GM who want to put their players down at point X and just head out.

    With D&D it took Judges Guild to come up with the foundation that I built on. Traveller in contrast has the tools built in from the get go.

    The problem with GDW is that they lept into the 3rd Imperium and never bothered to burrow back down in a systematic way. Nor really offer support for Adventure in the Far Future other than for the 3rd Imperium.


    If you read the wonderful burgess shale article on Traveller (http://www.freelancetraveller.com/features/othroads/burgess.html) you will see that the pre-imperium referees of Traveller developed their universes to a fairly consistent size. (two sectors or so)

    Now that Mongoose Traveller is making headway. Plus the fact is faithfully replicates many of the subsystems you mentioned. I feel that various products can made to save time for a Traveller referee in running a game where the players are wandering all over the place.

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  11. "Had GDW presented multiple example settings for use with the rules, there's a chance subsequent history might have been different -- and better."

    Then again, a lot of people cite TSR attempting this with D&D and Greyhawk as being a big negative turning point in that game's history.

    (Yeah, yeah, there was a little bit of Blackmoor stuff published by TSR back in the day, but it was real easy to miss an gone altogether by the time Moldvay D&D and AD&D brought the game to the mainstream)

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  12. Then again, a lot of people cite TSR attempting this with D&D and Greyhawk as being a big negative turning point in that game's history.


    It all depends on the presentation. If you deliberately try to make it so it can drop in most referees campaigns then it is a entirely different situation then what TSR did.

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  13. I suppose that's true. There's a difference between an example setting and a product line.

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  14. My only experience of the game is The New Era (which was the first game I tried to GM; big mistake) and a very brief bit with T4, so I've missed out on a lot of the history. However, the design of those first three books is just wonderful. Clean, simple, and eye-catching.

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  15. Since the Mongoose edition came out I've noticed that a lot of RPGnet threads concentrate on finding out about "the setting", which just goes to show that the notion of pre-Imperium Traveller as an almost settingless system (some setting elements are implied by the careers and social standings, after all) is long forgotten for most people; you can't blame them, of course. We've had so many different systems with their own version of "Traveller" that it's a miracle that any of what made it so good has survived.

    For my games it's the original, though, in a vague homebrewed setting full of bits pinched from the official and licensed publications (Gamelords, in particular, made some terrific supplements). That said, I think that Traveller reached its height for me with "The Traveller Book", the single volume collection and tweaking fo the original rules.

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  16. I still play Traveller and use the Third Imperium setting right here in Toronto. However, what I find that I am forced to do institute all sorts of House Rules. Traveller was always just heurstic for adventure (you hit the nail right there on the head), James, but the canvas that Traveller paints has become worn out by the lack of talent.

    True, there is canon wars like no other system save Greyhawk but Traveller players more than anything else rally around quality. With the demise of person's particular favorite version of Traveller comes a sort of loss for something that never was...a perfect system.

    Diehards insist that there was no system just a mechanic but once GDW started with Journals and even licences the beast was born. Maybe that is a good thing. For few other games can claim such an extensive scope of history & background.

    Traveller did not ever attempt to break the mould...instead, it aspired to be the mould. And, looking at all SFRPG since Traveller...they certainly did something right.

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  17. I think the last interaction I had with Traveller was in the early 80s with Trillion Credit Squadron, so oldest-school Traveller is all I know.

    The absolute lack of setting detail bothered me at the time - it seemed like the opposite of D&D, which needed an entire appendix to list its sources: Traveller seemed not to have any sources at all for its clean grey technology. It did have a clear "home" culture, though - the US military, which was very strange to my resolutely British, civilian eye.

    Do you have anything to say about the computer game descendants - Elite, Elite II and the various seaborne trading games that have the same basic mechanics? 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.

