This is a transcript of the above video...
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode seven of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” Today I’m doing something a little different, I am going retro. Today I discuss Traveller, a space-faring RPG from my youth.
Traveller was first published in 1977 by Game Designer’s Workshop. It was written by Mark Miller, who has continued producing new versions ever since. The second version of Traveller is called MegaTraveller and was published in 1987. Traveller: The New Era followed in 1993 and then T4: Mark Miller’s Traveller was released in 1996. The current version of Traveller is Traveller5, published in 2013 by Far Future Enterprises. Along the way, other versions of Traveller have been released.
Steve Jackson Games released a version of Traveller under their GURPS rules. It’s called Traveller: Interstellar Wars.
In 2002, a d20 version of Traveller, called T20, of course, was published by QuikLink Interactive. And, in 2008, Mongoose Publishing published a version of Traveller simply referred to as Mongoose Traveller. It is now in a second edition published in 2016.
I give you all that just as a brief history. You can read more about the game’s versions at the Wikipedia entry linked below. I have never played any version except the first, now commonly called “Classic Traveller.” And today I’m just going to talk about the game and what I like about it.
The original ruleset for Traveller was published as three “little black books” sold in a box set as pictured here (along with some additional books). Those three books cover characters, spaceships, and worlds for adventuring. In 1982, those three core books were consolidated into a single book with additional material, and sold as The Traveller Book. I still have mine here. This is the hardcover edition. There was also a softcover that had artwork on the cover rather than the plain black. Obviously, I like this one much better. Especially since it has held up for 35-plus years.
One of the best things about Traveller is the character creation system. I have put together a flowchart here. Everything in Traveller is done using 6-sided dice. So all you need is a Yahtzee set and you’re good to go. You start by rolling the six ability scores for your character. These abilities are strength, dexterity, endurance, intelligence, education, and social standing. You roll two six-sided dice (2d6) for each characteristic, giving you an initial total of 2 to 12 for each score. You can raise scores to a maximum of 15, scores can also go down to zero for various reasons. Traveller then uses hexadecimal numbering, i.e. 0 to 9 and then A, B, C, D, E, and F to represent those scores in a six-digit “Universal Personality Profile” or UPP. You can already see why this appeals to computer nerds.
In fact, the very first program I ever wrote, in BASIC on a TRS-80, was NOT an AD&D Character Generator. (That was my second program.) It was a world generator for Traveller. I still have a listing of generated worlds from that program. That is some high-quality dot-matrix printing right there.
Okay, you have your UPP. You then pick one of six services to try to enlist in: Navy, Marines, Army, Scouts, Merchants, or Other. If you fail your enlistment roll, you then roll to get drafted. You can actually get drafted by the service that just rejected your enlistment, but isn’t that just like life? Once in a service, at age 18, you begin a four-year term of enlistment.
Then comes the fun part. You have to make a survival roll. Fail the survival roll...and your character is dead and you have to start over. This can happen during ANY term of service, whether your first or your fifth. Thus my shirt: “You haven’t lived until you’ve died...during character creation.”
If you survive, you can try to get an officer’s commision, and if you succeed or already have your commission, you can try for a promotion. You then total up the skills you’ve learned and roll on a set of skill tables to see what actual skills you get.
THEN you make a reenlistment roll. You have to make the roll whether you want to reenlist or not. If you roll a 12 on 2d6, you HAVE TO reenlist. If you roll under a 12, but still succeed in beating the reenlistment score, you can then CHOOSE whether or not to reenlist. If you fail the reenlistment roll, you’re out. Once you muster out, you roll on another set of tables to see what kind of benefits you get. Which can include money, equipment, even your own personal spaceship if you’re a Scout. You then go out into the universe, ready for...well, anything.
One of the neat things about Traveller is, you don’t have to actually fight anyone, or anything. Yes, there are combat rules for characters. And space combat rules for spaceships. But you can run an entire adventure just operating a trade route, or merchant service, or scouting planets. The core books have a complete section on designing starships and creating worlds and adventures. Here is the section on starships and their design. You can spend hours just designing your own spaceships. The game really is a creative tinkerer’s dream.
