Tabletop RPGs Traveller

A new appreciation for the 1977 version of Traveller

Earlier this month, at Go Play Northwest, I played a game of Traveller Carcosa run by Alex Mayo that really made me want to play more Traveller. It also reminded me to prod my long-simmering, largely unrequited interest in Traveller and see if Mongoose Traveller was still my favorite iteration.

I then bumped into this post by Alex Schroeder about the nuances of sector generation in Classic Traveller (from The Traveller Book) and Mongoose Traveller (paid link) 1e, and that led me down a rabbit warren of Classic Traveller exploration.

What I learned was that there is at least as much meaningful variation in the nuances, presentation, expression, and philosophy of different versions of the Classic Traveller rules as there is in versions of old-school D&D.[1] I had no idea!

I love exploring this kind of stuff (and I’ve written about a bit of it myself; for example, my posts about B/X D&D), and just as it did with D&D, delving deeply into the seemingly innocuous variations in Traveller has led me to the realization that it’s the very first presentation, the 1977 versions of Books 1-3 that interests me the most, supplemented by The Traveller Book for specific areas (like its tidy summary of the encounter rolls that form the basic structure of a campaign).

Interestingly, the only source for the 1977 version of Traveller that I’m aware of also happens to be one of the best deals in gaming: the Classic Traveller CD-ROM from Far Future Entertainment, which also includes the entire CT canon for just $35. Apart from that lone source, the later revisions of the original rules, notably the 1983 Traveller Book, have “taken over” and supplanted the 1977 version. The FFE CD, though, includes the original 1977 booklets, the 1981 revision, and The Traveller Book.

Classic Traveller love

Here are some of the branches in that rabbit warren, all great reads:

Collectively, all of the above gave me a newfound appreciation for the original 1977 iteration of Traveller, as well as for the many parallels between Traveller Books 1-3 and OD&D’s original three LBBs, which embody a similar freewheeling, DIY, make-your-own-fun ethos.

When I — eventually! — get to run Classic Traveller, it’ll be with the 1977 rules (Books 1-3), The Traveller Book for some handy clarifications, and possibly, though only possibly, Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium for alternate careers (but minus the Imperium stuff).

[1] And that’s not even considering all of the other full-on different editions, like MegaTraveller and whatnot.

Books Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Traveller’s literary sources

Thanks to the inimitable Alex Schroeder, I followed a link to this excellent 2005 essay by Michael Andre-Driussi: Deciphering the Text Foundations of Traveller.

Here’s Driussi’s thesis:

The creators of CT wanted the anarchic, amoral, and violent adventure of fantasy role playing translated into a science fiction setting. They also wanted a kind of science fiction that used more “hard SF” than even Niven’s work. They categorically rejected New Wave SF, which made them allied to the Old Wave, except that GDW wanted a gritty, noir setting (where the Old Wave is characterized as upbeat and moral).

Traveller as noir is something I’d never considered, but it makes perfect sense. There’s a lot more to unpack, even in just that excerpt — the whole essay is a damned fine read.

Here’s another concise snippet:

What the creators of CT were after was science fiction adventure, featuring freelance “adventurers” (with all the connotations of gold hunters, mercenaries, and trail blazers that this term implies) who could live or die in the course of pick-up games.

One of the sources Driussi cites is the Dumarest Saga, by E.C. Tubb (which I’d never heard of, but boy does it sound like it’d fit right into Appendix N). Here’s the skinny:

E. C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra series (1967 onward) portrays its titular hero as a far future Odysseus trying to find his way home across a galaxy that has forgotten Earth completely. Each novel is slim and action-packed: Earl Dumarest arrives penniless at a new planet where he must use his wits and his reflexes, not only to survive but also to make enough money for passage to the next planet. From this series, already 17 books long in 1977, CT got such details as: low passage (a deadly hibernation system); mesh armor; the drugs fast, slow, medical slow, and combat (i.e., two-thirds of the drugs in CT); the weapon “blade”” and perhaps the psionics.

I could quote this puppy all day. It’s so good!

Driussi’s essay gave me a new perspective on, and a deeper understanding of, Classic Traveller. It’s fascinating to see what shaped the nature and quirks of Traveller’s premise and presentation.

Tabletop RPGs Traveller

Frank Filz’s excellent Classic Traveller character generator

After I posted about Devil Ghost’s character generator for Classic Traveller, Frank Filz mentioned that he hosts the same generator on his site — and that he’s made it user-configurable. I tried it out, and it rocks.

To get a character, just open the generator page. For a new one, just refresh the page. Easy peasy (just like the Devil Ghost generator).

By default, this generator shows quite a bit of detail. Here’s a partial screenshot of Brom Tanaka, a 7-term general I rolled up:

But you can also tweak the generator in a variety of ways by altering the URL, and Frank explains all of the settings on his site. Want to see the die rolls? Toggle the “verbose” setting. Want less history, just the results? You can change that. Need a Navy character? Specify the service branch in the URL.

If I needed a character fast, with minimal output — just the facts, ma’am — I’d go the Devil Ghost route. If I needed more control, or wanted to see the details of how my character got where they landed, I’d hit up Frank’s version. Two great flavors to enjoy!

Tabletop RPGs Traveller

A spiffy online Classic Traveller character generator

This Classic Traveller character generator on Devil Ghost is a hoot. The visuals are a perfect match for Traveller, and it couldn’t be easier to use: just refresh to get a new character.[1]

Here’s my favorite character I’ve rolled up so far:

Just look at this dude: he spent five terms — 20 years — in the military, working his way steadily up to the rank of colonel, and has the mustering-out benefits of someone who was a very successful soldier. But what interests me most is one skill in particular: Dagger-3.

Dagger-1 is a professional knife fighter, or equivalent. Like if there’s a job that involves knifey stuff, you can get hired to do that job with Dagger-1.

Dagger-2 is an elite knife fighter. This is someone with special skills, who stands out even among skilled knife fighters.

But Dagger-3? Dagger-3 is a fucking ninja assassin. And in his 20 years in the service, that must be what Colonel Wang spent the most time doing.

Why? What kinds of missions did he undertake? How did they shape him as a person? Who is he today, mustering out at 38 with the means to travel the galaxy?

I had some ideas the moment I scanned his character sheet, and I bet you did too. That’s why I love Classic Traveller‘s minimalist characters and delightfully random character creation.

[1] I do wish there was a permalink for each character, but I don’t know enough about programming to know if that might be difficult to produce.