Category: Other Systems


Swashbuckling had certainly been tried before as an RPG. GDW had introduced the genre to the gaming industry with its legendary “En Garde!” in 1975 and a smattering of other titles including one by Fantasy Games Unlimited, Flashing Blades, followed over the years. The definitive work on the “real” era of Swashbuckling and Swordplay circa the 1600’s was probably GURPS Swashbucklers, with its stellar research and the venerable GURPS system to back it up.

All these systems were limited, though, to historical settings and time lines. Unless a GM wanted to heavily invest time and effort into creating an alternate history in order to fool players or at least keep them guessing as to events’ outcomes, this simply wasn’t feasible. Let us not forget, there was also the matter of keeping players feeling like they were more than small cogs in an already running machine. Such feelings can quickly lead to frustration, apathy, boredom and the end of the campaign.

There never was a fair answer to this, not until 1999 with the release of Alderac Entertainment Group’s 7th Sea. An interesting note to start this discussion is that 7th Sea RPG was published in tandem with a very popular card game. Both are now out of print after only about a 6-year run. Even more interestingly, finding an easy reference on Alderac’s home page to the fact that they’ve even heard of 7th Sea is nigh unto impossible.

7th Sea rejected previous models of Swashbuckling adventure RPG by modifying the setting. As can be seen from the wiki entry and as is known to just about anyone who played the game, 7th Sea was basically a 1600’s Bizarro Europe setting with analogs for most historical European powers and several auxillary powers of that era. It was fully stocked with a compliment of very in-depth heroes and villains that controlled the destiny of the known world, but who could all play a part in and be affected by a campaign with no significant loss to any GM-inspired storyline. Another fun fact about 7th Sea, the original supplements were supposed to cover the state of affairs and the condition of the world in only one year, 1668. It was thought that as they progressed, future supplements would be marked with later years.

One thing that impressed me about this game line was the incredible amount of high-quality support material, with each major nation and secret society having their own impressive sourcebook, each again with its own equally impressive cover art. This extensive support made it all the more puzzling when AEG decided to kill the line several years ago. Apparently, although the game had a rabid fan base, they didn’t exist in sufficient numbers to justify continuing production. A sad reality of such games, especially one so intimately tied with a card game, is when gamers move on, companies will these days cut bait rather than support a flagging line.

I recall the system being exceptionally easy to learn and the point system for character development fairly flexible. It was easy enough to play it very hard-nosed with slow character development or cinematic with rapid, but controlled leaps. Membership in Secret Societies and new fighting styles bore huge costs, for example, but the game lent itself readily to flamboyant storyline development and I as a GM certainly made use of that.

My group at the time had craved a shot at such a setting for a long time and quickly grew to love the often fast-pace of the game, mixed with an insanely rich storyline and a, as was noted on wiki, an almost Lovecraftian undertone to some elements of sorcery in the game. Looking back, I seem to have a knack for injecting or enhancing horror in many of the games I’ve run and this one was no different. Unnerving the players seemed to imprint on them almost as much if not more than making them laugh. Each one of their characters left a considerable impression on the other players to the point where years later we were all still sharing stories of their particular adventures or comedic moments. This remains the only campaign I wrote a follow-up piece of fiction to years after the campaign had completed; such was the continued interest in the characters by the players.

I had always wanted to play a game like this, but until 7th Sea the results always fell short. It was just as easy to play a round of Sid Meier’s “Pirates” and call it a day. 7th Sea, later called Swashbuckling Adventures, was one of those settings that produced such a detailed campaign setting that it was like waiting for the next installment in your favorite fiction series to come out. As a parting shot, its very last supplement, Rapier’s Edge (which if memory serves was marked with a later year), even contained a timeline treatment for what they had planned to happen over the next couple of years of game play. For a busy GM, the timeline was a godsend and for anyone else it was worth its weight in gold for ideas.

