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General Musings on Marc Miller and Traveller

posted Mar 14, 2018, 4:12 PM by James Pearson

I had the good fortune to play Traveller with Marc Miller at Gary Con X this past weekend.  He was gracious enough to sit and chat with our group for a while afterwards, and with me individually for a bit as well.  As Classic Traveller lovers, I thought I’d share some observations, gleaned from this experience.


  1. When Mr. Miller designed Traveller, he intended it to be a generic sci-fi roleplaying game system, in which we could play any science fiction game we wanted.  The Third Imperium setting, came later. More on that in a bit.

  2. The rules, or systems, he included are there as an aid for when your imagination fails.  He shared the example of world creation. “Think of a world. Now think of another one. And another. After a while you run out of imagination or things get a little boring.” That’s where the world generation system steps in and helps you by creating worlds that you now have to creatively explain.  Why would millions of people choose to live on a desert world with a tainted atmosphere, for example? The more I learned about his play style, and his original ideas for the game, the more it became apparent that the systems, while there to aid us, could be completely ignored (and should be) in order to simply play the game.

  3. While playing Traveller, Marc role-plays.  Very little rules. Traveller is truly a rules-light game system once you start playing.  For our scenario, we generated characters by only rolling up stats. No skills. Just stats and pick your service.  All rolls were made against those stats, but you couldn’t roll against the same stat again, until you had used them all.  Oh, and you had to support your decision on which stat to use. After that, it was all role playing. Creating a communal story.  He made it up as he went along, allowed us to build the story, and acted as “referee” just as intended. After we were through, he said “There. Now you know how I play Traveller.”

  4. Originally, there was no intention to publish anything except rules.  He wanted players to use their imaginations and play in whatever world they wanted.  

    The Imperium became the setting after a reviewer made a comment that he wouldn’t play a game that did not include a pre-defined setting. Marc implied that he didn’t want to play in one in which there was one.  He said he had even written an article about it.

    I thought I recalled seeing it, but could only find a comment made in “Challenge/JTAS” Issue 29.  Marc writes, “In our own naive way, we thought that the basic rule set was enough. It was a review in a fanzine run by Tony Watson that changed my mind.  The reviewer, talking about Traveller, complained that there was not enough background and detail for the Traveller rules: each player had to make up his own.  And Tony (as the editor) inserted a comment that he would never play a system that imposed a background on him. … it was my responsibility, as a game designer, and our responsibility, as a game publisher, to provide support for the role-playing system.”

    I believe that the ‘fanzine’ may have been “Space Gamer”.  

  5. Money.  It’s come up here a couple of times, so I asked Miller how he envisioned money would work in Traveller.  He said he never thought people would really be transporting money, like credit or even cash. Instead, he gave the example that on one world you would buy a cargo load of pigs.  You would go to the next world and sell the pigs for a cargo load of turkeys and, hopefully, enough local currency to get supplies, fuel and repairs, and then move on, repeating the process  Personally, I think “Firefly” does a great job of demonstrating this in action. Of course, that still doesn’t answer how a ship gets paid off, and I didn’t ask.

  6. Traveller was most influenced by the “Dumarest Saga” books, as has been discussed here (and which I apparently need to get my butt out and read asap).

  7. His favorite version of the game is still Classic Traveller.  Yeah us!

  8. He loves the character creation system because the dice rolls give you interesting characters to play.  He pointed out how, during the weekend, he had several PCs that were really just dumb, and it was fun to see how the players handled playing those characters.   He mentioned that this is what made the game interesting, and gave exciting results.

  9. During the game our rolls mostly consisted of “roll under the attribute”.  

  10. While he doesn’t play Traveller using lots of rules, he does like to play with systems.  Just like many of us here who play with building starships, or worlds, or the merchant system.   T5 is this way. He said “I always wanted a system that would make interesting aliens with 5 arms and stuff and I couldn’t figure out how to do it.  Finally I did.” I haven’t read T5, but given how much fun I have personally had playing the games within the Traveller game, I may have to pick it up some time, just because.

  11. He discussed TNE a couple of times.  He found the thought of introducing AIs as interesting because it allowed players to play AI characters.  However, he stated more than once, that ultimately the AIs had to play nice and be social beings. If they didn’t they wouldn’t be able to survive.  They couldn’t get repairs or fuel. Would we allow them to dock? Was an AI that killed millions to be trusted? If not, then how would it ultimately survive?  Although I’ve never really delved much into TNE, it is an interesting concept.

  12. With all the licensed products published, Mr. Miller stated that he now is confined to accepting those as reality in the Traveller universe.  He has to deal with them, and work within those parameters. I don’t get the feeling that this was a bad thing, just that this is the direction Traveller went, and is going, and so he follows the same rules as those who publish licensed material (canon).  If anything it seemed an interesting challenge to him. However, see #1.


My overall impression is that the way I (and many of you) view CT, and remember playing CT, and what has attracted us back to CT is NOT the depth of the published material, nor the Imperial setting.  Instead it is a vehicle, a set of rules that gives us a very basic framework of how the universe works, and then lets us go play in whatever universe our minds want to create. It doesn’t have to make sense, or be a hard science or space opera, or anything else, it just needs to be ours.   And, when we get stuck and need a way to do something, we use one of the built in systems to help move us along. And, if we bend the rules, or throw them out or tweak them, or whatever we want to do with them, as long as we are having fun, he has achieved his goal.


Thanks Mr. Miller.


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