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Eric: GURPS Traveller also continues the traditions of the Traveller's Aid Society. That just rocks.

It's late, but I can't sleep. And turning over in my head, I'm thinking back over the past few days. The past few essays. The past few discussions.

And thinking about Traveller.

Traveller is one of those early memories. One of those early associations. For me, the entire reason I think of Role Playing Games instead of thinking of Dungeons and Dragons was that original box of three black booklets. I'm not alone in that. Traveller comes from the dawn of the Role Playing Game. Dungeons and Dragons was first published in 1974. Traveller came around in 1977. It wasn't the second role playing game -- Tunnels and Trolls may or may not have been second, but it certainly predated Traveller by a couple of years.

However, Traveller was the first game after D&D to really become ubiquitous. And it goes without saying that Traveller was the first science fiction role playing game. (If there was some other SF RPG, I couldn't tell you what it was and I don't think it got the kind of traction we're discussing. The only SF RPG of that era that comes close to Traveller's iconic status was Gamma World, which came out later. (Technically, Metamorphosis Alpha, the game that inspired and developed into Gamma World, predated Traveller, but in many ways it wasn't a complete Role Playing Game the way Traveller was. In particular, the limitations on setting and the far more "dungeon crawl in space" dimensions of the game made it hard for the same kind of broad definitions of role play that Traveller enjoyed.)

Thinking back to me, a punk kid just getting into role playing, Traveller really stood out. It helped shape me, from that early age.

In part, it was the cover of the box. Traveller didn't have extensive art in those days. It had a flat black cover, with white writing and a red logo. Very stark. Just typography. And it had some other writing in the corner, also white. But smaller. Very alone.

This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone...
Mayday, Mayday...
We are under attack...
Main drive is gone...
Turret number one not responding...
Mayday...
Losing cabin pressure fast calling anyone...
Please help...

This is Free Trader Beowulf ...

...mayday...

That was it. That, a red line, and the word Traveller in red.

It scared me half to death.

Seriously, I reread those words today and my breath comes faster. Somehow, that stark white type on black conveyed the sheer essence of the game. What Serenity later called the Black. The void. Space. The infinite reach. I was less than ten years old when I first saw Traveller, and I absolutely knew that no one would come. No one would help the Beowulf. No one could. Space was just too big.

I bought that game. I buy every new edition of the game when it comes out. I always will.

Lying in the darkness, unable to sleep, I find myself thinking about Traveller. That sense of loneliness. That sense that unlike Dungeons and Dragons there is no pantheon of gods and demons and all powerful lizards lurking just behind the scenes. Just what Tom Godwin once wrote about in his chilling classic short story "The Cold Equations." This is not Buck Rogers. This is Ben Bova. The first truly great, truly epic science fiction role playing game was hard science fiction, not space opera.

In ways, no other pure SF role playing game ever quite became what Traveller was. How could it? It's not that Traveller is the best science fiction RPG. That's debatable at best. It's absolutely not the most popular science fiction RPG -- there was an era Star Frontiers outsold it, Gamma World certainly tracks alongside it, and these days I fully suspect GURPS Space is played more often by more people. Broaden the definitions a little more and you have Cyberpunk and Rifts and Shadowrun and lots and lots of other games. I'm not trying to quantify any lists here.

But none of them are Traveller. Not even GURPS Traveller.

Oh, I give Steve Jackson credit. I really do. He and his folks captured the essence of Traveller as well as I've seen. And while it was meant to be broader in scope, GURPS Space has a hard science fiction aesthetic at its core. But there is something stark and pure in the original Traveller that no one could match. The unrelated except by title Traveller: 2300 failed to possess it, too. As did the unfortunate sequel game Traveller: The New Era.

But grab Traveller, or Megatraveller or Marc Miller's Traveller, and you see it shining through.

Maybe it's the equations in the books. To play by the rules, you have to do some number crunching. A lot of people don't, mind. But you have to. Or maybe it's the entire system of "Jump Drive." Traveller handwaves faster than light travel through a drive that kicks the ship into a netherspace for one week. Then, depending on your jump drive rating, you emerge from netherspace somewhere between one and six parsecs away from your last location. (Barring misjump, of course.) Maybe it's the lack of any FTL communications -- information travels only as fast as the fastest ship.

Or maybe it all comes down to character generation. No one has ever made a character generation system quite like it. It's one of those rare character generation systems that's actively fun to go through independent of playing the game. To my knowledge, it's the only one of these systems that makes it possible for your character to die before you play the game.

You see, you roll your statistics. You're then 18 years old, with essentially no skills or useful abilities. You sign up for some kind of service -- some military, some civilian. Maybe you become a naval officer, or a soldier. Or you become a merchant, serving either aboard a corporate fleet or a free trader. You spend four years doing that, and you get certain boosts in abilities or skills as a result. (And roll to see if you survive.) If you want, you can quit then, twenty two years old, and "muster out," getting some more skills, money, stuff....

Or you can stick with the service you're in, for another four year hitch. And then another. And another....

The longer you stay in your service, the more skilled you become, and the better your mustering out benefits. On the other side of the equation, you also get older. And eventually you start slowing down or weakening. Still, Traveller remains the only RPG I know of where the average human starting character is in his forties.

Maybe one of the key elements of the traditional Traveller experience is the Universal Personality Profile, or UPP. The UPP is your character's statistics, rendered out in a series of numbers from 0 to 15. For convenience, they're rendered in hexadecimal format, so if you have an Intelligence of 10, it's put down as A. An 11 is a B, and so on.

The UPP, therefore, is read as a simple series of numbers, Instead of saying your character Ian Carter has a Strength of 6 a Dexterity of 9, an Endurance of 7, an Intelligence of 11, an Education of 8 and a Social Standing of 4, you simply write UPP: 697A84. It seems so minor, but after the long and elaborate character sheets that Dungeons and Dragons was famous for, having a character who even with skills and possessions could easily fit on a 3"x5" note card was staggeringly cool. the fact that the UPP actually existed in the game -- that this was actually the way the Imperium quantified Ian Carter -- added to everything. Of course his basic statistics, from his physical capabilities through his raw intellect, level of education and social standing could be distilled into six numbers. This is the far future. Everything is computerized. This is how it is. (Heck, you could even formalize the skill levels. Having Pilot-3 could just as easily mean that Ian Carter passed his 3-Level Flight Exam, so of course his file would say Pilot-3. For example.)

Older characters at the game's start. Characters who spent an entire career honing their skills and becoming good at what they do before the game ever started. Characters whose entire being could be distilled into a six hex digit number on their identity card. Characters who lived in a universe where the stars were far apart, where a trip from here to your next door neighbor, interstellarly speaking, took a week or more, and travelling from your world to the center of the Imperium might take over a year. Characters who lived in a universe where all interstellar communication was handled by couriers, because there was no space radio.

It marked me. And lying here, trying to sleep, I can't get it out of my head.

I've credited it before. My own Imperial Space setting, where a number of my stories are set, shows clear lineage from Traveller. Oh, it's nowhere near exact. My "imperial" government doesn't look anything like the Third Imperium. My starships are at once less limited and yet more limited (I use a conceit that says that interstellar travel can only take place along specific routes -- so not only does it take a long time to get from place to place, but if you don't have a route between you and the star system next door you can't get there without going around or taking a very long sublight trip. But there are similarities too. (For one thing, the idea of "no FTL communications" is just way too cool. But I digress.)

But beyond that, there's also this tremendous sense of scale. The same impulse that draws me to In Nomine and Noblilis -- the sense of the epic -- draws me to Traveller. Only it's reversed. Whereas a Noble or Calabite is a giant striding the Earth, vastly more powerful than its surroundings in those other games, travellers are tiny, compared to the sheer vastness of space. There was a campaign setting available called The Spinward Marches. This was a single sector of the galaxy -- one of many. And yet, there were over four hundred and fifty planets in it. The Third Imperium had over 11,000 worlds -- and it wasn't the only empire out there.

Huge distances, huge numbers, huge populations.

The aliens were truly alien, too. Lion people. Insect creatures. Things that looked like horses, only misshapen with centaur like bits. The mysterious, missing Ancients. Staggering, really.

I can't get it out of my head. Especially now. Now that I've seen the existence of T5.

T5, you ask?

T5 is a new product, scheduled for release in 2007. For the thirtieth anniversary of Traveller.

It is Traveller5. Fifth edition Traveller. By Marc Miller. The original developer.

The Beowulf is still out there. Still losing pressure. Still struggling. Still alone. And no one will reach it in time.