This game had it all for cinematic gamers, dedicated role players and even card gamers. With such wide appeal, I expected it to still be around and selling, but admittedly I don’t know as much about TCG’ers. I’ve heard they’re a more fickle lot and move on rather easily and if this is the case perhaps I have only them to blame for the loss of this line. 🙂 Because 7th Sea/Swashbuckling Adventures was so intimately connected with its namesake TCG, it conceivably couldn’t survive on its own.

Thus it joins the sad and long list of games on the bookheap of RPG history, but during its tenure it burned brighter than almost any other. This is a game I would readily recommend for almost anyone to play and any collector to have in his or her collection. Any interest in that era makes ownership of this game a must.

If there was ever to be a science fiction game that had considerable promise, it was Star Frontiers. Granted, I may only think so highly of it because it was my first and thus most dear science fiction game, acquired I think around the tender age of 14. Its system was, as many are, unwieldy and not much good beyond basic play with basic tasks (combat, climbing, riding, etc.).

The universe was perhaps generic, but it was at the same time gifted with a certain unique twist in that the races were still very playable and amusing. We of course had our ubiquitous humans. What game doesn’t? Well, some but this had humans. There were gliding apes called Yazirians, who I assume were developed to fit the “wookie” role in the Star Frontiers universe. The inscrutable “Vulcan” like characters were oddly enough insectoid, Vrusk. Outside of Star Wars’ Verpine, rarely do you see PC insects in scifi. And lastly the fourth main race were the Dralasites, blobs of goo looking like Gloop and Gleep from the Herculoids that could shape themselves in any number of ways with any numbers of limbs and a ridiculous sense of humor that was equally pliable.

There were many subraces introduced over a series of adventure supplements, most NPC-level in detail, but these were the four main player races.

Naturally a villain race was introduced, the worm-like Sathar. And yes, they resembled nothing so much as an oversized earth worm with a penchant for large guns. Something that infuriated me as a teenager was the fact that TSR took great lengths to insist that any campaign should keep the Sathar a complete mystery to the PC’s. Some small things were found out about them near the end of the adventure series (in Face of the Enemy and War Machine), but by and large there was never any information produced on them. They killed themselves before capture and blew up their ships if they were losing a battle. I always longed for TSR to flesh them out, as it were, but to my knowledge they never did.

The modules were surprisingly enjoyable. The original “Volturnus” series for Star Frontiers was in my opinion a fun albeit somewhat predictable storyline. I own multiple copies of these adventures and always enjoy re-reading them. What’s not to love? Squirrel monkeys, land squids and desert-dwelling octopi mixing it up with bipedal super smart dinos. Yeah, have to call that one a winner in my book.

The unigov in this game was called, wait, United Planetary Federation (UPF) because the United Federation of Planets might be too obvious. That goverment mixed with local colonial governments gave quite a degree of flexibility in campaigns.

I was a huge fan of the fact that Star Frontiers had its own wargame, “Knight Hawks”. It allowed for UPF and Sathar space battles in a very standard wargame fashion. Everything from fighter to fighter to battleship to heavy cruiser was covered. Again the system was overly simple and not designed to survive much detail. Small detail criticals were included almost as an afterthought, it seemed, but the system was quite playable.

Both “Alpha Dawn”, the RPG set and “Knight Hawks” had maps and counters; a step above almost any other TSR fare at the time. In fact, it outdid a lot of games of its day in that regard. Most companies couldn’t afford all the extra bells and whistles.

Coming out of Star Trek and Star Wars at the time (this was about ’85), I was quite eager to play an actual scifi game and Traveller was not yet fully on my radar. Star Frontiers proved a remarkably simple and satisfying product for that need, but it left me wanting a lot more. I’ve often thought the setting should be modified for other systems, like GURPS, and maybe it has. I might look that up. Yep. I love the web.

If you’re looking for a simple system with great races and a very workable and expandable campaign setting, you can do a lot worse than go with the Star Frontiers setting. The products are highly collectible and even include some miniatures if you can find them. It amazes me how much money TSR threw at this project, but it was in its seriously flush days of the Frank Mentzer D&D sets, so it makes a bit of sense.

If any of you ever played this or it was also your “gateway drug” into other scifi games, I’d love to hear about it.

