Friday, January 04, 2008

Traveller: Where to start

A comment to the last post asked where to get started with Traveller. We're talking about a game has had nearly as many confusingly-different editions as D&D, so there will be many different opinions on this matter. I assume (and hope) that fans of other versions will chime in here.

First, let me start by telling you what I use. My preferred ruleset is the 1981 version of Books 1-3, the slight update and reformatting of the original game. In some ways it is comparable to the Original Collector's Edition of OD&D: the differences between the original version and this update are so slight that a casual non-nitpicker will miss many of them. I also like to throw in Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium for added PC options. It's not necessary, but most players like to have more classes to choose from than the six in the original game.

Any serious gamer could do just fine with the rulebooks I use, but there are other equally good options. Starter Traveller was designed to be the Basic D&D of Traveller sets and I think it really hit the bulls-eye in terms of providing the most newbie-friendly Trav experience. And it features a spiffy Deitrick cover. Like my Books, this one is long out of print. CAVEAT: When buying a copy make absolutely sure the separate tables & charts sheets are intact. Most of these charts are not repeated in the rules and the game is unplayable without them.

Now, if you want to get into the Classic Traveller experience but don't want to hit the secondary market for musty old tomes from the 80's, you actually have a surprising number of very good options. Marc Miller (the number one Traveller guy, the Gygax of the scene) will sell you either awesome reprint editions or all-in-one CD-ROMs. I have the reprints of all the original Books, Adventures, and Short Adventures in three cool landscape volumes and I totally dig 'em. The Classic Traveller CD-ROM has all that stuff plus the Supplements and Games and probably some stuff I'm forgetting about, all for $35 bucks. That's seriously the best value in the hobby since the Dragon Magazine CD-ROMs from a few years back. There are collectible items on that CD-ROM that will cost you more than 35 bucks by themselves.

But the big reprints and the CD-ROM can definitely cause overload. You ever get that feeling that you received too much setting or system in a game? Traveller with all the bells and whistles can hit you with a double whammy of that sensation, as the advanced systems plus the mammoth 3rd Imperium setting can be a lot to swallow. To slim down the rules to the minimum necessary I recommend the Basic Books 1-3 Reprint available from QLI. That's the rules I use from '81 with some more modern spit and polish applied to the production values. And an alien dog man on the cover. If you want to use the 3rd Imperium setting you can do that basically for free nowadays. Just Google "Traveller Library Data" and start reading. The rabbit hole of online Traveller geekery goes as deep as you want to pursue it.

So I hope that answers the question. There are certainly other options. MegaTraveller is basically the AD&D of Traveller, as it takes a bunch of the advanced options from the original game and incorporates them into the text, along with other complicated subsystems. I'm not a fan personally but it has its adherents. Traveller: The New Era dropped the original mechanics in favor of a port of the Twilight 2000 rules and rewrote the setting as a post-apocalypse in space. It hardly looks like the same game to me. Traveller 4th Edition, a.k.a. Marc Miller's Traveller, tried to turn back the clock on the setting while offering a new resolution system. I never quite got the point of that edition but I like one or two of the supplements. If you like GURPS than I heartily recommend GURPS Traveller. If you don't like GURPS many of the supps are still awesome-tastic.

Finally, just around the corner are at least two new editions, Marc Miller's long anticipated/dreaded T5 and the Mongoose Publishing version soon due out. I stopped following development of T5 a while back when it seemed like it was going to use a resolution system similar to T4. I don't really like the T4 resolution mechanics as I understand them and much more importantly, I think a single resolution system for all actions is not the right way to run Traveller. Detractors of the original rules like to say that Classic Traveller's big flaw was lack of unified resolution mechanics. I consider that a feature, not a bug. I haven't followed Mongoose's version because at this point if I can't follow Marc Miller's lead on Traveller then I don't see much point on following anybody else. I've got the books I like and am happy to make my own way with them.


  1. I use The Traveller Book for everything :)

    Haven't had much excuse to crack it open, lately, but not for lack of affection.

  2. On Mongooses Traveller page ( you can download a 147 page "playtest" pdf. It might be worth a look. I've never played Traveller, so I'm hardly the one to look it over. --Michael

  3. Anonymous4:18 AM

    We still play Classic Traveller, running a campaign where we've dropped the Elite universe just outside the Spinward Marches. Landing at Lave or Zaonce brings back such retro memories, it's hard to know where to begin :)

    Anyhow. We started this particular campaign using MegaTraveller, but switched back to Classic Traveller (keeping the MegaTraveller trask resolution system, which was made for CT anyhow), simply because the ship generation system was too complex and cumbersome. The Classic Traveller system is much lighter and, IMHO, much better for it. More hardcore sci-fi fans might disagree.

    We've experimented with both GURPS Traveller and d20 Traveller, and felt that both were just bolt-ons that didn't quite fit in the style of the setting. They added nothing to the game, but took away a lot of the flavour that makes Traveller unique.

    So, it's Classic Traveller, all the way!

  4. Anonymous1:09 PM

    Thanks for the detailed response! Based on what's been said here, and what I've been able to find out elsewhere, Classic Traveller sounds like the right choice for my gaming tastes. Beyond the first 3 books, are there any others that you consider essential?

  5. Well, I guess it depends on what you want to do. I find Supplement 4 to be cool for giving the players more character options. The Aliens books are all great. The Books High Guard and Mercenary are popular, giving further depth to the Navy and Army/Marines careers, but I'm not fond of the so-called Expanded Character Generation contained in those volumes.

    My "box o' Traveller", where I store materials I'm actually working with, contains just Books 1-3, and the supplements Spinward Marches and Citizens of the Imperium. And I'm not really using the Marches except that in my head its the nearest Imperial territory to my homebrew subsector.

  6. Anonymous11:58 AM

    Starter Traveller says that it's compatible with all of the other Classic Traveller stuff. Is that really the case? Are there differences in the game mechanics or just a difference in the presentation of them?

  7. Anonymous5:49 AM

    No love for T20? If I could just talk my group into giving Traveller a try, it would be my system of choice. It's a must for D20 groupies.

  8. Jake: compatibility between the two editions (Starter and mainline Classic) is extraordinarily high. Off the top of my head I can only think of one mechanical difference that matters: Starter Trav uses a simplified system for ship-to-ship combat. I actually prefer the Starter method in this case, but ships from either game ought to fly and explode under either ruleset.

  9. jake: I forgot to mention T20, but I don't really know enough about it to offer any opinion except that it doesn't seem to suit me.

  10. My two personal favorites for basics are Starter Traveller and The Traveller Book... They are almost identical, but I give Starter the nod over TTB.

    I'm actually a big MegaTraveller fan, though I'll confess to using High Guard instead of the MT ship construction system, and Starter Traveller's combat system instead of MT's interrupts.

    If you want ONE classic adventure, look for "The Traveller Adventure" -- it was designed as the companion for TTB. If you want all the Spinward Marches goodness in one place, find "Spinward Marches Campaign".

    T20 has serious implementation problems (it's pre-Future d20, so it doesn't fit that, it doesn't use classic mechanics, so it doesn't fit that either). GURPS Traveller supplements are nice (except Behind the Claw -- get Spinward Marches Campaign instead), but GURPS just doesn't feel Traveller to me.

    As far as the current developments, Mongoose's Traveller is looking pretty solid, if very retro; and T5 is shaking out... Don't believe most of the stuff on the web about T5 - Marc pulled everything back to a small group a while back after some stuff was reviewed on the web. I can't discuss specifics, but I'm feeling much better about T5 at the moment :)