Here’s a bittersweet hunk of nostalgia candy from my geeky youth…
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…a December 1982 magazine ad for Traveller, hepatitis a science-fiction role playing game.
Traveller was the one of my earliest RPG purchases, picked up at a hobby store in some failing Essex County shopping mall a couple months after I scored a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set. Though I had been anticipating high sci-fi adventure along the lines of Star Trek, Star Wars, and various anime series, what the game ended up offering was the chance to play a middle-aged retiree with health problems and highly random assortment of skills…providing one’s character didn’t die during the generation phase, which was a very real possibility.
Again, Traveller was a game where your character could die before you embarked upon your first adventure.
If that poignant reminder of one’s frail mortality wasn’t enticement enough to play, Traveller‘s semi-firm sci-fi setting leaned towards such pulse-pounding scenarios as recovering spent nuclear fuel rods for meager profit. Move over, Captain Kirk! The Fred Sanford of Space is on the job!
Apart from the presence of FTL spacecraft, the science in Traveller‘s particular take on sci-fi wasn’t exactly the stuff of post-human singularities. Chemical slugthrowers (that is to say “guns”) were the technological norm, with a few cumbersome, pack-fed energy weapons thrown in out of a sense of genre obligation. So while players may not have been able to jetpack in, laser pistols blazing to rescue an alien princess under a strange nebula, they were more than adequately equipped to chase away the space opossums congregating around the space trash pile they planned on looting…and maybe, just maybe, they’d clear enough from the job to make this month’s starship payment.
As it turned out, my gaming group only played a single session of Traveller, using a scenario directly lifted from Aliens. It ended badly for all involved, and we quickly returned to D&D‘s more gratfiying spin on adolescent power fantasies.