Thursday 20 January 2022


This Bastionland Editorial was originally sent as a reward to all Patreon supporters, and is released freely on this site a week after its original publication.

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I've never read Traveller. 

This is despite hearing so many people talk about it in response to Foreground Growth and generally liking most of what I hear about it's design and gameplay. 

So today's the day. I ordered a print copy of The Traveller Book, which is the three original books plus a sample adventure. Let's see if there's anything that leaps out at me in the first few pages. 

p9 - This is the first page of proper text and we're introduced to "self-appointed goals", another area that I'm extremely interested in. Great to see it so front-and-center, though admittedly also slightly tucked away in a full page of text.

p10 - "The rules provide for solitaire and unsupervised play, but the highest form of the game, the ones that is the most fun, requires that someone act as referee."

I'm interested to see whether this is expanded on! Also unsupervised play makes it sound like forbidden fruit.

p12 - What makes a good referee? Apparently Imagination, Improvisation, Proportion (being neither over generous or restrictive), and Organisation. Seems pretty good to me, though I think many of us would wince slightly at the last one. 

p13 - Information the GM's setting is advised to be split into four categories, which I'd summarise as:

1: The PCs know it.

2: The PCs can find it out easily.

3: The PCs can find it out with difficulty.

4: The PCs can't find it out by their own efforts.

Whiiiiich, as a "give information" preacher, gives me a little twitch. If you're putting info in your notes that the players stand no chance of discovering, then is that wasted time? I guess it might help with your portrayal of the world to know this huge secret, but I'm not convinced. 

p15 - "One of the most important parts of being a good referee is keeping proper track of the passage of game time."

Hmmmm... this was a real vibe of this era of RPGs.

p18 - So I knew all the jokes about dying in character creation, but by the book it actually looks way more common than I expected! The optional "injury" rule feels much more practical. Perhaps they die on a second injury. 

p19 - "When a character reaches 34 year of age... aging begins to take its toll"

Presented without further comment.

It's around this point that I should confess I'm enjoying this book a lot more than I was expecting. Perhaps that will change as I get beyond the first chapter, but I definitely feel there's something special about this in comparison to other games I've read from the era. 

p21 - I understand that "Gun Combat" and "Gunnery" mean different things, but them both existing as separate skill entries, that actually need to be handled differently, really gives reinforces that old game vibe. It even repeats this with "Blade Combat" and "Blade" as distinct skills!

Melee weapons are handled so weirdly. Maybe it'll make more sense when I read the combat rules, but it essentially seems like there's one ideal weapon for any given STR score, and you should just consult the list to find your dream weapon. With a good STR of 10, my traveller seems destined to wield a halberd or pike, which seems hilarious when I picture them lugging the thing through a space station. 

p22 - Aaaargh! I was just starting to love this system, but now I see that having the skill "Administration 2" doesn't mean a nice simple +2 to your 2d6 roll relating to Administrative Affairs. Nooo, you have to look up each individual skill to find that Administration actually grants +2 for each level of skill, and you get an outright -3 if you lack the skill entirely. Just when I thought we had a nice straightforward system here. Hopefully this isn't a harbinger of things to come. 

I can already sense the distant presence of 40 years' worth of house rules to this game that make things more straightforward, but I can only judge what's in here, for now. Naturally, if I were to run this I'd probably be chopping off a whole lot either way. 

Though for all that I hate the idea of having to consult this skill chapter during play, I kinda love that computers have a 1-in-6 chance of just fatally crashing when needed, and a 27% chance of having a detrimental bug even if it's not fatal. 

Okay, we've hit the end of the character chapter. Feeling very mixed on this. My heart likes it, my head hurts slightly, but let's end by rolling my first ever character.

Major Dunne Reason   887646   30yrs

3 Terms Army  Cr22,000

Brawling -1, Rifle-1, SMG-1, Fwd Obsvr-1, Mechanical-1, Dagger-2

1 High Passage, 1 Mid Passage, 1 Low Passage

Amazing this guy got as far as he did with such a low Education score. Seems like he's mostly good for getting free rides and stabbing people, but it's a start!

Looking forward to seeing what the rest of the book holds. 


  1. "Getting free rides and stabbing people" is a solid character concept in my book.

  2. You do get some odd characters from that system. I generated a fellow who rose through the military ranks despite being appalling at everything except hitting people with swords, which he was a master at. It doesn't say much for the quality of the military in his strange future!

    I always read the STR thing as just a "you must be this strong to use these weapons" rather than a prescription to use certain weapons, but maybe that's just me being influenced by other games.

    Regarding skills, what I find interesting about early Traveller is that it very nearly is a universal system. Roll 2d6, add your skill, try to get 8+ (or 10+) to succeed. Indeed, I think that is exactly how it works in the recentish Mongoose version. The odd thing about early Traveller is that the individual skill descriptions sort of hint at that, but never quite get around to it, as if a lightbulb never went off. It feels a bit like that saying (was it Plato?) about sculptors "finding" the statue in the block of stone; Marc Miller just didn't do quite enough chiselling.

