This is a transcript of the above video...
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode seven of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” Today I’m doing something a little different, I am going retro. Today I discuss Traveller, a space-faring RPG from my youth.
Traveller was first published in 1977 by Game Designer’s Workshop. It was written by Mark Miller, who has continued producing new versions ever since. The second version of Traveller is called MegaTraveller and was published in 1987. Traveller: The New Era followed in 1993 and then T4: Mark Miller’s Traveller was released in 1996. The current version of Traveller is Traveller5, published in 2013 by Far Future Enterprises. Along the way, other versions of Traveller have been released.
Steve Jackson Games released a version of Traveller under their GURPS rules. It’s called Traveller: Interstellar Wars.
In 2002, a d20 version of Traveller, called T20, of course, was published by QuikLink Interactive. And, in 2008, Mongoose Publishing published a version of Traveller simply referred to as Mongoose Traveller. It is now in a second edition published in 2016.
I give you all that just as a brief history. You can read more about the game’s versions at the Wikipedia entry linked below. I have never played any version except the first, now commonly called “Classic Traveller.” And today I’m just going to talk about the game and what I like about it.
The original ruleset for Traveller was published as three “little black books” sold in a box set as pictured here (along with some additional books). Those three books cover characters, spaceships, and worlds for adventuring. In 1982, those three core books were consolidated into a single book with additional material, and sold as The Traveller Book. I still have mine here. This is the hardcover edition. There was also a softcover that had artwork on the cover rather than the plain black. Obviously, I like this one much better. Especially since it has held up for 35-plus years.
One of the best things about Traveller is the character creation system. I have put together a flowchart here. Everything in Traveller is done using 6-sided dice. So all you need is a Yahtzee set and you’re good to go. You start by rolling the six ability scores for your character. These abilities are strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, and social standing. You roll two six-sided dice (2d6) for each characteristic, giving you an initial total of 2 to 12 for each score. You can raise scores to a maximum of 15, scores can also go down to zero for various reasons. Traveller then uses hexadecimal numbering, i.e. 0 to 9 and then A, B, C, D, E, and F to represent those scores in a six-digit “Universal Personality Profile” or UPP. You can already see why this appeals to computer nerds.
In fact, the very first program I ever wrote, in BASIC on a TRS-80, was NOT an AD&D Character Generator. (That was my second program.) It was a world generator for Traveller. I still have a listing of generated worlds from that program. That is some high-quality dot-matrix printing right there.
Okay, you have your UPP. You then pick one of six services to try to enlist in: Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchants, or Other. If you fail your enlistment roll, you then roll to get drafted. You can actually get drafted by the service that just rejected your enlistment, but isn’t that just like life? Once in a service, at age 18, you begin a four-year term of enlistment.
Then comes the fun part. You have to make a survival roll. Fail the survival roll...and your character is dead and you have to start over. This can happen during ANY term of service, whether your first or your fifth. Thus my shirt: “You haven’t lived until you’ve died...during character creation.”
If you survive, you can try to get an officer’s commision, and if you succeed or already have your commission, you can try for a promotion. You then total up the skills you’ve learned and roll on a set of skill tables to see what actual skills you get.
THEN you make a reenlistment roll. You have to make the roll whether you want to reenlist or not. If you roll a 12 on 2d6, you HAVE TO reenlist. If you roll under a 12, but still succeed in beating the reenlistment score, you can then CHOOSE whether or not to reenlist. If you fail the reenlistment roll, you’re out. Once you muster out, you roll on another set of tables to see what kind of benefits you get. Which can include money, equipment, even your own personal spaceship if you’re a Scout. You then go out into the universe, ready for...well, anything.
One of the neat things about Traveller is, you don’t have to actually fight anyone, or anything. Yes, there are combat rules for characters. And space combat rules for spaceships. But you can run an entire adventure just operating a trade route, or merchant service, or scouting planets. The core books have a complete section on designing starships and creating worlds and adventures. Here is the section on starships and their design. You can spend hours just designing your own spaceships. The game really is a creative tinkerer’s dream.
And then there are the expansions. I have three additional core rule books. Book 4, Mercenary, expands the Army and Marines, so instead of just being Army or Marines, you can be Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry, Marine, Support, or Commando. Book 5, High Guard, expands the Navy to Line Crew, Flight, Gunnery, Engineering, Medical, and Technical. Book 6 gives you seven “classes” of Scout: Survey, Communications, Explorations, Administrations, Operations, Technical, or Detached Duty. Two other core books, that I never owned, are Book 7, covering expanded Merchant classes; and, Book 8, governing the use of robots. And then there are the supplements, some of which I have expanding non-player character classes, including Pirates, Belters, Sailors, Diplomats, Doctors, and Flyers.
I’ve got supplements for additional spaceship information: traders, gunboats, and fighters. Another supplement has just pages of forms to keep track of everything. I also have one best-of issue of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society, which is sort of like the old Dragon Magazine with all kinds of additional info and rules for differents types of games.
And then there’s a starmap of the Imperium, which is the “official” Traveller universe. Yes, I totally geeked out on this stuff when I was a teenager.
What are some of the ways in which Traveller is different? Well, as I already said, you can play full campaigns that never or almost never include combat. You can negotiate trade agreements. Survey planets. Make first contact with aliens. Your imagination is the limit. And, even though Traveller is designed as a “sci-fi” RPG with laser guns and spaceships, it has full rulesets for “primitive” technology. So you can use these rules to run a game in any setting you choose. Want something set in a society like ancient China? You can do that. Want to create a Western? You can do that. Want a modern game set on Earth of today? You can do that.
I think, “You can do that” is the way I would describe Traveller. The ruleset is so flexible, and can be adapted for anything (well, there are no rules for magic, so fantasy settings are out, but there are other RPGs to handle that)...you can do that.
From what I’ve read, Mongoose Traveller is the currently-in-print RPG that is closest to Classic Traveller. I can’t personally vouchsafe that description, but I think people generally know what they’re talking about. The reviews of Traveller5 are...mostly awful. However, if you’re willing to live with PDFs, you can get a CD with all the Classic Traveller books from traveller5.net. That’s what I would do.
In fact, I may complete my collection that way. That’s all I’ve got for this edition of Go Game, Young Man. Don’t forget to Like this video and Subscribe to my channel. Follow me on social media, links below, along with links to other material used in this video. Until next time...Go Travel, Young Man.