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Traveller
June 29, 2011 8:41 PM   Subscribe

Traveller is a series of related science fiction role-playing games, the first published in 1977 by Game Designers' Workshop and subsequent editions by various companies remaining in print to this day. (previously)
posted by Trurl (86 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
More! More! Now do an Empire of the Petal Throne post!
posted by Nomyte at 8:45 PM on June 29, 2011 [6 favorites]


Traveller is (in)famous for being the RPG in which a character can die during creation.
posted by JHarris at 8:52 PM on June 29, 2011 [18 favorites]


No, do a Toon post!!!
posted by GavinR at 8:53 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


To my knowledge, this is the only RPG post that isn't about D&D and isn't spam for a buddy's small press project. Congratulations!

Traveller is interesting on a number of levels. You could die in character creation! It combined a bunch of SF influences that are pretty much extinct in the contemporary eye, such as H. Beam Piper. This is cool, if occasionally tiresome when fans are too-consciously retro. I'd love to see an interstellar game with the same scope and ambition that doesn't require us to stay stuck in the 70s.

And I concur on Empire of the Petal Throne.
posted by mobunited at 8:54 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


More recently, there's Diaspora, which looks fantastic, though I haven't gotten the opportunity to play it yet. It has separate mechanics and gameplay for galaxy building, character building, and actual role-playing, somewhat in the spirit of Traveller (where one could, so the story goes, spend far more time building the world than actually playing).

(and, just to be sure, mobunited, I know none of the Diaspora people personally...)
posted by kaibutsu at 8:56 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, flashback to high school (77 or 78) playing this for the first time. This was the first role playing game I'd ever seen or heard of, RPG wasn't even a concept I was aware of. We played this once and then it was D&D for a year before girls, pot smoking and alcohol made too many serious inroads on my gaming. I really only played because I liked to draw characters, the actual game play bored me (ADD doesn't mix with D&D).
posted by doctor_negative at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2011


I never played Taveller but always wanted to. Anyone know if therewill be a game of this at GenCon this year?
posted by Vindaloo at 9:00 PM on June 29, 2011


@kaibatsu I find the problems with the wave of games that Diaspora is a part of is that it traps people in its various metasystems and they make big worlds and they talk on the internet and they don't play any sessions except at conventions and such. Traveller has dangerous bits of this in its shipbuilding, mapping and lifepaths, but its lack of complexity in most other areas is an asset when it comes to getting things off the ground.
posted by mobunited at 9:01 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've considered doing a post on Call of Cthulhu, which we've been playing recently. The game is surprisingly popular; I think it was a poll at RPG.net that rated it their second favorite RPG behind D&D.
posted by JHarris at 9:01 PM on June 29, 2011


I'm planning on making an Unknown Armies post. That game shaped my worldview, and may have shaped real life.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:11 PM on June 29, 2011


I'm playing a game of Traveller on Stickam RIGHT NOW! Its a ridiculous amount of fun, and while none of our characters died in creation, most of us ended up with characters drastically different from the concepts we started out with.
posted by sawdustbear at 9:13 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


...various metasystems...

Yeah, this reminds me also of Shock, which of the small-press single-session games I've played is also the most likely to get bogged down in world-building. It also happens to be a science fiction game.

The issue, I think, is that science fiction on the whole has much more flexibility in its conventions than, say, fantasy, which (with some permutations) has been pretty well set since Tolkien. Probably this also has to do with the quasi-historical sentiment of fantasy, too: every thing's already happened, in some sense, so it's much easier to just buy the assumptions of a given fantasy setting. Finally, there's a good deal of investment (both for GM's and players) in picking up a new game system, so sticking to the D&D canon ends up being as far as many players are willing/able to go.

With science fiction, on the other hand, it's about an uncertain future, with different technologies and configurations having massive effect on the way people live, interact, think, and react. Shock very explicitly makes the game world just as important as the characters.

Probably I should just shut up, though, having not actually played Traveller...

sawdustbear: Would you grace us with an Actual Play description?
posted by kaibutsu at 9:17 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Actually, Traveller has been especially suited to playing via internet video chat. As mentioned, it's really not all that complex, which makes storytelling really adaptable and pretty much up to the players. We're in our 8th session or so now, and I should really go back to it now because we ended up at a decrepit amusement park. ...
posted by sawdustbear at 9:19 PM on June 29, 2011



There was a D&D Sci fi game called "Star Frontiers" or some such. We played for a bit, but it never caught on.

My friends got into Traveller from Twilight 2000, another RPG by GDW. That was an awesome game, and fit right in with zeitgeist of the 80s. Anyway, we didn't stick too long on Traveller because someone brought over Paranoia and that was pretty much all we played for a while.

I probably still have the Traveller box in the basement. I lost all my TW:2000 books in a fire, but thankfully, I didn't have my entire collection stored there.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:22 PM on June 29, 2011


Making characters was hella fun.

