Anyone who’s been in the gaming industry a long time, be they game makers, GM’s or just players, has at least heard of Traveller. Traveller, originally developed in 1977 was arguably the first science fiction role-playing game ever developed. In its long and storied history, this game has seen more makeovers than…well, insert your Hollywood celebrity of choice. Anyone I could think of just seemed too cliched.

There are complete descriptions and dates of new product listings as well as encyclopedic entries on wikipedia to tell you most of what you’d ever want to know about the game. My intention isn’t necessarily to give you a history lesson on the product. Several other people have already done that and quite well I might add. My intention is to review the development of Traveller from the standpoint of a long-time fan (yours truly) who came to it somewhat after the starting gun, but not by much.

As I’ve stated before, my role-playing began in earnest in 1983. Traveller was already out and well-established by then. By the time I first heard of it in 1985 or so, the old classic Traveller already had a considerable library of Little Black Books (I believe it’s a state or federal law those be capitalized) or LBB’s as the were known. One of my older friends owned many of them and ran me through a first campaign of Traveller. I played a Vargr corsair, as I recall. My impression of the system covered two avenues.

First, whenever I’m introduced to a new system, as a collector I evaluate if it’s a system I would like to own and if so how much of it. In the case of Traveller, I liked it, but it had a fatal flaw. This is a collector’s nightmare. If a game system is already well-established, with a lot of out of print products, how do you effectively collect it or get to running it yourself? Trav was such a product. Many of the LBB’s out that point were already hard to find and without an effective product guide a new owner could have no idea which books were essential and which were not.

Part of the problem with such a system was that the original Trav, Classic Traveller as it is now referred, was only haltingly and tepidly developed into an effective campaign setting. It was begun, as most games of the time were, as a generic game system. Still, one cannot fault Game Designer’s Workshop (GDW) for that. These were wargamers developing a scifi RPG. For what they were and what they had, the end product of the original Traveller was nothing short of miraculous. It was the disjointed and diverse nature of the LBB’s that ultimately discouraged me from purchasing it in its original form.

Marc Miller has since remedied that problem for people like me by re-releasing all the original books in reprinted, bound volumes that put lots of the LBB’s into one all-encompassing tome. That in my opinion is one of the smartest things he could’ve done and it finally allowed me to own all those old books without the concern for condition and the time it would take to track them all down. For Trav, my concern was more for completeness of the material than it was to have “originals”.

The second thing I had to consider about this game I’ve already touched upon. I liked it, but I had to know that for certain before I even entertained the idea of acquiring it. This was the first character creation process in which I actually “grew” the character. I got to see what he did as he aged, what experience he’d had, the skills he’d acquired and it all seemed terribly logical and orderly. Although this is a matter of personal preference, I fricking loved that about this game. I obtained the skeleton information with which to frame my Vargr’s background for a universe I knew absolutely nothing about and I did it in an enjoyable way building that character.

The important thing for me was, I started that adventure already invested in that character. I have never been so readily attached to characters you just roll up or spend points on. Those take a lot more time to grow and understand.

For its first incarnation, Traveller was a hit with me and it’s for these reasons I always recommend it to people trying to broaden their libraries or game bases. That and all the original books are so easily available now in reprint. It’s one of the easiest systems to pick up and play anymore.

Sure it didn’t have the glitzy art or the fancy paper that a lot of books have now, but it had old school charm, and you’ll forgive me if I’m partial to such systems.

What I didn’t know, and what I’ll explore over the next few posts, was how Traveller would change and my interest in it would change right along with that, over the next decade or two.