Days of High Adventure
A Perpetual Traveller - Marc Miller

Allen Varney | 14 Jan 2010 17:00
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From its debut in 1977, Traveller, the first successful tabletop science fiction roleplaying game, has been the roleplayer's default path to the stars. Traveller's original publisher, Game Designers' Workshop, established the game's interstellar setting, the Imperium; multiple editions and dozens of supplements took the Imperium from supremacy through civil war, collapse and halting recovery. After GDW ceased operations in 1996, new publishers sheltered Traveller and spread the Imperium into alternate timelines. In rulebooks, modules, novels and computer games, hundreds of writers have fashioned Traveller's Imperium into the field's most developed space setting.

This long journey began with Marc W. Miller. In 1972 Miller, then 24, had finished a four-year Army hitch. He already had a B.A. degree in Sociology from the University of Illinois; now, on the GI Bill, he wandered back to college at Illinois State University in Bloomington-Normal with, as he has said, "no real ambition, no real purpose in my studies." There he bumped into the ISU Games Club, "which was Frank Chadwick and Rich Banner." They taught Miller how to play early board wargames. He became instantly addicted and within a month the three were designing their own games. "Rich Banner knew the University would provide funds for clubs if asked politely. We bought a thousand 22x28-inch blank hex sheets (900 on white, 100 on pale blue for naval games) and were in game designer heaven. We sat around and drank Cokes and designed and played wargames all night long for months.

"Illinois State University [had] instituted an 'innovation in education' project, funding a variety of projects intended to explore how to better achieve the general goals of the university. Rich Banner and Frank Chadwick established SimRAD (Simulation Research and Design) to produce simulation games designed to specification for use in the university classrooms. We had offices on campus and established relationships with the faculty. One game was about the deforestation of the American northwest. Another game was about the 1896 presidential election campaign. I designed Chaco for a Latin American History class (and discovered you can't put a hex-grid wargame into a one-hour classroom).

"Ultimately the University had to choose the 'best' innovations... we didn't make the cut. The winner was a plan to put small branches of the University library in dorms.

"We never used up those sheets; I still have some on my shelf and use them from time to time."

In June 1973 the three formed Game Designers' Workshop to publish one of their historical wargames, Drang nach Osten. More wargames followed, including several science fiction games. Then they encountered a new kind of game: Dungeons & Dragons.

Miller was already familiar with roleplaying. "My first experience with roleplaying was with political science Professor Lou Gold at the University of Illinois. He conducted political roleplaying exercises in his classes, which were an innovation in the late 1960s. But in roleplaying at the time, participants had to make up their roles. Dungeons & Dragons introduced 'digital' roleplaying (as opposed to the previous 'analog' styles), and everyone at Game Designers' Workshop instantly understood what it was about and how to play."

In 1975 GDW published its first roleplaying game, Chadwick's En Garde!, a 48-page booklet for Three Musketeers-era roleplaying. "It was radically different from D&D in several ways," says Miller. "It was meant to be played in an evening session - when it ended, it ended; if you played it again, you started over. And it had a variety of defined events, and players moved through them in their climb up the social ladder. By defining events, the game could dispense with a gamemaster, allowing everyone to play. Gary Gygax liked the game precisely because it was not a copy of D&D and its principles. He would talk about it as an example of the potential of roleplaying."

Meanwhile, Miller had noticed there was no good science-fiction RPG on the market, and he wanted to see one. In what he calls "some extremely productive months in 1976 and 1977," he designed the game that would set the path for much of his future.

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