Thursday, May 5, 2022

Review: The Traveller Book (1982)

The Traveller Book
This was *MY* Traveller.  In 1982 I could not get enough Science Fiction.  All the books I read were sci-fi, I was eagerly anticipating the third Star Wars movie that we had heard was called "Revenge of the Jedi" and video games were all the rage.  When I saw this book in the Mail Order Hobby Shop catalog (or maybe it was Games Plus) I thought I had to try it out.  In my recollections, I had ordered both Traveller and Pacesetter Chill at this time, but logically with my paper route money at the time I am sure I only got one at a time.

It came in the mail, it was summer I recall, likely near my birthday, and I jumped right in. 

It was not what I expected.  

By this point, I had been playing D&D for nearly three years, and in earnest (every weekend) for the last two. There were no classes here, no levels, just skills.  It was a shift, but it was a lot of fun.  I recall I had more fun making planetary systems than characters really. I even wrote some BASIC programs for the TRS-80 to do some of the math.

Sadly like those cassette tapes I stored my BASIC programs on, my Traveller book was lost to the sands of time.  I can't even really recall what happened to it. Sad because today it goes for so much on eBay!

Thankfully for me, and everyone else, you can get the PDF and Print on Demand (POD) of the book from DriveThruRPG.  I grabbed it as soon as the PDF was out.  I wish I had gotten the original POD though.  The newer PDF and POD has been replaced with a far better scan, but the cover is the Black and Red of the earlier Traveller books and not the "blue book" I came to know.

Much like Holmes' Basic D&D "Blue Book" combined the Original D&D "Little Brown Books" and other material into a single volume, this Traveller "Blue Book" combined the three "Little Black Books" into a single volume with new material.  This new material included Book 0 "An Introduction to Traveller," some of "Double Adventure 1," and more material. 

The Traveller Book (1982)

160 pages, PDF (Hardcover PoD; original softcover) Color cover art, black & white interior art with red accents.

The Traveller Book was published in 1982 and was the follow-up to the highly successful Traveller boxed set.  Since the boxed set printing and reprints there had been a number of well-received supplements, in particular, Supplement 0 An Introduction to Traveller, DA1 Double Adventure (Shadows), Book 04 Mercenary, and Book 05 High Guard.  These made up what I largely felt was the core of Classic Traveller (or Original Traveller as I thought of it then). Much like how D&D combined their Original game with many supplements to make Holmes' Basic D&D (and later AD&D) these materials were re-edited and re-combined into a new book/game.  This became the Traveller Book.

At the time nearly everyone claimed it was not just a step up in terms of learning Traveller, it was an advanced leap in playing Traveller.

The Traveller Book contains everything from the Little Black Books of the Classic Traveller boxed set as well as new introductory material from Book 0.  

You can read my review of the Classic Traveller boxed set here, Today I want to talk about what makes this book new and special. 

Shawna 9DAA87
For starters, there is a lot of text here that is familiar, but not exactly the same.  The editors took some time to clean up the text and make things a lot clearer. Additionally, there is more art; both of the decorative sort (Captain Alexander Jamison now has a ponytail) and of the help sort (images of weapons and starships).

Among other improvements in text, there are also plenty of redesigned tables and charts.  While the LBBs had charm they did not have a lot of space formatted for digest-size (5½" x 8½").  The Traveller book is a full-sized 8½" x 11".  At the time people even commented that it was a proper sized RPG now to go with the likes of AD&D.

 The sections on worlds and encounters are also expanded. Animals in particular get more text and even more examples.  Trade and Commerce also get more text. My Classic Traveller boxed set had very little on this.  This is closer to the 1980s reprint.  The one the new Facsimile Edition is based on.  It also looks like the Psionics section is more detailed.

