Kilgore on January 11th, 2017

Possibly the best birthday gift I ever received. Definitely one of the most influential.

Deluxe Traveller

Deluxe Traveller


Kilgore on December 31st, 2011

I’ve been working on a sector generator for Traveller using Microsoft Excel. I think I’ve got it worked out.

This is just the dice rolling, not the mapping. I’ll do that using Hexographer and a modified form of the system used in the classic Spinward Marches map.

The formulas are per the revised versions of the Little Black Books, except that Hydrographics is [2D-7+Atmosphere] instead of [2D-7+Size]. The latter seems to be errata, though I believe that some versions continue to use it.

I believe the formulas to be correct, but I’ll have to do some more checking. For instance, one world (sector hex 1217) came up with a Tech Level of ‘H’. Not sure if that’s correct or the result of an error on my part in one of the formulas in the spreadsheet.

The letter (A-P) before the first hex ID is the subsector. ‘N’, ‘S’, and ‘G’ indicate naval bases, scout bases, and gas giants, respectively. The hex ID before the trade classifications is the hex on the sector map.

Each refresh regenerates t entire sector and takes less than one second. Here is a sample:
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Kilgore on July 6th, 2011

So, though my gaming has been pretty sparse of late, I’ve been on a bit of a Traveller kick. (Books 1-3, no Third Imperium, thankyouverymuch) Traveller was, actually, the first RPG I every owned, played, or spent money on. And it was all kicked off by Understanding Traveller.

In fact, I’ve gone and pretty much completed a project I worked on back in 2004 and 2005: creating my own compiled Classic Traveller rules. My plan back then was to put together an nearly-exact duplicate of the Little Black Books, then modify them with various house rules and a few expansions such as Supplement 4, Mayday, and Snapshot. I got quite a ways through it before running out of time and steam, and the files have sat untouched for over half a decade. But a couple of months ago I “dusted them off” and have pretty much finished up.

My plan now is to go straight into “Kilgore’s version” of the game, but that version will be very close to Books 1-3 plus Supplement 4. No Snapshot. No Mayday. Virtually no house rules. (Though I do plan to use the range band starship combat from Starter Traveller instead of the Book 2 vector system.)

One thing I am going to add, though, is some sort of robot rule system. But after looking at Book 8, the rules in the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, and even those in Dragon Magazine #64. Heck, I even checked MegaTraveller. But none of those appear to be what I’m looking for. They’re all too complex and don’t really seem to “fit” well with Book 1-3 Classic Traveller where you can design whole starships with only a few pages of rules and tables.

I’m thinking that a few pages of rules which interact with the character rules sounds about right, making robots a special sort of NPC and not really an entire system unto themselves. But maybe I’m off base.

What do other Traveller players do for robots?


Kilgore on July 16th, 2010

This post over at Dungeons & Digressions reminded me that I wanted to look into an old text computer game I used to play quite a bit called Star Merchant. The BASIC program was available in a 1981 issue of Creative Computing magazine.

My uncle typed it in to a big honking Texas Instruments computer and we had hours and hours of entertainment. Basically, you travel from starport to starport, buying and selling cargo in hopes of making a profit.

Star Merchant Screen Shot

Star Merchant Screen Shot (click to enlarge)

I haven’t looked at the code in 30 years, but it sure appears to be a nearly straight rip of the Trade and Speculation rules from classic Traveller. A few cargoes have been replaced, otherwise it looks and acts pretty much the same.

The speculation rules are one of the “mini games” within Traveller that, like the character creation rules, made that system so enjoyable.

You can download a Windows version of the computer game here and try it out if interested. It works just like I remember it, though the crew does seem a little easier to please. I seem to recall that most games ended when the crew went on strike continuously. As in, it was a constant stream of strikes and you could not do anything else. I also do not remember hull damage in the version we played back in the day, but I just might be forgetting.

