Traveller Tuesday: 1977 Edition Starships

“Worlds orbiting the same star are accessible by inteplanetary travel, including by scheduled liners and by ship’s boats, pinnaces, cutters and even by lifeboats.  Generally, however, interplanetary travel takes long periods of time.  Since most stellar systems have only one major world, interplanetary travel is infrequently used….Worlds orbiting different stars are reached by interstellar travel, which uses the jump drive.  Once a starship moves to more than 100 planetary diameters from all worlds, it may activate its jump drive and move to another star system.  Jump drives transfer ships from one star system to another in about one week per jump.”

Starships, page 1
Traveller, 1977 Edition
It was in Book Two: Starships that Traveller departed the most from Original D&D in its formatting.  That was understandable, since spaceships and interstellar travel were the thematic core of the rules.  But here, GDW took advantage of not only existing science fiction literature, but also its own previously published spaceship rules, Triplanetary.  Published in 1973, Triplanetary was notable for Newtonian mechanics, grease pencils, and being a lot of fun to play.  Designed by Marc Miller, it had a set of ships including Corvettes, Corsairs, Frigates, Dreadnaughts (see cover of the rules booklet), Torches, and Orbital Bases. Non-combat ships included Transports, Packets (armed transport), Tankers (fuel carrier), and Liners.  These would provided inspiration for the sorts of ships that appeared later in Traveller – the “dreadnaught” would morph into the Broadsword-class mercenary cruiser.

As far as any of us could tell, back in 1977, the science fiction inspirations for Traveller clearly included Space Viking by H. Beam Piper, as well as Trader to the Stars by Poul Anderson, and others.  But one author – E.C. Tubb – whose work I had not read at the time, had also provided a great deal of direct inspiration for Traveller’s designers.  High, Middle, and Low Passage, Fast and Slow drug, all came from the Dumarest of Terra series, along with the seemingly-odd emphasis on blades and blade combat.  Keep in mind – we didn’t have a dedicated background setting, merely assumptions about how interstellar travel worked and its various hazards, including hijacking, skipping, and piracy.  I’ve always found it strange just how much effort has been put to interpret Traveller’s rules as an internally consistent worldview, when it was clear to us back in 1977 that the game was inspired by many sources and encompassed many different possibilities.

And so it was with Starship Economics that we found lots of assumptions about how things worked, naturally enough, but curiously very little embedded background (at least by today’s standards).  A quick comparison between Mongoose’s Traveller Pocket Rulebook and the original edition reveals a great deal of the Official Traveller Universe in the later version.  In both the Starship Economics and Starship Construction section, there are two “mini-games” that attracted attention.  In the former, finding cargo, passengers, paying fees, maintenance costs, and crew salaries – combined with the Trade and Commerce rules at the end of Book Two – formed the basis for a trading game that could probably have been ported right back into Original D&D.  In the latter, starship construction was the game itself.

After generating characters, starship construction was something of an obsession back in 1977.  Trying to figure out the best combination of weapons, drives, interior spaces, cargo and everything else was something that consumed hours of time.  Making modifications to the rules was also something of a cottage industry:

  • Halving fuel consumption from 10% of ship’s mass per jump number to 5% became a “club standard” at the Golden Brigade.
  • Various kinds of defensive energy screens were attempted.  These were somewhat controversial, since they smacked of “handwavium” and Star Trek.
  • ECM, counter-missiles, and other augmentations to the ordinance section were also attempted.  These were rooted in the wargaming interests of many gamers at the time – but playing Fletcher Pratt’s Naval Wargame in space was also something more than most of us wanted to do.
  • Building bigger ships was also a major area of endeavor.  Since Star Wars had just come out there was naturally interest in building really BIG ships (like Star Destroyer or Death Star-sized).  But Traveller’s ships topped out at 5000 tons, so devising rules for bigger ships was hotly debated.

As for starship combat, I don’t recall a lot of games where the actual combat was run as a miniatures game, as suggested in second half of Book Two.  We tended to run ship combat as an abstracted game, with descriptions of distances and hazards substituting for actually moving counters around on a game table.  (I have to admit to wanting to try out the ship combat rules again, if only for their own sake, and to see how they would’ve worked.  That may form the basis for another Traveller Tuesday.)

Next Tuesday: Experience – the Anti-D&D

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Previous: 1977 Edition Characters
Previous: Our original inspiration 
Previous: The influence of OD&D 
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4 thoughts on “Traveller Tuesday: 1977 Edition Starships

  1. Actually, the Traveller trade system was ported into D&D… if you look in the D&D Gazetteer series, the land and sea trade rules really are a variant of the Traveller trade system.


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