Traveller: OTU, MTU, or something completely different?

When running Traveller you basically have these options:

  1. You can run a game set into the Official Traveller Universe (OTU), which is the so-called Charted Space in the official timeline.
  2. You can make the setting your own, by changing things around, introduce new elements, but basically keep the Universe intact. This is what people usually call MTU or My Traveller Universe.
  3. You use Traveller as a generic SF roleplaying game and use whatever universe comes to mind – from your own creations to settings from books, movies etc.

Each of these options come with its own problems and advantages. Going OTU is probably the easiest and best supported way to do things. Mongoose also opened up another route, which is using their Traveller ruleset to run games set in other settings supported by them. They ported 2300 AD to their Traveller ruleset, there’s a Judge Dredd setting for Traveller, and they even released a Babylon 5 sourcebook.

I guess most people use the OTU as a basis for their own creations. You can easily create your own subsector and insert this into Charted Space whereever you wish. Or you want to play in the OTU but without any alien races. That’s actually pretty easily done. Overall I guess this approach is what works best with Traveller. You just use the parts from the OTU you like and remove the parts you don’t like. As long as you don’t mess with the basic assumptions like the way the Jumpdrive works and that there’s no FTL radio, things should be fine. Heck, as long as these basic tropes are untouched you can pretty much replace all of Charted Space with your own creations and things should be working smoothly.

But when you want to use Traveller for vastly different settings more heavy hauling is needed. The careers, skills, equipment etc. were all designed with a certain gameplay and universe in mind. Adopting other SF settings to Traveller should work pretty well, as long as you don’t mind some handwaving. I can easily imagine people using Traveller rules regardless of edition for Star Wars, Mass Effect, and other space opera settings. Some issues may arise if you have extremely huge spaceships like in the Perry Rhodan universe where spheroid ships of over 2 kilometers diameter are pretty common.  I really don’t want to build something like this using any of the ship design systems.

But in general Traveller works pretty well as a generic SF roleplaying game. Still I have the impression that most people stick pretty close to the OTU. Is there a reason for this, or is my perspective skewed? What I want to ask of the Traveller players and referees among my readers is to share their thoughts on the subject. Tell us about your Traveller universes. What type of games have you used Traveller for? Is it as versatile as I think, or should one stick to the OTU? 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.

2 thoughts on “Traveller: OTU, MTU, or something completely different?”

  1. Following COTI, I’m not sure anymore how much the OTU is a “default” for Traveller players – or if it is mainly by a slim majority. It’s also hard to tell when OTU ends and a MTU begins in some cases…

    I’ve been playing Traveller since the early 80’s and for much of that time I used the OTU or a MTU that was deeply drawn from the OTU, plus other sources. Recently I’ve kind of given up on the OTU because of the multiple conflicting versions and, ironically, the depth and breadth of the canon (which makes it inaccessible and/or unattractive for many of my newer players). I also started thinking back to my early days of playing Traveller, what I like about Traveller, and am thinking and building a more ProtoTraveller setting for the next time I run the game.

    But that said, Traveller is pretty versatile, and the CT/MT/MgT versions of the game are simple enough to modify pretty easily. Look hard enough and there is a set of fantasy rules using the engine – a “what if OD&D” had been written by MM kind of exploration.

    Things I’ve done:

    -OTU mixed with WH40K: Emperor on the Gold Throne, Space Marine Legions, the Prince-Regent is a regularly re-cloned version of Cleon.

    -OTU but the Zhodani are actually time-travelled descendants of psychics who fled the psionic suppressions.

    -OTU with multiple genegineered human races (the Exotics)

    -OTU with Star Wars expanded universe Katana Fleet and rogue AI’s ala the DKM’s Continuing Time universe.

    -OTU plus Babylon-5 and Stargate gate technology.

    The biggest area of tweaking (in my experience) has been psionics. The canon Traveller rules clearly want them to be a side dish not a main course, so if you want a more psychic-heavy games you probably need to tweak them (the MgT Psion book is pretty good in the regard).

    The other weak part of the rules (more reflective of the time it was written) is the general lack of rules for cybernetics or biohacking. Again, MgT has a solution for this that is relatively easy to access (strict CT or MT and you need access to old JTAS or TD articles).

    The Perry Rhodan, Babylon-5, or Death Star scale ships or structures are generally better used/conceived of as environments than “ships” in a Traveller game.

    Take care!


  2. Apropos Megatraveller. Do you know of a simpler alternative to the MT combat system? MT looks like a great improvement about CT (which I love) but the combat mechanics are way too weird for my tastes. You seem to know quite a bit about all things Traveller, so perhaps you can recommend something.

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