Traveller Rising

I’m more of a fantasy person than a sci-fi person, and I didn’t even know about Traveller until some time in 2011. But references to it kept popping up on the blogs and forums I frequent, so I knew I needed to check it out at some point. At first I was going to pick up a set of the original Traveller 3 LBBs (little black books) from the old boxed set; unlike OD&D, the price for an original set is not that high. Then I found that classic traveller was recently reprinted as a collection, Books 0-8, at a very reasonable price. As you can see from the picture, the book is printed in landscape rather than portrait (I think it might be a literal reprinting of the digest originals).

I got interested in Traveller because it seems to embody its own little niche in RPG system design. From where I’m sitting, there are three three main paradigms in tabletop RPGs:

  1. Class and level based (D&D)
  2. Skill based (World of Darkness)
  3. Life-path with little mechanical advancement (Traveller)

GURPS is also skill based, no? GURPS is older than WoD, so I should probably list that as the exemplar of skill based RPGs, but I’ve not played it myself. Maybe new-fangled story games are a fourth  paradigm (games that have mechanics built around narrative control), but I’m really not familiar enough with them to say. Am I missing anything important? Would anybody draw the category lines differently?

The influence of the life-path leg seems to be rising in the OSR. Just days after ordering Books 0-8, I came across the announcement of a development forum for Shot & Sorcery, a LotFP take on historical weird fantasy heavily inspired by Traveller. And James Maliszewski released Thousand Suns in December (it has some relation to Traveller, right?). Joseph Browning (of Sorcery & Super Science) is working on Worlds Apart: A Fantasy Role-Playing Game of Exploration and Trade (which is perhaps nearing release).

Some other relevant, though older, links:

I have this lingering idea of equivalency between levels 1 through 14 in D&D (the range in B/X) and the character generation procedure in Traveller. That would give a new meaning to the idea that “character background is what happens during play”. And the main body of a Traveller game would be roughly equivalent to domain and stronghold play in D&D.

It seems like level 15+ D&D could go in one of two directions: this kind of domain play or demigods/immortals (see this post from Zak and skip to the paragraph about Thor).

6 thoughts on “Traveller Rising

  1. jeffro

    Traveller is one of the earliest rpg systems to define classes in terms of a generic skill system. GURPS picked up the concept… and extended it by adding a point-buy advantage and disadvantage system– though Champions probably did that first. Traveller’s Striker and Fire, Fusion, & Steel are direct influences on GURPS Vehicles for 3rd edition– that uber crunchy element has not yet been adapted to GURPS 4e… and may not be if the more streamlined GURPS Spaceships line is any indication.

  2. Ara Kooser

    Bunnies and Burrows came out two years before Runequest. It contained both a martial arts system and general skill system. I think there was another one before RQ as well. But enough historical stuff for this morning.

    Welcome to Traveller!!!! It’s a great game!

    There are several Traveller fantasy projects in the works (some are finished) over on the CotI forums. I think there is a new release from Terra Sol Games that covers some of this ground too.

  3. hüth

    WoD still has a significant splat-choice character identity, though, much more than GURPS, which by design leaves construction of the character’s identity to the player. “I’m a Mage in the GURPS game” means far less than “I’m a Tremere in the Vampire game.”

    Another important distinction is that GURPS front-loads the resource-management aspect in character creations, while managing blood pools/rage/arete/whatever is primarily an in-game series of choices.

  4. Brendan


    I’m looking forward to diving into the Traveller book, though it looks pretty dense. However, Carcosa comes first!

    Thanks also for the pointers to the other Traveller fantasy projects.


    Isn’t there a core World of Darkness set of rules for mortals that does not have the character identity bit? I agree with your basic point though; certainly the clans and traditions are a big part of the main WoD games. I think they were one of the reasons the game took off actually; because you could convey so much info by saying “I’m playing a Gangrel” (or whatever). The splat made the game much more approachable.

  5. booble

    “I got interested in Traveller because it seems to embody its own little niche in RPG system design.”

    Traveller has flaws but it’s core is solid and feels right for the genre it is trying to emulate. I think that’s why partly it stuck in people’s minds.

    I’d say the key points were
    1. Simple but effective (mostly)
    2. Minimalist – a character sheet with a UPP and a short list of skills looks like an Imperial Navy computer record. It feels right for the genre in the same way (to me) the Star Wars D6 character sheet looked right for Star Wars. I think little things like that matter for mostly subconscious reasons.
    3. Character generation can be fun in itself – and can be made funner by modifying or adding new career options.


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