There is a "new" (new to anyone coming from the boxed set) section on the Referee's Guide to Adventuring.  Since this is really pre-Traveller as a system AND a setting, there is some good advice here on running any sort of Sci-Fi/Space Adventure game.  There are hints of Star Trek, Star Wars and lots and lots of Classic "Hard" Sci-Fi like you would see from Clarke or Asimov. But it is also none of the things entirely.  I did say "Pre-" but in reality, Traveller was building its universe right before our eyes. Again, much like D&D did.

Also reprinted here is the adventure Shadows from Double Adventure 01. 

The last section, The Traveller's Guide to the Universe introduces us to The Imperium. This is the important setting for Traveller and what sets it apart from other Sci-Fi RPGs.  The history, both in-game and real-world, of the Imperium is impressive and much like that of Dune, Star Wars, or Star Trek, absolutely daunting.  I will admit I read this section many, many times and wondered what would fiction set in any period of this history be like?   Back in 1982-3 I did not have much other than this book, some friends that had played (but were not looking for new players), and a growing case of what I call "Traveller Envy".  Today there are wikis and blogs and entire websites devoted to Traveller and the Imperium.  My cup is full, running over and there are still more cups on the table waiting for me to pick them up.


For ANYONE who is interested in the Classic Traveller, I would say get this book first before looking into the vast catalog of older Classic Traveller books.  There is so much out there and I am going to only scratch the surface this month.  In fact "The Traveller Series" in this book (page 159) covers everything published to this point and where they all fit in.  Including all the board games.   I am going to need to spend some time talking about those as well.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: Reflections Post

gif #AtoZChallenge 2022 WINNER badge animated

Here we are at the end of another April A to Z Blogging Challenge. I "won," that is I completed the Challenge.  That's not such a stretch for me since I tend to write every day anyway.  For me success is whether not I had an interesting theme (I think I did) and whether or not I got some interaction on the posts (I did).  "Success" for me in this case is about the journey and not the end.

This year's theme Conspiracy Theories was suggested to me by my wife and I really had a lot of fun with it.  The conspiracy theory part was for all the visitors from the A to Z, but the NIGHT SHIFT RPG applications were for my regular audience.   

I do hope that both audiences enjoyed both sections.  

Ultimately I hope that some of my regular audience found some new blogs thanks to the A to Z AND I hope some of the A to Z folks looked into the NIGHT SHIFT RPG.

I have not crunched all the numbers, but my hits were significantly higher this past month.   My Twitter engagement was also quite higher.

Like previous years, I made a Pinterest board for all my posts so if you want to see what I did you have a visual guide.

Follow Timothy's board "April 2022 A to Z of Conspiracy Theories" on Pinterest.

Though this one is less visual than last year's Monsters.

Also, unlike last year, there is no book these are all going in.  It was just a bit of fun.  Though I did do enough research on the side for a new book, that will wait until other projects are complete.

Once again I am considering what to do for 2023.  No ideas yet. I suppose I could do what I had originally planned for this year, but I have less excitement for that now.  I DO however know exactly what I am going to do in 2024!  

So until then!

Reflections 2022 #atozchallenge


I suppose that I shouldn't let "May the Fourth" go by unremarked.  It is Sci-Fi month here after all.

So for my small contribution here is the most Science Fiction of all musicians, Thomas Dolby featuring George Clinton on "May the Cube Be With You."

May the Cube and the Fourth and the Force be with you!

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Review: Classic (Basic) Traveller

It's May and I want to spend the entire month talking about Sci-Fi RPGs, and most of this month talking about Traveller.   Traveller has a long and storied history in both the RPG world and for me personally. It is the second (or the third, more on that) RPG I ever owned after D&D.  

I say second but my memory is foggy and it could have been Traveller or it could have been Chill.  I think for my horror cred I like to claim it was Chill, but in the early 80s, I was all about Science Fiction.  So really it was most likely to be Traveller.  I picked up the Traveller Book and tried to teach to it to myself, but my groups were very D&D focused and no one wanted to play it.  The groups that did play it were all older than I was and they did not want some "D&D kid" in their "Serious Sci-Fi" groups.  I was able to more traction on Star Frontiers a few years later.  Must have been the TSR bias of the time.  I do wish I still had my original Traveller Book though.   I did manage to score an Original Traveller boxed set of the "Little Black Books" so I guess that is even better.

