Tales to Astound!

TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Introduction

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Here is a series of posts about how Traveller worked back in the day and how how i’m approaching the game and the creation of the setting.

The Basic Assumptions

When I think Classic Traveler I don’t think of The Traveller Book, or Starter Traveller, or the full library of books published Traveller.  When I think of classic traveler, what I think of is the Little Black Books 1-3 found in the original box set of Traveller published first in 1997 and later in 1981.

The distinction is this: in Little Black Booksa1-3 there is no mention of The Imperium or any official setting details of any kind. Later editions of Traveller conflated the game with the Third Imperium. I believe this was a horrible mistake. Or rather, to be more specific, it was a good decision for publisher who want us to sell product. But it was a horrible decision for the good of a role-playing game.

So, to be clear, when I speak in the following posts about Traveller I’m referring to little black books 1-3, and Supplements 1, 2, and 4 on hand to make my life easier. I am also stripping out all thought, expectation, and assumptions that the third imperium is in any way part of the conversation. I believe an amazing game was buried under a static, bland, and overwhelming setting that works against effective RPG play.

The idea is to look back into the original three books of the original Traveller box which I picked up at the Compleat Strategist in my youth.

I remember reading the text on the cover of that box and instantly felling in love with the game’s potential;. I bought it, brought it home, rolled up subsections, made up worlds, rolled up characters. It pulled me in like no other game did.


Out of the Box

The Third Imperium an amazing creative effort, and I’m in no way knocking it with the following comments. Moreover, it’s clearly brought a lot of pleasure to many people. I would say that talking about the Third Imperium, reminding it, making it real, sanding down the questions of logic has become a hobby unto itself.

But I never made the immediate connection between the rules of Traveller and the Official Traveller Universe. When I first read the rules after buying them, the text sparked certain images and ideas and made me think of certain books. And they didn’t look such like what became the Third Imperium or the Spinward Marches.

I’ll be covering this in more detail later. But quickly, if one reads the text of the books, there’s nothing to suggest you’ll end up with the Third Imperium.

Instead, I’ll be working from three premises:

First, one should create one’s own setting from implied setting of the rules. For example, when I read these opening words in Book 1…

“Traveller deals with a common theme of science-fiction: the concept that an expanding technology will enable us to reach the stars and to populate the worlds which orbit them. The major problem, however, will be that communication, be it political, diplomatic, commercial, or private, will be reduced to the level of the 18th century, reduced to the speed of transportation. The result is a large (bordering on the infinite) universe ripe for the adventurer’s bold travels.”

I immediately thought of Europe’s colonial era of both North America, Asia, and Africa. The Third Imperium has the feel of the Roman Empire in its sensibilities. But those few words made my brain spring to a different model. And that’s the model I want to work from. (And I want you to make what you want. My point is that a thick stack of published setting material will get in the way of that.  My point is that Traveller books 1-3 are designed well to help you do that.

Second, extrapolating at my whim to fill in the fictional details left blank by the rules. For example, Starships can only be built at A-class Starworts. Why is that? What are the implications? The rules don’t say. But I have some ideas about that that I’m excited about for the setting. These ideas won’t be the “right” ideas. There are countless reasons for and implications about having only A-class starports being capable of building starships. The ideas I want to put forth are simply notions that strike me as making sense and exciting. (Exciting in the sense they lead to more strife and conflict politically, which allows the players more chances to have adventures with their characters.)

Third, I’ll be growing my game from the rules, but not bound by them. The text of LBBs 1-3 makes it clear that the game is a frame work for play. That the Referee should make adjustments and make it his or her game as he or she sees fit. So, as an example, I’m going to tweak the System Content Table to reduce the odds for an A-class starports and increase the odds for for D-class starports. I want a more frontier feel for the setting, and I want keep the Tech level of the subsector maxed out at 12. Reducing the number of A-class starports helps with that. (There will be higher tech available. But it is not native to the subsector and will be all the more extraordinary when it shows up.) I might tweak some of the other World Generation rolls as well. But that is an example.


As stated above, most people familiar with Classic Traveller are familiar with the game through The Traveller Book. It’s a nice edition of the game and the tables and charts are much more accessible than those found in LBBS 1-3.

However, The Traveller Book (and later versions and editions of the game) all explicitly tie the game to GDW’s setting of the The Third Imperium.

If you’d like to follow along and see what the text was like before this happened, it is still possible to get a copy of the original Little Black Books 1, 2, and 3 inexpensively.

First, you can get PDF copies of the books from DriveThruRPG. You can find the books on this page for $4 a book.

You can also get a lovely 3-in-1 volume reprint of the game from Far Future Enterprises. If you go to this page, scroll down till you find “FFE 0000 The Basic Books 1-3.” It will cost you $10.

Both of these are the rules from the 1981 edition of the game. Note that several typos crept in, and several rules got dropped. If you get the books, I recommend getting the Consolidated Errata: Classic Traveller. In it you will find the errata for all the versions and editions of Classic Traveller.

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