Traveller Troubles

Recently my interest in all things Traveller got a huge boost since we finally managed to get a long-planned Traveller campaign off the starting blocks. My friend Helge will be running and we assembled six players excited to experience “The Long Night” first-hand.

Classic Traveller was actually the first RPG I bought back in the early ‘90s. For some reason I got the german translation of the original Traveller rules and not Megatraveller. As far as I remember I ran it once or twice, but I faintly remember that we were not too happy with the rules and so we moved on. Years later I eventually picked up Traveller: The New Era, but alas I was unable to excite my friends enough to actually get a campaign up and running.

Going Classic?
A couple of days ago, I have been thinking about running a Traveller campaign again, and started by looking at all the various Traveller rulebooks available to me. I own a lot of Classic Traveller material, because of the two Classic Traveller Bundle of Holding sales ran in 2014. If you want to go old-school Classic Traveller is the way to go! Even though the character creation is kind of quirky (yes, dying during character creation really is a thing), it still works great as a system. What I don’t like about CT is the combat system. In CT armor makes you harder to hit just like in old-school D&D. In D&D I don’t mind this that much, but in Traveller it just feels wrong somehow. I also don’t like the high lethality of CT’s combat. So I continued looking.

Everything with MEGA in its name must be better!
After leafing through a couple of CT books I decided to give Megatraveller a closer look. I own two of the three core rulebooks in print but I haven’t had the time to properly read them yet. I quickly realized that MT was an improvement over CT. The new task system was perhaps a bit too detailed in certain spots, but overall it should make running the game much, much easier.

Unfortunately the combat system is another let down. They actually fixed my complaint about how the armor works but by doing so they made the combat rules way too detailed. The armor penetration of each weapon is dependent on the distance from the target. Yes, it is THAT detailed. And for some reason there are basically two damage systems in the game. First you sum up the static damage caused by the weapons, and after combat, you convert the damage points into damage dice which are applied to the attributes as in CT. In my opinion this overcomplicates things. Sure, I could probably simplify the combat rules, or just use different ones, but I just don’t want to do this at the moment. So I moved on.

Marc Miller’s Travelller and T5
Before we have a look at New Era, let’s talk about T4 and T5 first. At first glance T4 doesn’t look too bad. Unfortunately it uses a core mechanic which is almost unplayable … at least to me. The roll high mechanics of the older editions have been replaced by a weird roll under mechanic, in which you roll more dice the harder the task gets. On its own this wouldn’t be too bad, but alas the game also uses half-dice, which means you sometimes have to roll 2.5D or something like that. Sorry, I am not touching this with a 10-foot-pole…

T5 or Traveller 5 is the most recent edition and it consists of a massive 500+ pages tome, which was called by many Traveller fans as totally unplayable. I haven’t read it yet, but I am also not sure if I really want to read 500+ pages of pure rules. As you probably know, I prefer lighter fare.

A New Era
After dismissing T4 and T5 outright, I took a look at Traveller: The New Era, or TNE. It’s probably the most hated edition of Traveller. Back in the day, GDW, Traveller’s publisher decided to not only replace the Traveller rules system with their house system, but also destroyed the Third Imperium. The implied setting in CT was the so-called Third Imperium consisting of about 10,000 worlds mostly dominated by humanity.

Megatraveller had a metaplot in which the emperor was killed and the Imperium broke into about a dozen factions fighting amongst themselves. A lot of people didn’t like the new setting and were even more appaled when GDW later decided to introduce The Virus. The Virus was basically a sentient computer virus escaped from a lab which infected almost every computer in the Imperium and caused massive destruction. Interstellar travel came almost to a standstill, many worlds fell back to a pre-stellar state, and just a few years after the first outbreak the Imperium was no more.

The TNE core book heavily implied the player characters should be members of the so-called Star Vikings, a group of humans trying to restore order and to rebuild human civilization under guidance of the Hivers. If you have ever read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation books, you probably can guess where GDW got the inspiration.