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  18. I should say: I found the US military basis both too odd and not odd enough for a space game, and at the time Star Trek and Star Wars were both fishing in the same fanbase, so there were very different flavours to choose from. I know you regard that as a virtue, and these days I agree, but as a kid trying to make sense of the game I had no idea which way to lean (and wound up in Moldvay Basic).

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  19. You have to begin to also understand how RPGs evolved from a wargame base...and many people were Vietnam vets. Marc Miller was someone who designed strategic wargames for the Pentagon & the RAND Corporation boys.

    The two have had a strange symbiosis ever since. Also, there is a brand of SF called Military SF. It has always been around but there has always been people who wanted to play Starship Troopers and Traveller with its 3 military careers and 2 civilian ones sated their appetite for this.

    Traveller has evolved but there is still a cadre that like to play wargames of the far future.

    Just as peaceniks were drawn to Traveller for the fact that we did not nuke ourselves (true the Vilani and later the Zhoviets) would provide ample opportunity for conflict...it was a mild sort of conflict.

    RPGs come on the cusp of the final defeat of the New Left in the United States and ascendance of the New Right...this is something little documented but still a fact in the histories of the game.

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  20. There is a soft spot in my heart for Traveller, even though it's a game I only got to play a little of in HS. I now own GURPS Traveller and Marc Millers Traveller 4th edition just so i can have them. Is Mongoose's edition the D20 Traveller? I prolly want that too. I believe a lot of the older material is being reprinted right now, at least I've seen a lot on the shelves.

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  21. I never played a second of Traveller, but I must say this: "Trillion Credit Squadron" is one of the coolest names for anything, anywhere, ever. I think in the 80's I almost bought that just on the strength of the title alone.

    I think there was another supplement called "High Guard" or something? Same for that.

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  22. I'm very sure that the reason the setting for Traveller was sparse was that it's main source of inspiration was E.C. Tubb's Dumarest saga (the chance of dying in cheap steerage was the most obvious inpiration from the books - but there are countless others) had a setting with no central galactic government. There was just enough galactic trade for there to be a standard system of credits. Not unique in Sci Fi, but less cliched than a galactic empire or presidency.

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  23. If you haven't already, check out the credits page.

    Thanks for the kind words.

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  24. I started with 1st edition Traveller, and ran it pretty much until Megatraveller came out. I have to agree with most of your comments. "Burgess Shale" is the best flavor of Traveller. Most of my collection was sadly lost during a move. I was able to save my notes on the last subsector I made, and my prized Judges' Guild "Starships and Spacecraft". This was from before "D-tons" were fixed at 14 cubic meters. Their scout ship works out to be about 350 cubic meters, barely a fourth the size of a standard design now. The subsidized merchant is about half the size of a standard design. One of my first downer moments was when a player criticized the wonderful Bill Keith FASA designs (yes, I still have mine!)with a dismissive, "I counted the squares, and it didn't add up to 400 tons". My response was, "Who cares? It's cool!" This passion for bean (or square)counting drove me away from the later editions. One later edition (Mega-? I can't recall) calculated starship mass down to the kilogram, and volume down to the liter! And I fell into that same funless, square-counting mindset. Thanks for reminding me of what I loved in that game.

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  25. the chance of dying in cheap steerage
    funnily enough now I study 18th century maritime history, which is all about dying in steerage. That's also where my Traveller games would end up, now: back in the literal sea. I still think there should have been some kind of "ports of call" sourcebook as one of the first supplement, although the game's success and longevity probably show I'm in a minority position.

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  26. Rob, I very much want to see what you do with Traveller! Every time I sit down to do a Traveller milieu it comes out chock full of Encounter Critical.

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  27. I loved my big Deluxe Traveller box back in '81, though I could never find anyone to play it. Came at the same time that I was so digging Asimov's "Foundation", and it seemed like I'd found the game for the books at the same time.

    The Mongoose releases are exceptionally classy and extremely well done. Own them all. Unfortunately, "the internet factor" has pretty much drained my enthusiasm over the game. Considering selling the whole lot. I don't think I share the same idea of fun as today's Traveller fanz.

