The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

“The referee has the responsibility for mapping the universe before actual game play begins. The entire universe is not necessary immediately, however, as only a small portion can be used at any one time.” – Traveller, Book 3

You don’t often see subsector maps created using the 1977 rules; and if you look at the map below, you’ll see why. The space lanes (pale blue lines) restricting commercial travel between worlds disappeared starting with Adventure 1: The Kinunir in 1979, about the same time that travel zones were added, and had completely vanished by the time the revised rules appeared in 1981. Mongoose Traveller has added trade routes, which link worlds with complementary trade classifications within 4 hexes of each other, an interesting idea which we shall not consider further here – maybe later.

“Here’s one I prepared earlier…”

Space Lanes

Space lanes restrict travel in two ways. First, you can only buy course tapes for routes that follow space lanes; this means PCs with a ship need to spend Cr 800,000 on the Generate programme for their ship’s computer before they can stray off the space lanes. (Course tapes have no cost listed in the 1977 rules, but in the 1981 rules cost Cr 10,000 per parsec.) Second, civilian NPC ships only travel along space lanes, so if the PCs don’t have a ship, they can only travel to worlds on space lanes.

This is largely a complex and time-consuming way of identifying a couple of worlds in the subsector that see very little traffic, leaving the referee to ponder why that might be; that function is served by travel zones in later editions of the rules, and eventually guidelines emerged for the referee on which worlds should have amber or red zones. Sometimes, a high-jump route goes through a hex without stopping at the world in it – the dotted line in the picture above is one of those, nobody goes to Krasny Lutch.

Where there are many space lanes converging on a planet, like Siran on the map above, you may reasonably infer it’s a trade hub of some kind. In the real world, such ports tend to be nodes where passengers and cargo switch from one route to another, so they might not necessarily have anything of interest beyond their strategic location.

Creating the Map

Classic Traveller allows you to create your subsector in phases. The map above took about two hours to create (most of it spent checking for space lanes), including rendering it in Hexographer, and is enough to do simple missions (“Okay, you’re on Siran and the scout has been reactivated to carry a close-mouthed courier and a ton of cargo under diplomatic seal to Alajuelita, stat.”). I usually roll for the world presence, starport type, bases and gas giants at the same time, using different-coloured dice for each feature, and mark them on the map as I go; this edition just says you should mark world presence, but I find the other features really useful and have always done it this way. I’ve tried various ways of rolling up space lanes; it’s a pain however you do it, and it usually messes up the map somehow, which is one reason I started using Hexographer – editing the space lanes is easier.

The second phase is when you determine world profiles and trade classifications. If there’s room I put those on the map as well, especially the latter as it helps PC merchant captains decide where to go next, and they also act as a primitive form of the world tags which are the best feature of Stars Without Number. Now you have enough to run pretty much any kind of adventure; you can flesh out the world description on the fly in play.

The third phase is when you look at things like animal encounter tables (which I usually ignore entirely) and the narrative aspects of the world. What kind of planet is a waterworld with a population of ten billion and a religious dictatorship for a government? That kind of thing. Be warned though, the more effort you put into lovingly detailed descriptions of your world, the more it stings when the PCs set fire to it and run off to somewhere you didn’t think they’d ever go and haven’t prepared.

In Mongoose Traveller, you need to do the first two phases together, because the starport class is affected by the rest of the world profile; and in phase three you might want to work out local political factions as well, although Mongoose haven’t done that themselves in any of their products I’ve bought.

Decisions, Decisions

Before you start, it’s worth asking yourself how your PCs are going to travel – since that one time when the group rolled up a free trader and three scoutships, I don’t leave that to chance anymore; I decide if they’re getting a ship, and what kind.

If a world is present on a 3+, you get a subsector map full of worlds with a few holes it in; I find maps like this too busy visually and generally unattractive. They also have very few points of strategic importance – the PCs can always go a different way.

With worlds present on a 4+, you get chains of adjacent worlds meeting at junction nodes, with a few isolated worlds only accessible to jump-2 ships. This favours jump-1 traffic like Free Traders, and if using the space lanes rules you get a cobweb of trade routes obscuring the map. If your PCs don’t have a ship, or have a Type A, this is probably the best fit.

On a 5+, you get clusters of worlds, mutually accessible by jump-1 ships, but separated from each other by jump-2 gaps. This favours scoutships and far traders, so it’s the way to go if you expect the PCs to have one of those – or if they have a free trader but you want to confine them to a small number of worlds to begin with. Judging by the numbers of worlds, most published materials have used this frequency.

One thing that used to slow me down enormously was selecting names for worlds; now I skip gaily along to the list of all the world’s cities maintained by the UN and pick some obscure city names from the bottom of their data table. That’s where the world names in the example above came from.

I prefer to roll subsectors by hand, which I think gives me a better ‘feel’ for them; but there are several generators online, of which I’d say the Zhodani Base has the best one.

Interstellar Powers

I think these deserve separate posts of their own, which they will have shortly. Although Book 3 says the title Emperor is reserved for the ruler of “an empire of several worlds”, there are no large interstellar states by default in these rules – they are first hinted at in 1978 in Book 4, Mercenary, which states “Traveller assumes a remote centralised government (referred to in this volume as the Imperium)”, and more detail appears from 1979 on, starting with Adventure 1: The Kinunir and Supplement 3: The Spinward Marches.

In the average 40-world subsector, you might have 4-5 worlds with government type 6, “a colony or conquered area”, but an interstellar state under the 1977 rules would likely be a loose confederation, with individual worlds being almost completely independent both of each other and the larger state – something like the contemporary United Nations.

As a teaser, in this version of Traveller, the factions projecting power across interstellar distances include some you might not expect, using unusual methods; I refer, of course, to the Psionics Institute – and the Travellers’ Aid Society…

Comments on: "Traveller 1977: Subsector Maps" (2)

  1. I have spent many hours drawing subsector maps and still never did one I was entirely happy with!
    One thing I added was- a system is present on a roll of 5+. On a roll of 1, I made a second roll and if a 1-2 came up then there was a gas cloud/ nebula in the hex. I ruled that these couldn’t be jumped through; effectively adding some terrain to the map.
    I like your way of finding planet names – I’ve always struggled with this as well.

  2. Shaun Travers said:

    I do have the 1977 version and I used the space lanes once for a subsector and then never used them again – too long to do by hand.

    On world names, I use street names from the suburb I am in. About 10 years ago, I downloaded the list of street names from my city (Brisbane) and have not run out yet!

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