Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Traveller on Minis

Book 1 of the 1977 edition of Traveller simply lists under "Optional Materials" for the game "Miniature Figures (persons, beasts, aliens and spaceships)." The only other explicit reference to miniatures I could find in Book 1 -- please correct me if I'm mistaken -- is in the Personal Combat chapter, where it's noted that
Because the effects of range are so important, and because the ranges between specific characters can vary greatly, it is suggested that the complex combats be mapped out on a line grid (as shown in the diagram). Ordinary lined paper serves this purpose quite well. The grid consists of broad bands in which the characters are placed (use cardboard markers or cast metal miniatures to represent the characters).
As you can see, miniatures are reduced to the role of mere markers on a range grid rather than anything more elaborate.

Book 2 is a different matter altogether. The chapter devoted to Starship Combat begins thusly:
When starships encounter in space, they may be forced to do battle as a result of desire or of circumstance. In such situations, starship battles may be resolved using miniature spaceship combat in accordance with the following rules.
The implication here is that, unlike personal combat, which is natively much more abstract, starship combat is inherently a miniatures-based affair. This is supported further when, while describing the "Basic Parameters" of such combats, the chapter discusses "Space" and "Units:"
2. Space: A playing surface is required, representing space as a two dimensional surface at a scale of 1:63360000, or, in more familiar terms, one inch equals one thousand miles. The term inches and thousands of miles are used interchangeably in these rules, and refer to distance. Planetary templates may be made as discs on this scale also.


4. Units: Starships and space vehicles are individually represented by spacecraft miniatures, or (if necessary) by counters or markers. Because spacecraft miniatures are almost certainly oversize when compared to the scale in use, each such craft should be marked with a spot to designate the exact true nature of the ships in play.
Throughout Book 2, the term "miniatures combat" is repeatedly used as a synonym for "starship combat," suggesting that, as original conceived, starship combat was in fact a kind of "sub-game" within Traveller and a miniatures-focused one at that.


  1. Then they "fixed" it by coming out with Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning and culminating in Striker.


  2. I loved Snapshot. It was a really fun little game. I wish I still had a copy.

  3. Snapshot, though, used counters on maps.

    Remember Mayday, too-- GDW's ship-to-ship combat game that came out at about the same time. Another excellent game!

  4. I had Striker; it was bewildering, and the miniatures were 15mm scale which were so tiny I had a hard time painting them (not to mention keeping track of them).

  5. When I was young (around '81 or so) I ignored Mayday and Snapshot... I looked at them as an unneeded addition to Traveller geared to bleed my funds. More recently, while re-reading the core rule-books in plans for a new campaign at some point in the future, those two little board-games looked a lot cooler than they did back in the day! Almost necessary even. Especially Mayday. (I mean did anybody really do starship combat with rulers and corkboard?)

    By sheer luck I found a sealed copy of Mayday at a local used-game store for $8! Snapshot ended up costing me closer to $30 via mail-order.

    I am happy now, though... my fetish for old-school games was satiated and I feel I have all the goods I need to run a satisfying Traveller adventure when I am ready. I guess you could say I am a minis guy these days.

  6. Counters on maps are the poor man's miniatures variant. Similar to me using paper constructed terrain, rather than spending thousands on sculpted dungeon sets.

    Snapshot is a great example of that principle in motion, as are the upcoming D&D Essentials line and the early counters sets under OGL.

    Companies like Ral Partha have thrived because miniatures are an important part of the hobby for many players. Your mileage may vary, but I find them very useful and find the cheap collectible pre-paints to be a godsend.

  7. As the co-author of a Snapshot/AHL inspired Traveller combat system, I must toot my own horn here.


    Written for T4, but adaptable to any version.

    Starship combat required some sort of marker due to the vector-based movement system. If you were just exchanging fire with another ship racing in the same general direction, you could wing it.

  8. Well Mayday was released almost at the same time as the basic Traveller set, so it's not surprising that they thought this way. In fact "This is the Free Trader Beowulf..." has much the same cachet to die old Traveller fans as "This is the Kobyashi Maru..." has to Trekkers.

    And as for an early bias toward counters in Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning, well you have to remember that GDW was originally a boardgame company so such a transition came naturally to them.

    Although I think one of my favourite Traveller supplements was the original Striker minatures rules (the damage rules were much more in keeping with reality I found).

    Does anyone else remember/have the official Traveller Cardboard Heroes put out by Steve Jackson? Only really useful* for Traveller because they used the 15mm scale, but they did fit on the maps (which was the probable reason for why that scale was chosen to be "official").

    [*unless, of course, you run into a race of pygmy Zhodani...]

  9. I bought Snapshot (and Dungeon) before Holmes or Traveller. Loved it, loved Mayday, and loved AZH. Of course, I love blueprints and maps.

    The board games were more hands-on than abstract rpg gaming. But figures made everything more fun, from Snapshot to Traveller to D&D. Paper cut-outs just weren't the same.

    But I dislike being pushed into additional purchases.

  10. OT question: what do you think was the inspiration for original Traveller? It always struck me as very Heinleinian (military/libertarian, "free (tramp) trader" etc). I ran across it so early in life that it quickly became "default SF" for me (along with the obviously Travelleresque computer game Elite), but now looking back I'm wondering where this default SF came from - before Star Wars, which was more sword'n'planety.

  11. OT question: what do you think was the inspiration for original Traveller?

    The inspirations for Traveller are diverse and obvious if you're familiar with older science fiction. They include Poul Anderson's "Flandry" stories, H. Beam Piper's "Terro-Human Future History" tales, E.C. Tubb's "Dumarest" saga, and Bertram Chandler's "Commodore Grimes" adventures, with ideas thrown together from other SF from the 50s through early 70s. It's almost entirely a game of literary SF, one of the last examples of its kind.

  12. "As you can see, miniatures are reduced to the role of mere markers on a range grid rather than anything more elaborate."

    3:16 Carnage Amongst The Stars, a Space Marines pastiche RPG uses the very same system right as it's core mechanic.

  13. Classic Traveller, as I have always imagined it, has a strong element of Isaac Asimov's early Foundation books with aliens thrown in (although I tend to downplay the influence of most of Traveller's sentient alien species). Also a bit of Robert A. Heinlein and Gordon R. Dickson.

  14. I always saw the Foundation in Traveller as well. Though I'm not widely read on classic SF

  15. As for literary influences, don't forget Dune, and Andre Norton.

  16. There are a lot of literary influences on Traveller, to be sure and, you're right that Foundation is among them (Norton's "Central Control" and "Solar Queen" series too), but I think Anderson and Piper are the two biggest ones. I don't see a lot of Herbert in the game myself, but perhaps I'm just missing something obvious.

  17. I think Jack Vance must have been a pretty big influence. His Ridolph stories and all the novels of the "Gaean Reach" (The Demon Princes books, the Alastor books, even the later Cadwal Chronicles) all seem very Traveller to me, esp. the world-generation system in Trav LBBs. I think this really applies mainly to the LBBs, not to the Imperium storyline, which, frankly, has left me cold compared to the wide-open nature of the original books.

    I think _Firefly_ was a great inheritor of the spirit of the orig. Trav. books, despite it taking place in a system instead of a sector. That's really just a vocabulary issue. Cowboy sci. fi. seems perfectly suited to LBB Trav.