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*Freelance Traveller

The Electronic Fan-Supported Traveller® Resource

Traveller for the 21st Century

This article originally appeared in Issue #011 of the downloadable PDF magazine.

Traveller is one of the oldest SF RPGs and many people now treat it as retro-SF modeled on the space opera novels of the 1960s and 1970s. While it can do this well, during the 1980s and early 1990s, the writers and developers at both GDW and DGP did their best to keep Traveller feeling like the sort of SF that was current at this time. However, these efforts (along with GDW) ended around 15 years ago. Since that time, personal electronics and the internet have changed many of our assumptions about technology, and SF has also changed.

With the publication of The New Space Opera (edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan) in 2008, we have seen a strong resurgence of space opera stories and novels that are the clear descendents of the works that spawned Traveller. My goal in this article is to provide some suggestions for helping to update Traveller to a modern understanding of technology and modern ideas about space opera, without transforming it into a different game. This article is in three parts: the first is about updating Traveller to better fit with our current understanding of various technologies, specifically electronics and biotechnology. The second part is a list of common personal electronics used in the Imperium, and the third is a discussion of modern space opera and how to tweak Traveller so that it feels more like modern space opera, while still definitively remaining the same excellent RPG that we know and love. All three articles contain a few footnotes that are listed at the end of the third article. These footnotes are all references to various web pages detailing new technologies that are both changing our world and that would be available in the Imperium.

Part I: Traveller and Modern Technology

One of the most important points to keep in mind is that Traveller was created well before the advent of the sort of modern communication and data access that many of us now take for granted. When Traveller was new, there was no public internet, cell phones did not exist, and universal wireless data access was barely imagined in SF. However, we now live in a very different world. Today, telling players that their PCs, who are carrying around TL 12 gear, cannot access whatever information they want when they are in range of their ship or a planetary data network is going to puzzle and annoy players who carry a smartphone or similar device and have grown to expect this sort of data access in the present day.

I’ve heard various older gamers say that cell phones and smart phones and similar devices ruin many standard RPG plots. I firmly believe that the existence of such devices and technologies changes these plots, but that they provide as many new opportunities as they eliminate. For modern day examples of how to use such technologies in adventure plots, take a look at TV shows like Burn Notice or Leverage. It’s not difficult to mine these shows for examples of how instant and ubiquitous communications and data access can enhance RPG plots, including Traveller plots.

Here are a few suggestions for updating electronics, computers, and biotechnology in Traveller. These modifications will not significantly change the nature of the Imperium and will have little impact on play for players who are used to both using smartphones in their daily life and seeing similar electronics used in modern day crime and espionage movies and TV shows. However, these changes will both keep Traveller from feeling “retro” and also allow GMs and players with expectations of the future based upon their experiences in the modern day to more comfortably enjoy gaming in the Imperium.

We live in an era where augmented reality is starting to become mainstream1, where electronics can give people new senses2, or replace their existing ones3, and where robots are beginning to perform science on their own4, and robots have surpassed human dexterity5. There seems to me to be no excuse to not look to these technological wonders and let them inform Traveller.

Changing Modern Tech Levels

When Traveller was written, humanity was a TL 7 species; by the early 90s, we had achieved TL 8 in many areas, and while we have yet to discover antigravity, fusion power, or jump drive, we are now on the edge of TL 9, at least in computers, communications, medicine, and perhaps in a few other areas. As a result, we have far more of an idea what TL changes mean for electronics and some other areas of technology. We know that electronics improve vastly with TL changes. In the Traveller Imperium, tech levels advance quite slowly, but they do advance. Here are some suggestions for how they advance and how to incorporate the lessons of modern technology into Traveller.

Suggestions for Advanced Electronics

As TLs advance, I strongly recommend that computers and electronics improve in the following manner: electronic storage (which, in the Imperium consists of small chips like modern flash memory cards) can hold 1,000 times more with every advance in TL. So, a TL 9 memory card the size of a human fingernail can hold approximately 100 GB (gigabytes), while a TL 10 memory card of the same size can hold 100 TB (terabytes).

Also, computers are smaller than we expected 25 years ago and prices drop rapidly. My recommendation for both computers and robots (including the robot brains in CT Book 8: Robots) reduce all prices by a factor of 10 and size by a factor of 10 when the computer is introduced, to reduce size and price by an additional factor of 10 at the next TL and further reduce the size (but not the price) by a factor of 10 two TLs after the computer or robot brain is introduced. At this point there are no further reductions at higher TLs.

Other Consequences of Improved Electronics

Improved electronics also doesn’t just mean better or smaller computers or cell phones. We live in an era of tiny robots, including tiny flying robots6, as well as tiny but powerful lab equipment7. To avoid drastic changes to Traveller, we will assume that the dreams of advanced robots the size of fleas are not realized, or at least not until TLs higher than those found in the Imperium, but by TL 10 or TL 11, we should assume that any device that consists largely of advanced electronics can be made as small as is useful. As a result, almost any piece of portable electronics can be made so that it fits conveniently in the user’s pocket.

Augmented Reality

With programs like Layar8 and Google Goggles1a, we are entering the first days of widespread augmented reality. Augmented reality means that you can either point the camera of your cell phone or similar device at a book, or (in a few years) look at a book while wearing your video display glasses, and you can, if you desire, instantly see book reviews and details for how to buy this book online. Similarly, you could look at a person and see their name and a link to their Facebook page that you could click, as well as any previous notes you may have made about this person. Alternately, you could look at a piece of fruit and see both nutritional information and a series of recipes for using it, or examine a fallen leaf, and also see pictures of and read a short informational article about the type of tree it fell from. Augmented reality means not just having information at your fingertips, but seeing it everywhere you look, and it is not a possible technology, it’s available right now.

Technological Diffusion

One of the modern truths about cell phones and other easily portable electronics is that they spread swiftly and far. Today, more people in Sub-Saharan Africa have cell phones than have landlines, and cell phones can be found all across the modern third world, where they help provide people with little other contact with 21st century technology with opportunities that were previously unimaginable, allowing many to overcome poverty9.

