Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Retrospective: Ley Sector

I regularly bemoan the fact that GDW allowed the Third Imperium to become not merely an example setting for their SF RPG Traveller but the setting for it. I continue to feel that, by doing this, it so firmly yoked Traveller's ruleset to a single setting that it subtly discouraged players of the game from making up their own settings and instead to rely on GDW and its licensees for more setting information to use in their campaigns. One such licensee was Judges Guild, which produced several Traveller adventures and sector supplements, one of which was Ley Sector, published in 1980 by an unknown author (there is no writer credited anywhere in the text).

Ley Sector consists of a 32-page guidebook and a large poster map showing all 16 of its subsectors, consisting of 411 planets. Each subsector takes up a single page, following the format established in GDW's The Spinward Marches the previous year. Each subsector is given very little information beyond the names and locations of its worlds, along with the familiar alphanumeric string used by Traveller to designate a world's starport, population, government, etc. In a few cases, there are two or three sentences that provide a little bit or historical or cultural information about the region, but that's the extent of it. There are also a number of encounter tables covering space, worlds, planetary settlements, as well as animals, rumors, and news.

Taken together, Ley Sector is very thin gruel if you're expecting more than a bare bones treatment of a divided sector on the frontiers of the Third Imperium. At the time, I was expecting something more than that and was somewhat disappointed in this product, as I was with most of the other Judges Guild Traveller books. Like Ley Sector, they tended to be very loose, open-ended products, providing the basic details for the referee to incorporate into his home campaign as he wished. Nowadays, that's exactly what I want out of a gaming product, but, back in the early 80s, it wasn't. I wanted more than just a collection of randomly generated worlds given names and placed on a big map.

I started playing Traveller because I wanted a science fiction RPG from which to create my own setting but I kept playing Traveller because I fell in love with the Third Imperium setting. I very quickly became obsessed with its minutiae and had no interest in adventures or products that were too self-contained and modular. Instead, I expected reams of detail on the history, society, and culture of humaniti and other sophont races. What I wanted was more of what Traveller called "library data," not sketchy building blocks from which to build my own adventures and settings. And that's what Ley Sector offers. Sure, it's ostensibly set within GDW's official setting but its points of connection are so few that there's no reason it need be. Indeed, it's almost as if Judges Guild intended it to be easily usable by Traveller referees regardless of whether they used the Third Imperium for their home campaign or not. How weird is that?

6 comments:

  1. I was a huge JG fan in the '70s and still really love their D&D stuff - more than any other company's. But at the time, I was deeply disappointed with most of their Traveller materials. These products lacked the rigor and professionalism of the GDW products and seemed too "goofy" in comparison. I thought the cruise ship design for "Doom of the Singing Star" was wretched and sloppy. It didn't seem to follow the rules for ship creation.

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  2. I hated the 3rd Imperium setting and refused to run it or play in it. Strange. That's why I like the JG Traveller products

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  3. The JG stuff for Traveller was largely crap. Poor writing, terrible art, even the physical quality of the books was second rate.

    I will say that I find it hysterical that people can say that the 3rd Imperium was too restrictive and then in the same breath complain that the published products didn't have enough detail!

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  4. I will say that I find it hysterical that people can say that the 3rd Imperium was too restrictive and then in the same breath complain that the published products didn't have enough detail!

    Such is the nature of the geek world. I agree it's a silly complaint, but I also understand the "logic" behind it, perhaps because I've made similar complaints from time to time. People are always looking for the "perfect" balance between openness and detail, something that give them only the information they need without giving them anything more. I personally think the Third Imperium was (mostly) fine up until the advent of MegaTraveller, after which the setting became the primary focus of the game and started to get in the way.

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  5. To my mind, the best balance was in the "Reaver's Deep" products. Not too much, not too little. "Sandbox" Traveller is easier in less technically developed areas, but this starts to beg the question - if you aren't doing High Tech stuff, why play Traveller at all?

    Many of the articles in the old JOTAS seemed to me to perfect game aides - enough ideas to stimulate your own imagination, but not a railroad by any means. The piece arcologies in issue 13 of the Journal of the Traveller's Aid Society is a case in point. It's enough to get you started, but loose enough to fit many different circumstances.

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  6. Interesting thoughts, James.

    I ran 25 years of Traveller, but I'm not sure I'd run any more. I think I've told all the stories with it I want to tell. I ran a lot of Third Imperium stuff, though towards the end I ran a lot earlier than the established setting.

    The JG stuff was of uneven quality for Traveller (I never owned any of it for AD&D, as I was a Traveller GM/Player more frequently than AD&D. The Sectors were good for precisely the reason you describe (JG published four of them, that laid out precisely next to each other as a large, roughly square rectangle). They were open ended enough, and free enough of the areas GDW was developing that you could do your own thing.

    Still, even by the standards of the day Judges' Guild's production standards were pretty low. Some of the stuff was poorly edited, and designed.

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