TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Interlude: Two Points Where I Prefer the 1977 Edition Over the 1981 Edition


[A Note for Clarity: In this post I am in no way advocating for the use of the 1977 rules as a whole over the 1981 rules. As stated below, the 1981 rules are clearer in many ways, and better in many ways. There are only two points discussed in this post that advocate the use of the 1977 rules over the 1981 rules: The use of Space Lanes (1977) over Communication Routes (1981) and the removal of Amber and Red Zones (which were introduced in the 1981 rules). There are some differences in the text between the editions as well, in which I prefer the wording in the 1977 rules, but those elements are beyond the scope of this post.]

For me, Classic Traveller Is Books 1-3. Of course, one can use the supplements and adventures as inspiration and aids for play. But the toolkit sensibility but I loved most about traveling is most perfectly expressed in these first three books. A sensibility that is lost in later editions of the game (Starter Traveller and The Traveller Book) as the rules become tied intimately to GDW’s official setting of The Third Imperium and it is expected that the Referee and players will be using the published materials from GDW to play the game.

But even when only using Books 1-3 there is a decision to be made. Between the original 1977 version of the Books and the second 1981 version of the Books, certain elements have been changed to bring the implied setting found in the rules more in alignment with the assumptions of the setting of The Third Imperium.

This would make sense. By 1981 GDW had published The Spinward Marches and Library Data A-M (with Library Data M-Z about to be published the next year) as well as several adventures tied directly into The Third Imperium setting.It would make perfect sense to tie the basic game elements closer to the setting the publisher wanted to be the focus of the game.

It will come as no surprise to anyone that has read this blog that I prefer some of the rules of the 1977 edition. The 1981 cleans up the text and is better in most respects.But here are two things elements that I think are better from the 1977 edition.

Amber And Red Zones

There are no references to Amber and Red Zones in the 1977 edition of Book 3. They are introduced in the 1981 edition.

I suspect the Zones got introduced as a convenient tag for Journal of the Travellers Aid Society adventures (which began its run in 1979) and the concept was folded into the rules in the revised 1981 edition.

But they were never my thing and I never really got them. If there’s a dangerous place, it’s a dangerous place. But shouldn’t all star systems, in one way or another be dangerous?

If a system is so dangerous that EVERYONE KNOWS IT’S DANGEROUS shouldn’t the fact that everyone is talking about it as dangerous be enough to get it labeled as such?

Moreover, I don’t want any government putting up ropes around dangerous places. Which is one of the weirdest things that GDW did with the whole concept of travel zones. By defining a red zone as something that the powerful interstellar government doesn’t want you to go to, an entire cottage industry grew up to figure out ways to prevent PCs from reaching these worlds. But for the purposes of RPG play this is completely insane.

The whole point of having cool, dangerous, mysterious places is for the PCs to go there. And the PCs will be drawn to such worlds since that’s where the action will be!

Tales and rumor of the places people just don’t go to anymore are exactly the kind of thing you drop in front of PCs together and evenings play going. Why would anyone discourage that?

And, such designations don’t fit in with how I see the implied setting growing from the rest of the rules as written. Again, by definition of the implied setting and actual quotes from the books, the setting of play of the game is beyond the boundaries of civilization. The centralized government is remote. The whole area, in one way or another, should be amber or red zones. But simply by their plane existence — not because some government bureaucrat names them as such.

Trade Routes and Communication Routes

The 1981 edition of Book 3 introduces the concept of Communication Routes. While there is no mention of The Third Imperium’s Xboat routes, they are clearly analogous to the Communication Routes. Again, this would make sense. It is a way of tying the implied setting of the basic rules into the official setting of The Third Imperium.

However, in the 1977 edition of the rules, there is no mention of Communication Routes. (The 1977 edition of Book 2 assumes that the Scout ship is the quick, efficient method of communication.)

Instead you will find rules for creating Trade Routes within a subsector.

