On the Citizens of the Imperium forums I stumbled upon a thread about a very cool idea how to run Traveller. It’s called Proto-Traveller and refers to a campaign mostly based on the material released in the original Traveller rulebook and just a few supplements.

The OTU is huge, pretty complex, and somewhat overwhelming – especially for new players. So why not reduce it to the basics? In a Proto-Traveller campaign there are no capital starships, the various star empires (including the Imperium) are much smaller, the focus is on frontier opportunities. There are even Proto-Traveller concepts which are even more minimalistic. Some people just use stuff from the core rulebook which means there’s only the Regina subsector.

I was never someone who follows rules – especially in RPGs – that slavishly. So if I ever run a Proto-Traveller campaign I doubt I’ll follow what was written in the abovementioned thread to the letter. I would probably use Mongoose Traveller instead of Classic Traveller anyway. But the idea of a smaller Traveller universe with only small spaceships and small pocket empires is extremely tempting. Using this premise you can probably get people to play Traveller much easier than to scare them away with endless amounts of lore.

What do you think? Would you play in a Proto-Traveller-ish campaign, or do you prefer to go all out? Please share your thoughts 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.

10 thoughts on “Proto-Traveller”

  1. I like the idea of a proto-“Traveller.” Smaller-scale scenarios focus on the characters and gradually builds out the setting. It also helps limit what some role-players might or might not know about the Traveller universe.

    I’ve been thinking about similar sandbox-style adventures for my next D&D5e adventuring party in my homebrew campaign world.

  2. I like the idea of pocket empires against big ennemies. For this reason i prefered the Space Opera setting

  3. I like the idea myself, a small compact Traveller Universe that you grow a bit in play. Lots of room for customization, small organizations that are struggling to exist, and so on.

  4. I like to start small, and slowly reveal a larger picture to the players. I usually have at least a vague idea of the larger picture for myself … but I don’t really reveal it to the players. It lets them start out with a “small setting” that doesn’t overwhelm them … but feels less ad-hoc as the campaign progresses, because everything already fits together in the bigger picture.

    For example, due to a previous thread here, I’m looking at a setting based on the Virga setting (large bubble of air with small rings and asteriods inside, and an artificial star … only mine is more fantasy based and less steampunk … but also a lot of techno-fantasy elements that make it sort of half fantasy half space opera).

    In my four, there are four small planetoids around the artificial star. About the size of our moon. They have earth-like gravity near the surface, but quickly drop off to micro-gravity … keeping them from pulling the atmosphere out of the rest of the bubble. The players will start off in a standard-ish fantasy game on one of the planetoids … which will eventually lead to dealing with an invading undead army. That part will seem a lot like elements from The Mutant Chronicles (Dark Symmetry Citadel near one of the poles, which is a landing point for the Dark Legion). That gets them “off planet” as they try to track the Dark Legion to it’s source. That will get them exploring the bubble a little bit … which will eventually lead them to one of several interface points along the inner surface of the bubble… one of which has been taken over by the Dark Legion. That will get them outside of the bubble, and into a setting that is more like a cross between Warhammer40k and The Mutant Chronicles (and probably some hints of Star Wars) … so they will have gone from strong Fantasy, to Fantasy with hints of Space Opera, to Space Opera with hints of Fantasy.

    The last stage is still rather vague in my head … it doesn’t need any fleshing out right now, as long as I have the broad strokes in place. But having it all in mind lets me start with that feel of a small introductory setting, that slowly evolves itself into a more grand setting.

    So, my answer is: I like a hybrid between the two, but not in a way that reads like “a medium size setting”. I like a setting that at any stage feels small and new. But, every time you think you’ve pushed to the edge of the current setting, you find out it’s actually a small piece of something much bigger … and that was designed from the beginning to have all of those pieces fit together sensibly.

    1. One thing: I previously ran a game set in a dyson sphere, that started out fantasy, but wound up being post-apocalyptic sci-fi … plus magic. Some people get defensive about being thrown into a game where the genre isn’t what they were told up front. I tend to think “know your audience, and you’ll know if you can get away with that, or not”.

      That said, the game I plan to run in the future will have elements of Space Opera, but it probably wont ever be flat out sci-fi space opera. I don’t expect to have ray guns, power armor, and rocket ships. It will be more subtle than that, and keep the fantasy trappings. In fact, while I said the third stage might have a feel like WH40k, MC, and SW … it may actually feel a lot more like Spelljammer, with elements borrowed from WH40k, MC, and SW.

  5. I’ve used a semi-OTU (aka “OTU+”) for years but recently decided that when I start playing that game again I’m going with a much more ProtoTraveller version of the game for MTU. As a long-time and heavily invested collector of Traveller, I’ll always love the OTU, but it has just gotten to hard to run the sorts of games I love in it.


  6. I’m an OTU guy. I don’t often use capital ships other than as window dressing, but I like the big story. I like extrapolating on canonical information and taking minimal info (like a UWP) and building it into an interesting concept within the OTU framework.

    Two main reasons for all this:
    1. It makes me feel like I’m collaborating with someone on a story, which is something I enjoy doing. Heck, RPing is collaborating on a story.
    2. I like the fantasy that my players’ characters exist in a universe in which other referees’ players also exist. Even though it’ll never happen, I like the idea that a crossover could happen or that their stories are merely alternate timelines from my own. It gives it a meta feel that I enjoy.

    I would do a proto-Traveller story, but only because I wanted to have the frontiersy backwater feel. Somewhere in the distance, capital ships, alien races, and huge empires would loom even if they never would appear “on screen” in my story.

  7. I remember the various Proto-Traveller discussions on CotI, but somehow reading your article above has just inspired a new ATU idea in my head: it’s Proto-Traveller for the humans because they’re just at the beginning of their interstellar exploration and colonization, but there are older (some much older) nonhuman civilizations out there, too. So exploration is still a Thing, because humans haven’t explored very much and nonhumans don’t just give that kind of information away for free, and there is not a huge amount of background lore for new players to learn in order to fit in, for the same reason: the huge galactic history is there, but humans don’t know much of it, and learning new stuff is part of the game.

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