Traveller (role-playing game)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Cover of the original Traveller boxed set
Designer(s) Marc W. Miller
Frank Chadwick
John Harshman
Loren K. Wiseman
Publisher(s) Game Designers' Workshop (Traveller, MegaTraveller, Traveller: The New Era)
Imperium Games
(T4: Marc Miller's Traveller)
Steve Jackson Games
(GURPS Traveller, GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars)
QLI/RPGRealms Publishing (Traveller20)
ComStar Games
(Traveller Hero)
Mongoose Publishing
(Mongoose Traveller 1st & 2nd Ed.)
Far Future Enterprises (Traveller5)
Publication date 1977 (Traveller)
1987 (MegaTraveller)
1993 (Traveller: The New Era)
1996 (T4: Marc Miller's Traveller)
1998 (GURPS Traveller)
2002 (Traveller20)
2006 (GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars)
2006 (Traveller Hero)
2008 (Mongoose Traveller)
2013 (Traveller5)
2016 (Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed.)
Genre(s) Science fiction space opera
System(s) Custom, GURPS, Hero, d20 System

Traveller is a science fiction role-playing game, first published in 1977 by Game Designers' Workshop. Marc W. Miller designed Traveller with help from Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren K. Wiseman.[1]

Game overview[edit]

Characters typically journey between various star systems and engage in activities such as exploration, ground and space battles, and interstellar trading. Characters are defined not by the need to increase native skill and ability but by achievements, discoveries, wealth, titles, and political power.

Key features[edit]

Key features derived from literary sources are incorporated into Traveller in all its forms:

  • Human-centric but cosmopolitan: The core rules focus on human characters, but there is ample support for using and playing aliens.
  • Space travel: Interstellar travel is through the use of the faster-than-light (FTL) jump drive, which moves a ship through "jump space" a few light-years at a time. Each jump always takes about one week. Normal-space travel is accomplished through relatively efficient and powerful gravitic drives. Newtonian physics tends to be followed.
  • 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. Decisions are made on the local level, rather than by a remote authority.
  • Conflict resolution: Planets fight out internal wars, and capitalism is the major driving force of civilization.
  • Sociological: Interstellar society is socially stratified (high, mid, and low passage; SOC (Social Status) is a primary character attribute). Affairs are often managed by independent nobility, who make use of classic titles such as Baron, Duke and Archduke. The typical game shows how being a traveller crosses classes and breaks stratification.
  • Materialist: Rewards are material, rather than Experience Points, Leveling Up, and so on.
  • Diversity within Limits: Career options, ship design, subsector design, and decisions made during character generation limit and frame reality. The definitions create a diverse space (hence library data and anachronistic/ atavistic worlds), within limits.
  • Morals and mortality: People remain people and continue to show courage, wisdom, honesty and justice, along with cowardice, deceit, and criminal behavior.


Traveller uses a lifepath-style system for character generation. Characters get their skills and experience in a mini-game, where the player makes career choices that determine the character's life right up to the point before adventuring begins.

A character can be human, robot, alien, or of a genetically engineered species. A character can be civilian, military, or noble, a young cadet or a tried-and-true veteran, each with strengths and weaknesses. Death during character generation is even a possibility in some editions, a mechanic that became infamous.

Characters are described by six primary characteristics: strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, and social standing. These characteristics are typically generated with a roll of two six-sided dice. Other general characteristics also exist, such as psionics and sanity. There are also variant characteristics, such as charisma and caste, which replace a primary characteristic, to add nuance to alien characters.


Extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, telepathy, and other psychic mutations abilities are organized and standardized into "psionics". Depending on their choice, characters can be psionic.

Task systems[edit]

Each rule system has its own task mechanic for resolving character actions. Some systems use two or three six-sided dice, while others use multiple six-sided dice or a twenty-sided die. Target numbers are typically determined by the referee, who takes into account task difficulty, skill level, and a characteristic. Situation and equipment used can provide a bonus or penalty to a roll. Depending on the task, a success may require rolling above or below the target number.


Equipment 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.

Low-technology: Since primitive worlds exist near technological worlds, primitive weapons are also typically included, such as swords, shields, pikes, and bows.

High-technology: 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.

Hard Sci-fi Flavor: While there are energy weapons, there is also a strong presence of slug-throwing 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).


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 Traveller rules, Brilliant Lances and Battle Rider using the Traveller: The New Era rules.)

