#TravellerTuesday – The vices of Startown Liberty

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.

Games

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!

Drinking

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

Prostitutes

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…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

My 2022 #TTRPG CharGen Challenge – Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition (Mongoose Publishing, 2008)

Having started my tabletop roleplaying game life using the Traveller Little Black Books in 1979, I eagerly embraced the “new” Mongoose Traveller (MgT) when it appeared in 2008. While there was plenty of familiar aspects in character generation, there also were some differences that really stood out to me. The two most jarring were “Level 0” skills and the fact that death in character generation was now an optional “Iron Man” rule.

Truth is I rather liked the Mongoose Traveller rules—at least the first edition. The rules were in many ways a cleaned up version of the Little Black Books. I would play MgT for many years…at least until the Second Edition arrived. More on that later.

Young Agne

Strength B (+1 DM) / Dexterity 8 / Endurance 7 / Intelligence 8 / Education B (+1 DM) / Social 9 (+1 DM)

[MgT is the first time I recall seeing a by-rule Characteristic DM used in Traveller. The rule totally makes sense but it it can have an outsized impact on a 2d6 die roll.]

A Merchanting We Will Go

[One part of MgT character generation I really like is the checklist approach. It is actually rather well laid out and easy to follow. Like most Traveller character generation systems it’s also fast.]

Agne grew up on an otherwise nondescript Industrial planet (Background Skill – Trade 0) and gained some education in how bureaucracies work (Education – Admin 0). as soon as he turned 18 he joined the Merchant Marine as a Crewman (R0). His Basic Training teaches him Drive (Wheeled) 0 / Vacc Suit 0 / Broker 0 / Steward 0 / Comms 0 / Persuade 0.

Agne’s first term becomes very important to him as he meets a great mentor (Life Event – New Contact). He advances to Senior Crewman (R1) and learns how to pilot a spacecraft (Pilot- Spacecraft 1) as well as Mechanic 1 and Advocate 1.

[Life Events and Mishaps are intended to make “connections” or plot seeds for characters. Having an event each term seems a bit excessive to me; maybe my life has been too boring?]

In Agne’s second term he stays in the Merchant Marine and continues to network amongst traders (Life Event – Gain Contact). He does more extravehicular work (Vacc Suit 1) but fails to promote.

Sensing a change of pace is needed, for Agne’s third term he uses his contacts to sign on to a Free Trader. This change has immediate career benefits as he learns more of the “people” side of the business (Diplomat 1) as well as improving his piloting skills (Pilot-Spacecraft 2) and learning how to pilot a Small Craft (Pilot-Small Craft 1). He “advances” to R2 but is still just a “crewman.”

Now 30 years old, Agne continues as a Free Trader for his fourth term. He goes “back to school” for some training and acquires Sensors 1, Engineer-Electronics 1, and Engineer-Maneuver 1. He is rewarded by “advancement” to Experienced Trader (R3) which also means he has learned a bit of everything (Jack of All Trades 1).

It is Agne’s fifth term that life goes sideways. Lots of trade with airless frontier moons means more Vacc Suit expereince (Vacc Suit 2) but he gets caught up in a war (Mishap!) which forces him out of business but not before he learns a bit about pistols (Gun Combat-Pistols 1).

Agne leaves the Merchant Service after 20 years of service ranked as an Experienced Trader. He musters out with 20,000 Credits, a Blade, and two (2) Ship’s Shares.

The Quiet Bulldog

Agne decides he wants to go into business for himself, but he doesn’t have much to start with. He finds a 20-year old Far Trader that he gets on discount at 9% (see Old Ships rule on page 136 of the Mongoose Traveller Pocket Edition). Adding in his Ship’s Shares he is able to acquire a “gently used” ship for an 11% discount as long as he doesn’t mind the chemical spills in the cargo bay or the extra maintenance effort (+1 DM). This means his mortgage is “only” 45,733,095 Cr. or 190,555 Cr per month plus 4,383 Cr per month maintenance and another 20,600 for Life Support. Agne needs to clear at least 215,538 Cr. each month…not counting crew salaries.

Fortunately, Agne has his old mentor-contact that is willing to stake him to start his new life as Pilot-Owner of The Quiet Bulldog. Now all he has to do is, “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”

Agne T’vern, Pilot-Owner The Quiet Bulldog

  • Agne T’vern / UPP B878B9 / Age 38 / 5-Term Merchant – Experienced Trader
  • Skills: Admin 0 / Advocate 1 / Broker 0 / Comms 0 / Diplomat 1 / Drive-Wheeled 0 / Engineer-Electronics 1 / Engineer-M Drive 1 / Gun Combat-Pistols 1 / Jack of All Trades 1 / Mechanic 1 / Persuade 0 / Pilot-Small Craft 1 / Pilot-Spacecraft 2 / Sensors 1 / Steward 0 / Trade 0 / Vacc Suit 2
  • Credits: 20,000
  • Contacts: 2 (1x Life-long mentor)

Pilot-Owner The Quiet Bulldog, a 20-year old Far Trader with chemical spills in the cargo bay and extra difficult maintenance.


Feature image from the TV series Lost in Space courtesy imdb.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Mercy Mercenary Me! – #TravellerRPG Mercenary Book 4 (GDW, 1978)

I started playing the Traveller roleplaying game in 1979 using the original 1977 Little Black Books (LBB). Very quickly I started picking up other expansions, the first of which was Traveller Book 4 Mercenary (GDW, 1978). For a wargamer (of which I was a nascent one at the time) this book was a digest-sized heaven. Here I had both wargame and roleplaying game coming together. Forty years later, my perspectives have changed, but Mercenary still remains an absolutely essential part of my Traveller gaming universe.

“Frank”-ly, A Wargamer’s RPG Expansion

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary was designed by Frank Chadwick. Yes, “designed” is how he is credited in the front matter of the book. It’s important to realize that Traveller is not just a set of core gaming mechanisms, but in many ways a collection of related game systems. Only years later would I come to understand just how lucky we are that Mr. Chadwick was not only a wargame designer, but a major creator in the Traveller RPG product line. Frank brought his wargame design chops to bear in important Traveller game systems, especially in combat. The Traveller Combat System in the LBB was his creation. The Abstract Combat rules in Mercenary are also his.

While some out there may want to deny that roleplaying games evolved from wargames, I hope none of them are ignorant enough not to realize the contributions wargame designers had in multiple products. Mercenary is an excellent example of the immense value-added wargame designers bring into the RPG hobby.

Vietnam in the Stars

Paging through Mercenary, the first real content one encounters is an illustration of a soldier. What always strikes me, as much now as it did then, is just how un-advanced the soldier looks. The soldier is wearing loose-fitting fatigues with a very Vietnam War-era flak jacket and helmet with a visor in front and an antenna-fed commo link on back. The most advanced piece of kit is the carbine attached to a power cord running to a pack on the back. In 1979 this was about as far from Heinlein’s concept of Starship Troopers as you could get, and seemed almost quaint in the years following Star Wars and white armored Storm Troopers.

Five centuries in the future but looking back to 1975…

Shadows of the (Third) Coming

Traveller ’77 is a setting-less set of rules. However, the popularity of Traveller was such that there was a clamor for a default setting. In Mercenary we get the first shadows of what would eventually become the Third Imperium:

Traveller assumes a remote centralized government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium), possessed of great industrial and technological might, but unable, due to the sheer distances and travel times involved, to exert total control at all levels everywhere within its star-spanning realm. On the frontiers, extensive home rule provisions allow planetary populations to choose their own forms of government, raise and maintain armed forces for local security, pass and enforce laws governing local conduct, and regulate (within limits) commerce. Defense of the frontier is mostly provided by local indigenous forces, stiffened by scattered lmperial naval bases manned by small but extremely sophisticated forces. Conflicting local interests often settle their differences by force of arms, with lmperial forces looking quietly the other way, unable to effectively intervene as a police force in any but the most wide-spread of conflicts without jeopardizing their primary mission of the defense of the realm. Only when local conflicts threaten either the security or the economy of the area do lmperial forces take an active hand, and then it is with speed and overwhelming force.

Mercenary, p. 1

Small local conflicts needing trained soldiers was perfect for—mercenaries:

Within this vast Imperium there is a role for mercenary combat units: The combat environment of the frontier, then is one of small, short, limited wars. Both sides must carefully balance the considerations of how much force is required to win a conflict with how much force is likely to trigger lmperial intervention. At the same time, both belligerents will generally be working with relatively small populations, with only a negligible number of combat experienced veterans. In this environment, the professional soldier will find constant employment. Small, poor states faced with invasion or encroachment will hire professional soldiers as cadres to drill and lead their citizen militias. Larger states will be able to afford to hire and equip complete mercenary contingents as strikers, or spearhead troops. Small commando units will be in demand as industrial espionage is waged between mega-corporations virtually nations unto themselves. In addition, the hired soldier will always be in demand as security or bodyguard troops, as force remains the only true protection against force. The Golden Age of the Mercenary will have arrived.

