Working on a Traveller Game

Now that I have the three core books, a bunch of supplements (all from eBay), and a CD-ROM that contains everything they ever published for Classic Traveller, I thought I’d start working up some campaign materials. At this point, I’ve decided to use the Spinward Marches supplement at the overall setting for the game. I purchased some inexpensive Traveller game scenarios written by Michael Brown to give me some ideas, and decided to use one of them as the core of Game 1. I’m about 75% done with writing for this session.

I have no idea how this will go. There are a number of reasons. First, well, it’s a big galaxy. Not totally sure I am good enough at GMing to handle it. But we haven’t even rolled up the PCs yet, so once we do that and have some backstories for them I should be able to come up with some additional material for the game.

Also – how will my players react to the game? One of the things I like about CT is the very simple and efficient character stats. There’s not that much there to keep track of. A line of six numbers/letters describes the characteristics. A few very general skills with a number next to them describe that character’s professional skills. The game pays no attention to things like languages spoken, etc. There will no doubt be some areas where I have to use my Referee Power to just say “OK, you speak Aslan” or whatever. That’s fine, but let’s face it, GURPS details everything your character can do, so this is way different. And of course, there is pretty much no character progression system. PCs are generated as experienced characters.

The first time I tried to ref a Traveller game here’s how it went (I was in highschool). The PCs were hired by some colonists to come and kill a massive beast that was terrorizing them on a remote planet. The PCs rented a helicopter gunship, took it to the planet, and killed the monster from the air. Game over. Yeah – good thinking on their part, not so good on mine, and not all that much fun. Hopefully as a 52 year old man who thinks a bit more clearly about these things, I can make Game 1 of this new campaign will be more engaging.

There are some other issues to deal with as well. Classic Traveller was created in the late 1970s. There are lots of technological developments and ideas it simply doesn’t account for that well. Computers, for one. There’s just a lot of stuff that those little black books, despite their elegance, don’t really address. If I were a true “rules lite” kind of guy that wouldn’t bother me, but I’m not. I like a little more detail in the system, but there are lots of resources to use beyond the LBB, so I think it’s cool.

I’ve noticed this same kind of issue with my Cyberpunk campaign. Older science fiction – pretty much anything pre-internet – simply doesn’t account much for networked computing, mobile devices, the development of nanotechnology, etc. I am fine with simply saying that stuff doesn’t exist. We’re playing Traveller as if we were living in 1977, as if we were in the novels of that era.

The nice thing about this is that I can try my hand at a space campaign without spending lots of time creating detailed character sheets for NPCs. It’s great being able to pick up the Citizens of the Imperium supplement, saying ” I need a scientist”, and finding plenty of easy to use stats right there.

I have to admit though that if the players end up enjoying this I may convert to GURPS so their characters can progress a bit during the campaign.

Interwebs Treasures #17

Traveller Books Are Here!

Well, thanks again to the Ebays, I now have the Traveller boxed set from 1979, as well as the High Guard, Citizens of the Imperium, Mercenary, and Spinward Marches supplements.

Of course the first thing I dug into was book 1, Characters and Combat.

The books are in amazingly good shape considering they are 38 years old.

It’s pretty weird going back into such an old gaming system. After many years of playing games that use point systems to create the character you want to play, Traveller seems like quite the throwback. The character generation process is a game in-itself — the PC can die before he/she gets out of generation! Then there’s situations like rolling up a character with a Strength of 12 (on a 1-12 scale), Dexterity of 12, and an Endurance of 4. It’s hard to make sense out of those sorts of stats, but you know, it can be done, and at age 52 (rather than 15), I can see the fun of doing it. How about, a big fat guy who is really strong, and has great hand eye coordination, but is just TOO HEAVY.  That works! And it might make the character kind of interesting as well.

Then there’s the skills. This isn’t like GURPS where there are dozens of skills and you decide how good your character will be at them. There are fewers skills, but they tend to be a bit broader in focus. Medic. Pilot. Engineer. Gun Combat (pick a particular gun). Jack of All Trades (I’ve always loved this one). So you don’t have the really detailed differences in PC stats that you might seen in GURPS or the Hero System. It’s more on the player to create an interesting backstory and give the PC some personality.

Looking at all the books together, it’s pretty clear why our games back in 1979-1981 always involved going to a planet, buying new guns, killing a lot of people, running to another planet, and repeat. We were young, immature, and really didn’t know that much about science fiction, and frankly we didn’t really do that much real roleplaying. The boxed set give you such a flexible framework within which to build a game that we just didn’t know what to do with it.

Finally (for now), I have to admit that the lack of a very workable improvement system for characters still kind of puts me off a bit. On the bright side, it encourages good storytelling and roleplaying. However, it does kind of suck to go through a lot of games and your character doesn’t really improve. A PC has to age four years, during which he/she studies like a maniac, to learn new skills or improve at old ones. I’m sure some of the newer versions of Traveller probably address this issue. I could see using the GURPS version of Traveller, and using the old books as source material and inspiration.

I’m thinking that after our next GURPS CyberTex game I may have my players roll up some old Traveller characters and see what we can do with this.

Recollections of a Traveller

As I think back over my early days of gaming and GMing, the memories are flooding back. When I started in 1979, there weren’t hundreds of RPGs. Most of the time my friends and I played D&D, but one guy had the game Traveller, so we played that too. Eventually we all bought the game.

Traveller was great because it was about space, and was really flexible. The basic set came in a box and had 3 little black books of rules. They sold a lot of supplements. I don’t think there was a single illustration in the core set. Something about the books made you feel smart.

The game mechanics had rules for spaceship combat, interstellar commerce, and other cool stuff, but at 15 we mostly just blew stuff up. Get in the spaceship, go to a planet, get drunk, find a weapons dealer, buy some plasma rifles, and start killing. When the Law got on our asses we’d hop in our ship, the Hellfire, and take off, usually destroying more people and ships on the way out of the system. Mass murder and mayhem on a glorious scale.

It helped that our GM 1)just wanted his friends to be happy and 2)didn’t seem to have actually read any of the rules beyond character generation. His answer to any question of skill was “roll three dice”. We had no idea what we were rolling for, and neither most likely did he, but we all had fun and that’s all that mattered. Clearly, we never got bogged down in game mechanics…heh heh.

Our GM got into gaming really early. Every Wednesday night he went to this huge gaming meetup at Richland Junior College, here in Dallas. He was friends with lots of older gamers. One of them was a computer programmer. He gave our GM this gigantic hex map, with planets dotting it. Each planet had a number, and there was a computer printout on which the characteristics of each planet were given — randomly generated by a program this guy had written. Pretty cool. We were in awe.

As we got older, and better game systems were released, we tended to gravitate toward the new stuff. Hero Games’ Champions was a prime example. Flexible, great combat system, etc. Game Designer’s Workshop, the authors of Traveller, have continued to release new editions of the game, but we never played them. We stuck to the original when we wanted hot space action. There was something really cool about that little box, with the 3 original books, and maybe having a couple of the supplemental books and a bunch of dice crammed in there. It was stripped down roleplaying. It was all on you and the GM.

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