Twilight:2000, a game of historical fiction produced by Game Designer’s Workshop in the mid-’80’s, stands as one of the most unique platforms of its day and one of the most difficult to maintain. Twilight 2000, for those too young to know better, was not a game of angsty teen vampires and forbidden love. It was an RPG that covered what was at the time poorly developed section of the industry: modern combat environment real-world role playing.

At the time of its inception, Twilight was almost an oddity, born in a market of predominantly fantasy and sci-fi RPG’s. There had been a few other attempts to be sure. Modern combat RPG’s were an interest, but one that hadn’t really taken off. Consider the titles, though.

1979’s Commando was for all intents and purposes a boardgame. There was some RPG action to it, but it was akin to Car Wars in that regard. It was more small unit action than player development. The Morrow Project from Timeline proved a worthy candidate, but its setting was near-future post-apocalyptic with a narrow range of gear and a laughable gaming system. This also was meant mostly as a pseudo-wargame with RPG data grafted on seemingly as an afterthought.

Aftermath by Fantasy Games Unlimited also tried to stake its turf for near post-apocalyptic settings with an almost GURPS-like approach to a “choose your Holocaust” style motif. Although there were a couple of decent supplements, FGU’s horribly overdeveloped math-heavy gaming system I personally believe led it to be less than popular. FGU’s other entrant, Merc, was equally intriguing focusing on the modern “romantic mercenary” figure, but again suffered from FGU’s byzantine game systems.

FASA’s nearly forgotten Behind Enemy Lines (WWII gaming) and the more readily remembered Paladium game Recon (Vietnam gaming) rounded out the early entrants, but none had gained much traction in the market.

Notably, none covered the scenario playing out so frequently in the minds of wargamer geek teens such as myself at the time…the Third World War. Information on equipment and armies for the time was not as readily available as it is now and even bookstores with well-stocked selections of Jane’s directories were scarce. No internet resources existed. If you were fascinated by the concept of the world duking it out instead of going nuclear, there was little to sate your almost hedonistic gaming desire.

This all changed with the older wargamer geeks of GDW. The unique birth of this game is described best from the Guide to Twilight:2000 v.1 you can still get as a free PDF, which itself is excerpted from Lawrence Schick’s “Heroic Worlds“.

The breakthrough came on a long drive back from the Origins Game Convention (Dallas, 1983). In an overloaded rental van, Frank Chadwick, Loren Wiseman, Bill Keith, and Andrew Keith talked for hours about a modern military role-playing game which concentrated on equipment and realistic military situations, and by the end of the trip the concept for Twilight: 2000 was far enough along for specific design to begin in earnest.

This with the enticing description on the back of the original Twilight:2000 boxed set (remember boxed sets?) sold me more than anything. GDW had even solved the problem of hierarchical control by allowing for a limited nuclear exchange combined with significant attrition of command and control to leave player groups (if they wished) practically autonomous.

Twilight:2000 is one of the games that always comes to mind when I’m asked “What was your favorite RPG?” Maybe because I’m a bit of a gearhead and maybe because I loved fiction like Red Storm, Team Yankee and Sword Point is why I keep finding myself going through the old books more than most of my other collections.

Although Twilight’s 1st edition mechanics were unwieldy and combat was difficult (vehicle combat was better and more detailed than most other games however – wargamer designers), the setting, the ability of small groups to make a real difference on the small and large stage and the previously mentioned greatly detailed vehicles and equipment still highlight this as the defining game of modern RPG combat.

Its principal problem, however, lay in its own name. It was speculative fiction, you see. Twilight:2000 was published in the early 1980’s at the height of the Cold War. The events described were plausible and in some cases did come close to coming to pass. However, as history unfolded and the Cold War ended, the history and background of the “origin” story for Twilight became obsolete.

The dilemma here for the game’s original designers was whether they should let the game stand on its own merits as a piece of historical fiction or cater to an audience who truly wanted a game that conformed to modern world conditions. GDW’s fans were nothing if not particular and demanding in that regard. The answer was…a redo. Tune in again for the discussion of Twilight 2.2 and how it was more of a band aid than a cure.

