TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – How the Text of LBBs 1-3 Teaches How to Make Awesome Part II


Building Worlds

From Traveller Book 3:

The purpose of the world generation sequence can best be seen as a prod to the imagination. Even the most imaginative individual soon loses brilliance in the face of creating hundreds of individual worlds. The procedure substitutes die rolls for random imagination and then allows the referee to use that information to determine specific world data. Imagination may be required to explain a tech level 4 civilization in an asteroid belt, or a high population world with a participating democracy for a government.

In Traveller you roll a series of dice to generate worlds. As the text states: “The procedure substitutes die rolls for random imagination and then allows the referee to use that information to determine specific world data.”

Keep in mind, the text does not say the die rolls are the specific world data. The text says, “The procedure substitutes die rolls for random imagination and then allows the referee to use that information to determine specific world data.

The die rolls are not the world data. They are used to inspire the Referee to determine the world data.

If a UWP says the atmosphere is tainted, does that mean the entire atmosphere of the world is tainted? What if there is a high population? How would that work? Why would there be a high population world with a tainted atmosphere?

Using the UWP as an inspiration, the Referee could decide that the atmosphere is tainted up to a certain altitude, as heavier contaminants taint the air for several thousand feet above sea level. But it could be that the air is breathable for humans in mountains above that. Does this mean that the Referee is “ignoring” the UWP? No. He or she is using the UWP exactly as the text intended: to create unique, specific worlds sparked by elements that match and rub up against each other in interesting ways.

In the same way, the Government Type may refer to the whole planet being that government type, or the most prominent government, or the most interesting government on the planet that strikes the Referee’s fancy. Some might insist, “If there is more than one government type, the government type is Balkanized.” To which I say: No, the world generation system serves the Referee, not the other way around. It is not an objective fact about the world, but a set of information about the world to spark the Referee’s information.

An example: Let’s say that in the subsection setting there are worlds “discovered” by Trading Companies established by the nobility of the Remote Centralized Government implied by the rules.

These worlds will have their own cultures, governments, societies. The Trading Companies will have either conquered them or made treaties with them for trade or rulership.

Now, what is the Government Type? Is it defined by the government type before the Trading Companies arrived? Or after? My view is: It can go either way. It might represent the government that existed before the peoples of the Remote Centralized Government arrived. Or it might be the government that gets established by the arrival of these Trading Companies.What matters is what turns the referee on? What excites them? What is the interpretation that helps helps him build a setting he can’t wait to create and share with the players.

As a Referee  What I care about most would be the tension between the cultural remnants of those governments and the members of the Trading Companies I care about. I’m looking for clues about that tension.

(it should be clear that I’m using the trading companies as an example. Not every Traveller setting should have trading companies as a major part of the campaign subsector. Not every game of Traveller needs Trading Companies. I simply created them as a notion built from what excites me about the implied setting of Traveller and how to build a setting from the random details generated by the world building system.)

The UWP is a string of data that tells us details about the world for game play. But it doesn’t tell us what is most interesting about the world. In the same way we could not look at Jamison’s UPP and skill list and know the text of that two page biography contained in the rules, so we could not look at a UWP and know what the Referee had done to utilize or even justify those numbers.

In Books 1-3, the random numbers generated to create the Universal World Profiles were to be used by the Referee to open up imaginative possibilities, not to close down the imagination by become limiting “facts” about the world that crushed possibilities.

Elastic Inspiration, Not Concrete Data
Some of this may seem obvious to some of you. (Or particularly obvious!)

I bring it up because this way of looking at the UWP was lost after Books 1-3. Over time, as GDW built up its official Traveller, GDW began conflating the game’s abstract imagination-prodding tools with concrete data as if the data were built by fictional elements within the Third Imperium.

In particular, the UWPs became concrete data produced by the fictional Scout Service of the Third Imperium. This might not seem like a big deal, but I think it’s a huge difference.

The numbers, in fact, only exist because a Scout ship travelled to the world and recorded them. The implication is, if one thinks about it, a world cannot have a UWP if no one has yet visited it and performed a scouting expedition. This removes them from the playful purvey of a Referee using them for his own needs. Suddenly the numbers are “right” or “wrong.” They can be changed with future surveys. They imply that all of space has to be mapped to have a UWP. For those of us frustrated with the fact that there are no empty spaces in space, one need look much further than right here.

Now, GDW should have done exactly what it wanted to do with its material. And the “UWP as Scout Data” is a Third Imperium thing, so if the Third Imperium is your thing, go for it.

But, first, the Third Imperium is not my thing.

And more importantly, in my view, and it is only my view, the UWPs should not be “official” documentation of any world. They should belong the Referee, to manipulate and be inspired by as he sees fit. To view them as GDW began using them implies someone got there before the Referee. And that, in my view, is utterly the opposite spirit of the original rules in LBBs 1-3.

This is a flexible point, and one can go either way. But if one reads LBBs 1-3 it’s clear which way the text wants us to go. I make the point, however because so much of what people think of Traveller has been colored by the Third Imperium, to the degree they miss the charms and power of the original three books.

”Why no Robots? Because AWESOME!”
What happens when one applies this thinking to the broader aspects to the materials in Books 1-3?

For example, a common question is, “Why no robots?”

Keep in mind, a Traveller setting certainly can have robots. Certainly yours can. Robot are things with Characteristics, Skills, Armor, and perhaps Weapons. You can slap Robot together in minutes. Moreover, both the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society and Book 9 covered robots, so Classic Traveller can have robots. The question really is, “Why doesn’t the Third Imperium have robots?”

But let’s broaden the question to any Traveller setting. Your setting, let’s say. And your in your setting, you have two choices. You can simply decide, “No Robots,” and move on. Or you can dig deeper and ask, “Why no Robots?”

You don’t as the question with impatience. You don’t ask the question with an incredulous tone. You actually ask the question with curiosity. “Why no Robots?”

When Frank Herbert asked the question, “Why no Robots?” he came up with the Butlerian Jihad. Which also leads to the Bene Gesserit and other cool bits of fiction for his universe. In other words, “Why no Robots? Because AWESOME!”

The Little Black Books of the original boxed set contained core assumptions that flummoxed some people. “Why the archaic weapons?” “Why can starships only be built at A-class starports?” “Why are there pirates in space?”

To which one can answer one of two ways, no matter what the question:


The first way is to say, “This makes no sense. Let’s fix this so this stupid contradiction doesn’t exist.”

The second way is to say, “What’s the awesome reason for this?” And then come up with some answers.

I suggest that you do the second. If you do I think you’ll come up with some cool, unexpected, specific, and unique reasons. And by doing that, you’ll end up with a cool, unexpected, specific, and unique setting for your Traveller game.

2 thoughts on “TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – How the Text of LBBs 1-3 Teaches How to Make Awesome Part II

  1. Pingback: TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Interlude: The 1977 Edition Over the 1981 Edition | Tales to Astound!

  2. Pingback: Classic Traveller: Making a World from the Universal World Profile | Tales to Astound!

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