Traveller

Love the game, hate the setting


I’m sure it will come as no surprise to those who read this blog that Traveller is my default Sci Fi game. It would not be a stretch to say that I’ve been playing it longer than any other game outside of D&D and I might even say I’ve played it for longer stretches than any other system. With the advent of Mongoose Publishing’s re-issue of the classic game, my enthusiasm has continued unabated.

Despite that, it might come as a surprise to learn that I’ve never been fond of the Imperium. Marc Miller’s original LBBs, and Mongoose’s remake, were actually designed universe-neutral. As the Imperium setting began to leak into subsequent books (particularly books 4 – 8), it became more difficult to ignore what GDW was promoting as the preferred setting.

I attempted to use the setting for several years before I eventually decided to scrap what I was doing. My problem with the Imperium has always revolved around a number of specific points that I find to be untenable with the way I envision my own game universe.

The Imperium is both explored and massively populated. It never ceased to amaze me how much space man occupied in GDW’s game world and how incredibly (over) populated it wound up being. If you intend to use exploration, particularly scouting, as the theme of your campaign you would have a difficult time figuring out what to do with your PCs.

Imperial worlds are a monochromatic blur. Not only is the Imperium over-populated in my opinion, but it’s also largely homogenous. Having followed the strict tenants of system creation from the original system, the various sectors of the Imperium wind up being single-government planets. In my opinion, this should be rare compared to the number of populated worlds that wind up being balkanized societies with multiple cultures and societies; this is just logical as human society has a propensity for this built into their psychology.

The majority of aliens and cultures in the Imperium are utterly uninspired. The Aslan are a rip-off of Niven’s Kzinti (and countless others), the K’kree is the Sci Fi equivalent of a centaur, the Vargr are just gnolls, and the Zhodani are nothing more than humans with head scarves. The only truly inspired choice among the major races is the Hivers. I admit it, I like my aliens to be alien, but even if you prefer something a bit more bipedal-centric the choices available for characters are truly not that interesting.

The overall governance of the Imperium is medieval. That’s not even a joke and I continue to wonder why the convention behind the presumed setting of a far flung space empire would resort to such an archaic political structure. The answer of course is that a star spanning society would likely never wind up taking this route. Even taking into account the limitations of the x-boat system in carrying information, it doesn’t stand to reason that mankind would move in this direction, and a plethora of other possibilities would actually make for a richer, more diverse setting.

Because of this, I tend to collect sourcebooks to mine for material but seldom use it as intended. Of course, one of the reasons I enjoy Traveller is because like its early RPG cousins it was designed to allow GMs to use it however they want. While I’ve spent years creating various settings for my own games, often creating completely new universes from one campaign to another, I’m pleased to see that various companies are now creating alternative settings for the game. I recently purchased Reign of Discordia (review to come soon) and I’m definitely looking forward to Wildfire’s Chthonian Stars that’s set to be released in October.

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9 thoughts on “Love the game, hate the setting

    1. The quoted part got left out:

      The overall governance of the Imperium is medieval. That’s not even a joke and I continue to wonder why the convention behind the presumed setting of a far flung space empire would resort to such an archaic political structure. The answer of course is that a star spanning society would likely never wind up taking this route. Even taking into account the limitations of the x-boat system in carrying information, it doesn’t stand to reason that mankind would move in this direction, and a plethora of other possibilities would actually make for a richer, more diverse setting.

  1. I love the Traveller System, at least, the basic idea of rolling 2d6+mods vs dif.

    I found too most complex char generation, and the idea you are a retired veteran that is default.

    What i don’t love, at all, is the same you don’t like, the setting.

    I mean, i prefer a universe more like Babylon 5 or Star Trek (without so much sugar). But usually, i always end with my own setting, with all the things i want, and need.

  2. Chip: With Niven and Pournelle’s Mote series they do create a universe that feels very much like the Imperium; Niven’s Known World series though is different in that he uses a UN style group as the ruling body for Terran based mankind, and I certainly prefer that over the former.

    Trukulo: I don’t mind the chargen system myself and over the years I’ve become fairly good at meshing the PC’s last career with what they might currently be doing, so it doesn’t seem like they’ve retired so much as taken a “new job.” As I said, I tend to create my own universe, which is why I’m glad others are publishing alternative settings as the system will easily adapt to them.

  3. Tim,

    In Niven’s Known Space, there is no “galactic” government of any sort. The UN governs the Sol system, but the other human worlds (Wunderland, Home, We Made It, Jinx, et al) have their own governments.

    There are a lot of reasons for not liking the Traveller “Third Imperium” setting, and I agree with all of yours except the complaint about the feudal structure of the government. Miller and company selected this because of the tradition of written science fiction that they read as they were growing up. I, too, find it unlikely that a neo-feudal system would develop among space faring humanity, but consider that there are still hereditary monarchies existing today, including in some Western democracies, and the idea that such a government would develop is not totally ridiculous.

  4. Chip: That’s where I was going with my comment about Niven’s Known Space I guess I was just too vague on the execution, sorry about that. As for the monarchy, I certainly don’t mind the concept, and use it on a smaller scale — world, system, or even pieces of a subsector — but it’s not my thing for a campaign universe. I guess in truth I want the “option of having a lot of options” if you will; I like being able to create a host of systems that are diverse politically, economically, and socially, which ultimately keeps my players guessing at what’s coming next.

    On a semi-related note, I’ve been toying with creating a world based on Sheri Tepper’s Grass, which would essentially be a non-monarch aristocracy. I would likely modify the ideas and concepts a bit to keep my players off-guard as to what to expect, but the entire setting has a mysterious feel that I think would play well in a Traveller campaign.

  5. At the risk of sounding totally pimptastic might I suggest you check out the Twilight Sector setting from none other than Terra/Sol Games. Available at DriveThroughRPG and through our distributor Studio 2. If nothing else there’s a lot of stuff to steal there for your home brew campaigns. Thats what I always do! Thanks.

    Mike Cross
    Terra/Sol Games

  6. Mike: I actually own the Twilight Sector setting and I’m about twenty pages into the book at the moment. I’ve been sidetracked with professional obligations for the last month but I hope to have it finished and reviewed by the first of September.

  7. Tim,
    I sent you the revised edition. So you might want to jump to that. I think the first edition was good, I think we’ve made it better with the makeover. It never fails that you don’t see what you did wrong till you get away from the project for a little while. We took some criticism for some stuff in the first edition (even though we got solid ratings) and some of it I felt was valid so we went ahead and improved what we could without going to a full on 2nd edition. I hope you enjoy the book!

    Mike Cross
    Terra/Sol Games

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