    Besides, Thousand Suns scratches my itch better today.

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  28. "I've never been able to kick Traveller to the curb, though I've tried many times."

    I don't understand why you wanted to kick it to the curb. I lost Traveller when I moved away from the group I played with, and many's the time I've regretted it.

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  29. Rob,

    I await with great anticipation your Traveller efforts!

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  30. 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.

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  31. Tubb was definitely a big influence on Traveller, as was Piper, Anderson, and Chandler.

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  32. I don't understand why you wanted to kick it to the curb.

    Mostly because I've had a very dysfunctional relationship with the game over the years. In many ways, it's my One True Love, even moreso than D&D. It speaks to me like no other game ever has, but I tend to fall into some very bad habits when I play it and so I often try to rid myself of it forever rather than try to fix those problems.

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  33. My first Traveller campaign was set in the Solar System (ours) before the invention of the jump drive. In fact, the big macguffin in that one was the creation of the first intersteller ship in the Belt, as the Colonials (Non Earth colonies) tried to escape the authority of Earth. This eventaully mutated into the Fringer campaign (the third one), where the available technology decreased the further away from Earth you travelled.

    My second Traveller campaign had an Empire influenced by H Beam Piper's Ministry of Disturbance (I still have the Security Service career tables somewhere; admittedly it had been initially created for the first campaign as certain players wanted there new characters to become members of the "bad guys"). Even then it was pretty firmly based in the original books. My largest warship was the Nova Class Dreadnaught at 5000 tons, because that was the biggest hull available in Book 2.

    I never really took to the Third Imperium until after I had read enough Roman law to understand the exact meaning of imperium (which is a very specific legal, political, and cultural implications, and not just a synonym for Empire), and I could see what Marc was truly aiming at. And was very impressed thereby.

    And whilst I still collect information about it (particularly in the form of GURPS Traveller (and I immediately throw away the game system bits), I've never actually played or ran a game in it.

    [In fact the only time I used a published Traveller adventure was for FASA's Star Trek RPG.]

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  34. 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.

    Firefly.

    [Joss has admitted that a fondly remembered Traveller campaign was the inspiration for the fundamental nature of the show.]

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  35. I'll accept Whedon at his word on this claim, but I still don't see much resemblance beyond the superficial.

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  36. >It speaks to me like no other game ever has, but I tend to fall into some very bad habits when I play it and so I often try to rid myself of it<

    I heard that! I tend to hit the sauce and wacky baccy a bit hard myself when working on my gaming stuff.

    Uh, that is what you meant, right?

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  37. I never got so much into the Third Imperium setting as to confuse it with Traveller -- although, starting with MegaTraveller (and becoming clearer with TNE), GDW came to promote that notion. I certainly enjoyed such explorations as Travellers Digest magazine.

    Unless a game is as generic as GURPS, there's going to be a fair bit of implied setting. Just to be able to offer supplementary material such as scenarios, you've got to make some assumptions -- such as (just for a start) that magic works thusly, or interstellar commerce so.

    There's a tendency among many players to take such a default as not just exemplary but prescriptive. To some, it's just "not D&D" without Dwarves, Elves, Halflings and Orcs.

    There was at least psychologically a notable difference between having elaborations appear in supplements and having them in the "core" rule books. What seems often to have happened was that more complex systems displaced the simpler ones. A flaw to my mind with Book 4 and on was that the "advanced" generation methods tended to produce remarkably more capable characters.

    The presence of appealing "sub games" even within the original set, and the additions as the line grew, may have contributed to a splintering into groups with different emphases. That may have encouraged the tendency to find common ground in the Imperium setting as "what Traveller is about."

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  38. I'll accept Whedon at his word on this claim, but I still don't see much resemblance beyond the superficial.

    When I saw it was like every traveller game I ever played or GMed in living color. I feel bad that it didn't have the same effect on you.

