Introduction to TRAVELLER
After much deliberation, and weighing in varying likes and dislikes about games systems, genres and so forth, I’ve decided that I’ll take a shot with a sci-fi game based on the award winning TRAVELLER setting. Don’t worry about if you don’t know the setting, because we’ve seen many examples on the small and big screen, and probably read many an interesting tale with it’s feel. That’s where it’s kinda hard to pin down because there are so many aspects to the Trav universe, but I’ll try and break it down.
First, Trav is about adventure. It’s about being independent players. It’s about making money and plying a trade. It’s about lawless frontier worlds and huge interstellar empires. It’s about nobility and politics. It’s about taking a zeppelin airship to a starport. It’s about random cargo inspections and space pirates. It’s about bar room fights and orbital engagements. It’s about super advanced alien artifacts and quirky starship breakdowns. It’s about running away from a tribe of barbarians with stone axes because your laser pistol fried in the humid environment. Sounds like it can go anywhere, and it can. Where exactly is up to you guys.
You wanna know what it looks like? Well, I can tell you from reading the material that there are a lot of sources you can get inspiration from. ALIEN & ALIENS is like Trav with the space marines, mega corps, terraforming planets, and weird dangerous alien lifeforms. PITCH BLACK resembles Trav with the premise of a passenger ship traveling thru the remotest backroad of space only to find that something goes wrong. STAR WARS has a few elements with the smuggler, bounty hunter, tramp freighter and al the traveling. But I think the most recent example that closely resembles Trav would be FIREFLY/SERENITY.
The “classic” Trav game involves a crew of a star truck OR scout survey vessel. They could be mercs, brigands, scouts, traders, or running a passenger line. Most important is that they are independent. They are for hire or contracted. There is an Empire called The Imperium, which is the law of all Charted Space. There are other equally big players out there, but Humanity is definitely out there. The crew and ship of SERENITY would fit nicely in the background of Trav. The captain/owner, the first officer, the pilot/navigator, the doctor, the engineer, the soldier/security guy. Even the psycho psychic and the preacher fit in (but for my game, the psycho psychic may not be available, and I’ll tell you why later). Their exploits also follow much that is in the Trav universe: salvaging, cargo running, passengers, trade speculation, profiteering, etc. The Federation could be thought of as the Imperium after a fashion, but there are some subtle differences. The tech lvl is about right, with the closer you are to Imperial space, the more lasers become involved. Out there in the backwater areas, it’s all slugthrowers and swords. But adventure, danger, excitement, and intrigue await behind every ordinary “job” that comes your way.
Now, my game isn’t gonna be FIREFLY with the Western motif and music, but the feel will be there. Now what you guys are gonna be eventually is all up to you, but you have to meet this criteria:
1) You all know each other somehow.
2) You will all be aboard ONE spaceship.
3) The ship will need upkeep, provided by you (the crew).
4) Be prepared for the possibility of playing an extra character, and don’t treat it like extra fodder, a redshirt, or a human shield.
With that, here is a small list of game scenarios that I’m tossing around regarding your characters:
1) Free Trader – you guys are a crew aboard a merchant vessel plying the tradeways OR running passengers from here to there
2) Scout Service – you guys are a survey team exploring new territories OR updating old survey routes
3) Star Mercs – you guys are ex-military offering your services to a wide array of clients
4) Travellers – you guys are just competent adventurers running around the stars finding adventure in every starport
I’m OK with doing any of these, but I’m most comfortable with the Free Traders concept. In actuality, any of the above can be molded to fit whatever desire comes to our minds, but at least we’ll have a starting concept.
The following chapters provide a reference of material to be acquainted with.
I. The Traveller Universe
Long ago, a race known only as The Ancients seeded mankind (and possibly all intelligent life) all over Charted Space. The only thing we know about them is they were seemingly wiped out in a cataclysmic war over 300 thousand years ago, and the only evidence comes up as ancient relics or ruins on distant planets. Among the varying races, 3 species of human beings would eventually rise to dominate most of Charted Space. Known collectively as Humani, they are known as the Zhodani, the Vilani and the Solomani (the humans from Earth are the Solomani, named after the Sol system they originated on). The first race to start colonizing the stars was the Vilani. By the time they developed the Jump Drive, the Solomani calendar on Terra was 4715 BC. By the time Terrans landed on the moon, the Vilani were already over 1700 years into the formation of the First Imperium, governing most of charted space. There were vast empires in other corners of Charted Space. By this time, however, expansion of the 1st Imperium ground down to a halt. No one knows why, but the Imperium started growing stagnant and took to isolating itself from the rest of the interstellar community. Solomani discovered their Jump Drive by 2089 AD, and discovered the aging Vilani Imperium only a decade later. In 2112 AD, the Solomani took advantage of the falling Imperium and so started the First Interstellar War. By 2316, the Solomani were triumphant and established themselves as the new rulers of the Second Imperium of Charted Space. The Vilani were integrated and soon the two races were a mixed culture, but strong Vilani and Solomani heritages remained intact.
