d20 Traveller Review

Some things just sound so wrong when combined, like chocolate coated tomatoes, or underwater volleyball. Using d20 in the Traveller universe is one of those “sounds so wrong” things but as we’ll see, it does succeed pretty well.

My first impression of d20 Traveller is best summed up with a single question: “Why bother?”. After all, Classic Traveller is a darned fine system that still stands head and shoulders above all other attempts to muscle into the setting. No other system has so tightly integrated itself into the setting; all of the game stats are used in the setting itself. A character in-game could check the world details and see exactly what the player sees and his stats are a part of his resume. That’s like a Fighter in D&D boasting he’s STR 17; it would break the fantasy, but in Classic Traveller, it works perfectly.

So here we are with d20 Traveller, a game which combines the most popular (though flawed) rules systems and one of the best sci-fi settings ever created. The Traveller Universe presents a star-spanning Imperium that is beginning to creak around the seams. Communication is limited by the speed of physical travel, so news travels slowly and each world (or cluster) is largely autonomous. We have alien races including psionic humans, wolf-like Vargr, Aslan, centaur K’kree and Hiver. It’s a Universe far too big for me to be able to do justice in this one review, so just take it from me – The Traveller Universe is the best there is, bar none.

Thankfully, this version of Traveller has done little to change that. Rather than attempt to re-write the rules, the d20 system has been slotted into places where it works well, and stayed well away from areas there are no need to meddle. Starship and world design is largely the same as it always has been, and even creature creation takes more from the Traveller way of doing things than D&D’s Hit Dice and Type driven system. It’s all good stuff, and reads exactly what is it – a new, well presented version of Traveller.

Where the d20 crunchiness comes in is character generation, skills, feats and combat. It’s a laudable attempt to integrate d20’s level based system and Traveller’s excellent prior service-based system. Characters can either start at 1st level, or take 4-year terms of service, each of which gains the character XP and additional Credits. Character generation was one of the most enjoyable parts of Classic Traveller, and which does a good job integrating it into d20. In comparison to other d20 systems, a character in Traveller is likely to possess many more Feats (from Homeworld origin, prior service, etc) and have more class skills. This means that their level of experience is more in line with Traveller than, say, d20 Modern.

Where d20 Traveller really shines is in the possibilities it opens up. It’s a trivial matter to pull content from other d20 systems and drop them straight into the game. If you want to make Kobolds an offshoot of the Droyne alien race, add magic into your starship travel or put a Living Dumpster (from d20 Modern) in a starport, you can. In many ways this is a more exciting prospect than the previous attempt to genericise Traveller under the GURPS banner. After all GURPS doesn’t have the sheer volume of critters, adventures and immediately usable stuff which d20 does. Which is a shame as the current version of GURPS is an excellent system.

But I digress.

d20 Traveller shouldn’t work. In some ways it doesn’t as the two systems don’t mesh quite as well as they could, but this isn’t as bad as all that. Inside the cover are world-class construction systems for everything from vehicles to entire universes. There’s d20 crunchiness too, and all of that Traveller goodness that I love.

All in all it’s a terrific combination. Unlike chocolate coated tomatoes.

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