Ludophilis: I have earlier described the almost magical impact that the original LBB version of the Dungeons and Dragons Game had when I first laid eyes upon it.
Just a few years later—it all seems about the same time, and looking back from the age of 55 at my teen self, I realize it was—I was browsing at The Legionnaire and there was another boxed set of little books very much the same size and format as the D&D LBBs. It came in a shiny black box with red printing…do you remember?
Yes. It was Traveller.
I stared at that black box a lot over the next month or so. Since it was closed up, there was no way to look at the contents. It came in three books…well, that was almost traditional. It promised a roleplaying game for science-fiction adventures in the far future. That part was great as I have always been more into SF than Fantasy, though I do enjoy both. But what was actually in those boxes? It was, quite literally, a black box mystery.
I asked the owner of the store, Paul, what he knew about it, and he said it looked good, and several people were excited about it, but nobody he knew had actually played it. No one likes buying a pig in a poke, but back then everything , no matter how crude, was grist for the role player’s mill. We were all just making it up as we went along . That was half the fun right there.
I decided to risk the ten bucks or whatever to buy it. And I ended up opening the box in my car. And I was amazed. It contained something I had never seen before in a roleplaying game: professional typesetting. And okay art.
I have since definitely seen better layout and sexier graphics, but back then everything looked like it had been laid out by enthusiastic amateurs using IBM Selectric typewriters, probably because everything was laid out by enthusiastic amateurs using IBM Selectric typewriters. But this Traveller game was different. The more professional, consistent layout and real printers typeface meant that these GDW guys were serious. And everything about that game seemed serious while at the same time promising that one could run any kind of far-future space adventure.
There was no magic, but there was Psionics, though it was a repressed practice.
I played some trading games, I even did a sequel to the Star Wars films just out by having Luke and Leia’s daughter hire the adventurers to find her missing Uncle Luke. I had to plug in all kinds of Force stuff—but it worked!
Forget that they omitted any task resolution system at that point (They presented one later). Forget that they were weak on giving examples. Heck, forget that the name of the game misspelled “traveler.” It was a fun game, held up well as they years went by, and looked and felt better developed than a lot of the games out at that time. At the same time, the gaps in the game system were something we were used to. That’s just how RPGs were!
I still have my original Little Black Box and its three original books, covers scuffed but essentially sound. The $9.95 I paid for that game was and will probably always be the best value for money I ever received in my life.
Let’s sip ahead a few years to college; actually, to my grad school years. To keep costs low and my focus appropriate, I was living in a dormitory while working toward my master’s degree. Yeah, so what, I was uncool; tell me something I don’t know.
At the start of one year I met a guy who lived in the room next door, which meant he and his roommate and my roommate and I all shared a bathroom. He was an affable, intelligent guy coming back for his MS in Civil Engineering named Russell Iwasa. Russell and I hit it off directly. We went down to the dorm cafeteria for dinner and over dinner we discovered we had a love of good, funny, brainy SF and adventure stories, in fact, a of of books and authors were mutual favorites.
Encouraged by this meeting a kindred mind, I then asked the big question, “So—what roleplaying games do you play?”
He looked puzzled. “What’s a roleplaying game?” And he was serious. Well, they were still kind of obscure, especially in Hawaii, but someone who loved SF and adventure stories was the sort of person….
“Oh, Russell. Oh, oh Russell. Oh my God! After dinner I have something that I just have to show you.”
His brow furrowed “Okay,” he said cautiously.
Well, given Russell’s love of SF, it had to be Traveller. And as promised, I brought the books to his room, showed them how the game worked, showed him how the character generation system was almost a little mini-game in itself.
And he liked it. Hey Russell! He asked if he could hang on to the books overnight.
The next morning we met up in the cafeteria. Russell looked a little tired. He admitted to having stayed up late rolling up characters. (I had also loaned him dice.)
“Really?” I asked him? “you look a little tired? How many characters did you roll up?”
“Forty-one,” he replied. “I never did go to sleep.”
Russell and I played Traveller and many other games over the years. He ran a Traveller game that was great fun. I’ve lost touch with Russell, but I will never forget how immediately he took to Traveller.