Monday, February 15, 2010
Traveller and games Before the Long Night
Traveller was one of the first role playing games I ever learned. For the longest time, science fiction role playing to me was synonymous to Traveller. Due to the unavailability of published game material where we lived, my gaming group’s exposure to Traveller was initially confined to the three little black books that comprised the Classic Traveller rules.
Needless to say, we had a smashing time gaming in our own Traveller universes. We didn’t know much about the Third Imperium, although we understood that there appeared to be a default game setting created by GDW. Neither did we care! We were too busy having fun in our own homebrewed games which I ran for most part. At that time, my games were set in game worlds largely derived from existing SF literature which I really liked. I remember running a game based loosely on Larry Niven’s World Out of Time, as well as a longer-running series set in the Fallen Galactic Empire ala Foundation, and still another one, in a junkyard planet straight out of Piper’s Cosmic Computer.
It was only in 1989 when we fully discovered what the Third Imperium was all about when Doc Ben-g, one of my regular players, brought back the Mega Traveller Boxed set from a recent trip to the U.S. We went along with the Rebellion that tore apart the Third Imperium and had our share of adventures in the Hard Times that followed. For some reason, the idea of struggling to survive and prosper amidst the ruins of a fallen empire resonated well with our gaming group. Maybe it was largely on account of our attachment to that other GDW game, Twilight 2000. In any case, we followed through with some Star Viking adventures in the New Era in the early 1990s using the Gurps system, which, for a long time, became our system of choice.
Since then, I’ve ran a few games in the canonical Third Imperium of GDW and even bought some Gurps sourcebooks for this.
The Third Imperium was quite good – it hung together well, and had a lot of support from writers and fans which continues to this date. That said, I can’t help but harken back to the the days when we didn’t know about the Third Imperium and created our own Traveller universes. Far from feeling that we missed out on something, I feel, with the benefit of hindsight, that we created something vibrant, alive and uniquely ours at the time we were gaming with only our three Little Black Books.
Reading this post from James M.'s Grognardia along with a reference to the Burgess Shale Period of Traveller found in Bat in the Attic made me think back and remember the days before we learned about the Third Imperium. If anything, it reinforced to me the point that Classic Traveller was really a versatile and potentially endless game system upon which an enterprising gaming group can bring their own gaming universe to life.
This got me started on actually planning to revisit Classic Traveller and running a few games in the future set in a non-Third Imperium game setting. I had been busily going through my latest acquisitions of Poul Anderson’s future history stories, particularly those of the Polesotechnic League and that of the Terran Empire that followed. These really ranked high on my list along with the future history stories of H.Beam Piper – thus maybe it is hardly surprising that I remain a Traveller fan after all these years. I remember trying (and mostly failing) to locate Anderson’s stories as a high school kid and only caught bits and pieces of his future history in one tattered SF anthology or another. I only lately managed to locate many of these stories in these volumes I just acquired.
Many of the Van Rijn/Falkayn and Flandry stories of Anderson revolve around intrepid characters who live in the what may be described as the Eve of Destruction – that period in time when their civilization is just about to tip over and go crashing down into the abyss of history. As a gamer I am drawn to this kind of setting and personally refer to this as gaming in an era right before The Long Night. While much of my Traveller and Traveller-inspired games were set in the Long Night, I can’t seem to recall running a game where the characters lived right before the The Fall. By analogy, Traveller-wise, my games tended to be set in the Mutant Future, rather than the Mutant Past.
Hence my current plan for a revisit to Classic Traveller begins to take shape slowly- and I have this hankering to run it differently this time. In all likelihood, instead of the Long Night, it will be set on the Eve of Destruction.