Traveller (role-playing game)
|Publisher(s)||Game Designers' Workshop
Imperium Games (Marc Miller's Traveller)
Steve Jackson Games (GURPS Traveller)
QLI/RPGRealms Publishing (Traveller 20)
Far Future Enterprises
|Publication date||1977 (Classic Traveller)
1993 (Traveller: The New Era)
1996 (Marc Miller's Traveller)
1998, 2006 (GURPS Traveller)
2002 (Traveller 20)
2007 (Traveller Hero)
2008 (Mongoose Traveller)
|Genre(s)||Science fiction space opera|
|System(s)||Custom, GURPS, d20 System|
Traveller is a series of related science fiction role-playing games, the first published in 1977 by Game Designers' Workshop. Various companies published subsequent editions, and the game remains in print. The game was inspired by such classic science fiction stories as the Dumarest Saga series by E. C. Tubb, the Foundation stories of Isaac Asimov, H. Beam Piper's Space Viking, Larry Niven's Known Space, Jerry Pournelle's CoDominium, Poul Anderson's Polesotechnic League, Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination and several other works of science fiction literature.
Characters typically journey between various star systems and engage in activities such as exploration, ground and space battles, and interstellar trading. Traveller characters are defined less by the need to increase native skill and ability and more by achievements, discoveries, or obtaining wealth, gadgets, titles and political power.
Originally Traveller was intended to be a system for playing generic space opera-themed science fiction adventures in much the same sense that Dungeons & Dragons was a system intended for generic fantasy adventures. Marc Miller, one of the original designers of the Traveller RPG for Game Designer's Workshop, said that the idea for creating Traveller came about when he said "I want to do Dungeons & Dragons in space." Most published supplements for Traveller deal in some way with a default setting called the "Third Imperium", (sometimes referred to as the Official Traveller Universe (OTU)), but the main rules are generic enough so that a campaign can be played in any setting the referee chooses.
- 1 Traveller RPG Key Features
- 2 Characters
- 3 Traveller Task Systems
- 4 Equipment
- 5 Starships
- 6 Worlds
- 7 Adventures
- 8 Setting
- 9 Publishing history
- 9.1 Development
- 9.2 Overview
- 9.3 Editions
- 9.3.1 Traveller (1977, GDW)
- 9.3.2 MegaTraveller (1987, GDW and DGP)
- 9.3.3 Traveller: The New Era (1993, GDW)
- 9.3.4 Marc Miller's Traveller (1996, Imperium Games)
- 9.3.5 GURPS Traveller (1998, SJG)
- 9.3.6 Traveller 20 (2002, QLI / RPG Realms)
- 9.3.7 Traveller Hero (2007, Comstar Games)
- 9.3.8 Mongoose Traveller (2008, Mongoose Publishing)
- 9.3.9 Traveller5 (2013, FFE)
- 9.4 Related game systems
- 10 Reception
- 11 Traveller in other media
- 12 Copyright infringement lawsuit
- 13 References
- 14 Further reading
- 15 External links
Traveller RPG Key Features
Key features derived from literary sources are incorporated into Traveller in all its forms:
- Human-centric but Cosmopolitan: The background of the OTU features a human-dominated universe. As such, the core rules primarily focus on development of human characters touching only briefly on a few non-human species. Despite the dominance of humanity, a large number of aliens was always implied to exist, inside and outside of Charted Space. There are numerous Traveller publications with rules and extensive information on playing aliens.
- Interstellar travel: Interstellar travel is through the use of the FTL (Faster-than-light) jump drive, which moves a ship through "jump space" a few light-years at a time. Each jump always takes about one week.
- Limited communication: There is no faster-than-light information transfer – meaning no ansible, subspace radio or hyper-wave. Communication is limited to the speed of travel. in the Third Imperium, this is implemented by a courier system similar to the "Pony Express", a sort of starship-based messenger system called the "X-boat Network".
- Feudalism: Relatively slow communication speeds mean that local rulers cannot be directly controlled by central authority. Therefore, affairs are managed by independent nobility, who make use of classic titles such as Baron, Duke and Archduke.
- Non-utopian Future: The human race never evolves into a superior state. People remain people and continue to show courage, wisdom, honesty and justice, along with cowardice, deceit, and criminal behavior.
