Traveller RPG Week Day One: What is Traveller?

Traveller and I go way back. It was the first role-playing game I ever played (back in the early ’80s), and that first time spawned my love of the hobby that has lasted a lifetime.

I have vague memories of that first scenario. We had docked at a spaceport and managed to annoy the station overseer during entry (something about “not waiting in line”, whatever that is)  so were greeted by station guards and (for no apparent reason) a jeep with a mounted HMG.

We died quickly and ingloriously in a hail of bullets.

We started again using the same characters, rewound time and decided to behave this time around, but it was too late. I was hooked already. I learned much of my rpg skills from those first Traveller sessions, and they shaped me into the player & GM I became. Thanks to that very first session of Traveller I learned that combat is Deadly And Best Avoided – something which stood me in good stead while later playing Call of Cthulhu, but not so much when I was introduced to D&D and my character fled from every creepy noise.

Traveller also taught me the value of teamwork. This was a game where everyone knew their crew position and role, where no man (or woman) gets left behind. It didn’t matter whether you were a lowly Ensign or a dubious Spy from a rival mega-corporation masquerading as the Ship’s Steward, your first loyalty was to the crew and the ship. And if it wasn’t, the rest of the crew would turn on you in seconds. Oh yes, we knew our place.

I am going to devote this week to showing you the ins and outs of Traveller. Today we kick off by looking at what Traveller is. From there we’re going to be looking at the frankly brilliant character generation system and from thence (good word, thence) on to Traveller’s subsystems for generating worlds, sectors, animals, encounters and starships. Once we have finished with the whistle-stop tour we are going to create an entire mini-campaign centred around HELL STATION, a volatile and dangerous gas mining operation floating in the noxious clouds of a Strontium-9000 rich gas giant. We will look at the worlds within Jump-2 range, map the trade routes and create a handful of Patron Encounters to get you started.

Hold on tight, this one is travelling at light speed. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

What is Traveller?

The short answer is that Traveller is a science fiction role-playing game create by Mark Miller in 1977.

The long answer (as is typical with long answers) is rather more complex and involved than that.

The “Traveller role-playing game” isn’t just one rules system that has evolved over time. There are many different systems out there that carry the Traveller badge. Alongside Classic Traveller stands Traveller:The New Era, versions for GURPS, d20 System and HERO as well as numerous updates and revisions (some minor, some major) from various companies and countless fans, the most notable of which are MegaTraveller and the latest release of Mongoose Traveller.

Traveller isn’t one system that has evolved over time, but multiple different systems that each carry the Traveller name and identity. That is a Good Thing at it means there is bound to be a version of Traveller that appeals to you. Some gamers swear by GURPS/Mongoose/Mega Traveller while others (myself included) favour the purity of Classic Traveller. I have known 3e D&D gamers who have enjoyed a session or two of d20 Traveller but wouldn’t touch any other edition, while a few of my wargame buddies are playing a long running gritty Traveller:The New Era campaign.

Unlike the divisive silliness of D&D gamers, Traveller players in the main thrive on the fact there’s multiple different versions of the game they love. It’s all Traveller, so it’s all good, right?

If Traveller isn’t one rule system, maybe it’s one common campaign setting. Well…. yes, and no. The core Classic Traveller system contains no campaign setting at all, though much is implied in the science-fiction assumptions it makes. This is the far future where the speed of communication is limited by the speed of travel. Starships are capable of jumping from one to six parsecs (depending on the engines and ship size) and each jump takes about a week of time regardless of distance travelled. This means the setting has much in common with the 17th Century Age of Sail where mighty ships crossed the oceans sending messages and news between distant colonies.

Supplements and later editions of the game created the Imperium, a vast stretch of space with a history and backstory as complex and detailed as that of our own world. It’s entirely up to you whether you use or ignore it (or use a different universe altogether such as Star Wars, Star Trek or the one from the Elite computer game). I have found the game plays best if you find an unmapped backwater sector of the published Imperium and site your own campaign there. This puts the Imperium “out there” without significantly impacting your own worlds. It also means your adventurers can eventually visit classic Traveller Imperium locations such as the worlds of the Spinward Marches, which is a plus.

So Traveller isn’t one rules system, and isn’t necessarily the Imperium campaign setting. What is it?

Traveller is a state of mind.

Traveller is looking up, and wanting to be there. Traveller is exploring the stars, trading with natives and knowing that a cutlass is the best weapon to use on-board a starship. Traveller is being in Jump Space with an intelligent bomb on countdown timer. Traveller is finding ruins of the Ancients that contain a message just for you. Traveller is a blank hex grid of possibilities where each hex might contain a planet of untold promised dangers or fabulous wealth.

Traveller is all of that, and so much more.

Come with me to the stars!

Next: Character generation

UPDATE: RPGNow is having a huge blowout Traveller sale right now!

The Classic Traveller Starter Kit is currently available for free from RPGNow. It contains all you need to play Traveller including rules for character, world, sector, starship and encounter generation as well as two  complete classic adventures to kick start your own exploration among the stars. Go get it!

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9 Responses

  1. Shinobicow says:

    I picked up the rules last week. They are really quite awesome. Had my first go around at character generation today and died twice to it. I’m doing a series on the game starting on my blog next week as well, but probably just about all the characters that I make that die in the making :)

    • greywulf says:

      Excellent! Character generation is Traveller really is a great mini-game all of its own, isn’t it?

      I’ll be sure to watch out for your posts :)

    • John says:

      If you want more Traveller careers to play with, get Supplement 4: Citizen of the Imperium ($2 on RPGNow). It adds 12 careers (many civilian) to Classic Traveller and rules for bows. The second half of the book consists of pre-generated characters that were of questionable utility when they were published and are all but useless in to today’s world of ubiquitous computers.

  2. Cyberwere says:

    Like you I have a long history with Traveller. Mostly an unrequited love. I very seldom get to play the game. I’ll be following along avidly and will have to check out Shinobicow’s post. Enjoyed your first post.

    Captain, ISS Dancing Bear. Take us 100 diameters out and jump to the next star.

  3. Darktouch says:

    I’ve always hear about the Character creation but beyond looking at a friend’s conversion of 2e D&D Psionics to Traveller, have never given it much though. I’ll be interested to read the rest of this series.

    Funny how one’s first experience influences the rest of your career. I actually started with FASERIP Marvel, took a break, and then got back into RPGs with a Vampire LARP. I quickly came to the conclusion that Vampiric Potence was for grabbing your opponent by the ankles and bashing their head agaisnt a dumpster.

  4. Tourq says:

    Traveller is one of those games that I knew nothing about, but always wanted to try. Unfortunately (fortunately?) we’re transforming our new Eberron campaign to Fate rules, so Traveller will happen no time soon.

  5. pdunwin says:

    I got the Mongoose rules 2 years ago. I’ve made some characters with friends, but never as a larger group, and I’ve never played. I hope to soon.

    I remember seeing ads for Traveller in Dragon magazine, but I shied away from it based on rumors that you could die during character generation. It wasn’t until I heard Whartson Hall start a Traveller game on rpgmp3 that I began to understand what it was about.

    Also, good luck to the folks converting Eberron to FATE. I’ve wanted to use the Spirit of the Century rules for that (another game with nifty char gen that I own but have yet to play).

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