Mercenary, pp. 1-2

Many science fiction fans reading that passage today likely say, “Hammer’s Slammers!” You may not realize it, but in 1978 when Mercenary was published the entire Hammer’s Slammers universe consisted of only a small handful of short stories; the first book was not published until 1979! For myself, I didn’t get a copy of Hammer’s Slammers until after I had Mercenary in hand.

Even without Hammer’s Slammers I found the situation depicted in Mercenary very believable. The late 1970’s was still the Cold War and while the two superpowers didn’t trade blows, there were plenty of proxy wars fought. I could see the role of a Mercenary soldier in the real world which made imagining it in Traveller that much easier. More importantly, this was NOT Star Wars. This was NOT a large Empire chasing a small band of rag-tag rebels. Players were not constrained into a good-bad, light-dark binary conflict. Like the real world, there was plenty of room for ambiguity.

Soldier of Fortune

The character generation system in Mercenary was also my first encounter with the “expanded” character generation rules. Whereas Traveller used simple four-year terms, Mercenary dug a level deeper and followed characters in yearly increments. Looking back on the rules today, I certainly can see some rough edges, like the need to use both Book 1 and Book 4 together to make a character as not all the needed charts and tables were duplicated. That criticism sounds harsher than it really is as there was room in the LBB box to add Book 4 meaning it was easy to carry all you needed.

Ticket to Raid

The next section of Mercenary introduced “tickets.” These were legal contracts to hire mercenaries. To be honest, at first this part of adventuring was hard for me to understand because, once again, only a few example tickets were included. If you wanted more tickets the referee had to create them. I also didn’t understand why a junior officer leaving the Army would take a NCO position.

This is where eventually reading Hammer’s Slammers helped me understand Mercenary. The interludes in Hammer’s Slammers are prime setting background material for Mercenary. As I read one, I played the other. This perfect marriage of fiction and gaming is how Mercenary finally made sense to me.

[In the mid-1980s I finally was able to see the movie The Wild Geese (1978). After that Mercenary really made sense!]

Battle “Mass”-ter

I’ve written previously about the different combat systems in Traveller. As much as I wargamed I actually had lots of fun with the Abstract System in Mercenary. This was a combat game we could play at the lunchroom table throwing dice with one hand and stuffing a PB&J in our mouth with the other. Sure, we could set up a more hex & counter wargame but this was the original fast, fun, and furious Traveller combat game.

Looking at Mercenary 40 years later, I am very impressed how Frank Chadwick designed an absolutely barebones combat system. For a gent that has given us monster games like The Third World War (with a larger edition recently funded on Kickstarter) its amazing to see this very simple, highly abstracted combat model.

Ironmongery

Ironmongery was a word I had never heard before Mercenary; after this it became a part of my life. Starting a few years before finding Traveller I had been taken in by the many Jane’s type of weapons books. The ironmongery section of Mercenary showed me how to “cross-walk” a real-world weapon into my roleplaying games. That skill also enabled me to start creating my own weapons system in wargames. Many years later I finally realized that what was I was doing was creating models for use in a simulation. That skill has served me well over the years; though I was never a wargame designer that skill set has been essential to my career. Yet another influence Traveller had on my life.

You’re in the Army Now

Feeling a bit nostalgic, I decided to go back to Mercenary ’78 and create a character. Let me introduce you to Onche Sm’th (starting UPP: BAA885).

Onche joined the Cavalry Branch of the Army. After completing Basic Training as a Combat Rifleman (ACR-1) and a heavy weapons gunner (Hvy Wpns Autocannon-1), somebody thought this monster of a being would make a good medic as he was sent to Specialist School and picked up Medic-1. Year two saw Sm’th fight in a Counter Insurgency. Year three was a training assignment, but year four was a Police Action in which Onche received both the Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF) and a Wound Badge. In the last two years Sm’th also moved from gunner to driver, learning the intricacies of driving wheeled combat vehicles (Driver Wheeled Vehicle-2).

While Onche was in the hospital recovering from his wounds he heard about the mercenary life. Deciding that if he was going to get shot he wanted to be much better compensated, he got out after his first term seeking fame and fortune.

Onche Sm’th

  • Resume: BAB885, Army, One Term, Enlisted in Cavalry, Final Rank – Sergeant
  • Special Assignments: Specialist School
  • Awards & Decorations: Meritorious Conduct Under Fire (MCUF), 2x Combat Ribbon, Wound Badge
  • Equipment Qualified On: ACR, Autocannon, Wheeled Ground Vehicle
  • Skills: ACR-1, Autocannon-1, Ground Vehicle -2, Medical-1

Mercenary Ticket

Full of himself, Onche couldn’t wait to get out and immediately tried to get hired on. Alas, he quickly learned that a one-term Sergeant isn’t a high-demand person. In his first three weeks, Onche was rejected for a Security and two Commando tickets. As the month was ending Onche was getting rather worried, but finally he was able to hire onto a small Cadre ticket as a Squad Leader.

[I’m playing these “games” in my B’rron Subsector, the geopolitics of which I laid out in a previous post.]

Background: The Quinto Expanse has a problem. There are rumors that “The Heresy” has plans to expand, and the Quinto Expanse is the nearest star nation to face them and logical first target. The QDF needs to bolster their defense force and it needs experienced cadre.

Mission: The Quinto Defense Force has hired a small cadre force (not to exceed 12 personnel) at double standard salary to train and lead a particular company of the QDF. There are four junior officer commissions and nine NCO positions. The company and all three platoons are led by a mercenary officer with a QDF deputy. NCOs are seeded throughout leadership positions in the platoons. Normal salaries are paid to individual soldiers with additional salaries to the unit for profit and disbursement of shares.

Onche is quite happy to be a squad leader. His squad is carried in a TL-9 armored infantry fighting vehicle with a pintle-mounted autocannon.

Onche is not quite as happy when he finds out that his unit is being lifted—without their vehicles—to the almost-moon desert world of Castaway for “training.” Castaway has only .35g and a trace atmosphere. Onche is not trained in low-grav environments nor vacc suits. He tries to pay attention to the training he is given (Vacc Suit-0, avoid untrained penalty) but he is not so sure that this is better than three-squares a day in the Army…

Got some kick…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – My B’rron Subsector using #CepheusEngineDeluxe #ttrpg

After looking back at my Little Black Book Traveller ’77 tabletop roleplaying game—which doesn’t have a default setting—I set out to make my own subsector for adventure. I decided to use Cepheus Engine Deluxe for my core rules because it is the updated version of Traveller and closest to the 1977 version. Besides, many of the subsector generators online use algorithms that just weren’t there in 1977!

Spiritual successor to Traveller

For those not familiar with the Universal World Profile (UWP) below this is how you decode it:

  • World Name / hex / UWP / Bases / Trade Tags / Notes
  • UWP A123456-T
    • A= Starport
    • 1= World Diameter (Earth = 8)
    • 2= Atmosphere (Standard = 6)
    • 3= Hydrographics (% water covered)
    • 4= Population (order of magnitude)
    • 5= Government
    • 6= Law Level
    • T= Tech Level (TL)

You will see below that all my world names are generic tags. When I’m worldbuilding the names of worlds are one of the last things I do…if I get around to it. More often than not the tag suffices. One mark of a great adventure is when your players are leaving the planet and ask, “So, what was that place that nearly killed us?”

Setting Assumptions

Jump Drive

In the B’rron Subsector Jump-3 is the longest jump drive possible. To build Jump-1 drives takes TL9, Jump-2 is TL11, and Jump-3 is TL13. In combination with the starport rules for ship construction (only A-class starports can construct starships; B-class can construct system ships, and C-class can only do small craft) this means not every polity will actually be able to build starships. As you will see, building Jump-3 ships is actually limited to only two planets throughout the entire subsector.

Polities

I assumed that the B’rron Subsector was settled long ago and allegiances were established amongst worlds one parsec (1 hex) distant from each other. This created six major political entities.

Major Astrography

Here is the B’rron Subsector. [Subsector map generated using https://campaignwiki.org/traveller/edit…with hand drawn embellishments!] The subsector map shows three loose groupings. The Coreward Cluster with the two worlds of the Stra’zer Arm, the Bradii Reach, and Amiltin Reformation. The Central Worlds consist of the Dun’i’gan Federation, Dr’ke Arm, and Quinto Expanse. There are also four “independent” worlds without allegiances though one, a high population and high technology world ruled by a religious dictatorship, lies at the rimward edge of the subsector.

B’rron Subsector

Coreward Cluster

Stra’zer Arm (Green border)
  • SA-1 / 0101 / D665735-1 /Research Base / Agricultural, Garden, Low Tech, Rich
  • SA-2 / 0201 / B522A78-7 / Scout Base / Water World

Late in the design process I decided that the Sta’zer Arm is an alien empire. I haven’t defined the alien…yet. The worlds within B’rron Subsector appear rather poor. Why SA-1 is not a Red Zone is unknown. The jump-3 trade route between SA-1 and the Bradii capital is a very recent development and drawing interest as it is the only known jump-3 trade or communications route in the whole subsector.

