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A Tribute to the Burgess Shale Period of Traveller

Know, O Travellers, that in the early days of GDW, before the rise of the Third Imperium, there was an age undreamed of, where unknown races and empires and federations strode among the stars, their ships sparkling through Jumpspace between worlds lost to our ken. Once there were many species of Traveller -- other worlds, other races, other galaxies, other times, other roads taken -- only to be eclipsed forever by the Imperium. From many Travellers to one, and when that One shattered and fell, so fell Traveller...

The Burgess Shale Effect

Do you remember when CT
Was only Books 1, 2, and 3
And a homespun setting that you wrote?

-- Doug & Kirsten Berry, "The Traveller Saga" (filk)

The Burgess Shale is a geologic formation in the Canadian Rockies, incredibly rich in fossils from Earth's early Cambrian period -- the earliest known (except possibly for the Edicara) muticellular life on Earth. Over 90% of these fossils are unclassifiable except as "Problematica" (unclassifiable weird ones), matching no known phylum.

Note: A Phylum (plural Phyla) is the next-to-largest step in the Linnaean System of biological classification. For example; all fish, reptiles, dinosaurs, birds, and mammals -- anything with a spinal cord/backbone -- group into a single phylum: Vertebrates.

Apparently, when multicellular life first appeared (possibly spurred on by the DNA-shuffling effects of sexual reproduction), it exploded into a myriad of "experimental" forms (preserved in the Burgess Shale), followed later by an apparent mass extinction. Only the handful of phyla that survived that extinction left descendants; all life on Earth belongs to one of those remaining phyla -- maybe 10-20% of the phyla that lived at the period of the Burgess Shale.

The same phenomenon happened in FRP gaming. Early Traveller (as was typical in FRP games of the day) was a set of basic character rules, small starships, and basic worldbuilding, without any "official" background. As in D&D of the time, the game master had to make up his universe from scratch, filling in the holes and errata in the original ruleset. (Especially since except for the starships and gravs, early Traveller technology was pretty much contemporary; any "really futuristic" stuff had to be homebrewed.) In those days before the official GDW "Third Imperium" universe, each gamemaster built his Traveller universe differently, leading to a variety of star-spanning civilizations and high-tech that has not been seen since.

Just like the Problematica of the Burgess Shale.