Monday, February 14, 2011

It Takes Place in the Far Future, But Somehow the 1970's

I haven't talked much about other games. I've mainly focused on D&D. My other top favorite RPG is Traveller. I was introduced to the game in high school by mutual friends. Our school decided to ban D&D during the great anti-rpg panic of the early 80's. After speaking to the school board it was determined that they were not banning role-playing just D&D. Could we play another game? Like Traveller , we asked. Does it have demons in it? They asked. No we answered truthfully. Just spaceships and aliens, like Star Wars. Fine, anything just no D&D, they declared. Rather than continuing on with some sort of protest we thanked our lucky stars and got back to role playing. Within a year or two the hysteria had died down and D&D quietly returned to our post curricular activities. Being that it was the early 80's. We didn't notice the tech inconsistencies in the game. The computers that weigh tons, the bulky comm sets or even the total lack of internet and bio-tech. The rulebooks were written in the 70's so they reflect the state of the art of that time. The technological progress that would make these items seem out dated was yet to happen so it didn't bother us at all. But now it does bother me. A bit at least. Mongoose's Traveller and T20 rulebooks are more modern. But I would like to play original Traveller. But its hard to justify the bizarreness of some of the original predictions of the tech level chart from the rulebook. According to Traveller we should be at tech level 10 or at least 9 by now. So where is the laser rifle they promised? Or jump drives, gravity control, fusion power or limb regeneration? How come we don't live in that future? What happened to it? I have a theory. When the US government canceled their ambitious space program in the 70's the scientists and technicians had to go somewhere. They went commercial. How else do could we have got cell phones, DVD players, laptop computers, the internet and GPS? Our technology is small. Little products easily sold to eager consumers. The big stuff like fusion power didn't happen because the focus was elsewhere. What does this all mean to a Traveller campaign? The setting of the game starts in our world and expands out to the far future. So our world didn't evolve into the Traveller future but it doesn't mean that another one could have. A parallel world. Setting the game in a parallel world where technology went a different direction can explain the oddities of the original rulebook. So maybe your character wears flare leg pants. A world more like Space 1999. Where the future is the 70's.


  1. I recall the GURPS Lensman soucebook positing something similar, with the Arisians indirectly interfering with the invention of transistors and microchips, thus ensuring that vac-tubes and slide rules would continue to be the jut-jawed future science warrior's tools of choice.

  2. Sorry, but I thought the alternate universe idea should be obvious, in ANY fictional future setting. The game universe is an alternate one from our own, where things, including technology, developed differently. Simple as that.

    Reminds me of how they tried to explain away the Eugenics Wars as "secret" in Star Trek novels, so that they could have happened in our real timeline, even though it would have been the 1990's and devastated much of the world. The Federation was supposed to have come about only because it was a sort of rennaissance age after this near destruction of humanity.


    Whenever RPG publishers try to "correct" their game to make it include the latest real-world information the original charm and identity of the setting begins to bleed away. Witness the newest editions of Shadowrun where they changed and removed iconic elements such as the Deckers. If they wanted a different game based on Shadowrun, why not create it and name it something else instead of ruin Shadowrun?

    My motto and advice is: let alternate futures be what they were designed to be!

  3. This makes for a good lesson about connecting the current day with far future settings. DON'T. Give yourself a good century or two of a "long night" so that real life has a nice blank slate to work with.

    And why care that I can't step out my front door and catch the grav-bus to the moon? In my mind, the Traveller universe still looks like a Ridley Scott movie or a Mark Harrison comic, regardless of all the Blackberries and iPads around me.

    Of course, near future settings are fated to become zeerust in short order. Max Headroom, 20 minutes into the future? Didn't even last that long.

  4. This is a common problem with RPG's and SF in general. It helps to remember that these games were developed by game designers who work for publication companys. These designers are not Nostradamus (nor have they ever claimed to be), they use their imaginations to create a universe that appeals to as many of the paying public as possible, Creating their world in a near future helps makes it easier for gamers to relate, and this translates into $ sales $. The unfortunate part is that because they often use current technologies as a bench mark, games become dated. Traveller is a great game, and when I played I always tried to ignore the real world and accept that fantasy universe, in the spirit in which it was created. I found this easier to digest without having to rewrite rules or answer fictious techno questions. (I wish some Trekkies would figure this out and just enjoy the story rather than analize everything)