Ship Construction – 0201 TL7 System Ships

Amiltin Reformation (Blue border)
  • AR-1 / 0104 /E9A7552-7 / Non-Water Fluid Ocean, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • AR-2 / 0203 / X9A0348-7 / Research Base / Desert, Low Pop / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • AR-C / 0303 / B796ADA-A / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Capital
  • AR-4 / 0403 / E635554-9 / Non-Industrial
  • AR-5 / 0503 / C443778-8 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial / Balkanized

Led by the religious dictatorship on AR-C, at TL10 the Amiltin Reformation has the technology but not the shipyards to build starships. There are rumors of a secret research project on AR-2 (Red Zone, and nobody believes there is only an X-Starport or that the tech level is 7).

The balkanized AR-5 has become a planet of intrigue. Lying two parsecs from both the Amiltin Reformation and Bradii Reach capitals, the planet nominally owes its allegiance to Amiltin. However, several groups on the planet openly advocate alignment with the impersonal bureaucracy of the Bradii Reach, which has the Amiltin religious dictatorship on edge.

Ship Construction – 0303 TL10 System Ships

Bradii Reach (Orange border)
  • BR-C / 0401 / A72AA98-F / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial, Water World / Gas Giant / Capital
  • BR-2 / 0501 / E454677-7 / Agricultural, Garden
  • BR-3 / 0601 / D595886-5 / Low Tech / Gas Giant / RED ZONE
  • BR-4 / 0701 / AAA59AA-D / Naval Base / Non-Water Fluid Oceans, High Pop, High Tech / Charismatic Dictator
  • BR-5 / 0801 / C31478A-8 / Scout Base / Ice-Capped

With the highest tech level planet in the subsector (BR-C TL15), Bradii Reach should easily dominate. The shipyards in BR-C and BR-4 are the only yards in the entire subsector capable of building Jump-2 or Jump-3 starships.

The charismatic dictatorship on BR-4, just a step behind in technology (TL13), believes they are the rightful leader of the Reach and is willing to fight for that recognition if necessary. This tends to keep the capital focused inward instead of outward, much to the relief of the Amiltin Reformation.

Ship Construction – 0401 TL15 Jump-3 Starships / 0701 TL13 Jump-3 Starships

Central Worlds

In the last few generations, more and more politicians talk about a Central Worlds Confederation.

Dun’i’gan Federation (Yellow border)
  • DF-1 / 0305 / X110400-6 / Scout Base / Non-Industrial
  • DF-2 / 0405 / X787446-3 / Garden, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DF-3 / 0406 / B466998-B / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech 
  • DF-4 / 0505 / E596551-5 / Agricultural, Low Tech, Non-Industrial
  • DF-5 / 0506 / C537751-7
  • DF-C / 0507 / C996ACA-C / Naval Base / High Pop, High Tech, Industrial / Gas Giant/ Capital

By some measures, DF-3, with the B-Starport, could very well be the Federation capital. Maybe in a few generations, but for now the higher-tech DF-C—connected via communications route to the Quinto Expanse and Dr’ke Arm—remains the capital.

Like AR-5, planet DF-1 is another planet of intrigue. A member of the Federation, it lies two parsecs from the Amiltin Reformation capital and two parsecs from the high population and high technology DF-3. Amiltin sees it as a potential pathway into the Central Worlds while the Federation sees it as a defensive bulwark to prevent the spread of the Reformation.

The Dun’i’gan Federation is lukewarm to the idea of a Confederation. As they are dependent on others to build starships they fear they would be seen as the junior-most partner in any grouping.

Ship Construction – 0406 TL11 System Ships

Quinto Expanse (Red border)
  • QE-C / 0509 / A7648C9-9 / Naval Base / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant / Capital
  • QE-2 / 0608 / B4668C8-6 / Agricultural, Garden / Gas Giant
  • QE-3 / 0709 / D676477-8 / Low Pop

The Quinto Expanse is fiercely independent, but is at risk of being overwhelmed by the higher tech Dun’igan Federation and Dr’ke Arm. QE-2, with trade route connections to two other polities, is often referred to as “Kasablanka”—a reference with an origin lost in time.

The Quinto Expanse has mixed feelings about a confederation. As a relatively small empire they feel a bit threatened by the Dr’ke Arm, yet they also seek allies as they fear the “rise of the Heresy.”

Ship Construction – 0509 TL9 Jump-1 Starships

Dr’ke Arm (Black border)
  • DA-1 / 0803 / X492357-5 / Scout Base / Low Pop, Low Tech / Gas Giant
  • DA-2 / 0704 / X241463-0 / Low Pop, Low Tech, Non-Industrial / Captive Government of 0706
  • DA-3 / 0705 / D380200-5 / Desert, Low Pop, Low Tech, Poor
  • DA-4 / 0706 / A373CCA-9 / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant
  • DA-C / 0707 / B47AAA7-C / Naval Base / High Pop, Industrial / Gas Giant / Capital
  • DA-6 / 0807 / D000553-A / Naval Base / Asteroid, Vacuum

Te Dr’ke Arm has two faces; the rimward worlds are relatively high tech and populous but the coreward worlds are extremely poor. The Scout base in 0803 serves as a forward outpost against the Bradii Reach. DA-2 is an early colony set up by DA-4.

The Dr’ke Arm is the greatest proponent for confederation, mostly because they see themselves as the natural leader.

Ship Construction – 0706 TL9 Jump-1 Starships / 0707 TL12 System Ships

“Independent” Worlds
  • “Pirate” / 0107 / C200600-7 / Pirate Base / Non-Agricultural, Non-Industrial, Vacuum
  • “Corp” / 0109 / E100510-7 / Corporate / Vacuum
  • “Heresy” / 0210 / A565DDA-A / Naval Base? / High Pop, High Tech / Religious Dictatorship
  • “Castaway” / 0309 / X410100-3 / Low Tech

The planet in 0107 is a known pirate stronghold.

Corp is known as a corporately controlled world, though where the corporation comes from is unknown. Some think the corporation and pirates are aligned…

“The Heresy” is the nickname given to an unknown religious dictatorship. Ship Construction – TL10 Jump-1 Starships.

No, not that Heresy…

The few people living on Castaway are not some primitive race, but the crew of a ship lost that “went native” and refuse to leave. There are rumors that this may actually be an elite special forces team from the Quinto Expanse sent to man a secret listening post to defend against The Heresy and pirates. Who knows?

Adventure Seeds

The “intrigue” worlds at the crossroads of multiple polities are good locations for adventures. If the players want to trade, these are also good locations to work from. There is always great opportunity to get involved in the political or military machinations between various factions. There is also the rimward/spinward threats that seem very distant but…

Hmm…I wonder if a mercenary striker could find employment? Looks like Traveller Volume 4 – Mercenary is up next!

Traveller Book 4 Mercenary

Feature image courtesy rpgknights.com

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#TravellerRPG Tuesday – Adventuring the LBB Way in Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #ttrpg

Believe it or not, there is a segment of Dungeon’s & Dragons roleplaying game players who proclaim that if you don’t follow the rules exactly as written then you are playing the game wrong. As much as I disagree with that position, I decided to go back to my tabletop roleplaying game roots and review the “Little Black Books” in my Traveller boxed set to see what is different and maybe play around with those rules a bit to see how they stand up after four decades. Along the way, I also (re?)discovered a gritty edge of Little Black Book Traveller.

No Third in ’77

Traveller, like every other RPG, has its own version of edition wars. Whether you like Classic Traveller or MegaTraveller or Traveller: New Era or Traveller 4 or Mongoose Traveller (1st and 2nd Editions) or Traveller 5 or HERO Traveller or GURPS Traveller, it’s all Traveller at heart. My three Little Black Books for Traveller are the 1977 edition. This means it truly is settingless—there is no Third Imperium between these covers. If I am tracking publication dates correctly, the Third Imperium didn’t appear until Book 4 Mercenary in 1978.

Here is how the “setting” for Traveller 1977 is introduced:

Traveller covers a unique facet of future society: the concept that expanding technology will enable man to reach the stars, and to populate the worlds which orbit them. Nonetheless, communication will be reduced to the level of the 18th Century, reduced to the speed of transportation. The result will be a large (bordering ultimately on the infinite) universe, ripe for bold adventurer’s travels. Using this three book set, players are capable of playing single scenarios or entire campaigns set in virtually any science fiction theme.

Traveller, Volume 1, p. 1

To me, the Third Imperium setting in Traveller is the definitive space opera tabletop roleplaying game setting. That said, I have always liked making my own space opera setting. For me, the lack of a defined setting in Traveller ’77 is actually quite refreshing, especially in today’s hyper-commercialized world where IP is the thing. Traveller ’77 is a relatively simple framework for adventure; the buy in requires only a few concessions (most notable, that communication at the speed of transportation). Beyond that is really is up to the imagination of the referee and players!

A subgenre of speculative fiction or science fiction that emphasizes space travel, romantic adventure, and larger-than-life characters often set against vast exotic settings. Used initially as a derogatory term.

