Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Retrospective: Trillion Credit Squadron

I think my enduring love for GDW's Traveller is very well known. I sometimes call Traveller "my D&D," by which I simply mean that it's my go-to game and touchstone. This remains true even after writing my own SF RPG. I played Traveller quite regularly throughout the 1980s, becoming well versed in the game's official Third Imperium setting – so much so, in fact, that it eventually led to my earliest professional writing gigs in the pages of the late, lamented Challenge magazine (about which I should write someday), followed by work on Traveller: The New Era and GURPS Traveller. 

Of the many things I love about Traveller are its so-called "little black books." I remember, shortly I first discovered the game in 1982, walking into a game store and marveling at the sight of all these digest-sized books arrayed on a shelf. I picked one up whenever I could afford it and generally considered them to be a better deal than, say, TSR's D&D modules, since GDW's adventures usually included lots of maps, equipment, starship designs, etc. that could be re-purposed in my campaign. Eventually, I amassed quite a large collection of Traveller materials.

Among the books I owned in those days was Trillion Credit Squadron, written by Marc Miller and John Harshman and first published in 1981. Though called an adventure – Traveller materials were divided into "books" (rules expansions), "supplements" (optional material), and "adventures" (pre-made scenarios) – Trillion Credit Squadron (hereafter TCS) is much more than that, providing both instructions for the creation of large naval forces and presenting a small setting to use as the basis of a campaign. 

Of the two, I found the Islands Cluster setting to be the more immediately interesting and useful to me. The Cluster consists of two subsectors, the New Islands and Old Islands, colonized by sublight vessels launched from Terra by the European Space Agency in 2050. The journey to the Cluster would take two thousand years, necessitating the use of cold sleep for the 100,000 settlers. As the colonies grew, they inevitably feuded over politics, territory, and resources, with wars becoming commonplace. These two subsectors are thus an interesting addition to the Third Imperium setting, as well as a backdrop against which to play out battles between the fleets designed in the main portion of TCS.

From the beginning, Traveller has had rules for building starships and using them to fight one another. Starship construction and combat is the basis for one of the many solo mini-games that Traveller's rules have always accommodated. The premise of TCS is that players face off against one another, using fleets of ships they've constructed with a restricted budget – the eponymous trillion credit squadrons (with the option of smaller billion credit squadrons for newcomers). The bulk of the book is made up of rules, rulings, and guidelines to facilitate this, with the expectation that they will all be used in the course of tournaments at game conventions (as they eventually were).

Unlike a significant portion of Traveller's fanbase, I was never a gearhead. I hated constructing starships and found the whole process laborious and confusing, but I've always been terrible at math. When I was refereeing my Riphaeus Sector campaign recently, I outsourced all the starship designs to friends with a better grasp of the rules and basic mathematical functions. At the same time, I love the idea of building starships and using them to engage in massive fleet actions. That's a big part of my conception of sci-fi, which is why I'm always looking for a satisfying way to include such things in my campaigns without its becoming a chore.

Sadly, Trillion Credit Squadron does nothing whatsoever to make it simpler for the math-impaired to build and battle starships. Indeed, the TCS includes among its recommended materials "calculators or adding machines" and even suggests the use of programming a home computer "to handle much of the tedium of the design process," which is especially ironic, given the history of the TCS tournament. On the other hand, it contains some useful campaign rules dealing with revenue, time, communications, and intelligence gathering among others, all of which are quite useful in "regular" Traveller campaigns. It's for that reason that, despite not using TCS to fight out fleet engagements as intended, I nevertheless like it a great deal.

9 comments:

  1. I had a look at Trillion Credit Squadron and my eyes glazed over. I think a big part of it is that, thematically, there's not a lot of difference between the various choices. If you're choosing between, say, 'peasant levies' and 'barbarians', there's a mental image of the difference between the two. But one type of spaceship armor isn't mentally different to another type of spaceship armor.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I have Trillion Credit Squadron and I've skimmed through it. Mostly I was interested because I've always wanted to participate in a grand political campaign, where the players were ministers, high-ranking commanders etc and you could bring in elements of strategy gaming. I think of TCS as one of several games which always suggested to me that GDW remained closer to the wargaming roots of the hobby than most other publishers. Other such examples include Striker, Azhanti High Lighting, Imperium, Pocket Empires etc...

    ReplyDelete
  3. I appear to be the minority representative here, but I thoroughly enjoyed High Guard and Trillion Credit Squadron once I'd sat down and used the design and campaign systems a bit. I've played three different actual trillion credit campaigns over the years (each time with six-eight players in two teams) and dozens of billion credit conflicts. Then again, I also played a lot of Starfire back in the day, and like many people I fooled around with the pipe dream of grand strategic campaigns for Star Fleet Battles.

    I'll admit that a full trillion credits is a bit too much even for my tastes, but at the billion cred level the games feel more meaningful and certainly play faster. The latter is a very good level to integrate into roleplaying campaigns, either as an ongoing background element or something the PCs are actively involved with for a story arc. Good step up from the one-on-one or very small squadron fights Mayday and the core RPG rules were designed to handle.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you're interested in that synthesis of strategy/wargaming and RPG playing, you might be interested in Victory By Any Means, intended as a campaign framework for precisely that sort of thing.

      Delete
    2. That sounds intriguing. Who's the publisher?

      Delete
  4. Appropriately enough, Victory By Any means Games. Available in PDF

    https://www.wargamevault.com/product/152147/Victory-by-Any-Means-Campaign-Guide-Second-Edition

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you do manage to use it, please put something up on your blog! I'm very interested to see how such an experiment would actually play out!

      Delete