The Mystery of the Interstellar Wars

I was skimming through the GURPS Traveller listing in Wikipedia. I admit, I was pleased to read this bit…

  • Until 1998 the original Traveller books had been out of print for over a decade. Also the small size and amount of the books meant there wasn’t as much information on the universe as many people would have liked. Steve Jackson Games has already printed more material for Traveller’s Imperium setting than Game Designers’ Workshop ever did, with more pictures, starship deckplans, and details of the game universe.

But I was brought up to a halt with this bit about the ‘new setting’

GT: Interstellar Wars is set almost 2500 years prior to the founding of the Third Imperium, with a default year of A.D. 2170. The humans from Earth finally invent a faster-than-light drive for their space ships. They soon make first contact with extraterrestrial aliens, and those aliens are human. The Interstellar Wars has the potential to be a much more dynamic campaign setting than the essentially static background of the Third Imperium.

This looks to be about right to me… except that no one ever wrote up stories for it. I happen to know that GURPS would have been pleased to publish decent material from the Interstellar Wars period while they still had the license.

And yet, I wrote up quite a bit of material for “the essentially static background of the Third Imperium” while I have written up nothing for the Interstellar Wars period. I used GURPS Traveller rules for an alternate setting (Stellar Reaches #15 and #15), and stuck an adventure during the Long Night (“Adventure: The Parable of St. Ram”, Stellar Reaches #23).

I’ve even put in material for the Traveller period I still gag on – after two whole decades have passed! – the 1201 period of Traveller: The New Era (“Hegemony, Republic, Duchy: Part VI”, Stellar Reaches #17).

But I’ve never felt any attraction to the Interstellar Wars era. A history of the period for the Empty Quarter, yes, in the “Hegemony, Republic, Duchy” series. However, that’s background material, and was not meant to be an era to be actually played in. Hint: no maps for spacefaring adventurers.

I would think that war gamers would like the era… but they can go straight to the Imperium game, “Traveller’s Little Brother”.

Going to the Imperium listing in Wikipedia, we get:

When Imperium was published in 1977, its scenario was not connected to any other game. GDW published Traveller in the same year, but Traveller was at that point a system for running adventures in a generic science fiction setting, with no established background. However, as the company constructed the Third Imperium as the default setting for Traveller, the situation in Imperium was retconned into the Traveller Imperium’s history; it became the First Interstellar War, the first of many wars leading to the overthrow of the Vilani Grand Empire of Stars (Ziru Sirka) by the Terran Confederation and the establishment of the Rule of Man.

What if, way back in 1977, GDW decided to set Traveller as the role-playing part of the Imperium board game, in the same ‘Interstellar Wars’ time period and setting?

Something to chew on…


About Alvin Plummer

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2 Responses to The Mystery of the Interstellar Wars

  1. Bill Cameron says:

    Interesting question. There’s been a lot of work in recent years concerning “proto-Traveller”, that is Traveller before GDW began weaving the “Classic Era 1105/OTU” setting into the rules until both were impossibly snarled around each other. If you prune away nearly everything and go all the way back to CT’77, it’s pretty clear that GDW had no single setting in mind.

    Just like it’s inspiration D&D1ed, Traveller didn’t come with a setting. The rules implied a range of settings, for example you weren’t going to play Traveller-Lensmen without wholesale changes, but there wasn’t a setting as much as there was a tool kit for a referee’s personal setting.

    Unlike D&D1ed, it’s also clear that Miller, Harshman, Chadwick, et al didn’t have personal Traveller settings/campaigns in the manner Gygax and Arneson had personal D&D settings/campaigns. This isn’t to say GDW didn’t play Traveller. It’s just that there wasn’t a in-house Traveller version of Greyhawk or Blackmoor in which GDW staffers, friends, etc. regularly played.

    I suspect that the lack of an in-house GDW Traveller setting/campaign led to two fundamental problems. First, because it wasn’t someone’s “pet” like Greyhawk or Blackmoor, the OTU wasn’t planned much beyond the needs of the next published adventure, article, or book. Second, because GDW wasn’t using Traveller’s rules to handle different official settings as TSR was doing with D&D, there was no appreciation that Traveller’s rules needed to be kept separate from the OTU. Thus OTU canon was acreted rather than planned while the rules and canon became increasingly snarled.

    For GDW to have had a specific Traveller setting in mind from the beginning, whether it was the ISW era or not, someone at GDW would have to have had an active and personal Traveller setting/campaign just like Gygax and Arneson had at TSR. I think the changes to game if a Traveller version of Greyhawk or Blackmoor existed in-house at GDW would have been profound. Among other things, the current spate of non-OTU settings being developed by third parties through the OGL would have happened decades earlier.


    • Alvin Plummer says:

      Good insights, Bill!

      The tangle between the rules and the setting is quite interesting: especially with that Social Standing (Noble ranks as a universal human requirement is super-Space Opera!) and those jump drives rules. I think GDW in Fire, Fusion & Steel tried to re-seperate the rules and the setting: another attempt was with the Milieu concept of T4; but it didn’t really take until the OGL.

      I think that you are absolutely right: if there was a specific setting right from the start instead of a slow accretion, there would have been distinct non-OTU settings much earlier as well. I think it would have been good for the game (although I will remain strongly tied to the OTU, myself).

      Maybe someone will finally extend the Interstellar Wars period, or the Imperial Civil War of the 600s. Even my (…and Traveller20…) Solomani Rim War period is STILL crying out for a proper treatment: I’m based in the middle of nowhere (aka the Empty Quarter), while there’s tons of action going on in the frontlines, on Capital, and on the Solomani battle lines!

      Traveller/GDW history is fascinating, and well worth talking about! We might as well: the oldsters are getting old, and someone should gather up all the info before more major players die off. Any aspiring game historians out there?


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