Should classic traveller adventures be played in order
Never let it be said that I don’t give the audience what they want. That’s why the latest in my year end Top 10 lists covers the adventures of Traveller. Like my previous lists, this one comes with a couple of notable caveats. The first is that this list only considers adventures published during the era of classic Traveller, which is to say, 1977–1986. The second is that the adventures in question must have been published as stand-alone products rather than as, say, articles in the pages of The Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society. The cuts down on the number of possible candidates, it’s true, but there are still many possibilities to consider, especially since I’m taking into account licensees like FASA, Gamelords, and Judges Guild (spoiler alert: there are no JG adventures on this list).
I should also remind readers that, like previous lists of this sort, I have deliberately limited it to adventures I’ve personally refereed or played. That eliminates a handful of worthy contenders for inclusion, to be sure, but not so many that I think it undermines the utility of a list like this one. Still, if in your opinion there’s an obvious omission, there’s a good chance it’s because I don’t have any direct experience with the adventure in question.
Twilight’s Peak is the third adventure ever published for Traveller and it’s a very good one. Indeed, I hesitated to place it so low on the list, because, in some respects, it’s a near perfect example of the kind of sober, serious science fiction that Traveller represented (especially in contrast to most other SF RPGs at the time). Unfortunately, the adventure depends heavily on the learning of certain information via rumors in order to proceed from world to world across the Spinward Marches. Even then, these rumors often only lead to the search for yet more information, potentially leading to a long and tedious investigation into matters whose ultimate import is not clear. Admittedly, the final payoff is worth it and the scenario includes a number of interesting stops along the way, but, unlike The Traveller Adventure – which is not included on this list, by virtue of its having been included elsewhere – I found it to lack forward momentum at times. Still, it’s well-done and, as I said, a solid example of the kind of restrained science fiction Traveller does better than most SF RPGs before or since.
This is the immediate predecessor to Twilight’s Peak in terms of publication and deals with many of the same general concepts and themes, most specifically the mysterious, extinct alien species known only as the Ancients. Unlike Adventure 3, Research Station Gamma is more straightforward and therefore easier to use. On the downside, some of that straightforwardness comes in the form of being what is effectively a “dungeon crawl in space” – a common flaw in some of GDW’s early Traveller adventures. The fact that much of the opposition in the scenario takes the form of alien animals held inside the titular research station only further contributes to this feeling. On the other hand, the “dungeon” in question is an interesting one, with an unusual architecture that many old Traveller hands look on with some fondness. The adventure is also notable for being one of the few GDW publications to mention, let alone describe, robots, an element of science fiction Traveller largely glossed over.
Published by Gamelords and written by William H. Keith, Duneraiders is a companion piece to the supplement, The Desert Environment (what a surprise!). The scenario itself deals with corporate warfare on the world of Tashrakaar, a mineral-rich planet located outside the borders of the Third Imperium. Tashrakaar has a native population, the so-called Duneraiders, who don’t take kindly to the presence of offworlders and with whom the player characters must eventually ally – first simply to survive and later to thwart the machinations of the nefarious Dakaar Minerals corporation. If this all sounds more than a little inspired by Frank Herbert’s famous novel series, you’re not wrong. Fortunately, William H. Keith is a good adventure designer and he introduces enough new elements into the mix to ensure Tashrakaar isn’t just a clone of Arrakis. I must confess to a lot of personal fondness for this adventure, because it’s one of the few I first experienced as a player rather than as a referee. I had a lot of fun with it and that plays a role in its inclusion here.
In addition to its other adventures, GDW published a series of “double adventures,” consisting of two shorter scenarios published back to back – and upside down – in imitation of the Ace Doubles released throughout the 1950s and ’60s. Double Adventure 1 included an adventure entitled Shadows that is a favorite of mine, due in no small part that it was included in The Traveller Book as one of its sample scenarios (which is where I first encountered it). The adventure focuses on the discovery and exploration of a series of ancient alien pyramids on an inhospitable world. Though another example of a “dungeon crawl in space,” Shadows pulls this off exceptionally well, with lots of interesting details and plenty of scope for characters to get into trouble. The pyramids are also a potential source of some remarkable information about their past – nothing earthshattering, mind you, but historically valuable. It’s a great scenario with which to introduce newcomers to Traveller and its particular take on science fiction adventure.