“Space Opera,” Wordnik

Let’s step though the three Little Black Books and see what we find…

Book 1 Characters and Combat

PLAYING THE GAME (p. 2) – “Traveller may be played in any of three basic configurations: solitaire, scenario, or campaign.”

  • The Solitaire Game: “Solitaire is ideal for the player who is alone due to situation or geography.”
  • The Scenario: “Generally, a scenario is a one-time affair, and ends when the evening of play is over or the goal is achieved…Strangely enough, players generally become reluctant to dismiss an experienced character without good cause, and usually want to continue their “lives” in further adventures.”
  • The Campaign: “The referee should generate the basic facts of his universe before play begins…Traveller is primarily written with a view to a continuing campaign, and these books primarily deal with that end.”

Here is where my two primary modes of Traveller play, solitaire and campaign, come from. As much as I have played within the Third Imperium or other modern Alternate Traveller Universes like The Clement Sector from Independence Games or HOSTILE from Zozer Games I often find myself coming back to a single subsector for adventure—like I did at the very beginning.

DIE ROLL CONVENTIONS (p. 2 ) – “Routinely in the course of Traveller, dice must be thrown to determine an effectively random or unpredictable course of action. These dice throws may be made by players for their characters, or by the referee for the effects of nature, non-players, or unseen forces. Rolls by the referee may be kept secret or partially concealed depending on their effects. In situations where the players would not actually know the results of the roll, or would not know the exact roll made, the referee would make the dice roll.”

Ahh…the old argument of roll-in-the-open or roll-behind-the-screen. Also “players-roll” or “referee-rolls.” Thinking back, most of my early games were all rolls by the referee with players consulting their character sheet to add die modifiers. Later, we added “shared” rolls where players would roll one die and the referee secretly rolls a second and then narrates the result. This gave players some insight into the potential result (“Hmm…I think I need a 8+ for this to work, and I have a Skill Level DM of +2. I rolled a 3….odds are 2 in 3 that the other die is 3 or better for success but there is a 1 in 3 chance it’s not. Referee said it looks good but…”). To influence their luck, players would often bring their own dice and offer them up to the referee after appropriate blessings or incantations.

INITIAL CHARACTER GENERATION (p. 4) – “Obviously, it is possible for a player to generate a character with seemingly unsatisfactory values; nevertheless, each player should use his character as generated. The experience procedures and acquired skills table offer a genuine opportunity to enhance values, given only time and luck. Should a player consider his character to be so poor as to be beyond help, he should consider joining the accident-prone Scout Corps, with a subconscious view to suicide.”

I don’t think middle school me really understood that last part, but the first has driven so much of my RPG life. Generating a character in Traveller taught me to take what I had and try to make the best of it. There is no real min-maxing characters in Traveller. As I moved on to other RPG systems over the years, I always struggle with developing a character concept because I usually take the hand dealt, not the one tailored to me.

Survival (p. 5) – “Each term of service involves some danger; during the term, a character must successfully throw his service’s survival number to avoid death in the line of duty…Failure to successfully achieve the survival throw results in death; a new character must be generated.”

The character death rule has been in my Traveller since the beginning. To this day I look at other versions that avoid death and shake my head in disbelief for THIS IS Traveller.

OK…this is NOT Traveller but…

Skills and Training (p. 6) – I’ve always been amazed at how few skills a Traveller ’77 characters has. Two skills for first term and one for each subsequent. One skill for a commission and one skill each promotion. A character going out to five terms (early retirement) might have only 10 levels of skills.

AGING (p. 7) – “If, as a result of aging or combat, a characteristic is reduced to zero, the character is considered to be ill or wounded. A basic saving throw of 8+ applies (and may be modified by the expertise of attending medical personnel). If the character survives, his recovery is made immediately (under slow drug, which speeds up his body chemistry). The character ages (one die equals the number of months in added age) immediately, but also returns to play fully recovered. The characteristic which was reduced to zero automatically becomes one. This process occurs for each time (and for each characteristic) a characteristic is reduced to zero. In the event that medical care is not available, the character is incapacitated for the number of months indicated by the die roll.”

Another rule I don’t remember, likely because it is different from the Wounding and Death rules found on page 30 in COMBAT RESOLUTION:

When any one characteristic is reduced to zero by wounds, the character is rendered unconscious. When all three characteristics are reduced to zero, the character is dead…

Unconscious characters (with one characteristic reduced to zero) recover conciseness after 10 minutes, with all characteristics temporarily place at a value halfway between full strength and the wounded level…and remains so until recovered…Return to full strength requires medical attention, or three days of rest.

Unconscious characters (with two characteristics reduced to zero) are considered severely wounded, and recover consciousness after three hours. Their characteristics remain at the wounded level (or one, whichever is higher). Recovery is dependent on medical attention (recuperation without medical attention is not possible).

Wounding and Death, pp. 30-31

I remember the combat wounding/death rules but the one under aging seems more appropriate for out-of-combat situations, like basic illnesses or even falling.

THE UNIVERSAL PERSONALITY PROFILE (p. 8) – “…expresses the basic characteristics in a specific sequence, using hexadecimal (base 16) notation.”

How many of you can read the UPP, or USP (Universal Ship Profile) or UWP (Universal World Profile)? It’s amazing how much adventure can be inspired by just a string of alphanumeric text…

A NOTE ON GENDER AND RACE (p. 8) – “Nowhere in these rules is a specific requirement established that any character (player or non-player) be of a specific gender or race. Any character is potentially of any race or of either sex.”

There, no political theatrics or culture war needed. Been doing it since 1977.

Basic Skills / General Description / Specific Game Effects (p. 13 onward) – A close look at the Specific Game Effects give lots of rules for referee’s to use. They also show how flexible the game mechanisms are, mostly because they are few and leave much up to the imagination of the referee and players.

Computer (p. 17) – “Nonetheless, there is always the possibility that such a program will have a fatal error and not function when actually used in space combat (referee throw secretly 7 exactly for fatal error to be written in) or that such a program will have a negative DM when used (referee throw secretly 5- for a negative DM. Half chance that DM will be -1 or -2). Expertise will serve as a DM affecting program quality, +1 per level of expertise. Flaws generally remain hidden.”

While I remember the rules for writing a program, I had forgotten about the fatal flaw rules. Based on experience with MicroSoft over the years, I’m not sure that limiting a fatal flaw to a roll of exactly 7 is limited enough…

One “WOPR” of a programming error…

Ship’s Boat (pp. 17-18) – Often overlooked, there is a quick-resolution alternate ship combat system in the Specific Game Effects here. It is much more “narrative” than the set-piece combat sequence in Book 2.

Pilot (p. 19) – I often forget that while Ship’s Boat is useful for piloting small craft, a Pilot can also fly small craft, albeit at a -1 skill level.

Skills and the Referee (p. 20) – “It is impossible for any table of information to cover all aspects of every potential situation, and the above listing is by no means complete in its coverage of the effects of skills. This is where the referee becomes an important part of the game process. The above listing of skills and game effects must necessarily be taken as a guide, and followed, altered, or ignored as the actual situation dictates.

In some game situations, actual die roll results must be concealed from the players, at times allowing them to misconstrue the reasons for their success or failure. In other situations, the referee may feel it necessary to create his own throws and DMs to govern action, and may or may not make such information available to the players.”

“In order to be consistent (and a consistent universe makes the game both fun and interesting), the referee has a responsibility to record the throws and DMs he creates, and to note (perhaps by penciling in) any thrown he alters from those given in these books.”

THIS. IS. TRAVELLER. A game is a shared narrative created by the players and referee. The referee is charged with keeping the universe consistent.

COMBAT / MOVEMENT (p. 29) – “Because the effects of range are so important, and because the ranges between specific characters can vary greatly, it is suggested that the complex combats be mapped out on a line grid…Ordinary lined paper serves this purpose quite well.”

Another reason Classic Traveller was so easy for middle-schoolers—all we needed was a few note cards, looseleaf paper, pen/pencil and a d6.

MORALE (p. 33) – “A party of adventurers (players or non-players) which sustains casualties in an encounter will ultimately break or rout if it does not achieve victory.”

We always used this rule for NPC parties but for the players their Morale was up to them. Since combat in Traveller is actually quite deadly, my players tended to be careful when bullets were flying about.

Laser Carbine / Laser Rifle (pp 36-37) – These weapons were backpack-powered. In the post-Star Wars movie era this was laughable.

Book 2 Starships

Interstellar Travel (p. 1) – “Commercial starships usually make two trips per month, spending one week in travel time and one week for transit to the jump point, landing and take-off and time in port. In port, five or six days are allowed for the acquisition of cargo and passengers, and for crew recreation.”

This is the classic Traveller adventure timeline; one week jump followed by one week in system. It is also interesting to note how often in my adventures the one week in jump was “handwaved” away because nothing ever happens in jump, eh?

Hijacking (p. 3) – “The referee should roll three dice, with a result of 18 exactly indicating one or more passengers is making the attempt.”

Hmm…we never played this event in-jump but wouldn’t that be interesting?