Making starships was hella fun (esp. if you bought High Guard. MESON GUN ANYONE?)

Mapping the starships you designed was also hella fun.

Making star systems was hella fun.

You didn't have to ever play this game to have an incredibly good time with it!

What a game.
posted by edheil at 9:23 PM on June 29, 2011 [10 favorites]


There are lots of things I like about Traveller. One of them is that my name is in the credits for "Fire, Fusion and Steel", the hardware supplement.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:24 PM on June 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


How about a little love for Runequest?
posted by 445supermag at 9:25 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I remember a while ago reading this new-edition Traveller character creation thread (the archived version expands out the irritating hidden spoiler text). It's awesomely, brilliantly detailed, and the character doesn't even die.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 9:37 PM on June 29, 2011


Traveller was the only RPG I ever tried, with a couple of buddies, back in like 1980. It was pretty fun, but we soon dropped it in favour of booze and girls and cars. I think that might have been a life-path-changing decision, there.

I feel like there was a computer game from the pre-286 era based on it, but for years I haven't been able to remember a) if it was or b) what it was called.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:38 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Apparently Traveller was a direct inspiration on Firefly.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:42 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can try!

We're playing using the Traveller system, but not necessarily the Traveller world(whatever their world is...I don't actually know anyone that has played using their story). Our DM made up one that's sort of deconstructed steampunk(?), but that's not really relevant. So far, the world building just happens as we go along.

I think your criticism is exactly right, though. You can definitely spend more time worldbuilding than playing, but in our case, the DM had a strong idea of what he wanted, and just threw us in the world and answered background questions as they came up(we're also not particularly annoying players). He's also very lenient. I'm not sure how balanced the game we're playing is, but so far it's a lot of fun, and we've been spending a lot of time doing story things(trading, investigating, hiding) and less doing action things(shooting) and it's great.

The only systems I can compare to that I've played are Dark Heresy and 4e D&D, but both feel stricter than Traveller.

We've had several sessions with no combat at all, and it's been great. It feels that the scifi universe lends itself really well to character "classes" that are non combat. The character creation process also tends to give you pretty versatile characters. For instance, I'm was planning on being a canary merchant, but ended up pretty much as the ship's mechanic, with a good range of generally useful skills - except combat! That said, running from a fight has been excellent and fun too and combat is pretty deadly so there's definitely incentive to avoid it(versus D&D, which sort of feels formulaic, with all the "three dire badgers just appeared in front of us...okay, i guess we'll kill them").

At the same time, the system is loose enough that the GM has allowed combat tactics such as "I shoot at that oxyacetylene torch's tank" and "I'd like to drive my flying skiff over the top of that tank, and hopefully decapitate the gunner"

We've had a couple car chases and ship chases - no one really bothered with the nitty gritty details - it was as simple as... the pilot rolling well = we catch up...the engineer rolls well = the ship goes faster.
posted by sawdustbear at 9:45 PM on June 29, 2011


If you like RPGs you're doing yourself a disservice if you're not reading Grognardia.

(Are there any good computer RPGs from the past few years that I might not know about, aside from the obvious Elder Scrolls/Witcher stuff?)
posted by tumid dahlia at 9:46 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've heard good things about Geneforge. Some of the Gothic games aren't bad.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 9:55 PM on June 29, 2011


plasma rifle
posted by exlotuseater at 9:57 PM on June 29, 2011


Oh man, always wanted to play. Want.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:59 PM on June 29, 2011


There's a heavy metal concept album based on this game -- Slough Feg's Traveller. For my money this is actually the single best heavy metal record released in the last ten years or so... but then, I do love killer riffs, mad professors, and spacefaring dog-men!
posted by vorfeed at 10:00 PM on June 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Played a one-off Traveller/Savage Worlds mashup last weekend; great fun. Moving on to a full-fledged RIFTS campaign from next Sunday...glad to back in sci-fi after an extended sojourn through the fantastical...

Great post!
posted by jet_manifesto at 10:10 PM on June 29, 2011


I've considered doing a post on Call of Cthulhu, which we've been playing recently.

Please do! I love CoC, and I'm always down to hear other peoples' stories, because I haven't had the opportunity to play nearly enough of it.
posted by rifflesby at 10:13 PM on June 29, 2011


tumid, thank you so much for that link to grognardia. There on the front page, Third Reich. Oh my goodness, haven't stared at that box lid for decades.
posted by wilful at 10:21 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


Traveller is (in)famous for being the RPG in which a character can die during creation.

Traveller (where one could, so the story goes, spend far more time building the world than actually playing).

it traps people in its various metasystems and they make big worlds and they talk on the internet and they don't play any sessions

You didn't have to ever play this game to have an incredibly good time with it!