But they're holding on, regardless. They won't pack it in. They keep trying their damnedest to survive.

I need some sleep. Good night.

Good luck, Beowulf.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at March 19, 2006 5:41 AM

Comments

Comment from: Ardellis [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 7:40 AM

Oh, yes! I remember Traveller, and especially its character generation system (you rememeber, I'm sure, how I used to inhale character generation systems). You've brought back some extremely fond memories... a lot of them of characters I never even got to play!

Comment from: Aulayan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 9:15 AM

I have always wanted to try Traveller, but unfortunately since 2000 every gamer I know has pretty much dropped everything but d20. It's d20 this and d20 that and way too many flaws in the system I can't even stand to look at the books anymore.

Once gamers who would try many things, now it's only D&D and they scoff at everything else.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 9:49 AM

And you know how difficult it is to even get a one-shot started that doesn't use d20? If I didn't know better, I'd say that I somnambulated over to the keyboard and posted as Aulayan.

But for that feeling, of fear and hopelessness and shock, I remember getting that out of a game, too. Of course, given who I am, it was a video game. But damn, that was a rush. Moments like that should be a rite of passage.

Comment from: SeanH [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:09 AM

Mmm, I'll have to check out Traveller - thanks for the tip.

The d20 system is, I think we can all agree, a hideous shambling monster. My personal favourite system is the Marvel roleplaying system. It's simple, it's diceless, all you need is a halfway decent GM to make sure people don't horribly exploit character creation and you're good to go.

Comment from: trpeal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:24 AM

I remember seeing those Traveller books in the gaming store near my orthodontist's office (where I found Car Wars and Ogre), and remember that distress call. Like you, Eric, it fascinated me. Unlike you, I never picked it up, unfortunately (I just recently bought T20, though I don't have any other d20 books to make it work correctly).

As a 12-year-old I didn't have the money, or the gaming friends, or the real ability to see beyond my D&D obsession. Plus, I could see how many separate books were necessary to collect before the game could be played, and that sort of scared me away. A pity, looking back.

But if there's going to be a new, comprehensive edition of the game from the original developer, then I believe it will gain a place on my shelf.

Comment from: John Bankert [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:33 AM

Mmmm... Traveller. Now you've gone and gotten me all nostalgic. Curse your eyes, Burns! :^)

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:41 AM

My local gaming shoppe has all of the Traveler version standing on a rotating pedestal. Rarely does anyone goes and purchase a copy of it there, and never does it get tossed into the 25% or 50% off bargain box bin. It stands there as a kind of solitary monument to greatness that the 3.5 edition of Dungeons and Dragons will probably never see.

I will say this in defense of Dungeons & Dragons. It may not be the most friendly of games, or have the most interesting of settings or even the most simplest of rules (well, it's simpler than what Arcana Unearthed and Arcana Evolved has done. That is to the d20 setting as Calculus is to College Algebra), but it has a standard familiarity that I think most everyone enjoys. It's the French Onion Green Bean cassarole of RPG.

And Eric, how'd did you get that 5 in T5 to be superscripted?

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 12:00 PM

Just what Tom Godwin once wrote about in his chilling classic short story "The Cold Equations."

I have a confession. I reached this line and my brain bailed. I spent at least five minutes remembering - almost reliving - that story, and it's only about five minutes long before. That's

I did wrestle my brain back into my head long enough to finish the essay (and enjoyed it) but wanted to thank you for the side-trip.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 12:02 PM

grr. must use preview button. take two:

Just what Tom Godwin once wrote about in his chilling classic short story "The Cold Equations."

I have a confession. I reached this line and my brain bailed. I spent at least five minutes remembering - almost reliving - that story, and it's only about five minutes long before. That's my memory of fear, helplessness, and shock. Oh but I love that one. It's been a long time since I thought about it.

I did wrestle my brain back into my head long enough to finish the essay (and enjoyed it) but wanted to thank you for the side-trip.

Comment from: Prodigal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 12:30 PM

Isn't Marc Miller's Traveller the one where all the characters get drunk, have sex with aliens, and bitch about the American political process?

*grins, ducks, runs*

On a more serious note, the fact that the original creator of the game is returning to it fills me with anticipatory glee. I can't wait to see what he's done with it.

And this time, dammit, I'm getting to Beowolf before she's lost.

Comment from: Ford Dent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 12:37 PM

I'm...

I'm feeling mighty intrigued right now. Perhaps Traveller is in my future.

Comment from: Branitar [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 1:14 PM

I think, I will give it a try, even if I wont ever get the chance to actually play it.
And although I play D&D I dont really like its rules (or any D20 stuff out there). There are better systems like Fallout PnP or Space Gothic (wich actually has a feeling similar to Traveller).
A special case is Shadowrun: I played it a lot some years ago and I always had the feeling that they actually put 3 different systems into one game. One for normal action, one for the Matrix and one for piloting vehicles ... horrible.

Comment from: Padre [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 1:31 PM

Way, way too many (nearly all that I've seen, in fact) character generation systems seperate a character's background, history and personality near-utterly from the game mechanics.

Reading even that short description of Traveller's chargen made me see immediately how ridiculous this is.

I am intruiged.

Comment from: Archon Divinus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 2:29 PM

I'm also intruiged, but it doesn't really matter. I haven't had a gaming group for the last two years. I can't even find people to play D&D with, let alone any other system.

Comment from: Cornan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 2:35 PM

I'm beyond intrigued. I WILL buy this when it comes out. The only even remotely SF RPG I've played (table top-wise) is Shadowrun and I agree completely with Branitar in that it was 3 seperate systems all junked together to make one game. After trying to play it once me and my friends bailed back to D&D.

Traveler sounds like exactly the game I want to play. Here's to getting some of my friends interested.

Comment from: Stan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 3:10 PM

Nice Post. I used to love rolling up characters and designing starships as much as actual playing.

I liked how the empire was so sprawling that the imperials were pretty hands off, rarely stepping in on issues at the mere planetary level unless nukes or something similar were involved.

Another cool thing about the game is that there are so many directions you can take it. You can be a mercenary company, a tramp trader, a scout in new regions, an imperial spy vs the Zhodani, fight Vargr pirates, deal with the racist Earthlings, or dozens of other things.

Comment from: Nentuaby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 3:32 PM

Interesting. A lot of those elements remind me of David Weber's "Honorverse" books. No FTL com? Check. Ass-slow FTL drive? Check, although there were wormholes to liven things up- but then that gets down to the matter of them only being in very specific places. Space inconceivably huge? Check- any two warships of that universe that get in visual range are piloted by suicidal monkeys. A government so huge it can't even keep track of all the worlds it's in charge of? That would be the Solarian League.


Not sure where I'm going with that, just an observation. :)

Comment from: Yook [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 4:01 PM

Real nice post, Mr. Burns. (*hears a faint echo of Monty Burns saying "Excellent", giggles*)

You've got me all wound up about RPing, despite the direct evidence I have that none of my RL friends would play a campaign. *sigh* But, will that stop me from getting T5, just because? Nope. :)

Comment from: Rich Burlew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 4:18 PM

[quote]The d20 system is, I think we can all agree, a hideous shambling monster. [/quote]

I'm pretty sure we can't agree on any such thing.

Though I will admit that the desire by Third-Party to crossbreed it with any setting or theme under the sun is counterproductive. d20 is fine at what it was made for—magic-heavy Hollywood medieval fantasy that hand waves realism. And it can be adapted to other settings that are tangentally related (for example, magic-heavy Hollywood FUTURE fantasy that hand waves realism, also known as Star Wars). But it is not the one-system-fits-all that some companies want to make it. In particular, I thought T20 was a fairly awful attempt to reconcile two excellent (but mutually exclusive) character creation models into a confusing mess. Traveller players would look at it and recoil in horror, while d20 players looked at it and just gave up.

I don't really blame WOTC for d20's Borg-like nature, though; of COURSE they want to use their house system as much as possible in their own products. And of course it's in their interest for third party companies to write supplements for it. The problem stems from how many smaller companies stopped developing their own core mechanics when the OGL went live. No system is perfect for every setting or theme (not d20 and not even GURPS). The problem lies in companies putting the higher profit they can make on a new d20 game ahead of forging their own path.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to working on this D&D sourcebook I'm writing...

Comment from: Aulayan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 5:01 PM

I tried running d20 for about a year, but I kept running into rules problems and suddenly realized that ... it was hard to keep things challenging. Hell, I was /under/ treasuring the party and they were regularly beating things with ease they shouldn't have been.

