"Travelleresque" Console or PC Game?

I’ve been enjoying the heck out of the new Mongoose Traveller books but with little time or access to a group of players I’m wondering if anyone’s made a game that’s got the right kind of feel and mix of options this classic tabletop RPG provides.

  1. Mix of ground and space elements including but not limited to tactical combat and interstellar trading.

  2. Focus on crew and ship development.

  3. Huge universe, preferably randomly generated, with varied worlds to explore.

  4. And, the signature Traveller element, detailed background/skill generation for crew members featuring different careers and specializations.

If you don’t know what Traveller is then just imagine a Serenity RPG if the Firefly could actually mount some weaponry. The closest game with the kind of substantial character background generation I’m looking for might be Darklands.

Any mix of these in any format will be considered. For example, Mass Effect (and ME2) is a contender but so are the X series of trading sims. But I’d be much happier with a game that focused less on graphics and more on the logistic, tactical (even turn-based) and roleplaying elements as more variety of content could fit in.


If you find this game, let me know. For me, the closest I’ve found is Mass Effect 1, but it sounds like the streamlining they did to ME2 will make it lose (or loose for the mouth breathing tarditrons) what it did capture of the Traveller magic.

I also dig the new Mongoose books, picked up a half dozen of them or so.

Freelancer might be of interest, though it sacrifices randomness for a plot that takes you from system to system. Still plenty of non-plot fun stuff to explore though, and you can continue to play even after completing the main storyline. Lots of economic elements too with trading, mining and even selling contraband. It lacks a crew aspect though, as it’s just you against the universe.

Space Rangers 2 might also meet some of your criteria. It has the tactiocal combat, the open-ended universe, and a sort of “crew” in that you can hire on guys to help you out.

There was also an actual Traveller system game made years ago. It’s called Megatraveller 2 : Quest for the Ancients. It’s OLD (yes, with capital letters) and thus unlikely to satisfy in the graphics and features departments, but it sure as hell was huge, and allowed for customization of crew members, equipment and tons of side quests. I don’t recall if there was any trading or not. It was a lot of fun 20 years ago though, and based pretty faithfully on the Traveller RPG system at the time.

Kerberos Productions is developing a game called Northstar. It is supposed to be exactly what you(we) are looking for.

Apparently the UI they developed for Fort Zombie is supposed to be the interface they were planning to use for Northstar. So our prospects are not looking very promising.

I’ve played Freelancer. It had a great look and feel but it was pretty shallow and linear in terms of progression. There was always a clearly designated “better” ship. Also the economic model was static and there was no strategic dynamism between the factions. This was a bit of a problem for me because I’d already played Terminus which had Newtonian physics, non-linear power curve which rewarded ship specialization (and techniques) rather than just more/bigger guns, supply and demand economics and a dynamic multi-faction strategic engine that could have come right out of any high end flight sim. And Terminus came out years before Freelancer! Look and feel, though, was pretty terrible I’ll admit.

But even Terminus lacked the huge universe and crew-based RPG aspects I’m really looking for.

Space Rangers 2 is very fun and creative but it tends to boil down to an arcade combat game. The variety of gameplay options is impressive though and especially unexpected are the occasional mini text-adventures. But I’d really like a game that had more of a focus on the crew even if they’re X-Com squaddie types. Actually, especially if they’re X-Com squaddies and their “base” is my ship.

As for Derek Smart…I love his basic concept for a capital ship simulation in Battlecruiser. I just think it didn’t execute very well and isn’t a practical, or enjoyable, experience for most people. Especially frustrating is his desire to cram all sorts of other stuff into the game when the basic elements are so great yet were also so direly in need of polish. I haven’t played anything post-BC so I can’t speak to that but BC itself, while exciting and promising initially, was an unplayable and overly complex mess with a brilliant core idea.

I actually think the X series could be decent if you weren’t looking to focus more on the crew, but since that’s the case, it would probably take a lot of internal roleplaying on the player’s part to make that interesting.

