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!