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  39. I feel bad that it didn't have the same effect on you.

    Why?

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  40. [Joss has admitted that a fondly remembered Traveller campaign was the inspiration for the fundamental nature of the show.]

    I've heard this said many times, and would have no problem believing it--but I've never seen an actual, cited quote from Whedon saying this. (I'd be quite happy to, btw.)

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  41. I bought Traveler as soon as Games Workshop started selling it in the UK and, like others, was mystified by the lack of aliens. My fellow gamers viewed it as weird as it would have been had D&D just had rules for creating monsters.

    We could see the idea - so many worlds, so many aliens (and we had fun creating intelligent Filters) - but there was still something lacking. Then the first aliens of the "official setting" were variant humans. IIRC, the first Judges Guild scenario was Dra'k'ne Station, and the (one) alien in that was the last survivor. Then the JTAS started publishing alien descriptions (the Aslan was the first one I remember) and it seemed like our prayers were answered.

    That, however, was the beginning of the end. The JTAS got tied up into the Fifth Frontier War (an absolute classic boardgame IMO, BTW) and from that it was a short trip to the Shattered Imperium. It's only your post that made me make the connection and realize that it might have been a demand for "standard" aliens that led to the tyranny of the setting.

    I should have kept on with my Niven-influenced New Terran Empire.

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  42. I had the Traveller Book in middle school, and while I loved it, there wasn't much hint of what to actually do with it.

    The local game stores weren't so good about stocking Traveller material, so because of that scarcity I became very curious about the Third Imperium. However the more I found out, the less I liked it.

    Maybe it's because sci-fi was so broadly explored otherwise. Whereas with Tekumel and Glorantha I never knew what direction they might take, with the Third Imperium I would be a jaded scifi fanboy and think, "Eh, so they went that route with it."

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  43. I have a single-volume collection of the first six Traveller books, and I've often thought about breaking them out and designing a subsector that has a sort of Vance-y "Demon Princes" meets Wolfe-y "Fifth Head of Cerberus" flavor with a dash of Stanislaw Lem-iness.

    I've always wondered why the Third Imperium thing came to dominate the game. What if Greyhawk had smothered the growth of D&D in a similar manner?

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  44. I've never seen an actual, cited quote from Whedon saying this...

    I think he mentioned it in the Serenity preview screening in Sydney, Australia – which was part of the extras release of the Oz special edition of Serenity.

    I also believed it was mentioned elsewhere a few times in passing, although in most of these cases the actual game system wasn't mentioned, just the fact that he had fond memories of the game.

    I may ask some of the rather more serious Browncoats if they can get their hands on an exact quote, but I wouldn't really hold my breathe after all these years...

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  45. 3D ship models -- I think as a kid I would have drooled over these 3D models.

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  46. I've always wondered why the Third Imperium thing came to dominate the game.

    It had grandeur, depth, history, and unlike the Galactic Empire of Star Wars it wasn't a stereotype.

    But most importantly it could be the referee's. While it dominated Traveller products it wasn't a heavy hand. Like the background of my Points of Light product it was there for the referee to use but if you didn't like one or more aspect you could change it without blowing up a half dozen other products.

    In Traveller there were only a handful of assumptions that if you changed would cause problems using published products. For example that Jumps take a week and there is no FTL communication faster than travelling.

    GURPS Traveller discusses this in detail about how referees can make the Third Imperium their own.

    Again while from the outside the dominance of 3rd Imperium mileau can be a turn off. In practical play it is mallable as any other part of Traveller.

    The Canon disputes you hear among old Traveller grognards really fall in one of two area.

    1) The overall high level view of the setting. As a Traveller referee I can tell it is fun reading but has little ACTUAL impact on what you do at the table.

    2) The implications of Traveller's technological assumption. The Flame wars over Near-C rocks is the classic example.

