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.