You can definitely spend more time worldbuilding than playing

Approximately 96% of all the fun I ever had in my (several) attempts to play pen-and-paper role-playing games was in the character, world, and dungeon creation phases. I pretty much gave up on the medium a while ago.

This is really, really awesome to hear.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 10:21 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


The first hard sci fi game I got into was the Albedo Anthropomorphics RPG (which, despite the furries, was hard sci-fi and really interesting). The original box set is almost impossible to find, though it had the sort of crunchiness a lot of hard sci-fi games tended to fall into. There was tracking weight of each bullet in your guns, adjusting your skills based on your self esteem at the time, and tracking bloodloss from injuries. (You can look at someone's web notes here.)

More recently it's been re-released under a completely different, and more manageable system, which keeps a lot of flavor of the old one without the extra math.

Mostly, I really liked their view of space combat- you program in some likely strategies, fire off your robotic drones to crash into the opponent or counter their own drones, and the few hours you expect possible contact, you suit up, strap into your station, seal up your hatches, hope for the best from your AI, and if you're alive after that, you get out and do repairs.
posted by yeloson at 10:24 PM on June 29, 2011


I've heard good things about Geneforge. Some of the Gothic games aren't bad.

Yeah I love all the Spiderweb stuff, and tried Gothic II a few years back but wasn't a huge fan. I've finally upgraded my PC to the point where it will actually, y'know, run things now, so I was hoping I might have missed something that wouldn't have been on the 360.

Sorry for derailage.
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:25 PM on June 29, 2011


subject_verb_remainder - maybe what you're looking for is How to Host a Dungeon? It's a solo game, about 30-45 minutes, where you end up randomly creating a dungeon complex, at least a few civilizations as they go through it, and what happens to the inhabitants and monsters therein. I like to think of it as P&P Ultralite Dwarf Fortress (AKA "Sane people mode").
posted by yeloson at 10:28 PM on June 29, 2011 [5 favorites]


The first and only time I played Traveller was in maybe sixth grade or so. Thinking back on it, I am guessing that perhaps the module that we had was intended more as a very vague guide book to give many high-level adventure ideas that needed to be fleshed out by the GM, and less as a module per se. Unfortunately, the GM, also a sixth grader, was not up to the task, or at the very least did not realize that it needed to be done, because here's my recollection of Traveller:

GM: You get a message saying to meet Mr. Jones at corporate headquarters.

Me: OK, I go down to corporate headquarters and ask for Mr. Jones.

GM: Mr. Jones tells you that the company is looking for a captain to go to a bunch of uncharted planets and record information about them, like their class and atmosphere and gravity.

Me: OK, what do I get paid?

GM: Fifty credits per planet, or a hundred if it's habitable.

Me: OK, I'll do it.

GM: Mr. Jones gives you a list of planets to investigate.

Me: I fly to the first one.

GM: OK, this one is... (rolls dice)... uh... consults book... Class F, methane atmosphere, 1.44 gravity.

Me: OK, I fly to the next one.

GM: (rolls dice, consults book) Class R, nitrogen atmosphere, 0.33 gravity.

Me: Next.

GM: (rolls dice, consults book) Class W, methane atmosphere, 2.04 gravity.

Me: This is a really boring game.

GM: Yeah.
posted by Flunkie at 10:30 PM on June 29, 2011 [8 favorites]


Flunkie, you should have landed on the planet in your space-truck and searched for mineral deposits. "Roll 1d6 and get over 4 to successfully hit X, the first button in the quicktime sequence! Oh no, you failed!"
posted by tumid dahlia at 10:40 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was in a Firefly game run by a really inexperienced GM that ended with all the characters getting bored and playing poker. In-character.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 10:41 PM on June 29, 2011 [4 favorites]


yeloson - thank you! That's definitely worth grabbing a copy to try out.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 11:04 PM on June 29, 2011


stavrosthewonderchicken: I feel like there was a computer game from the pre-286 era based on it, but for years I haven't been able to remember a) if it was or b) what it was called.

Are you thinking of the Megatraveller games, which appear to be based on a version of Traveller? I got one of them in a compilation along with Elite and Wing Commander and I found it totally incomprehensible.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:11 PM on June 29, 2011


Played my fair share of Traveller but then stumbled upon Space Opera things weren't quite the same after that...
posted by stonesy at 11:14 PM on June 29, 2011


Another game which is particularly great at world building, though it only works with more than one person, is Universalis. The first 20 minutes of play are the group building setting bits and a few characters (as part of play) before jumping into the action. What's pretty nice is that every conflict exists primarily to give players more points ("Coins") to further go into world building.

It's fun as a one-shot, and builds on itself if you go for a campaign. Some folks use it just to build settings for other systems they want to run with.
posted by yeloson at 11:18 PM on June 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Flunkie, you should have landed on the planet in your space-truck and searched for mineral deposits. "Roll 1d6 and get over 4 to successfully hit X, the first button in the quicktime sequence! Oh no, you failed!"

