MegaTraveller As a Resource For Classic Traveller

MegaTraveller is an awkward goof in the history of Traveller. On paper, the idea of a fresh new edition of the game which gathered together the cream of the crop from various disparate supplements and accessories in order to provide a brand new unified version of the rules – complete with, at last, a universal task resolution system, something vanilla Traveller had been sorely lacking – was a good one.

Unfortunately, slightly too much of MegaTraveller involved just slopping on the advanced options from Classic Traveller without much consideration as to how likely it was any particular group wanted all these dials turned up to 11 at once. Moreover, the core books are absolutely riddled with errata; the Consolidated MegaTraveller Errata is some 71 pages long, and of those pages 4 consist of explanatory material at the start, 48 consist of errata for the MegaTraveller core books, and the remaining 19 pages cover errata for some 11 supplemental products – coming to less than 2 pages per supplement on average, whilst the MegaTraveller core set has an average of 16 pages of errata per book therein.

Now, it’s true that some of this errata consists of clarifications and additions rather than actual errors – and a few of the corrections already made their way into later printing of the materials. Still, it’s clear that the task of actually implementing all of this errata to the entirety of MegaTraveller, even if you limited yourself to just the core books, would be a mammoth undertaking and, arguably, not really worth the effort – especially when the Classic Traveller material that MegaTraveller was based on (or the Mongoose Traveller stuff that came out later) is more accessible and much more amenable to letting you pick and choose what to use.

That said, what scope is there for using MegaTraveller not as a rules set in itself, but as a body of work to draw on for other Traveller games, particularly Classic Traveller or other systems closely related to it? I decided that was a question interesting enough to merit further investigation, particularly since some of the MegaTraveller materials out there is substantially cheaper to find hard copies of than the Classic Traveller material it draws on.

Players’ Manual

The main things you might want to take from here is the task resolution system and the character generation stuff. The actual explanation of the task resolution system isn’t that bad, with the only errata being mild issues with one of the examples (although it still yields a perfectly serviceable task profile). This is particularly useful for interpreting other MegaTraveller material in light of whichever Traveller version you are drawing on.

As far as character generation goes, the book offers basic character generation rules for all the careers from core Traveller and Supplement 4: Citizens of the Imperium (aside from core Traveller‘s “Other” career, which the Citizens careers make kind of redundant). It also rehashes the advanced character creation system that Classic Traveller‘s supplemental books offered for different careers, like how Book 6: Scouts fleshed out the Scout career.

Now, let’s not mince words: Citizens of the Imperium was an absolutely brilliant addition to Classic Traveller, greatly increasing the range of character career options available in the game. The martial slant to most of the careers in the core LBBs tend to lend themselves to a military/action-oriented take on the game, with exploration and trade getting some mild representation but the implicit assumption being that most PCs will be military veterans. The careers in Citizens of the Imperium include scientists, diplomats, pirates, asteroid miners and a swathe of other concepts, which in turn helps broaden the assumed action of Traveller – it makes it more open to games based around social skills or around hard science.

Classic Traveller plus Citizens of the Imperium in my mind actually ties with 1E Mongoose Traveller for my favourite edition of the game. Mongoose’s character generation progress yields characters with more skills and takes somewhat longer, so to my mind it really comes down to whether for a particular game you want fast character generation and a setup where getting even 1 point in a skill is a big fucking deal, or slower character generation where you get more skills.

A one-stop book incorporating all the Classic Traveller careers would be a handy tool for such a campaign, though there’s some errata scattered among the MegaTraveller basic character generation tables – and it also bogs down the character generation process by adding a step where everyone rolls up their own homeworld, and I’m inclined to say that it if you want that wrinkle you may as well be using Mongoose Traveller to make your character. That said, MegaTraveller does include one new class in its tables which wasn’t in Citizens – Law Enforcer – and it should be simple enough to use the MegaTraveller tables and the Classic Traveller character creation process to get Law Enforcers for your Classic game.

Meanwhile, the big problem with the advanced character creation system as introduced in Book 4: Mercenary is that it does not yield characters on the same scale as those produced using the standard character creation system – they tend to have more skills and whatnot. This is not an issue if everyone in the party was produced through the advanced generation system – so you went with an all-Navy party using the High Guard creation rules, or used more books from the line to have a wider range of advanced characters. It is, however, clearly a problem if you have a mixed party of basic-style and advanced-style characters.

