By Marc Miller, Gareth Hanrahan
It’s always been there, Traveller. Even back when I first started gaming with red box Basic D&D there was talk of another game, one that didn’t involve wizards and swords but lasers and spaceships. Throughout the explosion that was D&D in the 1980s there was always Traveller peeking out from behind and waving the science fiction flag.
Traveller has been through plenty of incarnations with varying degrees of success and this one by Mongoose takes us back to the beginning, back to classic Traveller, and back to what made it great in the first place. With some tweaks, of course.
The large hard back book runs to 188 pages and is filled to the brim with everything you’ll need to run a science fiction campaign. The cover is plain black with the red Traveller logo splashed across it, just like the original release, and the black and white interior is full of text, which harks back to the text-only format of the original little black books. The illustrations you do get are primarily character focused with some atmospheric visuals, and some wonderful starship art. The quality of the work varies, but the bad weapon illustrations do stand out and seem to be fillers that were left in by mistake. It’s a small blemish on an otherwise good collection of images.
The book starts with the standard introduction to roleplaying, with a guide to terms and dice conventions and an example of play. It’s not bad for a beginner as it explains clearly what is required of a gaming group, and there are examples throughout the book to help.
Character creation is what we’ve come to expect from Traveller, with the normal 2D6 rolls for the characteristics Strength, Dexterity, Endurance, Intelligence, Education and Social Standing. There are some options for these scores, such as lowering/raising scores or using a point-based system, so there’s plenty of options for the players and referee. Creation takes you through career options, and characters get the chance to earn skills and other beneficial things by going through 4-year terms, in which they can learn or raise skills, characteristics and earn money or other benefits. There are 12 carers to choose from; Agent, Army, Citizen, Drifter, Entertainer, Marines, Merchants, Navy, Nobility, Rogue, Scholar and Scout. Each of these careers has 3 specialisations to choose from, so there’s 36 possible career options for new characters, with the option or possibility to move on to another one when a current term is up. The skills and benefits earned are designed to be randomly rolled, but there are options for players to choose their skills if the referee allows it.
The original Traveller had a reputation for killing characters off during creation, but here they’ve allowed latitude in character creation and made sure that new characters will at last make it through creation, but there is an ‘Iron Man’ option if groups still want the danger of kicking the bucket before play even begins.
The skills cover everything you need to function in the game and the rule of thumb is; roll 2D6, ad any skill and/or characteristic modifiers, and roll 8 or above to succeed. The target number is adjusted for difficulty, but the general number is 8. This applies to pretty much the entire system, so the game itself is very simple and intuitive.
Combat covers both personal and vehicle. Personal combat is very simple but vehicle combat has it’s own set of charts and tables. It’s effective, but takes you away from the simplicity of the 2D6 vs. Difficulty Number rule.
Then there’s Encounters and Dangers, a section of the book that covers animals, fatigue and other physical dangers to the character, NPCs, patrons and random encounters in different places, such as starports, rural and urban areas. This is followed by two pages of NPCs, which is more than handy. The amount of random tables here is impressive but I can’t see them being used too often by experienced referees, although there are things on there which can give you a few ideas.
Equipment covers everything from armour to guns, to survival packs to computers to vehicles. It’s and impressive selection of stuff that covers a large amount of sci-fi genres and, badly drawn weaponry aside, everything is covered.
The Spacecraft Design section needs a lot of attention as creating a starship can take as long as creating a character. There are plenty of pre-made ships to choose from which makes life much easier, but should the players or the referee want to build their own vessel all the rules you’ll need are here. You choose a hull by weight and this decides what kind of drive, jump engines and all the other things you’ll need are allowed. It’s very involved and I recommend that anyone new to this game ignores that for a while and use the pre-made vessels. There are plenty to choose from. All the pre-made ships come with illustrations, stats and deckplans and they’re very impressive, ranging from shuttles and fighters all the way up to warships. There’s also a section on starship encounters, which, once again, I’d leave until the group is used to the basic system.
Psionics is short but gives the basics of using psychic skills. It covers powers including telepathy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, and teleportation. It’s a nice simple chapter and includes another career, Psions, with three specialisations.
Trade covers travelling the cosmos and making a deal, as many player groups will be playing starship crews plying the spaceways in search of a credit or two. It has tables and charts covering costs and resale values, and seems to be a game in itself.
World Creation gives you the tools to create entire worlds and star systems, including their government and technology levels. You can roll randomly or you can use the charts to inspire you, but as with all the other random tables I can’t see much use for random rolling in an experienced group as the Referee will design worlds that fit with their campaign.
The book is then rounded out with an index and a character sheet.
This is a core rulebook for any science fiction setting. The Traveller setting, which is the Third Imperium as it stands now, is not detailed in the book. This hardly matters, as Traveller is designed as a generic science fiction game that can be chopped and changed for any setting. There are plenty of hints and tips regarding this so it does function as a basic ruleset.
Character creation is very involved and could be a gaming session in itself. It helps to set the characters up and gives options for fellow players to help influence or give bonuses to skills, so as a team-building tool it’s very good and sets the gaming group up without any long-winded introductions. ‘So… you all meet in a tavern, in spaaaace…’ All I would suggest is that players create a simple back-up character, just in case.
My gripes? I would have liked to have seen a generic sci-fi adventure included just to give the players an idea as to how a game is structured and how the rules are implemented. There’s nothing in here that the whole group can’t look at, so it’s fine to hand the book to a player and leave it with them. The artwork is hit and miss, but I do like the layout of the book – it’s well laid out and very easy to navigate and, a few editorial issues aside, it’s a very functional and handy book.
The system itself, bar vehicles and starships, is simple and effective and caters for everything from space opera to hard sci-fi to science fantasy. The simple 2D6 roll is a great little mechanic and easy to utilise.
Traveller caters to all sci-fi genres and allows you to use the rules as you see fit, either going full-on use everything or drop certain aspects you don’t like. The options for character creation give you the chance to do everything randomly or choose your abilities, so that you can have complete control over your PC if that’s what you want.
Mongoose have produced a quality game that many sci-fi gaming groups will get a lot of fun out of and it’s easy to see why Traveller has lasted for so long. This is a great book and I can highly recommend it.