And as a consolation prize for failing to scan the mineral deposit, everyone on your starship wants to shag you in a horribly wooden and unconvincing way, including some of the aliens. Someone should totally make a game like this. They could call it the "QTE Mineral Prospecting and Awkward Intercourse in Space" game.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:21 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]


And as a consolation prize for failing to scan the mineral deposit, everyone on your starship wants to shag you in a horribly wooden and unconvincing way, including some of the aliens. Someone should totally make a game like this. They could call it the "QTE Mineral Prospecting and Awkward Intercourse in Space" game.

I assume this is meant to warn us away from Mass Effect?
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 11:26 PM on June 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


Boy, there are multiple versions out now--T4, the Mongoose edition, and T5 seems to be in limbo, with announcements dating back four years.

So is the Mongoose edition the newest, best version out there?
posted by mecran01 at 11:31 PM on June 29, 2011


I've loved Traveller about as long as I can remember. Nowadays I find the rules a bit dated, but still excellent. We've been playing Diaspora, which is a fascinating and very modern system, but which is deeply inspired by Traveller.

Warhammer 40K is fun but just a very different feel - old school rules, and very British SciFi: all spiky trains and leather rocket couches and imperial decay.
posted by freebird at 11:55 PM on June 29, 2011


Lotta nostalgia in this thread, I forgot all about Twilight 2000! I also remember playing a lot of Aftermath! and of course a ton of Call of Cthulhu. Actually once the group I was with started getting into CoC, all the other games gradually fell away.
posted by chaff at 12:00 AM on June 30, 2011


I've played a couple campaigns using GURPS Traveller, and they were both quite bad. A big part of the problem with the Traveller assumed setting (even without using the Imperium) is that the economics just don't make sense, and so a space trader game doesn't make much sense. Also, one of the GMs was so enamored of canon that he couldn't let the players actually do anything. It was like taking a tour of a museum where we're allowed to look at the nifty exhibits but not actually touch anything or breathe too hard. Those two campaigns pretty much soured me on Traveller.

That said, I've never actually played the original LBB version of Traveller, and I'd like to. I'd be tempted to try Diaspora instead, though.
posted by jiawen at 12:03 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a very good post I'm afraid. No mention of Traveller 2300 or Traveller TNE or the Gurps editions or anything. Just a bunch of very generic links.

But like all RPG posts - the comments are the most fun.
posted by schwa at 12:04 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Schwa, you know that Traveller 2300 had almost nothing to do with Traveller, right? GDW later re-released it as 2300AD to correct their mistake.
posted by jiawen at 12:55 AM on June 30, 2011


Are you thinking of the Megatraveller games

oh, megatraveller... I got it, had never played anything like it before, and literally could not get out of the spaceport for hours. then i was killed. Put that one on the shelf and never went back to it.

Next up was Space:1889, which i played for an ungodly amount of time. Sort of figured that one out, although my "strategy" was to spend several real-time days just shooting NPCs and animals in America, selling whatever they dropped. When I had so much gold the digits went off the edge of the screen, I made an ether flyer and went around shooting smugglers or whatever.

Ended up getting to a point where I'd shot some vital NPC and couldn't get any further in the game, couldn't figure out where to go, and since I didn't know about the importance of having more than one save file, couldn't undo my mistake.

Ah, youth.
posted by dubold at 1:05 AM on June 30, 2011


I'm not criticizing at all, actually; I love world-building, and lots of players do, too. There are some really fantastic games that build the world-building process into the game mechanics, and I really should give both Traveller and Diaspora a shot to see how they handle it. (Fiasco, which is in no way a sci-fi game, does this really, really well, but on a much smaller scale.)
posted by kaibutsu at 1:12 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always been interested by RPGs (and this one sounds so cool I'm tempted to finally get into playing), but I'm *so* confused by how it works. Do you buy a rulebook? Do you look it up online? Do you role dice or run some kind of software? As an outsider reading all the commentary, I can safely say I have no clear idea how actual gameplay happens. I guess I wasn't enough of a geek in high school, I was too busy reading books that didn't require the use of a dice :(
posted by Mooseli at 2:38 AM on June 30, 2011


*roll dice, excuse me
posted by Mooseli at 2:38 AM on June 30, 2011


*a die! I suck at English while I'm at the French office...
posted by Mooseli at 2:39 AM on June 30, 2011


Traveller was a weird game to me in that I found character and ship creation to be actually MORE fun than playing. That's why I dropped it for other games after only a few attempts at it.

My most vivid memory of playing is the very first session I played in. We spent a ton of time making characters, learning their entire histories, educations, military backgrounds, etc. Great fun. Then we sat down to play.

