TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Interlude: Differences in Classic Traveller Rules Sets


It is beyond the scope of these posts to fully discuss the differences between Traveller Books 1-3 and the later editions of the core rules (The Traveller Book and Starter Traveller.)

That said, because The Traveller Book is easy to find in print, and both The Traveller Book and Starter Traveller have a better presentation of tables than found in Books 1-3, these later editions of the game are often the “go-to” editions for current Traveller players.

Because of this I want to touch on some of the concrete differences between Books 1-3 and the later editions that I think produce the biggest conceptual or philosophical differences. The rules may be the same, but the impact of information and text makes reading them very different experiences. Again, this is not a survey of differences, simply a look at broad stroke differences.

The influence The Third Imperium is subtle in Starter Traveller. But it is there — in the text and tables.

For example, the Tech Level tables reference certain levels in terms of Average lmperial, Above Average lmperial, and Maximum Imperial) In the Tech Level table found in Book 3 there is no reference to either anything Imperial nor any relative value to tech norms for the game’s interstellar governments.

For some this is not that big a deal! But framing the tech level this way immediately ties the rules into the assumptions of the house setting. It determines what J drives are available, which in turn determines the maximum number of parsecs a ship can jump in a week, as well as the maximum size of starships.

in my view all of these matters are best left to the Referee to decide. For example, in Starter Traveller TL 15 is Imperial maximum. In my setting TL 11 is the maximum for the interstellar government the PCs are from. And this difference produces many significant changes.

But it is also a difference in philosophy. In one case, the players of the game are given a skeletal toolkit to work from and make whatever norms they assume to be best. In the other a lot of very important decisions about norms are already made. Yes, this cam be ignored. But my point is that Books 1-3 there’s no need to ignore anything since no assumptions are made. Just a framework for the Referee telling him, “You’ll have to make some assumptions. Make them.”

If we open up Starter Traveller, we find this is the first sentence

“Welcome to the universe of Traveller!”

Notice the singular implication of the universe. This runs counter to the spirit of the LBBs, which is that you will be building your universe, and there are infinite universes to be built.

Here is the second sentence of Starter Traveller:

“In the distant future, when humanity has made the leap to the stars, interstellar travel will be as common as international travel is today.”

Notice that nowhere in Books 1-3 is interstellar travel referred to as “common.”

Moreover, the rules in CT make it clear that interstellar travel is dangerous and fraught with perils. (This post details the implied assumptions of interstellar economics and dangerous travel from the rules). Going by the rules, one would never assume interstellar travel is “common.”

Of course, Starter TravellerThe Traveller Book, and GDW’s Library Data and adventures state and suggest that traveling in Traveller is no big deal. Which is why arguments get kicked up about, “Why pirates?” “Why is refined fuel so hard to come by?” “Why such a high chance of death in Low Passage if travel is so common?” “How do these rules make any sense if interstellar travel common as international travel is today?”

Abd so the arguments ensue and the rules are endlessly tweaked… because the rules were never designed to support the safe, first world feel that GDW built.

Now, if anyone wants to build a setting that makes interstellar travel as common as contemporary air travel, more power to them. I want people to play what they want to play!

My point is that in the first two sentences of Starter Traveller two assumptions are sewn into the text that definite;y drive the reader’s mind in specific directions. And those directions not only are counter to the rules found in the rest of the book, but run counter to the sprit of the game I fell in love with in that little black box.

And when we look at the structure of The Traveller Book we find an even more abrupt change. The text begins exactly as it does in Starter Traveller. We are walked through character creation, combat, and all the essentials.

And then we reach the chapters Into The Subsector, Traveller’s Guide To The Universe, Regina Subsector, and Library Data. Structurally, the point of the text is to funnel us directly into the Third Imperium.

Now, again, these are some of the larger and blunter differences. But there is the issue of text that got cut or added between the editions. The effects might be subtle, but I believe they matte. In particular, this text that close Book 3 of the original edition:

A Final Word

Traveller is necessarily a framework describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe; obviously rules which could cover every aspect of every possible action would be far larger than these three booklets. A group involved in playing a scenario or campaign can make their adventures more elaborate, more detailed, more interesting, with the input of a great deal of imagination.

The greatest burden, of course, falls on the referee, who must create entire worlds and societies through which the players will roam. One very interesting source of assistance for this task is the existing science-fiction literature. Virtually anything mentioned in a story or article can be transferred to the Traveller environment. Orbital cities, nuclear war, alien societies, puzzles, enigmas, absolutely anything can occur, with imagination being the only limit.

The players themselves have a burden almost equal to that of the referee: they must move, act, travel in search of their own goals. The typical methods used in life by 20th century Terrans (thrift, dedication, and hard work) do not work in Traveller; instead, travellers must boldly plan and execute daring schemes for the acquisition of wealth and power. As for the referee, modern science-fiction tradition provides many ideas and concepts to be imitated.

Above all, the players and the referees must work together. Care must be taken that the referee does not simply lay fortunes in the path of the players, but the situation is not primarily an adversary relationship. The referee simply administers the rules in situations where the players themselves have an incomplete understanding of the universe. The results should reflect a consistent reality.

Welcome to the universe of Traveller!

Notice how the text is structured! Yes, you are welcomed to the universe of Traveller. But what is that universe? Is it The Third Imperium? Is it an interstellar society where space travel is common? Look again at the text that precedes the welcome…

The game is a “framework” for you to make of it what you will. It is expected the Referee and players will be driving the setting and adventures with their imagination. The setting should be built from whatever inspiration (fiction or non-fiction) inspires the Referee. The setting invoked is not one of mundane, “common” travel, but of bold plans and daring schemes.

Those are the qualities of the Traveller universe! Not a detailed setting, but the invitation of unleashed imagination through the themes of science fiction married with bold adventure fiction at the edges of civilization.


3 thoughts on “TRAVELLER: Out of the Box – Interlude: Differences in Classic Traveller Rules Sets

  1. Hey, I wanna thank you for this series about CT. I only have the (not so much) new core rulebook but your posts nail the type of adventures I had in mind. I’ve never gm’d or played Traveller but I’m just bursting with planets and pirates and will be running it shortly. Thanks!!!

  2. Pingback: TRAVELLER: Out of the Box-The Skill System (which I don’t think is a Skill System) | Tales to Astound!

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