I am a bit torn about the whole Virus thing myself. One the one hand I like the scenario a lot. It reminds me a bit of “The Long Night” between the 2nd and 3rd imperium and is probably a great time and place to run adventures in. On the other hand the way the Virus is supposed to work is a bit unrealistic. But computer technology was always a bit quirky in Traveller.

Rules-wise TNE doesn’t actually look that bad to me. True, the system used is very different from previous editions, and it’s definitely more combat-focused, but that doesn’t make it a bad system. It’s also a bit more crunchy than CT or Megatraveller. From what I’ve seen so far it should also be very easy to use TNE to run campaigns in other eras or any Traveller setting of one’s own design.

Why not Mongoose Traveller?
If you want to play a current edition of Traveller you have the choice between T5 and the Traveller rules created by Mongoose Publishing. MgT, as it is usually called, is actually pretty close to CT, but more streamlined and slightly modernized. They also recently released a 2nd edition which actually looks very good. Unfortunately Mongoose products are usually pretty expensive, have pretty bad editing, and I am not too fond of Mongoose’ business practices. Recently they pretty much threw all the 3rd party publishers under their bus when they joined DriveThruRPG’s  Community Content program. Explaining what happened back then is definitely beyond the scope of this article, but suffice to say, it lessened my willingness to invest into their 2nd edition of MgT. So I decided to give the old editions of Traveller a chance, especially since they are easily available on CD-ROM from Far Future Enterprises, Marc Miller’s current company.

T20, GURPS Traveller etc.
From what I’ve heard Traveller20 (using rules based on WotC’s d20 System) and GURPS Traveller are considered good alternatives. I played a lot of D&D 3.0 and 3.5 back in the day and back then I’d jumped at the opportunity to play or run a T20 game. But nowadays it’s just not what I am looking for. GURPS on the other hand is a game I always admired but found it too crunchy for my tastes. Sure, you could run it almost as a rules-light game, if so desired, but for me the amount of options available always causes severe option paralysis. TNE’s system for example feels much more managable to me. In the game run by my friend Helge we’re actually using none of the games I mentioned above but a variant of the Basic Roleplaying System (BRP). It’s definitely a viable alternative, but I intended to run one of the official Traveller games and if possible RAW (rules-as-written).

After looking at the different Traveller games available TNE looks like the best choice for me right now. It sure has its quirks, but it looks solid enough. It provides players with a lot of options out of the box. The number of available careers is definitely higher than in CT and it doesn’t rely on tables that much. From what I’ve read on various forums and blogs it’s not as deadly as the other editions of Traveller and allows a slightly more cinematic gameplay. I also have a soft spot for the New Era setting. I am not sure if I would go with a Star Viking campaign, but creating my own sector including a small number of struggling pocket empires as a sandbox for my players sounds like a lot of fun.

Has anyone of you already run Traveller: The New era? Then please share your thoughts below. If you know of articles about the game or tips about campaign creation for Traveller, feel free to post the links in the comment section!

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.

18 thoughts on “Traveller Troubles”

  1. Honestly TTNE is a hot mess and I would go there at all. MgT is very good tbh and I’d say that dispite the bad it’s well worth it otherwise. The Cephestus rules are a clone rule which I’d check out if I were you it’s a reworking of CT and quite fine for that.

    For old school feel I’d also highly recommend;
    Stellar Wind rule set dispite the cringe worthy 3D art it’s actually a soild set of rules in a very Traveller play style way.
    Stars With out Numbers, actually plays quite a bit like Traveller too
    Thousand suns too is ok
    Mindjammer gives a really, solid Traveler like experience too and thy actually have a Traveller rules version coming if you don’t want to use Fate.
    Finally Firefly cortex+ rules will give you quite the traveller game too and we had a surprisingly good game of Traveller set in the Imperium using these rules.
    Uncharted Worlds is a good PbTA Traveller Synthesis – highly recommended.
    M-Space is Traveller via Mythras and is pretty damn slick tbh.