And then there are the expansions. I have three additional core rule books. Book 4, Mercenary, expands the Army and Marines, so instead of just being Army or Marines, you can be Artillery, Cavalry, Infantry, Marine, Support, or Commando. Book 5, High Guard, expands the Navy to Line Crew, Flight, Gunnery, Engineering, Medical, and Technical. Book 6 gives you seven “classes” of Scout: Survey, Communications, Explorations, Administrations, Operations, Technical, or Detached Duty. Two other core books, that I never owned, are Book 7, covering expanded Merchant classes; and, Book 8, governing the use of robots. And then there are the supplements, some of which I have expanding non-player character classes, including Pirates, Belters, Sailors, Diplomats, Doctors, and Flyers.
I’ve got supplements for additional spaceship information: traders, gunboats, and fighters. Another supplement has just pages of forms to keep track of everything. I also have one best-of issue of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society, which is sort of like the old Dragon Magazine with all kinds of additional info and rules for differents types of games.
And then there’s a starmap of the Imperium, which is the “official” Traveller universe. Yes, I totally geeked out on this stuff when I was a teenager.
What are some of the ways in which Traveller is different? Well, as I already said, you can play full campaigns that never or almost never include combat. You can negotiate trade agreements. Survey planets. Make first contact with aliens. Your imagination is the limit. And, even though Traveller is designed as a “sci-fi” RPG with laser guns and spaceships, it has full rulesets for “primitive” technology. So you can use these rules to run a game in any setting you choose. Want something set in a society like ancient China? You can do that. Want to create a Western? You can do that. Want a modern game set on Earth of today? You can do that.
I think, “You can do that” is the way I would describe Traveller. The ruleset is so flexible, and can be adapted for anything (well, there are no rules for magic, so fantasy settings are out, but there are other RPGs to handle that)...you can do that.
From what I’ve read, Mongoose Traveller is the currently-in-print RPG that is closest to Classic Traveller. I can’t personally vouchsafe that description, but I think people generally know what they’re talking about. The reviews of Traveller5 are...mostly awful. However, if you’re willing to live with PDFs, you can get a CD with all the Classic Traveller books from traveller5.net. That’s what I would do.
In fact, I may complete my collection that way. That’s all I’ve got for this edition of Go Game, Young Man. Don’t forget to Like this video and Subscribe to my channel. Follow me on social media, links below, along with links to other material used in this video. Until next time...Go Travel, Young Man.
This is a transcript of the above video blog.
Hello. My name is Barry Scott Will and this is episode four of my video blog, “Go Game, Young Man.” I’m recording this Saturday, February 17th, and I already have my tickets to see Black Panther tonight, so you’ll likely see this video and my review of Black Panther posted to YouTube about the same time.
Speaking of Black Panther and movies in general, I’d like to make some comparisons between films and my favorite entertainment...video games. Specifically, I want to talk about cost, and the general finances of the video game industry.
You see, I think games are too expensive, and their expense is an integral part of some of the issues in the industry and with triple-A games, issues like the ones I discussed last week in my review of Horizon: Zero Dawn. Why do developers fill their games with so much fluff to stretch out the playing time? What difference does it make if it takes you 20 hours to finish a game versus 60? Or 100? The answer is value-for-time. The problem is, games aren’t going to win that “competition,” no matter what, so why try?
Here’s the basic comparison:
You go to a movie. It costs $10. You get two hours entertainment. That’s $5 per hour.
You buy a game. It costs $60. You get 20 hours entertainment. That’s $3 per hour. A better deal, right?
Sort of. Yes, it’s a better deal per hours of enjoyment, but you still have to pay $60 up front compared to $10. And that’s only compared to going to see a movie in the theater. Compare $60 for a game to $8 for a month of unlimited movies on Netflix, … and, games can’t compete on a value-for-time basis. So...developers pad their games. They offer 60 hours or 100 hours or more of entertainment because they: 1) have to convince people to cough up $60; and, 2) they are trying to get the cost-per-hour of entertainment down closer to that Netflix level.
And there’s where we start getting into the weeds. No matter how hard developers try to make their games a better “value” than movies, the audience for games is much smaller than the audience for movies. Let’s take a popular superhero film from 2017 as an example, Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman has grossed about 820 million dollars at the worldwide box office. At a (very rough) average of $9 per ticket, that’s around 91 million viewers. And that’s just movie tickets. It’s grossed another 100 million in disc sales and who knows how much from digital streaming.
