This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue.
As a long time lurker on—and occasional contributor to—the Traveller Mailing List, I find it interesting to watch the regular debates about what constitutes Traveller canon. I’ve collected Traveller books across 35 years, so somewhere in that mass of print is whatever does comprise ‘canon’. I can well understand newcomers to the game struggling to get to grips with the huge ‘history’ of Traveller. Thus far I’ve used only my own material to run games, so I’ve not had to concern myself very much with what’s gone before and keeping everything consistent—although I’ve tried! My limited experience of refereeing has also often been with complete newbies to role playing, never mind Traveller, so on those occasions I’ve not even had to worry about a weight of expectation from players as to what constitutes Traveller. All this isn’t to say I don’t think it’s important. Indeed, I’ve felt the pressure to represent Traveller in the best possible way. But in the end, I would argue that the fun of the game should take priority even if something needs to be unpicked afterwards with a discussion on any ‘deviation’ and whether it should be adopted in the local situation or quietly dropped.
For my first convention game at BITS’ TravCon12, I knew that it had to be based on Mongoose rules and I knew that it needed to meet the expectations of experienced players. For the rules I intended to play ‘rules-lite’, but had developed the PCs using the formal character generation and had ensured the task checks were correct. The only deviation was in presenting much more detailed system data than Book 3: Scouts allowed for. Meeting expectations of those who knew Traveller was one of my big fears. Although the science fiction plot was appropriate, I was aware that it was virtually impossible to set it in Charted Space, which is a little too well known, so I’d kept the location very vague. Also, I’d quite deliberately set it up with no combat. In fact, Scout characters rolled up using Book 3 get very little in the way of combat skills ‘out of the box’, and the 6 PCs I’d created had only one such skill between them. Would players accept that and accept not having any combat as a satisfactory adventure?
I was aware of one reason to conform tightly to ‘canon’ with the convention game: having put in a lot of work, I was hopeful it might be published at some point if it worked and if there was any interest, whether from BITS itself or an online journal. In the event of such interest, it would obviously be in its favour to conform to what was expected as much as possible. With that in mind, you can imagine my particular delight when one player said post-game that it was “very Traveller”.
The term ‘canon’ is more generally used of scripture and what is or isn’t regarded as sacred or divinely inspired. It helps establish orthodoxy and identify heresy. I hope there are no Traveller fans who seriously use the term canon to imply Marc Miller is a god! But there are certainly those who have very clear ideas of what is ‘allowed’ in Traveller and what isn’t. So, is it important to have a rigid canon of literature? I certainly think it’s helpful for shared gaming experience and a coherent universe developed by multiple authors, to have a basis from which to work. But may I risk heresy by suggesting it’s not that critical? Have fun!