Traveller: The Role-Playing Phoenix Constantly Reborn
An Interview with Marc Miller
The original Swedish interview, by Anders Blixt, appeared in Fenix #1 in 2004. This translation appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Freelance Traveller.
Tell us a little about how GDW started Traveller.
In 1975-76 we started a series of science fiction games: Double Star, Belter, Bloodtree Rebellion (by Lynn Willies) and Imperium. I also worked on a large-scale economic game about interstellar conquest (which was also called Imperium, but which was never published). However, it got me thinking about an idea for a science fiction role-playing game.
In 1975-76, while designing other games, I used my spare time for an unnamed science fiction role-playing game that belonged to a generic space empire. Just before launch, we struggled to come up with a name. After rejecting all the names that contained the word “star”, I chose Traveller.
The game was launched at the Origins Game Congress in 1977. That was the beginning of my RPG design career.
What were your main sources of inspiration when you created Traveller? What atmosphere/mood and visions did you want to put into it and why?
My basic idea was that anyone could play any kind of science fiction with Traveller. It was a na´ve premise, since people do not usually play the fiction they read, but create their own versions of a future universe. In any case, the original concept was a generic system that could handle everything.
At the same time, I was inspired by several sources. E C Tubb’s Dumarest books best capture the mood I sought. Recently I read Heinlein’s Between Planets and saw that it fits well, too. Other sources of inspiration were Poul Anderson’s books on Officer Flandry and Keith Laumer’s on the diplomat Retief.
As for the design itself, the intention was to make Traveller playable. Systems and concepts would be easy to understand and intuitive for players.
Why do you think Traveller became so popular in the late 1970s? The game is not like Star Trek or Star Wars. What were Traveller’s particularly attractive features?
Players want to learn more about the universe in ways that go beyond everyday life; they want to get to know other worlds and other cultures, space travel and non-human intelligent species, new technology and its use. Traveller emphasizes the effects of science in a fictional environment that is realistic enough to be the future. Star Trek is one way to do it, Star Wars another. But both are based on movie characters that we watch. Traveller, on the other hand, was based from the start on the players.
Since 1977 Traveller has had more incarnations than I can keep track of (e.g. Classic, Mega, New Era, Milieu 0, GURPS Traveller, D20). Its gaming cosmos has been extremely long-lived. Why do you think Traveller continues to appear in gaming stores in ever-new releases? What qualities make it possible to survive setbacks (publishing bankruptcies, etc.) that would kill a weaker game?
Traveller is both a gaming system and a comprehensive background environment. In fact, the rules are less important than the game’s setting, which is why it can be reborn again and again. In addition, the Traveller Imperium empowers people: they really like what is in this space empire, including its emphasis on duty, honour and the independence of the individual.
How much are you involved in the development of the two current Traveller releases (GURPS Traveller and D20 Traveller)?
I have the ultimate responsibility for what Traveller is and how it is to be realized. Both Steve Jackson Games (GURPS Traveller) and Quiklink (Traveller D20) contact me regularly to find out how a detail works or how it should be implemented in the game. I enjoy this collaboration.
What else are you doing in the gaming industry nowadays?
Shortly after the disaster of September 11, 2001, I co-authored a book on terrorism (The Terrorism Factbook; Bollix, 2001). I design various games, mainly card games, and am a consultant to new gaming companies that need help to produce their products and get them to market. I have also been consulted by some large gaming companies (Wizards, Decipher, Topps).