The Traveller Book by Marc W. Miller
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is the grand-daddy of pen and paper Science Fiction Role-playing games. The system, love it or hate it, was and is unique. I happen to love the system. Lack of character growth and the possibility of one's character's demise before the character is even fully created, seem to be the top reasons that people dislike the system. But how many gamers have really taken part in a full-fledged campaign that lasts for years? I've been in two, and I've gamed a lot and have been gaming a long time. Fact is, most role-playing is done in stop-and-start fits of one, two, maybe three sessions in a "campaign". So who cares if your character doesn't grow? In fact, who cares if your character dies before he or she is fully formed? Big deal. Roll up another. You're not the one dying, the character is. If you're that tied to an imaginary character you've just begun generating by rolling a few dice, I advise you to seek help quickly.
Now, I don't think that The Traveller Book is sufficient, in and of itself, to run a well-fleshed out game. I recommend supplementing it with Traveller: Book 4: Mercenary and Traveller: Book 5: High Guard. The supplements beyond these two tend to upset game play a bit, though they do flesh out the Traveller universe, which is as comprehensive and thorough a gaming universe as I've seen.
The real wonder of the game is it's simplicity. Yes, there are charts giving pluses and minuses for varying conditions under which characters use their skills, but overall, skill use and the combat system are pretty slick and quick. If you have the relevant charts in front of you, it's not terribly complicated. Furthermore, the combat system feels realistic. I'm not a trauma doctor, so I can't speak to the reality of it, but the sudden shock of being hit by a weapon and the subsequent wearing down of a person's ability to stay in the fight as combat wears on, feels "real".
Had Mercenary and High Guard been integrated into the original game, it might have been close to perfect. Even by itself, though, The Traveller Book can set you and your friends well on your way to adventuring among the stars in the far future. Just don't get too attached to those characters, okay? After all, it is only a game.
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