Traveller Tuesday: The Influence of D&D

“Traveller is necessarily a framework describing the barest of essentials for an infinite universe; obviously rules which could cover every aspect of every possible action would be far larger than these three booklets. A group involved in playing a scenario or campaign can make their adventures more elaborate, more detailed, more interesting, with the input of a great deal of imagination.”

As soon as Traveller appeared on the local gaming scene, its literary roots were fairly evident. Growing up in Minneapolis, I was relatively lucky in having not one, but two science fiction specialty bookstores in town: Uncle Hugo’s SF Bookstore, and Dreamhaven Books (back then known as the Complete Enchanter). So even a cursory examination of the rules provided some clues about the background influences on the game. But the biggest influence on the structure of the game was Original D&D. The quote provided above is a direct parallel to the Afterward of The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures:

“There are unquestionably areas which have been glossed over. While we deeply regret the necessity, space requires that we put in the essentials only, and the trimming will oftimes have to be added by the referee and his players. We have attempted to furnish an ample framework, and building should be both easy and fun. In this light, we urge you to refrain from writing for rules interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way!”

There are differences in writing style, to be sure. However, this ought not disguise the very clear connection between Original D&D and Traveller. If the “three little brown booklets” defined fantasy role-playing, then the three little black booklets of Traveller defined science fiction role-playing. This parallelism between the two games shows in the break-out of the rules of Traveller:

  • Book One: Characters and Combat (D&D: Men & Magic)
  • Book Two: Starships (D&D: Monsters & Treasure)
  • Book Three: Worlds and Adventures (D&D: The Underworld and Wilderness Adventures)

To be sure, the match was not exact – but even in the most obvious case, Book Two, starships were very much a “prize” to be sought by player-characters either as a part of the character creation process or through acquisition during play. Starships could also be “monsters” in the form of hostile encounters in star systems.

But the deeper point here is that the perceptive crew at GDW did not see very much value in messing with success. Besides the parallel in structure (which I mentioned earlier), what Traveller and Original D&D had in common was a design that expected referees and players to add their own elements to the game. Put another way, the lack of background was seen as a design feature, not a “bug” or “missing part.”

What did this all mean, back in 1977? Mostly that it felt perfectly natural to sit down and randomly generate characters, build starships, and come up with worlds and adventures – just like we had been doing with D&D for several years up until that point. There wasn’t any “Third Imperium” – at this stage of creation, rather than designing sandbox fantasy realms to explore, we set forth creating sandbox star systems to explore. If that’s not “old school” I’m not sure what is.