#RPG Thursday – From The Winds of Gath to #TravellerRPG

Role-playing games didn’t just spring up from nothingness. The most famous RPG, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) had it’s root in science fiction and fantasy literature. The famous D&D Appendix N gives readers a listing of some of those sources. Likewise, the Traveller RPG drew from science fiction, but there has never been an “official” counterpart to Appendix N. Some fans have built their own. For myself, I prefer to read some of the Golden Age of Science Fiction stories and find connections. So it was that I picked up The Winds of Gath, the first story in E.C. Tubb’s Dumarest of Terra Saga. First published in 1967, there are direct connections to elements found in Marc Miller’s 1977 Little Black Book editions of the role-playing game Traveller.

The Winds of Gath

“What’s it like being a traveller?”

‘I mean, what do you get out of it?’

His eyes were curious and something else. Dumarest had seen it so often before, the look of the stay-put to the mover-on. They all had it and the envy would grow. Then, as the prison of their ship began to close in, that envy would sour into hate. That’s when a wise traveller waited for another ship.

‘It’s a way of life,’ said Dumarest. ‘Some like it, some don’t. I do.’

‘How do you go about it? What do you do between trips?’

‘Look around, get a job, build another stake for passage to somewhere else.’

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Note how E.C. Tubb uses the double-L version of traveller, just like Marc Miller would. This short exchange summarizes the essentials of any Traveller adventure, especially the early version found in the Little Black Books that were mostly rules and very light on setting. Get a job. Build a stake. Move on.

Cold Sleep

Dumarest sat hunched in the box as Benson crossed to the dispenser. He wrapped his arms about his chest, conscious of the cold, the bleakness of the compartment. The place resembled a morgue. A chill, blue-lighted cavern, the air tainted with a chemical smell. A low place, shapeless with jutting struts and curved beams, harsh with the unrelieved monotony of unpainted metal.

There was no need for heat in this part of the ship and no intention of providing comfort. Just the bare metal, the ultraviolet lamps washing the naked coffin-like boxes with their sterilising glow. Here was where the livestock rode, doped, frozen, ninety per cent dead. Here was the steerage for travellers willing to gamble against the fifteen percent mortality rate.

Such travel was cheap–its sole virtue.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

In Classic Traveller, when a Traveller is awakened from Low Passage there is a basic saving throw of 5+ on 2d6 (Book 1 Characters and Combat, p. 21). That works out to an 83% chance of survival – or 17% chance of dying. You want to boost your chances? Have an attending medic (“DMs: Attending medic of expertise 2 or better, +1).

‘I haven’t lost one yet,’ boasted the handler. ‘That’s why you had me worried. I’ve got a clean score and I want it to stay that way.’

It wouldn’t, of course. Benson was still fresh at the game. Give him time and he would become less conscientious, more time and he would grow careless, finally he wouldn’t give a damn. That’s when some of his kind thought it cute to cut the dope and watch some poor devil scream his lungs raw with the agony of restored circulation.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Travel the Traveller Way

Further off and to one side, on some high ground well away from the danger of the field and the smell of the camp, sat a prim collection of prefabricated huts and inflatable tents. There sat the money and comfort money could provide–the tourists who travelled High, doped with quick-time so that a day seemed like an hour, a week a day.

Those in the camp had travelled like Dumarest–Low. Those who rode Middle stayed with the ships which were their home.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 1

Book 1 Characters and Combat on page 21 laid out the three classes of travel:

  • “High Passage – Includes first class accommodations and excellent cuisine.” CR (Credits) 10,000
  • “Middle Passage – Includes second class accommodations (though still reasonably good quality) and passable quality food and drink.” CR 8000
  • “Low Passage – Involves travel in cryogenic (cold sleep, or suspended animation) capsules, and the traveller is unconscious for the course of the journey.” CR 1000

Better Living Thru Chemistry

We already noted that High passengers used “quick-time” to speed up the perception of time. In the chapter “Drugs” in Book 2 Starships we find “Fast Drug:” “Fast Drug is named because it makes the universe (to its user) appear to move much more quickly; the drug slows down personal metabolism at a ration of approximately 60 to 1″ (Book 2, p. 38).

The opposite of Fast Drug is Slow Drug. Again, we find this in The Winds of Gath:

‘You said that you know what you are doing but few have used slow-time in the conscious state. The dangers are too great. It isn’t just a matter of living faster, you know.’

‘I know.’

‘I hope that you do.’ She handed him a small bag. “These glucose tablets might help. You’re going to need all the energy you can get. Unconscious you’d be no problem; I could supply intravenous feeding and your energy-demand would be relatively low. Conscious…’ She broke off. ‘Well, you know about that. Just remember that the square law comes into effect on food requirements and everything else.’

….

He felt nothing, not even the air-blast carrying the drug into his bloodstream, but, with shocking abruptness, the universe slowed down. It hadn’t, of course. It was just that his own metabolism, reflexes and sensory apparatus had suddenly begun operating at almost forty times the normal rate. The danger lay in accepting the illusion of a slowed universe as reality.

The Winds of Gath, Chapter 14

In Classic Traveller a Slow Drug accelerates the users metabolism to twice the normal rate. Not quite the “forty times” in The Winds of Gath but the essential element of the drug’s effect is there.

1 of 1001 Characters

Classic Traveller Supplement 1 1001 Characters included nine characters drawn from science fiction. Although not identified in that supplement, the later Supplement 4 Citizens of the Imperium called them out. Here is Earl Dumarest (warning – minor spoilers):

  • Homeless Wanderer
  • BFCA98 / Age 34
  • Cr – 0 to 100,000
  • Blade-6, Most other edged weapons-4, Most guns-4, Streetwise-3, Steward-2, Pilot-1, Tactics-3, Leader-3
  • This individual habitually carries a blade or dagger and wears mesh. Raised on a tramp trader, he now wanders the galaxy alone, searching for the home he left as a youth.
  • In the course of his travels, he has acquired the formula to the affinity twin, a chemical that, when ingested by two beings (animals, persons, etc) allows one to occupy and control the other. The occupation ends with the death of one of the individuals.
  • Incidentally, he is pursued by nefarious forces that want this formula.

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