A couple hours into the game with this character I had spent the bulk of our time creating:

GM (rolls dice): ... aaaaand ... you fall off the transport and die.

ME: I what?

GM: You die. Your faceplate cracks open and you suffocate.

ME: I can't ... try to do anything, or ...?

GM (checks book): Nope. Says here, "At this point, one player will fall off the transport (roll randomly). Their faceplate cracks open and they die."

So, yeah. Maybe that wasn't typical, but I also wasn't too impressed by the sessions where I didn't die randomly.
posted by kyrademon at 3:14 AM on June 30, 2011


kyrademon, that sucks. I mean, really.

Paranoia has been mentioned up thread, and 1st, 2nd and XP/current editions can be lots of fun (especially 2nd, which I think I prefer to current). But then there is 5th edition, which is HORRIBLE. I saw it on the shelf at the game store and thought, hey, my 2nd edition rulebook is looking pretty tattered, and why not support West End and buy this new, really thick book that no doubt has lots of new stuff in it?

WORST BOOK PURCHASE I EVER MADE. It sucks SO BAD. It gets the flavor of the game completely wrong -- it took the extra goofy bits from 2nd edition and made them the whole game, complete with extremely cartoony art. Jim Holloway, a long-time RPG artist, did the artwork for 1st and 2nd edition, and it's the best art I've ever seen for a RPG, and it set the tone for Paranoia perfectly: realistic average-joe characters put into outlandishly deadly situations. Then West End games ejected all that and made Toon in a Dystopian Future but with Real Death and none of the wit -- and in case you think that sounds awesome I'll be more than willing to sell you my 5th edition book and let you see for yourself.

Anyway, I bring this up because there is a spot in the included adventure where the whole party dies by fiat, no chance of survival. This being Paranoia the characters probably have clones left, but even so, even in Paranoia death should not be arbitrary. It should be offered on the slightest excuse, but there must still be an excuse. Ideally, that should be because another player zapped him. When the GM kills a player it's a wasted opportunity.

Someone above said, no love for Runequest... I've considered playing it, perhaps during a break from Call of Cthulhu. It helps that Runequest's game system is mostly CoC's with extra bits added in.
posted by JHarris at 3:23 AM on June 30, 2011


You buy a rule book (or books, depending). Typically there are some rules that describe how you create a character, either via some dice rolls, picking one from column A and two from column B or buying skills and abilities with points (depending on the game you're playing).

Once all the players have their characters and such, the referee explains the backstory - why you're all there, what your basic motivations are, that sort of thing. OK, what do you want to do. Typically, there was what appeared to be going on - what the referee tells you, I.E."you've been hired to take these specialty computer systems to a planet a few jumps down the way", and what is really going on I.E. (But really you are a moving target that every criminal syndicate and petty hood between here and there is going to think is hauling An Incredibly Illegal Thing of Immense Value! Meanwhile your weaselly employer, who is actually hauling the Incredibly Illegal Thing of Immense Value can meander along without a care in the world. So long suckers!

Then, over the course of the evening (or a couple game sessions) you have to figure out what the hell is going on and then arrange for your employer to get his comeuppance, extort a ton of money from him, or maybe steal the incredibly illeagal thing of immense value for yourself. The referee's job is to listen to your plan and tell you how the rest of the universe responds.

If you're referee is a tool - RUN! RUN AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!!
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:30 AM on June 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mooseli: Generally there will be a rulebook, often more than one (though books after the initial one are usually optional, containing more detailed information about the game world, or scenario/story suggestions, or so on). Occasionally these books are available (or if it's an independently-created game, may only be available) as .pdf files online.

Most game systems use dice, but not all of them. (Amber, set in the world of the Roger Zelazny novels, is the exception I can think of at the moment.) Once in a while you might see some related computer software, but if you do it's an aide for either bookkeeping or world/scenario generation, and totally optional.

Generally speaking, the way pen-and-paper RPGs work is that one of the players will take on the role of the 'Gamemaster' or GM (which is a generic term, and many game systems have their own fancy name for it) who decides what the game world is like, and what characters/locations/events/plots/etc. the other players will encounter. The other players each have their own individual character to play, and a page or two of statistics and other facts about that character. (The game system describes how to generate these characters -- for example, you might roll dice and compare results to a series of charts and tables, or you might be given an allotment of points to spend, or so on.)

Gameplay consists of the GM describing what is happening to the players' characters ("You step into a small 10' by 10' room. There is an orc here, guarding what appears to be a pie.") and the players respond with how their characters would react to these events. ("I draw my sword and threaten the orc with violence if he doesn't turn the pie over to us.") If there is uncertainty as to what the outcome of the players' actions might be, dice are typically rolled to find out what happens. For example, if the player decides to attack the orc with his sword, dice will be rolled to see if the orc gets cut, or if it is able to dodge out of the way. The GM describes the outcome of the players' actions, and the process repeats.


