The following editorial was written by me.
Sometimes things just need to be said.

The Great Traveller Debate

Classic Traveller

I've been a Traveller GM since the original black books (1-3). I've watched it grow through the expanded rules (4-8) and then into the larger size books. I always liked the scope of Traveller. Just about any setting could be constructed for stand-alone adventures. If you wanted to design your own ships and worlds, you could do that. If you didn't, there was (and is) a plethora of support material from innumerable sources. Campaigns became a lot more work, but tended to fall into one of five broad categories. They were:

  1. The Free Trader group. These people possessed a starship, and spent great amounts of time and energy essentially running cargo from Point A to Point B via Point C, D and E, then back again. The main adventure was earning credits. Side adventures came from running afoul of random encounters... passengers gone bad/seeking help, cargo gone bad/sought by pirates or rightful owners, derelict ships, planetary bureaucracy.
  2. The Mercenary group. These guys had the big guns and the battle dress. They went from Point A to Point B and didn't leave until Point B was a big smoking crater. Then they went back to Point A and demanded payment. If payment was refused, they didn't leave until Point A was also a smoking crater.
  3. The Explorers. Enough of the Imperial map was left unmapped that there was always somewhere else you could go. This let GM's imaginations run wild. Any danger/conflict/reward could be put in the player's path...and usually was.
  4. The Gods. "Oh yeah! Give me that Dreadnought! Give me a couple legions of battle-dress clad marines!" Let's go bump heads with other capitol ships. Or better yet! Let's go subjugate a planet!
  5. The Pirates. Love 'em or hate 'em. The Imperium just lent itself to players sliding over to the wrong side of the law. It was an easy way for the GM to create adventure. Instead of a peaceful Imperium, every encounter ran the risk of discovery and conflict. Even I have to admit, these were the most fun.
Of course these groups were not mutually exclusive. You often had evolution from one group to another as play progressed.


Then MegaTraveller came out. The concept behind MT? Give the universe enough inherent conflict that option 5 above wasn't necessary. The conflict was interesting, but it seemed to drag on too long. Advanced rules came out to cover a lot of different things (like COACC), and the Digest Group material was fantastic. But the game seemed to lack something of the old spark.

Traveller: The New Era

Traveller: The New Era. Oh baby. This setting was awesome. The Imperium collapses into computer-virus induced dark ages. Then it's up to the players to either

  1. Build up again, expanding a new empire out into the wasted wilderness (The Reformation Coalition),
  2. Maintain the classic Traveller feel (The Regency).
  3. Pocket Empires. This was a great boon to the Traveller universe. The unknown was never more than a few jumps away.
A lot of people got bent out of shape over the concept of Virus. Tough! Virus was a means to an end, not an end in itself. As written, the Virus wiped out the Imperium...usually destroying itself in the process. If you didn't like Virus, you didn't have to use it anymore. Just say it had wiped itself out. But Virus allowed something else that Marc Miller had always seemed to shy away from in Classic Traveller: Intelligent machines. This opened up a heck of a lot more possibilities. For my money, TNE was the most playable of the bunch. If you didn't want to get too involved in the technology, there was more than enough pre-generated equipment to use. If you wanted to design equipment down to the sub-atomic level, they had Fire Fusion and Steel. Again - optional rules that you could choose to use, or choose not to. The major plus of TNE, is every single piece of information previously provided for Traveller could be used: Deckplans, Adventures. It was all still out there, in one form or another. And truthfully, I'm still having a lot of fun with TNE. The game takes on the feel of the old Pirate games, without having the players breaking the law. There's potential for adventure everywhere! From my player's standpoint, TNE was a lot more managable...the known universe was smaller...mystery had been restored. And as far as hitpoints in the GDW house system? Yes. There were a lot of them. We found that just cutting them all in half helped immensely.

Marc Miller's Traveller

And then T4. Up until this point, I had followed Traveller at every single turn. Taken the bits I liked, ignored the bits I didn't. Formed a rich campaign setting where every campaign I ever ran could influence any other. Then, in a move that I still don't understand (I know the motivation...I just don't understand it), Marc Miller decided to abandon the Imperium as too messed up to use. He harkened back a thousand years to the beginning of the Third Imperium (which died in MT/TNE). What he produced with Milieu 0 was supposed to be a universe ripe for exploration and adventure (like TNE), but without that unfortunate computer virus lurking to add spark to the game. I didn't like the choice of art...and unfortunately, the art seemed to dictate the technology of the game. Suddenly, every starship class that you'd come to know and love was different...more primitive. All those tech level 14 and 15 starships we'd been designing and using for the last 15 years became useless. The campaigns and background I'd been building up became things of the future. I bought all the books (I still loved Traveller...I didn't want to see it die). I looked at each one and sadly shook my head and shelved it. I suppose it might have appealed to new just didn't work for me.

GURPS Traveller

So now there's GURPS Traveller: Pretend MegaTraveller Never Happened. I can see why this might appeal to people. Especially since it's the only officially supported Traveller universe at the moment. The thing I like about it: I can still use the material for TNE... :)

"The Great TNE/T4 Debate", Copyright © 1998-2000 by Michael J. Marchi

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