Traveller: T20, T5 and Beyond

What will the future look like in the future? That seems to describe Traveller more than anything. Traveller has gone through a d20 revision *shudder* and now the revised T5 system, which seeks to pull some of the best of the previous systems and fuse them together. In each case, there was the feeling that it was just “reinventing the wheel”, trying to find a way to stay relevant amongst the latest generation of RPG’s.

T20 definitely felt that way. Of course, everyone was doing OGL stuff. For some time after its inception, the Open Gaming License was seen as the quickest way to introduce or entice gamers who only had eyes for D&D over to whatever supplement or system you were selling. There’s not much to say about this unusual historical footnote.

T5 is most unusual in that it actually appears to have new content, instead of just rewritten old material and seems to be a genuine attempt at a refined game system; one that takes from several of its predecessors and tries to meld them into a working more efficient system.

The book layout and adventures for it remind me of a healthy system. Originally, I felt like Marc was once again just reprinting and rehashing old material. There seems to be more creative control and talent on these books, though than T4 had. Of course, that’s not saying much. The difference between the two is night and day. Another factor in T5’s favor is that Marc is working with Mongoose Publishing to get these books out. Of all the remaining gaming companies, I dare say Mongoose puts out the highest quality books (ok, maybe WOTC does better but not by much). My ownership of the B5 and Conan games attests to my confidence in that statement.

To date, I’ve had no interest in owning any of these books, for reasons I’ve previously mentioned. It is possible though that enough years have gone by that I might actually break down and buy T5’s material. It’s more and in some cases new material about a universe I’ve been a voracious fan of for decades now. That alone makes the material valuable.

The biggest oddball in all of this current crop of Traveller is not so current, but the most interesting at least as far as I’m concerned. I’ve spoken at length about Traveller: The New Era and how it fell short of its stated goals, not necessarily due to any faults of its own, but because its parent company was doomed to not survive it.

Those fans, I said, were orphans. Many rely on the parent company of any game to drive the story and to provide background material. The older RP gamers get, the less time we have to create things out of whole cloth and move the timeline forward in some systems. When this is done for us, by and large we are very greatful.

Case in point, a fellow named Martin J. Dougherty through a small publisher, Comstar Games (and Avenger Enterprises), gained the rights for a couple of years of book production via Marc Miller for Traveller: New Era wrap-up material.

Martin produced a whole ream of new material on the New Era’s aftermath, appropriately titled Traveller 1248. As the TNE setting originated in 1201, the point had always been to know how all the myriad plot points would pan out at the end of any logical campaign setting. Well, now we were to know.

Tragically, this series was cut short by the end of the license window and now these products are themselves in limbo. I’ve been able to find the first two sourcebooks, but the rest of the material (apparently mostly PDF format) remains ridiculously elusive. I still find myself practically giddy at the notion of being able to see even a small glimpse of the material. I do hope MJD is able to get these materials available again at some point. Quite frankly, waiting over 10 years only to find out you overshot by a year or two is more maddening that I’d care to consider.

On the upside to T5, Martin, who’s been producing quality material for a long time, looks to be doing a considerable amount of writing for the new Traveller 1105 setting. One thing (with the exception of much of T4) Traveller always had was access through one company or another to monumentally talented writers who were quite able to weave a satisfying story. Hell even T4 had its moments in this regard.

I for one am curious to see what the old girl still has in her, and I expect Traveller will be around for many years to come. She might be around till the stars fade and they come and turn out the lights on the RPG industry; fitting that she should be there at the end as she was at the beginning.

GURPS Traveller – Amnesiac Rebirth

For the longest time after Imperium Games folded, I more or less forgot about Traveller. I read some of the books and occasionally visited the web sites in the Traveller web ring, but I had more or less written off that there’d be anything new of interest regarding the venerable old game. It was now truly an orphaned system, I thought.

Then there was a rumbling in the industry gossip that Steve Jackson Games was going to print some new material for Traveller in the GURPS system. I was a fairly recent convert to GURPS, but I had grown to like the system rather quickly. Put simply, I liked the detail and character development.

