Traveller (role-playing game)

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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 (Traveller 20)
ComStar Games
(Traveller Hero)
Mongoose Publishing
(Mongoose Traveller)
Far Future Enterprises
Publication date 1977 (Traveller)
1987 (MegaTraveller)
1993 (Traveller: The New Era)
1996 (T4: Marc Miller's Traveller)
1998 (GURPS Traveller)
2002 (Traveller 20)
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, d20 System

Traveller is a series of related science fiction role-playing games, the 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. Traveller 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.
  • Travellers 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. Normal-space travel is accomplished through relatively efficient and powerful gravitic drives.
  • 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.
  • No Prime Directive: 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. Also, Newtonian physics tends to be followed.
  • 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.
  • Mortal: People remain people and continue to show courage, wisdom, honesty and justice, along with cowardice, deceit, and criminal behavior. People age and eventually die. Many Traveller rules make death during character generation a possibility.

Currently Active[edit]

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 Traveller5 Core Rules contains pulls rules mechanics from Traveller adventures and toolbox material from supplements. It has a clean but "retro" black-and-white production style.

Mongoose Traveller 2nd Ed.[edit]

Now in its second edition, Mongoose Traveller has a modern, full color production style while resembling the original Traveller rules in scope, sans Traveller's animal creation and starship design rules. Additional supplements will flesh out rules further, including a revision to High Guard to handle all starship design.

Game description[edit]


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, a young cadet or a tried-and-true veteran, each with strengths and weaknesses.

Traveller also became infamous in that a character could die during the character creation process before the process was finished.

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. Some variant characteristics also exist, such as charisma and caste, which replace a primary characteristic, to add nuance to alien characters.


Extra-sensory perception, telekinesis, telepathy, and other magical skills are organized and standardized into "psionics". Though rare, 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 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.

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

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 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 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 (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.[2]


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 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 in Traveller tend to come from a few key themes:

Traveller Game Themes (Adventures or Plot Hooks)
# 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. Enigma (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 Traveller rule booklets were promoted as rules for running general science fiction role-playing games. Supplements soon followed with a default setting. This is known as the Official Traveller Universe (OTU) or Charted Space. The OTU is also known by the primary political entity in the setting, The Third 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.


There are various descendants of humanity, who are collectively called Humaniti:

  • Humaniti:
    • Solomani ("people of Sol," Terran humans)
    • Vilani ("people of Vland," humans that founded the First Imperium, one of the oldest space empires in Charted Space)
    • Zhodani ("people of Zhodane," 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, 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: A sophont people 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, militant vegetarian K'kree
  • 5. Vargr: The uplifted wolf-hybrid Vargr
  • 6. Humaniti: Humanity

Minor races: Sophonts which have not independently developed the Jump Drive. Most have little or no significant background material.

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.


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]

Box, rule books and supplemental books.

Publishing format[edit]

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. 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.


Major Traveller Game Publishers & Versions (Editions)
Pub. Date Game Abbrev. Primary Publisher
1977 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 Traveller D20 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


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 three distinctive "Little Black Books", 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.


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, 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 Traveller and The New Era.

GURPS Traveller[edit]

The game 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.

Traveller 20[edit]

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 Interstellar Wars (GTISW, sometimes GTIW) for the recently released 4th edition of GURPS. The timeline was rolled back to 2170, which is 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 Games published a new set of rules by re-working and integrating concepts from earlier rulesets.

Mongoose Traveller 2nd Edition[edit]

Mongoose Publishing released an updated 2nd edition ('MgT2.0') in 2016 with 60 more pages, a modern look, and lots of color illustrations.[4]

Traveller 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 & 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 Available from Amazon
6. 1995 To Dream of Chaos Book 2 of 3 Paul Brunette ISBN 1-55878-184-6 Available from Amazon
7. 1998 Gateway to the Stars n/a Pierce Askegren ISBN 0-671-01188-X Available from Amazon
8. 2005 The Force of Destiny n/a Dale Kemper [5] Available from Amazon
9. 2004 Diaspora Phoenix n/a Martin J. Dougherty n/a Available from RPG Now
10. 2006 Tales of the New Era 1: Yesterday's Hero n/a Martin J. Dougherty n/a Available from RPG Now
11. 2010 The Backwards Mask Book 3 of 3 Paul Brunette [6] Available from RFG Now
12. 2011 The Backwards Mask (Alternate) Book 3 of 3 Matthew Carson [6] Available from FFE
13. 2012 A Long Way Home: Tales of Congressional Space n/a Terrance McInnes n/a Available from Amazon
14. 2014 Shadow of the Storm n/a Martin J. Dougherty ISBN 1558780343 Available from RPG Now
15. 2015 Agent of the Imperium n/a Marc W. Miller n/a Available from Amazon
  • 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.
  • 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.[7]


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.[8]

Related systems[edit]

2300 AD[edit]

Main article: 2300 AD

2300 AD is a hard science fiction alternative to the looser space opera of 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 fifty light year sphere of surrounding space. Originally titled Traveller 2300, the 2nd edition of the game was renamed 2300 AD and introduced some Cyberpunk rules and adventures.


  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. ^ "Traveller Core Rulebook". Retrieved March 2, 2016. 
  5. ^ "Traveller - Force of Destiny". Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  6. ^ a b "Traveller Fiction - Wayne's Books RPG Reference". Retrieved 2014-08-23. 
  7. ^ "RPGNet RPG Gaming Index: White Dwarf articles". 2008-02-12. Retrieved 2008-02-12. 
  8. ^ "Spinward Traveller (T.V. Pilot)". June 1, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-03. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Chadwick, Frank (1978). Traveller Book 4: Mercenary. Game Designers' Workshop. 
  • Fugate, Joe D. Sr; Brown, Timothy B. (1986). Traveller Book 8: Robots. Game Designers' Workshop. ISBN 0-943580-10-2. 
  • Masters, Phil (February 1983). "Open Box: The Traveller Book". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (38): 12. ISSN 0265-8712. 
  • Miller, Marc William (1980) [1979]. Traveller Book 5: High Guard. revised by Marc William Miller, Frank Chadwick and John Harshman. Game Designers' Workshop. 
  • Miller, Marc W (1983). Traveller Book 6: Scouts. Game Designers' Workshop. 
  • Miller, Marc W; Loren Wiseman (1984). Traveller Adventure 12: Secret of the Ancients. Game Designers' Workshop. 
  • Miller, Marc W; J. Andrew Keith (1985). Traveller Book 7: Merchant Prince. Game Designers' Workshop. 
  • Miller, Marc W (1988). Rebellion Sourcebook. Game Designers' Workshop. ISBN 0-943580-63-3. 
  • Slack, Andy (February 1983). "An Introduction to Traveller Part III: Scenarios". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (38): 10–11. ISSN 0265-8712. 
  • Slack, Andy (March 1983). "An Introduction to Traveller Part IV: Scenarios". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (39): 18–19. ISSN 0265-8712. 
  • Slack, Andy (December 1983). "Open Box: Traveller Starter Edition". White Dwarf. Games Workshop (48): 10. ISSN 0265-8712. 
  • Smith, Lester (1996). Milieu 0. Imperium Games. ISBN 1578281245. 
  • Wiseman, Loren K. (1981). Traveller Book 0: An Introduction To. Game Designers' Workshop. 
  • Traveller Book 1: Characters and Combat. Game Designers' Workshop. 1977a. 
  • Traveller Book 2: Starships. Game Designers' Workshop. 1977b. 
  • Traveller Book 3: Worlds and Adventures. Game Designers' Workshop. 1977c. 

External links[edit]