Traveller without Aliens?

I am not sure if I already wrote on the blog about it, but I have been playing Traveller for several months now.  Initially my GM wanted to run a face-to-face game but we couldn’t make it happen. There were just too many scheduling problems, so we eventually decided to switch to a Hangout game. But I digress.

The longer I played Traveller the more I wanted to run it. I love the way our GM handles things (his version of Traveller feels almost Hard SciFi, which is extremely cool), but I also wanted to try my hand at running it myself. We actually use Savage Worlds with some elements from Interface Zero and Chaotic GM’s Savage Space, but I am toying with the idea of running a Traveller game with either Mongoose Traveller, Classic Traveller (thanks, Bundle of Holding), or Stars Without Number.

But there’s one element that slightly bothers me. For some reason I feel that the Traveller universe doesn’t need all those aliens. For one most aliens in Traveller feel like humans in rubber suits anyway (aside from the Hivers perhaps) and a Traveller universe without aliens feels closer to Isaac Asimov’s Foundation universe which Traveller was surely influenced by. I might actually keep some of the mystery of the Ancients alive, but having various variants of Humanity feels enough for my tastes.

The question now remains whether I should just create my own alien-less universe with Traveller trappings or just keep the Traveller universe as it is and just replace aliens by humans. What would you do if you were in my shoes? And do you think Traveller is still Traveller without Vargr, Hivers, Droyne, etc.? Please share your comments below.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

12 thoughts on “Traveller without Aliens?”

  1. Nope, Traveller without Vargr, Aslan, etc is not Traveller anymore. 😉

    I think if you get past their “humans in rubber suits” look and check out their histories, society and psychology you’ll find them very interesting and unique to play. I was always amazed at the depth and thought that went into the alien modules for Vargr and Aslan especially. They are different enough to play “alien”, but not so different that they are unplayable.

  2. Totally agree with you. I like the human variants (Solomani, Zhodani, etc.) but I too prefer the setting without the aliens. Partly for the rubber-suit element you mention, partly because I like the focused story-telling that a human interstellar empire suggests, and partly because I like the quirky angle of “yes, there are aliens… and they’re human”

  3. There are a couple of ways to deal with this situation.
    I know of several groups of Traveller players I met over the years that don’t use any aliens in their games – they either don’t exist or they don’t feature because nobody ever bothered to ask.
    GMs then most often “faded” them out or kept some dummies just for local colour but with no particular impact.
    If you left them out entirely this would alter the history somewhat but that doesn’t need to be a problem. Just make up a couple of factions for relevant battles or wars and be done with it.
    Make the so called Original Traveller Universe your own by replacing aliens with human nations or factions.
    Or pick a time and a region of Charted Space where aliens don’t play any role at all – regions in Canopus or Aldebaran Sectors, Leonidae or Gateway and create your own “pocket empire”.
    From my point of view it would still be Traveller – it wouldn’t be Third Imperium for sure. So what?
    You could grab a copy of the Outer Veil setting (Spica Publishing) which has no recent aliens in it – just a couple of ruins. It’s an alternate universe that seemed interesting enough.
    There are 10 short episodes forming an introductory adventure available for free on Drivethrough.
    There would also be Clement Sector (Gypsy Knights Games) which is also light on aliens – until now I only found hints of “uplifted” species as in David Brins “Uplift” novels.
    Me – I still prefer my Traveller with a couple of aliens every odd parsec.
    Since I’m most often the GM I use them for flavour but rarely as major NPCs. It’s rather taxing trying to portray them convincingly without slipping into the rubbersuit too much… and that’s without considering the rest of the gaming universe. 😉

  4. I’d be okay with there being no aliens so long as there was a good explanation for *why* — I’m a strong believer that the galaxy is rich with life, so the Fermi Paradox would come into play here for me. Give me a good reason why humanity doesn’t find any other sapient life out there and I’m cool with it.