In Traveller, a 200td merchant ship with a hold of various TL 11 personal electronics or communications satellites could go to a TL 7 world within the Imperium almost as easily as modern cell phone companies send representatives and sales agents to the poorest and most remote portions of the third world, and these merchants will often find eager buyers for these devices. While distances and expense will likely keep personal electronics from TL 11 or 12 worlds out of the hands of the poorer inhabitants of TL 7 or 8 worlds, the wealthy and many members of the middle class will be able to afford these devices and there’s no reason that Free Traders with holds full of such devices or spare parts for them could not regularly land on these lower tech worlds. As a result, as long as a low tech world is not a Red Zone or perhaps an Amber Zone or is not ruled by anti-technological fanatics, the well-off inhabitants of these worlds are very likely to have at least some devices from worlds with Average Stellar TLs. Also, such worlds are certain to have advanced satellite networks.

Satellite Networks

One of the truths of Traveller is that getting into orbit is cheap and easy, as a result, every world with a TL of 9 or higher is going to have many more satellites than we do, since even a good air-raft can reach orbit. Weather satellites, a full GPS satellite network, and enough communication satellites to handle all of the world’s phone, data, and entertainment traffic anywhere on the planet are all going to be present on all such worlds in the Imperium. On some particularly repressive worlds, only the military or the ruling elite may be able to access data from these satellites, but the satellite networks will exist.

These same satellite networks will also be present on most worlds in the Imperium with TLs of 5+, simply because a Free Trader with a cargo hold full of such satellites could put them up around any planet with enough electronics to use them and make an excellent profit doing so. Some worlds with even lower TLs will have similar satellite networks, simply because the Imperial Navy or Scout service has a base on that world and finds the satellite network useful and very cheap to put up and maintain. As a result, almost anywhere in the Imperium, PCs who are on an inhabited planet (and on some uninhabited ones) will have full access to GPS, voice and data services to and from anywhere on the planet, and real-time satellite images of the world who resolution is mostly limited by local privacy laws.

Note on Satellite photos: Although in most cases, satellite photos will not be able to clearly resolve individual faces, license plates, or similarly small details, due to atmospheric distortion, it’s definitely possible to observe any person or vehicle that isn’t underneath some object that blocks observation from above. As a result, PCs could use such imagery to tell the size and color of an air-raft and how many people were in it, but not exactly who was in it, or what the precise model of the air-raft was. Almost all worlds will also keep recordings of older satellite data, but may limit who can legally gain access to this data.

Different Approaches to Technology

The Imperium is a large and diverse place, and even if two worlds have the same TL, they will not approach the use of data networks and personal electronics in the same fashion. I can see at least three common approaches to dealing with these technologies, depending upon both culture and taste:

For cultures and individuals who prefer to minimize the obvious impact of technologies on their life: Everything except for visual enhancements (like display viewers*) fit in a large, thin wrist watch or a credit card sized object with a small full color screen or holographic display on the front, a few buttons, and a microphone for vocal input. Characters on these worlds have easy access to both communication and data networks, but can also choose to ignore both when necessary. Also, devices will be primarily voice activated and will be able to draw upon data and preferences from the user’s data store**. Most interactions with technology will be utterly seamless – a character will look at a display screen on a wall or desk, say a few words, and the screen will display recordings from that character’s data store.

For cultures that prefer to fully embrace technology but avoid implants: All devices carried by an inhabitant of this culture are linked in a personal area network10. There is a computer that is built into the wearer’s clothing or jewelry, a pair of display glasses+ or display contacts++ that acts as a heads-up-display, a belt, necklace or similar device with an inertial compass and electrodes that provides the wearer with an innate sense of direction2a, tiny digital cameras (see camera jewelry#) with a wide range of frequencies, light intensifiers, and fairly good magnification on ear-rings or some other pieces of clothing or jewelry. Input is though a mixture of sub-vocalization and electrodes mounted on jewelry or simply tiny sensors stuck to the user's scalp11. A character wearing this sort of device would be living in a significantly augmented world, with computerized facial recognition (linked with biographical info), as well as an almost instinctive awareness where every object the character owns is (due to miniature RFID tags in all consumer goods).

For cultures that prefer to fully embrace technology and have no problems with implants: Everything from the version immediately above, except that it's all implanted. Interestingly, the difference between the implanted and the worn version would largely be irrelevant to both the character and the player, since both provide full augmented reality and constant access to sensory and informational enhancements.

It’s worth noting that early versions of the first option are already available, examples being the latest iPhone and some of the new, high-end Android OS smartphones, both of which now have augmented reality options.


When we look at modern biotechnology, with stem cell therapy curing diseases12 and gene therapy soon to be used to enhance athletes13, we see wonders that are clearly going to become even more amazing. We are on the verge of cures for many diseases and the basis of aging is currently being tracked down. As a result, it looks certain that in the future biotechnology will play a major role in many facets of human life. Obviously, Traveller isn’t a universe where everyone has extensive genetic engineering, but there are modified humans like the desert adapted Jonkereen that have been created by Imperial biotechnology, and so advanced biotechnology is clearly in use.

In fact, advanced biotechnology has been in use for many thousands of years, and I’m certain that the genome of Imperial Humaniti would reflect this fact. I assume that at least 90% of the humans have these hereditary modifications, either because they are from Stellar or High Stellar worlds, their ancestors were from such worlds, or medical relief worker have provided them or their ancestors with these modifications. The nature of these modifications I’m suggesting is quite conservative – fixes for most genetic problems and very minor enhancements in health and longevity.

I recommend giving these modifications to all PCs (and most other inhabitants of the Imperium) for free. These modifications should include various minor but significant enhancements like allowing characters to normally live to be over 100 or so with access to Industrial or Pre-Stellar Medicine, 140 with access to Stellar medicine and to 160+ with access to High Stellar medicine, as well as immunity to most diseases, the ability to slowly regrow limbs and most organs, and perhaps double normal human healing rate. None of this would render PCs inhuman, but they make sense as tweaks that could have occurred over the course of millennia of high tech civilization. I’d also put a lower bound on Intelligence and Constitution, since I can see gene-fixes on both to make certain characters had a minimum of each. Essentially, what I see is fixing almost all hereditary problems, boosting lifespan a bit and improving healing a bit.

