Why is Traveller a classic? Part 1

25 Sep


Well-worn box, game rules and supplemental boo...

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So I was packing up my apartment and I ran across my Little Black Book (LBB) edition of Traveller. This game is considered a classic. Often when I sit down to write a game, I think, “Yeah, this would work as a RPG, but it’s still not Traveller.” So I sat down to create a character, obeying all the rules. And the character I made up was:

Lief James – 5B89C6 Ex-Navy Lieutenant, Age: 30, 3 terms 24,000 Cr
Computer-1 Gunner-1 Navigation-1, hand computer (netbook), Travelers’ Aid Society membership

I rolled his stats totally randomly, and chose the Navy as his service because it seemed the most likely to accept him, and it seemed the most likely place for him to succeed at his rolls, survival, commission, promotion, etc. After the third term, he failed his re-enlistment roll, so he began his adventuring career. And here is the life story I made up for him:

Lief James was born on a small religious world (I would eventually decide on the world New Callisto). At 18 he was a promising computer hacker, and his family shipped him off-world to live with a wealthy coreligionist family and friend of theirs, The Carrillos. Carrisoft, the company that the Carrillos owned, employed James as a software developer for the interstellar navy. The head of the Carrillo household, Boyd Carrillo, was a retired navy officer. (How do you think his company got the lucrative contract making software for the interstellar navy?) After a few ears, he realized that Lief would be so much more useful if he knew more about starship operations, so Lief was offered a spot in Navy officer training school. In the navy he worked with advanced optics systems, targeting, astrogation, etc. and continued writing software for Carrisoft, to handle or help with these starship operations.

One of Boyd’s daughters, Helen Carrillo fell for the tall, elegant, young officer, and Boyd Carrillo semi-adopted Lief into his family, sponsoring his acceptance into the Travelers’ Aid Society. But their engagement was called off. Eventually Helen found Lief’s “elegance” to be stuffy and effete. Heartbroken and disgraced, he left the navy and his consulting job with Carrisoft. He lived off his Travelers’ Aid Society membership, collecting 8000 Cr and a high passage every 4 months. He intends to be a novelist, writing historical fantasies about life in the 20th century, but living on 2000 Cr a month (a lot in Traveller), and setting no roots, moving every four months, he’s become a bit of a wanderer, drunk and dilettante.

After I created that character I thought about him. He’s not a good character, really. He’d be pretty useless on an adventure. But I thought about it some more. Maybe my dislike for Lief has to do with my more-modern gaming style. Back when LBB Traveller was written, gaming was more “old school” in quotes because it’s become a name for a style of gaming in which player care and ingenuity matter more than skills and stats on a character sheet. Perhaps I should think of Lief as a playing piece, whose stats and skills simply describe him, rather than defining or limiting him.

O.K. He grew up in a low gravity world. This would explain the low strength and high dexterity. I imagine him tall and thin. He’s really smart. His education is 12 out of 15. And he has skill with computers, gunnery and navigation. With a dexterity of 11, he qualifies for an advantageous dexterity modifier for any ranged weapon. That’s not a lot to go on, but for a good player, it should be good. For a clever party, he might offer sniper support.

In any event, I felt like I had somehow missed what made Traveller a good game. Lief James (thank Seventh Sanctum for the name) didn’t really demonstrate what made Traveller a classic game. I decided to try again.


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