The whole thing sort of soured me on d20 to the point where I won't even play it. The system to me is Hate.

Luckily, there's an online group that's running New Mage which is quite fun ... and I probably won't notice the holes in it unless I tried to run it, so I can live in blissful ignorance. Unfortunately, getting a game started that way is difficult, time consuming and /dammit/ I want to play Traveller or In Nomine or Call of Cthulhu or All Flesh Must Be Eaten or ... well pretty much anything shiny that catches my interest.

So yeah, I agree with the comment about d20 being a shambling monster. Unfortunately, that's due to a lot of baggage. I can't blame the companies for embracing it, it makes sense. It's just unfortunate. And since it's so easy to play with, and start running things from scratch (despite the rules problems that make me twitchy), people will "flock" to it, as much as people flock to anything gaming.

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 5:04 PM

I've been in a d20-based campaign in a homebrew setting for a few months now. I agree with Rich Burlew: it works fine for D&D and D&Dish settings, but I really don't see how you could make it work in a setting that, say, uses firearms for most combat. It is sword-and-sorcery-centric.

I've always been fairly amenable to generic systems, though. Back in high school, my gaming group used Hero System by default for pretty much anything that didn't have a system of its own (that is: not Earthdawn, Cyberpunk, or White Wolf).

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 5:50 PM

I remember the long discussions that would start up on the GMAST-L e-mail discussion list concerning Traveller. I think of all the games out there, that and Fudge were the most popular. (Of course, we also had the "Mech of the Day" posts for people playing Battletech, but quite a few people disliked those because they couldn't be used for anything BUT Battletech. *chuckle*)

I'll have to look into purchasing a copy when it shows up at The Game Castle.

Comment from: KennyCelican [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 5:55 PM

One of the balance problems with d20 D&D is that the combat balance is put together assuming a classic 'dungeon crawl', where resting is itself a challenge and you'll probably wind up facing several encounters or challenges before having any kind of opportunity to rest. In short, if given time to rest, heal up and prepare for every encounter, of course they're going to stomp bad guys to goo. Once you realize that, enforcing that dynamic OR increasing the 'difficulty' of the individual encounters seems less odd.

I've also played d20 Modern. It's not too bad, but all 'uncivilized' (read - to the death, no authorities watching) combat boils down to two questions - 'Who brought the bundle of dynamite, and do they have initiative?'.

I never actually got to play Traveller. My college roomate had a copy, and we spent endless hours putting together characters, but neither of us was really into running solo games at the time, and no one else wanted to play Traveller. They were all addicted to tactical sims or Stalking the Night Fantastic. The original one with the crossed M-16's on the cover, not the reprint with the Foglio art. Not that I have any problems with the Foglio's, or the reprint, really, just giving you a sense of time.

Since then, I've played in and run a number of Sci Fi RPG's, and none of them really wind up working well. I think it has something to do with many popular Sci Fi stories being based on some single hidden piece of data, and by hidden I mean 'unknown to the protagonist(s)', not 'buried in a cave on planet x'. The ones that avoid that are fairly frequently war stories. In the first case, it's very difficult for the players to spontaneously guess at the fictional data, and once they do anything remaining in the game is usually anticlimactic. War stories are usually better portrayed by tactical sims than RPGs.

I suppose it says something that, given ALL that weight against Sci Fi RPG's, I'm STILL going to find a way to acquire T5 when it comes out.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 5:58 PM

To jump on what Rich Burlew was stating, I particularly don't understand when games switch over to a new system. Take 7th Sea, which was a really cool "Exploding d10" system. When it switched over to d20, it lost a lot of its luster, and eventually it's in the d20 wing of the RPG graveyard. Yeah, I know they thought that they could get more people to buy 7th sea if they switched to a d20 system. But still, they had a pretty good thing going with their system.

I guess the lesson here is develop the setting first before you decide on the game mechanics. When I decide on purchasing games, I look less now about the system and rather if this setting appeals to me. I wasn't attracted to the Serenity game, as I am not attracted to most RPG settings that are ripped out from television or movies. I just feel stimulated playing games that I've seen on television or in the movies. There's just not a lot of imagining that goes on.

Comment from: Rich Burlew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 6:01 PM

I think every system is going to have problems that the individual gamer is going to have to patch in order to suit their own personal play preference. I mean, I've DM'd various incarnations of D&D 3.X since it came out, and I've come to the point where I mostly ignore the entire Challenge Rating/Encounter Level subsystem—because I am capable of examining the game and its inherent rules biases and altering those that don't meet my needs. I personally prefer combats to be fewer and more dramatically impactful than D&D's "churn through the weak fights with mounting resource expenditure" paradigm. I don't call that a failure of the system, though; I call it a minor mismatch between the system's goals and mine, one that is easily corrected.

Comment from: KennyCelican [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 6:15 PM

Rich - you also have to look at player expectations though, and I will readily admit that the expectations of the group I play with have been skewed. Several times.

Essentially, I've lately begun running the D&D 3.5 system abso-friggin-lutely straight out of the box, just to, I dunno, 're-center' things. What's odd is that other than a touch of boredom with a module I worked up in less than 30 minutes (the players had three possible courses of action, of COURSE they took the one I didn't have prepared), no one is complaining about encounter difficulty, or lack thereof, or anything. It's all in presentation, really.

Of course, I learned from playing in an earlier game (one of those that skewed the player perceptions) that if you only play out the 'dramatic' combats, then assume the 'roughly one level per 13 combats' paradigm, you're going to hit two problems, which are related. First is that your players will wind up scared snotless of combat, which is fine if you're not planning on heroism, but if you WANT heroic actions, you've got to not select against them. Second is that the players will only rarely get that 'shiny new ability' feeling of invincibility to make them charge back into the breach once more.

The short version of my point is that changing any part of a game is likely to have unintended consequences, and that's not the fault of the system.

Comment from: Rich Burlew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 6:51 PM

Kenny:
I agree with everything you say, actually. I think you're reading something into my post that isn't there, since you seem to be defending d20 to me when I'm a vocal supporter of it.

When I say I ignore the CR system, I meant that I eyeball it based on my understanding of the PCs, not that I send massively powerful (and only massively powerful) battles after my PCs. A "dramatically appropriate" combat is one that is tied to the story, regardless of its power level, as opposed to a random encounter that exists solely to justify 13-encounters-per-level. If I can come up with 13 story-based encounters per level, cool. If not, I can adjust the challenge as necessary on those encounters that I do have. I don't run random encounters, though, because it is more important to me to not waste my very limited gaming time with superfluous combats. Also note that I only modify the game in my personal games with friends; I participate in a game with fellow writers where we keep everything at "factory settings" for accurate playtesting.

I have no complaints about the d20 system's ability to fulfill its intended goals. If I choose to tinker with it, I'm taking any "unintended consequences" on my own shoulders, and you'll never hear me complain about them. (I agree that nothing is more annoying than hearing someone whine, "This game sucks because I can't turn it into the system I actually want to play!") As a game designer, tinkering with the system in my personal game is absolutely crucial to understanding how X affects Y, so even a failed experiment in that regards yields plenty of valuable data. And as you say, nothing that happens in such a game is the fault of the system.

(Incidentally, if you look REAL hard over to the left and squint a little, you can kinda see the original topic of Eric's essay, off there in the distance. Wave to it.)

Comment from: Arachnid [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 6:53 PM

My first reaction is that every character's stats are an HTML color.

What color is _your_ character? ;)

Comment from: Tyck [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 7:23 PM

Eh..this one wandered about quite a bit as it moved toward conclusion. Anything science-fiction or RPG related would be on topic..

This post, now, only barely avoids being off-topic by referring to the essay itself. It's certainly unrelated to any discussion going on in comments.

(Waves to the original topic)

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 7:33 PM

Actually, while I have many of the problems with d20 that others do, nobody else has mentioned what's my tipping point.

See, I can accept that d20 works for certain kinds of games, and I've wondered about doing a Weird War II game in the system; I think it could work. So it's not that I don't want to ever touch it again, although I'd need certain house rules in place to keep it from being perverted.

No, my biggest problem with the system is the pure laziness it engenders in so many gamers. It's the stance that "Well, d20 works, so why should I switch to something else?" Of course, not every game or idea works with every, or even most, systems. Seriously, I'd go mad trying to do Dead Inside d20 - even as a player.

But some people are so stubborn, they don't want to bother learning another system. They want to just stick with the one they know. All in all, I'd probably be more willing to play a d20 game again if I knew I'd be able to play other weird systems with people.

