Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

1248 Goes Where No Traveller Has Gone Before!

Traveller players are a notoriously difficult bunch to please.  There are so many campaign types: merchant, mercenary, explorer, etc.  There are so many rule sets: classic, MegaTraveller, The New Era, T4, T20, GURPS Traveller, etc.  Most players don’t even play a single ruleset, but pick and choose pieces of each one and/or modify them heavily with houserules.  Then there are even the different types of games: miniatures games, grand strategic, ship combat.  For ship combat there are even 6 or 8 totally different systems of varying degrees of detail.  There are several different regions of space to play in: the Spinward Marches, the Solomani Rim, and Gateway.  There’s countless others that have less detailed support than those major regions.  And all of those regions can be played in during a half dozen hisorical eras.  But even playing in “official” areas/eras, players are still divided on major issues of technology and culture… and they tweak things to present Traveller as they think it really works.

So… if you were going to make a product for this crowd… what would it be?  How would come up with something for such a balkanized group of gamers?  No matter what you do you are likely to enrage some faction.  And the quiet die-hards are more than likely going to use just parts of what you produce to fine tune their personal universes.  For this crowd of picky gaming critics… what can you possibly do at this point to get them excited… to startle them… to even just get their attention?  Haven’t they seen it all by now? 

One wonders if the fans even really want to see something new.  While the Rebellion plot threads running throughout the MegaTraveller materials upset a great many of them, the Virus that debuted in The New Era sent many more over the edge.  Instead of pushing forward with a “ruined” Imperium, T4 turned back the clock of the setting by over a thousand years.  Similarly, T20’s default setting went back a hundred years or so.  The GURPS line went forward from the classic Traveller period… but in an alternate universe where Virus and the Rebellion never happened.  But going forward in that manner didn’t quite sit well… so the 4th Edition GURPS Traveller setting went even further back than T4 to the Interstellar Wars period– the setting derived from GDW’s wargame “Imperium” which wasn’t even technically a Traveller product when it came out!

Going forward seems to be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

And then, onto the scene comes a certain Martin J Dougherty.  A long time player and fan, I first became aware of him via the Citizens of the Imperium site that was more or less a hang-out for T20 fans with a strong “grognard” subculture.  He had this crazy dream of pushing the timeline forward from the New Era… and he’d even written a novel to do it.  I thought this was vaguely lame at the time… I mean, that would be like me writing a Car Wars novel, right?  I was skeptical.

Time went on, and I kept seeing this guy’s name turn up.  He wrote the short story that appeared at the front of QLI’s reprint of the venerable “Classic Books 1-3.”  He’d written the “Behind the Claw ” Spinward Marches sector book for GURPS Traveller.  (In a mix-up, a draft got published by mistake instead of the final version.  Steve Jackson never fixed the problem and quietly let that essential sourcebook go out of print.)  “MJD” wrote a a sourcebook about the Imperial Navy… but Steve Jackson decided not to go with the book.  Not to be dissuaded from his dreams, MJD published it himself… and it can now be purchased at e23.  MJD even had a primary role in launching a new line of “Little Black Books” supporting the classic era with background, ships, and adventures in the years just preceding the Rebellion. 

The guy is prolific, persistent, and not easily discouraged… and somehow he decided to not just talk about it, but he really did go and launch a new line of Traveller products that seriously supported a background set about 50 years after the New Era game.  “1248” sat in the play-test area of the COTI boards for months.  It quietly got published sometime last year.  I hadn’t heard too much about it, but I had enjoyed the “Little Black Book Series,” so I took a chance and picked it up from e23 recently.  After several pages into the book, I slowly transformed into Sylvester after he’d seen the kangaroo-that-he-thought-was-a-mouse:

“B-b-b-big!  HUGE!  Big!  Big!  L-l-l-large!  Gigantic!”

I’d read the Classic Traveller Adventures and the GURPS Alien Races series, so I knew a lot of the basics of Traveller history and setting.  1248 takes that setting… and then spins the tale of the Rebellion and The New Era.  Even with my cursory knowledge of Traveller, I could easily follow the players and races involved in the tale.  I knew nothing about MegaTraveller, really, or TNE… so this was the first time I’d learned the details of what had occurred in those incarnations of the game.  What a story!  But it keeps going.  GDW’s last iteration of Traveller, “TNE,” was left partly undone and partly as a cliff hanger… but this book finally gives us the answers to wild things like The Black Curtain, The Empress Wave, Longbow, and the Zhodani Core Expeditions. 

As a teenager I’d always been disappointed by how Isaac Asimov had handled his Foundation Series.  When he picked up from the original trilogy, things just got stupid.  I wanted to see the Foundation grow into a real empire… and see the two Foundations work out their differences.  Instead, Asimov delved into the past and worked his robot novels into the background.  Now… more than 15 years later, I can finally have what I was longing for in a clash of space empires.  Oh yes… space ships explode in this one.  After reading lots of Classic Traveller and GURPS Traveller where a decadent status quo was carefully maintainted… now… all hell breaks loose… again and again and again!

