What’s Traveller? An introduction to the sci-fi tabletop RPG that inspired Starfield

From Baldur’s Gate 3’s revival of the legendary Dungeons & Dragons collection to Warhammer’s fantasy soccer spin-off returning in Blood Bowl 3, 2023 seems to be to be a 12 months outlined by video video games rooted in basic tabletop video games each explicitly and extra not directly – and Bethesda’s sci-fi journey Starfield can be no totally different.

Starfield inventive director Todd Howard overtly cited the affect of tabletop RPG Traveller on the hotly-anticipated launch final October, saying that the upcoming online game is “hearkening again to these outdated roleplaying video games that we beloved”. There’s an particularly private connection for Howard too, as he recalled programming a Traveller recreation for the Apple II pc as certainly one of his earliest coding initiatives.

In terms of outdated roleplaying video games, there are few older than Traveller. Launched in 1977, only some years after Dungeons & Dragons revolutionised tabletop roleplaying, the sci-fi RPG has developed over no fewer than a dozen editions within the final 40-plus years, altering palms alongside the best way from unique creator Recreation Designers’ Workshop to current-day studio Mongoose Publishing.

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The sport has additionally jumped between totally different gameplay techniques, with the 1977 recreation’s reliance on two six-sided cube being changed quickly by the d20 acquainted from Dungeons & Dragons – D&D writer Wizards of the Coast itself launched a Traveller D20 within the early noughties – and seeing a spin-off for setting-agnostic system GURPS earlier than returning to its unique guidelines for Mongoose’s newest version.

Among the many parts that made Traveller so distinctive on the time of its launch – and nonetheless held up as top-of-the-line sci-fi RPGs as we speak – is its narrative strategy to character creation. In distinction to D&D’s use of inflexible lessons to outline characters’ expertise and skills, Traveller makes use of a lifepath system that simulates a personality’s previous expertise.


This lifepath system works like a mini-game in its personal proper, with gamers selecting a profession for his or her character – sometimes a army path, or life as a service provider – earlier than rolling to see what successes and mishaps they encountered of their previous. This defines their beginning gear, cash and extra. Within the harshest of instances, characters in basic Traveller may even die throughout character creation.

As a substitute of getting standard ranges hit with a specific amount of generic expertise factors, characters’ development in Traveller is tracked by their enchancment in particular person expertise, which could be improved by partaking in particular coaching. Attaining larger ranges in expertise requires longer coaching, making it a gradual course of – however one that may repay with highly effective character builds. This affect can arguably be seen already in previous Bethesda video games like Skyrim, the place truly utilizing expertise is required to enhance your character’s capacity in them. Relatively than talent development being the one focus in Traveller, characters additionally enhance by acquiring improved gear, cash and social standing, which places them in a safer place within the huge universe.

One other key affect that Traveller may have on Starfield is its depiction of a sci-fi setting that hews just a little nearer to what the long run may truly appear like, moderately than a extra fantastical interpretation. In acknowledging the RPG’s inspiration, Howard famous that “Traveller has just a little extra ‘laborious’ science-fiction” – utilizing the time period sometimes used to point sci-fi rooted in real-life science and expertise, even when it is with a forward-looking optimism.

Whereas Traveller does embody some extra out-there concepts – comparable to psionics and telepathic powers – the universe additionally grounds itself with life like guidelines such because the impact of Newtonian psychics on ships throughout house fight and the presence of extra conventional firearms within the place of rayguns or blasters. Howard has beforehand confirmed that ship fight in Starfield would require gamers to handle techniques comparable to shields, energy output and weapons, including to the sense of a extra simulationist-flavoured expertise.

How deep Traveller’s affect on Starfield runs stays to be seen, however early seems to be on the recreation already trace at an journey that will really feel very acquainted to followers of basic sci-fi roleplaying. It might be that Howard has lastly managed to craft his love letter to the tabletop RPG in any case these years.

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