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 8:52 PM

Although I bought and played almost every RPG I could find (ask me about my collection about terrible Time Travel RPGs!), I never got into Traveller. I think I was intimidated by the way it always had its own special rack, and the books were always so monolithically similar. It always seemed like so many books to buy, and the latest terrible game (we'll call it "Swordbearer"!) was one book. But I'm glad Traveller's still out there.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 9:03 PM

(ask me about my collection about terrible Time Travel RPGs!)

Time Master represent, yo!

I actually tried to buy the Time Master intellectual property once. Sadly, I didn't sufficient cash on hand (at least from their point of view.)

Comment from: Rich Burlew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 10:16 PM

"But some people are so stubborn, they don't want to bother learning another system. They want to just stick with the one they know."

This, of course, is a phenomenon completely unique to roleplaying gamers, and has nothing to do with why, say, there are three different "CSI" shows on television these days. O, a pox on d20 for introducing this wholly original pattern of human behavior into the universe!

Comment from: kafziel [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:12 PM

... dammit. I want to play now.

OK, you say there are various and sundry versions of the game? If I am to get and play one, which one should I get?

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:18 PM

I don't know. The Cold Equations doesn't do it for me. The situation seems, well, forced in that one.
On the other hand, the fact that I was actively pissed at the author for a couple of days the first time I read it says he may have done something right. (The number of alternate solutions they recieved from fans across the board, from highschool students to physics phds says something too.)

I second Kafziel's question. I do notice that megatraveler is avaliable with the cannon books all on a cd-rom for a reasonable price...

Comment from: PO8 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:34 PM

For those of you who have never played Traveller and are interested... Back in the day, a really nice PBEM online Traveller campaign was run under the auspices of the Traveller Mailing List. The list owner and campaign organizer was a fellow named James Perkins, who has been a colleague of mine for some years now. He quit with Traveller long ago, but I know he misses it as much as I do.

With T⁵ coming out, and if folks here were interested, maybe we could talk James or some other experienced Traveller GM into running a Websnark-centric PBEM campaign. If you're interested, drop me some email at traveller@po8.org and I'll see what we can do.

Perhaps the single biggest barrier to original Traveller was the large number of semi-expensive books to purchase. After that, though, was that I found it to require as much or more GM skill than any of the many other RPGs I've played since. A successful GM must be a knowledgable scientist, a skilled writer, an evocative storyteller, and a master of some moderately arcane game mechanics. For it to be fun, the players also had to be pretty skilled. There's just no playable "Barbarian" character class or "Barbarian Hordes" NPCs in the Traveller universe; it's very much a game for smart participants, and yet it will run really dry and boring if they aren't socialized and creative. Tough crowd to put together. The folks here just might qualify, though. :-)

Thanks, Eric, for the memories.

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 19, 2006 11:45 PM

Though if I ever write a story or a paper or anything that is talked about that much and that produces as many reply essays/stories/what have you, I will count myself as a success as a writer.

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:53 AM

Time Master represent, yo!
Right on; Time Master was a good one. I firmly believe that TimeTricks was one of the three best RPG supplements ever printed. (The other two: Ultimate Powers Book for the Marvel RPG and the Q Manual for James Bond 007. A close fourth is Acute Paranoia.)

Comment from: PO8 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 4:02 AM

As far as which Traveller to buy, I guess I'm still partial to the original. I'm not convinced any of the revs so far were an overall improvement. MT would definitely be second-best.

As for me, I'm thinking I want to see T⁵ before I commit. It sounds like it might be the best since the original, and might have some improvements.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 4:49 AM

See, this is why I think the future of RPG is in the pdf format. Unless they start to charge the same price for pdfs as they do actual books. A pdf version of Travellers would be really cool. I actually have two pdf rpg series: Arcana Evolved and Shadowrun 4. They cost me 1/4 of what it would have cost for the books.

There was a James Bond RPG? Does Spyware or whatever that spy d20 series is called knows about this?

Comment from: Doug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 4:53 AM

Traveller was the best RPG I never played.

Oh, I played parts of it. Snapshot was lots of fun- fast paced even when things never broke down into shoot 'em up. Battles in space allowed me to to teach someone vector math, and drilled the concept of dot products into my own head (though the orbital mechanics were fudged by the game). There were discussions about what a normally invisible high energy particle beam would look like when it hit the cloud of ablative material the sandcasters had spewed out. There were more discussions about how the difference of just two tech levels would have the equivalent of the modern 82nd Airborne duking it out with Napoleon's Old Guard.

The one thing I remember most, the one that still gives me a feeling something akin to that almost-ten year old's fascinated horror at reading the cover was during one of the few simulated battles. One of the players who'd been building up a huge amount of velocity -- tiny, fast courier slingshotting around a gas giant with his main drive blazing at maximum acceleration, his jump drive already out -- and then taking a hit on his main drive. He was outbound from the system, with no chance of burning off all that speed he'd built up, all his delta v gone.

We later did the math, and figured that he'd be back sometime in the next 300 years.

It was too rich and grand to actually play. Like some other games, you didn't get to the point where you actually played it. You would read through the rules and boggle over the possibilities they raised, a surfiet of riches that left you with too many options. It was just so large.

Looking back at it from this point in time, it wasn't Star Wars in the least, unless you took the politics into account. It wasn't Babylon Five unless you count the space battles. It most certainly wasn't Star Trek unless you count the variety of civizations and levels of technology. It wasn't space opera at all.

I agree with you that Ben Bova would probably have called it home, but I bet Heinlein would have had a merry romp there, too.

Comment from: alschroeder [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 9:38 AM

I like that. "The best game I never played".

I was fascinated by the character, class, and planet generation features=---as I remember it, it even had a half decent way to figure out the planet's ecology, too,...but I examined it more in a way to make my sf worlds richer to write about, not to play the thing.

But I have fond memories of TRAVELLER--of rolling the dice and seeing what sort of world I could create.---Al

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 10:00 AM

I loved Traveller -- I never did figure out combat, though. I feel stupid for admitting it, but it just didn't make any sense to me.

Space Opera was my version of the best game I never played. It was really fun to read, but the game mechanics were much too difficult to figure out.

Time Master was a great game as soon as they released the Time Tricks supplement. Then you could try to create time paradoxes to make the entire mission irrelevant. I was never fond of the pacesetter game mechanics system, though... that said, Chill was interesting as far as generic horror rpgs go. Star Ace... was less so.

The James Bond roleplaying game was actually pretty good.

The Dr. Who roleplaying game (From FASA) was interesting. It used the same ruleset as their Star Trek RPG (which was also pretty good, in my opinion) so the mechanics had the same feel, but they were very thorough with their source material.

Comment from: Stan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 10:19 AM

I haven't had the chance to look to deeply but there is an info page and forum on the new edition:

http://www.traveller5.com/

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 11:50 AM

In the mid-80s I drew cartoons for the FASA Doctor Who and Star Trek games' magazine. Pretty much my sole claim to paid creative work.

That's all I got.

Comment from: batou [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:13 PM

I remember Traveller well, as a game that never was.

I don't mean that it wasn't available, or that we didn't know about it, or that we didn't try it. One of my gaming group back in the day (somewhere between Power Windows and Hold your fire) obtained the books, got us to generate characters, and started framing up a game.

Except that the crew didn't take to it. Most got through the basic character-generation phase and balked at developing further. The rest got partway through development and gave up. They didn't see the need to go through all this when other systems gave you a "fully rounded" character right now. Who needs all this backstory?

So, they/we dropped it. By the time all the guys had gone back to Robotech and its ilk, there were just two of us, and the ertswhile GM let it go.

I don't remember much about the character I worked up, only that he was easily the deepest RPG character I would ever have played. Real depth, not just a kill list and an experience score, but a character who was like a real SF character, just as I was discovering SF.

And he never got a minute of game time. He languished on a card in the back of my gaming binder, and was eventually lost.

Stranded, then lost.

Just like the Beowulf.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:26 PM

batou -- oh man, does that resonate.

That was the thing about the Traveller creation system. You knew what happened to your character, and when, and how he or she learned what they know. You could spec out exactly what happened in that year. It was bare bones, but it would be easy to frame out in more coherent terms. If in a four year hitch in the Merchant Marine you were promoted to Commander, you gained Trading +1, +1 to your Dex, -1 to your Str, and +1 to your Social Standing, it was trivial to come up with the hows and whys. Obviously, your regular duty got you better versed in the art of trading. But, there was some kind of problem -- maybe an accident. Maybe an attack. It caused some long term damage, dropping your lifting strength... but perhaps you saved someone important, because your social standing improved -- you were highly regarded in society. And of course, if it was an attack of some sort, it makes sense that you'd train to improve your agility, to duck better the next time...