However, the decay that befell the Vilani was too great for the Solomani to repair, and the 2nd Imperium collapsed into what was to be called, The Long Night. “Nightfall” began somewhere around 2745 AD and lasted about 1700 years. Throughout this time mini-empires rose and fell, interstellar travel was non-existent, and a “Dark Age” fell across all Charted Space. It wasn’t instantaneous, but eventually Humaniti rose again from the ashes and established the 3rd Imperium. The new Imperial Calendar started at Year 0 (4520 AD Solomani Time) and has so far lasted for almost a millennium (we are currently at Year 993 3rd Imperial Calendar).
NOTE on the Zhodani: As stated before, the Ancients seeded many human and non-human lifeforms all over the galaxy. The Zhodani are one such race of humans. The Zhodani’s empire is just as vast as the current Imperium, however the 2 races are at a state of conflict. Part of this reason is the Zhodani’s open use and acceptance of psionics. Although psionics is not unheard of, it is outlawed and banned within the Imperium and Solomani space. Because of the vast distances in space, both empires are virtually isolated from each other and no contact has been continued for quite some time, and therefore will be omitted from these pages.
II. Space…the Final Frontier
As Douglas Adams once said, “Space is big…really big!” No truer words can be spoken about the vastness of space especially in T20. Just to start you off to the concept, the area known as Charted Space is but a small spec of the Milky Way Galaxy. Just ONE Galaxy in the countless galaxies in the known universe. To give you a sense of scale, if the entire Milky Way were the size of a 12” Vinyl record (you do remember what those are right?), Charted Space would take up an Eighth Inch Square box on the farthest edge of the record. That’s just for starters. Let’s take a closer look at how Charted Space is charted
First, there are the star systems, like our own Sol System. One sun, 9 planets and many more moons and assorted rocks. That system fits onto one Hex of a zone known as a Subsector. A Subsector is a grid of space 8 hexes wide and 10 hexes long.
Inside each box resides ONE star system and its planets/rocks/whatever. Some boxes are just empty space. Each box represents ONE Parsec, which an area of space 3.26 Lightyears in diameter. A Subsector map like this is just one part of a bigger map known as a Sector. A Sector map comprises 16 Subsectors.
A Sector Map like this is probably the biggest area of travel anyone would be able to claim in a lifetime. It would take weeks, even months to cover one end to the other. And it’s about to get bigger. The empires of Charted Space make up varying Sectors like this one. Some empires have more than others, based on their sphere of influence.
A Parsec contains ONE system
There are roughly 80 Parsecs in a Subsector
There are 16 Subsectors in a Sector (1280 Parsecs)
And there are 128 Known Sectors in Charted Space (over 163,000 Parsecs)
All this takes up an eighth inch square on a 12 inch disc, comprising our Milky Way Galaxy.
Of course, this game doesn’t take into account that space is 3D, so realistically this plane could be layered up or down many times, each representing a level of charted space. However, the system presented here represents a level of playability that doesn’t threaten to overwhelm logistics. In other words, it’s just enuff for good gameplay!
III. Travel in the Traveller Universe
Now that we know how big the T20 setting is, let’s take a look at how it is getting around. Let’s start with the Jump Drive. This is the only way to cross the vast interstellar distances in a decent amount of time. A starship’s Jump Drive rating equals the amount of parsecs it can cross in ONE jump, taking about a week to do so. However, unless it has sufficient fuel, it must be able to end its journey at another system containing refueling facilities or a gas giant, so it can refuel and continue its journey. So as you can see, it would take a Jump-1 capable vessel about 8 weeks, or 2 months to cross just the top border of 8 parsecs on a SubSector map, provided there is a suitable star system on each and every hex. If not, the journey would longer as you’d have to go thru safe routes of passage. And if it takes that long to cross a Subsector, imagine a Sector or even trying to cross from one side of the Imperium to reach the Aslan Heirate, for example.
Jump Drives are rated 1 thru 6 (6 being the fastest). Most ships have ratings of 1 or 2, 3 or more being extremely expensive and restricted to military vessels and megacorps. Your ship would most likely have a 1 or 2 rating, but thru adventuring and modification, it’s possible to upgrade (more on that later). No matter what the rating, a Jump takes a week to complete. That is if a Jump-6 ship just needed to cross one parsec, it would still take a week. Mostly, a ship making some kinda run would spend about 2 weeks before heading back out. One week in Jump Space (or more if the journey is longer), and one week planetside unloading cargo, refueling, looking for another run, and then it’s back into space for another 2 or more weeks.
[More to be added…]