Skipping (p. 3) – “A repossession attempt will occur under the following conditions: On each world landing, throw 12+ to avoid such an attempt, apply a DM of +1 per 5 hexes distance from the ship’s home planet, to a maximum of +9. If the ship has called on the same world twice in the last two months, apply a DM of -2.”

Wow, throw 12+ to AVOID repossession—means you need to get 30-35 parsecs (hexes) or something like two subsectors away to statistically avoid repossession. I can’t recall a time we ever played a repossession attempt which is very surprising given Repo Man was a popular movie in my gaming group…

Don’t ask, just watch

STARSHIP PURCHASE (p. 5) – Ahh, the starship mortgage. Here I was learning about buying a house while in middle school.

Mail (p. 8) – “Throw 9+ for a private message to be awaiting transmittal, and then determine randomly which crew member is approached to carry it. Serving as a carrier for private messages also serves as an introduction to the recipient as a dependable, trustworthy person.”

This is one of the several “encounters” that randomly can build an adventure.

Starship Construction (p. 9+) – I have arguably created more starships for Traveller over the years than characters. This simple sequence is still a favorite.

NON-STARSHIPS (p. 17) – “A non-starship…can support its passengers for up to 30 days in space. Beyond that time, air, food, and water begin to run out…At the end of 30 days, throw 9+ each day to prevent the recycling machinery from breaking down. If it does fail, it must be repaired on the same day (throw 9+ to repair; DM +1 per level of mechanical expertise, once per day) or the air is exhausted and the passengers will suffocate.”

I can’t ever recall seeing this rule before (even after 40 years). I double checked and there is no comparable rule for starships though you have to pay for Life Support.

Starship Combat (p. 22+) – A vector movement combat system. Another example of how Classic Traveller skews more towards hard sci-fi than space opera.

DATA CARD EXAMPLE (p. 24) – Another 3×5 notecard!

PLANETARY TEMPLATES (p. 26) – I still have mine created 40 years ago.

DETECTION (p. 33) – “Planetary masses and stars will completely conceal a ship from detection.”

When we all saw this in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan we looked at each other and said, “of course.”

Decompression (p. 34) – “Hull hits result in explosive decompression if pressure has not already been lowered. Explosive decompression kills all persons in that section unless a vacc suit is available and put on immediately. Throw 9+ to put on an available vacc suit; DM + level of vacc suit expertise, and DM + dexterity of the individual.”

Here is a rule worthy of The Expanse that I had totally forgotten. The + dexterity modifier is maybe a bit much; later rules would use the Characteristic Modifier which was not in Classic Traveller.

Abandon Ship (p. 35) – “individuals in vacc suits who are not picked up may attempt to land on a planet. The following notes apply…”

Say what?! I absolutely don’t remember this rule at all. Here are rules for vacc suit endurance, movement, foamed ablation reentry, oh my!

STARSHIP ENCOUNTERS (p. 36) – “When a ship enters a star system, there is a chance that any one of a variety of ships will be encountered…Roll two dice; apply a DM based on the starport of the primary world of the system (A +6, B +4, C +2, D +1, E -2, X -4).”

Another “standard” encounter. I do like the comment on how a “Patrol” might simply be a pirate looking to shakedown your crew…

Experience (p. 40) – One of the common criticisms of Traveller is that there is no character progression system. Granted, this is not an XP approach, but it is still part of the game.

Book 3 Worlds and Adventures

3. Route Determination (p. 2) – “The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which marks the regular routes travelled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply routes which are mapped.”

To me, this always meant if you wanted to go “off the grid” (a phrase yet to be invented when I first played) you needed your own ship or a charter…which was costly. Often the adventure reward (payment) was enough to motivate characters to do so…

ROUTINE ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers meet ordinary people in the course of ordinary activity…Personal reactions are rarely of importance…and the process usually continues without trouble.”

RANDOM ENCOUNTERS (p. 19) – “Adventurers…also have random encounters with an unpredictable variety of individuals or groups…which may complement, supplement, oppose, or irrelevant to, the goals of the adventurers themselves…Usually, a random encounter point with humans will occur once per day.”

PATRONS (p. 20) – “One specific, recurring goal for adventurers is to find a patron who will assist them in the pursuit of fortune and power…In a single week, a band of adventurers may elect to devote their time to encountering a patron.”

While I have always seen Traveller as a form of space opera, the “routine” of life is actually far more gritty. Life in the Traveller universe—whatever your setting—is tough. You can die in character generation. Combat is deadly. The environment is hazardous. You never have enough money. You always have to be on the hustle to your next “score.” This is reflected in encounters. Routine encounters rarely are harmful, but “random” encounters—which can occur daily—can help, hinder, or simply distract you. Patron encounters are very important in an ongoing campaign as they can lead to future adventure.

I’ll just note here that later versions of Traveller make Patron Encounters a weekly event. In early Traveller rules if the adventurers wanted a Patron Encounter they had to be pro-active.

NOBILITY (p. 22) – “The title emperor/empress is used by the ruler of an empire of several worlds”

This may be the closest we get to the Third Imperium in Traveller ’77.

Animal Encounters (p. 24+) – For a game all about space, I didn’t understand the extensive animal encounters section for many years. Only later did I get into “alien exploration” adventures, and finally realized that these rules are how you create alien creatures, not just “animals.”

ANIMAL DEFINITIONS (pp. 30-31) – Hidden here are rules for planetary hazards like a storm or precipices.

Psionics (p. 33) – “The powers of the mind are incredible, and some day the study of these powers will enable every individual to use them as a active part of his life. At the time which Traveller occurs, however, universal psionic training does not exist; accurate information and quality training are available only through branches of the Psionics Institute, which is wholly devoted to the study of mental powers. Unfortunately, some prejudice exists, and the Institute maintains an extremely low profile.”

Seeing how I started Traveller in 1979, or post-Star Wars, this version of psionics clashed with The Force seen in the movies. Not that it really mattered because we all wanted to be more Solo and less Luke! The result was that a few players in my group tried psionics, but mostly it was ignored. Forty years later, and with a better understanding how books like Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination influenced early Traveller, psionics often finds its way into adventures.

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.”

Han Solo (Harrison Ford)

(End Notes) (p. 44) – “Traveller is necessarily a framework, describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe…care must be taken that the referee does not simply lay fortunes in the path of the players, but the situation is not primarily an adversary relationship. The referee simply administers rules in situations where the players themselves have incomplete understanding of the universe. The results should reflect a consistent reality.”

“Barest of essentials” which in the case of Traveller ’77 means no default setting. Referee and players working together to create a consistent reality.

Looking through Traveller ’77 that “consistent reality” is a bit more gritty sci-fi than I remember. Maybe exposure to 40 years of the highly space opera Third Imperium has softened Traveller.

The three Little Black Books of Traveller ’77 are rightfully a design triumph. Three 44-page books—132 pages in total—deliver a deep, flexible framework for consistent adventures. How many other RPGs do that?

This is the Traveller I started with. This is the Traveller I have always loved.

RIP Andrew…

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

2022 RPG CharGen Challenge – RPG roots with Traveller (Game Designers’ Workshop, 1977) #RPGThursday #TravellerRPG

Christmas 1979. While searching for presents I stumbled across a small store tucked away in the upper level of a now long-gone mall in the suburbs of Denver. The store—Fascination Corner. This little corner of heaven quickly became not only my fascination but my obsession. First it was wargaming, but then I found a small black box. My first RPG. My first RPG love. To this day my true RPG love.

How I love the simplicity of character generation in Classic Traveller. Quick and easy. Sure, most of the characters will be military veterans and combat will very likely be a way of life in their future, but what did we really expect from a wargame company when it made an RPG?

Do you know how to read the Universal Player Profile? The UPP was read using hexidecimal code from left-to-right; Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education, Social Status. A factor of 7 was dead-average, 0 often meant dead and 15 was the top of the scale. Skill levels rarely exceeded 4.


Cyris Ozcar

  • UPP 9776B9
  • Age: 34
  • Retired Army Lt Colonel
  • Skills: Air/Raft-1, Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-3, Fwd Obs-1, Gun Cbt (Auto Pistol)-1, Tactics-2

Ozcar (original UPP 887499) might not of seemed the brightest guy around but he worked hard (low INT, High EDU). Due to his good DEXTERITY and EDUCATION he successfully joined the Army (DM+3). He survived his first term and was both commissioned and promoted (Rank 2). In his first term he built up his strength (STR +1) and learned how to handle a Cutlass (Blade Cbt-1) and Tactics (-2).

Reenlisting for a second term, Ozcar survived and was again promoted. He learned how to fly an Air/Raft (Air/Raft-1) and more Cutlass skills (Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-2. In his third term he was promoted again (Rank 4) and finally became proficient with a firearm (Gun Cbt (Auto Pistol)-1) and how to act as a Forward Observer (Fwd Obs-1).

Ozcar’s fourth term was a bit of a disappointment. He failed to promote and found time only to refine his Cutlass skills (Blade Cbt (Cutlass)-3). He also found he had lost a step (Aging, Dexterity -1). Deciding to Muster Out, he now faces the universe with 25,000 Credits to his name and a final bit of some education (+2 INT, +2 EDU).

