A Backdrop Of Stars

(The Development of Traveller)


"When Traveller first appeared, it was revolutionary: a powerful, playable, science-fiction role playing game with infinite expandability." So says the Official Guide to MegaTraveller. But what are its origins? How did it all come about? Here, compiled for the first time, is a history of Traveller and the names that created and shaped it.

Table of Contents

Pre-Career Options

The creator of Traveller is Marc William Miller. Marc was born in Annapolis, Maryland, USA on August 29, 1947. His first gaming experience came early on. As a 14-year-old freshman in 1962, he bought D-Day and tried to play it with a friend.

"I really wanted to play it, but it didn't work. I couldn't understand it; neither of us could." (Johnson 1981, p 39)

It went back up on the shelf and stayed there for the next 10 years. They didn't know military strategy and couldn't learn it from the game, so it became:

"...a treasured game that I owned, but I never even tried to play it again." (Thomas 1986, p 38)

University of Illinois logoMarc completed school and attended college from 1966-68, graduating with a sociology degree with a political science minor in 1969. While at college he worked with political science role-playing and simulation games at the University of Illinois. (Miller, in Janssen 1996)

The Regular Army-O

That year Marc joined the United States Army. He learned various weapon systems and combat techniques (as he observed when justifying the Imperial Marine cutlass):

"I received bayonet training, hell, I gave bayonet training, and the army hasn't used bayonets in any real action since 1918." (Miller 1980, n.p.)

During his time in the service, he served a year in Vietnam with the 23rd Division.

"[I was in the] US Army Air Defense Battalion, one of the set created in the very late 60's after the Army realized that it did not necessarily have air supremacy at all times in all places. AND they did not want to depend on the Air Force to always keep the bad air planes away.

Air Defense BatallionSo, they created the Division Air Defense Battalion with two batteries of M113 mounted 20mm Vulcan gatling guns, and two batteries of Chapparal anti-aircraft missiles (basically Sidewinders mounted on a little turret on the back of an tracked ammo carrier).

BTW, these carriers, when the canvas was up looked just like the standard artillery tracked ammo carrier, so we could trick satellite or aerial surveillance into not knowing there was air defense in the area.

I served in the 4th of the 61st Artillery with the 5th Infantry Division in Ft Carson Colorado.

Since air defense experience was not necessary in Vietnam, I was instead the company executive officer for the Headquarters and Headquarters Company of a Combat Aviation Brigade (sounds snazzyier than it was), part of the Americal Division (famous for the My Lai massacre).

When I returned, I was the assistant operations officer for the 6th of the 67th Air Defense Artillery, part of the 1st Infantry Division in Ft Riley, Kansas.

Then I became a civilian. Knowing how to shoot down airplanes is not a civilian skill in very great demand. So I became a game designer." (Miller 2000)

"Marc had an ADA platoon in Vietnam, and retired as a captain . . . or major, I'm not sure." (Wiseman 2000b)

Mustering Out

Illinois State University logoMarc left the Army in 1972 when he was 24, and went to the Illinois State University, located in the central Illinois town of Bloomington-Normal.

"I almost by chance encountered the games club." (Johnson 1981, p 39)
"I wandered through here and I bumped into the ISU Games Club, which was Frank Chadwick and Rich Banner. That's all it was. I was going to school on the GI Bill, with no real ambition, no real purpose in my studies, and I had a lot of time to play games." (Thomas 1986, p 38)
"Rich Banner was a sergeant in Korea with an MOS that kept him out of Vietnam." (Wiseman 2000)

Here in October 1972 he finally learned to play his treasured D-Day wargame, along with other classics such as France: 1940 and Red Star, White Star.

"The games club had a policy where if you didn't know how to play games, they would set up an appointment with somebody who did, and he would play a game with you... So I played France '40, with a geography professor no less. They had somebody sitting across the table from you, explaining how the rules work. If you're any kind of smart person, you can understand it." (Johnson 1981, p 39)

College Option

Marc turned out to be a more-than-smart person. Immediately addicted to gaming, he first became a regular at the Games Club, and then began designing his own.

