What is Traveler? An introduction to the sci-fi tabletop role-playing game that inspired Starfield

From Baldur’s Gate 3 reviving the legendary Dungeons & Dragons series to Warhammer’s fantasy football spin-off returning in Blood Bowl 3, 2023 looks set to be a year defined by video games that are both explicit and… are also indirectly rooted in classic tabletop games – and Bethesda’s science fi adventure Starfield will be no different.

Todd Howard, Starfield’s creative director, openly cited the tabletop RPG Traveler’s influence on the much-anticipated release last October, saying that the upcoming video game is “reminiscent of the old RPGs we loved.” There is also a particularly personal connection for Howard, as he remembers programming a Traveler game for the Apple II computer as one of his earliest programming projects.

When it comes to RPGs of the past, there are few older than Traveller. Released in 1977, just a few years after Dungeons & Dragons revolutionized tabletop role-playing, the sci-fi RPG has evolved over the last 40+ years over no fewer than a dozen editions, moving along the way from the Game Designers’ Workshop of the original creator’s owner to today’s Studio Mongoose Publishing.

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The game has also bounced between different game systems, with the 1977 game’s reliance on two six-sided dice temporarily replaced by the d20 familiar from Dungeons & Dragons – D&D publishers Wizards of the Coast themselves published a Traveler in the early noughties D20 – and a spin-off for the attitude-agnostic system GURPS before returning to its original rules for the latest installment of Mongoose.

One of the elements that made Traveler so unique at the time of its release – and is still considered one of them today’s best sci-fi RPGs – is his narrative approach to character creation. In contrast to D&D’s use of rigid classes To define character abilities and skills, Traveler uses a life path system that simulates a character’s past experiences.


This life path system works like a standalone mini-game, with players choosing a career for their character – typically a military path or life as a merchant – before rolling the dice to see what successes and failures they’ve had in their past. This defines their starting gear, money, and more. In the worst case, characters in classic Traveler could even die during character creation.

Instead of reaching traditional levels with a certain amount of general experience points, in Traveler characters’ progress is tracked by their improvement in individual skills, which can be improved through special training. Reaching higher skills requires longer training, making it a slow process – but one that can pay off with powerful character builds. This influence can arguably already be seen in previous Bethesda games like Skyrim, where actual use of abilities is required to improve your character’s abilities in it. Rather than skill advancement being the only focus in Traveler, characters also improve by gaining upgraded gear, money, and social standing, bringing them to a safer place in the vast universe.

Another important influence Traveler could have on Starfield is the depiction of a sci-fi setting that’s a little closer to the future than a more fantastical interpretation. Acknowledging the role-playing game’s inspiration, Howard noted that “Traveller has a bit more ‘hard’ sci-fi” – using the term normally used to refer to sci-fi rooted in real-world science and technology , even if she is forward-looking is optimism.

While Traveler features a few more ideas – like psionics and telepathic powers – the universe also relies on realistic rules like the effect of Newton’s psychics on ships during space combat and the presence of more traditional firearms rather than ray guns or blasters. Howard has previously confirmed that Starfield’s ship combat will require players to manage systems such as shields, power delivery and weapons, adding to the feel of a more simulation-like experience.

How deep Traveler’s influence on Starfield runs remains to be seen, but early looks at the game are already pointing to an adventure that might sound very familiar to fans of the classic sci-fi RPG. It could be that after all these years, Howard has finally managed to write his love letter to the tabletop RPG.

https://www.eurogamer.net/whats-traveller-an-introduction-to-the-sci-fi-tabletop-rpg-that-inspired-starfield What is Traveler? An introduction to the sci-fi tabletop role-playing game that inspired Starfield

Fry Electronics Team

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