Looking around, Lt. Colonel Ozcar seeks employment with a mid-tech mercenary unit where he figures his Tactics skills can be beneficial.


Feature image courtesy of https://www.pinterest.com/pin/237846424043702509/

RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2022 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

#RPGThursday – Exploring the Traveller Explorer’s Edition from @MongoosePub #TravellerRPG

“Traveller for just $1!”

With an offer like that how could I not try this new Traveller role playing game core rule book? Here is the Mongoose Publishing ad copy:

Traveller is the science fiction roleplaying game of the far future. The Traveller Explorers’ Edition is an introduction to the game for newcomers that provides all of the tools you need to create adventures or even an entire campaign. Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.

Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.

The Explorer’s Edition provides all core game rules for Traveller, plus a universe creation system that allows referees to create new star systems on the fly for their players to visit and explore…

The universe awaits. Welcome to Traveller!

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

First challenge – making sure I get that dang apostrophe in the right place because Mongoose uses it both before and after the ‘s’.

I duly paid my single dollar and, after waiting for a day for the purchase to hit my Mongoose account (why not right away? I know…shoulda used my DriveThruRPG account…Sigh) I downloaded the 74-page, full color pdf.

The “Introduction” of the Traveller Explorer’s Edition sets out the modest goals of this book. To quote, “The Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to introduce new players to the game using just one of its many genres; the exploration campaign.”

Hold onto that thought…


Opening the Traveller Explorer’s Edition, the cover art is pretty much what I expect from Mongoose these days. To my eye I can see a Type-S Scout there but the perspective seems screwy.

Most people don’t pay any attention to the legal print on the contents page, but I have my reasons. I note that this game contains no Open Game Content. This has long been a problem I have with Mongoose Traveller; they play legal games. The “core rules” for Traveller are taken from the Traveller System Reference Document, which is covered by the Open Game License (OGL), yes? For the longest time I “understood” that the core rules are covered by the OGL but “setting” specific items (like the Third Imperium setting) are Product Identity. When Mongoose Publishing declares all their product is not subject to the OGL it means they can make legal claims on anything YOU make using their product.

This game product contains no Open Game Content. No portion of this work may be reproduced in any form without written permission.

Traveller Explorer’s Edition

The next page in the pdf is a full color “setting” image. Here I see (somewhat more) recognizable Type-S Scout ships.

The text is a quote from Carl Sagan spoken in Cosmos. As for a call to adventure…well, nothing has ever really come close to the original, “This is the Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…Mayday, Mayday…” I mean, I see what they are trying to do here here (“bold scouts and intrepid scientists”) but I’m just really not convinced this Carl Sagan quote delivers the message they want.

“This is the 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 the Free Trader Beowulf…Mayday…”

Traveller box cover, 1977

The next several chapters of Traveller Explorer’s Edition are “Traveller Creation,” “Skills and Tasks,” “Combat,” and “Encounters and Danger.” These are the core game rules:

  • There are two career fields available; Scholar and Scout.
  • Experienced Traveller players will note there is no chance of death in character generation.
  • Skill checks are bog-standard Mongoose Traveller with 2d=8+ for success or rolled against a Task Difficulty.
  • I note that the “Boom & Bane” game mechanism where you throw 3d6 and take the two best/worst from 2nd Edition is not here.
  • The skill list is also pretty standard, though a few Third Imperium setting examples creep in.
  • Combat is the same, as is the encounters and dangers section.

The “Equipment” chapter in Traveller Explore’s Edition goes out of its way to ensure you understand this is “The Core Collection.” What this practically means is that the equipment list is a cut-down version. This same “Core Collection” approach is used in “Space Combat” when it comes to ship armaments. That same philosophy delivers a single ship type in the book—a Type-S Scout/Courier.

“Spacecraft Operations” in Traveller Explorer’s Edition is again very, uh, standard for those familiar with the rules. Likewise, “World and Universe Creation” is (again) the standard star mapping and basic world creation system long used by Traveller. The star map uses the “standard” 1/2 chance of a world in any given subsector hex.


Let’s look again at the “intent” behind this Traveller Explorer’s Edition:

Create bold scouts and intrepid scientists who travel into the unknown aboard their trusty Type-S Scout/Courier, a rugged exploration ship perfect for the job.

Dock your ship at advanced starports, visit strange worlds, encounter alien beings and animals, and take on the challenges that the galaxy sets before you.

Ad copy

The Traveller Explorer’s Edition certainly meets the first part of the intent. Create scouts and scientists? CHECK! Travel aboard a Type-S Scout/Courier? CHECK! It’s the second part that becomes problematic:

  • “Dock you ship at advanced starports” – I guess so, but that’s not what I imagine as the edges of known space.
  • “Visit strange worlds” – The basic Universal World Profile can be a start but a Referee needs a good imagination; no help is found here.
  • “Encounter alien beings and animals” – Referee gonna have to totally make up aliens cause ain’t nothing in the book about ’em; at least some basic animal traits are defined in “Encounters and Dangers.”
  • “Take on the challenges the galaxy sets before you” – This needs a good Referee but this Explorer’s Edition has no help for Referees.

So just what is an “exploration campaign.” Let’s go back to Mongoose Traveller 1st Edition and see how they describe it in the “Introduction – Campaign Ideas”:

The Explorer Campaign: In a game of this type the player characters go beyond the borders of known space, looking for objects, planets, and civilizations of value or curiosity. The characters will have to be highly self-sufficient to survive away from known space for long stretches. For inspiration look no further than the original series of Star Trek.

Traveller Pocket Rulebook, p. 2

That’s a better explanation, though I still bristle at using high-tech, utopian Star Trek as inspiration for a Traveller campaign. Maybe it’s a personal preference but I always saw Traveller as having an element of desperate survival more like Firefly than the cleanliness of Star Trek.

Given that Traveller Explorer’s Edition is designed to be a simplified version of the game suitable as an introduction, perhaps the campaign should be simple too? I like the defintion of an exploration campaign that Paul Elliott gave in SOLO: Solo RPG Campaigns for the Cepheus Engine (Zozer Games, 2017):

Campaign: Survey Scouts – Exploration and adventure go hand in hand. In this campaign, the player characters are the crew of a survey ship – far from help or assistance, members of the scout service exploring new planets and sometimes making contact with alien races.

SOLO, p. 7

SOLO goes on to deliver a game system that can be used to create a Survey Scouts campaign. A similar campaign game system is missing in the Traveller Explorer’s Edition. This certainly is an introduction to the rules, but it is far short of being an introduction to a campaign—or even a one-off session for that matter.

The Traveller Explorer’s Edition can be used as an introduction for new players; think of it as something more akin to an extended player hand out. The core rules are there and the players can experiment with creating their own character. The book delivers basic familiarity with equipment and combat and space operations and even the rough outlines of worlds. But the Traveller Explorer’s Edition does not deliver a campaign, or even the basic seeds of a campaign.

Not bad for a single dollar…but not really great either.


RockyMountainNavy.com © 2007-2021 by Ian B is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. The author is not affiliated with either Mongoose Publishing or Far Future Enterprises, and makes no claim to or challenge to any trademarks held by either entity.

Cepheus Deluxe (Stellagama Publishing, 2021) – The new heroic #TravellerRPG

Cepheus Deluxe is the latest iteration of the Cepheus Engine roleplaying game rules for 2d6 science fiction adventures. These new rules are the latest refinement of a game system that traces its heritage back to Marc Miller’s Classic Traveller RPG from Game Designers’ Workshop in 1977. Cepheus Deluxe increases player agency in generation of larger-than-life characters and delivers more cinematic action but by doing so moves the Cepheus Engine away from play evocative of “ordinary” adventurers and closer to heroic science fiction characters and action taken from today’s pop culture.


Traveller, by Marc Miller and published by Game Designers’ Workshop in the late 1970s, was my first roleplaying game (RPG). I have played Traveller continuously since 1979—over 40 years. Through those years I played several different versions of Traveller, and missed many others too. In the mid-2000s, Mongoose Publishing licensed Traveller and published Mongoose Traveller, 1st Edition using an Open Game License (OGL). However, when Mongoose released a second edition in the mid-2010s, the license rules changed, and (in my opinion) not for the betterment of the Traveller community. Fortunately, there were enterprising publishers, led by Jason “Flynn” Kemp at Samardan Press who took the Traveller System Reference Document (SRD) and OGL and released a “generic” version of the rules called Cepheus Engine. The Cepheus Engine rules are the Traveller RPG rules sans the Third Imperium setting which both Mongoose Publishing and Far Future Enterprises (Marc Miller) designate as IP. The latest version of the Cepheus Engine rules are known as Cepheus Deluxe. written by a team led by Omer Golan-Joel from Stellagama Publishing.

Old is New or New is Old?

