Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Traveller Tuesday: 1977 Edition Worlds, Part One

The referee has the responsibility for mapping the universe before actual game play begins.  The entire universe is not necessary immediately, however, as only a small portion can be used at any one time.  In unsupervised play, one of the players can generate worlds and perform mapping on a turn by turn or adventure by adventure basis....
Worlds and Adventures, page 1
Traveller, 1977 Edition

One of the daunting tasks faced by the creators of Traveller was how to deal with mapping out space.  Being good wargamers, they realized that attempting to map out space in three dimensions was going to be difficult (though not impossible) for the average wargamer/roleplayer.  So they settled on an abstract representation which was referred to as a subsector.  The map of the subsector represented an 8x10 section of space, with each hex being one parsec across.  For anybody familiar with astronomy, this two-dimensional representation was completely artificial and unrealistic, but that was unimportant from a role-playing perspective. I've included a scan of the original subsector map from page 3 of Worlds and Adventure; the only thing that could've improved the original game would have been a sample planet and a sample subsector.  However, those would've taken up more space than GDW apparently felt was available for the game.  For whatever reason, the subsector hex grid was left as a tabula rasa upon which referees were invited to create their own settings.  Not everyone thought this mapping paradigm worked the best, however.

Over to the right, you can see one of the variations on mapping for Traveller that was devised back in 1977.  The idea was to take a sheet of hex paper, draw in a larger grid of hexagons, and then enter the Universal Planetary Profile.  Starting in the center hex, write in starport type, and then clockwise around from the hex immediately above, planetary diameter, atmosphere, hydrographics, population and law level.  Tech level went to the bottom left; presence of gas giant to the bottom right.  Notation of naval base and scout base in upper left and right, respectively.  The two side hexes may have been used for additional stats, but the memory has faded over time.  However, the systems shown here are as follows:

  • The planet listed in the upper left is the one generated (and left unnamed) by Don Turnbull in his review in White Dwarf #6, from 1978.  The UPP is 0201 C81378B-5 S G.
  • The planet on the lower right is "Grendal" from The Dragon #18, September 1978.  The UPP is 0303 A212221-E G.
  • The planet further to the right and a little up is one I generated for this post.  The UPP is 0402 A656462-9 G.
Star system creation therefore was not terribly "realistic" at all.  However, what it did do was provide a template to follow for mapping out adventure, in much the same way as dungeon and wilderness maps did for Original D&D.  This was, I think, a significant part of the success of Traveller when it initially appeared - the maps did not need to be hard science for the game to work; a structure suggesting a science fiction setting was sufficient and relatively elegant to implement.

But mapping was not the only set of assumptions embedded in the rules for stellar mapping and world generation.  In a follow-on post, I will take some time to examine some of the social assumptions in the original game involving world building, and what they meant for referees at the time.

3 comments:

  1. Victor, where did you learn how to perform that variant method of listing down the UPP stats of a world on bigger hexes? I must have missed that altogether - but I must say it is brilliant! You can actually set down a world's entire UPP and make it available at a single glance; not to mention place the world's location on a starmap in a given subsector. Thanks for this- I sure find this very handy.:)

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  2. @spielmeister - I must admit to forgetting just exactly when and where I learned about it. My original Traveller campaign, set in the backdrop of the Kingdoms of Angria and Gondal (what would now be considered "pocket empires"), used this method of mapping, using landscape oriented hex paper. I must admit I've thought about reviving this campaign, simply as a bit of nostalgia. I also have a PDF file of a portrait oriented hex map done in this manner, blank and ready for use.

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  3. Your post went a different direction than I was expecting, but was fascinating. I haven't seen the alternative UPP hex mapping before either. One of the things I love best about Traveller purchases (regardless of system) is glossing through the maps and planet descriptions, and thinking about what kind of adventures you could set there.

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