Before there were PCs, before there were game consoles, there were games like Traveller. What Dungeons and Dragons was to the fantasy genre, Traveller was to the science fiction genre. Introduced in 1977 by Game Designer’s Workshop, this role playing game was intended to be a generic system for gaming in a science fiction environment. The first three books– Characters and Combat, Starships, and Worlds and Adventures introduced players to the methods needed to create characters, the starships they would use and the worlds they would travel to. Unlike most RPG, the characters in this game did not start out as newbies trying to gain experience, these characters were veterans who had already amassed experience, skills and a certain amount of money they could use to purchase items they might need. The players were not intended to be able to influence events of galactic importance, just do their jobs and live their lives. To give you an idea of what Traveller is all about, I once saw a comment about the short-lived TV series Firefly, it said that the show was essentially Traveller with the serial numbers filed off.
The game continued to grow and as more supplements came out GDW started placing them in a setting first called the Imperium and later the Third Imperium. This setting would evolve into the official game setting. At first, players would only encounter other humans, but eventually alien races such as the Aslan, the Vargr, the Droyne, the K’kree and the Hivers were added and players could choose to be a member of these races. As time went on this universe was expanded, a chronology of events was established and the time of the game was set as the early part of the 12th Century of the Third Imperium. The current leader of this empire was named Strephon.
Then in 1987, GDW decided to rework the game setting, trying to bring together all of the various books and supplements that had appeared over the years into one coherent set of rules. These rules were modified some using ideas that had first appeared in the Traveller’s Digest. One of the major changes introduced was the assassination of Emperor Strephon and his family by the Archduke Dulinor on Day 132 of Imperial Year 1116. This event threw the empire into rebellion and provided the backdrop for all the sourcebooks and supplements developed for this campaign setting. As time went on the company continued to add new twists using their in-house magazine named Challenge which had developed from an earlier product called the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society. Updates on events in the Imperium would appear in a section called the Traveller News Service, in the 64th issue, in a special supplement, reference was made to an usual kind of chip, and there was reference to something called Virus. Another update in issue 68 had a scientist being killed just he was about to announce that everyone was in grave danger. The next issue saw a spate of strange occurrences and the last few entries end with the reports being garbled and an order to cease all transmissions due to a virus. A supplement later in the issue told the story of a computer-based virus super weapon that would finish the destruction of the empire started fourteen years earlier by the emperor’s assassination. This would be the next step in the game-system’s evolution.
This new phase was called Traveller: The New Era and was initiated in 1993. Part of the change was to rewrite the game system to make it compatible with all of GDW’s other games except 2300 AD. The Traveller universe was jumped forward 71 years to the year IY 1201 or NE Y1. Areas that have escaped the destruction caused by Virus are beginning to go out into those regions that were devastated by it and find worlds that can be rebuilt and bring them back to a level where they can become members of in interstellar society. Ways of dealing with Virus have been discovered, but the space is still an extremely dangerous place. There are still ships, or even fleets, that are infected by Virus. This is the world that the player’s characters work in. Unfortunately the product line was still being developed when GDW went out of business.
This was not the end of the line for the game. Marc Miller, one of the game’s original designers picked up the rights to the game and redesigned it. Marc Miller’s Traveller aka T4 came out in 1996 from publisher Imperium Games. This redesigned game used a modified version of the classic version of Traveller. Also, instead of taking the game forward in time, it went back to the beginnings of the Third Imperium in what was called the Milieu 0 campaign setting. Unfortunately the game did not sell very well and Imperium Games closed its doors in 1998.
After this, Miller made an agreement with Steve Jackson Games to produce a GURPS (Generic Universal Role-Playing System for those not familiar with RPGs) version of the game. This game reset the Traveller universe to the time of Megatraveller, but it was a universe in which the Emperor was never assassinated and the rebellion never happened. This version of the game is still in print today. In 2006 an additional version of this game was released called Traveller Interstellar Wars. This version of the game used the 4th Edition of the GURPS system and went back in time to the 22nd-23rd Century era of Earth history. The time when Earth (Terra) ventured forth to fight its first interstellar war against the First Imperium. As with the first version of GURPS Traveller, this version is still in print.
Two other versions of Traveller exist which use another game system, the D20 RPG system. One is published by QLI/RPG Realms and is simply called Traveller20 or T20 for short. It is set in IY 990, about 100 years before the original game’s setting, at the time of what is called the Solomani Rim World in the original game’s chronology. The second one, from Comstar Games, is set in IY 1248. In it the recovery from the ravages of Virus is continuing but, whereas Traveller:The New Era was set in the Deneb, Spinward Marches and Trojan Reaches Sectors of the former Third Imperium, this setting takes place in the Gushemege, Dagudashaag, Ilelish and Zaraushagar sectors and focuses on the rise of the Fourth Imperium.
Two new versions are out or coming soon. Both are based on the Traveller5 system that Marc Miller has been developing. One new feature is the life events table, this table may or may not be consulted during a character’s generation rolling on it could result in the character having a failed or improved romantic relationship, have been betrayed by a friend or even commit a crime. This random element could change completely how a player’s character comes out at the end of the generation process. The first of these new versions is published by Mongoose Games. It uses many of the names of the books published for the original Traveller game. One interesting thing about this version is that it is being used for additional variations that use the same rules under an open source agreement like the D20 system is. Two of these have had books released already. The first is based on David Drake’s Hammer’s Slammers novel series, the second game system to based on this source. The second brings back an earlier offering by Mongoose based on the Judge Dread comic books. More are scheduled to be released. The official T5 system is still in testing and is designed to be usable with any milieu in the Traveller Universe. A CD-Rom with the first three books, titled exactly the same as the first three books of the original GDW version are available through Marc Miller’s Far Future Enterprises website.