The Other “Three Little Booklets”

“This is Free Trader Beowulf, calling anyone…
Mayday, Mayday… We are under attack…
Main drive is gone… Turret number one not responding…
Mayday… Losing cabin pressure fast calling anyone…
Please help… This is Free Trader Beowulf …


I started playing Traveller back in 1977. I had been role-playing for a couple of years at that point, and I remember gamers coming back from Origins with a new game they were all very excited about. Within a couple of months the black box with the above text, containing three digest-sized booklets, had arrived and we all started setting up our Traveller universes.

That last bit is rather important.

The booklet titles and organization were an homage to Original D&D: Characters & Combat, Starships, and Worlds & Adventure. A fairly quick read of the rules showed science fiction influences including Poul Anderson, Jack Vance, Jerry Pournelle and Larry Niven, E.C. Tubb, Isaac Asimov and H. Beam Piper. Aside from the cover quote, and a bit of detail about the example character, Merchant Captain Alexander Lascelles Jameson, there’s little if any background inherent in the original game.

So it was up to the referee to come up with their background and setting for adventure, and it was nearly two years before GDW began providing their own “official setting” for Traveller – the Third Imperium. In that span of time, there were a lot of campaigns developed, and they reflected a wide range of imagination, much like the original D&D campaigns started c. 1974. What makes this all interesting yet today is that – like Original D&D – Classic Traveller represents a much larger range of gaming possibilities than the GDW in-house campaign that eventually became synonymous with these “three little black booklets.”

Traveller Tuesdays”: Over the next several Tuesdays, I’m going to critically review Classic Traveller as another exemplar of this thing we call “old school gaming” and how it is still relevant to gamers today. I’m also going to talk about some of the early campaigns I played in, and show just how different early Traveller gaming really was, compared to what has come along since.

9 thoughts on “The Other “Three Little Booklets”

  1. I look forward to Tuesdays from now on! I love Traveller and still play it, though I’ll admit it wasn’t very appealing to me when I first saw it at the age of 10.

    Please check out my blog for some humourous if slightly odd anedotes about Traveller.

    Take care,

  2. I am excited to see how this evolves. Traveller was one of the first games I really, really got into. I even had a subscription to the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society.

    I have more recently been known to say that Firefly was essentially the way a Traveller game was supposed to be. What do you think of that?

  3. I love it! I finally came upon the original 3 booklets (I had the revised edition, back in the 80’s), so I see what you mean about the lack of background.

    Looking forward to seeing what you have to say on this.

  4. Barking Alien: I love the idea of a game set in the Galaxy Quest universe. “They’re not fans, they’re termites!”

    Malcolm: Even though James Maliszewski might disagree with you, I generally think that Firefly was Traveller – every time I watched it, I kept thinkin’ “ol’ Joss did himself some role-playin’ in the past.” Then I saw the pics of Nathan Fillion at GenCon SoCal playing in a GURPS Firefly game and realized that was what big conventions were for – that chance to do something you never would have had the chance to do at home.

    Will: I would note that QuikLink Interactive put out an attractive 3-in-1 softcover of Classic Traveller awhile back. I snapped up about a dozen copies for new players in any game I ran. I think Marc Miller has some, too.

  5. I bought the original three booklet set back then. It was a bit too abstract, though. Universe design was fun, in retrospect, they could have tricked it out with more background to give life to the numbers. I had all 7 or 9 booklets.

    OD&D Booklets I got only a couple of eyars back. Now I can't help thinking that Travelers format was influenced by the White Box set, and they set out to compete with it.

  6. I’d love to do a completely homebrewed Traveller campaign, with my own aliens and setting. It’s thus a constant struggle not to pick up either the little black books or the FFE reprints.

  7. I gave in and bought the FFE omnibus collection of the LBBs, partly because I couldn’t ever find my copy of High Guard and partly because I’d never owned some of the later books, like Robots.

  8. One of my very top favorite games. And while I came on board in '79 (guessing after a google search), I still wouldn't have created my own campaign universe. The Third Imperium, Spinward Marches, was everything I had ever read about in SF. It was so awesome that I haven't lost a bit of my teenage awe.

    Love this game.

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