Traveller 1977: The Solitaire Campaign
While the idea of “solo roleplaying” has taken off in the COVID pandemic era, way back in the 1970s it was common practice to assume players might be playing their RPGs solo or without a GM. This is because RPGs had spun out of the wargaming tradition which already had a rich history of solitaire play and unrefereed games.
1977’s Traveller Book 01 Characters and Combat comes right out of the gate and states:
“We have tried to make these rules as complete as possible, with provisions for both solitaire and unsupervised play.”
And again in the next section “Playing the Game”:
“Traveller may be played in any of three basic configurations: solitaire, scenario, or campaign. Any configuration may be unsupervised (that is, played without a referee; the players themselves administer the rules and manipulate the situation).”
“The Solitaire Game: One player undertakes some journey or adventure alone. He handles the effects of the rules himself. Solitaire is ideal for the player who is alone due to situation or geography.”
It is worth nothing that Book 01 is clear that the preferred mode of play is with a referee.
The Solitaire Game
How does the solitaire player then play Traveller 1977? It is not immediately clear across Books 01-03 how this is to be accomplished. Many procedures are laid out but the solitaire player is not provided with a step-by-step checklist of play. While GDW would go on to produce a number of adventures and many included variations for groups and solitaire players (usually with an eye towards a referee and one player, or a “duet” game as we now commonly refer to it) there was never a “solitaire campaign” supplement.
There have been a number of independent effort to codify how to play Classic Traveller. In 1982, Steven Sowards wrote an article in Issue 13 of the Journal of the Travellers’ Aid Society called “Real Time Traveller.”
“With some small adjustments, a satisfying solitaire Traveller campaign can be conducted on the basis of a few minutes each day, by playing the game in”real-time” terms.”
The article focuses on the challenges of playing a game on this time-scale and how one might spend the long stretches of time spent in jump space. Further it lays out what a 15-day cycle of life might look like for a Traveller character who is a crew member or passenger on a ship.
Published on Freelance Traveller in 2004, Dave Cooper’s Travelling Alone goes further by defining a system where the player rolls on a set of nested tables to generate different encounters, situations, and constraints their characters must deal with. Dave would update this system again in October 2021 for Issue 008 of the Cepheus Journal.
Andy Slack, in his series exploring Traveller 1977, documented a turn sequence laying out how PCs could play with and without a ship based on the procedures Books 01-03 themselves lay out.
In addition Paul Elliott has spent many words on how a solitaire player can find enjoyment with Traveller in three publishings. The 153 page solitaire roleplaying system SOLO by Zozer Games has oodles of random tables, roleplaying guidance, tips for managing a cast of characters on your own, and several different “mini-games” that tackle different areas of the Traveller experience such as mercenaries, traders, naval crew, or scouts. In 2021 Paul put out a free PDF titled Playing Solo Classic Traveller that takes some of his ideas from SOLO but reframes them in a “back to basics” Book 01-03 format of play. Most recently Paul put out HOSTILE: SOLO which expands on the ideas in SOLO but frames them around his custom “HOSTILE” setting - his own spin on the horror space movie genre of 1979’s Alien or 1981’s Outland.
My Ideal Solitaire Traveller Campaign
I’ve played many games of Paul Elliott’s SOLO, it is a rich and rewarding experience but I’m keen to stick to the original Books 01, 02, and 03 with inclusions from 1001 Characters, Animal Encounters, Citizens of The Imperium, and 76 Patrons brought in as needed.
Ideally I’m looking for something with a bit of the step-by-step sequence of play from Dave Cooper’s Travelling Alone and the straightforwardness of Andy Slack’s Traveller 1977 Turn Sequence. I like the idea of the “daily, real-time” scale from Steven Soward’s Real Time Traveller. Looking outside of the many words written about Traveller I will take inspiration from other sci-fi games such as Five Parsecs From Home, Farthest Star, or Two Hour Wargames’ 5150 New Beginnings which all have excellent repeatable solitaire campaign procedures.
I prefer having a structured game sequence to fallback on because I find sometimes the solitaire game can grind to a halt, unsure of what to do next. Knowing that I can always say “I’m in step 6 - so let’s just have a random encounter and see what happens” means there’s always a way to get the game engine moving again.
One of my goals is to closely read, experience, and play the original game’s rules as-is before expanding upon them. This is not out of stubbornness, I’ve played plenty of modern roleplaying games and enjoy them (prefer them even!) The original rules always captured my imagination but in previous games they were immediately house-ruled and expanded upoon without ever playing the game as-is. Book 04 Mercenary, Book 05 High Guard, and Book 07 Merchant Prince were layered on top without any care as to what effect it would have on the experience - we just knew we wanted “more.”
I’m curious to understand how the game feels when it is played with the original rules first. I’m also not interested in a strict “rules as written” approach either. Just because there is a detailed space combat system in Book 02 does not mean that one cannot use the simpler rules from the same book or those from Book 01’s “ship’s boat” skill throw guidance:
“Hostile attack can cripple or destroy a ship’s boat. Use the space combat system in Book 2, or this simplified system. (Throw 10+ to escape on contact and avoid attack. Throw 8+ to avoid being hit if escape fails. Alternate these throws until escape succeeds, or the craft is hit. DM: +1 per level of expertise on both rolls. Throw 5+ for craft to be crippled and boarded, 4– for craft to be destroyed. No DMs.”
Part of playing Classic Traveller is interpreting the procedures and guidance to develop your own game system as you play. I’ve always thought of Books 01-03 as a framework for creating a game rather than a specifically spelled out and unbending set of rules one must play by.