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 Traveller adventure Trillion Credit Squadron, 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 championships. The sponsor stated that if Lenant entered and won the next year they would stop the sponsorship, so Lenant stopped attending.[2]


Worlds represent a wide spectrum of conditions, from barren planetoid moons to large gas giant 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 is geared to produce a highly random mix of worlds. Extensions take star 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.


Adventures tend to come from a few key themes:

# Name Theme Notes
01. Courier Mission The players are transporting a package containing goods or information. Alternatively, they are hired to intercept the package. Subplots:
  • Medicine delivery
  • Valuable goods delivery
  • X-boat Mail Delivery
02. Mystery Something unexplained is going on, and the players have to find out what it is. Subplots:
  • Cosmological anomaly
  • Economic plotting
  • Political plotting
  • Precursor (Ancients) ruins
03. 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. Subplots:
  • Assassins
  • Double agent
  • Kidnappers
  • VIP Bodyguards
04. Exploration 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. Subplots:
  • Lost (Sophont) civilization (Xenoarchaeology)
  • Precursor (Ancients) site (Xenoarchaeology)
  • Bestiary find (Xenobiology)
  • Scientific curiosity
  • Sophont contact (First contact)
  • Uncharted world exploration
05. 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. Subplots:
  • Infiltration
  • Security detail (counter-espionage)
  • Spying (espionage)
06. Mercenary 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. Subplots:
  • Alien invasion (defense)
  • Cadre training
  • Cold war
  • Dream ticket
  • Man vs. Machine (Virus)
  • Open warfare
  • Rebellion
  • Striker mission
07. Merchant Free Traders The players travel the stars trading and adventuring along the way in their very own starship. Subplots:
  • Ally aid
  • Corporate espionage
  • Diplomacy
  • Interstellar trade
  • Megacorporation mission
  • Trade brokering (transpolitical)
  • Trade mission
08. Patron 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. Subplots:
  • Consultants
  • Experts
  • Specialists
09. Rescue 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. Subplots:
  • Black hole
  • Innocent civilian
  • Lost in Space
  • Megacorporation kidnapee
  • Military prisoner
  • Nova dilemma
  • VIP rescue
10. Struggle against Nature The players are pitted against an alien environment, with or without the help of outsiders. Subplots:
  • Man vs. Nature
  • Signal MK / SOS
  • Stranded
  • Survival
11. World-hopping The players are itinerant workers, interstellar business travelers, or tourists on holiday that are always going to unfamiliar and exotic places. Subplots:
  • Banished
  • Entertainers
  • Escapees
  • Galactic Circus
  • Interstellar tourists
  • Itinerant workers
  • Outcasts
  • Peddlers
  • Refugees


The original rule booklets were promoted as rules for running general science fiction role-playing games. Adventures and supplements soon followed and eventually a suggested setting began to emerge. The primary political entity in the setting is the Imperium, which 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.


The setting features various descendants of humanity, who are collectively called Humaniti. These include the Solomani, ordinary humans, the Vilani, humans that founded the First Imperium, and the Zhodani, psychic humans ruled by psionically-gifted nobles.

Despite the thematic dominance of the human race, with most adventures taking place in human space, the Traveller universe is cosmopolitan, containing many technologically advanced species known as sophonts, a term borrowed from earlier science fiction material. The setting principally concerns itself with six major races that developed faster-than-light travel independently. In addition to Humaniti, the standard list of major races includes the honor-bound felinoid Aslan, the winged reptilioid Droyne, the sixfold-symmetric and manipulative Hivers, the centaur-like militant vegetarian K'kree, and the uplifted wolf-hybrid Vargr.

Additional minor races are numerous. An early publication from GDW 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 designed by Loren K. Wiseman, sketched out about one race per quarter, starting with the Aslan in Issue 7. 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.


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.

Publishing history[edit]

A selection of classic Traveller rule books and supplements, including the core box set..


The original gamebooks were distinctive digest-sized black pamphlets (the so-called "little black books") 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. 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 game editions and publishers
Pub. date Game Abbrev. Primary publisher
1977 (Classic) Traveller CT Game Designers' Workshop
1987 MegaTraveller MT Game Designers' Workshop
1993 Traveller: The New Era TNE Game Designers' Workshop
1996 T4: Marc Miller's Traveller T4 Imperium Games
1998 GURPS Traveller GT Steve Jackson Games
2002 Traveller20 T20 QuikLink Interactive
2006 GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars GTIW Steve Jackson Games
2006 Traveller Hero TH ComStar Games
2008 Mongoose Traveller MGT Mongoose Publishing
2013 Traveller5 T5 Far Future Enterprises
2016 Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed. MGT2 Mongoose Publishing

Though nearly all older versions of Traveller are available in PDF format, Traveller5 and Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed. are the two current rulesets. Both rely on six-sided dice exclusively, and both draw from the original Traveller rules.