The hugely successful Grand Theft Auto V, released FOUR years ago, has managed to sell around 62 million copies. But that game is an extreme outlier. Horizon: Zero Dawn that I reviewed last week and is considered one of the big hits of 2017? Less than 5 million copies sold.
True, not every movie is as successful as Wonder Woman just as not every game is as successful as Grand Theft Auto. But Wonder Woman was not an outlier. Four movies released last year grossed over 1 billion dollars. Another twelve grossed over 600 million.
To gross 600 million dollars a game would have to sell, at $60 per copy, about 10 million copies. The number of games that sold 10 million copies in 2017?
The closest was Call of Duty: WW2 at nine-and-a-half million. And I don’t know what the average amount the publisher gets from each sale, but it’s probably not more than about twenty bucks. How can a game like Horizon: Zero Dawn, at 4.5 million copies sold, recoup a 6-figure development and advertising budget?
And game development budgets is why I’m comparing the game industry to Hollywood. Triple-A game budgets are hitting 100 million plus, and I don’t think that is sustainable at the sales levels for even the “big” hits.
But, publishers can’t raise their prices. Not counting inflation, game prices have been static for over a decade. Factor inflation into the equation, and game prices have been in a steady decline. Add in the “Amazon effect,” where pre-ordered games get an automatic 20 per-cent discount, and games go on sale within the first month…Is it any wonder publishers are releasing collector’s editions and filling their games with micro-transactions, and pushing multiplayer where they can sell loot boxes, day one DLC, and every other method to try to boost actual income because individual sale units are not going up.
There are a few studios out there that are producing some monster hits--i.e. games that easily sell over 10 or even 20 million units. But most are scrabbling for every dollar. And gamers aren’t helping because, let’s face it, we’re cheap. As I said last week, I did not rush out to buy Zero Dawn until I could get it on sale. I paid 20 bucks for it. The current economy of games is not sustainable. We’re going to see more micro-transactions in games. We’re going to see more studios making mobile games or online games. The only thing we’ve gotten from Bethesda Softworks since Fallout 4 in 2015 is a mobile game and a MMORPG. Yay.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I would like to see big, AAA-quality, SINGLE-player games continue to be made. I want another Elder Scrolls game. I want another Fallout. I want another Dragon Age and Mass Effect. I would like a sequel to Zero Dawn. So, what needs to happen?
I don’t know. But, here are some suggestions, and I have no idea if any of these would actually work.
First, release games are a lower price. If games released at 30 dollars, would they sell twice as many copies? Maybe. I would be a lot more likely to buy a game at release if it were 30 instead of 60.
Second, reduce game budgets. Tighten them up. I would like Zero Dawn just as much--maybe more--if the game world were smaller. I would like Skyrim just as much if there were not quite as many things to do. Every extra, meaningless step-n-fetch quest; every extra square mile of empty space, is extra time and money on ephemera.
Third, and I really hate to say this, but it’s the economics of the industry, take some of the bigger side tasks, pad them out, and release them as DLC. Maybe an initial release of 30 dollars, followed by multiple 5 and 10 dollar DLC packs is a better model? It sure works for the LEGO games.
And fourth, and this one I reeeealy don’t want to bring up...maybe it’s time to scale back from “realism” and concentrate on content. It certainly has not hurt Nintendo to not have real-life-looking graphics in their games. Maybe that results in smaller teams to make the games? I’m certainly not wishing people to lost their jobs, but if studios close because their games don’t sell enough to justify their price, people are going to lose jobs anyway.
I know smarter, better economics-educated people than me are working on this problem. At least, I hope there are. I like small, indie games, but if that’s all we end up with...I might be going to the movies more often. Or watching TV.
Anyway, sound off in the comments. Hit the Like button AND the Subscribe button. Check out bettysterlingbooks.com for some...old-fashioned entertainment in the form of my two fantasy novels. And check me out on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram; links in the video description. By the time I record this, I will have already seen Black Panther and I will be spitting out some verbiage about that very shortly. Next week...I haven’t yet decided on a topic, perhaps something will suggest itself in the next few days. Until then, go game, young man.
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