    I feel your desire to run Traveller. I come back to it every few years and nearly always settle on CT because in the end it’s just a little simple rule set, which powers your cool space opera story.

  2. TNE is a perfectly usable system, though I’d note that the space combat system is the most complicated for any version of Traveller. It’s certainly usable for other Traveller periods, and last time I played with it was in the Interstellar Wars period (with the GURPS: IW background).

    I would suggest using your own subsector/sector if you want to use the original time period. I’ve run a couple of games that way. What made it interesting was that the players were effectively creating a policy as they went along, since the systems they came from were set up to be just restarting efforts to explore further. With only a couple of ships they were going out without backup as well. There were plenty of options for things other than combat – helping a barely-surviving colony repair its decaying life support equipment, repairing an old A2, resolving a medical emergency – which has always been my players preferred type of Traveller.

  3. TNE is great but complex.
    I propose you “Uncharted Worlds” a pbta game centered on characters, their ship, the factions and links, debts and obligations between characters and factions.
    Simple System, ideal for Firefly/Traveller type game.

    1. I gave Uncharted Worlds a look, but alas I just can’t wrap my head around some of the concepts in “Powered by the Apocalypse” games. TNE may be a bit crunchier than most of the games I enjoy, but I can at least understand it.

  4. Yeah, the “problem” with TNE is that converting any other Traveller content is going to be a PITA. The other major complaint is that ultimately, rules-wise and flavor-wise, it doesn’t really “feel” like Traveller – and the science behind the mechanics is often at odds with every other edition of the game.

    TNE might actually be the only set of the rules for Traveller that I pitched, though I have a handful of the supplements still in my library.

    There is probably still floating around the MgT SRD for their 1E, it’s probably the nicest of the systems out there. I’ve sworn off buying anything MgT 2E – mostly because I’m tired of paying for the same material over and over again. T5 has some nice pieces, but overall is a hot mess.


    1. It’s not actually that hard to convert – Survival Margin I think is the product with the conversion information from MT/CT to TNE, and I’ve been able to do the conversion in my head when I’m currently using the rules and have them in mind. Of course it’s not, rules-wise, particularly similar.
      As for flavour, TNE is a post-apocalyptic setting unlike anything in other editions. I’d hope that it would have a different feel. That does make it hard to use the same adventures and the setting material from other editions, although playing in other eras with the TNE rules doesn’t seem too hard.

      1. LOL – Yes, Survival Margin would be the supplement, and I’ll blame my aged memory of the few times I played TNE back when it first came out. That said, in recent years I’ve run more Traveller using the Cyberpunk 2020 engine than any of the Traveller engines…


          1. So, in general I like the CP2020 framework for combat, for task resolution, for cybernetics, and even (with some reservations) for Netrunning. It’s a pretty simple to understand mechanic that most players don’t need a ton of coaching around.

            In adapting it to Traveller people would pick their Role, and then overlay the Lifepath generation on top of the advanced character generation rules. This created incredibly rich backstories for each of the characters that I would flesh out considerably so as to provide plenty of story hooks and verisimilitude. Skills were generated using a combination of Traveller table-rolling and CP2020 point allocation. I tried a couple of different ways of doing it over the years.

            Pretty much CP2020, with the addition of a couple of skills, worked just fine. It certainly had a more operatic style (due to Roles) but at the same time kept that gritty “life is cheap” feeling because both rules sets are lethal in combat.