Yet another double adventure and yet another “dungeon in space.” Death Station involves the player characters being hired to travel to an orbital laboratory ship with whom their patron has lost communications contact. While he suspects that the problem behind the loss of communications is merely technical in nature, it’s possible that it’s something more, which is why he outfits the characters appropriately. As presented, Death Station is fairly bare bones, focusing primarily on describing the lab ship in great detail, complete with maps and aids for the referee. However, the true nature of the problem – a psychochemical drug experiment gone wrong – opens up lots of possibilities for a frightening situation. Insane crewmen, escaped lab animals, and lots of hidden ducts and crawlspaces present the perfect environment for a tense handful of sessions. I used Death Station in my Riphaeus Sector campaign a few years ago to good effect.
Trivia: William H Keith is not only a prolific author (both in gaming and in literary circles under various pen names) he also did a lot of the early artwork for GDW, FASA, and FGU. He’s also a Reiki master and knows (or at least knew) one of my former dorm mates at Penn State, but that was decades ago now. The one time I met him in person I didn’t register that he was *that* William Keith or he’d have been autographing RPG books all night. 🙂
I will give my top marks to Death Station, solely on the grounds that it is the only Traveller adventure I have experienced as both a player and GM. The amusing fact is, in both cases, frying bacon played a pivotal role in solving the mystery.
Seth Skorkowsky recently did a review/play report on the Mongoose version of Death Station, with his usual suggestions for how to improve the gameplay. Like most of his videos it’s worth the time (a half hour in this case) to listen to:
I listen too his reviews when I’m on walks. Never watch them purely audio but you don’t miss much. They are fun.
Yeah, most of my youtube “viewing” is audio-only while I’m painting or sculpting stuff. Although with Seth you do miss out on some fairly hilarious costumes once in a while. The whole conceit of him dressing up as Jack the NPC and the various members of his gaming group doesn’t really need eyesight to work, but the screwball ones like the Vargr mask in Traveller and the one gal who was slowly turning into a snake person in Pulp Call of Cthulhu are worth pausing for a glance. 🙂
I am unsurprised that no JG Traveller adventures made it onto the list :). Looking forward to the top 5.
Good choices all.
“Duneraiders” always gave me more of a Lawrence of Arabia vibe than a Dune vibe. The sole time I ran it straight, as opposed to plundering portions of it, the campaign quickly morphed into a wargame with few RPG touches. My players were wargamers primarily so the change in emphasis wasn’t an issue.
I cannot begin to count the number of times I’ve run “Death Station” whether straight, disguised, repurposed, or whatnot. Something about it clicks with me, allowing me to easily tailor it to the needs of the moment. It’s been a comedy, a cosmic horror, a diplomatic incident, and an exercise in small unit tactics among many other thing.
“Shadows” features one of my favorite GM mechanics; the ticking clock. The certainty that their vacc suits will eventually fail thanks to the insidious atmosphere always spur the players to action. Whether it’s healing potions, torches, or ammo, resource management is an aspect to RPGs that many GMs often overlook in their games.
I think that Uragyad’n of the Seven Pillars, also by William Keith, is perhaps a closer analog to Lawrence of Arabia, but I see your point nonetheless.
You are, of course, correct. I routinely mix up the two adventures and did so again when typing my post!
I found Death Station a little week in its actual execution, but the Lab Ship map design was striking and well done, and I reused it for a number of other adventures (e.g., a research station orbiting a pulsar that was then raided by alien pirates).
@Dave Pulver I think the opportunity to get (and reuse) new ships was a large part of the appeal of several LBB adventures. The Kinunir, the Leviathan, the Safari Ship and Broadsword mercenary cruiser all saw plenty of use outside their first module appearances in my games.
I really liked the way Twilight’s Peak was integrated into GDW’s Fifth Frontier War board game.
The scenario provided a rare opportunity for PCs to have a strategic impact on the course of the titular war.
I wish I’d played more Traveller back in the day, and acquired more of these adventures.