Here is how it works (from Book 3, 1977, pages 1-2:)

Screen Shot 2015-10-30 at 9.00.28 PM

3. Route Determination: The worlds of a subsector are connected by the charted space lanes, which mark the regular routes travelled by commercial starships. While it is possible for starships to travel without regard to the lanes charted, individuals who do not own or control starships are generally restricted to commercial travel on ships which ply to routes which are mapped. For each world, note the starport type for it and for its neighbors. Consult the jump routes table, throwing one die.

Four columns are provided, corresponding to jump distances one through four. Determine the distance between the two worlds, and the relationship between the starports. At the intersection of the distance column and the world pair row, a number is stated. If the one die throw is equal to, or greater than the number, a space lane exists. Draw a line connecting the two worlds on the map. Each specific pair of worlds should be examined for jump routes only once.

This procedure is followed for most worlds within four hexes of each other; some worlds will obviously not have connecting space-lanes, and others will obviously have many. The nature of interstellar jumps is such that a jump-2 may be made over two connecting jump-1 links; by remembering this facet of star travel, it is possible to ignore some potential connections because they are already present through the use of shorted connecting lanes. This may well help in the creation of legible subsector maps.

You’ll notice that space lanes fall off really fast once you’re not connected to A or B-class starports. You’ll also see that only A and B-class starports have regular shipping lanes to worlds up to three or four parsecs away.

This produces well travelled routes hubbed around these better starports. These will be what the larger ships use. It creates a lot of backwater systems off the well-travelled path waiting for a Free Trader to show up with news and goods.

I really like the map that gets produced using the Trade Route table, allowing there to be a real sense of geography — the space lanes between worlds of regular trade and travel, and the backwater worlds most people don’t go to, or don’t leave, or don’t bother with.

In my imagination someone (or several people, over time) have scouted those worlds. But no real exploration or political overtures have been made. An interstellar government trading company might be at war with the locals on that world, but no regular trade or travel has been established. Such a world is still very much “frontier” from the point of view of the citizens of the interstellar government.

Just as importantly, these rules serve as a “prod to the imagination”, just like the world generation rules. Let’s say one generates a route from an A-Class starport to an E-Class starport. Well, why would such a thing exist? Why would a world with starship shipyard facilities have regular trade with a world with nothing more than a marked spot of bedrock with no fuel, facilities, or bases present?

For some the need to ask the question itself is reason to retreat from the whole issue and smooth the entire result away. This is the “this random result doesn’t make sense, so I’m going to ignore it” school of thinking that I think runs counter to the spirit of the original Traveller rules and, in my view, produces bland results.

Instead, when one gets a strange result, it is an invitation to invent unique and compelling circumstances. Why is there a regular trade route from an A-Class starport to an E-Class starport? Why is there not a trade route between two neighboring A-Class starports? The answers are infinite! As seen through the premise of a Science Fiction setting there are all sorts of reasons possible based off technology, resources, cultural connection, political maneuvering, economics, and more.

What is the interesting situation you can grow from the result that will provide compelling grist for adventures for the PCs? That’s how you look at

Clearly, the feel and logic of these Trade Routes has more in common with the feel I have found in the rest of rules as described in earlier blog posts than the Communication Routes described in the 1981 edition

It goes without saying that the Trade Route rules rules were cut from 1981 edition of the game and replaced with the Communication Routes rules.


13 thoughts on “TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Interlude: Two Points Where I Prefer the 1977 Edition Over the 1981 Edition

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  8. Pingback: & Yore | A new appreciation for the 1977 version of Traveller

  9. I havet been reading your posts about old Traveller and boy would I have played the heck out of it back when I was a kid, but when I joined the hobby it was MegaTraveller or The New Era that was on the shelves and we overlooked it completely. But reading this post, the way I read it I could use my Traveller Book and just ignore communication routes and patch in the trade routes and change the game for the better.

    • Yes, it would be easy to take the space lanes rules from 1977 and use them in The Traveller Book which is otherwise a good statement of the rules (I personally also prefer the 1977 damage and a couple other minor things in 1977, but those are less game changing than the space lanes/communication routes change).

  10. Pingback: A new appreciation for the 1977 version of Traveller – Yore

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