JHarris: 5th Edition? You must be mistaken, Citizen, there was no 5th Edition of Paranoia. I advise you to report immediately to a Reeducation Center for memory adjustment and, if necessary, brain smoothing.
posted by rifflesby at 3:32 AM on June 30, 2011 [5 favorites]


If you're considering getting Traveler just for the world-creation, I suggest the GURPS version. Mainly because of GURPS Space and Ultra-Tech. As catalogues of nonexistent worlds go, GURPS is the king of the hill.
posted by LogicalDash at 3:33 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I still love Azhanti High Lightning, where you fight aboard a starship. It even had single player rules which I often needed, since very few of my stoner friends cared for it. I started my Trillion Credit Squadron in 1978. I'm still working on it, don't rush me!
posted by Splunge at 3:55 AM on June 30, 2011


One of the interesting things about GDW is knowing some of the faces behind the names. Frank Chadwick was very much a war gamer. He was perfectly happy with cardboard chits and hex maps. If you gave him the ship combat system described above (Turn on the AI. Pray.) he'd probably turn himself inside out.

The other folks at GDW were more story oriented with Lester Smith (the person who I knew the best, who later left for TSR) and Dave Nilsen were more dramatic experience oriented. Loren Wiseman, who I had less interaction with, seemed like the bridge between Frank and Lester and Dave on the "tactically interesting" vs. dramatically appropriate continuum. I never got to meet Marc Miller.

GDW was sort of ADHD in that they'd tend to have a really cool idea (Dark Conspiracy (aka they game they based X-Files on), Space 1889 (you know that Steampunk thing? Yeah, 1889 was kind of the beginning of that movement)) but then didn't bring the gaming public up to speed and so they never quite got the sales that it seemed like they should have. For example, in the last edition of Traveller GDW did, there were these rogue AI's - infected ships pretty much had the goal of infecting other ships (and were quite clever about it) - groups of these were referred to as "vampire fleets". I met people who did not get the entirely non-supernatural nature of this concept and accused GDW of trying to rip off the White Wolf people. That's a level of unclear on the concept that some good add copy could have fixed.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:56 AM on June 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


I haven't seen any mention yet of the wikia site that contains almost everything ever published on Traveller, as far as I can tell.
posted by cardboard at 4:20 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a very good post I'm afraid. No mention of Traveller 2300 or Traveller TNE or the Gurps editions or anything. Just a bunch of very generic links.

All three are mentioned in the first of the very generic links.

You are of course welcome to share any premium brand links I overlooked.
posted by Trurl at 5:45 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am surprised the post contains no mention of the iconic cover design. Unless you were eagerly scanning the shelves of games stores in the late seventies, you have no idea how stark and elegant that box looked: surrounded on all sides by cartoonish renderings of buxom babes in chainmail bikinis and roaring dragons and he-men in spandex space suits, that box was cool in the Marshall McLuhan sense of the word: black, a single strip of blood red, and the text of a desperate mayday call. From the outset, it declared itself different in a way that no art could have: as a kid, I could just about hear this faint, crackling mayday sent be a ship that might already be doomed. And I loved, in a way I could not quite frame then, that this evocative bit of text never had a follow-up: there was no "Rescue the Beowulf" adventure or anything of the sort.

It also inspired a fine homage three decades later when GURPS Traveller was announced: a single, never-to-be repeated full-page ad in Pyramid with the same design except now the text was from a ship racing to the aid of the distress call and urging them to "hang in there."


I've played a couple campaigns using GURPS Traveller, and they were both quite bad. A big part of the problem with the Traveller assumed setting (even without using the Imperium) is that the economics just don't make sense, and so a space trader game doesn't make much sense.


That is an odd statement, as the GURPS version was the only version (using the Far Trader rules) where the economics rules did make sense. In every other version of Traveller (and just about every other sci-fi game ever made), it had always been trivially easy to find two different worlds a single jump apart and make a fortune hauling agricultural products from a non-industrial breadbasket world off to an industrial world and hauling industrial products back. All the advantages of the triangle trade without the inconvenience of even stopping at a third port.

That said, I've never actually played the original LBB version of Traveller, and I'd like to.

If you want to go full-on retro, Marc Miller (the chef designer) has a company selling facsimile versions of the LBBs in a series of Big Floppy Books -- The Books, the Supplements, the Adventures, etc. If you're looking for something current, the Mongoose version is still in production and is a pretty fair rendering of the mechanics and flavour.