The original version was designed and published by GDW in 1977. This edition is also sometimes called, retroactively, Classic Traveller. The core rules originally came as a box set of three little black books, and were later compiled into a single volume rulebook. Supplemental booklets included advanced character generation, capital ship design, robots, and more. Eight boxed wargames were released as tie-in products.


A major overhaul published by GDW in 1987, but designed by Digest Group Publications. The game system used revised rules developed in DGP's Traveller's Digest periodical.[3] 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).

Traveller: The New Era[edit]

Published in 1993,[4] this was the final edition published by GDW. Set in the former territory of the Third Imperium after interstellar government and society had largely collapsed. TNE introduced the AI Virus, a silicon chip-life form that infected and took over computers. The game mechanics used GDW's house 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.

T4: Marc Miller's Traveller[edit]

Published by Imperium Games in 1996, T4 is set in the early days of the Third Imperium (Milieu 0), with the small, newly formed empire surrounded by regressed or barbaric worlds. The mechanics and text resemble a mix of Classic Traveller and The New Era.

GURPS Traveller[edit]

Designed by Loren K. Wiseman and published in 1998, GURPS Traveller uses the third edition of the GURPS 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.


Published by Quick Link Interactive in 2002, this version uses the d20 System as its base and 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.

GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars[edit]

In 2006, Steve Jackson Games released GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars (GTISW, sometimes GTIW) for the recently released 4th edition of GURPS. The timeline was rolled back to 2170, which is several millennia earlier than the usual Traveller setting, to the early days of Earth's presence in space at the time when Earth first started to send out interstellar ships to include the period just after the Third Interstellar War between the Terran Confederation (Earth) and the gigantic Ziru Sirka Empire (Vland).

Traveller Hero[edit]

A port of the Traveller setting to the Hero System, produced under license by Comstar Games in 2006.

Mongoose Traveller[edit]

Mongoose Publishing published this version both in a traditional format and as an open gaming SRD around which other games may be built. It is adapted from Traveller, with updated careers and technology. It is referred to as "MgT" or "MGT" to differentiate it from "MT", or MegaTraveller. The core rule book was released in April 2008, with a regular series of supplements following.


In 2013, Far Future Enterprises published a new set of rules by re-working and integrating concepts from earlier rulesets. The Traveller5 Core Rules book is a rules mechanics reference, pulled from Traveller adventures and toolbox material from supplements. It has a "retro" black-and-white production style.

Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed.[edit]

A second edition of Mongoose's Traveller was published in 2016. It uses a full color production style while resembling the original Traveller rules in scope. The second edition core rules include pre-career university and military academy education options. Skills specialization have been reorganized to reduce skill bloat. Some equipment descriptions have been altered and spacecraft operations and combat now have a different approach. Additional supplements flesh out rules further, including a revision to High Guard to handle all starship design.


Forrest Johnson reviewed Traveller in The Space Gamer No. 28.[5] Johnson commented that "Traveller is the best game of its type, recommended for the sophisticated science fiction gamer."[5]

David Ritchie reviewed Traveller in Ares Magazine #1, rating it a 8 out of 9.[6] Ritchie commented that "This game starts off where Dungeons and Dragons left off, but, if there is any justice, will end up being more popular than that venerable relic. For one thing, the Traveller rules are fairly consistent (moreso than is usual for such games). For another, unlike the first generation of role-playing games, this one requires no referee or gamesmaster. Somewhat complex. Variable playing time."[6]

Traveller was added to the Origins Hall of Fame.[7]

Traveller (as either Traveller, Mega Traveller, or Traveller: The New Era) was ranked 3rd in the 1996 reader poll of Arcane magazine to determine the 50 most popular roleplaying games of all time. The UK magazine's editor Paul Pettengale commented: "Although originally intended as a generic science fiction system, Traveller quickly became linked with the Imperium campaign background developed by GDW." Pettengale said: "This background offers a great degree of freedom for individual referees to run campaigns of their own devising, while providing enough basic groundwork to build from, and has proved to be immensely successful. Everything from political intrigue to action-packed mercenary actions, trading or scientific exploration is possible, and a lot more besides." Pettengale suggested Traveller was "… one of the true classics of the roleplaying hobby."[8]

