Monday, August 18, 2014

On the Beauty of Classic Traveller

Classic Traveller. The game that started it all. One of the first SFRPGs in history. Sure, it is rough around the edges, and its rules have many "holes" in them (vehicle combat comes to mind), but the game itself is a thing of beauty, from both a game design and an old-school play perspective. It is a work of art; returning to it after playing many other and newer games is refreshing. But to truly appreciate it, one must see it as its own game, maybe even take the first three Little Black Books (or the Traveller Book which is an edited and improved version of them) as their own thing, apart from later, supplemental Classic Traveller or later Traveller rulesets.

So what is the beauty of Classic Traveller?

The beauty of Classic Traveller is a character sheet which is a few rows of text on an index card, smaller in size even than the typical old-school D&D character sheet, yet describes a complete character. From these few stats, randomly generated, one can infer a very interesting and complete character, all without needing too many rules to reference. HERE is an example of such inference from the Ancient Faith in the Far Future blog - the character is three short rows, yet the experienced player, or Referee, can easily extrapolate much background and personality details, enough for years of play.

The beauty of Classic Traveller is generating a complete character in 5 minutes (believe me, I've tried this with a timer). Sure, your character may die during chargen. But who cares? You "wasted" a few minutes of your life playing a game. No harm done - five minutes more and another character will spring forth. All of this while allowing for much diversity of characters.

The beauty of Classic Traveller is building a starship in twenty minutes; this starship has no "stat block", but rather a paragraph of readable English text, which is enough to run it. Much variety is possible, and the "building block" simplicity of the ship creation system allows for the Referee to quickly add new components (say, hydroponics, a shipboard hospital and so on) to Book 2 ships. One ship in a paragraph - this is beautiful, especially when compared to the long strings of hex digits serving as the "stat blocks" of ships in later iterations of Traveller.

The beauty of Classic Traveller is that a mere 2-3 pages of tables create a wonderfully complex world of weapons, each with its own nuances, each fitting a niche. No need for ultra-complex penetration rolls; all is included in these simple tables. CT weapons have their own "character", and their own uses. The emergent complexity here is breathtaking.

The beauty of Classic Traveller is that a few digits define a world, and are enough to infer much from them, all while allowing for much nuances and for an endless variety of worlds. The stats suit adventurers and their needs - What starport services are available? Can I take my laser rifle ashore? Which politics will I have to deal with? Can I breath the air? Can I refuel from oceans/gas-giants/glaciers? All of this is very quick to generate and very fun to infer from.

A beautiful system, isn't it?


  1. Yes. This.

    I've tried a lot of RPG systems over the years, but nothing has approached the elegance of Classic Traveller. As a rules system, it is lightweight, maneuverable, and complete in all the important areas. Subsequent editions got weighted down with too much official detail.

    Glad to see there's another CT fan out there. I feel like a lonely dinosaur sometimes.

    1. I consider The Traveller Book to be better than Mongoose Traveller (my other favorite version of Traveller) in most respects. I do not like the Mongoose armor system, for example, or their psionic rules which have a chance of failure (in CT you spend points, then magic happens, in MGT you might fail even then).

    2. I don't know all that much about Mongoose Traveller. I had a chance to look at their core rulebook when it was in beta and its similarity to CT struck me. Unfortunately I did not read it in any depth for content (I was a volunteer proofreader scanning for layout issues). The later MgT rulebooks seem to be a varied lot, garnering a wild spectrum of reviews on gaming sites, but I have never seen any of them firsthand. I've got a complete collection of all the GDW CT material, so I have not felt a great need to invest in MgT.

      To tell you the truth, I was never all that fond of the way the CT psionics subsystem was designed, but at least it was coherent and playable. I might have fiddled with the mechanics if I had used psionics a lot in my games.

      One thing I liked about CT is that the subsystems are pretty modular; if you don't like psionics, or the trade system, or whatever, it's pretty easy to swap in your own. The subsystems are also easily extendable. If you want more detail in a particular area (e.g., more types of weapons to play with), it isn't hard to come up with some house rules that dovetail with the published material.

  2. Beautiful, indeed.

    Right now I’m enjoying with TNE, but returning to the old Traveller is remembering that things don't need to be complex to be complete and suggestive.

    And, given this is my first comment, salutations from Catalonia. You have a nice blog. Read you soon.

    1. Thank you for your comment!

      Regarding TNE, my next post will probably be about running TNE games with the CT rules... Also here is what I wrote about the TNE setting last week:

  3. I have been playing about 300 hours online with some Traveller fanatics, mainly in Classic version, and I'm warming to the game, but I've played and read many other SF games.
    But it's 40 years old, in the original monotype font of the period, cobbled together from the add-on booklets of the time. Some sort of renewed version is in order (nay, demanded by the young RPG eyeballs of today), but whether it's Mongoose 2nd ed., or Cepheus System, or whatever, there is some choice. Inevitably the fandom is fragmented into the various editions. Mongoose 2nd-ed. lacked room for starship construction in the core book (unlike 1st-ed.?), which is somewhat of a deficiency. Their product is also more expensive!!

  4. Classic Traveller is all you really need. Cepheus engine is the next best thing because it opens the door to old gamer writers but really. Anything you want to do you can do with Classic you just have to decide what you wanna change add or borrow as new home rules to your game. CT is the greatest Science Fiction RPG of all time.

  5. Exactly! CE is the closest thing to CT you can commercially publish for without a special license.