Cepheus Deluxe is simultaneously a spiritual successor to the original Traveller RPG (now commonly known as Classic Traveller) as well as a distinctly different game. The major differences (evolution?) in the rules systems are related to the core mechanic, character generation (chargen), and more cinematic combat. Some of the “new” rules were seen in previous versions of Traveller, such as Mongoose Traveller 1st and 2nd Editions, as well as earlier or variant versions of Cepheus Engine. However, their assembly in Cepheus Engine delivers a more “heroic” game.

Core Mechanic – 2d6…plus

The Classic Traveller core mechanic—roll 2d6 8+ for success—generally remains in Cepheus Deluxe but with more modifiers and task difficulty. Whereas in Classic Traveller the only die modifier (DM) to a skill check was from skill levels, in Cepheus Deluxe you have DMs for characteristics and skill levels. along with a host of other environmental and situational modifiers. These extra modifiers appeared in various Traveller and Cepheus Engine versions before now.

The major new addition to character generation in Cepheus Deluxe that heavily influences task throws is Traits. “Traits are unique features of competent and driven characters…each character typically has one Trait…” (p. 41). When using a Trait, players use Advantage, which means one rolls 3d6 and chooses the best two when making a task roll.

Although it is an optional rule, if used Hero Points can dramatically shift the style of play in Cepheus Deluxe. This rule is expressly designed to enable play of “larger-than-life science fiction heroes” (p. 12). Players start each session with 2 Hero Points and share a common pool of points equal to the number of players present. Each time a task throw results in an Effect (difference of roll and target number) of +6 or greater, the individual Hero Pool increases by 1. Each time a task throw has an Effect of -6 or greater, the group Hero Pool increases by 1. Hero Points are used to:

  • Reroll a single die throw
  • Force the Referee to reroll a non-player character die roll
  • Reroll a throw on Trauma Surgery.

It’s MY Character

One of the greatest features (not a bug) of Classic Traveller has always been character generation (chargen). In Classic Traveller, chargen is quite literally a game with lots of wristage; throw to generate stats, throw to enter careers, throw for skill during a term, throw for promotion, throw for survival, throw to reenlist, and throw when mustering out. Cepheus Deluxe attempts to keep the core lifepath development system of Traveller but updates it by giving the players a bit more agency while calling on less wristage. During chargen in Cepheus Deluxe players will:

  • Roll for characteristics but assign them as desired (long an optional rule)
  • Choose a Homeworld and associated skills (adopted from previous versions)
  • Select a career; no enlistment rolls
  • Pick your own skills during a term; no rolling on tables
    • Optionally, one can roll 1d6 for the number of years in a term vice using the “standard” 4-year
  • Promotions automatically occur in certain terms (subject to modification by Career Events)
  • During a term, one rolls on a Life Events Table and, if necessary, the Injury Table
  • Roll for aging effects at end of Term 4 (tied to terms, not a specific age)
  • Roll for Mustering Out Benefits, but a roll can be exchanged for a promotion
  • Select one Trait for every two terms served (rounded up)

Chargen in Cepheus Deluxe includes optional rules for switching careers. There is another optional rule called “Iron Man!” where one treats any injury as player death—a call-back to Classic Traveller and its famous “you can die in character generation.”

Another major change in Cepheus Deluxe during chargen is the calculation of two new character stats: Stamina and Lifeblood. These stats are used in combat. Stamina, representing “toughness,” is the sum of the player character’s (PC) Endurance characteristic plus Athletics skill. Lifeblood, or “resistance to injury,” is equal to twice their Stamina.

Action for Heroes

Classic Traveller, indeed most version of Traveller or Cepheus Engine, can be very deadly for player characters—after all, the combat system was developed with wargame designer Frank Chadwick! To illustrate both the similarities and differences let’s look at a combat situation. From Classic Traveller we will use the sample character Captain Jamison from pages 24-25 aboard his Type A merchant. Little does he know, pirate captain “Mad Jackie” Botrel from the combat example in Cepheus Deluxe page 93 has snuck aboard and is trying to take over his ship!

Early RPGs were just skirmish wargames, right? (Courtesy @licensedtodill)

Both Jamison and Jackie are waiting to go thru a door when it opens and both see one another. While both are surprised neither has “surprise” by the rules. Since Classic Traveller does not use Initiative rules like those found in Cepheus Deluxe, we will invoke the Cepheus Deluxe optional rule for Simultaneous Combat. As both characters are already at short range Jamison’s “move” is to draw his cutlass followed by an attack. At the same time, Jackie will charge and use her internal cyberblade to attack. So begins this Melee Combat:

  • Jamison must roll an 8+ to hit and has a DM+1 from his Cutlass-1 skill, a DM-2 for the Synthsilk (Mesh?) armor that Jackie is wearing, and a further DM+2 for short range making his roll 2d6+1.
  • Jackie charges into close range and must roll Melee Combat/STR 8+ with a DM+2 from the charge. Her strength of 6 grants no modifiers but her Melee Combat-3 skill gives her a DM+3. Usually armor reduces hits but since Jamison uses an older rules set without armor protection detailed, we invoke the optional rule Armor as a Penalty to Hit and give Jackie a further DM-1 for the Cloth Armor Jamison is wearing. Total DM is +5. Because she is using her Internal Cybernetic Blade, she can invoke her Signature Weapon Trait and roll 3d6 and use the best two die.
  • Jamison rolls a 7 which after DM is an 8—hit!
  • Jackie rolls 3-4-4 of which she uses 4-4 (8) and DM+5 for a modified roll of 13; hit with Effect +5.
  • Jamison’s cutlass is 2d6+4 damage; average rolls give it 11 wound points.
  • Jackie’s Internal Blade is 2d6; average 7 points plus the Effect+5 for 12 wound points.
  • The wounds to Jamison are randomly determined to hit his Endurance (9) first. This reduces his Endurance to 0 with three remaining points spread against Strength (-1) and Dexterity (-2);Jamison falls unconscious.
  • The 11 wound points against Jackie are reduced by 8 from her Synthsilk Armor. The remaining 3 points are applied to her Stamina (Endurance + Athletics = 8) which leaves her standing with “a mere flesh wound.”

Of note, in Cepheus Deluxe, once Stamina is exhausted wounds are then applied to Lifeblood (Stamina x2). Game effects from the loss of Lifeblood include:

  • When Lifeblood > half rating the PC has a Minor Wound and a DM-1 to all actions
  • When Lifeblood < half rating the PC has a Serious Wound with a DM-2 to all actions and must roll to remain conscious
  • When Lifeblood reaches zero the PC is Mortally Wounded and will die within an our unless they undergo Trauma Surgery.

Using the assumption that a character has average physical characteristics of 7, and assuming they have at least Combat and Athletics skills of 1 (“Employable”), in Cepheus Deluxe it likely takes something on the order of three or four hits—or more when wearing armor—to incapacitate a PC. While one certainly doesn’t want to hang around in a sustained firefight in Cepheus Deluxe, the combat potential of a PC is reduced at a cinematically slower pace than many previous versions of Traveller or Cepheus Engine (and certainly much slower than Classic Traveller).

“Holding Out for a Hero”

In Classic Traveller and so many later versions of Traveller and Cepheus Engine, character generation delivered what I call “everyday” characters using a somewhat random system. While one may start chargen with a basic character concept, the system sometimes (often times?) delivered a far different result. For myself, I enjoyed taking these “everyday” characters and trying to build a story and adventures around them. The increased player agency in Cepheus Deluxe challenges my basic assumptions at the start of chargen. The increased player agency in chargen from Cepheus Deluxe empowers players to take a character concept and flesh it out. While there is still some randomness and uncertainty it is limited and can challenge, but not derail, the making of a character. The ability to select your own skills and then acquire Traits with their powerful Advantage roll makes characters in Cepheus Engine more heroic than everyday. In some roleplaying games it is a conceit going into the game that players are “heroes” or extraordinary PCs. This was certainly not the conceit in Classic Traveller, but it is more popular in other systems. For example, The Expanse Roleplaying Game (Green Ronin, 2019) in “Character Creation, Step 2: Abilities” explicitly defines characters as “extraordinary” as compared to non-adventurous ordinary people:

AGE System characters are defined by nine abilities. They’re scored on a numeric scale from -2 (quite poor) to 4 (truly outstanding). A score of 1 is considered average for Player Characters and other extraordinary people. 0 is average for everyday individuals, the sort of folks who avoid having adventures.

