Classic Traveller’s Original Supplements
November 12, 2015
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Christopher Kubasik continues to uncover fascinating tidbits about the venerable space rpg Classic Traveller. His latest comes from the back of the box, which I just realized I had never even seen before…!
Entire games can be patterned after any of the many science fiction novels available, with the action following the story line, or diverging when something interesting happens…. The plots and structures of virtually all of science fiction become available to the players, to be altered or expanded whenever desired.
Now, the game really is more tightly coupled to assumptions built into the works of H. Beam Piper, E. C. Tubb, Andre Norton, and Poul Anderson than this blurb indicates. But this really means that Traveller had (at the beginning) far more in common with D&D than people might think. The SF game that took hold was the one that was predicated on a loose amalgam of many literary sources rather than presenting a single coherent setting. Rather than having to get into another referee’s head space (ie, “how do things really work in Billy Bob’s space setting?”), game masters saw impressions of whatever they’d already been reading. This lead to them (a) immediately knowing what to do with the material and (b) interpolating missing material with something they were already intimate with. We no longer have the luxury of creating games in quite this style because the marketplace is made up of people that lack the sort of familiarity with sff canon that could be taken for granted in the seventies.
For myself, this sort of shameless pillaging of literary sources is a tremendous help in game mastering. I’d long struggled with how to really run Gamma World, for instance. But paraphrasing a few paragraphs from Heiro’s Journey to convey the overall strategic situation facing a small polity to establish a campaign and following that up with scenes dealing with the looting of ruin pulled directly from Starman’s Son, it made improvising a game session and keeping it going a pinch. Rules that were largely inscrutable before suddenly became a toolkit for fleshing out a world that I already had complete command over. But before… trying to interpolate the implied setting from what looked like very mediocre rules to me… it was all but impossible!
It’s not so much that the designers of the original three Little Black Books for Traveller assumed that they’d be supplemented with the existing range of written science fiction stories of the time…. I think it’s more accurate to say that the original Traveller rule set was intended to be a supplement for the stories themselves!