    Near-C rocks = using jump drives and m -drives to drive a asteroid ship to near c realspace speeds and have it impact a planet.

    You build up speed using a m-drive in deep space and then jump to the planet. Since canon says your speed and direction are preserved when you emerge you have a very deadly unstoppable missile aimed at the planet.

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  47. I may ask some of the rather more serious Browncoats if they can get their hands on an exact quote, but I wouldn't really hold my breathe after all these years...

    Hmm. Ironically, a show that really feels like Traveller is the anime Black Lagoon, despite its not being sf or set in the future. Its seafaring mercenary crew, running illegal merchandise around the South China Sea while engaging in periodic insane firefights, would translate almost effortlessly.

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  48. "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."

    Yes, certainly not in the way D&D has defined fantasy but then again Science Fiction is an older genre than Fantasy. Notwithstanding, Traveller, like Science Fiction, has long been in the shadow of Star Wars. Whilst Science Fiction literary work has moved on. Traveller remained rooted in a pre-Star Wars era whilst quietly adopting some of the more popular elements from Star Wars. Because it was a product of a pre-SW era, it also shackled it to some outdated notions which it could not surpass those limitations without breaking the ruleset.

    Therefore, whilst, Traveller does bear some resemblence to Firefly, it is only because of the tropes for Traveller and American Science Fiction remain similar. Both Science Fiction and the Pulp Western vived for the same audiences. It also did not help that Star Trek was sold as bonzana in space. Therefore, it is only natural that Traveller players see Traveller in Firefly.

    However, there are other traditions that come into play especially if you use Traveller as a heurstic.

    "I've always wondered why the Third Imperium thing came to dominate the game."

    Part of it is the bad licences that came out of the early days of Traveller. GDW did not want a repeat of Judges Guild or Group One. It was neccessary to maintain quality control. Which in part was due to phenomenal outpouring of the Keith bros. who almost single handedly defined Traveller in the CT era. Other supporting voices were there but essentially keeping it Open enough to play a generic game but at the same time lay down some basic groundrules seems to dominate the company that produced Traveller.

    By the time MT rolled around the standification was built into the rules. It was a case, why not give them more of what their market research told them that people wanted...the Imperium - for better or for worse. Also, this was a time of the great reduction in the number of licences and fanzine output as they had to increasingly seek approval from GDW.

    TNE in some ways could be viewed as a return to the wide open spaces of CT. But its execution was poorly implemented. Furthermore, it still wedded people to a history they could not change.

    T4 was a similar hatchet job to TNE. While it turned back the clock and opened up possibilities, it suffered from having many a good game designer but few of them actually played Traveller. Hence did not really have a feel for what the game was about.

    GT & T20 were attempts to recreate a Golden Age by inserting popular game mechanics into play. GT consolidated all the CT and tried to make sense of it all. T20 languished with QLI's woes but did produce some interesting products but it could not sustain the effort.

    Mongoose Traveller with its OGL is an attempt to go back to the wide open field of CT through the support of multiple settings. Thus far, it has been a mixed bag. As they raised the ire of some old timers by co-opting old names and creating really different products that do not resemble Traveller at all.

    The comment that it resembles CT too much is common because what emerged from the playtest was the the CT was the most vocal and also the restrictions placed upon Mongoose by MWM.

    "Mostly because I've had a very dysfunctional relationship with the game over the years. In many ways, it's my One True Love, even moreso than D&D. It speaks to me like no other game ever has, but I tend to fall into some very bad habits when I play it and so I often try to rid myself of it forever rather than try to fix those problems."

    What bad habits? You become a power gamer, rules lawyer, munchkin? That is all part of the fun. The secret for Traveller is not to take things too seriously. I think that you have donned the hat of game designer rather than player. In either case, we would be happy to have you at our gaming table, as it is extremely hard to find Traveller players here in Toronto.