The key is your first two or three cargoes. If you don’t get good options, you’re pretty much out of luck. If you can do well in your first couple of jumps, you should be able to keep going for quite a while.

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Kilgore on June 17th, 2009

Here is another artifact from Kilgore’s past: Book 5: High Guard

Kilgore's battered but spaceworthy <b>Book 5: High Guard</b> for Traveller

Kilgore's battered but spaceworthy
Book 5: High Guard
for Traveller

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.

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Kilgore on April 28th, 2009

Though I’ve been pretty much absorbed in Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry of late, I do intend to eventually make a grand return to classic Traveller, as well. I got my RPG career started with the game, and I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for it, particularly the pre-Book 4 version.



In fact, now that I think about it, it was with Traveller that I first had the “gee, isn’t all of this getting to be a bit much?” feeling about stat, power, and complexity creep. Hmm. Interesting.

Anyway, while getting the link to Far Future Enterprises to add to this site’s sidebar, I discovered that they have a full PDF of Understanding Traveller online. It seems to be either a later printing or a FFE-special version of the old booklet that got Kilgore started, but the actual content seems to be the same.

I think this pamphlet was a ingenious way to market the game and introduce some of the concepts of role-playing. In particular, the Playing Traveller section, with a list of 14 ways to get started using the game, was brilliant. Well, at least it worked on me when I was about 12.

And that image of the guy in the vacc suit with a laser carbine should be enough to get anyone to want to play.


Kilgore on April 3rd, 2009

Though I haven’t written much about it, I got my start in RPGs with Traveller. Even after the D&D bug bit (and bit hard) I retained a very soft spot for Science-Fiction Adventure in the Far Future.

This image, an artist’s impression of a planet discovered while studying archives of Hubbell Space Telescope data, makes me want to fire up a good old Type S Scout/Courier and go check the place out.

Click for bigger version

Good stuff.


Kilgore on March 14th, 2009

Jeff Rients posted two sci-fi fragments last night, the second of which was pulled from this:

Kilgore's <b>Understanding Traveller</b> by GDW

Kilgore's Understanding Traveller by GDW

This 16-page (counting front and back cover) pamphlet is the single most important item from my gaming career, because without it I may never have had a gaming career.

One afternoon I was at Don’s Hobby in Mankato, Minnesota, browsing through plastic model kits of warships. This is the sort of thing I did in 1978-1982, and I loved it. Don’s Hobby was great, because it had more ship kits than any store I had ever been in and it also carried model rockets, another hobby of mine. In addition, a magazine rack farther back in the store carried ‘Sea Power’ magazine, and I would spend a great deal of my free time on hot summer days thumbing through the pages of the magazines that I couldn’t afford to buy. (Which was nearly all of them ever.)

Back by the magazine rack were shelves filled with all sorts of weird books and games, and one of the most prominent was filled with a variety of little black books for something called ‘Traveller.’ Now, besides warships and rockets I sure dug sci-fi, and since Traveller was billed as “Science Fiction Adventure in the Far Future”, I picked up a couple of the books and flipped through them. One of them was a thin one called ‘Understanding Traveller’, and it explained the concept of role-playing games in general and Traveller specifically. A drawing of a guy in a vacc suit with what I would later learn was a laser carbine was on page 3, and I was hooked.

Despite the clearly printed FREE on the cover, I distinctly remember walking up to the counter (on those creaky hardwood floors at Don’s) and asking if the booklet was free. It was, of course, and I spent weeks reading and re-reading it. Off of this, I ended up with Traveller as a birthday present.

Several months later, I introduced the game to a friend back from his first year in college, and he returned the favor by introducing us to AD&D.

I didn’t build very many more model ships or model rockets after that birthday.

The image here is of the very booklet that I took home that day in 1982. The crease down the middle is from where I folded it in half to stick in my back pocket so I could bike back to my mom’s place. Every once in a while I get it out and read through it.

Talk about an artifact or relic of the Ancients.