In terms of increasing longevity, we already have rules for increased longevity in the DGP supplement Vilani & Vargr. Pure-blood Vilani gain a +4 to all Aging rolls. Obviously, hereditary longevity improvement is possible, and during the Rule of Man, the Solomani would almost certainly have examined Vilani DNA and figured this out. So, such bonuses would likely be Imperium-wide, with additional bonuses for growing up on a higher tech world. To further represent that affects of growing up with high tech medicine, I’d also slightly delay how rapidly aging starts.


Suggested Aging Modifiers
Tech Level DM on Aging Rolls Begin Aging in Term
Pre-Stellar or Earlier +2 5
Early Stellar +2 6
Average Stellar +3 7
High Stellar +4 8

Note: These bonuses are quite conservative and GMs who wish to have genetic engineering be slightly more impressive should at +1 to all these bonuses, with the +s ranging from +3 to +5 instead of +2 to +4.

I also recommend that Endurance and Intelligence should be rolled as 6+1d6 or better yet, if you still want a bell curve, characters should roll 4+2d4 rather than 2D6 to represent gene-fixing that removes obvious problems to endurance or intelligence (which are certain to be the first two modifications people make). I would also allow humaniti (and most other sophonts who have had access to advanced technology for millennia) to regenerate lost body parts, due to long ago heritable genetic therapies. I’d make this regeneration quite slow, 3 months for a hand and 2 years for a leg, meaning that any injured PC who doesn’t want to be out of action for a very long time will avail themselves of high technology medicine.

Putting it all Together – Technology In Daily Life

To better understand how to use these various technologies, here are examples of daily life at various TLs in the Imperium.

Life at Pre-Stellar TLs (TLs 6-8)

Most of the population uses landline phones, listens to the radio, or watches TV. However, the wealthy and upper middle class have access to off-world hand computers. Few people have better than TL 11 technology, but even these devices provide many benefits. Overheard a full network of communication, weather, observation, and GPS satellites were put in place by a passing merchant.

Local military forces, covert operatives, and the specialized, high-end police and security forces use the GPS data and wireless data networks to great advantage as well as using TL 10+ hand computers to keep in constant communication with their superiors. The wealthy often drive air rafts, but the middle class must use ground cars, and most of the poor rely upon bicycles or public transport. Military special forces wear combat armor and carry laser rifles, but ordinary soldiers are equipped with pre-stellar weapons and armor. Off-world medicine is available to the wealthy, or for the most serious illnesses, but only the wealthy and powerful can gain access to the various medicines that slow aging. A few of the wealthiest may even be taking anagathics.

Life at Early Stellar TLs (TLs 9-10)

Augmented reality begins to become commonplace, and everyone is expected to own a hand computer. Wearable interfaces are still rare, and only a few of the wealthy and the upper middle class have interface implants‡‡, as do some covert operatives. Most augmented reality is fairly limited, but it provides instant information about many topics. People expect to be in constant contact with each other and to always have information at their fingertips. Many individuals are puzzled or even a bit distressed when they are out of contact with phone and data networks.

Life at Average Stellar TLs (TLs 11-13)

Augmented reality is ubiquitous on any world that has not specifically decided to avoid its use. On many worlds, anyone who is not at least carrying a hand computer will miss most of the social and cultural information around them. Sometimes most outdoor signage is replaced by augmented reality information. On these worlds, most residents use wearable or interface implants, and people who rely upon ordinary hand computers are regarded as eccentrics, while those who lack even a hand computer are considered to be either social cripples or beneath notice. Individuals who lack even a hand computer often have difficulty functioning in this society.

Robots become popular and widespread and most consumer goods are made in automated factories. While human-shaped robots remain a curiosity used by eccentrics or for highly specialized tasks, many Average Stellar kitchens are almost fully automated with robot arms and other automated tools that fold up into sleek compartments when not in use, but which can reach down to prepare food and clean up. Every room that is not specifically kept sensor free has a variety of sensors, and residents can usually control everything from light and heat to window opacity or locking or opening doors by voice command. Someone in this TL could either order their home computer to prepare them coffee and breakfast once they wake up, or they could ask the computer to prepare them their coffee and favorite breakfast as soon as the computer determines that they have woken up.

Almost every commonly used device contains a computer that can communicate, in a simple and limited fashion, both with the user and with other devices. Refrigerators know when food inside them has gone bad and if given permission can order more food to be delivered by automated delivery vehicles. Home and hand computers also learn their user’s preferences and can recommend entertainment, food, or other things based upon their user’s previous tastes.

On many worlds, ubiquitous surveillance is the norm when you are outside; on others this sort of surveillance is highly illegal; and on some not only is outdoor surveillance ubiquitous, the data is available to everyone on the world, making privacy and secrecy outdoors nothing more than either a polite fiction or a foolish delusion.

Life at High Stellar TLs (TLs 14-16)

Houses, starships, and even hand computers develop personalities based upon their user’s tastes and preferences. While not in any way intelligent, many computers seem like they are, at least unless you ask them about abstract topics or complex issues. The introduction of neural interfaces at TL 15 makes intimate computer access the norm, and on some worlds every inhabitant is expected to have such a rig and wear it almost constantly. High speed communications between wearers of these devices allows them to communicate both faster and using a mixture of thoughts and images that resembles telepathy, except that it is purely technological.

Part II: Personal Electronics

The following are the most common types of personal electronics found in the Imperium. Here, for convenience, are the changes I am making to traditional Traveller electronics (also discussed in Part I).

Suggestions for Advanced Electronics

As TL’s advance, I strongly recommend that computers and electronics improve in the following manner – electronic storage (which consists of small chips like modern flash memory cards) can hold 1,000 times more with every advance in TL. So, a TL 9 memory card the size of a human thumbnail can hold approximately 100 GB (gigabytes), while a TL 10 memory card of the same size can hold 100 TB (terabytes).

