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Old May 14th, 2001, 09:18 PM
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T. Foster T. Foster is offline
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Recent posts over on the T^20 forum by Hunter and others who've obviously thought about it have convinced me that with enough tweaking and manipulation of concepts like hit points and levels/experience points it just might be possible to craft a reasonable facsimile of the traditional 'Traveller feel' from the d20 system. Which is good, I suppose -- if d20 Traveller is inevitable, it might as well be something that's at least recognizable. And furthermore, judging by the positive response so far from d20 fans looking for a new genre to play around in, it looks like it might even be successful in drawing new players.

But one of the comments that already invariably comes up when discussing T^5 is "why bother; between GURPS and the reprints and all the old versions why do we need yet another set of rules?" and it doesn't take a great leap to predict how that sentiment will grow with the release of T^20, especially if it's relatively well-done and actually attains a significant level of popularity among the new d20 crowd.

The conventional wisdom, especially among younger and/or less-experienced players who will have only become introduced to Traveller through T^20, will run something like this (and I'm not just making this up; I'm already detecting it in some posts on the T^20 forum): "if 'Traveller' the game was so great, people would have been playing it all along, it would be as popular as D&D, and it would still be in-print, but since it's not as popular as D&D and not in-print, then it must not be as good as D&D. The game wasn't good enough to survive, and the only way they can get people to play it now is to adapt it to the (superior) D&D rules. Surely the best parts of their game are the ones they've brought over to D&D, so we have the best of both worlds: the best rules (D&D) combined with the best genre/style and setting (Traveller, 'hard' SF)."

Since the mountain has come to Mohammed, why would Mohammed then go to the mountain? Why would one of these T^20 players want to buy and learn the 'real Traveller' game system when the makers themselves have already conceded that it's not as good as the game they already know (d20/D&D) by virtue of having brought the best parts of their game (genre-feel & setting) and converted them over to the much more successful (and therefore self-evidently better) d20 system?

For these reasons, these new kids aren't likely to convert on their own from T^20 to some theoretical T^5, and are much less likely to convert to some musty old out-of-print version like CT or MT. But gradually, slowly and surely and no matter what they're saying now, old-timers WILL begin convertng over to T^20; not because they think it's better, but because it's what's being played and if they want to play 'Traveller' with new players that's what they'll have to do -- and Traveller as a game system will finally be dead.

So then what happens to the folks for whom Traveller is not just a setting or style of play, but an actual game? Those who see that the T^20 rules are just a crude approximation and that the real Traveller's rules are actually better, and have been for 20+ years; that D&D's continued and revitalized success in the marketplace has much less to do with its quality as a rules-set than brand-recognition, inertia, massive corporate backing, and (nowadays) intensely aggressive (and predatory) marketing, and that Traveller/GDW's failure was all about business and economics, not a reflection of their games' quality? Will there be enough of these die-hard grognards left over to make a viable market for T^5, to keep the dream and the game alive in hopes that someday some d20 players will realize the truth and see that it's sometimes worth the effort to learn a new game system if that game system is actually better? Or will D&D and d20 win the war through financial and numerical superiority alone, convincing an entire generation that there never has been and never can be a better rpg than D&D/d20, stifling innovation (except in certain clearly-labeled subservient 'licensee ghettoes'), trading 2+ decades of progress for a handful of conversions and compromises, and leaving the old-timers to seal themselves away with their musty old boxed-sets, dreaming of the good old days of competition, diversity, and innovation.

We must try to prevent this, and the best way to do so is to make sure that T^5, when and if it's ever released, is the best possible SFRPG -- not just an alternative to T^20 for the old-timers and grognards who aren't already too attached to their CT/MT/TNE/T4/GT, but something clearly and demonstrably superior to everything that's come before it, Traveller and non-Traveller alike. Some half-assed 'T4.1' dragging out hoary old blocks of text from 'The Traveller Book' won't cut it, and if that's the best we can come up with it's probably not worth the effort of even trying - let the kids have T^20 and all the old-timers can keep on using their homebrew systems-of-choice, content that 'Traveller' in some form or another still exists at all.

But we're capable of more than that; there's still potential out there for Traveller to rise up and become a genuine alternative to the D&D/d20 juggernaut just as it was in the 1980s, to take advantage of the resurgence of interest in SF gaming and 'the Traveller feel' that T^20 will hopefully spark and show these new players that there is another way; that there really can be something better than D&D/d20 out there. But the opportunity is fleeting -- we've got make a resolution right now to do T^5 and do it right, or else give up, declare d20 "good enough," and go home to our LBBs and GURPS books.