This becomes a huge problem when you try to integrate this into a game using the Citizens of the Imperium careers, because advanced versions of those were never produced… and MegaTraveller doesn’t provide them either. As such, even if you had the patience to apply errata to the character generation systems there, there’s still no solution to that problem.

Referee’s Manual

The main thing I am personally interested in lifting from this is the extended star system generation process, which is basically a reprint (with some errata, reasonably easy to apply) of the star system generation process from Book 6: Scouts. Whereas Citizens of the Imperium in physical format remains relatively easy to find, Scouts is trickier, so having a hard copy of this system is quite nice. I wouldn’t use it for every star system the characters go to – particularly if it’s only for a quick visit – but if I wanted to come up with plausible-sounding astronomical data for it on the fly, or if I wanted to drill down and develop a system further it’d be quite useful – either to go full random or, if I already have a firm idea of what I want, of what parameters I need to make that idea work.

Imperial Encyclopedia

A good chunk of the errata on this one seems to relate to starship stats, due to errors in the MegaTraveller ship creation system, and since I have no interesting in going beyond the basic Classic Traveller ship creation system that’s no biggie.

The main value I’d find here is a one-book offering of the famous Library Data – the encyclopedia entries, originally appearing in various adventures and issues of the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society, which were eventually compiled for Classic in the supplements Library Data (A-M) and Library Data (N-Z). The Library Data here is largely a straight reprint of those, updated a bit for the Rebellion timeline, though since the majority don’t relate to the Rebellion one way or another it’s still perfectly easy to rewind the clock on those that do. For the purposes of adventuring in the Official Traveller Universe, this is a great compilation of the core setting canon.

Rebellion Sourcebook

This isn’t in the MegaTraveller core book, but is arguably a crucial reference for the MegaTraveller setting. Aside from some ship designs which carry over errors from the ship design system, it’s gratifyingly errata-light, since great swathes of it consist of pure setting information, no system details given.

That setting material not only gives an account of how the Rebellion kicked off and how it unfolded over the next few years, over which time its various major factions became solidified, but also gives proper profiles of each of those factions, explains the role of naval, army, and espionage forces in interstellar conflict, and explains how each faction can lay claim to a segment of the Imperium in the immediate vicinity of their strongholds but rapidly lose authority outside of those spheres of influence, such that much of the Imperium is hotly contested no-man’s-land.

On one level, this is an intriguing bit of science fiction worldbuilding. Prior to this, GDW had put out that Library Data I mentioned earlier and had done bits of worldbuilding through adventures and Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society articles. I believe that this, however, is the first time GDW had given over an entire book to an in-depth examination of matters relating to the Imperium. (The closest earlier analogues I can think of are the various Alien Modules from the Classic Traveller days, but by definition those were about non-Imperial cultures.)

As far as interesting bits of setting construction go, I quite like the idea here that the real crucial front in the war is cracking the problem of gaining and holding control of the populations of High Population worlds. Such worlds have sufficient numbers of bodies that nobody can control them without the backing of the population, or at least not usefully – you can occupy then to deny them to the enemy, but that’ll take more resources than the world gives you, so they’ll be a net resource sink rather than the eager source of resources and personnel that they could be. Apparently, the various intelligence apparatuses of the Rebellion factions are all eagerly researching ways to sway High Population worlds the direction they want (which I think, given the retro-hard-SF leanings of Traveller, means that they’re developing a weaponised version of Asimov-style psychohistory).

Perhaps the more important thing the Rebellion Sourcebook accomplishes for me is that it left me with an idea of how to make the Rebellion a feature of a Traveller game. I still maintain that your typical Traveller campaign will never range so far across the Imperium as to allow the PCs to encounter more than a fraction of the Rebellion factions – the Imperium is really absurdly big – but the book crucially gives you an idea of what each faction is like and what goes on at the front lines of the conflict. The latter gives you various ideas for adventure, ranging from the martial to the espionage-based, which is good because the odds of player characters being in a position to seriously sway the Rebellion are remote but the odds of them being hired as agents for the local faction (or the local faction’s enemy factions!). The former allows you to make a reasoned choice as to where you set your Rebellion-era campaign.