- No Prime Directive: Planets fight out internal wars, and capitalism is the major driving force of civilization. The same factors that shaped Earth shape the Traveller universe.
Traveller introduced the 'lifepath'-style character generation system to role-playing games. Traveller characters get their skills and experience in a mini-game, where the player makes career choices that determine the character's life up to the point right before adventuring begins.
A character can be human, robot, alien, or of a genetically engineered species. A character can be civilian, military, or noble, young cadet or a tried-and-true veteran, each with strengths and weaknesses.
In most versions of Traveller, characters have six primary characteristics which range in level from 1 (feeble) to 15 (superhuman):
- Strength (Str): The character's raw muscular power
- Dexterity (Dex): The character's physical coordination and agility
- Endurance (End): The character's resistance to physical stress and damage
- Intelligence (Int): The character's mental prowess and intuition
- Education (Edu): The character's experience and knowledge
- Social Standing (Soc): the character's ability to influence others and their place in society (high scores indicate nobility)
Players roll randomly for these characteristics (typically on 2 6-sided dice) during character creation. Characteristics modify task rolls, thus higher values represent more capable individuals.
Optional characteristics include:
- Psionics (Psi): A character's psionic strength and...
- Sanity (San): A character's sanity.
There are also analogs to primary characteristics, such as Charisma or Caste in the place of Social Standing, to add nuance to alien characters.
Traveller Task Systems
Each rule system has its own task mechanic for resolving character actions. Target numbers are typically determined by the referee, and take into account task difficulty, skill level, and a characteristic. Situation and equipment used can introduce Dice Modifiers (DMs), which provide a bonus or penalty to a roll (e.g. a DM+2 means add 2 to the roll, and a DM-4 means subtract 4 from the roll).
- Classic Traveller (CT), MegaTraveller (MT), and Mongoose Traveller (MgT)
- In these systems, two six-sided dice (2d6) are rolled equal to or above a target number for success, although occasionally the roll must be below the target number.
- Traveller: The New Era (TNE)
- Traveller4 (T4) and Traveller5 (T5)
- In both these versions, the number of dice rolled represents task difficulty ("Average" is 2D, "Difficult" is 3D, etc.), and the target number is characteristic + skill + typical DMs. The roll must be below the target number for success.
- T4 has levels of difficulty which call for a "half-die" to be used; for example "Difficult" is 2.5 dice and one die result (rolled as a different color die from the rest) must be halved when counted. T5 does not use a half-die.
- GURPS Traveller (GT) and Traveller HERO (HT)
- GURPS Traveller uses the GURPS character creation and task resolution system developed by Steve Jackson Games, and Traveller HERO uses the HERO System developed by HERO Games for character creation and task resolution. Both systems use three six-sided dice (3d6). The roll must be equal to or below the target number for success.
- Traveller20 (T20)
- Traveller20 is the d20 System-version of Traveller, developed by Quicklink Interactive. Task checks roll a twenty-sided die (d20). The roll must be equal to or above the target number, for success.
Equipment in Traveller typically emphasizes wilderness exploration, hazardous environments, and combat. As a result, equipment lists are heavy on vehicles, sensor equipment, communicators, rations, personal armor, and weapons. Since primitive worlds exist near technological worlds, primitive weapons are also typically included, such as swords, shields, pikes, bows, and so on. And since high technology is available, cybernetic implants and non-sentient robots typically also show up in equipment lists, as well as artifacts from ancient, vanished technological civilizations.
While there are energy weapons in Traveller, there is also a strong presence of slug-thrower weapons such as rifles and pistols. The prevailing theory is that (usually) the most efficient way to stop someone is with kinetic energy (e.g. bullets).
Traveller's rules for starship design and combat are like games unto themselves with a complex balance of ship components fitting within certain hull volumes, technology levels, and modifiers based upon characters' skills. It is complex enough to be able to generically represent most starships used in role-playing games, and flexible enough to support custom add-ons to the system. (GDW published several board games allowing Traveller space battles to be played out as games in their own right - Mayday using the Classic Traveller rules, Brilliant Lances and Battle Rider using the Traveller: The New Era rules.)
