Tuesday, September 8, 2020

The Perfect RPG Book

In the more than four decades since the publication of original Dungeons & Dragons, there has been no shortage of other roleplaying games. Indeed, the number only increases with each year, owing in no small part to technological advances that make it possible for individuals or small groups of people to produce and distribute new games with relative ease. There are now games for every interest, taste, and budget, some of them so extraordinarily well made, at least from a physical standpoint, that they put to shame the best products of the past. While on one level it's definitely hyperbolic to claim that this is a new Golden Age of roleplaying, in terms of choice, there's a great deal of truth to that claim.

Even so, if I were forced to choose a single roleplaying game book to hold up as perfect, by which I mean complete, self-contained, straightforward, and requiring nothing more (save dice, paper, and pencil), I would not nominate a product of the present day or indeed any game book published this century. I would instead submit a book just shy of forty years old – GDW's The Traveller Book

What makes The Traveller Book so special that I deem it perfect? Its virtues are numerous but, for the sake of this post, I will narrow them down to just one: it's complete in only 160 8.5" × 11" pages. This single hardback book contains literally everything a player or referee could possibly ever need in the course of many campaigns. Character generation, combat, starships, equipment, world creation, alien life forms, psionics, sample adventures – they're all here, along with almost anything else that might require rules. Just as important, they're all well explained and presented. This fact puts it way ahead of most other RPG books, before or since. 

Allow me to elaborate. The Traveller Book consists of the entirety of the revised 1981 rules for Traveller under a single cover. Those rules were substantially similar to the original 1977 rules but incorporating a few alterations and additions deemed necessary for clarity and completeness. One can quibble – and I do – about the relative excellence of '77 versus '81, but the larger point, I would argue, is that this is a proven ruleset that does its job well. Likewise, by the time The Traveller Book was released in 1982, Traveller had had five years of development. By that time, GDW had a solid handle on what was needed to run and play in a Traveller campaign and The Traveller Book reflects that.

The rules sections of this volume take up only 120 pages of its length. The remaining 40 pages consist of sample patron encounters, fully-fleshed out non-player characters. scenario outlines, two complete adventures, a detailed subsector, pregenerated characters, and an overview of the Third Imperium setting.That's a lot of material both to be used as-is and to provide models and guidance on how to run Traveller. Many RPG books have claimed that they teach you how to play and referee roleplaying games, often employing bizarre methods to make their points. The Traveller Book will have none of that, opting instead for teaching by example.

There's one other reason why I recommend The Traveller Book so highly and it's actually a recent aspect of it. The book is now available in a print on demand version that beautifully reproduces the 1982 printing (aside from the dust jacket). Best of all, it's only $20.

Like I said: perfect.