Is SWN The Better Traveller?

Yes, the title is a bit clickbait-y, but this is actually a pretty good question. In my recent Traveller post I was looking at the various Traveller editions available and I gave my reasons why I eventually picked TNE as the game I want to run.

If you have been living under a rock in the last few years you might have missed Stars Without Number, Kevin Crawford’s science-fiction roleplaying game. The title quickly catapulted Kevin’s Sine Nomine Publishing into the limelight and now he and his company are pretty much household names, especially if you are interested in everything OSR. In SWN Kevin did something very clever. He combined the combat mechanics of old-school D&D with a Traveller-inspired skill system, and a lot of material for GMs to create sandbox games. SWN is pretty close to perfect, especially considering that it’s digitally available for the low price of nothing. Yep, it’s a complete old-school SF RPG for free. Of course you can also get it in print, and there are quite a few supplements available, which are very high quality.

The setting reminds me a bit of Traveller’s New Era, but instead of a sentient computer virus it was a psychic phenomenon which severed the links between the countless human colonies in space. But instead of using the implied setting you can easily replace it by your own or use another published setting. The rules are simple and flexible enough that you can easily use SWN for any kind of RPG set into a far future. So it’s no surprise that people have used it successfully to run games set into Traveller’s Third Imperium. Sure, you might have to use the ship construction rules to build starships fitting the OTU, but all the pieces are already there – no heavy lifting is needed.

There are only a few things which bother me. Some of these things are actually directly related to the fact that SWN was heavily influenced by certain editions of D&D. SWN uses three classes, one of which is the Adept, a person having psi abilities like telekinesis, telepathy, etc. In a Third Imperium game, where psionic abilities are rare and often illegal, the Adept class might not be as useful as the other two.

The D&D-like combat system uses descending armor classes (the lower the AC the better) which was common with the early editions of D&D, but more modern versions and even most retro-clones use ascending ACs instead – or at least offer them as an alternative. Not that SWN’s system is unplayable, but some gamers might find it unintuitive.

SWN’s great strength on the other hand are the tools for building a sandbox campaign. Even if you are not actually interested in using the rest of the rules, the GM section of SWN is definitely worth a look. You quickly need a faction, planet, etc. in your game. In most cases SWN has a generator suited for the task. The advice on how to run sandbox games is also very helpful and definitly worth a read.

So is SWN the better Traveller? It depends. If you want to play in the Third Imperium it might actually be easier to just use Classic Traveller instead – or Mongoose Traveller if you are looking for a currently supported system. If you want to run a game like Traveller but you are more comfortable with OD&D-style combat, SWN might be a great alternative. Regardless of your decision, SWN’s sandboxing tools and GM advice are useful in any SF game!

By the way, this is definitely not the last Traveller-themed post here on Stargazer’s World. I still have a few posts up my sleeve and there might even be a couple of surprises for you, so stay tuned!

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.

7 thoughts on “Is SWN The Better Traveller?”

  1. I certainly wouldn’t say that SWN is a better Traveller than Traveller- Traveller is its own game with its own mechanics and styles, and the things it offers in character creation and the Third Imperium are things that SWN doesn’t provide.

    The revised edition of SWN I’m working on right now is classless and uses ascending AC, however, so that might be more palatable to some players.

    1. As I said myself, the title is a bit clickbaity. 😉
      But what you’re saying about a revised edition of SWN really intrigues me. Is there an ETA for this new edition?

      1. I’ve tentatively got the Kickstarter planned for June, and will be dropping bits and pieces in the G+ group as I work things out. The general idea is a revision that’s back-compatible but cleans up the book, adds more content, and offers some more options.

    1. The Cepheus Engine since its based on Mongoose Traveller, is definitely a good choice. If you have read my post you’ll have noticed that I didn’t say that SWN is actually a better Traveller than Traveller, but it has a lot to offer for Traveller players or people looking for a similar experience with a more D&D-like ruleset.

      Just one more thing: what is so OSR about Cepheus? It’s based on MgT, which is not really that old-school considering that they modernized CT quite a bit. Just sayin’…

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