Typical Traveller starships consist of control space (i.e. one or more bridges), a central power plant, a maneuver drive for in-system travel, a jump drive for interstellar travel, and payload space (weapons, living areas, etc.). The power plant and jump drive together require significant amounts of fuel. Alternate power plants and drives exist for modelling different settings.
Computer programs have been created to model and predict starship combat using Traveller rules. The most famous case involved Douglas Lenat applying his Eurisko heuristic learning program to the scenario in the Classic Traveller adventure Trillion Credit Squadron (TCS), which contained rules for resolving very large space battles statistically. Eurisko discovered exploitable features of the starship design system that allowed it to build unusual fleets that won the 1981 and 1982 TCS national championships.
Worlds represent a wide spectrum of conditions, from barren planetoid moons to large water worlds, from uncolonized territory to planets with tens of billions of people. Most worlds tend to be only modestly colonized, though some worlds may be dangerously overcrowded.
The world generation system in Traveller is geared to produce a highly random mix of worlds. Extensions take solar system generation into account, and modify the process depending on the fecundity and history of the targeted area of space. Similar to the use of the UPP for characters, worlds are represented by an alphanumeric Universal World Profile that encodes key physical, social, and economic properties of the world.
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (February 2013)|
Adventures in Traveller tend to come from a few key themes:
- Merchant Free Traders
- The players travel the stars trading and adventuring along the way in their very own starship.
- The players are scouts, academics, or adventurers who want to find (or rediscover) uncharted worlds. There are new cultures to encounter, exotic flora and fauna to catalog, and ruins and artifacts to excavate and study.
- Struggle against Nature
- The players are pitted against an alien environment, with or without the help of outsiders.
- People are lost or stranded and the players are tasked with recovering them. Alternatively, the players are lost or stranded and need to either survive until rescued or make their way to safety.
- The players are itinerant workers, interstellar business travelers, or tourists on holiday that are always going to unfamiliar and exotic places.
- The players are skilled freelancers hired by a client to perform a job for them that requires their particular skills and experience. Their performance affects their standing with the client and whether the client will hire them for future jobs or recommend them to other potential clients.
- Escort Mission
- The players are bodyguards protecting a person while taking them to their destination. Alternatively, they are hired to kidnap or kill the person or prevent them from reaching their destination.
- Courier Mission
- The players are transporting a package containing goods or information. Alternatively, they are hired to intercept the package.
- The Heist
- The players plan to infiltrate a secure facility to acquire information or goods. Alternatively the players are hired to guard the facility before the target is acquired or retrieve the target after it is acquired.
- The players are military veterans who have been contracted to serve in the armed forces of a local or planetary government. Typical tasks would be to create and instruct a training cadre, lead or advise units, or provide a corps of trained and experienced troops familiar with advanced technology.
- Something unexplained is going on, and the players have to find out what it is.
The original Traveller rule booklets had no setting information, and was promoted as a rules system for running general science fiction role-playing games. The rules themselves were simplistic but complete, with no space for material beyond the bare essentials. Thus, referees used and altered published rules to suit their setting and play style.
As Traveller became popular, supplements supported a default setting, which has come to be known as the Official Traveller Universe (OTU), in a small piece of the galaxy, known as Charted Space. The OTU is also known by the primary political entity in the setting, The Third Imperium. The starting point for this appears to be the board game Imperium.
The Third Imperium is the largest and human-dominated interstellar empire in Charted Space. It is a feudalistic union of worlds: local nobility operate largely free from oversight, restricted by convention and feudal obligations.
Most Traveller adventures take place in Charted Space, during the Imperial years 1100 and 1125, or the "New Era" years of 1200 to 1248.
Intelligent Species (Sophonts)
Despite the thematic dominance of the human race, with most adventures taking place in human space, the Traveller universe is cosmopolitan, and is divided into a handful of major races (six) and an unbounded number of minor races. These technological species are known as sophonts in Traveller jargon, a term borrowed from earlier science fiction material.
