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Traveller Classic cover.jpg
RPG published by
Game Designer's Workshop
Steve Jackson Games
Mongoose Publishing
Far Future Entertainment
Authors Marc Miller, Frank Chadwick, John Harshman, and Loren K. Wiseman (followed by many others)
First Publication 1977

Traveller is a science fiction game that is older than you are. It's always tried to be a science fiction instead of science fantasy, and it manages to pull it off... most of the time. It's grounded in '60s and '70s science fiction like Isaac Asimov, Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Poul Anderson, and other people who are not hacks like George Lucas nor hippies IN SPACE like Gene Roddenberry.

There are eight major star-faring races, three of which are human: the Vilani who are the decadent old empire who grew up on a world where you had to ferment everything to make it edible (their beer tastes like gym socks); the Zhodani who are all too-tall telepathic middle-eastern types (but they love their Thought Police! Honest!); and the late-to-the-show Solomani, who it turns out grew up on the planet humans actually came from (which makes them BETTER than ANYONE! TERRA FIRST! FUCK YEAH!). The other races are K'Kree, herd-centaurs who are fanatic vegetarians who never travel in less than family groups of six ("they eat meat? burn the planet from orbit"), the territorial Aslan (meow), the pirate Vargr (woof), the hexapodal Hivers (walking starfish made of "just as planned") and highly specialized Droyne (insect-y lizard-y types).

The setting is the "Third Imperium," after the Vilani First Imperium collapsed, and the Solomani 2nd imperium flared and then imploded. Humaniti is in the middle of the eight races mentioned above (except the Droyne, who are anywhere but don't care about conquest), and getting pushed on all sides. Furthermore, stellar travel takes a week for each "jump," which could be 1 to 6 parsecs -- your engine increases the range of the jump, but it's always one week per jump. Since it can be months to get a message from the capital to the frontiers, and because of recurring dark ages, the Third Imperium is mostly a feudal state, with local governors, barons and the like. The post office run is an unmanned jump-4 "x-boat" ship that pops in, bursts an upload of mail, downloads new mail, and then jumps out. Even these ships could take 15 months to get from the capital to the borders where a typical adventuring party would be.

A typical Traveller campaign is players who own the mortgage on a small merchant frigate, moving cargo from point A to point B and doing odd jobs that may or may not be legal. Yes, very "Firefly," but this came first and Firefly has its own role-playing game and then another RPG edition on different rules covering only the TV series.

Traveller was unique at the time, and still unusual, in the fact that your character could die during generation (later changed to severe wounds and convalescence).

There were many editions of Traveller, because people just won't let it die:

  • Traveller "Classic" (1977) came in a black box, with four 5"x8.5" booklets with solid black covers and white letters. Stats were from 0 to 15 (you used hexadecimal for everything, so "0" to "F"). They made a bunch of expansions, and you could fit them all in the box until the alien race books. Everyone had a military background, and your stats and starting equipment were modified by bonuses you got during your terms of service. The splatbooks would go back and redo the original character generation rules.
  • Traveller:2300 (1986) was supposed to be the Solomani before discovering the other races. Used d10 instead of 2d6. Got confused with MT the next year.
  • Megatraveller (1987) folded all the splatbooks back into the basic rules, and the setting changed with a huge civil war in the Third Imperium with the assasination of the emprah. Most Traveller fans thought this was made of fail, and decide to ignore this bit of history. These books were bigger, and there was no black box.
  • Traveller: The New Era (1993) The Imperium gets ripped to shreds by a virus that sends every jump-capable ship into the nearest star. Every planet is cut off from interstellar travel, and there's anarchy. Whoever has the most tech tends to become the local lord. New game mechanics, no more needing to learn about the setting since you aren't going anywhere. Game Designer's Workshop went under before they could make this space game about space again.
  • Marc Miller's Traveller (1996) (aka "T4") is when the original authors got the rights after GDW went under. He rolled back the clock to the start of the Third Imperium, no more assasination, no more Virus, but he totally failed at getting a good editor to review his work and his book needed twenty-five pages of errata.
  • GURPS Traveller (1998) happened because Steve Jackson is a nut for the original. No assasination, no Virus, and he got the original splatbook authors to come back and rewrite the alien races books and adventures.
  • Traveller 20 (2002) is Traveller using the d20 System. Takes place during the war that happened when Solomani met their neighbours.
  • Hero Traveller (2007) is Traveller with Hero System rules which were also used in the CHAMPIONS superhero RPG.
  • Mongoose Traveller (2008) is new, and it doesn't suck. Mongoose bought the rights to publish stuff for at least ten years. The setting is roughly equivalent to the original.
  • Traveller5 (2013) (aka "T5") is the newest, and at the moment it's practically unplayable (unless you are a Traveller expert). Made by Marc Miller on a Kickstarter, it's a 656-page book that provides rules for every damn thing there is or could be, but not much of a coherence or clarity.
  • Mongoose Traveller 2 is a 2016 product that is widely played.
  • Traveller5.1 2017 is the newest and bestest version, a tool box for many other Traveller versions and with a New setting. Set at least 1000 years into the future of the previous settings it allows for massive exploration campaigns.

OK, you see how on the front cover up there a ship is basically doomed? Yeah. Expect that. Traveller is not a forgiving system. In older editions, it was possible to literally die during chargen (due to the life-path generation system). This is now impossible, but the life-path generation system is of such a nature that all characters end up either being cripples or Bastard Hard. Within the game itself, combat can mess you up, especially ship-to-ship combat. I hope you took Vacc Suit and Zero G as skills.

One major fun of the game is to roll star-system characteristics with dice (ProTip: Get a computer or web-page utility to do it!) and then move around trading, buying low and selling high. Your buying and selling prices (as percentages of base values) are determined with dice-rolls and skills. See if you can maintain your starship payments and strike it rich besides, as long as wars, political intrigue, wildernesses or alien beasts don't kill you first.

Another major meta-fun is to wade into a Traveller forum and state an absolute preference for one, and only one, of the Traveller rule-sets, and watch the feeding frenzy begin.

Both Traveller 5 and Mongoose have reintroduced death during character generation (but only if you're stupid :) )