The Travellers’ Digest and The Early Adventures
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue.
The Travellers’ Digest. Multiple Authors.
The Early Adventures. Multiple Authors.
Digest Group Publications (defunct, no website)
Price varies on secondhand market
The Travellers’ Digest: where the “Grand Tour” — and Digest Group Publications — began.
The Travellers’ Digest issues #1, #2, #3 and #4 were published (as soft cover digests) by Digest Group Publications (DGP), respectively, in June 1985 (52 pages), September 1985 (52 pages), December 1985 (52 pages) and February 1986 (56 pages), and were “officially approved for use with Traveller” by Game Designers' Workshop (GDW). The Early Adventures, a “special reprint” of selected material from these four issues, was published (as a 48 page soft cover book) by DGP in 1988. All are currently out-of-print and only available, often at considerable cost, from second-hand sellers.
The Travellers’ Digest was where DGP began its efforts to “add color and flesh out details of the Traveller universe.” The central focus of each issue was a “Feature Adventure,” part of an expansive campaign that followed a group of travellers on a “Grand Tour” of the Third Imperium, beginning in the Spinward Marches which had until that point been the primary focus of the development of the Classic Traveller campaign setting. In addition to the Feature Adventure, each issue also presented a variety of background information for the unfolding campaign and general information for role-play gaming in the Classic Traveller setting. This review treats these first four issues — and The Early Adventures reprint — as a single item.
Traveller’s Classic campaign setting began with Traveller Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches (GDW, 1979) which introduced this frontier region of the Imperium. More material appeared about the Spinward Marches in Traveller Supplement 11: Library Data (N-Z) (GDW, 1982) and in The Spinward Marches Campaign (GDW, 1985). With Traveller Supplement 10: The Solomani Rim (GDW, 1982), which detailed a longer-settled region on the other side of the Imperium — where Earth (Terra) was located — the scope of the Classic Imperium campaign was spectacularly broadened. The “Grand Tour” planned for The Travellers’ Digest would draw a tangible connection between these two areas of the Third Imperium setting.
The four Feature Adventures were “Of Xboats and Friends,” beginning on the world Aramis, in the Aramis subsector of the Spinward Marches, “Journey of the Sojourn Moon,” beginning on Sherad in the Atsah subsector of Deneb Sector, “Visit to Antiquity,” set on the world Antiquity in the Ian subsector of Corridor Sector, and “The Gold of Zurrian,” beginning on Gishuli in the Voskhod subsector of Vland Sector. The adventures feature characters Akidda Laagiir, a journalist, Dur Telemon, a detached-duty scout, Dr. Theodore Krenstein, a scientist, and Aybee Wan Owen (AB-101), an experimental pseudobiological robot posing as Krenstein’s valet, as they travel about the Imperium.
Each issue begins with brief sketches of the characters which would also be useful if these characters were to be used as non-player characters (NPCs) in a different campaign. Expanded guidelines for playing Aybee Wan Owen appear in Issue #2 and for Dr. Krenstein in Issue #3. All four adventures are reprinted in The Early Adventures but have not appeared elsewhere.
“Of Xboats and Friends” (Issue #1), serves as an effective introduction to the “grand tour” campaign but relies too heavily upon the experience and skills of the featured characters for the scenario to used easily in another campaign or with a different set of player-characters (PCs). The unusual and unexpected rewards for successful completion of this adventure — knighthoods, travel vouchers — are key enablers of the continued campaign. The adventure includes extensive guidelines and details, including a world map, for further adventuring on the world Jode in the Pretoria subsector of the Deneb Sector but specific adventure scenarios are left to the referee to develop.
“Journey of the Sojourn Moon” (Issue #2), is a pretty standard “starfarers encounter primitive society” scenario which is not tied to the specifics of the Travellers’ Digest campaign, though many of the details are inseparable from the planetography of the world — Wal-ta-ka in the Atsah subsector of the Deneb Sector — on which it takes place and the specific history of its inhabitants. Substantial modifications would be required to run the scenario on another planet. The adventure includes extensive guidelines and details, including a world map, for adventuring on Wal-ta-ka. The adventure also adopts the Universal Task Profile (UTP) game mechanic introduced in “The Gaming Digest” column of Issue #1.
“Visit to Antiquity” (Issue #3) is a high-tech version of a traditional “dungeon crawl” through an abandoned site of the Ancients — a long-dead civilization with technology so advanced it seems almost magical — with the added complication of the characters being required to interact with their happenstance companions, a group of Vargr scientists. There are useful guidelines included for playing the Vargr NPCs as members of a distinctly non-human culture but this adventure would be difficult to adapt for another campaign because it is so closely tied both to the specifics of the Ancient site and to the peculiarities of the Vargr NPCs.