Also, computers are both smaller and less expensive than we expected 25 years ago and both size and prices drop rapidly. My recommendation for both computers and robots (including the robot brains in CT Book 8: Robots) reduce all prices by a factor of 10 and size by a factor of 10 when the computer is introduced, and reduce size and price by an additional factor of 10 at the next TL and further reduce the size (but not the price) by a factor of 10 two TLs after the computer or robot brain is introduced. At this point there are no further reductions at higher TLs. These adjustments have been provided to the costs of all items listed here and they do not decrease in cost at higher TLs unless specifically stated.

Other Consequences of Improved Electronics

Improved electronics also doesn’t just mean better or smaller computers or cell phones. We live in an era of tiny robots, including tiny flying robots6a, as well as tiny but powerful lab equipment7a. To avoid drastic changes to Traveller, we will assume that the dreams of advanced robots the size of fleas are not realized, or at least not until TLs higher than those found in the Imperium, but by TL 10 and higher, we should assume that any device that consists largely of advanced electronics can be made as small as is useful. So, almost any piece of portable electronics can be made so that it fits conveniently in the user’s pocket.

TL 9 Equipment

(Editor’s Note: It is inferred that the TL in the header refers to when the equipment first becomes available, as the progressive improvement by TL of each device is discussed.)

Hand Computer (TL 9+): At TL 9, this device is equivalent to a high end modern smart phone with touch screen, digital still and video camera, GPS, limited voice recognition and augmented reality, including limited image recognition. This device also contains transceivers capable of connecting to all Imperial phone and data networks. Hand computers designed for interstellar travelers also contain multi-band radios capable of sending and receiving from similar units with a range of 100 km and of communicating with the powerful radio found on a starship at a range of 500 km. This capability adds nothing to the unit’s cost. Also, due to standardized computer protocols, every hand computer can access basic voice and data services across the Imperium. At typical TL 9 hand computer is 12 cm x 6 cm x 9 cm and is either carried in a pocket or worn on an arm.

At TL 10, the computer used in this device possesses the High Data command logic and Basic Command fundamental command program (CT Book 8: Robots, p. 35) and can understand simple spoken commands like “Display all data on Arla Kasten’s political career” or “Show me a map of the fastest route home”. This computer possesses limited learning capability and the augmented reality functions also greatly improve, allowing the unit to display information on any known object. If the unit’s camera is aimed at an animal or plant, it can provide detailed information about the target and the device can also perform facial recognition from any clear visual image. All TL 10 units can also function as language translators for both written and spoken language, as long as the language is found in Imperial data banks. At TL 10 and higher, the capacity of a hand computer’s memory is also so large that it is unlikely to ever be completely filled.

At TL 13, all hand computers use holographic displays instead of flat video screen and their cameras become holovideo recorders. Advances in electronic memory mean that the additional storage requirements of holographic imagery still allow these devices to have effectively unlimited storage.

This device serves the purpose of a chronometer, media player, digital still and video camera, GPS and mapping unit, data network terminal, augmented reality display, telephone, entertainment device, and at TL 10+ a language translator.

Cost: Cr 1,000

At TL 13+ the computer in this device can be made using a limited amount of synaptic circuitry and possesses the Low Autonomous command logic and Full Command fundamental command program, allowing it to understand relatively complex ordinary speech and make basic inferences.

Cost: Cr 3,000

Rules: At TL 10 the High Data computer in a hand computer has INT 3 and EDU 2. At TL 13+, a Low Autonomous computer in a hand computer has INT 6 and EDU 4 (see CT Book 8: Robots for details).

TL 10 Equipment

Data Store** (TL 10+): This popular device is designed to contain all of an individual’s personal data in an encrypted and secured fashion. Most individuals keep this storage unit in their hand computer, interface implant or similar device. However, others who prefer to interact with their technology in a less obvious fashion install it in jewelry or have it implanted, typically between the bones of their forearm, just above the wrist. If not installed in a hand computer, a data store communicates with hand computers and other devices using short range radio similar to modern Bluetooth. This radio has a range of approximately 10 meters. Separate data stores are ovals approximately 1.5 cm x 1 cm x 3 mm.

Data stores carry information about all individuals the user interacts with, as well as security permissions that can automatically open doors and start vehicles that the user has a legal right to open. The data store also holds all personal records including financial data, as well as the user’s entire library of text, music, video, and holo-recordings, as well as any other data the user feels the need to keep with them.

Data stores can communicate with devices other than hand computers, enabling the user to put on a pair of headphones that can then automatically access all music recorded in their data store, just as the user could give a multimedia presentation just by talking to a high-end holo-projector that communicates with the user’s data store. Users need only verbally instruct devices to access specific contents from their data stores. Careful users require matching voice prints and passwords to access especially secure information. Data stores can be used for official verification purposes, storing voiceprints of known individuals and providing encrypted digital signatures for the user.

At TL 10, a data store holds 100 TB, which most sophonts regard as barely adequate. Most travelers who can gain access to them use TL 12 data stores, which contain 1 million times more data and are sufficiently large that even a long-lived sophont cannot usually fill it up with all data they accumulate in their lifetime. Almost all inhabitants of TL 10+ worlds have data stores, and on TL 11+ worlds, it’s difficult to function without one.

Cost: Cr 100

Display Glasses+ (TL 10): Looking much like ordinary eye glasses, this device contains tiny projectors in the temple pieces that project images on the inside of the lenses, allowing the user to see displayed images as if they were viewed on a large screen at a comfortable viewing distance. The user can either render the lenses opaque for clear viewing of entertainment or they can make the lenses fully transparent to allow for either discrete data display or various augmented reality applications. All display glasses also contain speakers in the ear pieces as well as a tiny front-facing camera and microphone for both augmented reality applications and for making discrete recordings. Display glasses also serve as variable tint sunglasses.

