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Interview with Loren Wiseman
by James Maliszewski
There can be no question that Traveller is the grand-daddy of all science fiction roleplaying games. Released in the summer of 1977, Traveller has existed in a number of forms over the years. The newest version to hit the shelves will be GURPS Traveller, published by Steve Jackson Games. I had the opportunity to ask a few questions of Loren Wiseman, the line editor and Traveller guru-in-residence at SJG.

 

What was the origin of the GURPS Traveller project? Why did Steve Jackson Games undertake it? How did you become involved in it?
Steve is a huge fan of Traveller, and has been since the game came out. When GDW closed down, control of the intellectual properties of Traveller reverted to Marc {Miller –JM} (designers got control of their creations as part of an agreement made when GDW started). Steve approached Marc about publishing a line of books using the the Traveller background and the GURPS rules to create an alternate universe setting. Steve approached me about writing the first book on a freelance basis, and I agreed. Later, Steve asked me about becoming GURPS Traveller line editor and coming to work with SJ Games full-time in Austin. Since this meant that a) it would be almost twice the pay I was getting selling computers in an office supply store and b) it was an opportunity to get back into the game business again, I jumped at the chance. Moving to Austin caused me some problems that have still not been completely sorted out (half my possessions are still in a storage locker in central Illinois for example), but I haven't looked back.

Why was I approached? Steve and I have been friends for years, and he knew of my deep involvement with Traveller since the game's first publication over 20 years ago. This, and a strong personal recommendation from Marc Miller are the reasons I was offered the job.
As a designer, did you have any serious difficulties in accommodating the GURPS rules to the Traveller universe, or vice versa? If so, in what areas?
Nothing serious. GURPS uses different mechanics from Traveller, but it has dealt with so many different situations it was largely a matter of finding a rule or slightly modifying a rule to fit the Traveller universe. Jump drive and FTL communication had to be defined to fit the Traveller background, but this was fairly simple. Some adjustments to technological development were necessary (anti-grav, for example, becomes available at different TLs in GURPS and Traveller, and this had to be adjusted). The best way to handle Jack-of-all-trades stymied me for the longest time, but Gene Seabolt came up with a solution at the last minute and we managed to get it in. A great many things were pretty much the same in both games, but had different names: Bargain skill in Traveller translates as Merchant in GURPS, Blade in Traveller is Shortsword in GURPS. A large number of things required little or no work at all: Botany is Botany, after all.

Converting things over is seldom a perfect process, and some fans will be irritated that (for example) the cargo capacity of the Beowulf-class Free Trader will not match to four decimal places, or the top speed of the G-carrier is not absolutely identical, or that the weapon ranges are in yards instead of meters -- these are minor details, and I'm not going to lose sleep over them. I think GURPS Traveller captures the "feel" of the Traveller universe quite well, despite the minor differences.
One of the things I've mentioned in my recent column is that Traveller isn't really so much a game anymore as a game setting. Do you think that's true? Is the Traveller universe something that transcends its origins in the "classic" Traveller game system of 1977?
That certainly is true, but if you were to ask me to point out precisely what it is that makes the Traveller background unique, I'm not sure I could do it –– I'm too close to be objective. The original game had no background. Soon, however, it became apparent to us that there was considerable demand for an "official" setting of some kind, and we provided one, drawing our inspirations from our collective educations and experiences –– a little Roman Empire, a little Star Wars, a lot of snippets of this and that from history and literature all melded together. Something about the richness and scope of this background grabbed many people's imaginations, but I'll be darned if I can describe it in 25 words or less. Whatever it is, it gave us one of the most full-realized backgrounds of any game, RPG or otherwise.
Why set GURPS Traveller in an alternate universe? Was it a marketing or licensing matter? Or were there other important reasons for doing this?
Well, for one thing, Marc already had a contract in place with another publisher for the "standard" Traveller universe (Imperium Games). For another, Steve felt that there were a number of Traveller fans who didn't like the Rebellion, and that there was a market for an alternate Traveller universe where it hadn't happened. I can't speak for Marc, but I assume he agreed because SJ Games is a company with a reputation for doing good products and he felt that Traveller as a whole could only benefit.