“The Gold of Zurrian” (Issue #4), which takes place in transit aboard the passenger starship Gold of Zurrian, is a stereotypical “murder mystery aboard a passenger train” adventure. This is an adventure which could easily be adapted to a different campaign and/or a different group of PCs but it’s not particularly well-crafted. There are plenty of plot misdirections but the actual culprit requires a bit of deus ex machina to discover — a circumstance telegraphed by the many potential “break out of the narrative” options offered as advice to the referee for PCs who are eager to rescue their mistakenly-accused comrade. The faux drama associated with using a “science-fictional” computer system as imagined in the 1980s to search for clues among the provided library data is laughable in our “Google is a verb” contemporary world.
Sectors and Subsectors
In a format which was pioneered by DGP — and became standard for Traveller — material is presented for each of the three sectors in which the Feature Adventures take place: Deneb Sector (Issue #1), Corridor Sector (Issue #3) and Vland Sector (Issue #4, with additional material appearing in The Travellers’ Digest #5). The sector details include a name key for the sixteen subsectors in each sector, a map of the xboat routes in the sector and brief library data for a dozen or more worlds in each sector. None of the sector material was reprinted in The Early Adventures but some of it was reprinted in subsequent DGP works including the Vilani & Vargr sourcebook (DGP 1990), and The MegaTraveller Journal (DGP, 1991-93).
Typical GDW Supplement 3/Supplement 10 type information, including subsector maps, is provided for Pretoria Subsector, subsector A in Deneb Sector (Issue #1), for Atsah Subsector, H in Deneb (Issue #2), for Ian Subsector, E in Corridor (Issue #3), and for Kagamira Subsector, F in Vland Sector (Issue #4). All of this subsector information is reprinted in The Early Adventures but has not appeared elsewhere.
Robot Design Revisited
The three-part article on robot design — in Issues #1, #2 and #3 — is specifically described as an expansion of material by designers Marc Miller and Loren Wiseman which previously appeared in GDW’s Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society (Issues #2, #3 and #4). The robot design system is described as being compatible with the Striker (GDW, 1981) vehicle design system and adopts a framework which treats both vehicles and robots simply as different types of automated, mobile technology. The material in these three articles was subsequently refashioned as Traveller Book 8: Robots (GDW, 1986).
Universal Task Profile
“Using Skills Effectively” in “The Gaming Digest” column in Issue #1 represents the initial efforts of what would become the “Universal Task Profile” (UTP) which was used as the central game mechanic of the MegaTraveller version of Traveller. “Easy Task Definition” in Issue #2 expands upon the UTP game dynamic introduced in Issue #1 and is also used in this issue’s Feature Adventure. “Damage and Repair” in Issue #3 and “Accidents and Mishaps” in Issue #4 demonstrate the use of the UTP game dynamic which is also used in each issue’s Feature Article. This material does not appear in The Early Adventures but would be consolidated and expanded in the GDW’s MegaTraveller rules issued in 1987.
The UTP is described as “a consistent, easy to remember rule of thumb for determining the chance of any given character succeeding at any task” and is presented as an “alternative to the ‘seat of the pants’ method of generating rolls for tasks.” There are differences of opinion about whether or not the UTP is “easy to remember” and there are many Traveller gamers who were dissatisfied with the task system in MegaTraveller but it is definitely a consistent, systematic approach to the haphazard use of skills as originally presented in Classic Traveller.
New Character Careers
Issue #2 presents character prior service generation material which mirrors that for other career types in Traveller Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium (GDW, 1980) for the Journalist career and Issue #4 presents similar material for the Law Enforcer career. The Early Adventures includes the Journalist character generation but the Law Enforcer — though most of the Law Enforcer material reappears in the MegaTraveller Players’ Manual (GDW, 1987).
The Issue #3 article on Vargr language and culture — much of it similar to material which appeared previously in Alien Module 3: Vargr (GDW, 1984) — is useful context for roleplaying Vargr characters in any campaign. Most of this information is reprinted in The Early Adventures and also appears in expanded form in the Vilani & Vargr sourcebook.
There is also some interesting material in Issue #4 on the Vargr Church of the Chosen Ones but this information would be somewhat difficult to adapt for another campaign because it is tied to the specifics of the Ancients and to a particular region of space in Vland Sector and the Vargr Extents to coreward.
Starships, Library Data and Tech
The Feature Adventure in Issue #1 includes extensive details, including deck plans, for a typical Imperial express boat tender (Type XT) starship which can easily be used in a different campaign. The Feature Adventure in Issue #4 includes extensive details, including deck plans, for a Pride of Vland-class 1000-ton “long-liner” (Type RT) which can also easily be used elsewhere. Only the deck plans of these starships are reprinted in The Early Adventures.
In addition to the world-related Library Data presented for the three sectors there are also short collections of “general” Library Data entries presented in Issues #1, #2 and #3. These include entries for common topics such as “Behind the Claw,” “Third Imperium” and “Galanglic.” Some entries appear in multiple issues and while none of this Library Data appears in The Early Adventures most of it has reappeared in subsequent DGP and GDW works.
