Retro review: Traveller

TravellerI have to admit I own a lot of different roleplaying games. Some I haven’t even completely read, some I haven’t even tried out and there are a few that have very fond memories connected to them. One of these games is the original Traveller, that I bought probably around 1990.

My copy is the second printing of the german translation of Traveller that was published under license by Fantasy Productions. When you open the 160 pages paperback book you will immediately notice that this game hails back to 1977. It completely black and white and printed on matte paper. Compared to modern rulesbooks with glossy paper and many full-color illustration this book looks very bland. But it’s probably on par with other rulebooks from that time.

Traveller is a SF roleplaying game and possibly the first SF roleplaying game ever (correct me, when I am wrong). Although Traveller was intended as a generic SF roleplaying system that can be used with a lot of different settings, the rulebook contains the implied setting of the “Third Imperium”. The Third Imperium was heavily inspired by a lot of classic science fiction books like Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series or Poul Anderson’s Polesotechnic League (two of my favorites). I am pretty sure you can run a Foundation campaign with Traveller rules without a problem. Just don’t use any aliens and you’re done.

The rulebook starts with the chapter about characters. Character creation in Traveller is very random. You start by determining your Stats (like Strength, Dexterity, Social Status, etc.) by rolling the dice, these stats are then combined into your UPP or Universal Personality Profile. The UPP uses hexadecimal values to give a shorthand for all stats. A possible UPP would be 747B85 for example. After that you roll on several tables to determine with kind of service the character enters, what skills he or she learned, if any special events happened or if he or she was reinlisted for another tour of duty. It is even possible that a character dies during character creation. When a character finally leaves the service he or she is ready for adventure. This character creation method creates some quite interesting characters. You don’t even have to come up with a background story since most important events where already rolled up during character creation. BUT you have almost no way to control what kind of character you roll up. Imagine you want to play a dashing navy officer but you end up with a dead space trader. Bummer!

The next chapter describes combat in Traveller. The combat system is pretty standard, perhaps a bit on the easy side but has some strange damage rules. There are no hit points but weapons damage the three physical attributes Strength, Endurance and Dexterity. If one of these value drop to 0 or below the character dies. For every point in Dexterity you lose, you have to reduce your combat rolls by one for example. The system works but I would have preferred to have some hitpoints or something like that instead. When I remember correctly that was one of the things I changed when I ran Traveller as a GM.

The following chapters give detailed information about space travel, trade, space ships and space ship construction, computer, space combat, worlds, encounters with animals, encounters, experience and many more. This part of the game still can be used today even if you prefer different rule systems. Travellers system for creating star systems helps even the science-illiterate GM to create believeable star systems. In many ways the classic Traveller rulebook reminds me of GURPS Space. And although Traveller was created with the “Third Imperium” setting in mind, you can easily adopt it to other science fiction settings.

The rulebook even includes two adventures, some details on the “Third Imperium” and a complete region of space for you to explore. But it also lacks a lot of stuff that is usually included in modern games. Although alien races are mentioned, you don’t get any details on how to create alien characters. There are no stats for common NPCs, so the GM has to do all the work himself.

If you are interested in running a SF campaign with an “old school” atmosphere, you can easily pick up and play Traveller. If you still can get a copy, that is. But you will probably have to plan in quite a few hours to prepare things. If a game from 1977 is a bit too old school for you, check out one of the newer incarnations of Traveller. But I am sure that there are still some people out there that enjoy a game of classic Traveller once in a while.