"I would wander into the Student Union at three or four in the afternoon and I would stay there until two or three at night. We were basically talking, writing, playing games. Designing games. Having fun. It got to the point where we kept our blank hex sheets behind the photocopy machine in the Union and nobody bothered them - it was ours." (Thomas 1986, p 38)

Triplanetary cover - click for larger pictureIn December 1972, Marc designed Triplanetary, a science-fiction board game. He and the others in the group realised the potential of the game medium, and convinced the university to hire them as game designers. By January 1973, Marc, Frank and Rich were working for a project called Simulation Research Analysis and Design (SimRAD), with Marc as head designer. They produced games to specification so instructors could use them as classroom teaching aids.

"An instructor would come in and say, "I want a game of the diplomacy prior to World War One" or "I want a game of the forestry situation in the American Northwest", gave us information, and then we would turn it into a game the class would use." (Johnson 1981, p 39)
"Among other things, I did a simulation of the Salem Witch Trials for a history class. It was a form of live-action role-playing, done in 1972." (Wiseman 2002)

This lasted a year and a half, until the group could see that their funding was about to be cut.

"The big problem with any academic profession is that you have to have your academic credentials, and we didn't. We were undergraduates designing games to help degreed instructors teach their courses." (Thomas 1986, p 38)


GDW LogoMarc and his partners realised that there was some potential to create and sell games commercially. This led them to establish Game Designers Workshop, or GDW. The founding partners were Frank Chadwick (President), Marc William Miller (Executive Vice President), and Paul Rich Banner (Art Director). Later, when the company was incorporated, Loren K. Wiseman joined as a junior partner.

Their first commercial game was Drang nach Osten, a game about Operation Barbarossa.

"That was our first commercial product, and it came out close enough to the twenty-second of June of 1973 for us to call that our birthday, and we celebrate that as GDW's birthday and also the date of the invasion of Russia by the Germans." (Thomas 1986, p 39)

By the time SimRAD's funding was cut totally in early 1974, GDW was producing some three to five games per year. By July 1975, the company was producing enough income to allow them to work full time.

Brownie Points

Double Star box cover - click for larger pictureFor the most part, GDW stayed a historical wargame company, initially concentrating on military simulations. Even so, they didn't ignore science-fiction boardgames. They published Marc's game Triplanetary fairly early on, and later published a series of boardgames: Belter, Double Star (1979), and the Bloodtree Rebellion. The most famous is probably Fifth Frontier War (1981).

It took a while for the group to get interested in creating a role-playing game (RPG). Looking back, this is surprising, considering that the industry's most famous offering, Dungeons and Dragons from Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), came very early to GDW, and the designers played lots of games.

"They were group campaigns rather than into a dungeon. We had worlds and maps and we had many different things in coherent universes and campaigns and good adventures in Dungeons and Dragons.

"Finally we put a moratorium on playing Dungeons and Dragons because people weren't doing enough work in the office." (Johnson 1981, p 41)

Then in 1975, they published their first role-playing game, En Garde. This game had a different format and background to D&D, being:

"...Three Musketeers era, sort of in France." (Johnson 1981, p 41)
"That established that we could do a role-playing game without stepping on other people's toes. [] TSR has even held En Garde up as an example of how someone can go about doing a role-playing game without ripping off D&D." (Thomas 1986, p 39)

Adventures In The Far Future

By late 1976, Marc had noticed that there was no science-fiction roleplaying game around, and decided to write one.

"I said to myself and then everyone else, [] 'I want to do a science fiction role-playing game', and they said, 'all right, let's see it'. And I put together the basics'." (Johnson 1981, p 41)

The basics were the character generation system, the personal combat rules, starships and the space combat rules, and worlds and equipment.