Mayday, Mayday! This is the Free Trader Beowulf...

Today I am going to review Traveller and start at the very beginning.  There is just no way I could through everything for Traveller.  I'd need more than a month, I'd need a whole new blog, so instead, I was going to going to concentrate on some core products to get people into the game and a few choice ones that have meaning to me. 

I will admit right up front that I am no Traveller expert.  So it is very, very likely I will miss a few a things.  Just let me, and others, know in the comments.   

Ok, as my friend Greg said on Sunday, let's get this party started!

Classic Traveller

For this review, I am going to be referring to my 1977 Game Designers' Workshop edition of the boxed set of Traveller.   I am also joining to be comparing them the PDFs of the Classic Traveller Facsimile Edition from Game Designers' Workshop / Far Future Enterprises on DriveThruRPG. 

Side Note:  Far Future Enterprises bought the rights to various GDW games a while back and published this pdf as far back as 2001.  They own the rights to republish Traveller, 2300 AD, Twilight: 2000, and Dark Conspiracy. They also work with Mongoose and other publishers of Traveller material.  But more on that in future posts.  Suffice to say that from my point of view they have been carrying the torch of Traveller high since 2000.  Among other things they publish a full CD-ROM of Traveller material that I would love to grab someday. 

The Boxed Set

The Traveller Boxed Set from GDW was released in 1977.  GDW was located in Normal, IL which is along what I learned was a trail the lead from Lake Geneva, WI, and Chicago, IL all the way down to the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL, Illinois State in Normal, IL down to Southern Illinois Univerity in Carbondale, IL.  Tim Kask was an SIU grad, GDW was in Normal, Mayfair would later be founded in Skokie just outside of Chicago, and Judges Guild was founded in Decatur, IL.  I basically grew up surrounded by the growing Table Top RPG scene. 

Traveller Boxed Set

Much like Dungeons & Dragons of the time, Traveller came in a digest-sized box with three books.  Instead of there being "3 Little Brown Books" there are "3 Little Black Books."   Also, like D&D future printings would combine these books though in different ways. 

PDF Note: The Classic Traveller Facsimile Edition also includes a preface for the whole set of books and gives a brief history of their publications.  This is a great value-add for the PDF.  According to it what I am reviewing today is "Basic Traveller" and published in 1981.  Basic Revised was published in 1981 and the Traveller Book (my first purchase) was in 1982.  

Book 1: Characters and Combat

This is the character generation book and maybe one of the most famous bit of RPG lore ever.  Yes. In Traveller you can die in Character creation!  

You haven't lived until you die in character creation

I should also point out that very, very often in my conversations with people over the years that Character Creation for Travelller was very much in line with what we would call "Session 0" today.  Everyone worked on their character, developed a back story (yes in 1977) and then got together.  Even the starting character example is a 42-year-old with a pension (and a cutlass it seems). Trust me, at 42 I already had backstory (and a wife, kids, a mortgage, bills...)

Character creation is largely a random affair, but not wholly so. There are choices to be made along the way.  How a character acquires skills and expertise largely depends on which service they were in and how they got there.  You can enlist or you can be drafted. At this point, all characters were assumed to have served in some form of the service. Citizens don't mortgage their pension on a beat second-hand starship to go galavanting across known space. 

As you work through character creation you can go for a few terms of service. This gives you more skill, more experience, more credits, and makes you older.  As in real life, there are benefits and detriments to age.  

Skills are detailed next.  This is going to come up again and again, but let's talk about it here first. The Computers of Traveller are the computers of 1977.  Not very advanced and require special expertise to use them.  Today of course I am writing this post in one window, monitoring email and chat in another, watching the weather in another, and reading the PDF in yet another.  I have dozens of active programs running that I am paying attention to and who knows how many more running in the background.  I am not going to apply 21st-century biases though to these rules.  Let's just leave them as-is for now and see how future versions of this game treat it.   For me I am going to assume there are computers (with a lower case c) that do all the work we think of today and anyone can use and then there are specialized Computers (with an upper case C) that do specialized work, like today's supercomputers.  