Cost: Cr 100

Wearable Interface (TL 10+): This device represents the typical “hand computer” for many TL10+ societies and possesses all the capabilities of a standard hand computer, including the same statistics for the unit’s computer. The TL 10 version consists of a small computer that is an oval 6 cm x 4 cm x 1 cm. It is radio linked to a pair of display glasses (see above) and also includes a micro-projector that can project clear images on any surface. Input comes through spoken or subvocalized commands. Thin gloves that can be used to provide gestural inputs, and on some units, electrodes on the user’s scalp provide all non-verbal input. These electrodes can be worn on lightweight and often decorative headgear, or occasionally implanted just beneath the user’s scalp, between the scalp and the skull. Some units also include display viewers that provide the user with enhanced vision and a small belt or other wearable device that provides the user with an innate sense of direction.

Cost: Cr 1,500 (Cr 2,500 with implanted electrodes)

At TL 11+, wearable interfaces can instead use contact lens displays and camera jewelry##. Most of these advanced rigs use subvocalized vocal input and scalp electrodes that are either worn on a headset or implanted.

Cost: Cr 2,000 (Cr 3,000 with implanted electrodes)

At TL 13+ the computer in this device can be made using a limited amount of synaptic circuitry and possesses the Low Autonomous command logic and Full Command fundamental command program, allowing it to understand relatively complex ordinary speech and make basic inferences.

Cost: Cr 3,500 (Cr 4,000 for a contact lens display wearable interface, Cr 5,000 with implanted electrodes)

Rules: The user can access data, communicate with other wearable interface users, and perform other purely electronic tasks twice as fast as users limited to ordinary computer interfaces, like hand computers.

TL 11 Equipment

Camera Jewelry#,## (TL 11): Usually worn with contact lens display, camera jewelry consist of a pair of ear rings, a pendant, choker, or some other item of jewelry worn on or near the user’s head that contains one or two miniature camera and microphones, as well as small speakers to provide sound for the user. The cost of this device is included in the price for a wearable interface using a contact lens display.

Cost: Cr 300

Contact Lens Display++ (TL 11): Using micro-circuitry embedded in extended wear contact lenses, this device provides all of the visual display capabilities of display glasses. However, an external speaker must be used and if augmented reality is desired, the user must also wear camera jewelry.

Cost: Cr 300

Display Viewers* (TL 11): This device combines the function of display glasses and electronic image viewers. Using advanced cameras and enhanced data display, these viewers function as ordinary display glasses, while also working as electronic viewers that allow the user to see clearly in the IR, visible, and UV spectral bands, as well as using light intensification to provide night vision. Automatic dimming and image polarization eliminates glare and dims down overly bright lights. In addition, the camera on this unit also permits magnification of up to 10X, which can be used as both binoculars and a low power microscope. The unit also contains a laser range-finder with a 1 km range. This device duplicates the functions of Image Convertor Binoculars (MegaTraveller World Builder’s Handbook (DGP), p. 21).

Cost: Cr 800

Improved Camera Jewelry (TL 11): This improved version of camera jewelry includes all of the capabilities of display viewers, including seeing in the IR – UV spectrum, light intensification, automatic dimming, 10X magnification, and the laser range finder. Advanced camera jewelry is often used in combination with interface implants, neural interfaces or computer implants.

Cost: Cr 1,000

Microdrone (TL 11): This tiny robot is the size and shape of a small humming bird6b and flies in a very similar manner. It is 4 cm long, 1 cm in diameter, with a 5 cm wingspan. Far too small to use gravitics, this diminutive robot flies using wings and high density batteries. It contains a tiny High Data computer identical to the one used for a wearable interface, as well as cameras, microphones, and speakers identical to those on display viewers or advanced camera jewelry. This robot can be controlled via a radio link or it can be given simply orders to follow a single person or to scout a specific area. It is effectively silent and at the user’s option, its color changing paint can transform from a bright color scheme that makes it highly visible to matching its color to its surroundings, rendering it difficult to see (increase the Difficulty Level to see this robot by 1).

Microdones fly at a speeds of up to 50 kph and can operate for up to 12 hours without recharging. They can maintain encrypted radio contact via cellular data networks or via a two way radio with a range of 100 km. This robot can only fly in Thin, Standard, or Dense atmospheres. Versions designed to swim underwater, with top speeds of 20 kph are made for the same price. A microdrone can be controlled by a hand computer, wearable interface, or similar device.

Cost: Cr 1,000

Mini-Sensors (TL 11): These devices are powerful sensors in very small packages7b. Although there are many varieties, two are most commonly used by interstellar travelers – gas sensors and chemical sensors. Both devices are designed to communicate with the user’s hand computer or other portable computer (including interface implants and neural interfaces). Users obtain the information acquired by these sensors from their hand (or other) computers and can use these computers to request specific types of sensor scans. TL 10 versions of both types of sensors exist, but are twice as large in every dimension and cost 10 times as much.

Atmosphere sensors: This sensor is a lens-shaped device 5 cm in diameter and 1.5 cm thick. It contains sophisticated sensors designed to analyze all types of gases. Many space travelers set this device to notify them if there is any potentially dangerous change in atmospheric composition or pressure, such as if harmful gases are introduced into the atmosphere or carbon dioxide levels begin to rise too high. It can also be used to swiftly notify the user if the atmosphere of a planet is safe to breathe. All such warnings can be easily set and require no skill roll. In addition, this device can be used to determine the exact composition of a planet’s atmosphere or if someone wearing a specific brand of perfume was recently in a particular area. Using the device in these ways requires skill rolls using Biology, Chemistry, or Forensics.