And last I heard, the Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society was still going strong, albeit as an online presence. Loren Wiseman is the editor, and the nice thing about it is that subscribers get access to all the back issues of the electronic version, which should be a couple thousand articles by now. I haven't played Traveller in a few years, since my GURPS:Traveller game ended and my subscription lapsed, but it might be worth checking out.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:48 AM on June 30, 2011 [4 favorites]


This brought back some nice memories. Traveller had a fairly unique blend of SF concepts, and a very established and consistent universe. I still like looking through my old Traveller sets, even if I haven't played in 20+ years.
posted by kaszeta at 6:28 AM on June 30, 2011


Mooseli, here's a Roleplaying 101 that I've written. You can also Google "Actual Play" and find written examples, recorded podcasts, and even some youtube videos of folks playing rpgs, which is a neat new thing these days.
posted by yeloson at 7:00 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


As someone who still has a notebook of planets and another binder of characters created 20+ years ago using the FASA Doctor Who game, I only wish my younger self had been exposed to this. Due to lack of interested parties (read: more than one geek friend), this was a solo affair I spent countless hours doing, and, if I can be so immodest, still some of my most creative work -- or at least my favorite. So a game in which your player can die in creation and focused on world building...just can't imagine how much time I would have spent. (And how much I still may; thanks Trurl - I think)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:29 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I need to point my spouse the Traveller fan at this thread. If I get nothing out of it but a lead on Diaspora, it will be a victory for me.
posted by immlass at 7:47 AM on June 30, 2011


Back in high school, my friends and I were fickle RPG players. At least one of us would buy a copy of just about any RPG that came down the pike. So we tried out Traveller, among many others, but never seemed to get past rolling up characters, and so it went back on the shelf. I'm kind of glad to hear others echoing that experience. We had all started out with D&D, moved on to AD&D quickly (something about the extra rulebooks and more convoluted rules appealed to an obsessive quality that I think is common to the mind of the teenage boy). Mostly we wound up playing Villains & Vigilantes or Runequest—I thought that the skills-based character model made more sense than the class-based one.

But to this day, I still spell traveler as traveller.
posted by adamrice at 7:51 AM on June 30, 2011


To my knowledge, this is the only RPG post that isn't about D&D and isn't spam for a buddy's small press project. Congratulations!

Hey!

I remember making characters in Traveller, way back in high school. If the characters survived the process of being created, they'd always end up being in their forties. Which created the very weird dynamic of high school kids sitting around trying to figure out what forty-year-old veterans would do in various situations. Very odd.
posted by MrVisible at 8:17 AM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


One great thing about the Traveller universe was the long history (taking place in a third empire, wracked by military revolutions, not unlike the late Roman empire) deep secrets embedded in the background, and teased out in the official adventure modules. Questions like why are there humans throughout this area of the galaxy, and (when lucky) discovering more advanced tech than the Imperium has access to.

Further, the remote location of the Spinward Marches, approximately three years away from the seat of empire, and a buffer region between the two great powers, made an region for adventure. Minor disturbances, up to the size of overthrow of a planetary government, might be overlooked. And the border was so porous, the enemy might be building a refuelling base only a parsec or two away from the regional capital. So much potential for government and industrial corruption.

It was story-rich, when the GM was good. Otherwise it was a dice-tossing combat-fest that would be better as a hex-based wargame.
posted by Prince_of_Cups at 9:18 AM on June 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


Traveller! Man, this was the game that seperated the nerd boys from the nerd men. More than any other RPG I played, this was the one that got the storytelling vs. Game mechanics mix right. Of course, it could also be terribly frustrating game if you didn't have a really good GM (true of most RPG's, but even more so with Traveller). It was pretty unique at the time mainly because its emphasis was on problem/mystery solving rather than Fight!Fight!Fight!
posted by KingEdRa at 9:51 AM on June 30, 2011


Traveller is the RPG I loved most that I actually played the least. I just could never get my junior-high friends to stick with it -- too much math! I remember spending an entire lunch hour just landing a spaceship. Eventually I gave up and had the players stumble across the Heart of Gold
posted by Pants McCracky at 9:53 AM on June 30, 2011


The Diaspora fanbase has put together some automatic tools for generating star systems and cultures. "Nutty Clusters" is older and Windows only, but I really liked the output display for the system maps and how you could go in and customize the random system elements to fit your campaign. There's also the online Cluster Builder and Pocket Clusters for the iPad.

The nice thing is that the system stuff is pretty light, which makes it easy to simply use it to generate cultures/settings for other games as well. It just gives you some barebones ideas about tech level and resources, and lets you fill in the details. The Clusternomicon thread on rpg.net is a good place to look at what it's good for.
posted by yeloson at 10:03 AM on June 30, 2011


Somewhere I probably have my original Traveller books buried in a box somewhere. It and Chivalry & Sorcery had the most torturous (and fun!) character creation processes of any of the countless RPGs I played in my youth.
posted by JaredSeth at 10:16 AM on June 30, 2011


It was pretty unique at the time mainly because its emphasis was on problem/mystery solving rather than Fight!Fight!Fight!

