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Foundational Description of Traveller

"This piece was created as a foundational description of Traveller, its features and benefits. Constructive criticism is sincerely invited." -Marc Miller


Traveller is a comprehensive science-fiction future with its origins in the distant past. Fundamental to the Traveller concept are answers to myriad questions about life, society, and civilization in the universe. Yet everything is part of a cohesive structure that gradually unveils itself to the participants and to observers (whether they be readers, viewers, or players).

Traveller describes a vast future universe in which mankind has already reached the stars and conquered thousands of worlds, but still faces the never-ending struggle to conquer more worlds and wrest more secrets from the universe.


Traveller is founded on the sciences: technological science and social science. Each adds realism to the system_s universe while enhancing its adventure potential.


The technological basis for Traveller provides a common ground from which all extrapolations and story ideas can spring.

The Jump Drive. The secret of interstellar travel is the jump drive. While in normal space, travel is limited to the speed of light (and it takes years to go from one star to another), jump drive leaps around space: a jump covers one parsec (3.26 light years; the average distance between stars) in about a week. Improved ships can reach speeds of more than 1,000 times the speed of light.

Communication Limited To the Speed of Transportation. But the universe is so vast that even the mega-speeds of jump drive can_t work miracles. No one has yet (or ever) invented a hyper communicator that will send messages faster than light -speed. Communication is limited to the speed of transportation; a message to the edge of the empire needs to be carried there. For an empire 300 parsecs to the border that message takes more than a year to deliver, even under the best of circumstances. News of war, conflict, invasion, disaster, or even peace takes just as long to get back to the center of government.

Gravity Manipulation. The advance of technology has resulted in practical methods of gravity manipulation. Gravity manipulation expresses itself in three ways: as artificial gravity, as inertial dampers, and as thrusters. Artificial gravity is built into the deck plates of starships, rendering a natural environment most like that of a planet surface. Inertial dampers eliminate the extremes of inertia that can pull and push people and equipment as it maneuvers. Although such dampers are imperfect, they do allow a normal environment on starships as they maneuver, and they allow extreme physical maneuvers on small craft as they perform high-G maneuvers.

Thrusters are the final aspects of gravity manipulation: they move vehicles forward without the necessity of reaction mass (as required for rockets). Thrusters work like rockets, but without the requirements for large amounts of rocket fuel.

Fusion Power. Cheap fusion power means that the inhabitants of this universe are not tied to gas stations or complex fuel systems. Hydrogen taken from water, ice, even the methane of gas giants like Jupiter is all that is required to produce abundant electricity. Once a culture rises to the minimum required tech level, its cities depend on electricity produced by efficient, pollution free fusion power. Starships draw their fuel from the worlds they visit.


The social sciences add a characteristic flavor to this universe by emphasizing the effects of the social sciences on societies in the universe. Psychology, sociology, anthropology, history, and economics all impact the activities of the people and the stories of this universe.

A Cosmopolitan Universe. Traveller is a diverse, heterogeneous universe composed of many different factions, concepts, races, communities, and individuals. People (and the term is used to refer to "beings") come in many different forms, all of whom constantly interact as a matter of course. Naturally, there is conflict, antagonism, friction, and strife between various groups, but the universe itself allows any with talent to rise to the top.

A Human Dominated Universe. Through a combination of fortuitous accident and strong-willed effort, humanity has reached a position of dominance in the universe. Three distinct groups of humans (the Vilani, the Solomani, and the Zhodani) have each created empires that span thousands of stars and trillions of citizens. In addition, more than a hundred additional human societies scattered among the stars; each is, in its own way, a commentary on the strengths and the particular weaknesses of the human condition.

Duty, Honor, and Loyalty. Naturally (see: Communication Limited To The

Speed Of Transportation), interstellar society values people (human or not) on whom it can depend: those who are loyal and who faithfully do their duty are the ones to whom society awards responsibility. A natural nobility arises of those leaders of society who faithfully and with innovation follow the orders of their superiors. At the same time, superiors have learned to express their orders in the most general of terms: to give greater freedom of action.