There was a downside to the new printing, though (isn’t there always?). This version would completely exclude the concept of the Rebellion from MT and Virus from Traveller. It was a reset, set in 1116 where the Emperor was not killed and there was no war. As a fan of both those settings, this was disheartening. I felt like all the work put into those settings by fans since GDW’s collapse and all their hope that we’d see more “official” material from some corner were dashed. Nothing, it seemed, would be forthcoming.

I admit I wasn’t pleased. I went to DragonCon that year, where Loren Wiseman himself was hosting a Q&A on the GURPS release. I sat there fuming as he talked about the new setting and stated that there had been a general consensus (it was felt mostly be agreement between Steve Jackson and Marc Miller) that the Rebellion and especially Virus were hoakey and not really worth revisiting. They wanted what many of the classic Traveller fans had wanted since the release of MegaTraveller…a do-over.

It took awhile for me to actually pick up the GURPS Traveller book. It didn’t take me as long to pick up the second book. There were many reasons, not the least being the high quality of the material and solid SJG production values. I was still not happy that the history rewrite was considered the new “canon”, but there was no denying these books were good. There was a selection of art, mixed along with extreme detail that hadn’t been seen since the old Digest Group Productions (DGP) books for MT all those years previous.

Any Traveller fan could find something worthwhile in the books and about every angle, career and race of consequence would eventually be covered by the series of Traveller books. It is often said that more material was published for GT than for Classic Traveller, and that might in fact be the case, volume-wise. Each book was packed with information, some rewritten and some new.

The best thing for me was that, being GURPS, the information was so malleable that you could if you wanted to modify it for use with another setting, like MT or TNE’s settings. There was still no new information for those eras (would there ever be?), but at the very least there was new Traveller material and a creative GM could make do. Like many others, I did just that.

I have to give credit to Loren Wiseman. He had no small task. He had to resurrect Traveller’s prestige and get people to buy an alternate timeline, all from a fan base that was more rabid and more unforgiving than any other game’s (I personally believe). The end result along with the resurrection of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society was, for lack of a better word, miraculous.

This product line renewed my faith in Traveller in general and the belief that it could be a viable system with new and innovative material for a sci-fi RPG setting still. It’s also the reason I’m even contemplating buying some T5 books, so thank Loren for that one, Marc. 🙂

I was perusing my collection, trying to single out one book that I thought was better than most and one that really exemplified the praise I’d heaped upon it above. The latest it turns out is probably the one I liked best, although it’s due to a little personal bias.

GURPS Traveller: Interstellar Wars was produced as a bridge product to help convert over to the new 4th Edition GURPS rules. It was also produced to highlight a fan-favorite period in Traveller history: First Contact. The quality of the material in the book was excellent and the storyline was about as thorough as could be hoped for, with a myriad of ideas for role playing mixed in.

Where did the personal bias come in? Short story long, years before a very talented fellow named Chris Griffen and myself, both Traveller fanatics, came up with an idea to pitch to Marc Miller a supplemnt for his T4 series on the Interstellar Wars era of the First Imperium. We created an outline, fleshed out some basics for the book and brainstormed to an incredible degree on what the book would look like. We even spoke to Marc, who was receptive of an idea assuming we could produce a good treatment for his review. We never really got the opportunity. T4 folded soon after and by the time GT came out with its Rebellion and Virus-killing storyline Chris and I had largely become disenchanted and shelved the idea.

Imagine my surprise to see the book written some years later for GURPS. First was shock, quickly followed by a pleasant feeling that someone had done the work for me. If any of you harbor notions that it’s glamorous or fun to write role playing games, you likely should check yourself in to the local nut house. It’s tiresome, often thankless work. Labor of love describes it more perfectly than any other discipline, I believe. So to see someone had already done it was quite a thrill. All that remained was to see how they had treated the idea.

