Those awesome folks over at Bundle of Holding recently put out a new Traveller RPG-related bundle, The Gamelords Traveller Collection. This collection honors J. Andrew Kieth, a prolific early illustrator of Traveller (sorry, if all you have experienced is the “new” Mongoose Traveller art then you are poorly served). At one point in my Traveller journeys I had most of these supplements, but I passed them to a friend and then left for college only to never see them again.
Of all the Gamelord items in this collection, the one I remember the most is Startown Liberty by John Marshal from 1984. Why do I remember this one? Because it was so scandalous!
Recall that the early 1980’s was the time of the Satanic Panic. I watched on of my friends burn his D&D books in the fireplace because his parents insisted he “exorcise the demons.” Several of our parent’s looked with disdain on role playing games, but Traveller, being science fiction and not “fantasy”, got a bit of a pass (after all, Star Wars was huge). By the time 1984 rolled around the worst of the Satanic Panic seemed to be passing, and us Traveller players were high school, not middle school anymore.
It also didn’t hurt that during this time my Traveller gang had its own “wretched hive of scum and villainy” going. We played game after game set on the edge of the empire in dive bars and establishments of lesser-repute. We were like a syndicate that would go in, take a place for all the money we could, then leave…guns blazing if necessary. Very wild west! If our parents had really seen what Startown Liberty offered for a Traveller adventure I think they would have blanched, and I likely would have been burning some books in the fireplace too. Three items in particular stand out in my memory.
Gambling has always been a core skill in Traveller. The rules are very benign, nothing like James Bond 007. Here though, the skill was given a background situation and character reactions. Now we could see who was a real cardshark! House always wins? Never!
Marc Miller provided rules for Drinking in Startown Liberty. These build on the core skill Carousing found in Traveller. Growing up in Colorado the legal drinking age for 3.2 beer (“Canoe beer” according to Monty Python…”it’s like making love in a canoe; f**king close to water”) was 18 so we weren’t totally ignorant of alcohol, but still we had plenty of laughs as our characters got drunk. Looking back on the book today, I wonder just how much we were influenced by comments like:
In all locales, non-intoxicants can also be purchased, usually for the same price as “mild.” Doing this in a typical Startown dive is a fast way to attract attention, insults and snickers for other customers.Startown Liberty, p. 28
OMG, did John Marshal and Gamelords really go there? As much as Startown Liberty tries to capture the vibes of the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars (see the Dedication in the front matter) one thing you did not see in Star Wars (movies) were streetwalkers. Yet, in Startown Liberty the very first Street Encounter in the book is Prostitute. Again, looking back I laugh at how the author tried to play off all the “implications” of the event:
As a family game, these rules will not concern themselves with specifics; these are left to the individual player and referees to work out or ignore, according to their own desires. However, in addition to their basic trade, prostitutes may be willing to part with information for the right price, and may also be a source of danger by serving as a decoy for muggers, pickpockets, and the like. Referees can, however, feel free to ignore the whole thing and substitute some other encounter if they or their players would be more comfortable that way.Startown Liberty, p. 9
Setting aside the “scandalous” elements, Startown Liberty is a great example of a core Traveller adventuring concept: Adventure Through Encounters. The entire book is one big setup for encounters; find a patron, find a job, find a challenge, find an adventure. Given a sufficiently flexible referee there is actually little need for campaign prep. While many players like the “campaign” approach to RPG adventuring, there are others (like myself) who embrace encounters as a way to progress the story, often in unexpected (but no less fun) directions.
Looking back, I see Startown Liberty having many core concepts that later “space western” RPGs like Serenity Role Playing Game (2005) or Star Wars Roleplaying Game: Edge of the Empire (2013) or Firefly Role-Playing Game (2014) would try to get at, but never quite get all the way there like Startown Liberty delivers. While “scandalous” play may not be your thing, Startown Liberty shows a possible way to incorporate it into your Traveller game.
Feature image “A Corellian prostitute solicits Derek Klivianof Rogue Squadron.” courtesy Wookiepedia; I’m guessing you ain’t going to see this part of Legends resurrected for the Mouse version of Star Wars…