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After-Action Report: TravellerCON/USA 2017

This was one of the featured articles in the November/December 2017 issue.

Editor’s note: The pictures were supplied with the writeup, but there were no captions.

I’m no stranger to traveling (travelling?) for small conventions, but the confluence of Traveller’s 40th birthday, visiting guest of honor Marc Miller and some more than casual curiosity finally tipped the scales and forced my hand to Lancaster, Pennsylvania in late-September.

Perhaps it’s the birthday or some Traveller uptick in OSR gaming en masse, but it seems that interest is warming to gaming’s longest-running sci-fi game. For quite a while, the most notable Traveller in mid-Atlantic was a long-time ongoing game at Dexcon/Dremation conventions run by Ben Forest; where also in recent years the White brothers (Mel and Bill) picked up the calling, expanding the footprint. So the past few years have seen an upswell, returning Traveller to my life after 30 or so years on hiatus for me.

I grew up on the LBBs (probably the ’82 box but who knows at this point) but resisted the hardcoded setting that quickly attached to it. I’m just not an Imperium guy, never was. Nothing personal. It wasn’t until the newer push in the gaming community to ‘primary sources’ piqued my interest in Classic Traveller. And with the help of the internet, I rabbit-holed my way into the G+ community for Classic Traveller and pre-Imperium play.

Lancaster, for all of its nowhere charm is surprisingly easy to get to, an hour NW of Philly by train, which makes it just under three hours for me from Penn Station, or the foolhardy could attempt Lancaster regional airport. The hotel is a sort of grand monstrosity perhaps originating in the late ’60s/early ’70s but fighting the encroachment of disrepair and expansion simultaneously. A sea of beige-on-beige carpets and furnishings spider around unusual angles and half-floor wings that abruptly turn and dead-end. The con seems to be fighting a losing battle on the perks front, now no longer offering a continental breakfast or coffee to guests. We are not there for the amenities as such. And the hotel is parked in a suburban arm of Lancaster, swaddled in highway traffic and easy access to recognizable bad food choices within an easy commute by foot or car.

Perhaps to battle this, TravellerCon does a wonderful job trying to ignore the hotel with the same fervor as it’s received. They offer a free pizza dinner on Friday night to those in attendance and do an excellent job running an in-room consession stand and there is always chilled water on hand. You’d be surprised at how often these little things are disregarded at larger and smaller cons. TravellerCon is big on the hospitality.

And how is that? It’s smallish. But not tiny. This year and the visit from Marc pushed the Ballroom we were given to the limit. Often eight tables would be running at capacity across the three slots; with the exception of Saturday morning slot running 10 full tables.

It’s a loud room but not the worst. The low accoustic tile ceiling pulls its weight and keeps the Refs from yelling. Dotted around the back of the room and on the edges you’ll find a few tables of aging gamers selling product or by-product of 40 years of Traveller history.

TravellerCon was incredibly welcoming. My hosts went out of their way to introduce themselves. When announcements needed to be had they would wend their way to each table and make them in person. Intimate would be the wrong word, but maybe ‘familiar’. Perhaps this is just how people normally interact outside of city life? Anyway…

My days of wrangling three games a day for multiple days may be past me but that didn’t stop many of the fresh and worn faces dotting the happy mass. I was able to play two games of Classic Traveller and two games of MegaTraveller. Two great games and two uneven games. That’s not a bad ratio. I split my time between playing games with familiar players and refs; and randomly going into a new crowd with unknown playing styles and expectations–prospecting. With regard to the latter, one was a reskinned American Independence themed module penned and run by Adam Dray, and that was phenomenal. I also spent a lot of time gaming with Mel White who is just about everything you’d want in a ref no matter the system.

Many raced to get to some Sunday morning gaming, which is a rarity in most conventions. I had stayed out too late cavorting at the bar on Saturday night and could all but scoop myself up and Uber my way back to Amtrak. Curled up with a pocket full of gaming notes, I began to comb through pics I took from gaming sessions which even now as I write this was only a short time ago.

Among the pile of bar receipts, Traveller-themed note pads and a quick drawing of a six legged bear was an upended business card. I flipped it over and smiled. I'd forgotten that on just the previous night, Adam Dray had tapped me on the shoulder at the tail end of my evening session and handed me a black and red card. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. Marc just made you a Duke.”

So, I’ve got that going for me now. Maybe I should give this Imperium-thing another chance.

PS. Travellercon attendee and backer, Mel White (of the ‘Virtual Play’ podcast) has uploaded all five games he ran at Travellercon. You can find the actual play audio links at: https://archive.org/details/TravellerconAcademy.