The work was impressive. There was no denying that. Interstellar Wars may be one of the best books ever put out for Traveller, and it’s not even set in the “classic” period. And it also helps define GURPS as the gold standard for quality in the Traveller line. Never was it so better produced and with such a wide array of new and veteran talent as under the GURPS umbrella. Hats off to Loren, the writing crew and even Marc. Smart play on that one.

After the collapse of GDW and the concurrent cessation of its product lines, (especially Traveller: New Era), I have mentioned that those of us who were Traveller fans felt rudderless. There were rumors of course that another company might pick up the line or that Marc Miller himself would print some new material, but the industry as a whole was in a depression.

As you can imagine, it was hard for any of us to believe in miracles in a climate like that. Then came the announcement that Marc Miller had indeed secured a source of funding and some staff to do the impossible. Traveller would be restarted.

Marc had been out of Traveller for awhile, mostly through the TNE days. He had left for other pursuits or been unable to really participate much in the last days of GDW. Still, he had a love for Traveller as he had been its principle creator (and rights holder). So, new books would come out under Marc’s new company, Imperium Games, bearing the moniker of Marc Miller’s Traveller.

The money and marketing people behind Imperium Games were a ridiculously savy lot and they new how to play Traveller fans. They advocated returning to the “classic” feel of Traveller with updated art and story lines set at the founding of the Imperium. There was even an exceedingly strong push on the part of IG to get people to subscribe to basically any book they printed in a pre-order fashion (much like Time/Life and some companies did) so that they’d have the money before the books were even out. In hindsight, all the glitz and marketing should have been a warning.

I tried T4 out on my veteran group of players almost as soon as it was released. Most had played the original Traveller and some had even played MT or TNE. The response was universally negative. There was a sense that the new rules took a step back than forward and that everything from the skill system to combat system were not playable. We sacked the system for a hybrid MT/TNE system almost immediately after the first session, but I like the true addict I am couldn’t stop collecting the books.

I hoped follow-up books might at least have some useful, salvageable material. After all, the MT and TNE sourcebooks had all been gold mines of material for campaigns even when their systems had been lacking. The same should have been true of T4, right? Only somewhat was the sad answer.

Some will say those books were completely unsalvageable, but there were a few diamonds in the rough. Some plot ideas, mostly to do with operating at the founding of the Imperium, The general feeling by many I spoke with, though, and my own opinion as well was that this was not really Traveller. Gone were the familiar ships, races, and polities. Ok, this was supposed to be over 1000 years before the previous setting. We got that. But there was NOTHING that made us think of Traveller other than the title of Imperium and that was used sparingly. The art was interesting and was even used to help sell the books, but it wasn’t Traveller either. Not much about these books could even be used in that sort of setting.

It is widely considered among Trav fans I know for this system to be a wash and yet I own most if not all of its books. Why would I do something so ridiculous if I felt so negatively for it? Call it brand loyalty, gullibility, stupidity or simple nostalgia, I wanted to see Traveller succeed and I held out hope that if Marc got to create enough of these Milleu 0 books, he’d eventually produce some of the later Milleus, possibly even revisiting the eras and stories most Trav fans had grown to love.

Sadly, it was not to be. We were all disappointed to one degree or another when the line faltered, no more books were forthcoming and all we had was the bitter taste in our mouths of being taken for a ride by a company we trusted to produce a product befitting of the Traveller legacy. Is it any wonder to this day that I have not bought another new Traveller product outside of the GURPS license? That’s how long it has taken me to forgive Marc for what he allowed to happen with Imperium Games and that he can blame solely on the lack of quality of his “Imperium Games” product line.

If there were a book series I wish I could take back buying, it would be this one.

Traveller: The New Era (for some)

Once the powers-that-be at GDW had made up their mind that a new edition of Traveller was needed, a complete makeover was attempted on the Trav system. Most importantly, the new edition was brought in line with the new GDW “House Rules”, back when companies were trying to mimc SJG and a couple other companies and create common rules for all their systems. The other was to figure out the answer to the question from MegaTraveller of “so who won?”.