Major Races (Independent FTL Developers)
A major race is defined as one that supposedly developed jump technology (FTL Technology) independently. The standard list of major races includes six races:
- 1. Aslan: The honor-bound felinoid Aslan
- 2. Droyne: The winged reptilioid Droyne
- 3. Hivers: The sixfold-symmetric, manipulative Hivers
- 4. K'kree: The centaur-like, vegetarian K'kree
- 5. Vargr: The uplifted wolf-hybrid Vargr
There are also various descendants of humanity, who are collectively called Humaniti:
- 6. Humaniti:
Precursors: The Ancients were a major race in the distant past; their ruins dot planets throughout charted space and their artifacts are more technically advanced than those of any existing civilization. For unknown reasons, they:
- Transplanted humans from Earth to dozens of worlds,
- Uplifted Terran wolves to create the Vargr, and...
- Undertook many megascale engineering projects before destroying their civilization in a catastrophic war.
Minor Races (Non-independent FTL Developers)
Species which were contacted before they could develop Jump Drives are considered minor. A few have significant background material, such as:
- The Ael Yael, which appear to resemble humanoid pterodactyls;
- Bawapakerwa-a-a-awapawab, (Bwaps for short) which are bipedal amphibians; and...
- The Ithklur, an aggressive race of warm-blooded, humanoid reptilians that exist in Hiver-space.
Most, however, are only hinted at.
Number of Minor Races (Myriad)
An early publication from Games Designers' Workshop noted that The minor races, of which there are hundreds within the area of known space, will be largely left up to individual referees. GDW's quarterly publication, The Journal of the Travellers' Aid Society, sketched out about one race per quarter, starting with Aslan in Issue 7, with no signs of letting up. Taken together with aliens casually mentioned or introduced in separate scenarios or adventures—often arbitrarily—there is therefore no indication that the number of minor races is limited in any sense.
Marc W. Miller states that when the game Lensman, and games it inspired such as Triplanetary and Imperium, "were crossed with the revolutionary Dungeons & Dragons, the result was my roleplaying game Traveller".
The original Traveller gamebooks were distinctive half-size black pamphlets (the so-called "Little Black Books" or "LBBs") produced by Game Designers Workshop (GDW). The main rules were detailed in three such booklets, sold as a boxed set while the same format was used for early support material, such as the Adventures, Supplements and further Books. Currently these LBBs are available in collected reprints from Far Future Enterprises. Later supplements and updated versions of the main game system introduced full sized booklets, complete re-writes of the game system and significant changes to the Third Imperium.
Traveller (1977, GDW)
(1977–1986) Published by GDW. Nicknamed "Classic Traveller" and often shortened to CT. The core rules originally came as three distinctive "Little Black Books" (see Overview above), in a boxed set. Supplemental booklets included "advanced" character generation, capital ship design, robots, and more. Eight boxed wargames were released as tie-in products.
Most of the Classic Traveller books are available in compendium volumes from Far Future Enterprises, which is the current copyright and trademark holder of all forms of the Traveller game. Far Future Enterprises also sells a CD-ROM containing scans of all the canonical Classic Traveller material in PDF format, including the rules, counters and maps from the boxed games.
Traveller was inducted into the Origins Adventure Gaming Hall of Fame in 1997.
MegaTraveller (1987, GDW and DGP)
MegaTraveller (1987–1992), often shortened to MT, was published by GDW but designed by Digest Group Publications which published the popular Traveller's Digest (later the MegaTraveller Journal) Traveller support magazine. The game system used revised versions of the Classic Traveller mechanics with ideas first developed in the Traveller's Digest (and later also adapted to Traveller: 2300).
The game was set during the Rebellion era which shattered the Imperium. Supplements and magazines produced during this era detailed the progression of the Rebellion from the initial assassination of the Emperor in 1116 to the collapse of large-scale interstellar trade in roughly 1124 (the beginning of the supplement Hard Times).
Digest Group Publications also produced a number of MegaTraveller supplements, including alien modules detailing the Aslan, Vargr, Vilani and Solomani for MegaTraveller and the World Builder's Handbook, which expanded greatly on the world-building system found in the main rulebooks.
Traveller: The New Era (1993, GDW)
Traveller: The New Era (often shortened to TNE) was a GDW publication from 1993 to 1995, set in the former territory of the Third Imperium after interstellar government and society had largely collapsed—effectively "rebooting" the setting—but leaving a pocket of the Imperium preserved to allow games with a "legacy" feel to them.