If you had a thirty eight year old Navy Lieutenant Commander, who went to college, graduated with NOTC, went to flight school, is a crack pilot and astrogator, but also has both leadership and carousing skills, some vacc suit time and is rated to fire the topside guns, only to be forced into retirement due to injury (a later permutation of the "you could die in character creation thingy) with a decent pension, 8000 Credits in savings, a membership in the Traveller's Aid society and a ceremonial broadsword? It's hard to say that character's just an empty suit.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:31 PM

Truth told, the Traveller character creation system and the Traveller world creation system is probably the greatest writer's shortcut ever created.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:31 PM

Of course, that has already been mentioned, but it bears repeating.

Comment from: Stan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:38 PM

Some people get really annoyed by the creation system. In some ways, it's too realistic for some tastes - you don't get everything you want. For example, you might not be able to pump your pilot skill as high as you want because so much of your duty was dirtside.

I like the added complexity of the twists and turns. I remember having a character who wanted to be a naval officer but he flunked the entrance exam. Rather than joining as an enlisted, he became a merchant officer. Details like that make it easier to build a personality.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 12:47 PM

Yeah. Some people see that as a bug.

Some people -- and some GMs -- see that as a feature.

Comment from: jpcardier [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 1:01 PM

Traveller comes from the dawn of the Role Playing Game. Dungeons and Dragons was first published in 1974. Traveller came around in 1977. It wasn't the second role playing game -- Tunnels and Trolls may or may not have been second, but it certainly predated Traveller by a couple of years.

I just checked,and Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne came out in 1975. Anybody remember EPT besides me?

But Traveller came out before Runequest (1978) and at the same time as Arduin (1977), which really puts into the annals of RPG lore. I've played it, and had no idea it went back so far. Damn, I feel old for knowing and playing all of these... ;)

Comment from: The Internet Axolotl [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 2:00 PM

Building on the guy that said that Traveller reminded him a lot of David Weber's Honorverse - Weber was a gamer before he became an author. He was the line editor for Starfire Edition II and the co-creator of the Empires module for Starfire III.

Wouldn't surprise me if he played Traveller somewhere back in the mists of time.

Of course, the Honor Harrington books started out as Horatio Hornblower in space - hence the intentional limits on technology (starships with "gravity sails"?) and tactics (broadside combat between ships).

Comment from: trpeal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 2:25 PM

Oh, man, this has revved up a big desire in me to play the game, now. I'd be more than willing to participate in an online game. *hint hint*

If an agreement could be reached on which version to use, of course. ;)

Comment from: Vosh [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 3:21 PM

I created a type-key account just to comment on this one. That black box, that sparse white text, the same things that made me grab that box when I was twelve and say "I must have this." Between black-box Traveller and blue-edition D&D started my life-long love of RPGs. Thanks for bringing back those memories.

If someone does start a Traveller game, I'm in.

God speed, Beowulf.

Comment from: schaefe [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 3:52 PM

I have to confess, I've never played Traveller. Always saw it at the game stores over the years, but never actually tried it out. After reading Eric's post and the accompanying comments thread I have to admit I am very intrigued by it.

However, I do have to ask if there's a game to be played after the character creation process has run its course? The creation process does sound intriguing, but how does the game play after that?

The only reason I ask that is from some of the comments above stating that "It's the greatest game never played". I'm all for nostalgia and all...

This whole topic is one of the reasons I love Websnark though--always something interesting to read about! I'm a FTPLTR (first time poster, long time reader) myself...

Comment from: Montykins [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 8:12 PM

But Traveller came out before Runequest (1978) and at the same time as Arduin (1977),
Yay Arduin! I loved Arduin, although as near as I could tell, the actual rules were complete gibberish. It probably didn't help that I only had the little books instead of the core game.

That actually ties into the d20 discussion -- it's always been my position that the game mechanics are the least important part of an RPG. Palladium is terrible, but I had a great deal of fun in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles campaign. Paranoia was almost purposely unplayable in its first edition, but it was still a great game.

If using the d20 system allows independent RPG publishers to come out with interesting game worlds, then I'm all in favor of it. It's still Macho Women with Guns, whether it's the original version or the new d20 version, you know? When it comes down to a game session, I've never really cared if we're using Arms Law or whatever homebrew combat system the GM has thrown together.

(disclaimer: I work for WotC, so I might be biased)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 8:18 PM

The thing I like about d20 (or, at least, OGC) is that it provides a relatively straightforward rulesystem that you can adapt to your own purposes, letting you concentrate on content. That works for me. :)

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 8:19 PM

Though I will say that Arms Law had the absolute hands-down best crit and fumble tables I've ever read. Nothing quite like tripping over an imaginary deceased turtle in the heat of combat...

Comment from: Trevel [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 8:23 PM

Yeah, all this makes me want to play it -- despite how I have never table-top gamed in my life. Computer RPGs, sure, lots of those...

In fact, this reminds me of a couple old games ... System Shock 2, I believe, had you go through a few levels of training when you started, to pick out a skillset. Not nearly as involved as Traveler sounds, but probably based on that, at least slightly. But, Dark Lands has a very similar character creation system. Start young -- pick a heritage, then a career for five years ... then another ... and when you've rolled up your group, start adventuring in historical germany.

They didn't have FTL communication there, either. That's about it for the similarities.

I can't think of any other games with a similar setup. You'd think there'd be more, considering.

(As an aside: A is 10. B is 11. 697B84. Bad grammar bothers some; bad spelling bothers others; bad hexadecimal bothers me.)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 8:51 PM

Then what's hexidecimal for 11?

Comment from: Polychrome [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 9:48 PM

Mechwarrior 3rd Ed. also has a extensive "Lifepath" that starts at age 10 and usually puts a character through their mid twenties depending on how much you are willing to push your luck and what paths you take. You can't die on the lifepath, but you can lose limbs and make powerful enemies.
There is FTL communication in the Mechwarrior universe, but it is limited to 50 lightyears a transmission, and the Inner Sphere is 2000 LY in diameter. There are relay stations on most inhabited planets, but it can take weeks for a message to get across, unless you're willing to pay for a prioity message, and they aren't cheap.

Comment from: Alexis Christoforides [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 10:08 PM

In fact, this reminds me of a couple old games ... System Shock 2, I believe, had you go through a few levels of training when you started, to pick out a skillset.

EVE Online also has time-based skill learning like Traveller, although it's real-time. That means that if you remember to log in and train skills from time to time, you can have month-long hiatuses from the game and still not fall behind in abilities. Keeps the playing field somewhat balanced between casual players and people who spend most of their days there.

EVE also follows Eric's system of 'routes' between systems (borrowed from Elite, if I'm not mistaken). This is an extremely important aspect of gameplay; Systems with cheaper minerals or products can be tens of jumps away, taking maybe hours of travelling with a large transport ship (likewise, you can sell your goods for more if you're willing to travel). Lawless choke points are very often space pirate lairs, demanding the cargo contents to spare your life. Warring corps (clans) need to take into consideration the escape and entrance points to each system. And although most of the time in EVE you are near large structures like stargates and stations, the silence after warping to a bookmarked safe spot (and hoping to wait your enemy out) can be painful.

I already contacted PO8 and I'm totally up for a game of Traveller. Can we make this an official thing though? Is there a player limit for the game? Pardon my ignorance, I've never played a tabletop RPG in my life and now I'm deeply intrigued.

I do recommend EVE though. It really is a great game, and I've been talking about it nonstop since i've started playing a few weeks ago.

Comment from: kirabug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 10:25 PM

Trevel wrote:

As an aside: A is 10. B is 11.

Then Paul wrote:

Then what's hexidecimal for 11?

*blink*

*blink*blink*

Comment from: Arujei [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 10:35 PM

Ooooh, that sounds spiffy! I've been looking for a good space RPG to play for a long time now. And the comment about RPG's being a writer's shortcut?

So true, so very very true. But that may just be me.

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 11:03 PM

First off, I too would love an online Traveller session.

2)If I recall, the hex expands into 32-character code (0-9+A-X minus I's and O's) for warship and world generation.