Their answer was…nobody. An AI Virus, a modified silicon life form that had been driven insane in a weapons lab was accidentally released on warring fleets and those warring fleets spread it throughout the Imperium, its surrounding neighbors and every Traveller mailing list and bulletin board apparently. Almost immediately there were divided camps on the subject. Some loved the new idea, solidified in the great compilation/teaser product Survival Margin. Others flat out hated it.

I was safely in the “love it” category. I did. Everything about it seemed like a good idea to me. I admit I was a little bummed to see the factions I was cheering on take one up the tail pipe, but ultimately without GDW “declaring a winner”, and even if they did, there would never be resolution and the Imperium wouldn’t be the same. We couldn’t have the “Bobby in the Shower” do-over a la Dallas. We had to live with the setting GDW had provided, and it was pretty damn bleak.

Traveller New Era was wonderful for several reasons. For one, you could actually play it again, after the errata-ridden monster that was MegaTraveller’s rule set. This, sadly had the effect of also over-simplifying certain things including character creation (still “built” characters, but less detail).

I was a big fan of the big ships from the earlier additions of Traveller as well. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the latent Star Wars fan in me that I like the big capital ships, but TNE originally didn’t have any, putting them either beyond the scope of the game or as “Vampires” to be avoided, Virus-ridden old warships that were all death-trap and no fun. I can see the reason for this. Small ships make for easier player control, but still. Arrival Vengeance, which I’ve previously mentioned, had already proven that “big ship” campaigns were possible and in some cases more interesting than “small ship” campaigns. Why not have the big ships?

The addition of material for the Regency brought some of these back and I got the feeling they intended to bring back even more before the “Great Fall” when the company sadly had to close its doors.

When I say this was a game that some loved and some didn’t, I’m really not giving the “situation” its due. The love was and is strongly apparent in a core group. We all helped chip in to create the BARD pages for goodness’ sake; a collection of information intended to enhance and color the universe left behind as vacuum by the departing GDW. A new mailing list (the tne-rces list) was set up just for TNE fans, away from the flame wars and badgering of the old TML and Xboat lists.

I have yet to see a game bring forth such hate from such adoring fans of the overall system. To this day I’m not sure why. The “ivory tower” Imperium suddenly became this harmonious standard everyone had liked to play in until GDW f’ed it up with MegaTrav and TNE. I would often remind people with such opinions that the “idealized” Imperium was rife with corruption, disenfranchisement and evil, just as much as the later stage systems. It was all point of view, but the damage caused by the destructive forces in the game existed at different levels. At the very least, I had no idea some Traveller fans were so virulently monarchist. 🙂

I loved the TNE settings because they allowed for exploration and starting fresh in a ruined Imperium. There was an actual “Wilds” that was unexplored and full of dangers and loot (pretty much what gamers love the most). The old Imperium, even the war setting had been so consumed by static behavior or engagement that it became stifling to have players really make a difference and thrive in the campaign setting. TNE gave me a chance to exercise my favorite plot devices in a game…that one small group can make a big difference in the lives of others in the game.

I also really enjoyed the new races that were now more heavily explored than ever before. The Schalli, dolphin-like, were interesting and a nice addition since Dolphins were not as popular in the RC’s part of the Old Expanses. Hivers had never had such a prominent role, nor had their Ithklur warriors. I thought their addition was outstanding. You could even do something with the K’Kree if you really wanted to. After all, they were supposed to be the cause of the Puppeteer strain developed and sent out from the “Black Curtain”. After reading David Nilsen’s comments on GDW’s plans of where they wanted to go with the setting, it sounded like it was going to be an incredible amount of fun.

Again and alas, GDW wouldn’t survive to see it happen. TNE was a system orphaned before its time. Its untimely demise and many of our personal devotions to the game caused us to feel orphaned too as game owners, not the least for all the plots and ideas left half-developed or on the drawing board. A real shame.

The worst of it was that sadly this would set the stage for many of us to buy into a system that few of us under normal circumstances would’ve given a plug nickel to had we known better and in advance, the infamous Traveller 4 or T4.

Traveller: The Rise of MegaTraveller

You know I’m not sure why they chose _Mega_ for MegaTraveller. It does sound impressive, doesn’t it? Regardless of their motivation, GDW by the time of the mid-80’s seemed to feel Traveller needed an overhaul.