  5. Re PbTA & Uncharted Worlds; Sean has done a fair job with the game. I’m not a fan of the way chargen involves mixing three careers to make up a playbook. I get it, I just want the clean PbTA iconic template rout – Sean’s aproach works fine. That said during play of a PbTA game you play like any other rpg, favouring the narative. Following your blogging for a while now, I’d say this actually would fit your playing style fairly well – so during the game when something comes up that makes you think “hum how should this turn out” you go with what’s been said in game then find the move that most closely equates to what’s been said and has been happening in the narration. Not the other way around! This is where I see the most mistakes with PbtA. Its not a menue that controls your aproach to the game, so to speak … It’s a set of …algorithms you use after you’ve spoken your intention in game, to see how things will turn out. So the game narration is going along and that thing comes up where you think “hang on there” the Players – and only the players – pick up the dice and roll and you use the 10+,9-7,6 or less, break points from the move that best equates to the stated narative, fitting it with the most appropriate “move” which will alow you to game that narrative; the move gives its inputs to the game narative, the things continue to happen with new wrinkles in the game and thing play on. It’s cool. You’d get it dead easy actually – it’s a great alternative way to play ( as opposed to strictly simulation rules). There’s a good reason it’s popular, it just works, it’s really easy and it makes the game sing in all the right ways as you all play; and yet it feels much less mechanistic than FATE and much more like a traditional rpg experience.

    I’d say gather for a one shot of UW and see how it works for you, I think you will be surprised if you just play it the same way you normally play any rpg and just reference the “move” to get rules for what you already know is happening – it’s crazy fun actually. Just remember don’t you as the GM roll dice, and don’t let anyone use the moves as a menue in a frontloaded maner. You never go “_I launch an assult_” you instead say ” so I’m sick of listening to this local so called big shot shooting off his mouth and trying to intimidate us or whatever? So I lash out at him kicking his knee and as he buckles I punch him in the throat” you ” whoa that sounds like your making a move roll it! Look up the results using _launch assult_”. So tell the game narative and then backload the algorithm to resolve the situation. That’s the hardest part of PbtA actually just groking that’s it’s not a menue via which you play but that it powers or enables play they are a step removed.

    As to TNE – I think the only thing that worked against it at the time was the Vampire virus which was an idea ahead of its time, looking back it’s actually a totally ok conceit, the grognards did a lot of jumping up and down for nothing. GDW need to listen to its audience though and should have not gone that way. It was all a bit of a shame really. The other key problem with TNE is it’s a bit wonky in places – the combat is possibly the cleanest part of the rules (lol) but even that has its issues. The rules being a version of what became the defacto house rule set for GDW means you can draw in bits from its sister games should you want.

    Tbh – if the only hold back for CT is the to-hit calculations then that’s a small complaint easy managed by small hacks of the rules.

  6. I ran one TNE campaign: a mercenary campaign based in Deneb sector of “The Regency.” I never got into the Reformation Coalition setting. Something about it stunk of betrayal to the OTU to me.

    I found the rules a bit cumbersome but my players really loved it. A few of them were big fans of Fire, Fusion & Steel, the TNE tech design system. It was kind of fun to tinker around with, enabling you to create everything from experimental TL16 starships, to vehicles, to guns, to a suit of battle dress. It was flawed, but the online community provided errata faster than GDW did. In addition, one of my players was a big “rules lawyer,” so any time something was unclear to me, he jumped right in and made sure we did things by the rules. Some refs might find this irritating, but I found it refreshing that I could concentrate on the story and leave rules issues to the players.

    In the end, that merc campaign was probably the most enjoyable Traveller campaign for my players. They still talk about it and reminisce about their battlefield achievements. But I think it was more the scenario they enjoyed than the rules we used.

    TNE was fine, but a simpler game system like CT or Mongoose Trav 2nd edition is better. I’m currently using the latter and I love it!

  7. FYI, since Marc Miller is a fan of H.Beam Piper and even included the Sword Worlds (by name, at least) in the Spinward Marches, I’d say another fairly obvious inspiration for Star Vikings trying to restore civilization must be Piper’s novel Space Viking. If somehow you’ve missed out on this and other works of Piper’s Terro-Human Future History, you’re in for a treat. Through some twist in copyright law, most of Piper’s books, including Space Viking, are available for free from the Gutenberg Project. Other favorites of mine include Uller Uprising, Four-Day Planet, and Omnilingual (novella).

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