The Expanse Roleplaying Game, p. 25

The core mechanic in Cepheus Deluxe, building upon character generation and taken in combination with more cinematic action and the optional Hero Points rules, certainly enables play of “larger-than-life science fiction heroes.” I am very likely in the minority here, but my preferred style of RPG play is decidedly “ordinary” vice “extraordinary.” Looking back over various rule sets in my collection I often enjoy taking an ordinary character and throwing them into extraordinary adventures:

  • Classic Traveller (GDW, 1977): “Everyday” characters usually living on the edge.
  • Behind Enemy Lines (FASA, 1982): Everyday GI Joe in combat.
  • Star Trek (FASA, 1982): While Star Fleet officers are highly trained, they often needed plenty of luck too.
  • James Bond 007 (Victory Games, 1983): Anybody can be spy, but a 00 has the best gadgets.
  • Paranoia (West End Games, 1984): Six decidedly average (if not slightly abnormal) clones were never enough.
  • Twilight: 2000 (GDW, 1984): In how many games can one stat themselves out?
  • Traveller: 2300 aka 2300 AD (GDW, 1986): Hard sci-fi Traveller in an unforgiving universe.
  • Battlestar Galactica (Margaret Weiss, 2007): Humans on the run from frakking Cylons!
  • Mongoose Traveller (Mongoose Publishing, 2008): Classic Traveller with an OGL
  • Serenity/Firefly (Margaret Weiss 2008/2014): “Find a crew, find a job, keep flying.”
  • Diaspora (Fate 3.0) (VSCA Publishing, 2009): Traveller using FATE 3.0 rules
  • Star Wars Roleplaying: Edge of the Empire (Fantasy Flight Games, 2013): “May the Force be with you”…but on low power.
  • Star Wars Roleplaying: Age of Rebellion (Fantasy Flight Games, 2014): Think Rogue One.
  • Cepheus Engine/The Clement Sector (Gypsy Knights Games (now Independence Games), 2014): Small-ship Classic Traveller alternate universe.
  • Cepheus Engine/Orbital 2100 (Zozer Games, 2016): Hard sublight sci-fi.
  • Cepheus Engine/Hostile (Zozer Games, 2017): “In space nobody can hear you scream.”
  • I hear there is a Cowboy Bebop RPG in development; looking forward to Cowboys just trying to catch a bounty to buy birthday presents for their kids and not be hungry for noodles like Spike.

In many ways I should not be surprised by the Cepheus Deluxe authors moving the rules towards a more heroic version of science fiction roleplaying. Thanks to corporate overlords like Marvel, superheroes seem everywhere. If you look at the RPG systems I enjoy, you will notice that most of those games are not superhero or high magic or space fantasy. My sources of inspiration for science fiction roleplaying overlap to some degree with those listed in Cepheus Deluxe, with a notable difference being my lack interest from computer games.

Does all this mean I dislike Cepheus Deluxe? Hardly. Rules like Hero Points are optional, and as you can see with the example above there is a high degree of backwards compatibility baked into the system. There are more than a few rules, like chases in combat or the entire Social Encounter chapter that are vey nice. More likely than not, I’ll probably use a character generation system tailored to a setting I prefer to play in like The Clement Sector or Orbital 2100 or Hostile but use the rules for Cepheus Deluxe in adventure play.

At the end of the day, I will certainly try to play Cepheus Deluxe. I am not sure I will add Hero Points. I feel that the RockyMountainNavy Boys would like the more heroic play. For myself…I just want ordinary PCs in extraordinary adventures. I’ll hold out for my heroes!


Postscript: There is one further discussion I feel need be mentiones and that is the inevitable comparisons of Cepheus Deluxe to Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed. Yes, the two game systems are very similar, dare I say almost identical. The similarities are not only in the rules but in the layout of the rule books and even similar artwork. I see two major differences: price and licensing. For price one just cannot beat Cepheus Deluxe which at $9.99 for pdf and $16.99 for pdf+ B&W softcover is a real bargain. Mongoose Traveller will set you back $30 for the pdf alone, the most recent version which is an update to the 2nd Edition rules (although called an “update” Mongoose wants you to buy a whole new rulebook). Secondly, there is the licensing issues I alluded to before. Suffice it to say the Cepheus Engine community is open and very welcoming, whereas the MgT community must live with a publishing overlord that takes seizes individual IP just because you might happen to play in “their” sandbox.


Feature image courtesy Ian Stead

Sunday Summary – A colorful Slammers week of #wargame and #TravellerRPG fun mentioning @ADragoons @gmtgames

Short update follows…

Wargame

I will have another article coming to Armchair Dragoons this week talking about Rand Game Associates 1975 wargame Hitlers Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge by Dave Isby. “What,” you say, “another Bulge game?”

Commands & Colors Samurai from GMT Games is scheduled to arrive Monday, UPS says.

Traveller RPG

While my Wargame Wednesday looked at Hammer’s Slammers and wargames, this week I’m turning my attention to RPGs and Hammer’s Slammers.

Reading for Roleplaying…or #Wargame? – The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson (@docetist) – or – I’m a Munchkin Grognard (#RPG #TravellerRPG)

My first role-playing game (RPG) was Traveller from game Designers’ Workshop back in 1979. In the same little store where I discovered my first wargame, Panzer by Jim Day from Yaquinto Publishing (1979), I found a small, very plain black box with three Little Black Books inside. So started my RPG adventures which would parallel my wargame experiences. As I was a solid military history reader and generally avoided fantasy science fiction in those days I never felt the urge to play Dungeons & Dragons like a few of my friends. But that was OK; we played the heck out of Traveller for RPGs and Star Fleet Battles (Task Force Games, 1979+) for wargaming back in those days. All of which means I entered the world of RPGs without realizing that I was amongst defining moments of the hobby. The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity by Jon Peterson provides a “lost” history of how Dungeons & Dragons and other games came to define a new genre of gaming – the role-playing game.

As Peterson points out, Dungeons & Dragons (1974) did not call itself a role-playing game. Indeed, the cover stated it was, “rules for fantastic medieval wargames campaigns” (Peterson, 15). Starting from this observation, Peterson in The Elusive Shift takes the reader on a historical survey of how role-playing games came to be defined; or, as Mr. Peterson says:

It is not the ambition of this study to settle on a tidy dictionary defintion of role-playing game but instead to show historically how the game community came to grapple with agreeing on one.

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 19

A Munchkin Grognard Traveller Perspective

Like I already stated, my first foray into RPGs was through Traveller, not D&D. At the same time I was entering the wargaming hobby. Forty years later I consider myself a wargame Grognard, that of an “Old Guard” of players who have been involved in the hobby a long time. So it was interesting to realize that in RPG terms of the late 1970’s and early 1980’s that I was a “munchkin.” As Peterson relates:

It was around this time that the pejorative term munchkin entered the role players’ vocabulary. The Wargamer’s Encyclopedic Dictionary (1981) defines a munchkin as “a young wargamer, generally under 14 or 16 years of age,” in contrast to a grognard, “a wargamer who has been in the hobby a very long time.”

Peterson, The Elusive Shift, p. 232

As I was 12 years old when I got my first wargame and RPG, I was actually a very young munchkin which is probably why I missed out on so much of the background fighting over what the RPG hobby was; I simply did not have the money to subscribe to all those newsletters or magazines where the discussion was taking place! Even if I did subscribe, as a sixth-grader the discussion may even had gone right over my head (figuratively and literally).

Through reading The Elusive Shift I also came to discover just how much of an influence Traveller has on my definition of an RPG. Peterson goes so far to call Traveller a “transcending design” (p. 173) and devotes an Intermezzo in his book to the game. Since Traveller was my first, and for several years my only, RPG* when I read the “rules” I accepted them as “the way” without question. Peterson points out that how one plays Traveller is a matter of player preference; “There are three basic ways to play Traveller: solitaire, scenario, and campaign. Any of these three may be unsupervised (that is, without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation” (Traveller Book 1, p. 3). To this day I have no problem playing an RPG solo; it has always been an option from the beginning. I also have no problem setting up a one-shot scenario or digging into a campaign. Again, that has always been “just the way it is.” I also was very happy to see Jon Peterson call Traveller, “perhaps one of the most adaptable of the designs of the 1970s” (p. 173) though he says that because the game exemplifies the extremes of both open-ended (with a Gamemaster) and close-ended (no referee) systems. Without trying to ignite an “Edition Wars” argument discussion here I’ll just say that these days I am very happy with the Cepheus Engine version of Traveller which is very similar to the original Little Black Books Classic Traveller from decades ago.

In The Elusive Shift Peterson shows how Dungeons & Dragons grew out of both the wargaming and science fiction fan communities. Again, as I entered both genres of hobby gaming at the same time I didn’t really see any “legacy” issues . All of which means I never really got into the whole “D&D is a wargame” controversy discussion because RPGs and wargames were always two related-yet-distinct facets of hobby gaming to me.

To this day, the wargame community constantly grapples with the age-old question “What is a wargame?” Heck, even I took a stab at answering that question in an episode of the Mentioned in Dispatches podcast for the Armchair Dragoons. Peterson’s The Elusive Shift shows us how a closely related community grappled with a very similar defining issue. This book won’t give wargamers an answer to their question but it certainly can promote understanding of how the RPG community came to some agreement.

Coming together. In agreement. What a novel concept!

Citation

Peterson, Jon, The Elusive Shift: How Role-Playing Games Forged Their Identity, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2021 (Apple Books electronic edition)


*I’m not sure what my second RPG was, but it may have been Commando by SPI (1979) which Peterson notes is both a wargame AND and RPG. I know my copy has marked up charts where we tried to convert Commando tables for use in our Traveller activities. Behind Enemy Lines (1st Edition, FASA 1982) is clearly my next RPG after Traveller, though some might argue that it is more a skirmish-level wargame adventure guide than a “true” RPG.