Traveller 2nd edition review
Traveller first appeared in 1977. It is the second science fiction roleplaying game ever published, following closely on the heels of Metamorphosis Alpha in 1976. From its inception, Traveller has always straddled the line of hard/soft science fiction approach to things. For those who either are not fans of science fiction or were not aware of the differences, I will humbly provide my interpretation. Hard Science Fiction is classified as fiction that focuses on scientific accuracy. Movies such as The Martian or Bladerunner are hard science fiction examples. Soft Science Fiction instead focuses on the human element of stories, interposing real science with emotional or even fantastical elements outside the realm of confirmed science. Star Wars and Star Trek are fine examples of franchises that intermix real science with elements that are obviously fictional.
To date, there have been roughly 11 different iterations of Traveller. This review is focused solely on the 2nd edition produced by Mongoose publishing in 2015. I will also be covering the GM screen and the Marches Adventure 1: High and Dry. Let’s get started!
Character design has gone back to Classic Traveller method. Players roll characters together because Traveller characters have a history. Characters start out at the age of 18. They are blank slates with no historical background and no experiences to speak of. However, after you roll 2d6 or simply “2D” for your characteristics your next step is determining your background. Every character goes through at least one 4 year block of either education or work, and players are wise to tie parts of their history to other party members. The goal is a group history and often sets up for the kind of experience the players will encounter.
Players can attend University or Military Academies for education. Careers are broken down into 12 (13 if you count psionics) different branches.
- Agent – Law Enforcement, Intelligence, Corporate
- Army – Support, Infantry, Cavalry
- Citizen – Corporate, Worker, Colonist
- Drifter – Wanderers, Barbarian, Scavenger
- Entertainer – Reporters, actors or musicians
- Marine – Support, Star Marine, Ground Assault
- Merchant – Merchant Marine, Free Trader, or Broker
- Navy – Line Crew, Engineer gunner, Flight
- Noble – Administrator, Diplomat, Dilettante
- Rogue – Thief, Enforcer, Pirate
- Scholar – Field Researcher, Scientist or Physician
- Scout – Courier, Surveyor, Explorer
Careers are 4-year blocks of time. During the course of a career, characters can promote, suffer physical or mental mishaps, or have life events occur. Events can gain characters allies, enemies, new skills or benefit rolls or even lead to further mishaps. Because players create characters at the same time, they are encouraged to interweave their careers together. For instance, an Entertainer might have been a musician on a merchant marine vessel and met a marine that was guarding the vessel at the time. The ship was under attack by an alien force, and the characters were forced to deal with the situation giving them a mutual skill in common.
The core mechanic of the system is 2d6 rolls versus a target number of 8 for all skills. Players add their skill level, their characteristic modifier, and any task difficulty modifiers to their roll. Not all actions require a skill check some resolve by simply granting automatic success. For example, running through a forest does not trigger an athletics check. Some skills also have specializations. If a player has level 1 in a skill, they can choose to specialize deeper in that skill. A Level 1 skill in drive will allow you to specialize in Hovercraft, Mole, Track, Walker or Wheel.
Characteristic modifiers can add into skill checks to reflect natural affinity. The GM will decide which characteristic best fits the skill usage. Using your engineering to figure out how an alien engine works would suggest intellect, whereas trying to repair something in a tight space might require dexterity.