Chemical Sensors: This device is the size of a small early 21st century cell phone – 9 cm x 4 cm x 1 cm. It contains miniature sensors used to determine the precise composition of liquids and solids. The user must place a sample of the desired liquid or solid in a small port on one side of the device. The device can only analyze material that has been place in physical contact with this sensor port. Within 3 minutes of beginning to analyze a sample, the device provides detailed information about the sample’s chemical composition. In addition to providing chemical analysis, the user can also ask their hand computer if a given sample is safe to eat or drink and can even obtain detailed nutritional information. This device can also be used in medical or forensic applications. Determining simple questions like whether or not a sample of food is safe to eat or if a sample of blood reveals the presence of arsenic require no skill rolls. However, using this device to reveal the presence of a difficult to detect poison in a murder victim’s blood, or to analyze the possible effects of an unknown drug requires Biology, Chemistry, Forensics, or Medical rolls.

Cost: Cr 600 (for each type of sensor)

Video Bug (TL 11): This lentil-sized surveillance device is 5 mm in diameter and 1 mm thick. It has an adhesive backing and contains a digital still and video camera that can see in near total darkness as well as in the UV-IR bands. It is capable of resolving clear, crisp images within 15m as well as a sensitive microphone capable of picking up whispers within 5m and normal speech within 15m. These devices are normally programmed to only record when they detect speech or movement and have batteries that allow them to record for up to two weeks under normal conditions. This device can broadcast to a hand computer or other radio that is within 10 km and broadcasts a highly encrypted signal. To avoid detection, it also only broadcasts compressed bursts of data that last no more than 30 seconds and does so either once a day or in response to a special encrypted signal. Alternately, this bug can be set not to broadcast at all, and to record its surroundings until the user retrieves it. Used in this fashion, it is essentially impossible to detect.

Cost: Cr 800

TL 12 Equipment

Interface Implant‡‡ (TL 12+): Using a variation of the same technology used to provide both nerve refusion and prosthetic eyes, this implant consists of a TL 12 High Data computer no larger than a lima bean. It is tied into the user’s sensory nerves and motor nerves. This computer also contains transceivers capable of connecting to all Imperial phone and data networks and also of receiving GPS data. This device offers all the advantages and capabilities of a TL 10 hand computer, including the same statistics for the unit’s robot brain. However, this device is implanted and powered by the user’s body heat. Interface implants can use augmented reality programs, and do so by tapping into the user’s senses, using the owner’s eyes to see and ears to hear, while also broadcasting information directly to the owner’s eyes and other senses. This device can identify or provide further information on anything the user is looking at or a song or animal cry the user is listening to. If desired, the user can also wear improved camera jewelry to effectively give themselves enhanced senses. Interface implants can also both send and receive both smell and touch, allowing user to experience virtual reality that is almost indistinguishable from actual physical experiences. To communicate with an interface implant, the user can either speak, subvocalize, gesture, or provide some similar input. This device cannot read the user’s thoughts.

Cost: Cr 5,000

At TL 13+ the computer in this device can be made using a limited amount of synaptic circuitry and possesses the Low Autonomous command logic and Full Command fundamental command program, allowing it to understand relatively complex ordinary speech and make basic inferences.

Cost: Cr 7,000

Rules: The user can access data, communicate with other interface implant users, and perform other purely electronic tasks twice as fast as users limited to ordinary computer interfaces.

TL 14 Equipment

Computer Implant (TL 14): This device represents that ultimate fusion of human and computer. The heart of this device is a High Autonomous computer that is a more advanced and more expensive version of the one used in high end interface implants. This computer has an equivalent Int and Edu of 15 each and it is linked directly into many portions of the user’s brain. Rather than just tying into the user’s sensory and motor nerves like an interface implant, a computer implant ties directly into the most complex portions of the user’s brain, where it augments the user’s thoughts and memory.

In addition to using difficult to produce the circuits that are designed to meld a brain and a computer into one, the surgery to implant this device is also difficult and very expensive. However, the results are exceedingly impressive. This unit also contains transceivers capable of connecting to all Imperial phone and data networks and also of receiving GPS data. Because of the expense involved, computer implants are limited to the very wealthy and to individuals like important scientists and experienced covert operatives who have special need for this particular augmentation. This device provides all of the capabilities of an interface implant as well as many other advantages.

Rules: Users are treated as if their Intelligence and Education were both 16. In addition, they gain +2 to all rolls when using skills like Computer, Navigation or Gunnery, that can be directly aided by specialized programs. However, this bonus only applies of the user’s skill is 0 or higher. If the user does not possess a particular skill, then they are treated as if they posses 1 point in the skill.

For skills that do not make use of existing programs, but which could obviously benefit from instant access to data, such as any science or academic skill, as well as technical skills like Gravitics or Commo, the user gains +1 to this skill if they already possess this skill and a 0 in this skill if they do not already possess it. The user can also remember and replay all of their memories with perfect accuracy and display these memories on holovision screens for all to see. In addition, the user can access data, communicate with other computer implant users, and perform other purely electronic tasks 5 times faster than users limited to ordinary computer interfaces.

Cost: 2 MCr.

Note: This computer implant is a version of a device that originally appeared in JTAS #22 in an article by J. Andrew Keith. The cost of this unit is reduced to 200,000 Cr at TL 16.

TL 15 Equipment

Neural Interface (TL 15): This advanced computer interface relies on contact based neural interface technology derived from the same technology used to create neural activity sensors. This unit is approximately the size of a wrist watch, 4 cm in diameter and 1 cm thick. It consists of a computer linked to a device that links directly into the user’s nervous system by touch, allowing it to project images directly into the user’s visual cortex and speech directly into the verbal center’s of the user’s brain as well as receiving subvocalized commands and even mental images from the user. This linkage is far less direct and invasive than the linkage provided by a Computer Implant and is only slightly better than the interface provided by an interface implant. The computer used in this device possesses the Low Autonomous command logic and Full Command fundamental command program, and the device also possesses all of the capacities of a TL10 hand computer with a TL 13 robot brain.

Neural interfaces are typically built into jewelry, or occasionally clothing. Many are made to in the form of wrist jewelry that has a similar size and appearance to a large wrist watch. Neural interfaces can use augmented reality programs, and do so by tapping into the user’s senses. If desired, the user can also wear camera improved jewelry to gain enhanced senses.

