I take a different view from many others on the issue of the subsector mapping conventions. (No surprise, I’m sure.) But I want to be clear: I’m not being dismissive of those who want to work out other systems. I simply see 2D mapping conventions working well for RPG play. (Which is the focus of my concerns.)
Basically I agree with what Victor Raymond wrote in this post, discussing how he and his group played Traveller back in the late ’70s.
The map of the subsector represented an 8×10 section of space, with each hex being one parsec across. For anybody familiar with astronomy, this two-dimensional representation was completely artificial and unrealistic, but that was unimportant from a role-playing perspective.
For me, the Traveller subsector is a convention for RPG play. Not a representation of “real” space at all. It works to create an environment conducive to adventure and exploration for sessions of play with friends for several hours of play.
By this I mean:
- The map provides gulfs of space between systems. These create natural landscapes of barriers, separating what can be reached easily, and what will take time and hard work to reach.
- The map provides rare systems (A and B-starports) that provide fuel, reducing or even mitigating the risk of misjump, and words that either offer only unrefined fuel (which increase the chance of misjump) or no fuel at all (systems without gas giants) which, again, makes navigation and travel between systems separated by parsecs something that must be planned and treated as an actual expedition. [In the1977 rules, only gas giants can be used to skim unrefined fuel. The 1981 rules (and Highguard) introduce the notion of skimming from water.)
- Offer worlds that are off the main trade routes and disconnected from the societies connected by space lanes, per the 1977 rules.
- Make travel between worlds, when using Book 2, risky, relatively rare, and a big deal given the above, along with the risk of pirates, misjumps, hijacking, limits on J-Drives of ships, and more. While Traveller travel, the rules as written suggest and reinforce the notion that traveling even six parsecs away is a journey worthy of talking about at a bar.
All of this means that when the PCs reach new worlds there will be things they don’t know, whether it be details of the environment, changes in local politics, and so on. And then, when they turn around, they’ll be making the same calculated risk (or broad gambles) they made when they made the half of the journeys. The Age of Sails is a common reference in Classic Traveller (and rightly so). In this tradition, the Player Characters traveling half way up a subsector are like sailors make their way from England down and around the Cape of South Africa.
What this does is enforce qualities that are excellent for an RPG setting of exploration, danger, and adventure, with the Players making decisions about how to mount their travels (what gear to bring, what crew to bring, and so on, especially when they head off the trade routes). It also offers a sense of accomplishment (and honestly earned) when they head to new worlds and return safely.
None of this depends on the map being “realistic.” But it does work well to provide all these qualities. A 2D map allows Players and Referee to see all the implications and choices I mentioned in my post with clarity. A more complicated map would make these elements harder to discern.