TNE introduced the AI Virus, a life form based on silicon that infected and took over alien silicon computing technologies. The game mechanics were changed to GDW's house rules system, derived from Twilight: 2000, 2nd ed. The game used a more realism-centered approach to science fiction, doing away with reactionless thrusters, shortening laser ranges to a reasonable distance, etc.
Several supplements were published for TNE covering most if not all of what the year 1201 was like, but before any of the meta-events could start to advance the timeline, GDW fell on a string of bad luck and finally was forced to close its doors, after twenty two years in which it had published one new product every 22 days on average (not counting magazines).
In 1994, Traveller: The New Era won the Origins Award for Best Roleplaying Rules of 1993.
Marc Miller's Traveller (1996, Imperium Games)
Marc Miller's Traveller (1996–1998), often referred to as T4, was published by Imperium Games after GDW dissolved and the rights to Traveller reverted to Marc Miller, the creator of the original game. It returned to a heavily modified version of the original rules and was set in the early days of the Third Imperium (Milieu 0). This edition is currently available on Marc Miller's website. Miller has stated that T4 was "plagued by rush," explaining that the books were released without enough editing. He also stated that in spite of the quality issues that resulted from this, he does not believe that T4 is the least popular or most controversial edition of the game.
GURPS Traveller (1998, SJG)
GURPS Traveller (1998–present) was "Created on a handshake with Steve Jackson of Steve Jackson Games." The game uses the GURPS (Third Edition) system and takes place in an alternate timeline in which no Rebellion occurred and the AI Virus was never released. Steve Jackson Games produced numerous supplements for the line, including details for all of the major races, many of the minor races, interstellar trade, expanded world generation, the military forces of the Third Imperium, and starships. The game is often referred to as "GT".
- GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars
GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars is the second GURPS-driven version of Traveller. It concentrates on the 22nd and 23rd centuries, much earlier than the usual Traveller setting, at the time when Earth first started to send out interstellar ships and had just encountered the Vilani Imperium. This setting book uses the 4th Edition of the GURPS rules, and hence is referred to by some as "G4T" or "GTIW." The Interstellar Wars book features extensive notes on period Earth society, Vilani culture and values, and updated spaceship construction and combat rules.
Traveller 20 (2002, QLI / RPG Realms)
Traveller 20 (2002–2006), or "T20", was published by Quick Link Interactive/RPG Realms Publishing. The D20 system version is set at the time of the Solomani Rim War around Imperial year 990, about a century before the era depicted in the original game. The preferred setting is the Gateway Domain region of the Imperium.
Traveller Hero (2007, Comstar Games)
Traveller Hero, referred to as "TH", was a port of the Traveller setting to the Hero System, produced under license by Comstar Games.
Mongoose Traveller (2008, Mongoose Publishing)
Mongoose Publishing produced a major revision of the original Classic Traveller game, offering it both in a traditional format and as an open-source SRD around which other games may be built. It stems from Classic Traveller and Traveller5, using a form of the 2D6 task system, and updating the careers, aliens, and technology found there. It is referred to as "MgT" to differentiate it from "MT", or MegaTraveller. Another common nickname is "RTT" or Rikki Tikki Traveller.
The core rule book was released in April 2008, with a regular series of supplements following, including setting-related resources for the classic Third Imperium, Babylon 5, Hammer's Slammers, 2300 AD, Judge Dredd, Strontium Dog and others, including a Traveller version of the Prime Directive Star Trek-based role-playing game that is currently in development. Mongoose Publishing holds the license for ten years.
Traveller5 (2013, FFE)
Traveller5, or "T5", is the fifth edition of Traveller. T5 draws concepts from previous versions to produce a consistent whole. The Core Rulebook (656 pages) contains much more detail than that present in the original "Little Black Books". The intent is to account for (nearly) every situation in the Traveller setting. The core rules include integrated mechanics with enough depth to support Traveller's "OTU", and several focused design systems called "Maker" systems, for creating vehicles, armor, weapons, robots, alien races, animals, and equipment. A star system generation system expands on the same basic planet statistics as Classic Traveller to add in social, economic, and strategic details about the mainworld and its system.