What I liked about ME1 was that you could jump around sectors, dive into a solar system, scan the planets, find one worth landing on, then take a selected crew that you level up with you. The combat is actiony, but has some tactical feel to it with different weapons and power selections. It wasn’t perfect, but flying around the galaxy and checking out planetary surfaces is what I loved about Traveller (and maybe more so in Traveller 2300/2300AD).

I keep meaning to check out… is it Star Wolves? Not sure if that would fit the bill either.

Then I should belatedly check out ME1. I was busy with other games when it came out and, at the time, highly skeptical of scripted RPGs. Of course, that was before Dragon Age won me over and Mass Effect is by the very same folks at Bioware.

The scripted RPG part of it is what I didn’t dig a ton. I definitely spent more time and got more enjoyment from just doing the side stuff but there is no getting around the real story. It’s not that the main story is bad, I had some fun with it, but I liked the side stuff on my own more.

  • Dark Sci Fi Setting, the devs aim at Bladerunner/Aliens/Matrix style feeling
  • Fit your ships for the task at hand
  • Skill based game
  • On top of that focuses on the “player skill” not the character skill
  • Humans only divided into four main empires
  • Fully player driven market
  • Become what you want to be, evil overloard, alliance leader, pirate, scum, thief or hero
  • huge really dangerous universe
  • real risk
  • huge background history
  • PvP combat is very tactical in groups
  • sandbox
  • real exploration, wanna get lost ? Im really get lost in a game ? yupp it’s possible (and dangerous)
  • RPers are hard to find, mostly forum based, but its “playing the game is roleplaying”
  • ships only, no character avatar apart from headshot picture
  • land based play is more civ like (but released just in the last week)
  • it’s an MMO
  • hard learnging curve
  • crews have no meaning, based on the lore, they are expendable in your characters social environment
  • crews dont have any game meaning either
  • PvP combat can more like a RTS with real players thus heavily group dependent
  • PvE combat is somewhat pale
  • sandbox

It’s Eve Online

Good impression links:

http://getaclone.com/ - What you could become

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oq2oxt7Nrxo - How it can be played

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMSjd6HNQdY - A overwhelmed new player experience ;)

You…you preferred the barren, pointless side planets with the godawful bouncy vehicle to the actual storyline in ME1? -boggles-

Oh, I’ve done some time in Eve Online. It’s impressive on a number of levels but ultimately the most interesting stuff (to me) is the high level political games that go on and that for most players is just a spectator sport. I don’t have the time or inclination to work shifts patrolling systems or mining ore for the big guys. At the lower end things can be even more brutally repetitive and dull with less rationale for it.

I will say the few, and there are very few, serious roleplayers in Eve Online are among the best and most intelligent I’ve run across anywhere. They take the setting and their characters seriously. More importantly, they can roll with whatever happens in the game to make for yet more content to roleplay about. It’s not all about winning or losing for them but being part of something that’s interesting. To a lesser extent, as well, the actual design of Eve Online rewards and punishes player behavior so that they act in ways that are consistent with the setting. They plan, plot, betray, war, invest, conquer, retreat and regroup. They’re pirates, businessmen, belters, grunts and generalissimos. And they don’t even know they’re roleplaying. It’s just playing the game.

But I’m looking for something I can enjoy as a roleplaying experience without the overhead of time invested or drama-llamas and sadists messing up my good time so they can have their good time. Crew-based and single-player would be what I need here.

Kind of, but then I didn’t see them as pointless. I dug exploring them, encountering what I encountered, scanning stuff on the surfaces, getting into the occasional fight with the locals… it was shallow, but it felt a little more sandboxy during those times. I even read the planetary descriptions when I jumped into a solar system and started scanning the planets. From a game perspective, I got a lot of levels out of it compared to a friend of mine who skipped most of that and just played through the story. Plus there were side quests scattered on a lot of these planets as well.

The main story is solid for fantasy set in space, but it’s also a little cheesy, and I definitely don’t love “Bioware trying to offer a cinematic experience” since I think they are a little lousy at the “cinematic” in the phrase “cinematic experience.” Maybe not the scope, but the actual presentation at times. But I liked the main story enough to see it through to the end and I’m curious to see what comes next.

But the side stuff very much struck a bit of a Traveller vibe, and that hooked me more than the main story line.