In other media[edit]


GDW licensee Paragon produced two video games based on the Traveller universe:


Several novels have been specifically set in the various Traveller universes:

Traveller game novels
# Year Title Series Author Reference and ISBN Notes
1. 1993 Again, Oytritsyu'aby n/a Charles Gannon n/a Novelette (short story)
2. 1993 Count or Country n/a Charles Gannon n/a Novelette (short story)
3. 1993 The Trap of Triton n/a Gary A. Kalin n/a Novelette (short story)
5. 1995 Death of Wisdom Book 1 of 3 Paul Brunette ISBN 1-55878-181-1
6. 1995 To Dream of Chaos Book 2 of 3 Paul Brunette ISBN 1-55878-184-6
7. 1998 Gateway to the Stars n/a Pierce Askegren ISBN 0-671-01188-X
8. 2005 The Force of Destiny n/a Dale Kemper [9]
9. 2004 Diaspora Phoenix n/a Martin J. Dougherty n/a
10. 2006 Tales of the New Era 1: Yesterday's Hero n/a Martin J. Dougherty n/a
11. 2010 The Backwards Mask Book 3 of 3 Paul Brunette [10]
12. 2011 The Backwards Mask (Alternative) Book 3 of 3 Matthew Carson [10] [11]
13. 2012 A Long Way Home: Tales of Congressional Space n/a Terrance McInnes n/a
14. 2014 Shadow of the Storm n/a Martin J. Dougherty ISBN 1558780343
15. 2014 Fate of the Kinunir n/a Robert E. Vardeman ISBN 978-1-55878-029-3
16. 2015 Agent of the Imperium n/a Marc W. Miller ISBN 978-1-55878-037-8
  • 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[12] series acknowledges the influence of Traveller in the development of the three novels published to date. Lee also wrote the Gamelords supplement Lee's Guide to Interstellar Adventure in the early 1980s.
  • There are two different Backwards Mask books in the Death of Wisdom trilogy. The manuscript by the original author (Brunette) was lost until shortly after the replacement manuscript (by Carson) was published. The original was then published for those who wanted it, and Carson's serves as an alternate end to the trilogy.


Gaming magazine White Dwarf ran a comic strip called The Travellers by Mark Harrison from 1983 to 1986. The strip spoofed Traveller and other space opera settings.[13]


The concept album Traveller by heavy metal band The Lord Weird Slough Feg is based on the game.

Related systems[edit]

Traveller: 2300 or 2300 AD[edit]

This GDW product was originally named, Traveller: 2300. The second edition of the game was renamed 2300 AD and introduced some cyberpunk rules and adventures. 2300 AD is a hard science fiction alternative to the looser space opera of Traveller. It is 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 fifty light year sphere of surrounding space. Mongoose Publishing released a campaign setting sourcebook for the setting in 2012 that uses their version of the Traveller rules.


  1. ^ Shannon Appelcline (2011). Designers & Dragons. Mongoose Publishing. ISBN 978-1-907702-58-7
  2. ^ Johnson, George (1984). "Eurisko, The Computer With A Mind Of Its Own". The APF Reporter. Washington, D.C.: The Alicia Patterson Foundation. 7 (4). 
  3. ^ Miller, Marc W. (1987). MegaTraveller Players' Manual. Game Designers' Workshop. ISBN 0-943580-38-2. OCLC 29757224. 
  4. ^ The Traveller Bibliography, page 25
  5. ^ a b Johnson, Forrest (May–June 1980). "Capsule Reviews". The Space Gamer. Steve Jackson Games (28): 28. 
  6. ^ a b Ritchie, David (March 1980). "A Galaxy of Games". Ares Magazine. Simulations Publications, Inc. (1): 30. 
  7. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1996)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-12-21. Retrieved 2007-11-02. 
  8. ^ Pettengale, Paul (Christmas 1996). "Arcane Presents the Top 50 Roleplaying Games 1996". Arcane. Future Publishing (14): 25–35. 
  9. ^ "Traveller - Force of Destiny". Archived from the original on 2013-06-06. Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  10. ^ a b "Traveller Fiction - Wayne's Books RPG Reference". Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  11. ^ "The Sector M". Retrieved 2018-02-04. 
  12. ^ The Laughing Lip
  13. ^ "RPGNet RPG Gaming Index: White Dwarf articles". 2008-02-12. Archived from the original on 2009-01-16. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]