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  49. >When I saw it was like every traveller game I ever played or GMed in living color. I feel bad that it didn't have the same effect on you<

    I've only seen the Serenity movie and an episode or two, and outside of most of the characters being ex-military Traveller never popped into mind when I saw those. Unless later editions of the game hammered-in cowboy music and style, and had crazed, killer super-rapists running amok in half the galaxy. The whole cowboy bank robbers set in the future thing seems sort of un-Traveller to me.

    I should say that nobody should go so far as to feel bad I don't see the similarities though. What a little thing to actually feel bad about...

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  50. >It also did not help that Star Trek was sold as bonzana in space<

    Actually, I think it was "Wagon Train" in space that he sold it as. And that is because it was a popular TV show and the studio execs were told what they wanted to hear. That is how it got on the air.Star Trek in reality bore little resemblence to anything else on TV...especially a western.

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  51. Traveller, while not my first RPG (Holmes Basic) was indeed my first love. I grew up on my dad's 1950s SF collection, Asimov & Clarke & Heinlein and the pulps, so the Traveller technology and milieu was second nature to me. As was the humanocentric nature of the setting. Backpacks for laser rifles made perfect sense to me. Although even then (early 80s) I knew there was something very wrong with the computer rules :)

    As to the Third Imperium, we didn't have the money to be grabbing supplements left and right, so we had a copies of Solomani Rim, Spinward Marches, Library Data, and a few adventures shared among us. It made the most marvelous sandbox setting, with the hints and scraps of info providing a scope, depth and grandeur that none of us could have achieved on our own, while allowing us plenty of latitude to make up our own stuff, and populate our own worlds.

    I left Traveller during the Megatraveller year due to the drumbeat of the heavy handed metaplot, and returned for a while during TNE (which is still one of my favorite rulesets for Traveller, oddly enough).

    While I've continued to collect Traveller materials over the years, I've not played it/in it in a long time, although both Mongoose Traveller and James' own Thousand Suns may reignite the fire.

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  52. Quick addendum on subject of Traveller in media: in my opinion, the best (and only) Traveller movie ever made is "Pitch Black". It's one of my favorite SF movies out there. It's a pity what they did with the atrocious sequel :/ Best not to think of it.

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  53. >best (and only) Traveller movie ever made is "Pitch Black<

    I'm starting to think Traveller is kind of like Pink Elephants. Some people see it everywhere and in everything.

    The "Aliens" franchise, especially the first two films, has more Traveller in them than anything else mentioned in this thread.

    Oh shit. I think I just saw a Pink Elephant...

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  54. @Rafial - now see, those are fightin' words! Two different stories with the same "protagonist" but they are definitely sequels in just name, not in true spirit of "sequel B follows mainplot A". I enjoyed both as well as the mini-anime story in between.

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  55. Well, that was my point about Traveller being a heurstic. Traveller was a venerable toolkit that you could build almost any Golden Age SF game upon. It had enough Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein in there to keep the 1977 critics happy and had enough in there that people could use to build & build & build.

    As far as Traveller movies...yup, there is many a pink elephant but many a white elephant too. For me there can only be one Traveller movie, so far...my friend did the music and Andrew did the animating.

    http://referee-minitravellermovies.blogspot.com/2008/10/genas-revision.html

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  56. "The "Aliens" franchise, especially the first two films, has more Traveller in them than anything else mentioned in this thread."

    Ah yes... Double Adventure 5: The Chamax Plague / Horde. All the Alien-like action you could wish for.

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  57. I should say that nobody should go so far as to feel bad I don't see the similarities though. What a little thing to actually feel bad about...

    Interestingly, it's a fairly common reaction to my saying I don't see the similarities.

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  58. I want to mention that playing Traveller as a kid taught me that laser pistols and other high energy hand weapons were the stuff of fantasy, and that projectile weapon would be around for a long long long time...

    I remember in the 90's a friend (non-gamer) who had watched the TV show Space: Above and Beyond said "...I don't like that show, because it's unrealistic sci fi - they use guns with bullets and don't have laser guns!"

