Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Traveller Kicks Ass

I have a confession to make: I came to Traveller way late in the game. As in, within the last year. How I got there was pretty strange, too, but I've fallen in love with a game that a lot of people around me mocked when I was coming up and cutting my teeth on different rpgs. However much anyone may love Traveller, we all have to admit that it does have a particular reputation, if only as the rpg where you could die during character creation.

Early Exposure

My first experience with Traveller ever was when my pal Andy bought a copy of MegaTraveller way back in the early 90's (I think we were Freshmen in high school at the time) and insisted that we make characters during Band class or something. Maybe it wasn't during band class, but it was definitely in the band room, which made sense since Andy was the band director's son. Back then, just making characters for a game never meant that you were going to play said game; in fact, I can recall many rpgs that we never quite took to the gaming table, but we all had several series of characters for. Andy also didn't always have the best taste in games, either (I almost threw in a jibe about ICE games there, but self-preservation instinct made me take it out), so when my second character in a row died without ever having been played, I started to believe that either we were "doing it wrong" or this game just wasn't for me. Since that was my last experience with Traveller for another twenty or so years, either was equally likely.

Why I Could've Hated It

I'm about to expose another dark (okay, not so dark) secret of mine: I hate randomness. Yes, I, like most other gamers in the world ever, got my start on D&D and the "roll 3d6 in order" style of character generation, but I was one of those awful geeks who doesn't play to play, he plays to win. The kind who doesn't give a damn if he's playing inside the rules so long as the end result is the one where he comes out on top. It's taken me years to get over this, and much of the 90's trend toward game balance (even meaningless sorts of game balance) helped a lot since it made me follow a consistent set of rules with relative equality between all characters. My distaste for randomness stays with me despite the years, and so when I was faced with Traveller's "roll 2d6 for each characteristic and get ready for craziness" approach to character creation, even adult Adam freaked out at first and thought more than a few negative thoughts about the system.

Why I Love It Instead

At some point, probably as I was reading through one of the roughly six billion supplements published for Traveller that introduces some new sort of system, subsystem or mini-game, I realized that the pure, true beauty of Traveller is that it is designed to BE an entire system of mini-games and subsystems with a cohesive setting and a hint of an rpg wrapped around that core of mini-gamery. That's when it sank in and that's when I fell in love with Traveller. (That's also when I made my peace with rolled stats in Old School rpgs.) Traveller does a great job of providing tools to sandboxers and DIYers while still allowing storygamers a surprisingly robust set of options as well. Traveller is a "hard sci fi ONLY" game, not being exceptionally good for approximating the science fantasy stuff that has done a great job of clogging up the market and, for me, that's a plus. Everything about Traveller screams "this is real sci fi" and not "we glued some LEDs to D&D to give it SCIENCE!" There's just too much of that today. Which, in all irony, is of course why my next planned Traveller game I'm building with a solid amount of Sword and Planet in it. I still haven't figured out if that's funny or not.

Traveller kicks ass for a lot of reasons, but this isn't really a review of it, so I'm not going to get into a blow-by-blow examination of any particular edition. Rather, I'd simply like to say that, somewhere over the last year, I've developed an intense appreciation for a game that I had previously underestimated. I've really enjoyed getting into Traveller and am currently working on a new campaign for it (more on that later) that I think I'll be getting off the ground soon (it's either that or DCC; either way, I win). As a side note, Marc Miller, the creator of Traveller, recently conducted a Kickstarter for what's being called Traveller5 and it was a resounding success and the game should be published in 2013. So, even if we can't get a playable edition of D&D in 2013, we can at least get some new Traveller action!