Side Note: The best super-computer of 1977 was the 80mhz, 64 bit Cray-1. It cost $8M and was capable of 160 MFLOPS. For comparison, my three-year-old smartphone runs at 130ghz and is capable of 658 GFLOPS. Newer phones are more than double that. 4000x's the power at 1/10,000th of the cost. And I can put it into my pocket. 

After your terms of service are figured out along with your skills then comes the time to learn combat.  Combat always gets more ink than say hacking a computer since there are so many things going on and a failure usually means death.  Also, as an aside, there are a lot of bladed weapons in Traveller. I attribute this to two different elements. The first and obvious is Star Wars, though Traveller obviously draws more from Dune than Star Wars which only came out in May of 77.  The other and likely more important source is D&D.  For the obvious reasons.  The end effect is that officers in Traveller often carry swords in my mind. 

Combat gives us our basic roll for the game and the introduction of the Traveller basic mechanic. The PDF is a little clearer on this than my print book. Roll 2d6 and beat a roll of 8.  This is modified by various skills and experiences.  

Wounds affect the character's Strength, Dexterity, and Endurance. The more wounds you get, the worse those stats are.  D&D would not do this in earnest until 4th Edition. 

PDF Notes:  My copy is dedicated "To Mary Beth" and the PDF (and I think the Traveller Book) are dedicated "To Darlene."  There are other minor differences as well. The PDF for example has a "Personal Data and History" aka a Character Sheet on page 28 (36 for the PDF). 

Traveller Book vs. PDF

Book 2: Starships

This is what makes Traveller, well, Traveller. There are two types of travel dealt with here, Interplanetary (worlds within the same star system) and Interstellar (different star systems). Also if you are afraid of math this book is going to give you a bad day.   

The main focus of this book in my mind is buying a starship and keeping it running.  Starships are expensive and in Traveller, those expenses are more keenly felt than say keeping up a castle in D&D.  If your castle runs out of food you can leave to go buy some. In a starship, in space, your options are more limited.  In space, no one can hear your stomach grumble. 

I have no idea if the economies of Traveller work. I mean is 2 tons of fuel really worth the year's salary of a gunner?  No idea. I am going to handwave that and say it works.

There is also a lot on Starship construction here too. Before I could get anyone to play I would write up sheets of starships and their costs based on what I thought was cool.  Kinda wish I had a couple of those. The only one I can remember was the FTL Lucifer.  It was designed to be small, but fast.  It would later make it's way into Star Frontiers, but that is another tale.

We get some details on starship combat and some basic world data.

Book 2 also covers experience and various drugs.  I get the feeling these were put here to pad out Book 2 so all three books were the same size; 44 pages. 

PDF Notes: The PDF has more art, in particular how to orbit a planet and the necessary equations made more clear.  Like Book 1 for Characters, this volume has sheets for ships. The PDF also adds a Trade and Commerce section.

Book 3: Worlds and Adventures

This book covers worlds.  And if there was one thing I did more than creating starships that never traveled to other worlds, it was to create worlds that starships would never travel to.  World creation was fun.  

This book also covers various personal equipment and various encounter types.

Note at this point there are no aliens, no Imperiums, and really nothing other than the most basic adventuring outline.  Very much like OD&D in that respect.  I like the psionic system in Traveller and maybe I should explore the differences between it and the one in Eldritch Wizardry for D&D

The last part of this book covers Psionics. Maybe one of the reasons I like to draw a pretty hard line between Magic and Psionics is that one is for Fantasy (and D&D) and the other is for Sci-Fi (and Traveller).

PDF Notes: The PDF again has more art (vehicles) as well as hex maps for working out star systems.