“Orbital Complexes” (Issue #1) provides brief details including design guidelines for orbital facilities using the ship design sequence in Traveller Book 5: High Guard (GDW, 1979, 1980). The Issue #2 article on audio and imagery recorders is more than a bit quaint from the perspective of our contemporary world of ubiquitous hand-held recording devices. (This is the only technology piece to be reprinted in The Early Adventures.). The Issue #3 material on densitometers, used for large-scale remote mass detection, was reprinted in Grand Survey (DGP, 1986), in the MegaTraveller Imperial Encyclopedia (GDW, 1987), and in the World Builders’ Handbook (DGP, 1989). “Forensic Science” (Issue #4) is useful if arcane detail for a law enforcement-related campaign.
I am a great admirer of Digest Group Publications which was, at the time of the original publication of their materials, the principal source of my introduction — after Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches — to Traveller’s Classic Imperium campaign setting. I was fascinated by the first four issues of The Travellers’ Digest which introduced us — with both the Feature Adventures and with the sector and subsector details — to Deneb Sector, to Corridor and to Vland Sector (with a taste of the Vargr Extents along the way). With The Travellers’ Digest, DGP had taken what The Traveller Adventure (GDW, 1983) had done for a single subsector — Aramis in the Spinward Marches — and reimagined it on a grander scale (with much more promised to come in subsequent issues).
The material in The Travellers’ Digest is rich with details of these previously unencountered areas of the Imperium campaign setting. This richness gave a substance to each issue of the Digest, a sense of the complexity and diversity of these newly encountered regions. In many ways, The Traveller’s Digest accomplished DGP’s goal of adding color to and fleshing out the details of the Classic Imperium campaign.
While the primary opportunity for adventure in The Traveller’s Digest is focused upon the “Grand Tour” campaign the details provided along the way for those regions of the Imperium through which the characters travel provides additional opportunities for adventure. Just as Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches gave us new places like Mora subector, District 268, the Sword Worlds and the Zhodani worlds of Cronor subsector in which to adventure, The Travellers’ Digest gave us Pretoria and Atsah subsectors in Deneb, Ian in Corridor and Kagamira in Vland Sector as new places for adventure. Each of these subsectors could serve as a potential entrée to their respective sectors in the same way the Regina subsector had been the entry point for the Spinward Marches.
Much of what appeared in The Travellers’ Digest was not new, but rather was an elaboration of campaign elements which had been previously introduced. The revisited robot design rules built upon material which had previously appeared in GDW’s Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. The adventure at the Ancients site in “Visit to Antiquity” expanded what had previously appeared in Adventure 12: Secret of the Ancients (GDW, 1984). And, of course, much of the bits of society to which we are introduced in Deneb, in Corridor and in Vland is similar to the Imperial society with which we were familiar in the Spinward Marches. The Universal Task Profile introduced here — the one truly innovative bit — was subsequently presented in a more cohesive and comprehensive form in the subsequently-issued MegaTraveller edition of Traveller.
Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of the material which appears in the first four issues of The Travellers’ Digest is that it continues to treat the coreward Imperial border with the Vargr Extents as a sort of “edge of the map.” The seemingly invisible-yet-impenetrable barrier beyond the coreward boundary of the Spinward Marches persists from its origins in Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches. (DGP would eventually rectify this — briefly — with the excellent Vilani & Vargr sourcebook.)
While the content of The Travellers’ Digest is sound the production quality is typical of the primitive, desktop publishing tools of its era. The shift to typeset-quality text in Issue #3 was a welcome improvement but the black-and-white sketch illustrations featured in these four issues are a better testament to principal artist Joe Fugate’s dogged ambitions than they are to aesthetic refinement. On the other hand, the subsector maps and starship deck plans are excellent, typical of the best of this sort of art in any Traveller work.
The first four issues of The Travellers’ Digest present the initial stage of an adventure campaign which is mediocre at best, particularly because much of the adventure material would be difficult to transfer to a different campaign or to use with a different set of PCs. And while the background material presented in these Digest issues was a wonderful expansion of previously unencountered regions of the Imperium at the time much of that material has subsequently appeared elsewhere, often in the context of an even richer presentation of these regions. There are few game mechanics or campaign background details — with the possible exception of the Journalist career prior service generation — which have not appeared subsequently or been superseded by more recent information.
I had long hoped to see the Digest Group Publications material — which has floundered for years in a sort of Traveller canon limbo — to return to print but having taken a close look at these fours examples of the earliest of that material it’s difficult to argue that their return to print would be particularly rewarding. The four installments of the “Grand Tour” campaign — already reprinted (and again out-of-print) in The Early Adventures — are the main parts of the material which has not already reappeared in subsequent Traveller works but these are the weakest elements of the material, passable adventure scenarios which are mostly tied to a particular place and time — and a particular group of characters — in the Classic Imperium campaign.
It is exceptionally difficult to find these early issues of The Travellers’ Digest in the used marketplace and the typical prices when they are available can often exceed US$100. Buyers at that price are likely collectors rather than gamers, purchasing these items for their nostalgic value as much as for their usefulness as aids to Traveller role-playing gaming.