Here is another artifact from Kilgore’s past: Book 5: High Guard
I’ve been thinking about it, and I do believe that this is the first RPG item I ever spent money on. It was purchased from Don’s Hobby in Mankato, MN, probably in November of 1982.
That summer I had picked up Understanding Traveller from the same store, being up until then more or less ignorant of role playing games other than having heard of Dungeons and Dragons.
Reading and re-reading that booklet convinced me that sci-fi role playing was where it was at, and I used the pamphlet to help in convincing my father that such a game was not nearly so corrupting as the word on the street implied. For my birthday in September, I received Deluxe Traveller, the boxed set that included Books 1-3, Book 0, and the introductory adventure The Imperial Fringe, which came with that glorious map of the Spinward Marches.
After a few months of struggling to learn the rules and then how to play an RPG, something that no one I knew had ever tried, I saved up my pennies for Book 5:
At last, extensive rules for the personnel and starships of the interstellar navies of the universe. Detailed character generation for naval characters, including the academy and medical school, and 5 new skills.
Rules for starship design, construction, and combat, with tonnages ranging to one million tons!
High Guard, created for the intersteallar naval adventurer and referee.
It sounds like great stuff, huh? And it certainly was. I spent hours and hours and hours rolling up advanced naval characters and designing fleets of warships, sometimes pitting them against each other using the new “ships of the line” styled advanced combat. At the time, I’m sure I viewed it as the best 8 or 9 dollars I had ever spent.
However, it was also within this book that I first discovered the concepts of bloat and, worse, power creep.
Suddenly, not only were Book 5 characters far more powerful in terms of skills than naval characters rolled up using the standard rules, they were more powerful than any of the characters from Book 1.
What’s the best way to get a pilot? Navy career from Book 5. How about a computer specialist? Navy career from Book 5. Air/Raft pilot? Navy career from Book 5. How about a rifleman? Why, Navy career from Book 5, of course.
Part of the problem was, of course, that I had not purchased Book 4: Mercenary yet, so the Army and Marine characters had yet to be ramped up, leaving many of my naval officers far more skilled with weapons than the professional warriors. And the advanced scouts and merchant characters had yet to be published. So we spent months playing where the only PCs were High Guard characters.
And character creation had gone, once the newness wore off, from one of the most exciting parts of the game (in Book 1) to a bit of a complicated chore.
Perhaps even worse than the mucked-up character situation was the ship design and space combat. Not that there’s anything wrong with either system, as such, but I eventually got to the point where I was no longer enjoying building new starships. For quite a while I didn’t really think a lot about it, but one day I decided to build a ship using the original rules in Book 2. And I loved the exercise.
As for the combat, simpler isn’t always better, and though the new advanced ships had a lot of cool technology that wasn’t in the original game, in retrospect the combat seemed flat. Even compared to Book 2 combat when we didn’t bother with vectors and position, the huge slugfests between two lines of massive ships just didn’t resonate like the struggle of a Type A free trader against a couple of pirate boats.
Growing a little disillusioned after a while, I bought Book 4 to “fix” the problem of navy characters being out of balance. And that was the path to doom. Our Traveller playing really fell off not long after, and it never recovered.
By that time, though, AD&D had become our main game. But it, too, would suffer from many of the same types of problems that Traveller had: ever-increasingly-powerful characters using ever-more-powerful items and skills against predictably-more-awesome enemies.
At one point I went back to Books 1-3 only, but that was tough because we had grown used to the new weapons and skills in the advanced books. And the published adventures were based on an assumption that the advanced rules would be used, making it tough to toe the basic-only line with players and with myself. I took the additional step of jettisoning the Third Imperium and going with a homegrown small-scale setting, but things sort of petered out.
In many ways, our attempt to go “back to the basics” with Traveller was the precursor to what was, effectively, an aborted personal D&D old-school renaissance in 1987. But that tale will have to be told another day.