They are all available on the Far Future Enterprises Classic Traveller CD-ROM:
Off topic, but given the knowledge of yourself and your readers, is there a high quality blog which writes about Traveller from the bottom up?
Not directly, but if you google search for “traveller rpg blog” sites like feedly will cough up a slew of popular ones to sample.
If you leave out teh “rpg” part it will insist on giving you a billion travel blogs instead. 🙂
Tales to Astound is a great one. There are several other really good ones. I have an index page on my website covering a bunch of Traveller blogs and other stuff:
Here’s hoping I get gift cards for Xmas, ‘cuz DriveThruRPG is about to make BANK.
I’ve GMed most of the GDW and FASA adventures. The ones that worked out the best in actual play were:
#1. Leviathan. The ability to command a large starship to do actual exploration of unknown systems was great. Excellent ship design and use of different player/GM map. Having the PCs interview a crew of NPCs to hire on was also neat. Made a huge list of possible crew. Had fun replacing most of the slightly low-key Traveller encounters with more exciting stuff (crashed berserker starships, planet of vampires, new alien races).
#2. Twilight’s Peak. A genuinely epic adventure from star to finish. Great stuff and introduced the Droyne. Objectively a better adventure than Leviathan; we just had more fun modding Leviathan.
#3. Expedition to Zhodane. Really cool opening with player handout “help wanted” adds and a decent followup espionage and travel plot. I recall one situation where the PCs, after acquiring some guass rifles, managed to ambush a local TL7 Zhodani militia that had poor body armor and they wracked up a huge body count, it was like an Arnold movie.
#4. The Traveller Adventure. Some good stuff and neat aliens and tradewar, though a bit of a letdown if you’ve already played things like Twilight’s Peak.
#5. Secret of the Ancients. Not quite as exciting in actual play as Twilight, but great lore, some neat gadgets (shimmersuits) and a real sense of wonder plot; the descent into the gas giant was very cinematic.
#6. Divine Intervention. Nice mission impossible mission, a cute gadget (the stun carbine). The idea that you have to keep the violence down and clean up all the evidence made this for a nice change of pace. Players enjoyed it.
#7. Shadows. A memorable if somewhat low-key “dungeon crawl” . Most notable for “worst destruction of a PC’s body” who slipped and fell, cracking open their vacc suit helmet in an insidious acidic atmosphere, then had the mostly dead body tossed to slow down pursuit of a swarm of alien rat things, than had another PC open fire on the pile up of the rat-things eating the corpse with automatic weapons. We didn’t have a more totalled PC until a few years later when some poor fool was standing outside on the hull of a starship when another starship rammed it.
#8. Chamax Plague. “Bugs mister rico, zillions of them!” A nice “aliens” adventure that genuinely scared my players.
#9. The Kinunir. Good deck plans and a nice subsector spanning series of adventure vignettes, but really took a fair bit of effort by the GM to make fun. I rate this high mostly because of the Regina subsector and Imperium lore it introduced and some fun actions we had (e.g., hunting tree krakens for their anagathic properties).
#10. Azhanti High Lightning. Yeah, it’s a boardgame, but I converted the scenarios to adventures. “Haunting Thunder” actually used in play, especially the one with the salvage of the fighters in the ship in the gas giant and alien blobs (Haunting Thunder, was it). That played very well.
Several of the other ones were useful as source material, e.g., Prison Planet has a great list of Vilani character names, Research Station Gamma had good maps, Nomads of the World Ocean and most of the Keith FASA ones were entertaining reads for the detailed world building (though my players never seemed to enjoy them as much in actual play, preferring the more free-form and anarchic GDW adventures).
The biggest problem with the GDW adventures were that most of them (save Twilight and Secret) as written were designed for quite low-powered book 1 style parties – not the sort of Mercenary/High Guard designed psi-trained battledress and FGMP-15/X-ray laser armed folks the players had accumulated after Twilight and Leviathan. (We did reboot with some new guys to run Zhodane and again tried it with some of the FASA adventures, but by then everyone was a little jaded, so reverted back to the regular doses of high-powered space opera and ripping of SF-novel plots.
