The first roleplaying game I ever bought was the German translation of Marc Miller’s Traveller. I have been a huge fan of science fiction even long before I knew what roleplaying games were. After playing a couple of fantasy RPGs I thought I was ready to run a game myself and decided that Traveller was the perfect game for me. The first game I ran wasn’t actually that bad, even though the story I came up with was more than a bit weak. But nevertheless the players and I had a great time. Alas we never continued the campaign and even though I like Traveller very much, I never ran it again.
A couple of months ago an old friend of mine, Rouven Weinbach, got in touch with me. Unbeknownst to me, he was now working as freelancer for the German RPG publisher 13Mann, and has written a supplement for Traveller (compatible with Mongoose’s Traveller) called “Robots“. I have to admit that I am no expert on Traveller and me writing a review wouldn’t probably do the product justice, so we decided it would be a fun idea to do an interview with Rouven instead.
Stargazer: Thanks for taking your time to answer a couple of questions about Traveller, Robots, 13Mann and yourself. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers?
Rouven: Gladly. I am a game designer and author and have been in touch with RPGs since the tender age of 12. That was the time when Ronald Reagan was still dreaming of SDI and the number of roleplaying products were still countable. Like most GMs I wrote my own adventures. Some of them bad, some of them worse but I never stopped doing it.
Being a game designer and author is not my real job though. I only do it during my spare time. My real job is with a big logistics company in Germany.
Stargazer: I don’t think I ever asked you, but what was actually the first roleplaying game you played?
Rouven: That’s easy. It was The Dark Eye. I guess it was and still is the first RPG many roleplayers in Germany will come in contact with. D&D and Traveller were the next ones though.
Stargazer: Back in the day, when we first met, you had just written a homebrew Perry Rhodan roleplaying game. Have you ever considered getting the license or working with the publisher to get it released?
Rouven: I had published my Perry Rhodan RPG online sometime in 1998 (I had to learn HTML for it). I did it as fan content and was kind of worried the publisher might sue me over copyright infringements. Then sometime in 2000 or 2001 I got an email from the German publisher starting with something along the line of “Your RPG is good, too good to be allowed to stay online like that.” And immediately I thought their lawyers were zeroing in on me and got very nervous, but as it turned out they wanted to license the RPG and publish it. A couple of weeks later I was officially in talks with Pabel-Moewig, the German publisher. For some reason I still don’t know why Pabel-Moewig cut all communications after some time and they published the other Perry Rhodan RPG which you know. In hindsight, I think it wasn’t that bad for me after all. I had some ambitious ideas but my RPG lacked game balance back then, esp. with all the different kinds of alien races the Perry Rhodan universe provides from the start. It was like allowing such character choices as great wyrms and halfings at the same time.
Stargazer: How did you become a freelancer for 13Mann Verlag? Was this something you wanted to do for a long time or was it a more spontaneous decision?
Rouven: 13Mann had the Traveller license and I only found that out in 2009. Being my third RPG ever and a fan of Traveller since the 80s, I was hooked. I thought I should waste no time and presented them a game idea for a Traveller strategic board game I had designed – this time knowing a thing or two about game balance.
Although the board game didn’t bear any fruits mostly due to the fact that it is a complex game (along the lines of Axis & Allies and Twilight Imperium if you happen to know them) I noticed they had Traveller Core Rules and Spinward Marches but nothing for Robots. I also checked Mongoose’s website and at that time it wasn’t even mentioned in the pipeline. So I decided to write Robots and the rest is history as they say…
Stargazer: As I already mentioned you have written a Traveller supplement by the name of Robots. What can you tell me about the book?
Rouven: It’s awesome! Best money you will have ever invested. Go buy it. Now!
Apart from that, I should note that I didn’t write it all by myself. Tobias Freund helped me with a lot of ideas and the cyborg & augmentation chapters.