3)Point of contention. Eric, although the later books even declared Traveller to be hard science, I'm not sure that I agree. It certainly WASN'T space opera. Unlike Star Trek, they weren't experiencing some new spacial anomoly every week, and unlike Star Wars, they weren't using planet destroying superships. That said, there were reactionless thrusters (and thus hovercars, etc.), hand held fusion weapons, beams weapons of all sorts of improbable types, nuclear dampening fields, and of course the lovely hand-waving hyperdrive that somehow needed hydrogen fuel (even though the hydrogen fusion power plants didn't). Looking at the difference between GURPs Traveller (and let's face it, all of GURPs technology has used the Traveller Tech Level system from the get go) and the "hard science" suggestions from GURPS: ultra tech 2, I see alot of things that do not gel. Traveller is many things (including my all time favorite sci fi RPG), but I'll need further convincing to call it hard science.

4)"I just checked,and Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne came out in 1975. Anybody remember EPT besides me?"

I can't forget. The owner of my Favorite Local Gaming Shop was part of Barker's original campaign. He's had me sitting down with pen and paper cross referencing my height-build-strength several times. Problem is is that the unique language of the setting, while intriguing, makes it impossible for names and terms in the setting to resonate with me. As lame as it is to have a barbarian named Krull or Ragnor or Wulfgar, it instantly makes sense that they are barbarians. I can't remember my Tekumel character's name, much less his culture, God, or whatnot.

5)"If using the d20 system allows independent RPG publishers to come out with interesting game worlds, then I'm all in favor of it. It's still Macho Women with Guns, whether it's the original version or the new d20 version, you know? When it comes down to a game session, I've never really cared if we're using Arms Law or whatever homebrew combat system the GM has thrown together."

I understand that sentiment, but don't agree with it. A games rules shape the game's character. For instance, the difficulty in running high level warrior type characters in D&D 3.5 (where spellcasters dominate over a certain level), changes the flavor of the game. D20 has certain limitations. First off, the level system makes the accumulation of character progression a very simple but very cinematic process. That is very different from a "spend points on increasing skills" game like the white wolf games or GURPS (no more or less realistic, just a different effect on the game flavor). Likewise, I've seen alot of complaints in this thread and previous about D20 when applied to guns or non-dungeon crawl situations (note that I personally haven't experienced this, as I've done almost no modern/futuristic D20). These limit the ability of the D20 system to work for every setting.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 11:09 PM

Trevel wrote, "B is 11. 697B84." Didn't he?

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 11:29 PM

Greatest game I never played? Hōl.

More seriously, possibly Millennium's End. Sort of a harder-science Cyberpunk. The firearms combat system used circular transparencies of shot scattering and silhouettes of human figures. You'd pick the proper silhouette for the size and position (face-on, back, side) of the person you were aiming at, and the proper transparency for your weapon (I think how you were shooting, e.g. strafing vs. standing & aiming, also mattered in this), and center the transparency over the point where you were aiming. You'd then roll dice (can't remember what sort or how many) and match the number on the dice with a number on the transparency: if it fell on the silhouette, you hit the person tere; if it was off of the silhouette, you missed. Sadly, character creation practically required a graphing calculator, so it never actually got played.

In my abortive attempts at creating roleplaying systems, I keep trying to salvage that target/transparency mechanic.

Traveller sounds interesting. I might suggest it at my next games night, since the GM of my current campaign has been saying that he's getting sick of fantasy and would like to do some sci-fi next. I think he's thinking more Star Wars space opera though. Somebody has suggested running Appleseed in a generic system. I jokingly suggested Shirow's Orion, but there's no way that'd actually work as a tabletop game.

I might pick up a copy just to give the history-based character creation system a look. Maybe I can plagiarize^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H borrow elements for my current, not-yet-abortive attempt to design a system.

Comment from: Morganite [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 20, 2006 11:39 PM

This is making me curious about what version the Traveller books I have are.

*digs out and dusts off box* Traveller deluxe edition, copyright 1977, 1981. Approximately original, I believe.

I'm not sure I see the point of death during character creation. Then you have to start over at the beginning? Bah. I'd say just reroll when that comes up.

I think the main thing that would bother me about a system like that is the (possibly significant) chance of coming up with characters you just couldn't play. "I can't -think- like a person who would know this! ;.; * (Though honestly, I'm not sure how well I'd do in any serious-setting RP... it's not something I have much experience with.)

On the setting elements... That actually reminds me in some aspects of Lois McMaster Bujold's 'Vorkosigan' series. Though in that case wormholes are the only way of getting around at effective-FTL, which introduces a variety of interesting complications. Although it doesn't seem to qualify as inconceivably huge; not even close really.

Shadowrun... I love the setting, but now that I think about it, the idea of it being several different systems that don't quite mesh. The matrix system was stylistically fascinating, but didn't seem to work very well in practice. A lot of the systems were like that... cool design that doesn't really work when you try to actually play it.

(The same could probably be said of the Dream Park game, if anyone else has seen that... really interesting, but I'm not sure it could actually be playable.)

...Okay, that's enough rambling from me. *Hits post*

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 5:19 AM

Where to begin.

For a Travelleresque character creation system, check out The Burning Wheel. The system may be a little too freeform for my tastes, but has some excellent ideas.

I ran Space Opera for a year or so, again full of ideas, but not tied into a unified whole. I think a lot of SF systems get bogged down in the world/stuff design rules.

T20 does work. I ran a small group through a few hoops last year and it's not bad. It lends itself to more heroic style than the original, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Babylon 5 is a fairly decent SF rendition as well, but for different reasons.

I actually like the RoleMaster system, mainly for combat but I like dice and tables and bizarre crits and... SpaceMaster certainly wasn't the worst SF system I ran, that has to go to SPI's Universe.

Comment from: KennyCelican [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 9:36 AM

Anyone out there remember Morrow Project? I can remember playing that and StNF with a GM down in Florida named Dave Thorton (hope I didn't misspell your name there, Dave, if I did, feel free to correct me, it's been a while). He's the one person I know of who could actually pull off the 'everybody dies' game and still have people coming fervently back for more. We'd even give out impromptu awards - messiest death, most dramatic death, most likely to get a Darwin Award.

That aside,

3)Point of contention. Eric, although the later books even declared Traveller to be hard science, I'm not sure that I agree. It certainly WASN'T space opera. Unlike Star Trek, they weren't experiencing some new spacial anomoly every week, and unlike Star Wars, they weren't using planet destroying superships. That said, there were reactionless thrusters (and thus hovercars, etc.), hand held fusion weapons, beams weapons of all sorts of improbable types, nuclear dampening fields, and of course the lovely hand-waving hyperdrive that somehow needed hydrogen fuel (even though the hydrogen fusion power plants didn't). Looking at the difference between GURPs Traveller (and let's face it, all of GURPs technology has used the Traveller Tech Level system from the get go) and the "hard science" suggestions from GURPS: ultra tech 2, I see alot of things that do not gel. Traveller is many things (including my all time favorite sci fi RPG), but I'll need further convincing to call it hard science.

Point of order - Eric called it Hard Science Fiction. That's quite different from calling something Hard Science. Generally the difference between Hard Science Fiction and the other end of that spectrum (Soft Science Fiction? Science Fantasy?) is the amount of handwaving, and the plausibility of the technology.

Let's see - reactionless thrusters I've seen at least one semi-feasible attempt at, and although it's insanely inefficient in terms of power to thrust, and engine mass to thrust, it's technically possible. And to paraphrase Niven, if one person thinks up a way to do something, another person will find a way to do it better.

For hand held fusion weapons, (seperate from beam weapons, I'm assuming you're talking about tacnuke grenades or some such) you're mainly talking a question of shielding. Without the shielding, the materials needed to touch off a nuke are remarkably small, and if you're REALLY worried about safety, why are you developing a handheld nuke in the first place?

Improbable beam weapons? Look at the bleeding edge of modern nonlethal weaponry some time. They're doing wild things with sonics and light.

My point here is that Traveller really is, for the most part, Hard Science Fiction. The technology is mostly stuff that either modern science could work out given the time and desire, OR is something where a reasonable path forward could be plotted.

If you're looking for a Hard Science game, um...

Take ANY of the TriTac games, remove the fantastic elements of the backstory, run as you like. TriTac had flat out the most realistic character / reality interaction system (especially when it came to combat) that I've ever seen. Unfortunately, it tended to make people exceptionally gunshy. Reality does that.

Onto a different topic, I played Rolemaster for a LONG time, and while the crit / combat system is fun, it does eventually get repetetive.

