In My Traveller Universe: Near Space

One of my favorite sourcebooks for Traveller and the Cepheus System is definitely Stellagama Publishing’s Near Space. It’s a small booklet containing maps and stats for the stellar systems in the vicinity of our solar system based on current astronomical data. If you plan to run a game in the “near” future focused on exploring our stellar neighborhood, you can either do the heavy hauling yourself or just rely on the great work.

These days I am thinking a lot of the Traveller universe, games I’d love to run, and the Cepheus Engine especially in its “Light” variant. One of the campaign ideas I had was one about an early human star ships on a – let’s say – five year mission to explore the Milky Way. Starting from the solar system the ship and its crew would venture out into the unknown, finding strange new worlds, investigating mysteries, facing dangers, and all that jazz.

But if you want to rely on “Traveller-esque” rules and keep the “early space exploration” premise, you quickly run into issues. Even our nearest neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is more than one parsec away from our solar system which means that Jump-1 drives can’t reach it. The authors of Near Space solved these issues by introducing a number of objects from the “Hypothetical Star Chart”, which help fill these gaps. The objects on this chart are all hypothetical brown or red dwarfs which could plausibly exist in these places without us being able to easily detect them nowadays.

If you prefer to keep things scientifically accurate, you face the problem that you need Jump-2 capability before humanity wants to read its nearest neighbor. Of course one could easily replace the standard Jump drive with another FTL method, but that’s something I’d like to avoid at the moment.

For my campaign, I’d like to keep things as simple as possible. I intend to use the CE Light rules as written, without too many tweaks and hacks. In my version of the near future, humanity is mostly united (at least when it comes to space exploration) and has reached a tech level equivalent to 9 with some level 10 prototypes thrown in. I was considering replacing the Jump drive by something inspired by the Alcubierre drive, but decided against it. Instead I’ll make use of the hypothetical stellar objects proposed by Near Space.

The focus of the campaign should be exploration. But there should also be political intrigue, and some conflicts. Such a huge undertaking like a multi-year expedition to our stellar neighborhood is probably controversial. There might be groups on Earth who are vehemently against it out of numerous reasons. Such a group could – for example – try to sabotage the mission.

The huge question still unanswered is whether I want to introduce alien species or not. First contact could be extremely exciting with the player characters trying to figure out how to overcome the communication barrier. Alternatively the lack of alien life could be intriguing also. “Where is everyone?” could easily be the central question. Perhaps something or someone wiped out all technologically advanced species and humanity just shouted a loud “hello” into the void by developing their first jump drives. The best approach is probably to have both. There are some alien species, but there are also signs of extinct alien civilizations with planets littered with ruins, derelict fleets in space, but no indications what actually happened to them. Everyone loves a good mystery. In the end the player characters might be forced to find a way to protect Earth from a terrible threat!

One aspect of the campaign I want to mostly gloss over is a future history. Most players actually are not that interested in a fictitious history lesson anyway. It’s also extremely hard to extrapolate future events without relying on cliches. I’ll probably just describe the status quo and ignore what lead to this.

At this point I should probably ask a couple of friends what kind of campaign they are more interested in. Sure, I could prepare both, but since I regularly suffer from motivation issues, it’s more likely that I work only one of these campaigns at a time.

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.

3 thoughts on “In My Traveller Universe: Near Space”

  1. If your FTL is relatively slow, brown and red dwarf systems would be good as waypoints, with the occasional refueling station, scientific colony, or military base between larger, more inhabitable systems (those already on the maps). It gets back to the feel of early exploration, where travel across vast distances can’t yet be taken for granted.

    While you may not want to overload your role-players with future history, it’s a good idea to at least have a rough outline, so that you know how the major sociopolitical and economic entities have emerged and evolved as partners or foes.

    You’re right to focus your energy on creating entertaining scenarios for yourself and your players! I agree that interplanetary rivalries and the search for extraterrestrial civilizations (being careful what you wish for) could be good motivators for exploration.

    1. Early exploration is exactly what I want to have the player characters do in this campaign. My current favorite idea is that a couple of expeditions have been sent out a few years ago and contact with them had been lost. Noone knows what happened to them. So – in a last-ditch effort – they send out a new ship to investigate.

      Overloading the players with future history is something I will definitely not do. But I’ll prepare a rough outline, so that I can at least answer questions if they arise.

      1. Seems like the model of a west marches campaign (or the fria ligan fantasy game, whose name I am immediately forgetting) could work here. There is a known starting point, and they are working to reveal what’s in each hex/system around the areas they end up exploring. And it lends itself to both episodic play (short or one shots) and story-arc play (a common thread among the discoveries).

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