The Classic Adventures
The Classic Adventures is an FFE compilation of the Classic Traveller core adventures published by GDW.
Description (Specifications) [ править ]
The third volume in the Classic Traveller Reprints is The Classic Adventures 1-13. It includes:
- Adventure 1. The Kinunir. Deck plans for an Imperial Colonial Cruiser, plus scenarios that visit a variety of different examples of the ship in the Spinward Marches.
- Adventure 2. The Research Station Gamma. Into an Imperial Research Station.
- Adventure 3. Twilight’s Peak. A mysterious world and its ancient ruins.
- Adventure 4. Leviathan. Adventures just beyond the Imperial border.
- Adventure 5. Trillion Credit Squadron. Using High Guard rules to design fleets and test them in battle against other squadrons.
- Adventure 6. Expedition to Zhodane. An asteroid ship and its journey deep into the Zhodani Consulate.
- Adventure 7. Broadsword. Deck plans for a Mercenary Cruiser.
- Adventure 8. Prison Planet. A prison world.
- Adventure 9. Nomads of the World Ocean. A water world.
- Adventure 10. Safari Ship. Deck plans for a Safari Ship, and reasons to use it.
- Adventure 11. Murder on Arcturus Station. A murder mystery.
- Adventure 12. Secret of the Ancients. The conclusion of the data and clues in Adventures 1, 2, and 3.
- Adventure 13. Signal GK. GK is the Imperial equivalent of SOS.
Classic Traveller Adventures [ править ]
- (Adventure 1 ) (Adventure 2 ) (Adventure 3 ) (Adventure 4 ) (Adventure 5 ) (Adventure 6 ) (Adventure 7 ) (Adventure 8 ) (Adventure 9 ) (Adventure 10 ) (Adventure 11 ) (Adventure 12 ) (Adventure 13 )
Meta-history & Background (Dossier) [ править ]
No information yet available.
Credits (Primary Sources) [ править ]
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External Link/s [ править ]
Commentary & Data articles:
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Traveller Adventures – Best and Worst?
I am starting to look at collecting some Classic Traveller adventures together for some games with the family and was wondering which are the best adventures out there that really stick in peoples minds and why? . and are there any adventures I should stay clear of? I was thinking of Simba Safari and Across the Bright Face?
And in association with the above are there any Judges Guild packs or supplements that you cannot do without?
Would help me to build up a picture what is the best Traveller stuff out there there is so much of it!!
It depends a lot on the type of campaign you prefer, I think.
For me the best Classic Traveller adventures, not necessarily in that or-
der, were Leviathan (an exploration and trade sandbox), Nomads of the
World Ocean (Dune on a water world) and the Sky Raiders trilogy (mys-
tery of a disappeared race).
Of the Mongoose Traveller adventures, easy to use with Classic Traveller
rules, too, Type S and One Crowded Hour come to my mind. Project Steel
is also rumoured to be very good, and it may well be since it is from the
same author, but I have not played it.
To avoid . well, Signal GK and Secrets of the Ancients are very hard on
the players’ suspension of disbelief, and to me at least Research Station
Gamma always seemed too much of a dungeon crawl in space.
My favorite is The Traveller Adventure. A full-size merchant campaign that develops into a trade war.
I have a fondness for “Twilight’s Peak”, which I ran as one of my first GM’ing experiences. I know I didn’t do a very good job running things, and I got impatient and skipped a lot of stuff, but in more adept hands it would be a cool adventure for mature players who don’t require a lot of shooting to have fun but conversely are ok with killing if necessary. The “hook” is that you need to collect enough money to repair your ship’s Jump Drive – it’s a Far Trader (J2) but can only make J1. There is a legend of a lost shipment of
The brand-new MGT “Secret of the Ancients” campaign is one of if not the best Traveller adventures I’ve seen in terms of being able to run it the way people run adventures in other modern RPGs. This is ironic, because the CT SotA adventure was really little more than a lead up to a long NPC monologue, and was IMHO more designed to be read than played. If you are used to (and like) the way modern RPG adventures work, MGT SotA is a fantastic start, as are the various Avenger products (One Crowded Hour, Type-S, etc.), though those aren’t CT.
