CD-ROM: Classic Traveller
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2020 issue.
Golden Age: Classic Traveller on CD-ROM. Various authors.
FarFuture Enterprises http://farfuture.net
PDF and other files on CD/DVD, ~840MB
As part of their efforts to make electronic versions of all historical Traveller material available, FarFuture Enterprises has released this collection of the canonical Traveller material originally published by Game Designers’ Workshop. This disc covers the original publication of Traveller in 1977, plus the 1981 update and all supplemental material published as separate products (as opposed to articles in the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society and Challenge, or other gaming magazines) prior to the release of MegaTraveller in 1987.
In the 1977-to-1987 period, Traveller’s core rules were published in four forms, and all are included on the CD-ROM.
A Traveller boxed set containing three digest-sized (ISO A5, ~5.85×8.3) books represented the ‘core’ version of Traveller. The three books, Book 1: Characters and Combat, Book 2: Starships, and Book 3: Worlds and Adventures, contained the complete set of rules for playing Traveller. This product was aimed at the player who was already familiar with role-playing, and did not include any setting information or ready-to-run adventures. When other products referred to this as one of the possibilities for needing the core rules, it was often referred to as “Basic Traveller”.
Starter Traveller was a boxed set containing three books, Rules, Charts, and Adventures, formatted to US Letter (8½×11). Rules represented a playable-but-abridged version of the rules presented in Basic Traveller, Charts was where you found all the charts and tables referred to in Rules, and Adventures was two ready-to-play adventures, “Mission on Mithril” and “Shadows”. You also got two six-sided dice (not included on the CD-ROM). This product, as its name implies, was aimed at the player who was just getting started with Traveller and role-playing; much of the omitted rules material was replaced by appropriately explanatory material.
Deluxe Traveller was also a boxed set, which included all the material in Basic Traveller, plus an introductory booklet (Book 0: An Introduction to Traveller) and adventure (“Introductory Adventure: The Imperial Fringe”), all formatted to digest size. The charts and tables were in a separate booklet formatted to US Letter, and you also got a pair of six-sided dice and a color-on-black poster-sized map of the Spinward Marches. An actual reproduction of the Deluxe Traveller Charts and Tables book has seemingly been left off the CD-ROM, but the Charts book for Starter Traveller can be substituted.
Finally, a single-volume release, The Traveller Book, contained all of the rules and background information from Deluxe Traveller, including Book 0 (but not the “Imperial Fringe” adventure), plus two ready-to-run adventures, “Shadows” and “Exit Visa”. This was formatted to slightly larger than US Letter, and was hardbound.
The PDFs of all of these – and, in fact, most of the contents of this CD-ROM – are text-behind-image, but appear to have been well-edited; copy-and-paste consistently produced clean pastes of readable text that required no editing. The images are also very clean, with no “spotting” from dirt on the scanner or pages showing their age; one might believe that the material, rather than being scanned, was simply re-set from computerized text and output to PDF. There are some exceptions; the scans of Atlas of the Imperium, for example, are clearly made from a well-used copy of the printed document, and the covers of the Alien Modules likewise.
No game is perfect with its initial publication, and in 1981, the three Books of Basic/Deluxe Traveller were revised and re-released. Both the 1977 and 1981 versions are included on the CD-ROM.
Core Traveller begat rules expansions, additional adventures, modules, board games, and informational supplements. “Books” are rule expansions, offering more detailed character generation and options for playing these “expanded” characters. There were four expansions: Book 4: Mercenary expanded the Army and Marine careers from Core Traveller, addressing them together as “Ground Forces Command”; Book 5: High Guard did the same for the Navy, Book 6: Scouts for the Scouts, and Book 7: Merchant Prince for the Merchant career. Book 5: High Guard underwent substantial revision a year after its initial release, and the CD-ROM includes both versions.
(In subsequent discussions or mentions of character generation, a “basic” career is one managed on a term-by-term basis, as in Book 1: Characters and Combat. A career managed on a year-by-year basis, like those in Books 4 through 7, will be called an “expanded” career.)
There was also a Book 8: Robots which covered the use of robots in the setting, and provided some options for using robots as characters in a game. In spite of its title, this was not a ‘career’, expanded or not, like the others, and I’m not aware of this book actually having been heavily used in the community.
“Supplements” and “Special Supplements” generally provided background information on a particular area, or lists pertinent to the particular topic of the supplement. They were rules-light, except for Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, which presented basic character generation rules for certain non-military careers. “Supplements”, like Books 4-8, were approximately 48 pages, and sold as separate products; “Special Supplements” were 16 pages, distributed as inserts in the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society (reproduced on a separate disc as a part of the FarFuture Traveller Recovery CD-ROM series).