"We played several adventures with that. Not only did everyone enjoy it, but they thought it was a good-quality system." (Johnson 1981, p 41)

Interlude #1: A Fan's View of Origins '76

"I went to Origins '76 and played this neat game that was role-playing done SO much better and the bonus was it was sci fi! This was an "introductory scenario" for a new game coming out and I MADE SURE to go straight from the gaming table to the huckster room to buy the mysterious little black box. I was highly disappointed to learn that there was no produced game to buy... sigh. But I had only the rest of the year to wait for my opportunity to buy the mysterious black boxes and my hounding them even earned me a one line comment in a later GDW Traveller product! :D"

Commander Truestar
Starlight Striketeam, Team Banzai
Comms: truestar@pipeline.com
Email to WBDMailingList@egroups.com, 9 Apr 2000.

Classic Traveller (CT)


Marc continued to develop the rules for his new science-fiction RPG through early 1977. The GDW team massaged them into a boxed set of three books, Books 1, 2, and 3.

"Several of us contributed, but Marc came up with the original game concept and most of the basic mechanics." (Wiseman 2000a)

Marc dedicated these to his wife, Mary Beth Miller (Book 1, page 4), with whom he later co-wrote the Traveller section of the Thieves' World boxed set (Chaosium Inc., 1981). As an aside, Mary's more recent work includes contributions to Ultima VI and VII.

Classic Boxed Set - click for larger picture
"The original Traveller science-fiction game rules were published in 1977 as three 5.5 by 8.5 inch books in a distinctive black cover highlighted with a characteristic red stripe. Book 1 detailed the creation of characters and resolution of personal combat. Book 2 dealt with starships (including interstellar travel, starship design and construction, and starship combat). Book 3 included a system for describing worlds and how to adventure on them.

Books 1-3

"This original edition (now called Classic Traveller) was envisioned as [a] generic or universal game system in which any situation or adventure could be played out. Each individual referee was expected to create and administer his or her own adventures. Its innovative rules introduced the concept of skills for characters and detailed random generation tables for characters, animals, and worlds." (Miller, in Janssen 1996)

Traveller's original release date was Friday, 22nd July 1977, according to Marc's official reckoning. This was the first day of Origins '77 (Staten Island, sponsored by SPI), where GDW also released Raphia, 417 BC and Case White ("Swordy", 2002).

The black-cover-with-coloured-stripe became a signature of the Traveller line, thus labelling this original rule-set the "little black books", or LBB's.

What's In A Name?

Since the beginning, many in the US have wondered at the second "L" in the name, which uses the British spelling of the word rather than the American. Here's Marc's answer:

"Distinctive spelling makes the word/title easier to trademark and defend. No one in the US would spell the name with two L's, thus if they did, it would be an infringement.
Every other attempt at an SF title seemed to use 'Star ___' or 'Space ___' in the title so people would know it was science fiction. Traveller was aimed at people who would know from other clues that it was SF. We never considered calling it Star Traveller or Space Traveller." (Miller 2000b)
"...we wanted a name evocative of what PCs were supposed to do - go from one star to another." (Wiseman 2000b)

Interlude #2: Traveller and Star Wars

"With the re-release of the revised Star Wars Trilogy, I am reminded of the day Marc and I drove to Lombard (suburb of Chicago) to catch the opening, as the film would not be in Bloomington-Normal for another week.

"I should mention at this point, that Traveller was largely written, and we had run a few play-test sessions among trusted friends who could keep their mouths shut. The sessions were electric with excitement, and we knew we had a winning game.

"We had dinner with Marc's mother (who lived in Lombard), then went to the theater and waited in line for tickets. There were five theaters in the multiplex, and four of them were showing Star Wars (the other film was Gone in 60 Seconds, a deservedly forgotten piece of junk). All ten ticket counters were selling Star Wars tickets - there was a sign posted saying that anyone who wanted tickets to the other film should ask the manager - he had no takers that I saw.