    Personally, I would prefer to see more “alien” aliens. The Traveller aliens are all too close to Terran life for me. The aliens from Star Frontiers, a much pulpier game, feel more “alien” to me (especially the Dralasites). Hmm… now there’s an idea. Borrow aliens from Star Frontiers, and maybe some from Alternity too…

  5. Well, there’s aliens and then there’s aliens.

    You could just as well frame the Vargr and Aslan and to some extent even the Droyne as “just” being highly genetically modified Earth creatures (and the Vargr already are, at that). For whatever reason the Ancients (which in this version would a branch of humanity, think the Ancients in Stargate) moved them off-world and they eventually came to create their own empires after that.

    You also have creatures like the Darrians and Florians and other minors that are genetically modified humans. Those could still have a place in a Traveller without aliens, depending on what you’d like. The Darrians are bit too much “space elves” for my taste, at least aesthetically, but you could very well change their appearance for your Traveller universe, like you could with any other “minor human race”. Likewise you could put humanoid robots in your campaign still (which would be quite in line with Aasimov), or if you want to dip a bit into cyberpunk/The Culture territory just disembodied AI in a computer (the ship’s, for instance), interacting with the world through drones and machinery. There’d still be plenty of room for characters that are not “just” regular Homo sapiens.

    But I digress. I have to join voices with the above poster who said that Traveller without the rubber mask aliens simply isn’t Traveller. I dunno if I’d go that far, but the Third Imperium without them certainly is a different beast from the published setting. That said though Traveller is actually a generic space sci fi game, and the Third Imperium is just a suggestion for a setting. You can and should feel free to entirely disregard it if it isn’t to your tastes.

    I know that in my current Traveller campaign I frequently ignore Third Imperium canon in many regards, and the way I currently play it no player character is an alien (I let the player’s roll on a table, they all rolled “Human, Imperial”) and aliens usually show up only as colourful NPC’s that frankly could just as well be quirky humans. I don’t think you lose any actual substance by removing the aliens. There is no reason why there couldn’t be an interstellar human empire that has the same values and culture as for example the Aslan. Like fantasy RPG races the Vargr and Aslan, and to some extent the Hivers or even the K’Kree (not so sure about the Droyne), represent not something actually alien or inhuman but rather different aspects of human nature. The Aslan are super-sexist, expansionistic warmongers obsessed with acquiring territory. That accurately could describe several historical human cultures to various extents. Likewise, the Vargr are tribal and disorganised and almost “cultish” in their dedication to certain charismatic individuals, some of whom can go quite far and become quite powerful. That could also be a human culture. Hell, both of those races don’t just reflect aspects of human nature: they also reflect aspects of feudal societies, of which the Imperium also is one. That theme is really strong in the Third Imperium setting, and it doesn’t actually require aliens to still be present. You could replace them with other human space empires or culture with different societal focuses than the Vilani/Solomani ones and really you wouldn’t lose that much in the way of substance in the setting. The Imperium would still have its “alien” (in mindset if not physiology) barbarians at the gates, and you would still have the opportunity for players to be something different and strange. Functionally it’d be the same. The Zhodani don’t need to actually be aliens to be alien, so why would any of the other cultures in the setting? (Of course, if you want your Traveller to be hard sci fi you may want to remove psionics as well, but that’s a whole other topic.)

    It’s just a question of flavour in my mind. I don’t think you lose that much really by not having aliens around thematically speaking, but on the other hand I still feel like at that point you wouldn’t be playing in the Third Imperium setting and you’d be better off creating your own (perhaps quite similar) setting from the ground up. Part of the charm of the Third Imperium setting to me is the way it feels so “dated” and almost nostalgic partially because of its rubber mask aliens. It reflects a different era of sci fi, like Star Without Number reflects a more modern take on the genre which is more dystopic and less willing to go soft on its science for the sake of cool. If the Third Imperium is a bit like Star Trek than SWN is like Battlestar Galactica: two different branches of the same setting reflecting different zeitgeists. I’m ok with my Traveller reflecting a take on the genre that is a bit outdated and archaic, but it’s perfectly understandable if that is not to your liking and in that case you should feel free to make it your own. I’m just not sure why you’d still want to call it the Third Imperium at that point, and not something else that is entirely different.