Comment from: TH [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 10:21 AM

Am I completely off-base or do I remember that Serenity grew out of Traveller Campaign Joss Whedon played?

Comment from: Abby L. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 10:37 AM

Sounds like a really fun game. Character creation was a bit like that in Cyberpunk. It was kinda fun, I've never done something like that.

Comment from: toshi.m [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 10:41 AM

I played Shadowrun 3e for more than two years, as it was the game of choice of the only guy willing to GM for any length of time. Combat took me most of a semester to figure out, between spell pool and combat pool and karma pool... and we never did use the Matrix rules for anything. GM wouldn't let us be straight-up hackers anyway, so we just sort of fudged it with a couple skill rolls. Pretty good point-based character gen though.

Oh, and I would totally be up for an online Traveller game too! It sounds like fun, and I've always wanted a crash course in orbital mechanics as applied to space battles. (No, seriously!)

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 11:10 AM

In the (current) definitive anthology of short Hard Science Fiction (The Ascent of Wonder, edited by David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, Hard Science Fiction is defined less as rigorously real world scientific and more a sense of methodology. Yes, it's vitally important that all the science be as right as it can be. However, science fiction postulates changes and evolutions in our understanding of the universe and the engineering that exploits that understanding.

In science fantasy or (soft) space opera, the considerations of method are irrelevant. Mike Resnick's writing isn't typically hard SF because he doesn't much care about how the technology gets where he wants to go. The Widowmaker climbs into his starship, tells it where he wants to go, lets it fly him, and goes out back to tell the kitchen to cook him a steak. It could as easily be magic -- it's not relevant to the style of storytelling Resnick indulges in.

Hard SF, on the other hand, cares. It wants hard and fast rules, and technology that works in a plausible way. Yes, meson screens and black globe generators aren't current technology. And perhaps they never would or could be. However, the methodology of putting together starships, including their weapons, their artificial gravity, their defenses and their computers is rigorously enforced. You need a specific hull, of a specific size. That size defines what can fit inside your ship. If you're having your ship built in a TL 13 shipyard, you can't have a black globe generator installed. When you fly out, you fly out at a specific acceleration and if you want to know how long it takes to fly to the next planet, you follow a formula. When you travel between stars, there is a specific amount of time and fuel it takes.

And so on, and so forth.

To give you an extreme example of this, Hartwell actually defined Anne McCaffery's original Dragonriders of Pern novella as hard SF. The methods of worldbuilding she used to create Pern and the Red Star, the transmission of Thread between the two worlds, and even the mechanics of sulphur chewing, telepathic, teleporting dragons were carefully considered and worked out. That doesn't make any of those things possible. It makes them plausible. And therein lies the difference.

(There are some folks working in science fiction who go ultra hard. People like Ben Bova, who wouldn't break the laws of physics for love or money. But they're rare.)

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 11:15 AM

For the record -- I try my damnedest to follow the conventions of Hard SF when I write SF. My whole "imperial space" background is (semi)hard. The most ambitious novel I'm working on in it -- a novel that's taken years, in part because there's so much math, is one called Theftworld. There's nothing quite like reaching the point where the alien world is reached by the ship, after a good six weeks of travel, and then the writing needs to stop because I have to work out how long the planet's year is based on its distance from its sun, how long the planet's day is, what the coherent planetary calendar is, what the standard "imperial" calendar is.

And know at the same time that no one but me would even give a damn about it.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 11:22 AM

(I'm just mister talky today. Sorry!)

The other thing about Hard SF in action -- at least in my Imperial background -- is that changes in technology matter. A lot I have four different stories (including Trigger Man, which you saw part of here) set around the idea that a new breakthrough lets people travel 100 light years along predetermined routes at a shot instead of 45. It takes centuries for the repercussions to work their way through space. It ends a war, sparks other conflicts, and over time is both a positive economic windfall for dozens of worlds and an economic disaster for hundreds of others.

This also means that in a short story I'm working on, I needed to know how large a typical cargo container is and how many of those standard cargo containers could fit in the hold of a trader ship. Please note, the cargo in those containers is irrelevant to the story. It's literally background information. But, when I write about the cargo hold, I write with authority. I know that hold. And the ship surrounding it. That gives the characters a solid world to live in. And that in turn lets me write those characters convincingly.

It would help, of course, if I didn't suck at math. But computers are wonderful things.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 11:55 AM

Is it just me, or is it extremely silly for Eric to apologize for posting, on-topic, to his own blog?

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 11:58 AM

Trevel
About Traveleresque computer games... one that springs to mind that hasn't been mentioned is, well, Megatraveler. (I haven't played much of it, but I've gone through the character creation before, which was directly from megatraveler.)

For the folks confused about the B=11 comment, I read it as A is 10 B is 11. New Sentence 697B84 (seperate, a statblock.)

Comment from: larksilver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 11:59 AM

(I'm just mister talky today. Sorry!)

And this is a problem, because.....? :P

Comment from: Wistful Dreamer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 12:33 PM

"Is it just me, or is it extremely silly for Eric to apologize for posting, on-topic, to his own blog?"

Silly, but not extremely silly. Oh, and thanks for the explanation on hard science. I don't read a lot of fiction, so the distinction was kind of lost on me.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 12:39 PM

Huh? Megatraveller was talked about, wasn't it? Either that or the greys are implanting false memories again.

Damn you, greys!

As far as writing SF goes, I've always thought that whether or not it is considered "hard" depends on whether or not you consider the technology a character in the book or just a plot device.

See, technology-as-character and technology-as-plot-device can share many characteristics: both can function under a strict set of rules, both can be well-ordered and be consistently portrayed, and be grounded in solid or at least plausible science... however, you treat technology-as-character differently than technology-as-plot-device. Technology-as-character develops throughout the story just as any other character would... by the end of the book, the character "insterstellar hyperdimensional drive" is different from the nondescript box sitting in the engine room in the first chapter. Technology-as-plot-device exists to either impede or assist the progress of the characters, who are the ones doing the actual developing.

That's the way I look at it, anyway. I'm shopping around a novel where technology exists solely to confound the characters or to give them a leg up. Hence, not hard SF. Space Opera, to be more precise, and pulpy space opera if you want to be even more accurate... (though I'm considering changing the description in my query letters to "if Oscar Wilde wrote _Ocean's 11_, only set in the far future" just to see how a publisher would react.)

Comment from: KennyCelican [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 1:13 PM

Eric: Out of curiosity, because you obviously have a firmer grasp of the canonical definitions of these things (look at my sloppy post and your much tighter one for confirmation):

If a story is written so that the characters in the story actively believe in magic and all the trappings of a fantastic universe, and the storyteller never breaks character, but the storyteller actually has thought through all the details with an eye to as few handwaves as possible, is that Fantasy or Hard Science Fiction?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 1:31 PM

There would be some debate.

There is a movement to define a form of low fantasy as "Hard Fantasy," doing a hard SF style take on Fantasy. That's probably what it would fit best.

In a way, we're discussing the antonym of Magic Realism. In Magic Realism, fantastic elements and events just occur, and people just accept them, despite their incongruous nature. Things just happen.

Comment from: Trevel [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 3:15 PM

Lots of interesting games to try -- thanks. EVE online sounded particularily interesting. (Of course, with Oblivion out today, it'll be a while before I care...)

And I meant that B was 11. Hence saying if you were to have "Strength of 6 a Dexterity of 9, an Endurance of 7, an Intelligence of 11, an Education of 8 and a Social Standing of 4", writing "UPP: 697A84." would mean your intelligence just dropped a point.

... I don't want to know what it says about me, that that's the thing that stood out most of that essay.

Comment from: Dragonshark [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 4:57 PM

I rarely comment, but Traveller

my true RPG love

forget D&D, RuneQuest, Vampire the Pathos, or any of those

2 and a half years I ran a Traveller campaign, where we had 1 to 3 sessions a week


fortunately it was college, who needs sleep, really

I miss that

what other setting can have a wet dog as a play aid (the smell was supposed to the same as the inside of a Vargyr ship)

I really miss playing though

skimming for hydrocarbons, betting on whether we can really dock without using reverse thrusters (oops) wondering when the Zho or Solsec operatives will twig to the fact that we just spaced the scientist they were looking for (what? we were supposed to keep him alive? the mission specs clearly say 'out of the hands of the shodani or other operatives')

another reason that I hate Firefly having been cancelled

It felt like Traveller

sorry, gotta jump

Comment from: Mazlynn [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 5:52 PM

"Hartwell actually defined Anne McCaffery's original Dragonriders of Pern novella as hard SF."

