Day 5 of #RPGaDAY.
5. Most Old School RPG Owned.
We’re going back into the distant mists of RPG history, to 1977 and one of the earliest sci-fi RPGs. Yes, it’s the Classic Traveller boxed set.
Oh Traveller, a game as often discussed for its mechanical quirks like the risk of death in character creation as for its merits. For any readers who aren’t familiar with Traveller, it’s a space opera RPG where the PCs are usually a group of ex-military or merchant navy veterans who are desperately trying to make repayments on their ship’s mortgage. Cue all kinds of adventures, exploration, heists and trading to cover your costs. While not the most noble of motivations, it certainly does get the PCs to engage with whatever is going on as long as they can see some profit in it. (Which, in many ways, makes the Rogue Trader RPG a spiritual descendant…)
The design of the game is pretty minimalist, with maybe two or three piece of art in total across the three books and a lot of tightly-packed text. But that cover caught my eye and made me want to pick it up. It’s a great hook into the game, and immediately makes you want to know more about what’s going on. For three colours and some text, that’s not bad!
I didn’t actually get a physical copy of Traveller until my late teens – which was, through some real luck with the second hand bin in a local games shop, a copy of the original 1977 boxed set pictured above. However, I did play a lot of Traveller prior to that, thanks to the MegaTraveller: The Zhodani Conspiracy PC game.
Admittedly, this wasn’t exactly the deepest game play experience in the world. While the core storyline of the game was fine, I completely ignored it in favour of shooting aliens and ripping off casinos. I’m holding Colonel Hedgewick of the Marines largely responsible for this development, with his 12 ranks in Gambling and very little else to show for his glorious highly decorated seven term military career.
I’ve only ever managed to run a couple of games of Traveller, and I’ve never actually had the chance to play it, but I’ve got a deep fondness for the game. It was the second sci-fi RPG I encountered (the first being the West End Games’ Star Wars RPG) and certainly the first that left me feeling it could tackle “hard” sci-fi narratives. For a kid who was borrowing a lot of Clarke and Asimov from the library at the time, that was a big deal.
I’ve always liked the exploration and hex-crawl aspects of Traveller. I’ve got notebooks filled with randomly-rolled sectors of space, complete with trade routes, favoured imports and exports, notable locations and the supporting hex maps to go with them. If you’re willing to improvise a lot, a star map like the one below and a party of suitably inclined PCs could easily provide months of game play.
So, that’s Traveller. A strange dinosaur of a game that’s somehow survived through several editions, a lot of upheaval in its production, and some weirdly complex elements of its system (I swear it’s the only time I’ve had to calculate a square root as part of an RPG). But it also felt a long way ahead of its time in some respects, with a pretty uniform task resolution system and limited emphasis on mechanical character advancement. It’s certainly a game I’d be happy to play or run again, which is pretty uncommon for an RPG of this era.
DriveThruRPG has a wide selection of Traveller PDFs for most editions. If you’re looking to get into Traveller for the first time, I’d recommend Mongoose Publishing’s 2008 edition of the game (which is heavily based on Classic Traveller) as a good place to start.
Wikipedia has a good article covering the history of the game, its many and varied editions, and the common elements of the setting.
Traveller Downport is a Web portal gathering together a sizeable number of Traveller sites. There’s a lot of material there…