70 pages of action packed history.  30 pages detailing the major states.  30 pages of secrets.  A really nifty system for specific generation rules for destroying Traveller settings and then helping them recover… and it’s fine tuned for each of the major interstellar terrains.  Finally, you get the details of part of a subsector, world descriptions for several planets, adventure seeds, and maps for three worlds.  160 pages altogether… and it can be had for a measly fifteen bucks.

All in all, I have to say this is the best Traveller product I’ve ever read.


I won’t get into the details of the history and background as I don’t want to spoil it.  But for the old fashioned Car Wars fanatic like myself, I couldn’t help but notice that a special attention is given to the starship designs used by each faction each step forward into the future.  Unlike the original Traveller game where the design system came first… and then the background material came later and turned out to be somewhat inconsistent with the “crunchy bits”… this time, the “flavor text” is impacted very much by the implications of the existing design systems.  This is a real bonus to wanna-be gearheads like myself that want to know how developing battle fleets utilize their resources to come up with a coherent ship design strategy.  The text doesn’t go overboard with this stuff and there’s certainly no stats there, but you can tell that the authors really liked space ship designs.

You don’t need to be a Traveller expert to get into this, but you will get more out of it if you’ve read the Classic Adventures and some of the Alien Races series.  If you’ve held off on MegaTraveller and TNE, then you get a pretty good summary of what transpired in those supplements.  If you’ve been thinking of picking up MJD’s Traveller novels like The Diaspora Phoenix, then you might get some spoilers for those in this book.

Cranky Traveller fans are notorious for despising Virus, but there’s nothing in 1248 that forces you to feature it in your game.  Players can safely downplay it the same way I omit the more irritating major races from my scenarios. 

Probably the best part about the background is that there are so many flavors of Space Empire to choose from now, all of which are separated by huge expances of Wilds.  On the battered worlds of those decimated regions, a few PC’s with a ship can have a huge impact.  Games will not necessarily blow up into epic cinematic silliness just because they’re set in 1248… this is still Traveller style “mostly sorta hard-ish” space opera with less opera than most.  But PC’s will easily get in situations where they can transform the quality of life of a struggling culture, topple Technologically Elevated Dictators, or bring peace to two warring pocket empires.

The book is largely system free.  You just need to have a grasp of Traveller’s simple Universal World Profile to use the world data.  Don’t be put off by the T20 markings on the cover: the only reference to those rules is a reminder to T20 players not to confuse Traveller’s Charisma stat for Vargr with D&D’s Charisma attribute.

Highly recommended.  1248 is available from e23… but the entire product line can be viewed on the COMStar site.


5 responses to “1248 Goes Where No Traveller Has Gone Before!

  1. Michael Taylor March 12, 2007 at 8:53 pm

    Thankyou for the comments about 1248. I spent an awful lot of time on editing and layout of OOtd and Botf, and I think the fact that one can buy it dead tree is key to its success.

  2. Daniel W. Hammersley March 13, 2007 at 1:29 am

    A bit gushing perhaps, but well said, nonetheless

    As one of the disciples of the TNE-1248 era who broke with the “TNE stuck-in-1203” pack, Martin’s vision for the future historical time line and this ground breaking peace was, (by the credits alone) a monumental joint undertaking that followed his vision, guidance, and editorial expertise to the product we hold in our mits today.

    Whether you get it pdf. or deadtree, its yours to do with as you please, no arm twisting or “thous-shalt play this” rammed down your Traveller Universe”. User freindly, and systemless, its the best of both, and keeps the flame burning.


    Daniel W Hammersley,
    former “First TNE-TML heretic”, now a “TNE:1248 disciple”.

  3. jeffro March 13, 2007 at 10:10 am

    re: gushing

    Yeah, you’re right. Sorry. After coming onto the Traveller scene just in time to see the GURPS Traveller line “freeze” and to watch things drag on over T5, its pretty exciting to finally see something happen, though. (There’s not a lot of new product in the Car Wars / Ogre department either…. Watching this line develop will be as close to getting Autoduel Quarterly back as I’m likely to get.)

    And besides… with all the death threats you’re liable to get over this, you all ought to get at least one shred of enthusiatic support.

    But at least I didn’t use the phrase “breath of fresh air” to describe the product!


  4. Martin J Dougherty March 13, 2007 at 6:42 pm

    Just thought it worth mentioning that I like Car Wars. I have many happy memories of watching my car roll and burn… or sometimes just burn.

    Oh yeah, and that time I rammed an opponent head-on at a closing speed of 170mph.. I had a ram plate and so much armor that I came out the back of his pickup intact… and my bumper-triggered rockets just went off into empty air because he was confetti!

    Ah, those were the days.

    As an aside… the OOTD starship design concepts owe more to the fact that I worked in the arms trade as a defence analyst than to anything else. Real-world procurement practices in science fiction, no less…

  5. Richard March 14, 2007 at 8:02 pm

    It’s a refreshing change to see a company step forward and continue the storyline of one of the largest game universes. I’m looking forward to pushing this in my store– and playing it of course. Thanks for doing such a thorough write-up!

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