    1. The statue quote is from Michelangelo (quite surprising considerino he's a Turtle ;P).
      At some point somebody came up with "Rule 68A" for Classic Traveller, a simple teask system based on three standard difficulties: 6+, 8+ and 10+.
      The 68A progression was also used to determine if a character's stats where high enough to warrant positive DMs to a sk8ll roll.
      I the full version of "Rule 68A" can be found on Citizens of the Imperium, the Traveller forum.

  3. A while back I reviewed Mongoose Traveller 2e and Traveller 5.10 back to back.

    Mongoose Traveller is a little nicer in character creation and gives support for non-military archetypes, but wants to lure you into the splatbook treadmill.

    5.10 is complete, but is also a monster three book set where each book is the size of DCC’s hardcover rules tome, and is so dense it will send you into the tunnel from the end of 2001 A Space Odyssey trying to comprehend the massive pile of rules you have had the temerity to leaf through.

    That being said, I liked the flux rules once I grokked how to use them. And the UPP is one of the best inventions that no other RPG uses.

    1. Looking through my notes, and T5 is worse then I remember. Skill resolution is rolling under your Stat+Skill with a number of dice determined by the GM for how difficult it is. Everything players interact with has an acronym for it’s stat line. It gives damage tables for what happens if your in the same room as a nuke.

      Stick with either the 3 Black Books, or do Mongoose Traveller. Don’t do T5.

    2. Have you had a look at Cepheus?

  4. > With a good STR of 10, my traveller seems destined to wield a halberd or pike, which seems hilarious when I picture them lugging the thing through a space station.

    They'd seem grotesquely out of place to me. The pike is also particularly useless as a personal weapon, outside of a dense pike block formation.

    Real world fencing techniques for reference:

    Are they substantially different (and smaller) in Traveller's setting than the real historical ones?

  5. An excellent straight version of Traveller I recommend to check is Cepheus Engine.It's completely free and OGL retro/clone of Mongoose Traveller 1e. There is a huge community supporting it with homebrew stuff and supplements.

    Generally, I think the OSR design movement should consider more seriously some of the intuitions of Marc Miller.

  6. Love your stuff Chris.

    A few thoughts on Original Traveller. Ignore as you wish.

    1. If you’re reading Traveller, you really need to read Traveller out if the Box. Link:

    2. Original Traveller is mostly FKR style play + skirmish / wargaming like combat rules. Outside of combat, GMs are expected to just make judgment calls, and if needed resolve actions with 2d6 +DM vs Target Number. The FKR approach somewhat explains the lack of universal resolution mechanics.

    3. Traveller is heavily influenced by Original DnD. Mark Miller literally had the three little white books open as he was making Traveller. But it’s no slavish copy of that game, instead it tries to iterate and boil down the rules. So, you get 6 DnD like attributes, but Wisdom becomes Education and Charisma becomes a more concrete Social Standing; you get Careers instead of Classes; you get Armour making you harder to hit, but modified by weapon type; you get Hit Points but damage comes off your attributes; and you get dice rolls, but d6 not polyhedrons because they’re easier to find. And you get three booklets, but campaign generation tools not lists of monsters. Like original DnD, mechanics and procedures are not always clearly explained and there’s some weirdness in the layout, rules etc. Like DnD, it’s also intended to be a general tool kit for playing in a genre (but sci-if nit fantasy), but bakes in lots of assumptions eg jump drives, ship passage, royalty, although you can happily hack all those assumptions. In some ways, Traveller was in its time sort of an attempt to boil down and rework DnD the way ItO did.

    4. Dying in character creation is a feature not a bug. Character creation is part of the solo play aspect if the game. Dying is a push your luck mechanic, ie if you roll up a good character you can keep taking career terms to improve your character further but you run the risk of losing the lot on a bad survival roll. No, I don’t like the mechanic either. Mongoose’s more recent version of the game makes failing a survival result in a medical debt, which I prefer. But I can see the much mocked original “death in character creation” did have some thought behind it. It’s also maybe no more harsh than ODnD characters rolling a single 1 for HPs - just as much of a death sentence really.

    5. Skills aren’t really skills, they’re more like Class Abilities. You don’t really need Skills to do things (outside of combat skills, which is why everyone gets guns 0). You can usually either just do a thing or pay someone to do it. Skills instead represent unique specialist abilities that open up new areas of play.

    Traveller is a workable game, but has issues much like Original DnD. But there’s lots to mine from the game - mechanics, procedures, aesthetics, layout etc. The bit that really grabs me about Traveller is how FKR it can be, and how that’s maybe a better way to handle something as complex as sci-fi because it gives primacy to reality and or genre over mechanics.

  7. As far as the death in character generation thing - try reloading this webpage a few dozen times to see how prevalent it is:

    1. I just did ten characters, five of which died in service! Four of those died in their first term, although one survived to their fourth.