I’ve worked with both Matthew Sprange and Marc Miller before. Matthew Sprange was the publisher of the first edition of Designers & Dragons, the doorstopper leatherette hardcover that you can now get on Amazon for the low, low used price of $250. Marc Miller collected together my Traveller fiction reviews as The Science Fiction in Traveller. So I wasn’t surprised when they sent me a piece of mail on November 29, 2021 asking if I’d like to write a “complete history of Traveller”.
Now I should admit, I’ve been scattered and overworking myself since I gave myself 50% creative work schedule starting in April 2020. I started working on “Lost Histories” for Designers & Dragons, with the intent of producing a few new volumes of company histories. But then I began playing around with the Dungeons & Dragons/TSR product histories that I’d already written for DTRPG and started to shape those into a series of books. And THEN at the start of January 2021 I signed a contract with Chaosium to write an Elfbook for their new version of RuneQuest. Like all of the other projects, the Elfbook was something that was a long time coming, and I definitely wanted to commit to it. But it meant I simultaneously had three big projects going.
So, as 2021 was coming to an end, I was finishing up on the second TSR product history book and closing out the Elfbook as well. And I’d probably done close to three-quarters of a book worth of “Lost Histories” for Designers and Dragons that year alone.
I was in fact breathing a sigh of relief, because I’d really been grinding to get all that done in 2021.
So I of course accepted the commission from Matthew to start work on that complete history of Traveller for 2022.
This wasn’t something I’d done work on prior to 2020 but hadn’t had time to move forward on, like the Designers & Dragons, TSR product history, and RuneQuest books. All of those books I’d had notes, research, and/or content for.
But a Traveller book was definitely something special. For one thing, it obviously fit into my niche of historical gaming writing, and I was eager to dive right into a book that someone definitely wanted to publish. But I’m a big Traveller fan too.
There are basically five major RPGs that I have fairly comprehensive collections for: Ars Magica, Pendragon, RuneQuest, Stormbringer, and Traveller. (I have a couple of shelves of D&D too, but it’s minor compared to the entire run of that game, although I also have hundreds and hundreds of PDFs from my work with DTRPG on those product histories.) I love them all for different reasons. For Traveller it’s the richly described, detailed, mystery-filled space-opera setting of Charted Space and the Third Imperium. I’ve written articles about Traveller for Signs & Portents and a column for RPGnet, plus the aforementioned Science-Fiction in Traveller book. I’ve run the game using at least three different game systems. I’ve been a fan long enough that I’ve seen the game basically drop out of print as its fortunes faded and cheered when it returned in the 21st Century.
In fact, Traveller is the game that got me writing Designers & Dragons: I’d wanted to know what happened to Imperium Games, the then-final publisher of the Traveller RPG, who I’d lost track of (ironically) when I started working in the roleplaying industry for Chaosium.
So with all that history, I was definitely going to write a Traveller history when asked, even if I had two other projects ongoing.
I originally told Matthew it was going to be a 2022 project, and he was entirely understanding when I admitted it was going to be closer to double that. The problem was the research. I had no interest in just reiterating what I’d written about the game in Designers & Dragons. I was going to thoroughly research it from the bottom up, this time recording every reference, and finding every new thing that had been put out since. (The biggest complaint about the original edition of Designers & Dragons was the lack of references, because I’d never intended for it to be a research reference for other historians, I just wanted to tell the interesting stories of what had happened in the industry. So now, for new history material where I’m starting from scratch, like this Traveller history, I’ve filled that gap.)
The thing is, there’s a lot of Traveller reference. I wasn’t able to dive in quite this far when I wrote the histories of GDW, DGP, and a few other companies last time around, but this time I scoured literally hundreds of magazines and small-press fanzines. Since I indexed them as I went, this took quite a bit of time. (It would have taken a quite a bit of time even without that.) It took me months just to get the first chapter down!
This year, the second year I was working on my Traveller history, I finally had to lighten my load a bit by putting my Designers & Dragons company histories to the side. An irony, since that was the first project I began work on in 2020. But, my TSR and Traveller projects had a bit more priority in releasing at certain (nearer) times, whereas the new Designers & Dragons company histories will actually improve the further they get away from 2020, since I’m writing about companies that began publishing RPGs as late as December 2019 (that’d be Osprey, by the by, classic publisher, but new to the RPG field). Thanks to that, I finished my second draft of the TSR books last week. Feature complete. And now I’ve completed my final (for now) draft of the Traveller book and sent it off to Mongoose.
This has been a really joyous project. Mark Twain said “Write what you know.” I say “Write what you love.” I started writing Designers & Dragons because I wanted to know what had happened to Imperium Games; this year, I loved finding out the whole story of what happened to all of Traveller’s publishers and all of its game systems as I worked through my Traveller history. On the way, I’ve also rediscovered my love for Traveller. I mean, it’s not like we broke up or anything. I closed out my best Traveller campaign ever about a decade before I left the Bay Area, and I didn’t return to it only because I always had something else I was wanting to try out (and honestly because I put a lot of effort into making that campaign fun for the players and true to Charted Space for me, and I didn’t have the energy to do that in later days). But I hadn’t read anything new for the game since that campaign. A whole new edition of Traveller had come from Mongoose, and not quite gone, but at least been updated with some new core books, and I hadn’t seen it.
But writing this history made me remember that great setting that I loved so much, and I’ve been picking up new volumes again and enjoying the stories of Charted Space once more. And thinking about other ways to contribute to it too.
Unlike my TSR histories, which still need another revision over the next few months, but which are advanced enough that I’m now talking with a publisher about scheduling, this Traveller book is truly done to me (until I get back comments, corrections, and questions from Mongoose). It should be the first big history book I’ve put out since Designers & Dragons second edition in 2014-2015.
I’m definitely looking forward to it. Our current hope is that the book will release by early summer. (I presume that’ll be a PDF with a print book to follow a few months later, as that’s been Mongoose’s methodology for a few years now.)