“Adventures” and “Double Adventures” presented ready-to-run adventures. Each book was about 48 pages; the “Double Adventures” were about 24 pages each, arranged much like the “Ace Doubles” science fiction novels, where you’d flip the book vertically (i.e., top to bottom) to read the “other” novel (adventure, in the case of the Double Adventures). The individual adventures of the Double Adventure booklets were, as it turned out, particularly suitable for time-limited single-session play, such as at a convention. Both the Adventures and Double Adventures were “stand-alone”, not tied to a campaign. (On the CD-ROM, the Double Adventures are presented as two separate files, one for each adventure, and you don’t have to re-orient the pages in your PDF reader.)
Although Traveller was very much humanocentric (and some would say “Yanks in Space-centric”), there was sufficient interest in having aliens in Traveller to result in the release of eight “Alien Modules”, covering five non-human aliens and three human societies that were portrayed as significantly different from the assumed ‘default’ Imperial society. These folios presented an overview of their respective subjects’ history and social organization, and provided ‘basic’ careers equivalent to the Book 1 careers for the default “Imperial” society. (There were additional aliens presented as articles in the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, under the heading “Contact!”; these presentations were nowhere near as complete as those of the Alien Modules.)
In addition to the Alien Modules, a set of “Modules” was released. Modules 1 and 2, Tarsus and Beltstrike, were boxed sets containing broad information about a single world so that a referee could run multiple self-created adventures on the world, plus a few pre-generated adventures with maps, handouts, character data, and so on. Beltstrike, in addition, provided rules for playing out asteroid mining, and a basic career for Belters. It could legitimately be claimed that these modules set a high early standard for world-building; certainly, many later products from third parties, and even some early fan material, aspired to this level.
Module 3, The Spinward Marches Campaign, reproduced most if not all of the information in Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium, and added background information on the Spinward Marches sector. Several linked adventures and opportunities for others are included, providing almost a “grand tour” of the Spinward Marches.
Module 4, Alien Realms, presented eight adventures in which the player-characters were “aliens” – that is, not standard Imperial humans. Having the corresponding Alien Modules (Zhodani, Vargr, Aslan, and Droyne) was absolutely essential, and referees were cautioned to be familiar with the information in them and to avoid falling into normal human thought patterns.
Module 5, Atlas of the Imperium, was a book of maps, of every sector of the Imperium. In retrospect, it was a bit of a disappointment, as that was all it was; there was no information available beyond what was included on the maps, which was basically location, starport, bases and gas giant presence, and the names of the high-population worlds.
At one time, war games on hexagon-marked maps with die-cut counters were popular; GDW had been a presence in that field. They chose to try to bring some of that expertise into Traveller and produced eight boxed games.
Imperium was a strategic war game, set in what eventually became known as the Solomani Rim, and allowed players to game out the period and wars that eventually were called the Interstellar Wars, between the Vilani Ziru Sirka and the Terran Confederation. The same rules were used for playing out the Solomani-Aslan wars in the later Dark Nebula game.
Mayday was a tactical game of starship rescue and combat. Its biggest flaw is one that persists in other tactical ship combat games today; the movement rules, while offering a good level of realism, are complex enough to be somewhat confusing and time-consuming to work out and adjudicate.
Snapshot and Azhanti High Lightning were tactical games of individual and group combat aboard starships. In Snapshot, combat is at relatively close ranges on small starships, and the rules were oriented toward that; Azhanti High Lightning was set on a larger starship, and the rules were complete enough to allow them to be used for combat in other environments (such as on planetary surfaces). Both games presented a handful of scenarios, but (naturally) allowed a creative referee to come up with his own as well.
Fifth Frontier War played out the eponymous bit of Traveller history, with both strategic and tactical elements, and both space and planetary surface elements. There are no defined battles or scenarios other than the initial disposition of the two sides, and nothing stops the players from rewriting ‘history’.
Invasion: Earth allowed the players to play out the investment and conquest of Terra in the Solomani Rim War. Like Fifth Frontier War, there were both space and ground elements to the game, but no pre-defined scenarios.
Finally, Striker presented rules for using the information in Book 4: Mercenary with miniatures. As written, 15mm miniatures were targeted, but you could easily adjust to other sizes by simply adjusting the given measurements.
You get a lot of material for your $35; even at 1980s prices, there is easily a couple of hundreds of dollars worth of data here. It represents Traveller from its earliest days to its establishment as the Science Fiction Role-Playing game, and while some of the material may well appear ‘dated’, it represents a still-usable incarnation of the rules – and that’s aside from its historical interest. Definitely a buy, especially if you find three other CD-ROMs you want from FarFuture.