"Marc said to me as we waited in the lobby, literally wall-to-wall with people: "I know this is going to be great, and you know this is going to be great, but who told all these other people?"

"We sat down, the theme music began, and the text began to scroll up the screen, like a 30's serial - I thought to myself: "This is going to be very very good or very very bad." Tatooine appeared on screen, the little starship appeared on screen, and then the star destroyer began unrolling from overhead. A few seconds later, I had no doubts about the movie whatsoever, and spent the next two hours totally absorbed.

"One further anecdote will illustrate the effect the movie had upon us:

"At the scene where the Millenium Falcon went into hyperspace for the first time, I found myself suddenly on my feet, yelling wildly. I then stopped and looked sheepishly about, only to see the rest of the movie-goers, all on the feet and looking around with the same expression on their faces. We had just given a movie special effect a standing ovation - something I have NEVER seen before... or since.

"As we were driving home, Marc and I talked. I forget what I said, and I forget everything he said except one thing: "Loren, Traveller IS Star Wars." And he was right.

"Nostalgia mode off.

"Haec Olim Meminisse Juvabit"

Loren Wiseman
GDW Emeritus
Comms: GDWGAMES@aol.com
Email to Traveller Mailing List (digest #1017, 3 Mar 1997).

Foundation and Empire


Having created a game, GDW realised that they needed to create a game setting - a framework and background in which to run the game.

"The game was an immediate success, filling the as yet unfilled need for science-fiction (and more sophisticated) equivalent to the fantasy oriented Dungeons & Dragons. For more than a year, the three black books in a box were the only items in the game system. But player response during that period demanded additional game support in the form of additional rules, and in an expanded, more specific backround against which to play". (Janssen 1996)

Imperium box cover - click for larger pictureThey hit on the idea of the Imperium, a vast interstellar empire, that has just been contacted by... the Terrans! The Imperium board game, released in 1977, gives a glimpse into this developmental work:

"Imperium is an evolution of several interstellar war games in various stages of development and polish over the period 1973-1977." (Miller 1977, p 12)

Immediately, the company began producing a prodigious amount of supporting material for Traveller. GDW released expanded character generation rules (Book 4: Mercenary, 1978; Book 5: High Guard, 1979/1980), supplements (Animal Encounters, ????; The Spinward Marches, 1979), and full-scale adventures (The Kinunir, 1979; Research Station Gamma, ????).

At the same time, a number of other boxed sets came out. Mayday (1978) simplified Book 2's starship combat onto a hex grid; Snapshot (1979) simplified personal combat onto a square grid; and finally Striker (1981) provided rules for large-scale actions, plus very detailed design rules.

Even more books and supplements followed. Scouts (1983) gave us expanded character generation rules for that most popular of character classes, the Imperial Scout, plus a comprehensive way to design star systems.

The secret to Traveller is that you can "play" solo (eg. designing characters, rolling up star systems, building ships) and none of the work you have do is wasted - you can bring it to the next gaming session and use it!

The initial, remarkable twist of Imperium - treating humans as aliens - typifies much of the lateral approach taken with Traveller. Other examples include the revelation that the Aslan are a "minor race"; and the idea that the Zhodani might actually be people, not just "evil mind-rippers".

- Fifth Frontier War.
- licencees Judges Guild, FASA ("Freedonian Aeronautics and Space Administration" - check this!), DGP, Seeker, etc.
- stacks of Supplements, Adventures, Journal, etc.
- awards for Traveller, JTAS (HG Wells Award for Best Professional Magazine Covering Roleplaying, 1980, ????), Hall of Fame for Marc. [FIND AND SCAN PICTURE]
- JTAS changes to Challenge, covers more than just Traveller.
- other mags, fanzines, the Keith brothers, Travellers Digest, etc

MegaTraveller (MT)