As I mentioned, I liked Traveller since the 80s but the book that influenced me the most in that product line was clearly CT Book 8: Robots. I spent hours developing robots for all kinds of purposes with that book when I was younger. Had I known that twenty years later I was to write a book about it, I might have kept all those papers. Now I had to start over and one of the most difficult problems was aligning the rules with the Mongoose Traveller Core Rule Book. They had already several robots mentioned along with prices and everything. There were also prices for individual equipment which you might find in a robot. Now my challenge was to develop a ruleset that would fit all that. Robot attributes equipment and prices. Oh and on top of it the rules had to be playable of course. After that the rest was pretty easy. I added nanobots and cyborgs which have become a staple in sci-fi but not necessarily in the Third Imperium. And while I was at it, I thought of very large robots on legs and what would happen if a human controls it? So I added the cockpit option and you have mechas. There are plenty of ideas at least hinted at in that book (zombies controlled by nanobots for instance). For me it’s a one stop shop for everything robots, computers and cyborg related.
Stargazer: How is your book different from the old Traveller supplement by that name? And there’s a book by Mongoose called “Book 9: Robot”. Can you tell us about what sets your book apart?
Rouven: CT Book 8 was my inspiration and so you will find all the fluff is still there. I also made use of old terms where they made sense and got rid of parts that seemed no longer necessary after 20 years of computer development in the real world or when the rules no longer required it. For instance I got rid of the rule where a type of limb dictates your robots Dexterity and Strength. Mongoose Traveller has no rules for hitting limbs in combat and we also don’t create characters and assign characteristics to limbs. So why keep an unnecessary rule?
About the new Mongoose Robots book. I can tell you very little. 13Mann Robots was published before Mongoose Robots and I have never read Mongoose’s Book 9, but it seems they split cybernetics and robots. I was also told by some die-hard Traveller fans that they bought both books and they definitely know which book they prefer. They did it with a hidden tone of appreciation in their voices, so I assume it’s mine but there’s no way of telling for sure at the moment.
Stargazer: As far as I know “Robots” is the first 13Mann product released in English. Are there plans for more international products from the publisher?
Rouven: Yes, there are. In fact we will be publishing a Traveller Map of the Spinward Marches in May. We also have published our own adventures and think of providing them to the English speaking community. Maybe by the end of this year we will have something more to show. It is quite exciting but to be honest we are a small publisher making our first baby steps in the international market. We still need to find our way around, contact distributors whole sellers and many more. And above all we need feedback from the international community.
And if you happen to have adventures you would like to submit in English, feel free to do so. We are always looking for new Traveller adventures.
Stargazer: Can you please give us some details on the Traveller poster map that you plan to release in May?
Rouven: That’s a full-colored, two-sided, 96×68 cm (that is 38.5″ x 26.7″ for those of you who refuse to adopt international standards) large map in a coated re-usable envelope for protection. The first side shows a rather well known map with political borders, UWP but also some novelties such as all stars and star types, graphical representation of atmospheres and hydrography.
The second page shows something never seen in Traveller. At least to my knowledge: Trade codes for each world on the map. They are not in a table in a book where you have to cross reference all the time to check for lucrative nearby trading options but directly next to the world on the map. You will also find some information from GURPS Far Trader like WTN and BTN graphically represented on the map for each world, and to top it off, you will see a graphical representation of a Spinward Marches census. Median TL per world and per capita per subsector. Lots of information never seen before. Plus a few Easter eggs here and there of course.
I’ll give you some pictures worth more than thousand words.
Stargazer: I recently read that you stepped down as Traveller product manager at 13Mann in order to work on other projects. Can you already reveal on what you’re working on or is it still top secret?
Rouven: Yes, I stepped down as Traveller product manager to make way for Christian Hanisch, who flew to San Francisco once to buy his copy of Azanti High Lightning.. at least so the legend goes. However, I did it to become the new CEO of 13Mann. I think you are one of the first people I tell this to. There were some pending legal issues and I wanted to keep it low for a while. Now that they are solved, I am looking forward to making this little company a little better known and maybe – just maybe – deliver some excellent products to the international community as well.
Stargazer: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about, but which I forgot to ask you about?
Rouven:If this were a late night talk show, I would desperately try to hold my product in the camera one more time but here I stop short of that and only tell you our website is www.13mann.com but you can also order our Robots pdf at Drivethru and the map will be available at amazon.com and amazon.de in May.
Stargazer: Thanks again for the interview, Rouven!
Rouven: It’s been a pleasure!