Rules: The user gains +1 to any skill that would obvious benefit from immediate and easy access to a computer or from programs that assist the user. The user gains a 0 in this skill if they do not already possess it. In addition, the user can access data, communicate with other computer implant users, and perform other purely electronic tasks twice as fast as users limited to ordinary computer interfaces.

Cost: Cr 2,500

Part III: Traveller & Modern Space Opera

Traveller is space opera. It’s far more like hard SF than Star Wars, but it’s a setting featuring FTL travel, vast and ancient interstellar empires, as well as wondrous artifacts and alien ruins that are millions of years old. All of these are common space opera tropes. However, modern space opera is not the same as space opera written in the 1970s. In general, modern space opera has fewer aliens that look more alien and less humanoid. Nanotechnology, exceptionally advanced electronics, and advanced biotechnology, including genetic engineering are all common, and most modern space opera deals in some ways with the idea of the Singularity14. The Singularity is the concept that eventually technology will advance to the point that humanity will either create hyper-intelligent artificial intelligences or we will be able to transform humans into hyper-intelligent beings. The central idea is that when this occurs, the future becomes impossible to predict, because the inhabitants of this future are now vastly more intelligent than we are.

Traveller is specifically a future where humanity avoids any sort of Singularity – true artificial intelligence is very difficult to achieve and requires TL 17+, and the other wonders, like genetic engineering and nanotechnology also deliver well less than many people currently imagine they will. Instead, even on TL 15 worlds, humans remain fundamentally human. They have access to wondrous technologies, they can travel between the stars and have access to vastly improved medicine, but they are still roughly as intelligent as we are, they may live longer, but they still eventually die. The inhabitants of many Imperial worlds may live surrounded by robots, but none of these robots are sentient beings.

Including Elements of Modern Space Opera In Traveller

Without drastically changing the Imperium or the basic precepts of the Traveller setting and Tech Levels, many elements of modern space opera are not appropriate, but others are. The first and easiest steps to making Traveller more like modern space opera are described above – including modern concepts of computers and biotechnology (see Part I: Traveller for the 21st Century). Beyond these changes, giving your Traveller campaign elements of modern space opera would involve including or at least addressing nanotechnology, while also reducing the number of humanoid aliens and dealing with the issue of the Singularity.


In both modern space opera and modern science writing, one of the hot topics is nanotechnology. It clearly shows promise, but it’s equally clear that some of this promise cannot be fulfilled without causing drastic changes to Traveller. However, that doesn’t mean that we should ignore nanotechnology.

Limited Nanotechnology

In this type of nanotechnology, self-replicating nanotechnology is impossible Instead, nanotech requires special devices to create them. The prime example of this type of nanotechnology is the assembler vat. Inside, tiny nanites transform raw materials into finished items. You stick raw materials and electronic plans in and you can get out everything from your dinner, to a new car, to cold medicine out. Assembler vats come in all sizes and most members of the middle class have them in their homes. The smallest assemblers are 2-3 liters in volume and can produce a limited array of products, while a unit capable of producing almost anything small enough to fit inside the vat is the size of a small home computer and monitor (10 liters or so). Much medicine is performed using specialized healing vats. The nanites produced and used by all of these different devices can do many things, but they also require specially controlled conditions to exist, they cannot survive in the outside world and thus can only function within their vats.

Sticking your hand in a healing vat could help you heal or give you a temporarily enhanced immune system, but since nanotech (both in living bodies and in the outside world) is vulnerable to attacks by bacteria and also to random environmental variation, you would need to go back for a new dose every hour, and each use actually only lasts 10 minutes (during which time the nanites identifies and corrects most medical problems). As a result, utility fog, world-eating grey goo and other alleged miracles and terrors of nanotechnology are totally impossible, they would be destroyed within a few minutes by bacteria and environmental conditions.

In a setting using this type of nanotechnology, raw materials can be mined robotically (and possibly nanotechnologically extracted from ore) and then the refined raw materials are cheaply and swiftly made into various goods using assembly vats. In an economy where this type of nanotechnology was common, items of value would be new plans for items as well as luxury goods, like food, clothes, and art objects that were made by hand. Growing natural food might be a popular hobby in many places and so most natural food would be a minor luxury. The more intensive forms of medical treatment involve immersing someone in a special purpose assembler vat that could alter and repair organs, set bones and even install implants. This sort of nanotechnology exists largely in the background - it is where you get your new car, microdrone, or implant (in your body), and where they stick you if you get shot, but otherwise it’s not present in the setting except as an important background detail. Starships would contain assembler vats for producing spare parts or snacks, but they are rarely important for the plot – unless someone steals the assembler vat plans for some new and highly restricted piece of technology. The novel Pushing Ice by Alastair Reynolds features nanotech like this.

Moderate Nanotechnology

Nanotech of this sort cannot self assemble, but is resistant to bacterial attacks and other environmental problems. So in addition to assembler vats, there are nanotech generators designed to produce nanites that go out and interact with the outside world. The smallest single purpose nanite generators can be made as small as a ping pong ball or a walnut. You can have permanent artificial immune systems (using implanted a nanotech generator) that can heal almost any wound in less than a day (heat dissipation issues and speed would likely limit faster healing). This type of nanotechnology would also allow the existence of clouds of minute but precise sensors and nanites that can repair any single item, but all of these require nanite generators to create. To repair a device, all you would need to do is place the nanite generator and some raw materials next to the device, and the nanites would do the rest (assuming that the generator had both instructions to repair the device and a full set of plans for the device being repaired.

You can make grey goo and other attack nanotech using this type of nanotechnology, but they require generators, so you could have mortar shells (or possibly even shotgun shells) filled with grey goo or (more likely) a small generator and it would destroy an area around the impact site, but likely no more than a few cubic yards. Destroy the generator and the existing grey goo nanites will eventually run down or degrade and they can't make more. Also, grey goo would turn things into dust, rather than into more grey goo. As a result, this nanotechnology cannot render a planet, or even a city lifeless.