    OK, I haven't read Traveller in ages, but I'm pretty sure projectile weapons dominated even if there was a laser weapon here and there.

    Ahhh...memories. I'm suddenly remembering and old game called "Snapshot." It was close quarter gun battles aboard ship, and I remember it being violent and brutal. Was that not a Traveller universe-set game?

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  59. Yes, Traveller is "shotguns in space" much more than packing a laser pistol or blaster at the hip. This is where it differs from the classic Western and where Firefly/Star Trek analogy ends. For characters could be scientists, diplomats (only later SW films did we get the phrase...aggressive negotiation). Traveller was all that and more. However, when one has the whole universe as a canvas it can be a daunting how to create metaplots without reference to something that is commonly known.

    While many players might enjoy an exploration campaign. How long before it degenerates into Star Wars.

    While many players might enjoy a military campaign. How long before Starship Troopers does not make an appearance.

    While many might enjoy a merchant based campaign. How long before Firefly episodes do not make some appearance?

    The real beauty of Traveller is that it allowed all these separate storylines to coexist under the rubric of the Imperium (which allowed for High level Campaigning & Metagaming plots). It is not say that Traveller campaigns cannot be different but they also fall into clinches...which perhaps is the greatest weakness of the game. That more exploration of the Imperium was never undertaken.

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  60. Snapshot was indeed a Traveller-based game.

    I was really impressed by the MGT Core although the supplements range (so far) from OK to bad. The core, however, seems to me to be close to my ideal version of the game. The addition of events to careers is actually a nice touch as it makes it easy to tweak the implied setting just by putting in appropriate stuff. For instance, I can see that it would be pretty easy to create a post-apocalyptic game using the MGT engine with just a few new careers.

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  61. >How long before it degenerates into Star Wars<

    Naw, it has to have Muppets to be Star Wars. So I think only Farscape is Star Warsesque.

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  62. I'm suddenly remembering and old game called "Snapshot." It was close quarter gun battles aboard ship, and I remember it being violent and brutal. Was that not a Traveller universe-set game?

    Snapshot was a great Traveller "board game" -- a little skirmish game based on the RPG combat rules that dealt with small unit battles on board starships. I used to love it -- wish I still had a copy.

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  63. The core, however, seems to me to be close to my ideal version of the game.

    It's a good substitute for the LBBs if you don't have them, I'll certainly say that, which I suppose is a pretty high compliment.

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  64. Traveller was the first RPG I played regularly with a real group.

    Even then, I loved the fact that guns and blades were featured and higher-tech weapons were ineffective or mostly limited to the military. That’s always rung true with me.

    When I ran a classic Traveller campaign recently, my group—not a Traveller grognard among them—loved chargen. Some of them even happily embraced death for a failed survival roll.

    The thing about all the expansions to the game is that I find it all very modular. I can use what I like and ignore what I don’t. I can pull in a mechanic or information for only a session or two to highlight something that’s normally glossed over.

    Yeah, for some people the 3I is Traveller, but those people play GT or Risus Traveller or Hero Traveller or whatever. There are plenty of us for whom Traveller is classic Traveller, not the 3I. There are plenty of us who, even when we do use the 3I, aren’t beholden to canon. (“Don’t let the canonistas get you down!”) That’s why there’s even an abbreviation for In My Traveller Universe.

    My first attempt at a homebrew game was essentially an attempt to create a fantasy version of Traveller. One of these days I am going to get around to running a fantasy Traveller campaign.

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  65. The CT rules, at least post 1982, were pretty well OTU linked.

    Even still, large chunks of setting are implied strongly by the rules alone, without reference to the adventures, setting materials (Like the Regina Subsector and library data in The Traveller Book). The OTU was essential for consistently useful adventures.