Task chains allow for multiple tasks to link together, allowing groups to work tasks. In my run of “High and Dry”,Verik the pirate was trying to find some kind of weapon. He was actually on Walston, lying low after being run off Marjis VII for Piracy. He did not have anything due to backstory. So he talked Carla into going with him and Rekk and try to find this abandoned scout quarters. Carla uses her Streetwise skill to get a local farm sub crew member to tell her about a scout base that was in abandon. Recon was Rekks specialty, so he took a walkabout and was able to find the base. Verik hacks open the hut comscreen and he finds a few antique rifles and a couple Jacks (armor). No ammunition though! (The GM is jerk…which is me)
Combat uses the 2D6 skill mechanic to determine successful hits or a misses. Players roll 2D plus their characteristic modifier and any skill modifier. Much like skills a result of 8+ is a success. Armor reduces the damage done by an attack. After that results will apply to Endurance, then to Strength and finally Dexterity. Personal Combat is so fast it is almost over before you know it. Personal combat is determined by making a characteristic check (Dex or Int), the result being your initiative spot. The higher the check result the faster you act. Ship Combat works quite differently than personal combat, but due to a large number of skill checks at play, it feels very epic. Combat maneuvering impacts multiple player’s combat rolls while movement is occurring. Needless to say, ship combat is very complex. However, it moves fast too!
The Traveller universe is a well-established fixture in roleplaying. Mongoose truly seems to be interested in sticking to canon while looking forward to the future. I like their take with Glorantha and Runequest. My only complaint with their Conan material is that I want more. As the licenses for those have lapsed, I look forward to their future with Traveller and Paranoia franchises. The universe while having several alien races, is mostly humancentric. Communication has limits and can only move at normal speed rates so while we can travel the space lanes, we can’t communicate over them. Gamemasters get the Trojan reach sector of the Third Imperium to play with as a sandbox. They are given tools for building their own worlds as well. Overall, just from the core book you can probably wrangle months of gameplay.
The art design is top notch. While some pieces are better than others, overall they all convey the feel of Traveller. For me, the important thing is in maintaining the Traveller identity. Traveller has never tried in my opinion to be any other franchise. I like the semi-dystopian sci-fi setting that was dystopian before dystopian was popular fiction. The artistic vision is believable, and the honoring of the past pretty flawless. The artwork is clear with crisp lines and could just as easily be a real arms catalog in the future.
Layout and Writing
The layout is spot on and clean. Things are easy to find within the book. I found little to no errors in spelling (I really do not care about grammar errors unless it confuses things), and only one or two times where I suspected there was an error. For a rulebook 240 pages long that is impressive. The writing flows well, is clear and explains everything in language easy to follow.
Traveller Referee’s Screen
The gamemaster screen is functional work of art. The outside appears as a cockpit of a ship staring off into space with a planet on one side and a sun on the other. The inside has everything a GM could ask for organized in an easy to find fashion. There is even a reprint of the interior equipment listing. Personal Combat and Ship combat as covered as well with all needed mechanics listed. You could almost run the game with the screen alone once you had the mechanics down. The board stock used is about a 1/8th of an inch thick and very sturdy. This GM screen will take a beating. The laminate does look like over time it might peel in places but good storage and impulse control to not pick will help prevent that.
Traveller Marches Adventure 1: High and Dry
High and Dry is the first offering in what promises to be a long campaign called Metal Worlds for Traveller. It gives you the world of Walston, a lightly populated outpost, rich in resources and ripe with adventure. The characters are brought to the planet in order to locate their ship, which of course leads them on many small adventures and a lot of NPC interactions. I am only partially through the adventure currently, but with our short 3-4 hour sessions I am betting we get another 3 months of gaming out of it before moving on to my own content. The adventure much like the rulebook is very well written and easy to follow.
It can be a little dry at some points but nothing a creative GM cannot embellish upon and it leaves plenty of room for creating your own adventures. The Quality of the softcover is decent, on par with Paizo products and the art style is great as well. High and dry is a great adventure for getting players and gamemasters started in the Third Imperium.
It is worth the price?
In summary, I can answer this with one word. YES!! The MSRP for the Traveller Core Rulebook runs about $49.99 at full retail. The Referee’s Screen is $13.99 and module MD1: High and Dry retails for $14.99. You can pick up the products directly from Mongoose or find them easily at most online retailers or with any luck your FLGS. So get out there travel the space lanes! Pick up Traveller today.
Till next time,
Keep rolling them bones