GURPS Traveller gets the Traveller name in front of gamers who haven't seen it before, and gives people access to a great deal of background information that was previously available only through books and products that had been out of print for years and have become scarce, hard-to-get collector's items. A great number of new players can now be up to speed on details they didn't have before, and their campaigns can only benefit, even if they don't use the GURPS rules.
I'm probably one of the few people who did think the poorly-named Rebellion was a good idea executed badly. Traveller's Imperium needed a serious shake-up and the Second Civil War proved to be a major one. What sort of shake-ups do you see for the GURPS Traveller setting? How will it remain dynamic?
Opinion is divided about the Rebellion, and this is not really the place to get into it. I'm sure there are many people who already play the Rebellion era using the GURPS rules, and GURPS Traveller will only make this easier for them. There were others who didn't care for it, and preferred the earlier situation. Still others liked the New Era setting, or the Milieu Zero setting of the 4th Edition.

SJ Games and I are limited by the contract to publishing in an alternate universe where the Rebellion never happens, Strephon is not assassinated, and the virus stays in its lab. I can't say what's coming up for the alternate Traveller universe (wouldn't want to let the cat out of the bag), but I will say this: a game universe where nothing changes is only slightly more exciting than a telephone directory. Interesting things are going to happen in the GURPS universe.
I take, then, that Steve Jackson Games is committed to supporting GURPS Traveller, almost as if it were an independent game. What sort of support will we see for it in the coming year?
With regard to support, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention the web site devoted to Traveller. Anyone who wants to keep up with what's happening with GURPS Traveller should check in from time to time. We have (among other things) links to other important Traveller sites, product information and a TNS archive.

As for what's coming up:

September
GURPS Traveller (softback)

October
GURPS Traveller (limited edition hardback)
Behind the Claw (the Spinward Marches Sourcebook)

November
Alien Races I (Zhodani and Vargr)

We plan to release 6 books in 1999, including a Military/Merc sourcebook, a Trade and Commerce book, and a Scouts book.

SJ Games hopes to keep up a schedule of 6 releases a year for GURPS Traveller, and we will, unless the Y2K problem destroys western civilization. There are 11,000 worlds in the Third Imperium, after all, and one worldbook each will last us through AD 3832!

Here's a hard question, but an honest one. Do you think GURPS Traveller is "too little, too late" or a vain attempt to recapture something that is long gone? Traveller is a venerable institution of gaming, but has it been so battered and beaten over the last decade that it's really beyond hope of revival?
Some people think Traveller is outdated, and has no appeal to modern gamers. I don't think so. Steve and Marc obviously don't think so. It remains to be seen how many of the fans think so, but the initial reception among the fans I talk to has been uniformly positive. Traveller has a large fan base, and many people are being attracted back into the game after several years away. We are also drawing in new gamers, and the proportion of players who were born after the game was first published is increasing.
Do you enjoy working on Traveller again? Does it bring back any fond memories of the early days of the game?
Absolutely. One of the most enjoyable aspects of the job was rereading all of the original game material (I hope no one takes it amiss when I confess I do not have it all committed to memory!). In the process of getting the first book out I made contact with a number of long-time friends, some of whom I managed to persuade to work with us on various Traveller-related products. Reading things I wrote 20 years ago fills me with a mix of memories and emotions. I remember the pressure we were under to get one product out, I remember the typesetting nightmare another one was. Sometimes I am embarrassed to read some of the things I wrote in those early days ––- we all grow as writers, and I think I am a better writer now than I was then. We did some great things over the years, and I wouldn't change a second of it were I to get to do it all over again (well –– I'd probably not waste good money going to see Aliens 3 in the theater, but that's it).
I know that I promised not to ask you about your personal life, but is there any truth to the rumors about you and Claudia Christian of Babylon 5? I suspect a lot of people would like to know.
I'm happy to get the truth out in the open and clear this whole thing up once and for all. To me, the most annoying thing about my relationship with Claudia Christian is the fact that I don't have one. We've never met, which I'm sure you will agree is not conducive to a long-term involvement. I would like to clear up one final point, also: the reason Claudia did not make it to DragonCon over this past Labor Day is not because she knew I would be attending. I am told she had an unexpected job offer and had to fly to England at the last minute.

Seriously, I hope to run into her someday. I've been a fan of hers for years, and look forward to seeing more of her work.

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