One of the points made by the "Traveller out of the box" blog series is that there isn't actually all that much science fiction present in the original traveller rulebooks. There's FTL travel, one of the skills implies the existence of anti-gravity tech, and there's a "laser carbine" mixed in among the revolvers and shotguns on the short list of personal weapons. And that's it. No aliens, no robots, no cybernetics, and even the method of FTL travel is crude, slow and short-legged.
CK! argues that this is deliberate, and the reason is that the game doesn't want to get in the way of the players' own worldbuilding. Like OD&D and other first-generation RPGs from the 70s, Traveller originally assumed players would want to create their own settings. It offered a baseline upon which each group could build whatever they wanted.
In this post, I want to begin doing that for my own campaign's setting. And I invite readers to join in in the comments--if you were playing in this campaign, what would you like to include? What would you exclude?
Rule Zero: one of the other principles of OOB Traveller is that the game is set in a frontier region far from the center of interstellar civilization. Just because something isn't available in the setting, it doesn't mean it's impossible or doesn't exist back in the nice parts of the galaxy. Rather like how the latest conveniences of Victorian London wouldn't be found at a trading outpost in the Australian outback.
Jump Drive: let's begin with the one tech assumption baked into the rules. FTL travel is slow and short-legged, the need to refuel after every jump forces traffic along specific routes (in contrast to the go-any-direction nature of Star Trek's warp drive), and there is no FTL communication. The goal of these design choices is to justify a setting where planets can have wildly different cultures, environments, and even tech levels, and little in the way of interstellar law enforcement or higher authority to limit the PCs' actions. I'll keep the following baseline details:
- jump range is equal to the jump drive's rating in hexes (although a hex will no longer equal one parsec; see below)
- no change to fuel costs, port fees and maintenance costs
- refined fuel is only available at A and B starports; unrefined fuel can be skimmed for free from gas giants or planets with water but run the usual risks of misjump or drive damage
- no onboard fuel purification
- a jump takes one week regardless of the distance traveled (but see below)
- jump rating 4 is the maximum possible with current technology. Furthermore, J3 and 4 ships are only affordable to government, military, and megacorporate buyers back in civilization, and are very rare in the local region.
- one hex on the map no longer equals one parsec exactly. Linear distance in sidereal space is abstracted (this takes care of the 2D map problem). I'm going to steal a nice bit from the otherwise mediocre libiot-milSF novel The Disinherited: the curve of spacetime inplies a circle. Instead of traveling in a straight line from the origin world to the destination, starships "jump" to a point around the curve.
- While jumps still take one week in the sidereal universe, from the perspective of those aboard ship a jump is instantaneous. This leads to tension between frequent space travelers and planet-dwellers, who seem to age at different rates.
- Because jumps no longer involve linear travel, jump masking does not exist.
- Ships must orient themselves relative to the particular arc they are going to jump, therefore an outside observer can determine their destination.
- Ships carry their velocity across a jump; they arrive traveling at the same speed as when they jumped.
- I'm stealing this one from RPG.net user wapa: ships lose waste heat in a jump, so an arriving ship does not have any infrared signature. The PCs can arrive undetected, and likewise cannot detect other arrivals (unless the observer is within radar range of the arriving ship).
- Sublight drives DO produce a detectable heat signature, but because velocity is carried across a jump, ships can do their acceleration before jumping (or behind a planet/moon/asteroid or against the backdrop of a sun) and then shut down their drive to coast undetected.
Tensions and iniquities also make a setting more gameable. After all, if society was prosperous and justly governed, then why are the PCs adventurers instead of living in a nice home somewhere? They need an unequal, unfair society and a lack of other nicer, more respectable life choices to explain what they're doing. This is why OOB Traveller (and the stories it drew from, like Dumarest of Terra, Dune, etc) has stratified social classes, rule by feuding nobles, a high mortality rate for travel via low passage, and other crapsack setting elements.
I originally toyed with the idea of instantaneous jumps during an earlier Traveller kick, but at the time I was tied to the official Third Imperium setting and didn't want to mess with the canon that much. But now I have no canon to worry about, and the added bonus that different aging rates add another tension to the setting. From the planet-dwellers' perspective, travellers seem unfairly long-lived. "They stay young while we get old." That's bound to breed some resentment. But it's unfair for the travellers too, because they aren't actually living any longer. They age at the same rate, they just keep taking one-week time travel trips to the future. And the more someone travels and the more their sidereal and elapsed age diverge, the more it takes a toll on friendships, romantic relationships, and professional ties.
I orginally meant to tackle other elements in this post as well, including aliens, communications tech and cybernetics. But it's already a long post and I've already spent three days on it, so I'll add those later.