Last night I ran Traveller for the first time in a good long spell. In fact it was so long ago that the Soviet Union was still gearing up for parachuting into a small Wyoming town and New Coke had the nation up in outraged arms, that's how long ago.
It felt very much like seeing an old friend, the achingly-sweet remembering why you dug hanging out with them in the first place. But also like meeting an old friend there was the odd perspective shifts, the slow jumps that remind you how much you have changed.
Coming back to D&D four years ago was different. Yes, there were a number of dramatic and subtle shifts that changed how I play the game, but overall there was an exuberance in embracing the core play-style and the great body of older pulp fantasy that inspired it.
With Traveller I felt after dusting off the books that I could only meet it halfway. The system felt as enjoyable as I remembered, but there was something about the implied feel/setting/background literature that just doesn't as much for me as it did. The kind of hard(ish) sci-fi of the 1950s-70s: the Poul Anderson, Jerry Pournelle, E.C. Tubbs, H. Beam Piper (as much as I love Lord Kalvan), etc. school of projecting their now stuffy feeling cold war conservatism into the distant future of space opera. And the GDW house setting, the Imperium, which became more and more hardwired into the game itself left me even colder honestly.
That's not totally accurate, there was part of that era that has been inspiring me a great deal—besides still loving Jack Vance's contributions in that period—the art of a certain school of sci-fi artists of the 1970s. The great awe-producing full-color works of those four Terran Trade Authority books and OMNI magazine illustrations that crashed their way into my consciousness in 1979 just before getting into roleplaying proper (and CT was always my second game): the stunning work of Angus McKie, Jim Burns, Peter Elson, Peter Andrew Jones, Roger Dean, Chris Foss, Chris Moore and others.
The sensuous feeling, hallucinogenic influenced grand starships, full of organic, sloping curves and slender towers. The great mystery and pathos of drifting space hulks. The contrast of the primitive and the far future with the hint of the great swords & sorcery cover art of that period. The sense of something truly immense and unknowable out there among the stars.
All these elements hold great truck with me and influenced what I started stocking all those grey, unsurveyed planets on that subsector map from yesterday.
Let me show rather than tell.
I couldn't agree more. These were the things I threw into Traveller back then, along with a generous helping of DnD stuff. I figured that any planet they landed on should be at rich and detailed as the world where their DnD campaign was taking place. This makes a lot of work for the referee, but I am often one for creating my own random anyway (this means winging it.)ReplyDelete
Oh, yeah. I owned those hardback books back in the day. Love 'em. :DReplyDelete
Yes I own all those Terran Trade Authority books, love um!Delete
Ditto. Such a cool and clever idea, and it was great to see all those paintings reproduced at a decent size on good-quality paper.Delete
I've got a couple of them and they are a treasure.Delete
I also agree I have a very strong nostalgic feeling for classic Traveller, and like you I was into it about the end of the cold war lol. At the time I was also influenced by a few other game systems of that time period like Star Frontiers, Gamma World, and of course D&D. I too tended to cross reference as it were, it was a bit of extra work but I think well worth it. I've recently picked up GRUPS Traveller, the background is slightly modified and I must say I like it better, and the game mechanics are simple. So I plan to try it out with a group some time.ReplyDelete
Don, I seem to remember you having some starship minis painted up in TTA colors? Some of the tiger-stripped raiders?Delete
He does. You can see them in this post on his blog.Delete
By the way, there's a hyperlink in the last part of the above sentence, but it's not visible unless you move your cursor over it.Delete
Would you be able to tell me where the sixth picture is from? I remember seeing a picture with those same weird little aliens in it a long time ago, and it's stuck with me since. Thanks - awesome pics, they stir up my imagination as well.ReplyDelete
It's a piece by Jim Burns called Exordium 4--The Rifters Ccovenant.Delete
I love that style of SF art. It's one of the reasons that I held such hopes for T4: the color plates were all in that style. I hear that Marc Miller is not looking in that direction for T5, however.ReplyDelete
Were you aware that there is a TTA RPG?
I saw that. Anyone have the skinny on what it is like?Delete
All I know is that the "Omni System" which powers it is a development of the Talislanta system. You can get the system (but not the TTA background) as a PDF on DriveThruRPG for fairly cheap (right now, it's $6). Apparently, the TTA game is only available through Amazon.Delete
Chris, did you ever see a compilation of sci-fi art called Space Wars, Worlds & Weapons? It's a great book with all sorts of cool art. I talked about it on my blog a long time ago.ReplyDelete
Again, hyperlink in the first part of the final sentence aboveDelete
Thanks first I heard of it. Copy ordered.Delete
Since we started playing Traveller as soon as the LBBs came out, we knew nothing of the Imperium until we'd played for good long time. I never liked the Imperium as much as our own collection of worlds, confederations, and empires.ReplyDelete
I've seen the TTA books, but I've never read them. I should pick up copies at my local science fiction bookstore.
I started playing at the end of 1980 and it already was transitional with a heavy tilt toward the House Setting. The deluxe box with the LBBs I bought had a Spinward Marches map and an intro adventure. It's a shame because I feel like I missed a chance to really be free of the influence of a published setting as I did starting with D&D in 1979.Delete
It's been very liberating chucking it, I have to say.
I love love love those Roger Dean tripods just as much as the Jeff Wayne record sleeve ones.ReplyDelete
I know I'm always late commenting on these posts, but I totally agree. I had "The Traveller Book" as a kid, but had trouble getting my D&D-mad gaming pals to try it, so I never really played it.ReplyDelete
I remember a year or so ago, after having excitedly opened my Far Futures, Classic Traveller, CD-ROM treasure trove, being a little disappointed and writing you saying something like "wow, man, I just didn't remember the Traveller universe being so...stark. I think need more gonzo elements and color in a space game." Luckily, your Space Cantons game seems to be doing just the right amount of that, and is just great.
Despite the foregoing, though, there's still something about Classic Traveller for me. Apart from the cool aesthetic of the LBBs, a lot of its appeal is just imagining the vistas of fun and imagination that might be possible with it, even if difficult to realize in practice. You're doing it, though, man!