Monday, January 20, 2014

A Traveller's Life

E.C. Tubb's Dumarest of Terra novels are one of the primary inspirations for the game Traveller, though the game doesn't bother the central conceit of the novel. Tubb's protagonist Earl Dumarest other travellers are essentially space hobos: they book dangerous low passage in cryogenic berths from world to world. This contrasts with the wealthy in high passage, who take quick time drug to slow their perception and make time pass quicker to shorten the ennui of the voyage.

Though the Traveller mixes in other influences and gives PCs their own ship and faster FTL, Tubb's original set-up would make a good game all on its own. What's more, it strikes me Dumarest would be pretty easy to turn into a "hard" science fiction game. It would be trivial to dispense with artifical gravity (and antigravity), but I think you could even dispense with FTL.

Alastair Reynolds's novels in the so-called "Revelation Space universe" show how this could be done. Reynolds has no FTL, but does have interstellar travel via "lighthuggers" making voyages at close to light-speed with relativistic time dilation at play. Passengers on lighthuggers are put in cyrogenic freeze because of the length of the voyages. Just like in the Dumarest novels, cyrogenesis isn't without risks. Some passengers die and many have temporary amnesia.


In a modern, hard science fiction approach, low passage wouldn't just be cheap, it would be the only way for the middle class and poor to travel between worlds. Middle passage (the crew) might be more like the Ultras in Reynolds's books: transhuman space-mariners, living their lives on board ship and looking down on system-bound folk. High passage is still for the wealthy, but I don't think quicktime drugs alone would be enough the years (or even decade) long voyages. The wealthy (like the ship's crew) would no doubt have extended lifespans: perhaps into centuries, and possibly even into immortality, barring misadventure. Superlong lifespans,quicktime drugs, and brief periods in cryo-sleep would make it possible, though the the ships would have to have a lot of entertainment available, and be pretty large.

Obviously, you could do a lot a travel back and forth between worlds in this sort of set up, but if like Dumarest you mostly kept moving from one adventure to another that wouldn't really be necessary. Travellers would always be on the move to the next world, far away and years into the future.

10 comments:

Chris Kutalik said...

Coincidentally I started reading Revelation Space last night (it's long been on a stack of to-reads). High passage would work if indeed you had longevity (it looks like some of the characters in the novel routinely have life spans 2-3 centuries long) alongside say something like the quick drugs or other shipboard distraction (idyllic on-board garden decks or the like).

Trey said...

Yeah, my thoughts exactly. If you wanted to get more exotic than either RS or Dumarest does, the rich could even make copies of themselves (I guess RS Universe does have alpha and beta emulations) so that a rich person could be in two places at once and have their cake and eat it too.

Jay Dugger said...

Logically worked out, that more exotic book was Egan's Diaspora.

Trey said...

@Jay - That's exactly what I was thinking of. Though, Egan's Incandescence has a not dissimilar thing going on with people traveling instead of fleeing.

John Till said...

For slight changes of scenery and pace, you can also have light huggers travel in packs. PCs can shuttle between them to parley, trade, engage in intrigue, deal with emergencies, etc.

Canageek said...

Actually the version of Traveller I have from the 1980s does have Low and High berths, and there is a chance you will die if you take a low berth. I didn't realize that had been dropped from later editions.

Trey said...

They didn't. It's still in there. When I say they "didn't retain" the central idea the Dumarest novels I mean they didn't keep the idea of the PCs as "space hoboes." Traveller is much focused on getting a ship.

Canageek said...

Ah, sorry, I misunderstood that.

Tom Zunder said...

I don't know, many game of Traveller are better when the players have no ship, it makes them free of the finance and also less likely to just jump around randomly maing the GM job impossible.

Tom Zunder said...

By the way I love this blog idea.
It also means that so much objective time has passed on the planets, that when you arrive you cannot be at all sure what you will find since decades or centuries may have passed. Ultimate space hobo game..
You'll need the Travellers' Aide Society membership then.