- background and reasons for change.
- Strephon assassinated.
- creation of HIWG.
- Twilight: 2000.
- Traveller: 2300 (later 2300 AD).
- Marc leaves GDW in 1991 to sell insurance. "I found that the activity wasn't supporting the lifestyle I had grown accustomed to."?
direct email from Roger Sanger to me, Tue 30 Jul 1996 - creation of other RPG's, Cyberpunk incorporated into 2300 AD, "house" rules set.
- Arrival Vengance

Traveller: The New Era (TNE)


- background and reasons for change.
- GDW "House Rules" system.
- dissatisfaction from DGP, left to write AI.
- dissatisfaction from long-term gamers; the "New Error", "not Traveller", "too realistic/complicated/slow" etc.
- split between Leroy Guatney and Harold Hale; Leroy creates a new group but refuses to allow HIWG members to join.
- the Traveller Mailing List (TML) really takes off (put in a page on "how to join" but check with the owner); link to James' FAQ page.
- some people like the system (mostly "gearheads", esp. FF&S).
- some really cool supplements begin to emerge, esp. the Path of Tears stoyline and the Regency Sourcebook.
- downturn of the gaming industry.
- Dangerous Journeys also hurts GDW.
- Dave Nilsen leaves.
- GDW folds, rights revert to Marc.(ETC)

Whither Traveller?


- Marc creates FarFuture Enterprises.
- Marc's call for fan input. [LINK TO MY PAGE]
- My consolidated list of fan requests: "Whither Traveller?" (create a page for this!).

Marc Miller's Traveller (T4)


- Ken Whitman (?) creates Imperium Games (IG), gathers together "Dream Team".
- rush to produce T4 by Gencon, gamers want to keep FF&S ships, rush to produce first versionS of QSDS/SSDS.
- supplements emerge (the hated "Starships" with first cut of SSDS), fans compile Milieu 0.
- IG bought by Sweet Pea, potential Trav movie.
- Milieu 200 writing begins.
- Asian monetary crisis, Sweet Pea loses money, decides to close IG,
- Loren at postal service.

GURPS Traveller

1999-present/alternate 1120+

- after years of unofficial conversion rules (GURPS, CORE??, etc - look these up) now there is an official Trav rule system variant!
- Loren K. Wiseman as Art Director (confirm title!)
- Death of J. A. K.

Interlude #3: Rescuing 'GDW Inc'

"Well, today [Mon, 20 Sep 1999] I traveled to the center of the universe, Normal, Illinois, and stood beneath the GDW sign. After a brief reflection on all that grew out from this spot, I got to work - ladder, wrenches, hacksaw - an hour and a half later, the sign was in the back of a U-Haul truck."

"Next stop - Keven Walsh, my spouse Barb, and I retired to a local Irish pub and some dark Guinness. Two toasts: to GDW and the game we all love, and to absent friends who could not join in the moment."

"Now, before any fear some desecration has taken place, consider this. The sign had advanced symptoms of decay; heavy rust, faded out letters, sag in the support brackets (check out the photo at downport.com). Left unattended, its days were numbered before the building owner tore it down as an eyesore."

"Now it has a chance at a fresh start. It will be rehabbed and hung in a place of honor in my FLGS [Medieval Starship, Jay's "Friendly Local Game Store"]. It is a piece of our heritage as fellow Travellers, and now will be there for the next generation of gamers."

"Photos of the event will soon be available on line. Also, anyone in the O'Fallon, Illinois area (just 15 miles from the Archon convention) is invited to stop by Medieval Starship to check on the rehab progress."

J. LaRosee
Medieval Starship

Second Foundation?

- T5 developing in the wings
- Classic Traveller reprints
- where to now?

What Others Have To Say About The Game

"Did you know that Marc Miller was a sociology major (I read that somewhere)? I was a sociology major, and I believe Marc's study of sociology is what made the background so believable for me (I'm not talking tech here, but social and political background).
Craig Lytton, email to xboat@egroups.com, 8 Jan 2000.

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