Another non-CT adventure you can probably find free out on the webz is the old T20 “The Linkworlds Cluster”. It’s a very decent introductory campaign that runs a lot like a computer RPG (fetch quests that ultimately lead you to a big treasure) so will probably be very comfortable for most players.
But back to CT adventures:
Research Station Gamma is a good CT adventure. The adventure has the potential to be quite epic, but if you go by the book, you’ll spend months kicking around the local town trying to find clues, then more months floating around at sea in a diesel submarine (of all things) trying to find this research base (and dodging pirates! LOL), then a dungeon crawl through a mapped but not-well described base, and finally a denouement worthy of a Neal Stephenson book (that is, you’ll want to write your own ending).
HOWEVER, if you can spend the time to adapt RS:G into an adventure, it can be a lot of fun. But you’ll need to pour your own personality in to it, because it has very little of its own.
I like “Death Station” quite a lot, and hope to get a chance to play it soon. (Maybe Halloween?) With only a little imagination, you can easily turn it into “Deadspace” (the video game) or other similar haunted house/horror scenario. (I”d actually not be surprised if “Deadspace” was inspired in small part by “Death Station”, though of course with modern sensibilities it’s considerably more “gross-out” than “Death Station”.) However, the descriptions are pretty down-played, there is not much “fluff text” to help set the mood, and you need to think a little outside the box a little to get the most from the adventure.
That’s the main problem IMHO with most CT adventures I’ve seen, at least from the modern gamer’s perspective. They are very much a “toy box” of characters and settings that require a GM to digest and reconstitute into a gaming experience. I admit that I’m a lazy GM, and sometimes I don’t have the energy to both work up and run some of the CT adventures to their full potential.
Some other CT adventures I’ve read or played:
The Sky Raiders adventures seem very well put together and don’t suffer as much from the “here’s the outline, you color it in” syndrome of many CT adventures. I own copies of all three of them but have not had the chance to run or play them. The first one is a rip-roaring “Indiana Jones” pulp adventure with ruins, bush guides, hostile (alien) natives, a well-funded bad guy and the beautiful daughter of a missing but brilliant archaeologist. The second one is a mystery set in a more civilized locale, and the third one is a Lost World scenario of sorts. All very “pulp” in feel and execution while still being Traveller in style. Also each is a multi-session adventure, almost more of a mini-campaign in its own right.
In “Shadows”, you have to find a way to disable an ancient alien anti-ship defense installation that has come to life after a seismic event and nearly shot down your ship as you were lifting to orbit. The catch is that the atmosphere is corrosive, and you only have a few hours before your Vacc suits are compromized. There are critters to fight off and physical hurdles to overcome, as well as at least one mechanical puzzle to solve.
“Exit Visa” is a short largely table-driven “programmed” adventure that could become a hopelessly boring drag if played too literally, but has a lot of potential. The basic setup is this – your ship has been denied the right to depart because of some unspecified anomaly in the ship’s log. The captain has been involved in some shady dealings, so this problem isn’t going away on its own. You have 1 week to sort things out through admin/bribery/violence or whatever. The adventure’s text takes the form of a series of contacts that can help or hinder your access to the Exit Visa. Each contact usually leads to one or more other contacts, and you can only meet one contact at a time, and at certain times of day, etc. The “programming” of Exit Visa is very clever, but to make a memorable role playing experience might prove challenging.
Double Adventure “Mission on Mithril”/”Across the Bright Face” is for players who are the sorts who relish traversing the face of a hostile world in an ATV to scout out some Areas of Interest. The other adventure in the double adventure (Across the Bright Face) is another wilderness trek, but this time you are on the run. They both have an odd “turn procedure”, where each “day” is played out in a wargame-like sequence of events. These adventures I think would play like a very different sort of RPG than most are used to, and are almost more like Role Playing Board Games.
Trillion Credit Squadron is not so much an adventure as it is a wargame campaign. You build a fleet (worth 1 trillion credits, naturally enough) and duke it out over an isolated group of star systems in the Reft sector.
And that’s all I can think of at the moment. Hopefully this will help guide you in your CT Adventure quest.