There Is No "Prime Directive." Interstellar governments have never felt it their duty to impede development, especially economic development. As a result, no government has ever promulgated the "Prime Directive_ (that undeveloped cultures and societies be allowed to develop without interference until they can enter the community of interstellar civilizations). Instead, economic forces have driven the development of those worlds rich in natural or exploitable resources, and have retarded the development of worlds without resources.

Everything Is Driven By Economics. Regardless of the pronouncements of political, moral, or cultural leaders, action in this universe takes place because it will produce some economic advantage. Economic advantage generally means rewards in a monetary sense, but it can also mean rewards in political or social power. But at the foundation of all action is economics.

Wheels Within Wheels. The quest for meaning is always fruitful in the Traveller universe. Environments shape events, ideas, concepts, and beliefs, but they are also shaped by the thinkers themselves. And as those thinkers (be they readers, players, or viewers) learn and mature, they begin to have new insights into their beliefs. For example, the uninformed consider the Zhodani (an human race with some ability in psionics) an evil empire intent on destroying the Imperium. Only with time is it possible to see these Zhodani as humans with families, goals and desires just like other humans. And only with time is it possible to see that some Zhodani are evil. In the Traveller system, Wheels within Wheels constantly shows new ideas and new facets of old ideas to the participants.


Above all, this universe is filled with adventure. Individuals can own starships and travel on their own to distant worlds. Individuals can undertake literally world-shattering missions whose results depend on their personal courage and resources. Individuals are the keys to discovery, progress, and the turning points in history.

The Traveller system addresses adventure through three specific areas: Casual Players. Any role-player can play Traveller. The concepts are intuitive: combat, travel, tasks. Individuals can role-play diverse characters or they can play themselves.

Detailed Role-Players. Traveller provides dedicated gamers the opportunity to role-play complex characters with strong motivations and intricate backgrounds. The Traveller system can be as casual or as rich as the participants want it to be.

Systems Engineers. The Traveller system provides referees and game masters the materials with which to explore the Traveller universe in detail. Starship design systems, world generation systems, vehicle description systems, trade and commerce systems, animal generation and encounter systems. Each is produced with two specific goals in mind: as a prod to the imagination, and to allow game masters opportunities to create custom equipment or information.


The universe as we know it was irrevocably influenced by a meek pastoral intelligent race (the Droyne) which evolved some 200 parsecs from Earth some 300,000 years ago. The activities of these people continue to be felt throughout time and space.

Grandfather (300,000 BC). One of the Droyne was born a mutation incredibly intelligent and incredibly talented. In his first few years, he realized the full import of his talents and used them to conquer his world and his people (not that either really resisted). This super-genius Droyne (called Grandfather by modern anthropologists) then turned his attention to space, invented space ships and then starships with jump drive. He and his people ventured out into the universe. He raised a family of super-genius children (nearly as smart as he) and they scattered to settle hundreds of worlds, each engaged in some sort of scientific research. Grandfather invented immortality (for himself only it seems; he shared a lesser form of it with his children). He invented energy sources, world shattering weapons, mind-boggling transportation systems, and pocket universes. Much of what he invented is still unattainable to modern man.

At some point, he and his children had a disagreement that escalated into galaxy wide war. That war completely destroyed the Ancients and their thousands of cities on hundreds of worlds. The modern universe can see the fossil remnants of this war on worlds which still bear the scars of super-high-tech war, and in Ancient sites: the ruins of those war-spoiled cities. But there is another, less obvious, reminder of the Ancients. At some time in their travels, the Ancients visited Earth and carried away several thousand near-intelligent cavemen. Grandfather_s children must have found them useful in some way because they took them to hundreds of worlds. At the end of the Ancient War, the Ancients were dead, but humanity lived on. Each of those planets became a new world which humans conquered and created a unique yet human culture.