  6. Sure, it shouldn’t be too hard to run Traveller without aliens (even if I like them as a classic space opera fan). You could use existing aliens as variant human cultures, transhumans, and/or “Uplifted” subspecies. I’m a big fan of Stars Without Number, and I’ve enjoyed perusing both T20 and Mongoose Traveller.

  7. I play in my own TU, with the CT rules, and I have no aliens. I’m not opposed to the possibility of having them; I just don’t see that I need them to make Traveller work. I wrote a post series a while back analyzing the setting assumptions of Traveller, from before the 3rd Imperium came along. Aliens are possible, but their definition and behavior is entirely up to the referee – in short, there are no rules for building aliens. Have ’em if you want ’em, otherwise not.

    For my game, humans cause enough problems to keep adventurers busy. My TU is a collection of smaller star nations and empires, with emphasis more on galactic politics than alien encounters.

    I cannot concur with your assessment of the canon alien races as ‘rubber suit’ aliens – the Vargr have dog’s pack mentality and the K’Kree are agoraphobic militant vegetarians. It’s not their physiology that makes them alien to humans, it’s the way they think.

    Just for flavor, I’ve described some uplifted animal species as non-human NPCs in my TU, but even so I haven’t used them that much.

  8. I have run Traveller as a GM off and on since the 80’s and to be honest, the presence of Aliens per se in the game has never really been an issue, except for Vargr, people can understand a Vargr and some people can actually play one in a convincingly not human way. The downside is that person HAS to be not just a dog lover but someone who can understand how an uplifted wolf could think. My most memorable Aliens have always bee Vargr, just because they are “almost” familiar enough!
    On the flipside, I am going to start running a new game eventually in a sector far to RIMWARD in a pocket empire, a place the Ramshackle Empire never finished exploring before the long night and never went back to. A place where there is an emerging interstellar empire, getting ready to encounter uplifted apes. (No, I could NOT resist after seeing the latest apes movie 😎 And for general reasons that are only mildly consistent, I will be using TNE rules for characters and combat and vehicles.

  9. I’m old enough (50 , 51 in April ) and have been playing Traveller long enough to be more than a little amused at the Posts title . I started playing Traveller in 1978 — there weren’t any aliens and there was no third imperium . It was the best game representation of the science Fiction that fired up my generation ; elegant in its presentation ( except personal combat ) and expansive in its scope .you could do anything with it . Including make your own aliens if you wanted to . The first hint of aliens didn’t appear until 1980 ( I was 14 !!) the first alien module , Aslan , came out in 1984 , 7 years after Traveller was published . While mongoose may miss the boat in some areas , they are spot on in their recognition of the underlying fact that gives Traveller the legs it has . It’s a science fiction gaming toolkit , the OTU is just one expression of those tools put to good use.

  10. You don’t *need* the aliens in Traveller to make it work, but I like them. I like the Aslan on the border, waiting to invade. I like the crazy Vargr. I mostly like the pacifistic Hivers and their penchant for curiosity and manipulation. You can go either way and you win.

  11. Having read through all of the comments so far (I think), I’ll try not to repeat any of them except where necessary to my own ideas of aliens in Traveller.

    The OTU, the Third Imperium, was first proposed as a campaign setting to provide a unified background for Traveller adventures in a feature article by Marc Miller and Frank Chadwick in Different Worlds, Aug-Sep, 1980 (first map of Charted Space as well). The OTU would not work without its nonhuman sophont Major Races, and would be much poorer without some of the minor races such as the Bwaps, Vegans, and Virushi. Played well as PCs or especially NPCs, none of these have to be humans in rubber suits.

    I have a couple of variant Alternate Traveller Universes (ATUs). Well, enough variation that they really push the limits of ATUs: no Jump Drive, completely different interstellar politics and history. In one, humans are the dominant starfaring sophont species, although they’ve encountered a double handful of nonhuman sophont species of varying technological advancements (think H.Beam Piper’s Federation, or the RPG 2300AD). In my other ATU, nonhumans are a much bigger part of the overall picture, both as major starfaring powers and as species who’ve never left their home planet/system and may not even be aware of anything else (think of Keith Laumer’s Retief, Poul Anderson’s Trader stories, and the Schlock Mercenary webcomic).

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