Traveller is a work of science fiction literature with many themes. A Theme is also often called a Narrative. Two of the most important, overarching Traveller themes are:
- Good Versus Evil
- Value of Life
Please see the following Traveler RPG Wiki articles for more information:
- Traveller (Where it all started...)
- Metastory (Metadata)
- Talents-Personage (Cast)
- Universe Hallmarks (Background)
- 1 Description (Specifications)
- 2 History & Background (Dossier)
- 3 References & Contributors (Sources)
Among the many themes of Traveller, are found many stylizations and world boundaries. Here are a few of those "Traveller-isms":
THEME-1: Victorian Intellectual Theme
While Traveller is certainly science fiction and space opera, it also draws heavily from the themes of the Age of Exploration, Age of Sail, and Victorian intellectualism. One of the most important tropes of Traveller is that communication will never travel faster than the speed of travel; i.e. there will never be an ansible, or FTL communications device, in the classic OTU. The pony express or X-boat system reigns supreme.
Similarly, Traveller is neither soft nor hard sci-fi. It is both and more to the point, Traveller is simply classic science fiction. It draws from and was inspired by some of the classic greats such as Asimov, Clark, Heinlein, Norton, Smith, and Tubb's Dumarest, while still being flexible enough to absorb cyberware, nanotechnology, and the latest astronomy and cosmology. Traveller's original computers were ENIAC-like, gigantic room-sized contraptions that weighed tons, certainly a far cry from the everyday microelectronics (cell phones, tablets, fit bits, laptops, etc.) of the 2010's CE in the real world. By the mid 1980's Traveller started mixing all of these themes, from classic rockets to the most modern exobiology and handcomps. An important part of Traveller is its sheer ambiguity; Traveller can simply absorb all kinds of themes, tropes, and details within its vast boundaries and welcoming world structure. In other words, in Traveller, the ancient, antiquated, modern, hypothetical, futurist, and cutting edge can all coexist, neatly categorized by TL and probably warned off by an Amber or Red Zone.
And related to these themes, are a monarchy, an Emperor (Watch out, Queen Victoria!), hereditary office, an impersonal bureaucracy, an antiquated form of government (...the feudal confederation), and a preponderance of Victorian Age themes and old-fashioned scientific terminology. And that sometimes includes pseudoscience such as psionics (I keep expecting the K'kree to have soulful auras and neotech phrenology...). It is a world of high technology sci-fi gadgets, but low-technology control, a sort of Wild West, that is important to allow travellers vast vistas of adventure. So, the next time you dig through Agent of the Imperium, don't be surprised to find some words with origins in British scientific societies, Darkest Africa, and lost civilizations. That is part of the literary, perhaps genetic, substance of what makes Traveller so much fun.
THEME-2: A Blank Canvas
One of the other very clever and well thought out aspects of Traveller is its Blank Canvas, a veritable tabula rasa onto which fans can project their own personalized science fiction. Simply put, Traveller is an intentionally ambiguous, amorphous, and open-ended game system. It was designed to be a universal science fiction gaming system upon which a referee, or gamemaster, could design their own story setting and universe. And how they have! Quite literally, one can find hundreds or thousands, perhaps even more, budding referee-gamemasters who have been inspired by Traveller to create their own ATU or IMTU. Even the OTU Traveller universe was developed after the game system had been created. Some see the Zhodani as villainous Fu Manchu's or Cold War Soviet Menaces, while others see them as benevolent hippies or Age of Aquarians, an enlightened civilization. Sort of like the Mona Lisa, different people see different things in Traveller, when examining the very same text.
The OTU setting lends itself to customization and the tools of Traveller such as the UWP are first-rate world-building tools. It's not a wonder that so many fans argue so vociferously over what is and isn't Traveller. The truth be told, Traveller is many things to many people, all simultaneously. And when one digs deep into the canon and literature of Traveller, one can find dozens of instances of inconsistent logic. How could it be otherwise? With hundreds of authors and publications, no one could keep the enormity of it both straight and under wraps. Even today, FFE and Marc Miller carefully weigh out expansion of the universe in such a way as to preserve its heritage.
The Traveller RPG Wiki is very honored to have been tasked with helping to define the universe of Traveller for fans. But it's also a very impossible task since storyline conflicts are not just an exception to the rule, but they are a rule to themselves, a constant hazard. If one writes one way, they will undoubtedly contradict one storyline, and in another fashion, contradict a different storyline. There is no perfect medium and no group of fans would ever likely agree on a perfect harmony of Traveller storyline plots and features even if it existed. No perfect harmony exists. There is no golden world of perfect agreement, peaceful harmony, or common values. It's always the Brothers Gemini.