The playtest release was made available in February 2009, and revisions incorporating playtested errata were made available to playtesters on a chapter by chapter basis. The playtest open-beta phase effectively ended on May 31, 2012, when Miller launched a Traveller 5th Edition Kickstarter project. The project was funded at 1227% of its initial goal, with a final pledge level of $294,628 on Sunday 1 July 2012 and breaking Deadlands Noir's $117,648 record for most funded tabletop RPG Kickstarter). The finished T5 game went to the printers in December 2012. The Kickstarter project does not overlap with the earlier beta-test program.
The book and CD-ROM were distributed to Kickstarter participants starting in March 2013, and were available directly to game shops by June 2013.
Traveller LIFTOFF Starter Set (2014, 13Mann Publishing House)
A starter set for the Traveller RPG "made for young players and designed around a "plug-and-play" mentality", and produced by 13Mann, a German publisher with a license to publish material for both Traveller5 and Mongoose Traveller. A Kickstarter project to fund the publication began on Aug 31, 2014 and ended on September 30, 2014. It did not achieve the requested monetary goal.
Related game systems
This GDW role-playing game is a clear rules-descendent of Twilight: 2000 and Striker, using ten-sided dice. It was a hard science fiction alternative to the looser space opera of Classic Traveller. Presented as a future extrapolation of the speculative World War III of GDW's popular military role-playing game Twilight: 2000, in which the various nations of Earth were only just beginning to explore and colonize the 50 light year sphere of surrounding space. Some buyers mistakenly thought the game was intended to depict the year 2300 in the standard Traveller universe using Traveller rules; to disambiguate it from Traveller, the 2nd edition of the game was retitled to 2300 AD and this second edition introduced some cyberpunk rules and adventures.
A third version of the setting, 2320 AD was released as a supplement to the Traveller T20 ruleset.
2300 AD has been release as a setting under the Mongoose Traveller rules.
Mike Pondsmith commented: "It can be argued, in fact, that almost every major science fiction-styled RPG owes a debt to Traveller — if not for specific design elements, then for providing the benchmark of what a good sci-fi RPG should be."
Traveller in other media
GDW licensee Paragon produced two video games based on the Traveller universe: MegaTraveller 1: The Zhodani Conspiracy (1990) for Amiga, Atari ST and MS-DOS operating environments, and MegaTraveller 2: Quest for the Ancients (1991) for Amiga and MS-DOS.
Several novels have been specifically set in the various Traveller universes:
- Death of Wisdom Book 1 of 3 by Paul Brunette. ISBN 1-55878-181-1
- To Dream of Chaos Book 2 of 3 by Paul Brunette. ISBN 1-55878-184-6
- The Backwards Mask Book 3 of 3 by Matthew Carson.
- Marc Miller's Traveller: Gateway to the Stars by Pierce Askegren. ISBN 0-671-01188-X
- The Force of Destiny by Dale Kemper 
- Diaspora Phoenix by Martin J. Dougherty
- Tales of the New Era 1: Yesterday's Hero by Martin J. Dougherty
In addition, Jefferson Swycaffer has written several novels set in the "Concordat" fictional universe he originally developed for his Traveller campaign.
Gregory P. Lee's "The Laughing Lip" series acknowledges the influence of Traveller in the development of the three novels published to date. Mr. Lee also wrote the Gamelords' supplement "Lee's Guide to Interstellar Adventure" in the early 1980s.
In March 2011 IngZ Inc announced the upcoming release of Traveller AR in Summer 2011. Traveller AR is an iPhone based port of the Traveller RPG brand.
In May 2014 game designer and film producer Ken Whitman announced that his company, D20 Entertainment, had procured a license from Marc Miller to produce a Traveller television pilot. The pilot is to be titled Spinward Traveller and will follow the adventures of Jon Spinward, who is pressed into service aboard a pirate ship.
On June 1, 2014 Whitman launched a Kickstarter campaign for the film. The campaign is seeking $30,000 to produce a 22-minute pilot, but has stretch goals for up to a 96-minute film. The campaign received over $5,000 in its first day.
Copyright infringement lawsuit
In 1982 Game Designers Workshop sued software publisher Edu-Ware Services for infringing upon Traveller's copyright. Edu-Ware admitted to using Traveller as the basis of its role-playing video game Space, and in an out-of-court settlement, made a cash settlement and removed the video game from the market, turning all copies over to GDW.
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