June 7

Top 10 RPG list – number 5.


Traveller was the first science fiction game I ever played in and was the second rpg I ever tried. I was so taken with the game that I persuaded my grandmother to purchase me a copy from Games Unlimited, it may have been a second hand unboxed copy but I didn’t care about that. I had at that point several d6 dice which Traveller makes use of so I didn’t have to spend any more money on them.

I was drawn in by the seductive red line running across the page of the black cover of the books. It was later on when I was heavily involved in collecting Traveller did I realise I had the three little black books combined into two books. Early editions of the game came published as individual volumes about A5 size and this gave rise to the term “little black books”. There was a range of supplementary books published in this format that covered all sorts of new material; careers, adventures and even library data which expanded upon the previous books.

As I understand it the rules were written to enable the referee to create their own universe for play, the adventures that were written were set in what would become the default setting of the Third Imperium. In this respect Traveller was probably the first sandbox game I had ever encountered. You could argue that games like D&D were sandboxes as well but they all seemed to revolve around gong to the dungeon and clearing it out 10 foot room by 10 foot room; almost like some sort of medieval SWAT team.

Traveller was also the first game I had encountered that had a life path system which dictated your previous history before you started adventuring; unlike some of the other life path based systems it was entirely possible to die during character creation, so the game had an element of risk to it. Later versions of the system mitigated it to your character being wounded rather than death and you finished your career at that point.

Character creation was just one of the mini-games that the rulebook had; trading was another one and also world creation. The rulebook suggests that you can play them in isolation as a solitaire activity, whether you are trying to found a new trading company by plying the space lanes or exploring strange new worlds. All examples of typical sandbox play that can be found in many typical computer games.

I suppose being a big fan of the BBC Micro computer game Elite was also a big selling point to this game. It is no surprise that most Traveller games are based around the Merchant Prince route; there was even an excellent campaign written called The Traveller Adventure which gave the players control of a ship and a trading route to ply.

By the time I was getting ready to actually referee Traveller a new edition had appeared; MegaTraveller. This new edition compiled the best of the supplementary books and the core rules into an improved system with a new and improved task system at the heart of the games skill resolution mechanic.

MegaTraveller also introduced a new background as well, expanding upon the popular Third Imperium and taking it into a new direction; the emperor had been assassinated and various factions tried to claim the iridium throne for themselves. The setting while interesting didn’t really do anything for me and I continued to run adventures based in the Spinward Marches sector. The rebellion eventually ended with an artificially intelligent virus and was the lead in for the new edition:

Traveller: The New Era was the last edition published by Game Designers Workshop, the company hit hard times and the decision was made to close it. This edition moved away from the familiar 2d6 task resolution system and used the GDW house system which was d20 based. I really liked the idea of the players having a chance to shape the new empires that arose out of the ashes of the virus. The Imperium was still there but 70 years of isolation had profound effects upon the planets. So the advance scout party often had some very old data about the systems to go on and could be surprised at what had happened during the long night.

During my tenure as referee I ran many Traveller games using the various editions I had collected and I would say that until recently MegaTraveller would have to be my personal favourite.

I’m looking to run Traveller again, this time I shall use the Mongoose edition as it has a modern take on the rules but still has the Classic Traveller feel to it. While GURPS Traveller piqued my interest for a bit, it seemed to me to lack the heart and soul of the Classic edition, characters were bought as packages of skills and advantages and gone was the random determination of your prior history.  Spaceships were regarded as an advantage so the better your starship was, the worse your character started the game.

As a result of the successful Kickstarter campaign I have a copy of Traveller 5th edition which has traded the little black books for one rather massive hardcover; while an impressive book to hold I find it lacks the simplicity that the Mongoose edition has. Both games had a parallel development and by comparing the two volumes you can see where they inspired each other.

Mongoose have also used their Traveller rules to do other licensed games they publish, the most interesting to me was Babylon 5 and it sort of worked but it was woefully lacking in certain areas.


Mongoose Traveller: http://www.mongoosepublishing.com/rpgs/traveller.html

Far Future Enterprises: http://www.farfuture.net/

Honourable mention.

 Stars Without Number.

I heard good things about this game published by www.sinenomine-pub.com ; it’s a worthy spiritual successor to Traveller and is also set up for sandbox play. So I tracked it down and was suitably impressed by what I found between the covers.

The system is a modern retro-clone of the world’s most popular fantasy game and uses the familiar 3d6 for character generation compared to the 2d6 Traveller required. Where Stars Without Number shines is the support for the game. The basic game is available in two versions; a free edition and a paid for core book with more material stuffed into it. There are other supplements available some of which are free and others don’t cost a great deal.


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Posted June 7, 2014 by GeneralTangent in category "RPG

About the Author

I've been gaming on and off since about 1989 and during that period have played with numerous game systems. I'm fluent in a few, have a basic understanding of quite a few more and can get by in others. Somewhere along the way I found time to be a playtester, contribute to an unpublished game supplement and be associated with another gaming magazine written by far more talented people than I. This lead to one infamous article being written in which I followed the letter of the adventure and torched the parties river barge. I'm also listed on http://rpggeek.com as a game designer.

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