So, the mandate of the Traveller RPG Wiki is to observe the OTU universe that Marc Miller prefers when he makes his preferences known. And when those preferences are known, they can easily be enumerated, and when they are not, the Traveller Wiki Editorial Team will do their best to flesh out this delightful science fiction setting the best they can. When Marc corrects them, they will faithfully make changes. And, in the mean time, they will enjoy the universe of Traveller and do their best to help make it come alive for the fan base. Part of that task is to make it easy for new fans to find and enjoy Traveller.
THEME-3: Survival Against All Odds - An Enduring Civilization
One of the enduring themes of Traveller is Survival, survival of sophont species, of polities, of the Third Imperium, and of Charted Space in general. In true Hegelian fashion, great powers meet and hash things out. The thesis of the Ziru Sirka meets its antithesis in the Terran Confederation... After the Interstellar Wars, the Rule of Man emerges, but it wasn't yet the synthesis of those previous two powers... The Rule of Man is an extension of, or an evolved Terran Confederation sucessor, an antithesis, not a synthesis. After the apocalyptic event of the Long Night, the Third Imperium eventually emerges as the synthesis of the Ziru Sirka and the Terran Confederation-Rule of Man, which is to say a synthesis of Terran and Vilani cultures.
The Keith Brothers explored these dramatic survival themes in many of the early Classic Traveller products. In Nomads of the World Ocean, the hunting and possible extinction of the Daghadasi mega-beast is explored, even if not exactly in those terms. The Skyraiders Trilogy is full of Indiana Jones type action and exploration of lost civilizations and mysterious societies. Alien Realms is full of stories of survival and primitive races. Traveller The New Era (TNE) was fully about the survival of Charted Space and what was left of the Third Imperium after yet another catastrophic event, the infamous Virus, loved by some fans and hotly despised by others. Marc Miller's Traveller (T4) explored the early years of the Third Imperium, when the light of Imperial civilization might have been snuffed out anytime. Agent of the Imperium constantly explores and re-explores the existential threats facing the Third Imperium and the Agent's very existence is dedicated to the service and survival of the Imperium.
This constant theme of interstellar civilization struggling against all odds has a solution, not just one, but many. However many there are, they all boil down to a quest to achieve Aeonic Stability, a state in which interstellar relations and intragalactic peace among the many sophont species will achieve a state of perpetual prosperity and stability. Each of the Traveller editions explores a different way to achieve this goal of peace and prosperity, some very subtly and other quite blatantly. MegaTraveller has the Rebellion, the so called Great Break, in which Imperial civilization is torn apart... TNE and 1248 each had their specific ways of flouting their apocalyptic threats. TNE had the much loved and hated Empress Wave, the Wave of Craziness, which has strange, psionic effects which have been defined, redefined, ret-conned, and redone yet again over the years. By the time of Agent of the Imperium, we are exposed to wafer-tech, a literary and technological device to perpetuate a lasting Imperial intelligence, a mind to survive the ages and hold it all together. The Galaxiad, a future edition of Traveller still being developed for T5, has the Black Ships, an enigmatic threat that has had only its surface touched upon in Agent of the Imperium. The Black Ships might just yet be the strangest aliens yet encountered within Charted Space.
They all share a theme: Survival, of interstellar, intra-galactic, death-defying terms worthy of classic space opera. That is Traveller!
History & Background (Dossier)
The following literary elements are thematic characteristics of Traveller.
At core, Traveller is classic science fiction. These are the surface ideas, the easily reader-apparent concepts:
- Science Fiction Themes
Some of the Value Statements inherent to the two-hundred-plus literary corpus of Traveller are:
- Life Finds a Way
- Meaningful Struggle
- Value in Diversity
- Value in Freedom
- Value of Hope
- Value of Life
These are some of the reoccurring motifs in Traveller:
- Aeonic Stability
- Enduring Civilization
- Affirmative Leadership
- Freedom of the Interstellar Starways
- Moral Calculus
- Restrained Judgment
- Sanctity of Choice
- Unchecked Ambition
- Universal Awe
Notes: Motifs are sometimes called tropes in modern, popular usage.
Leitwortstil are repeated phrases, words, and ideas that appear and reappear in this literary work:
- Feudal Confederation
- FTL / NAFAL
- Galactic Encyclopedia
- Gravimetrics AKA Antigravity
- Intergalactic Scouts / Space Rangers
- Jump Drive
- Meson Technology
- Sophonts & Sophontology
- Spinal Mount
- Technology & Technology Levels
- Travel Passage
- Travel Zones
- Universal Codes
References & Contributors (Sources)
- 1982 GDW Understanding Traveller pamphlette
- Author & Contributor: Traveller Wiki Editorial Team
- Author & Contributor: Lord (Marquis) and Master of Sophontology Maksim-Smelchak of the Ministry of Science