You could have items like a canteen-sized generator that could create a fancy tent or even a small cabin and all the furnishings as the ultimate in camping gear. Also, another device might create a nanotechnology-based space suit that could transform into either combat armor or fancy dress clothing in less than a minute and requires only a tangerine-sized generator to keep this suit working and repaired. The economy of a setting with this sort of technology would look much like the previous version, except that devices (and people) could be made self-repairing using implanted nanites generators, and nanotech weapons would be hideously deadly.

Advanced Nanotechnology

This type of highly advanced nanotech can both self-assemble and resist bacteria. So, not only could a variety of nanite build a house, it can also make more nanites like itself, eliminating the need for nanotech generators. Utility fog and grey goo are possible, as is carrying a nanotech seed in your pocket that you can plant in a supply of the appropriate raw material to grow a spaceship, a city, or a living adult horse. The only limitation is that a horse would take a day or two to produce and creating a city would take almost a year. Most people would have extensive nanotech living inside them, and a few people might effectively be living, walking clusters of nanotech. This is god-tech territory and IMHO is not suitable for gaming as anything other than strange alien artifacts and exotic worlds that the PCs visit briefly. Instant healing and growing skyscrapers in a hour are both still impossible, because physical laws dictate that they are (because of problems with processing speed and heat dissipation) but a single vial of nanotech could still kill an unprotected planetary biosphere in a few years.

Nanotechnology In The Imperium

I’d allow all three types of nanotechnology in Traveller, but would limit them greatly by TL. Limited Nanotechnology is developed at TL 12 and Moderate Nanotechnology is developed at TL 16. Perhaps one of the reasons that Darrian TL 16 ships are so much in demand is that they are self-repairing because various nanotechnology generators are built into their ships. Advanced Nanotechnology is only developed at TL 20, and thus only exists as a few rare, poorly understood, and often exceptionally dangerous artifacts, most of which were made by the Ancients.

In this version of the Imperium, most goods on TL 12+ worlds are made in assembly vats. This fact need affect nothing about play in the Traveller Imperium, except that every starship is likely to have several assembly vats for making spare parts, snacks, and similar oddments. If you use this type of nanotech in your Traveller campaign, it’s worth considering that the development of TL 12 nanotech may be one of the major advances that allowed the Solomani to defeat the Vilani First Imperium.


Modern space opera stories take place in a universe where sophont species are relatively rare, but where both humans and aliens create modified versions of their own species using genetic engineering. Many or even most of the actual aliens that exist in these stories are not humanoid and have drastically alien cultures and physiologies. Introducing some of these touches in Traveller is relatively easy to do by introducing more obviously alien aliens, like Hivers or Vegans, while also increasing the number of aliens who are actually minor human races, or perhaps minor Vargr races or variants of other major races. For example, the Hlanssai could easily be a human (or perhaps even Vargr) minor race created by the Ancients, while the Za’tachk and the Gurvin could easily be genetically engineered Hiver variants created 5,000 or more years ago during the Hiver’s earliest forays between the stars.

The Singularity

One of the common tropes found in both modern and older space opera stories is that the galaxy is very old and has been inhabited by intelligent star travelers for millions, or perhaps even billions of years. According to Traveller Tech Levels, nothing resembling the wonders of any sort of Technological Singularity occurs below TL 18. However, there have been a few species who achieved these lofty and amazing heights, the most notable of them being the Ancients. So, instead of Grandfather being a uniquely evolved Droyne, you could instead make him either the first hyper-intelligent Droyne AI, or better yet, a brilliant and daring Droyne who managed to use advanced technology to upgrade his intelligence to super-human (and super-Droyne) levels and thus learned to do wonders, advancing the Droyne species to TL 18 and beyond. During the ascendency of the Ancients, there was self-replicating nanotechnology, hyper-intelligent AIs, as well as all of the existing wonders of that era.

Modern Space Opera Bibliography


Federations edited by John Joseph Adams

Galactic Empires edited by Gardner Dozois

The Hard SF Renaissance edited by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer

The New Space Opera edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan

The New Space Opera 2 edited by Gardner Dozois and Jonathan Strahan


Ian M. Banks: The “Culture” Series


Look to Windward


Linda Nagata

Deception Well


Alastair Reynolds: the “Revelation Space” Universe

The Prefect

Chasm City

Revelation Space

Redemption Ark

Absolution Gap

Alastair Reynolds (Other works)

House of Suns

Pushing Ice

Charles Stross


Singularity Sky

Iron Sunrise

Vernor Vinge

A Deepness In the Sky

A Fire Upon The Deep

Scott Westerfeld

The Risen Empire

The Killing of Worlds


1,1a Modern augmented reality: http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2009/12/google-introduces-real-time-search-google-goggles/ Here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hhgfz0zPmH4&feature=player_embedded

2,2a Using Technology to give humans a perfect direction sense: http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/15.04/esp.html

3 Artificial vision using tongue electrodes: http://nihrecord.od.nih.gov/newsletters/2009/03_20_2009/story3.htm

4 Robots doing science: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16890-robot-scientist-makes-discoveries-without-human-help.html

5 Amazing robot hand: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-KxjVlaLBmk&feature=player_embedded

6,6a,6b Miniature robots: http://www.physorg.com/news181208607.html

7,7a,7b Miniature scientific equipment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lab-on-a-chip

8 Layar augmented reality: http://www.techcrunch.com/2009/06/21/layars-augmented-reality-browser-literally-more-than-meets-the-eye/

9 Cellphones and Third World Poverty: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/13/magazine/13anthropology-t.html

10 Personal Area Networks: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_area_network

11 Controlling electronics by brainwaves: http://singularityhub.com/2009/05/22/the-emotiv-headset-gaming-with-thoughts-alone/

12 Stem cells curing sickle cell anemia: http://www.usnews.com/health/family-health/articles/2009/12/09/bone-marrow-transplants-may-cure-sickle-cell-in.html

13 Gene therapy to enhance athletes: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A42270-2005Mar16.html & http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2004/jul/11/sport.health

14 Vernor Vinge’s Essay on the Singularity: http://mindstalk.net/vinge/vinge-sing.html