The politics are a pretty important part of the main storyline in ME1, so it may make the game even closer to what you are looking for.


There was also MegaTraveller 1 - The Zhodani Conspiracy. I absolutely loved that game. When I bought it, I played it on my Tandy 1000 – but I didn’t know that it required a hard drive. I copied various files to four 5.25" SD floppy disks and manually switched the disks at certain points throughout the game. Older (!) games that have that Traveler feel is Sentinel Worlds 1 - Future Magic and the sequel Hard Nova.

Why, oh why do we not have games like this any more?

I have very happy memories of playing Traveller a great deal back in my youth (early to mid 80s). We had a regular group that went from 6 - 10 people over the years and we played at least once a week (sometimes twice) well into the wee hours. This was black book Traveller days (pre-Megatraveller) - we had an excellent referee (a fire control officer on a ballistic missile sub, as it turned out) who fleshed out our Traveller game world and could act out NPCs very well. He meticulously planned campaigns and it was great. One campaign that took the better part of a year started out with us as the typical Traveller free trader group and ended up I think with us as despots of a backwater planet. Traveller was great because it was so flexible and paid a lot of attention to economics, politics and culture.

Anyways I never had so much fun gaming since, video games never quite the perfect substitute for it, but at my age and in my circumstances I’ll never be able to regularly play in a PnP RPG again, I think.

So anyway, I’ve never found a video game that really captured the essence of Traveller. A few touched it - Privateer for example (maybe the most Traveller like video game), the Mass Effects a little bit. I agree with your comment on EVE (I like EVE but haven’t logged in, in two months and will probably drop my subscription - just can’t devote the time and regular effort to get a lot out of the game).

I was going to mention Northstar by the same people who made Sword of the Stars, but someone else beat me to it. It looks very promising and is explicitly Traveller-like, just hope a small indie can pull off something so ambitious. I liked SOTS, so maybe they have a chance.

Now what’s this about new Mongoose Traveller books? Is this the T5 edition of Traveller that Marc Miller is supposed to publish sometime soon (the “ultimate” edition - the man is like 70 years old and still working on the game, God bless him).

EDIT: not only did we play Traveller, but we also played starship combat wargames with Traveller rules (which originally featured an AWESOME vector based starship combat system), as well as quite a bit of Striker, the table top Traveller ground combat miniatures game, which was fantastic. “Fire, Fusion, and Steel” was originally part of Striker, the very detailed technical rules for building armored fighting vehicles, guns, aircraft, you name it to use in Traveller. Those rules were so awesome, I had countless hours of fun just designing new grav tanks and artillery pieces.

I’m not expert enough to tell you what the differences might be between MG:T and T5 but the Mongoose version seems very close to the original in intent and design. However, it tweaks around the edges to bring Traveller up to date and make it even more playable out of the box. The main tweak in the core rules revolves around a pool of thematic skills that a group can allocate in addition to the career skills they get. So, if the GM wants a campaign around mercenaries he can make sure everyone in the party has a relevant skill. MG:T also weaves in biographical events so there’s more narrative heft to a character’s past as they advance through careers. This also ties into party building as players, if they wish, can associate other players with past events and in doing so can cross-train a skill.

It’s pretty clever stuff. The basic systems are very similar to original Traveller and even the book covers have the same kind of visual design.

The supplements are, to some extent, what you’d expect. High Guard and Mercenary and Scout fill roles similar to the original expansions but with more options and systems for campaigns centering around those careers. Others, like Rogue or Psion or Dilettante branch off in completely new directions. Then they’ve redone The Spinward Marches and other Imperium campaign products. However, they’ve also adapted other settings to Traveller as well like Hammer’s Slammers and Judge Dredd.


Awesome, thanks for the info Brian.

This. 1000 times this.

Mass Effect was awesome. I loved both aspects of the game, the scripted storyline bits (which I thought were fairly well written) and the sandbox planetary/system stuff with the side quest content. The former kept my interest in completing the game high, while the later was great for leveling and injected a couple of pretty interesting little side stories into the game. Overall I found Mass Effect to be the best future-themed game I’d played since KOTOR and Freelancer.