I remember reading through the McCaffrey series as a teen, and thinking it was absolutely awesome when I got to the point in the series where you realize that what you THOUGHT was a fantasy series was really a sci-fi series. That really was a well written world setting.

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 21, 2006 10:47 PM

Christopher B. Wright
We mentioned it as a pencil and paper RPG. I was refering to the CRPG version in reference to the discussion of Traveller like computer games.

Comment from: Yook [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 1:37 AM

Damn you, Burns! It is because of you that I bought four MegaTraveller books in pdf format, printed the players guide and started randomly making PCs! I blame you for my subsequent downloading of dos-based MegaTraveller character generators! Gah!

Also, I hope you will post a review of some sort of T5, I'd be interested in what you'd have to say.

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 2:52 AM

I've got one story setting, which I've been calling "Lost Colony", that is more or less hard social-science fiction. The people there have their own languages, culturesm etc., and I really want all of that to be as naturalistic and believable as possible. I'll probably never make anything out of it (at one point I thought I was going to write stories set there as a webcomic: all dialogue in the native languages, with some Javascript or something to translate all of any given on-panel language into English. Yeah, that was a little overly ambitious), but I do like playing with it.

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 2:55 AM

For the record, that's not the setting of the RPG system I mentioned earlier. I would not allow anyone to roleplay characters in Lost Colony unless they demonstrated fluency in their characters' native languages. There is no English in Lost Colony god dammit.

The setting of my RPG is sort of D&D meets MC Escher.

Comment from: LurkerWithout [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 5:01 AM

Why is this working tonight? And not last night? Its the same frelling computer!

Anyway for those possibly interested, an abandon ware site with the MegaTraveller computer game...

http://www.abandonia.com/games/en/660/MegaTraveller1ZhodaniConspiracy.htm

Comment from: Mario [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 8:37 AM

I still have my old Traveller character sheet.

Gods, sometimes I miss the days when I actively gamed.

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 2:02 PM

Eric, I just had this wonderful thought.
You said that math isn't really your thing, and thank god for computers or some similar such.
Do you have a program that handles orbital mechanics and lets you plot out both powered and unpowered transfer orbits, either within the solar system or in user defined situations?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 2:19 PM

I use a spreadsheet for orbital mechanics. I haven't needed transfer orbits yet, thankfully. (I admit this means I handwave when a ship goes into orbit, but as I haven't yet needed orbit to orbit or orbital combat or the like, I can get away with it.)

Comment from: roninkakuhito [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 5:19 PM

Poop.
I had really hoped that you had some sort of software that would work out both minimum time and minimum energy orbits for user defined planetary systems.

I wold also love to find an electronic orrery that allowed user defined planets and had decent zoom features. (I like being able to se how relative positions change over time and sadly I am not much of a programmer.)

I read Heinlein's talk of working out orbital mechanics and I break out in a cold sweat.

Spreadsheets are our friends.
Properly commented and or labled spreadsheets are friends we actually invite over to our house and to parties.

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 22, 2006 10:02 PM

I'll bet you there's one out there, and probably open source too. You might need to dig a bit though.

Comment from: Mario [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 23, 2006 9:31 AM

There used to be an Apple program to do that. Don't think it was ever ported to OS X or Windows...

Comment from: Doug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 23, 2006 11:34 AM

I wold also love to find an electronic orrery that allowed user defined planets and had decent zoom features.

If you don't mind the lack of user-defined planets, look ye for Celestia [http://www.shatters.net/celestia/] amongst the free loot available online. It's even better than a Solar sytem orrery, as you can go visit some of the local cluster's denizens after you visit the many named and unnamed hundred stars in the Mlky Way galaxy- including the ones with known extrasolar planets.

One of the best parts is that you can get a real sense of just how big things are when you tool along at realativistic speed, and are still faced with years of real time travel time as you visit our nearest neighbors. Thankfully, you can speed through that million years of flight time at 1 au per second when playing galaxy hop by playing with the timerate.

Comment from: Doug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 23, 2006 11:57 AM

Argh! Forgot... Gravitation Ltd 5.0 [http://www.pure-mac.com/astronomy.html] if you can still run Mac Classic environment. Version 4.0 -- Which I still had on tap, surprisingly -- will run as well, but has some display problems (it's meant for B/W display setting, so you get some annoying artifacts). It's shareware, but seems to be flirting with abandonware status nowadays.

I do recommend Celestia, if you can run it (It runs on many systems, for you onlookers out there). It's the Google Earth for the solar system and beyond.

Comment from: storiteller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 23, 2006 8:58 PM

Gwalla, if you like the idea of "social-science fiction," you might want to read Ursula K. LeGuin, if you haven't before. Especially the "Left Hand of Darkness." The story is from the point of view of an ambassador to this world where the aliens change sexes on a regular basis as part of their biological system. She uses myths embedded within the story to help our understanding of the society. Personally, I'm doing a similar kind of thing with the comic I'm writing right now.

As for the sinking feeling of deep, infinite space, I think of Ray Bradbury's short story Kaleidoscope. Just the thought of forever being stuck in space floating away until you die...[shivers]

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 24, 2006 10:19 PM

That's not really what I meant by social-science fiction. Lost Colony has no overtly sci-fi-ish elements (no aliens, no high tech). The speculation is all about the human societies.

Comment from: Ian McKinnon [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 21, 2006 5:45 PM

Ahh the memories. I got into gaming (yes this dates me) back in my teens, so that would be about 1979-1980. Traveller, BattleTech, D&D and AD&D were my mainstays. I do however agree with the major consensus about D20, that it generates rules lawyers faster than the full on set for Star Fleet Battles (My STB compiled book was about 12 inches thick with all the expansions) and I remember STB games where we would spend more time looking up the rules on things like Kzinti drones than actually playing.
However I admit trying D20 when D&D 3 came out and rapidly lost interest in it when less than a year later a whole new set of books came out labeled 3.5 which at $25+ a pop would quickly eat into any budget. I suppose that soured me on the whole D20 scheme. Though I will admit buying a copy of T20.
However, that being said, I also still have my original games collection including Traveller, Traveller 2300 (which I like because it allows for the "gritty" side of space travel), FASA's Star Trek RPG, RoleMaster/MERP, Call of Cthulhu (classic thank you) and Morrow Project (Nuke them till they glow, then shoot them in the dark). Along with other classics like Talisman (best beer and skittles game yet produced) and Nuclear War the card game (see note on Morrow Project and add Skippy the super virus).
Still, Traveller holds a dear place in my heart and brings back many fond memories of battling the Vargr in Corridor Sector, or putting one up on the Zhodani SuSAG operatives ploting against the Duke of Regina. Those days are not over however, since I still run a gaming group. We have not touched D20 in over 3 years and every weekend my young and loyal players (read:victims, or Red Clearance Troubleshooters depending on the game) show up often with friends who are looking for a good game.
Anywho, good luck and many years of great games... and looking forward to T5

Ian

Comment from: Daqs [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at June 9, 2007 5:55 PM

I would love to play this game again!

If there are enough folks that feel the same, we could do it via IM.

I still have the original books!

Comment from: Laser Jesus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at June 17, 2007 11:29 PM

Hot diggity, Typekey is finally let me post after 2 years of trying.

I actually stumbled upon a copy of Traveller (specifically the one made by Game Designers Workshop in 1983) in the used section of my local hobby shop for 10 dollars. I immediately remembered this post and snapped it up. Can't wait to run this when my gaming group gets tired of DnD again.

Comment from: Jovienn [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 17, 2008 5:59 AM

Well written. I was turned on to Traveller in the late 70's. I too recall reading those white letters on the black background and wondering if Beowulf was ever saved. I love Traveller to this very day, and await the release of T5. Oh the stories I want to tell....

Comment from: Eljay [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 15, 2008 8:53 AM

Traveller original boxed set... loved it! My books (1, 2, 3, and High Guard 5) are so used, they're falling apart. FFE reprinted them... hurray!

Never liked the pre-fab Traveller universe that sprung up.

I'm a GURPS fanboy, but I'm not happy at all with GURPS Traveller. Why? Well... because I don't like the pre-fab Traveller universe, I reckon. I'll make my own universe, tyvm.

Although I did like Fire, Fusion & Steel (despite the terrible character encoding font problems) -- lots of crunchy goodness.

Although on the flip side, I love GURPS Prime Directive, since I'm a SFB fanboy too. Go figure.

Good times!

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