The Cirsova website just posted Issue 1 of their magazine online. In that issue is an article by Jeffro Johnson about the influences of E.C. Tubb’s Dumarest books on original Traveller. Marc Miller has pointed to the books as a source of inspiration for the original game, and Johnson walks us through the variety of ways Miller pulled details from the novels for his own ends.
The Traveller role-playing game has ended up being as frustrating as it is endearing over the years. Of course, people that are fluent in hundreds of pulp science fiction stories are going to be quite capable of interpolating all kinds of scenarios from a stray world profile code, a rumor, or a random patron result. But not everyone has that kind of deep genre knowledge on tap, and even with some of the impeccably well-crafted setting supplements for the “official” setting, the sheer scope and sprawling nature of the background material can sometimes get in the way of a novice referee getting a game off the ground. Fortunately there is a path through this Scylla and Charybdis of Traveller gaming, and surprisingly enough the key turns out to be inside a nearly-forgotten series of novels.
There is an additional reason for these books’ obscurity beyond the mere passage of time, however. While both Traveller and AD&D both have a rich range of literary antecedents, Traveller’s sources were never explicitly cited the way that Gary Gygax did for his in his Appendix N list. For those of us that are just beginning our excursions into what things were like before the overwhelming influence of blockbuster movie franchises, it’s surprising how much that playable results can be obtained by looking at the games’ most immediate influences. Just as Sterling Lanier’s “Hiero’s Journey” can give you new insights in just what is really going on in the Gamma World setting, so too can Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories inform your handling of the sort of epic level play that people could take for granted in the seventies. And for the Traveller referee’s time and money, E. C. Tubb’s forgotten 1969 novel “Toyman” is about the best value around if you’d like to reinterpret those iconic “little black books” through a far more pulpy and action-oriented vision.
I agree with Johnson’s points in those paragraphs. Even reading the first Dumarest book (The Winds of Gath) a few months ago gave me a dozen insights about the rules of original Traveller, the kinds of adventure they modeled well, and how they worked together to form a cohesive whole. (Johnson has also written an essay about The Winds of Gath and how it informs the original Traveller.)
Johnson’s essay on Tubb’s Toyman is full of details from the novel that made their way into the implied setting of the original Traveller rules–often without context or clear explanation. For that alone it is an interesting read.
But he also broader the discussion to the kind of tales and setting the original Traveller rules implied, and the kind of setting that eventually grew as GDW continued to expand on their house setting. They are very different from each other.
As Johnson concludes:
It’s a pleasant surprise to read this book because while it is full of off-beat Traveller elements this really is unlike anything I’ve ever considered running with a Traveller session. And given how many people have complained about the near-impossibility of player characters to have a meaningful impact on the Official Traveller Universe, I think there are answers here to things that have stymied a great many referees in the course of actual play. A big part of this is that the “official” Traveller setting was established with an eye towards accommodating a line of hex n’ chit wargames and miniatures rules. And given that the Traveller role-playing game was designed originally with no thought in mind of bolting the Imperium boardgame onto it, it’s not terribly difficult to take the original “little black books” and a couple of old E. C. Tubb novels and go off in an entirely different direction. If you’re working up a subsector of your own, you may want to consider tilting things toward the kind of setup that inspired the game in the first place rather than work around the kind of design decisions that were optimized more for people that had to get product out the door on a positively grueling basis.