My Favorite SF RPG…


On an gaming forum I visit someone asked, “What is you favorite SF Roleplaying Game?” Unsurprisingly I replied…

The choice for me is Classic Traveller. And by Classic Traveller I mean Traveller Books 1-3.

Why I like Classic Traveller the most is built on several reasons I’ve been thinking about lately:

Do you know how easy it is to stat an NPC in Classic Traveller? This easy:
5468A7. Rifle-0. Mechanical-1
Boom. That’s crazy easy.
As someone who really wants to spend more time just making shit up with my friends in response to the ideas, plans, actions, and choices they throw at me.
I cannot overstate the brilliance of Marc Miller’s design in this regard.

Sure, it’s a bit more complicated, but watch this:
Gatherer 50kg Hits: 11/2 Armor: jack-1 Wounds: 7 teeth+1 Responses: A9 F8 S2
Still, sweet!

The dense layer of procedural generation of Worlds, Encounters (NPCs, Animals, Legal, Patron), Encounter Range, and NPC Reaction lets me generate content on the fly and help me come up with new ideas, locals, and situations I would never come up with on my own.

A preposterously straightforward but crazily flexible resolution system to handle any situation that the PCs get into that the Referee wants to hand off to the dice for adjudication.

  • The scale is simple: a 2D6 bell curve. A Referee armed with a table showing the odds from 2-12 on 2D6 is good to go.
  • The Die Modifiers are intuitive: +DMs for skills, high characteristics, tools, character history, or situational modifiers the Players come up with. The -DMs are just as simple.
  • The trick is to take the system for what it is: A Referee driven simulation rather than a failed Skill System of later RPG design. But once you do that the game is excellent.

The game doesn’t try to present you with every type of person from every walk of life that could exist in an interstellar setting. It’s built to create characters who have the chops and the wherewithal and the focus to go on adventures in an adventure driven interstellar adventures.

The PCs can’t do everything, of course. The character generation tables offer a limited set of skills, and PCs will only have a few of those per PC. But this means that if the PCs don’t have the skill set available they will have to come up with adventure-driven schemes and shenanigans to keep going: steal the part they need to fix their ship because they don’t know how to fabricate it; get to the professor of ancient languages held against his will on the estate of the noble to translate the alien tablet they found; sneak into the government building using a clever ruse because this group doesn’t have someone with Computer skills; and so on.

While the rules have implied setting details they do not provide a setting. This allows me to build the cool setting that I want. And as for the implied setting details, what are they? That the distances between the stars matters, communication is slow, tech levels will vary greatly, space travel between the stars is expensive, dangerous, and a big deal. What does this give us: Implied setting details that support exotic, novel, adventuring environments with lots of space and room for adventures to go get into trouble, take risks. The procedural driven setting generation material, along with the random encounter material, all define a setting ripe for adventure.

Ultimately Classic Traveller at its core isn’t limited to being a SF game. It is, instead, an awesome RPG engine with tools to build the setting you want and allows the Referee adjudicate clearly and the Players have an infinite latitude as to how handle problems and situations.

Want to use the rules to play a game set in WWII? You can do that. Want to use them to play cavemen? You can do that. Want to use them to play modern day Cthulhu? Why not? All one needs to do is come up with rebuilt character creation tables and you are good to go. (For the CoC you’ll want some sort of mechanic for insanity or insights or whatnot… but you’re a grownup. You can figure it out.)

Remember that the Psionics rules are a template for anything from Psionics, to magic spells, to magic weapons, to alien or monsters effects. Combined with the rules for Drugs (as well as the flexible weapons and armor rules) one can mix and match the rules to reproduce the effects of everything from cyberware to trans-human bioengineering. This flexibility allows a Referee to create truly alien SF worlds and technology in the standard “Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future” play mode… or use the game (as mentioned above) for completely different settings shorn of all SF trappings.

Classic Traveller is one of the most pure iterations of RPG play and design that I have ever seen. The fact that most people don’t (or can’t) see the game for what it is strikes me as odd. But that doesn’t change how amazing the game is.



9 thoughts on “My Favorite SF RPG…

  1. back in the depth so time, there was a Different Worlds article about running dimension-hopping/time-travel games which suggested CT (*) as a system because you could so easily and flexibly stat people up
    (*) this is so back-in-the-depths-of-time that ‘Traveller’ mean CT 🙂

  2. Well said. Agree wholeheartedly. And on your last points one of the most memorable extended series of games of traveller i played was a dungeon crawl. Several sessions of fun at a gaming club to see if T77 could handle it. Yes it did. Later we played in the chaosium thieves world setting as locals. Another mini campaign that worked well. Both were FRP not SFRP. Both had the dnd feel to us at the time like what the ‘classic fantasy’ supplement does for the skill based RQ6 / now called mythras / rpg. Psionics and Technology was simply magic when we ran into it – a concept the ref borrowed from Empire of the Petal Throne i believe. All with 2d6 traveller and a lot of imagination.

    The best description of the ever-elusive 2d6 rpg “mechanic.” Once you get out of the “task resolution” mindset it all becomes clear and open the game up for so much fun.

    • Obviously, I agree.

      Now, to be clear, I didn’t understand this in my youth. The skill descriptions seemed like a soup of numbers and Throws when I read them in my copy of Traveller Book 1.

      It’s only looking back — and frankly with a healthy dose of knowledge and understanding from the OSR — that I could re-read the original Traveller rules and go — “Oh, this all makes sense now!”

      • Well, I picked up Traveller in 1979. It was my first RPG (avoided D&D) so has always seemed natural. I learned other mechanics (most importantly James Bond 007 and the GDW systems in Traveller:2300 and T2K) but I always saw them attempts to bring more structure to the rules because structure is “good.” These days I realize that CT actually has enough structure to really PLAY – indeed I think of it as the ultimate Rules-Lite system.

    • It’s amazing how many people shoot right past and miss this. It’s brilliant. I confess I also didn’t really grasp what it was when I first looked at and played the game. TAKES TO ASTOUND has helped me understand why I like the things I intuitively likes about Travelled, and explicates things my conscious mind didn’t comprehend even while my subconscious mind was drawn to them.

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