The Vilani Era (4700 BC to 2300 AD). The first of these many human races to reach the stars was the Vilani. About 5,000 BC, they began to create a star-spanning empire through their monopoly on the jump drive. Only they had the secret of faster than light travel, and they used it to monopolize trade and dominate both human and non-human cultures for dozens of light years around. Eventually, the Ziru Sirkaa (as the Vilani Empire was called) became a rigid, brittle culture dedicated to maintaining the status quo. Laws, politics, social pressure all emphasized conformity and resistance to change. Innovation and technological change were prohibited. Their four thousand-year empire was drawing to an end.

The Terran Confederation (2100 to 2300 AD). In about 2100, Earth invented the jump drive and reached the stars, only to find them already taken. Fortunately for tiny Earth, the Vilani Empire ignored the Terran upstarts long enough for them to gain a foothold among the stars. Over the course of 200 years, the Vilani and the Terrans fought a dozen interstellar wars, each one seemingly inconclusive, but edging the Vilani Empire closer to collapse. In 2299, the Vilani were defeated so soundly that they surrendered. The Rule of Man (2300 to 2750 AD). Terra, with perhaps a hundred worlds in its confederation, now faced the immense task of ruling, as a conquered territory, the now collapsed Ziru Sirka, with 40,000 worlds. Terra created the Rule of Man: the Second Imperium, to govern these conquered worlds, often assigning mere lieutenants as governors of worlds, and naval captains to rule subsectors of 30-40 worlds. It was a losing battle. Nothing, not technological innovation, not social change, not new blood, not threat of outside invasion, was sufficient to raise the former Vilani worlds from their cultural lethargy. Slowly, over the course of 400 years, the worlds of the Rule of man drifted into a dark age.

The Long Night (2750 AD to 4550 AD). When interstellar trade shut down, the Rule of Man ceased as an interstellar government. Each world found itself on its own, living or dying on its own resources. Outpost worlds dependent on food or supplies shipped in from agricultural worlds simply died. Scattered starship trade kept other worlds alive, but after a few centuries, even the starships stopped running. Each world found itself along in a sea of space, completely dependent on its own resources. This Long Night lasted for more than 1700 years.

The Third Imperium (4521 to 5637 AD). One world tenuously held on to its technology, its resources, and its knowledge, remaining a beacon of hope in the Long Night. Ultimately, it began its own reconquest of the worlds of the former empire under the Starburst Banner of the Third Imperium. From a base of a dozen worlds, the Third Imperium began a systematic effort to recontact the 40,000 worlds of the old Ziru Sirka and bring them under one rule. Some accepted immediately; others resisted, but none could resist the combined military might and economic incentives that the Imperium could offer. Over the next 500 years, the empire reached out to absorb tens of thousands of worlds.

The Aslan Border Wars (3400 to 4900 AD). The conflict of the Aslan against the Imperium along their common border.

The Vargr Campaigns (4700 to 4900 AD). The conflict of the Vargr against the Aslan along their common border.

The Barracks Emperors (5100 to 5140 AD). The defining power struggle of the military hierarchy and the ruling noble families of the Imperium as competing factions fight to be the ones that rule the interstellar empire.

The Solomani Expansion (5121 AD to 6500 AD). The struggle of the Solomani worlds (both within and outside the Imperium) as they endeavor to establish a community of worlds.

The Rebellion (5367 AD). The Imperium, now more than a thousand years old, is split asunder as competing factions fight to create the next Emperor, or to chart their own path outside the established Imperium.


There is so much more to the Traveller universe that can only be touched on here: The Zhodani expeditions to the core of the galaxy. The Psionic Suppressions. The Julian War. The Ilelish Revolt. The First Survey. The Solomani Rim Wars. The Hiver Interventions. The Virus Era. The Regency. The Far Far Future. The Expeditions to the Rim. The Heat Death of the Universe. Each of these milieux (or eras) is another opportunity to provide participants with adventure and insight into the human condition as they explore the comprehensive science-fiction universe that is Traveller.

Swordworlder's Traveller Downport copyright 1998 - 2014 Colin Michael.
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