Final Notes

How does one review a classic like Traveller?  How does one compare an RPG from 1977 to the standards of 2022?  It's not easy under normal circumstances, but with Traveller it is easier.  Why?  Because so much of this game was ahead of its time you could brush it off, get some d6s and play it out of the box as is today.  More so than OD&D is I think.

But both games are classics, no, Classics. With that capital C. It is no wonder that now, 45 years later, Traveller is still the goto science-fiction game.

Classic RPGS

As I move through the editions and versions I'll also talk about all the other materials that have been used with Traveller (board games for example) and how these "3LBBs" expanded to cover an entire universe. 

Monday, May 2, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: Greys (Zeta Reticulians)

Nice meeting of topics here today.  It is May which this year will be the start of my Sci-Fi month.  We have the normal May the Fourth celebrations, and Mayday for Traveller was yesterday.  Plus we get Star Trek Strange New World premiering this week.  AND there is a new D&D Spelljamer on the horizon. So there are a lot of great reasons to celebrate SciFi. 

I also just got finished with my A to Z Challenge for April where I did Conspiracy Theories.  I leaned heavily on a lot of UFO-based ones.  So my appetite has been whetted for more.  And today is Monstrous Monday!  So I thought I would bring all of these ideas together today into a special Monstrous Monday!

Greys (Zeta Reticulians)

Grey Aliens

Of all the alien species that have purportedly visited the Earth few are as popular as the Greys.  These creatures are also known as Zeta Reticulians since they supposedly come from the Zeta Reticuli star system, approximately 40 ly from Earth.  This is based on a drawing from one of the most famous alien abductees ever, Betty Hill.  

Greys are called such due to their skin color. The skin seems to be a uniform grey.  While some are depicted as not wearing clothes, others have suggested that they are wearing skin-tight suits of the same color as their skin to protect them from Earth's atmosphere.  They typically stand 4 to 5ft in height (1.2 to 1.5 meters), are hairless, with large black eyes.  They have no ears nor a nose, save for small slits or holes where such external sense organs would be.  Their bodies are small, thin, and somewhat elongated. Their heads however are large with large foreheads giving the impression of large brains inside. Their hands are long with long delicate fingers. They typically only have four fingers (three fingers and a thumb) per hand, though there are reports of "hybrids" that appear to be greys with human eyes and five fingers per hand.

They do not speak but instead communicate via a form of telepathy. 

Their purpose with humanity is still unknown.  They may not even know themselves just yet since all evidence seems to point to them observing and experimenting on humans. Their experiments in removing eggs and sperm as reported by abductees, and the existence of hybrid forms at least point to an interest in our reproductive abilities.  It is postulated that they are using humans to help deplete their own lessening numbers.

Grey (Dungeons & Dragons 5e)

Grey for 5e


No. Appearing: 3-12 (3d4)
AC: 6
Move: 30 ft.
Hit Dice: 2-4
Special: Cause fear, psychic abilities (chosen at random), telekinesis, telepathy, Can't use magic
XP Value: Varies

Greys are aliens from the Zeta Reticuli star system. They have enhanced psychic abilities, but are vulnerable to all forms of magic.  They never speak but communicate via telepathy.  A group of Greys are typically a scouting party with various scientists onboard their spaceship. They will abduct humans or cattle, do experiments on them, erase their memories and return them to where they found them.

