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In praise of the little black books - delta_november

Oct. 10th, 2010

10:12 am - In praise of the little black books

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I bought reprints of the Traveller books 1-3 (signed by Marc Miller!) to help Loren Wiseman with his recent medical expenses, and have been reading through them.  I am filled with nostalgia for the old days -- days that slightly predate my own.  What must it have been like to play Traveller with only these three books, and none of the additional canon that has built up over the years?  How liberating it must have been!

Some observations:
- Book 1 discusses the position of Referee.  It is recommended, but not necessary.  Sufficiently mature players can collaboratively create their adventure.  I would love to try this some day.  We've been flirting with some avant-guard GM-less games such as Polaris, but it would be a lot of fun to try with Traveller.

- Anti-laser armour actually worked!  Both Reflec and Ablat armour are superior to Battle Dress in defending against laser fire.  By contrast, in MegaTraveller Ablat is no better than a Combat Environment Suit, and Reflec is equivalent to Battle Dress at TL-13.  I have fond memories of my Traveller characters when I was 10.  They all wore Ablat, carried a Laser Carbine as primary weapon, and an Autopistol to deal with those sneaky enemies who wore Reflec.  [While I had played any number of characters, they were all fundamentally the same person.  I was young.]

- I appreciate the sparsity of the equipment lists, particularly the weapons.  MegaTraveller had 4 types of revolver: 5 mm, 7 mm, 9 mm and 9 mm magnum.  Book 1 just has "Revolver".  I don't know that my gaming experience has ever been improved by discussion of caliber.  In a large sci-fi universe there will be all sorts of variations on the theme of revolver, and it seems better to leave it open than to try to capture each one.

- The available vehicle lists are similarly interesting.  There is no detailed design process for vehicles, so we are required to extrapolate from what has been provided.  But on the flip side Book 2 has helicopters, steamships and submarines.  MegaTraveller could design infinite varieties of battle tank, but required COACC for helicopters.  Watercraft were only available from a set of articles in Challenge magazine.  When I was young I spent inordinate time playing with vehicle design spreadsheets, but these days I have no problem just saying "There's a big aeroplane.  It costs a lot of money, and can fit 200 passengers."

- There are six standard hulls available from all shipyards at a discount.  Shades of General Products!

- Starship combat assumes you can understand vectors.  MegaTraveller, to its eternal shame, states "The movement speed represents the maximum number of squares the unit can move that turn, however, the unit may move any number of squares less than the maximum, or it may even remain stationary (25,000 km per square is a lot of space -- in effect, the unit is circling in the square)".  FAIL!

- Book 3, page 39. "... the sum of his first four characteristics (strength, dexterity, constitution and intelligence)..."  It's a D&D Freudian slip!  Traveller's third characteristic is endurance.  Does this harken back to some ur-Traveller with different stat names, or is it just a mistake in this one paragraph?

I'm very tempted, whenever I can next get a group together, to try playing with just Books 1-3, and Supplement 4 (Citizens of the Imperium) to allow for non-military characters.  Not only the setting, but the whole feel can be changed without the rest of the canon attached.  It can be Star Wars, it can be Firefly, it can be Niven's Known Space, it can be Asimov's Foundation, it can be Bladerunner...  The universe can be huge and open, or it can be tight and claustrophobic.  It can be libertarian or hegemony.