It had an odd flavour, to be sure. Essentially it was (as pointed out above) high school students playing grizzled veteran in their forties and fifties committing criminal acts. I can't begin to count how many of the classic adventures kicked off with someone hiring the group to break into an office or somesuch.

The setting had more nuance than most, even in the early days. The OTU, as it is now known (the Objective Traveller Universe to distinguish it from modified versions that players had come up with), did not make its appearance for a two years after the game was published (The Spinward Marches came out in 1979) but even from the outset the basically benevolent Imperium had some dirty little secrets. The very first adventure, The Kinunir, reveals that it has political prisoners, for example.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 10:24 AM on June 30, 2011


I first encountered Traveler in 6th grade, like Flunkie. My first RPG.

I can still remember the feeling of mystery the books and box gave me. ricochet biscuit is entirely right - it was a glimpse into some other world of possibility.

Ah, creating characters. We aimed for Scouts, and rolled 'em into middle age, to be sure we had enough skills to go adventuring in.

Twilight's Peak was a favorite, hitting the right space opera lyrical notes.

(Thanks for the memories, Trurl)
posted by doctornemo at 10:29 AM on June 30, 2011


My older brother and heir friends introduced me to scifi and RPGs. I read their Traveller books, but glazed over...but when they let me play Car Wars with them, I got to enjoy all the character- and vehicle-creation nerdiness and blow stuff up. There was no going back. (Also..."Top Secret," anyone?)
posted by wenestvedt at 10:40 AM on June 30, 2011


I think Striker was something of a masterpiece, it had 3 rules books as much as the original Traveller. Very detailed and open ended system for creating weapons, vehicles and entire worlds. I never got around to actually playing (miniatures were beyond my budget, not to mention physically building alien worlds) but spent a lot of time reading and dreaming.
posted by stbalbach at 11:15 AM on June 30, 2011


I still love Azhanti High Lightning

Yep, played that a few times, great game. Both it and Striker are mostly a Frank Chadwick design, who as mentioned above was a traditional wargamer. Traveller universe made into a wargame. It was future-retro. Now retro-future-retro.
posted by stbalbach at 11:29 AM on June 30, 2011


@vorfeed: Holy shit, good lookin' out on Slough Feg! That is fantastic!
posted by word_virus at 12:54 PM on June 30, 2011


I have to say I'm a GURPS fan overall although many other systems have excellent settings or genre-specific mechanics (CoC I'm looking at you). I love it's detail and scalability and have used it for a long time now. I've got quite a few of the GURPS 3e Traveller books and appreciate the fact that SJ Games actually had the original writers involved in production.

I enjoyed the setting for Traveller - it's pretty cool (although very much of it's time) but I have enjoyed Transhuman Space even more due to the sheer crazy involved. Making the best of the background and technology is a huge amount of work, made easier by the excellent supporting books and the. The best part in that setting is the Green Duncanites of Ceres - a stable libertarian society in space? Hilarious.

In my game-world it all went a bit Bioshock and most of the Duncanites were dead or dying off slowly whilst the major powers do their best to get to Ceres in time to try and save the survivors. Sci-Fi RPG players have always had a horrible tendency to go liberterian in my experience. As a dirty socialist I see it as my duty to punish them for this transgression.
posted by longbaugh at 12:57 PM on June 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've played the heck out of the Traveller boardgame, Imperium, but never the RPG.
posted by word_virus at 1:06 PM on June 30, 2011


As a dirty socialist I see it as my duty to punish them for this transgression.

You may want to check out the Albedo comics and rpgs I linked above.

The setting is really interesting in that the sentient species are all uplifted animals, who awaken one day with full understanding of how to live, operate machinery, and how society works- and their default society is socialist. (Also: athiest, with no arts or culture to speak of, it does interesting exploration as they create music and fine art and sports from scratch.)
posted by yeloson at 1:32 PM on June 30, 2011


Making the best of the background and technology is a huge amount of work, made easier by the excellent supporting books and the.

Ahem.

...and the support offered on the SJ Games forums by the author, contributors and other smart folks.

Clearly my wearable AI failed to catch that part of my comment due to an infectious meme and needs to be reset to factory settings.

Yeloson - I'd certainly be interested in some of it no doubt, but the idea of cat-people moulting in space gives me the heebie-jeebies. In my future there are no transgenic cat-folk, space-kitsune or living libertarians.
posted by longbaugh at 2:03 PM on June 30, 2011


Oh my God, it's like someone went back to my teenaged self and pulled my imagination right out of my head!

My adult self has seen roughly a zillion hours of CGI and isn't all that impressed but my inner teenager needs to go change his pants.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:05 AM on July 1, 2011


"Schwa, you know that Traveller 2300 had almost nothing to do with Traveller, right? GDW later re-released it as 2300AD to correct their mistake."

Yes, I know _but_ it would have been an interesting aside in the post body...
posted by schwa at 9:24 PM on July 1, 2011


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