Grey (OSR)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1d4+3 (1d10+2)
Alignment: Neutral [True Neutral]
Movement: 90' (30') [9"]
Armor Class: 7-5 [12-14]
Hit Dice: 
   Scientist: 2d8+2* (11 hp)
   Monitor: 3d8+3** (17 hp)
   Leader: 4d8+8** (26 hp)
To Hit AC 0: 18, 16, 15  (+1, +3, +4)
Attacks: 0 or 1
Damage: None, stun 
Special: Cause fear, paralysis, mind blank, telepathy, vulnerable to magic
Save: Monster 3
Morale: 10 (10)
Treasure Hoard Class: Special
   Scientist: 35 (OSE) 47 (LL)
   Monitor: 100 (OSE) 135 (LL)
   Leader: 275 (OSE) 290 (LL)

Str: 7,9, 11 (-1, 0, 0) Dex: 16 (+2) Con: 14, 14, 16 (+1, +1, +2) Int: 22, 18, 18 (+5, +3, +3) Wis: 16 (+2) Cha: 14 (+1)

Greys come in three castes; Scientists, Monitors, and Leaders.  Scientists perform the experiments, leaders lead the missions, and are the fighters of the group.  Monitors are a blend of the two, acting as leaders amongst the scientists.  The castes are not hierarchical, they are designed so that each role is filled by the most capable individual.  A group of greys encountered outside of the ships will all be scientists with at least one member a monitor or leader. 

Greys have psionic abilities to cause fear, paralysis by touch (save vs. Paralysis or be frozen for one minute), and to erase the memories of their victims.   Scientists do not attack. They leave this to the Leaders and if needed the monitors. 

Additionally, greys have no concept of magic, they save at -2 against all spells and take an additional +1 point damage from magical attacks. 


I might tweak these a bit more, but so far they look great to me.

Saturday, April 30, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: Z is for Zecharia Sitchin

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories Z
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: Z is for Zecharia Sitchin

Here we are at the end, which is back at the beginning for me and the topic of my A to Z for this April 2022.

Before I begin I do want to say this one went much better than I expected. I'll get to all of that in the Reflections post coming up.

So Zecharia Sitchin.  

Sitchin was the author of many books on the topic of Ancient Aliens and the Anunnaki of the Sumerians. He was also the creator of the idea of the planet of Nibiru where the Anunnaki supposedly come from. He called this the "12th Planet."  

Much like Margaret Murray, Sitchin took the archaeological record as well as astronomical history.  Also, like Murray, he completely botched his research including some of the translations. 

The conspiracy comes from, as expected, the Government, the Church, and NASA are all hiding the truth. Sitchin's theories remake the history of humanity and of course, everyone is going to hide all of that.


Sitchin's work is not science.  BUT it could make for good science fiction.  

For NIGHT SHIFT I would like to REally go deep on this. Have aliens come Nibriu and try to start some crazy-ass religion or something.  OR maybe it is just people saying they are. 

Sitchin, among other things, is indirectly responsible for a number of UFO Cults.  Bringing a couple of these (or a made-up one) would make for an interesting game I think.

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).

And there we go.  Another April A to Z for the history books.  Join me next month for Sci-Fi month!

Friday, April 29, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: Y is for Yeti

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories Y
The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: Y is for Yeti

Not just yetis, but bigfoot too!  Now Yetis and Bigfoots fall under the heading of cryptids and not so much conspiracy theories.  The conspiracy part comes in later.

Let's be honest here. I love writing about Bigfoot.  Maybe it was growing up in the 1970s when there was a surge in the popularity of Bigfoot sightings.  But in any case, I have talked about them a lot here.  

My introduction to RPGs was via monsters of myth and legend in the AD&D Monster Manual and while the Sasquatch was not originally there, the Yeti was.  

With all these posts (and these are just the ones on the subject) you would think I have had said everything I can and...that is accurate. But I have not talked about the conspiracies surrounding these cryptids.

Conspiracy #1: The various governments are hiding the evidence of Bigfoot/Yetis for ... reasons.  
I have seen this one in various books and websites and the one thing they all have in common is that there are no good reasons given for why the government would want to go through the efforts to hide it.  The reason given is usually "to protect the population."  But how this is supposed to happen is never very clear.

Conspiracy #2: All the bigfoot sightings are faked by a small group of fakers. This I am likely to believe except that I doubt they are organized in any way.


I do use Sasquatches, Bigfoots, and Yetis in my games.  They might even outnumber regular animals in my games! Well not really. But close.

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).