A staple now of many successful gaming systems with elaborate campaign settings is the standard of the dynamic setting. In such cases, a setting can and often does change. The timeline advances and with it there are often unforseen changes for those who enjoy that setting. A case in point was Traveller’s morphing into MegaTraveller. A decision was made, never mind the reason, to shake things up a bit. Classic Traveller had as its principle setting the everlasting and rarely changing Imperium. Someone somewhere decided that was too monolithic. Players couldn’t affect change beyond say a system-wide issue. Interstellar changes as a result of their actions were only to be rare and highly unusual events.

MegaTraveller, which postulated the dissolution of the Imperium into several warring factions, changed all that. At no time is there greater chance for players to screw the whole pooch than when there’s lots of chaos, death and mayhem. An 11,000 world conflict, you could imagine, would be quite the setting to drive this point home.

It was at this stage that I actually started collecting Traveller for the first time; in its second incarnation. The initial books were complete enough that you could run the game from them and they were nicely packaged in a set. Also, every supplement that came after either advanced the storyline or helped develop some small part of it.

The quality in art and layout compared to the LBB’s was night and day. This was a true ’80’s game with all the new talent emerging in the field to fuel a really impressive product. Traveller had also used a means of proliferation and expansion that MegaTraveller continued, which I didn’t like. It used licensed producers of the product. In fan circles and from GDW alumni it is regarded as fact that GDW produced a new product every 22 days for 22 years. Imagine the scale of that. Try to find a modern RPG company that could match it. You can’t. Still, they found the need to license out to other companies the production of Traveller merchandise.

In the original classic Traveller, the most impressive notable subcontractors for Trav were RPG legends in their own right: FASA and Judge’s Guild. Their material was good, but also a lot harder to find than the straight-GDW material, hence my disdain overall for the idea.

MegaTrav made it worse. GDW contracted out some of their products to Digest Group Productions (DGP). These products were incredible and are considered some of the best to be produced for Traveller in detail and overall quality of layout. The Starship Operator’s Manual, Vilani & Vargr and Solomani & Aslan remain some of the hardest to find and most expensive of the old Trav products. Thus, I hate them. It’s a love-hate thing. I have ’em, but it took forever to acquire them. They were never offered by my local game store, which outside of the parent company was the only way to get a new game back in the ’80’s. You had no internet to get you by.

All the same, MegaTrav and the accompanying new setting won me over and I started collecting books for this series. The enhanced character creation, in my opinion even more detailed and impressive than that of Classic Trav, was a real winner. The clunky game system was not. Vehicle and starship combat rules, well, let’s just say if you honestly spent time trying to learn them you would need therapy afterwards. They were far too complex, even for gamers. Certainly it wasn’t the worst mechanics I’d ever run across (*COUGH* Fantasy Games Unlimited *COUGH*) but it was up there.

It was with MegaTrav that I finally fell for this particular GDW system and what got me on the road to collecting, in some cases, far more Traveller products than I should have.

If you played this, which faction did you back? I went for the Brotherhood of Varian first, but when they went straight terrorist I contemplated either Margaret or the “real” Strephon. I ended up thinking the “real” Strephon was the right horse to back and it turns out I was right.

One of my all time favorite supplements for any system also came from my initial foray into MegaTrav, Arrival Vengeance. This was a module centered around a grand tour of the Shattered Imperium in an absolute classic of a Traveller starship, the Azhanti High Lightning-class Arrival Vengeance. Read the review. There’s a reason why I liked it and it’s obvious. This was Star Trek in a war zone. Who could beat it?

The problem came late in the line when the uber-geniuses (and I use that as a term of endearment) at GDW were scratching their heads trying to figure out how to advance the timeline further. After you’ve bashed the Imperium into little bitty sheriff meatballs, how do you declare a winner? They apparently wrestled quite a bit with that question, but I (as one of a very few) genuinely liked the answer they ultimately arrived at.

New Era…here we come.

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.