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Design Notes for Special Supplement 1: Mercator

This article originally appeared in issue #004 of the downloadable PDF magazine.

For me, the life path method of character creation is Traveller’s greatest draw. It is a game in itself, and several times my players and I have sat around creating characters just for the fun of it.

As a Roman historian, specialising in the life of the legionary, I had been tinkering with an advanced Book 4 type version of character creation that emulated the career of a Roman soldier. Again this was part-game, but also part-research. I thought of it as a ‘legionary simulator’. Enough is known about assignments, ranks and duties for us to attempt something like that, and the system seemed to work!

It was a step further to try to use Traveller to emulate an ancient setting. I’d read a little about ancient sailing and trade, and considered that with only minimal tweaking, the Traveller paradigm (bunch of rogues on a merchant ship, staying one step ahead of customs officers, pirates and crime lords) would work very well in the eastern Roman empire. A number of fans had already begun work on a fantasy version of Traveller, which provided some encouragement.

Why Rome? Well I know Rome, but also, so do many others. It’s an ancient society that many people are at least passingly familiar with, which makes the setting more accessible. In addition, the eastern half of the Mediterranean seems a touch more exotic than the west.

The careers seemed fairly easy to convert once I had decided on which skills to retain and which to throw. My mantra was “change as little as possible”. Ranks were tricky to create, since there was no-way that a private could reach the rank of general by climbing through the ranks (which was possible in Book 1). The rank structure of the military, therefore, had to top out at the centurion level, leaving nobles to provide the command staff.

Providing trade rules proved fairly easy, I planned to retain the Book 2 rules and just add a fresh trade goods table. Where trouble began, however, was when I turned my attention toward trade classifications. Did I include classifications for every port and harbour? How about every ‘region’? How far would you have to travel before a new trade category be implemented? This proved a real headache, and I went through several versions before deciding to keep things simple and establish ‘jump routes’ and ‘worlds’—or at least analogy of them. Although a trading vessel might realistically leave Casearea and stop off at Sidon, Tyre and Byblos before sailing into Antioch, I had to cut out these options and limit myself to the bigger ports or more important trade hubs. And this, again, seemed to work.

When I rolled up my first crew, I was quite thrilled with the bunch of desperados I had at my disposal! History sprang to life without any effort. I had a crippled carpenter, a tribune’s son on the run, a stuck-up Roman naval sailor, a legionary who could read and write and a 30 year old barbarian, an Arab Bedouin who owed trade guilds in Caesarea some money and who dare never return.

As I flicked through 76 Patrons I realised that nearly all of the plots there could be played out using my new characters. Romans they might be, but they were still Travellers!

Download Special Supplement 1: Mercator