After reading James Maliszewski's post on Grognardia this morning about Traveller Book 4: Mercenary, I've had Traveller on my mind all day. While I never got to play Traveller as often as I would have liked I did spend an awful lot of time lying on my bed listening to Electric Light Orchestra on my 8-track player and reading my collection of Traveller books. It's funny how music can become so closely linked with certain times and events in our lives. To this day, I can't listen to a track from ELO's Time album without looking around for a Traveller book.
Although I didn't play a lot of Traveller, I did play in a campaign run by my best friend that remains one of my favourite role playing experiences to this day. All the other players had uber-characters generated using the rules from Mercenary and were fully kitted-out with battle-dress and plasma rifles. They were bad-ass. Not me, though. My character inspiration came less from space opera than from spaghetti western, and I was playing a far less impressive character from Book One: a Jack-of-all-Trades who owned nothing more than a leather jacket, a 9 mm slug-thrower, a boot knife, a pack of smokes, and a bad attitude. I can't remember the character's name, which is appropriate since he was largely inspired by Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name.
Having missed the first session of the campaign, I was introduced to the action in media res and found myself swept up in a situation beyond my control; an unwilling participant in a raid on an Imperial penal colony to free some political prisoners. Now, here's the funny thing: my character - the lame duck amid a group of highly skilled and well-equipped killing machines - was the only one to survive the mission. In many ways, I think it was the superior prowess of the other characters that got them killed. Where the other players charged head-long into battle with Imperial guards, I desperately tried to avoid notice. When our party was trapped in a cell, I used my boot knife to pry the hatch off a ventilator shaft and squeeze into a crawlspace that none of the others in their battle armour could fit into. Meanwhile, a dumb-ass with a plasma rifle tried to blast the door open, and the ricochet ended up killing half the party. So I guess the lesson here is that it's not the size of your skill list that's important - it's how you use it that counts. Smart and careful play always trumps an awesome character sheet, which is the lesson that old-school play has driven home for so many of us. So even though the characters from Books 4 & 5: Mercenary and High Guard were over-powered compared to those from the original books it didn't seem to make much difference in their effectiveness, and I always stuck with my Jack-of-all-Trades, leaving the retired fleet admirals and such to the other guys. And he remains one of the best characters I've ever played.
Now, let's set our time machines back to 1981 courtesy of Youtube. Where are those Traveller books?
Welcome Back to the Labyrinth
"We have been away far too long, my friends," Ashoka declared, his face lit by the eldritch green glow of his staff. "But we have finally returned to the labyrinth whence our adventures first began."
"Just imagine the treasures that lie within," said Yun Tai, flexing his mighty muscles. "Wealth enough to live in luxury the rest of our days."
"And arcane artifacts of great power," added Ashoka his words dripping with avarice. "All ours for the taking!"
"Umm...guys?" Nysa interrupted. "Do you hear something dripping?"