    In comparison to D&D/AD&DAt first, Grayhawk, Forgotton Realms, and the D&D Known World really were just different sets of maps with different cultures... you could drop characters just about anywhere... D&D really started to fail when the two lines were supporting 11 settings with rules tweaks each (FR/Toril, GH/Oerth, OA, DL/Krynn, Arabian Adventures, Planescape, Spelljammer, Council of Wyrms, AD&D Mystara, AD&D Mystara-Red Steel, and D&D Mystara).

    And back to MGTThose looking for an "official setting" need something open enough to grow, and tight enough to work with. The OTU needs a rework.

    MGT doesn't go far enough to really be a sufficient rework of the low-tech tropes of CT, nor do they actually make the changes repeatedly suggested by several various authors in the OTU Spinward Marches (It's got the same wonky bits as ever). Nor do they go shallow enough to run the Old OTU with the core without changes by the GM. (the changes to travel prices are badly broken; you should never find passage for a J1 trip... and the Law Table invalidates many CT adventures and worlds. And stewards are required in droves by comparison to CT... which is part of the reason J1 ships can't afford to carry passengers!)

    There are many good changes. CGen is nice; too much for a comment, really. Ship Building is (CT Bk2)++... the Cargo purchase rules are really slick. The task system is different than DGP's, but quite workable.

    Not your daddies' Traveller, kids, but probably closer than anything since 1992 (When MegaTraveller went out of print)

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  66. Excellent, ive been looking into this game and i was pointed in this blogs direction looks good for me :)

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  67. Now that I'm running an ATU...
    1) it's a lot of freaking work to build a setting. We've split 6 worlds, 2 each, to the players. It's rewarding, but it is a LOT of work to make a subsector, let alone a decently detailed sector. I'm going through and doing the rest of the sector. We've had to invent rules to get the detail level we wanted.
    2) building a customized setting with the tools in MGT as published to date provides only a touch more than the utterly superficial level Supplement 3 or 10, or Judges Guild's 4 sector books did.
    3) The OTU is still the best setting for fit to the rules... unless Matthew's "The OTU is meaningless so we can trash it willy nilly" attitude prevails at Mongoose.
    4) The system has as many issues as any other Traveller edition, perhaps more.
    4.1) The decisions to drop power points may be a simplification for play, but I still think it sucks badly; both as a realism choice, and as a design point, it is the gravest error propagated within MGT.
    4.2) the use of tables instead of formulae as the basis for ship design has resulted in wonkiness.
    4.3) the costs of carrying a passenger are, consistently, more than the book price for the passage provides on any ship with significant mortgages. Only J1 and J2 rates for cargo are below costs. Worse, I'd done the math and posted it BEFORE draft 3.2.
    4.4) The change back to ship shares being % ownership (instead of a fixed value) results in munchkinisms... my players would be 100% owners of a warship costing MCr150... as is, we're using the playtest's MCR1 per share... and the government owns 30% of the ship....
    4.5) There are a dozen or so minor issues that we've encountered in play...

    And for the record, the Judges Guild sectors were as good as, if not better than, the GDW sectors. The adventures, well, those are a whole 'nother matter. But the sector books have more information and more utility than their GDW competitor. Further, it would be over 10 more years before another full 4 sector square was released with paragraphs of data for each subsector, UWPs for each mainorld, and a page per sector... but even then, JG added sector specific encounter and patron tables.

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  68. As its subtitle proclaims, it's a game of "science-fiction adventure in the far future."

    And back we come to Jack Vance. I'm not a fan of science fiction per se. I find even the deities of the genre a bit sterile and the run of the mill stuff leaves me cold. But Vance tells adventure/mystery stories that simply happen to be set in the far future (or the really far future, or the post-Arthurian past). His stories are just a hell of a lot of fun and the genre in which he writes isn't his raison d'etre, it just expands the scope of his explorations. It really doesn't matter whether the Jarnell intersplit makes sense or not. Not to mention, his world creations skills are unparalleled.

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