In a nice touch, the Spinward Marches – which had always been the main focus of Classic Traveller – are out at the Imperial periphery and strongly held by the faction of Norris, Archduke of Deneb and long-standing governor of the sector and its immediate Imperial neighbourhood, and his policy is “We are loyal to the Imperium as an institution, we are not going to give direct support to any of the declared candidates for Emperor”. Norris is basically trying to run the Marches in a manner maintaining the status quo, and it’s an independent enough frontier that it doesn’t rely on imports from other sectors to sustain itself, so much Classic Traveller material pertaining to the Marches can be run in the Rebellion era without issues. At the same time, the Rebellion Sourcebook does a good job of showing how even in such a campaign the action of the Rebellion can add extra spice to the setting, and in general I feel like the Rebellion era might have just become my favourite period of the official Traveller universe. I don’t think it needs to have finished the way it did in canon – I’d be more interested in a future history where most of the factions settle down to become stable successor states in the wake of the feuding personalities that sparked the Rebellion dying off. Nonetheless, I think the Rebellion period is great for shaking up the Imperium and making it seem much less boringly monolithic and stagnant, with each faction in effect adding instant flavour to its regions.

Referee’s Companion

This is a grab-bag of stuff that didn’t make it into the core set, which usefully means that it escapes most of the errata that made its way into the core set. Much of the material here is actually highly useful either as a clarification on and expansion of stuff you already know from the core (you get a very useful discussion of tech levels and greatly expanded discussion of some of the more significant non-Imperium civilisations, for instance, and a detailed explanation of how in-system operations work) and useful new stuff (rules for robots, rules for resolving large-scale combats, details of the Imperial Calendar and tools for timekeeping). Much of this material can happily spice up a Classic Traveller campaign as-is.

World Builder’s Handbook

This is one of a set of third party supplements put out for MegaTraveller by Digest Group Publications, and the bargain I got it for was an absolute steal. See, DGP books command silly money these days, because after the company went bust their IP ended up in the hands of Roger Sanger. For whatever reason, Sanger and Marc Miller have been unable to reach an agreement on making the material available again – to an extent that Miller has required future Traveller licensees to keep a wide berth around DGP material (it’s apparently still regarded as canonical, but Miller doesn’t want people touching stuff originating in DGP supplements).

The rumour I recall hearing is that Sanger, having perhaps paid over the odds for the DGP material, has gotten into the old trap of refusing to contemplate any deal unless it covers his original investment and gives him a decent return on it, regardless of how realistic a prospect that is in the current RPG market. The end result: Sanger demands a ridiculous amount of money for the IP and simultaneously won’t rerelease the stuff himself, leaving the DGP material on ice. Either way, whilst other Traveller third-party licences seem to have allowed Marc Miller to claw back the IP and rerelease some third-party products, the same doesn’t seem to have been true of the old DGP licence.

The situation is particularly unfortunate given that, in their time, DGP were a top-tier third party licensee who worked closely with GDW, and were particularly important to the MegaTraveller era. In fact, despite the fact that the design of MegaTraveller is credited to Marc Miller and various other GDW stalwarts, at the same time that’s largely because it’s a compilation and revision of materials originally designed by them; in fact, the actual text of MegaTraveller was prepared by DGP. This deal was supposed to allow GDW to meet the constant demand for new and updated Traveller material without GDW themselves actually expending a lot of time and energy on doing so, since GDW’s designers were now more interested in newer projects like 2300 AD or Twilight: 2000.

Unfortunately, a software incompatibility between the word processing and DTP tools used by DGP and those used by GDW meant that extensive amounts of the text in the core MegaTraveller set need to be tweaked and re-laid out, which is a big reason so much errata got in there. However, the upside of this is that DGP had the MegaTraveller house “style” down pat – because it was their own – and their own products, as well as having way less errata than the core set, sit nicely next to official GDW MegaTraveller material of the same vintage.

As far as utility in a Classic Traveller game goes, World Builder’s Handbook is especially useful because it’s essentially a compiled and updated rerelease of two old Traveller supplements made by DGP – Grand Survey and Grand Census. As well as giving even more details on the work of the Imperial Scouts than GDW’s own Scouts supplement did, the Handbook drills down deep on the physical (Grand Survey) and social (Grand Census) geography of a world, helping you either randomise or select specifics on these in even greater detail than the core rules and the expanded Scouts star system generation system allows for. I like it a lot because whilst it would be burdensome to apply this system to every system you use in a game, it’s a great aid to help spur the imagination and allow you to drill down further if you need further detail on a particular aspect of a world – or if you want to fully develop a world which the PCs are going to be spending an extended amount of time visiting.

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