Thursday, November 12, 2009

Travelling: an alternate vision of RPGs

Now for something completely off of the wall. A what-if story about a world where RPGs developed earlier than our own.

Forward to Adventure Part 1
A retrospective of 30 years of Adventure Games.
Imagination #224, September 5th 1970

Hello fans, welcome to the 30th anniversary of the Adventure Game. It was at ChiCon I where Paul Miller and V. Wiseman introduced Travelling, Your adventures in the future. Surprisingly the first edition of Travelling wasn’t a game. Sure many of the today’s rules were present. World & creature creation, starship construction were present. The remaining rules were either non-existent or only presented in the sketchiest of outlines.

To understand why Travelling was written. We need to go back to the New York World Fair and the first Worldcon. Miller was one of those attending the first con. Like other fans he was intensely interested in the new style of science fiction being written in Astounding and other magazines. He wanted to learn how to write these stories himself. It was said that he spent much of the convention cornering Campbell and other editors with questions on how to write good science fiction.

Miller left the first WorldCon very frustrated as he felt that nobody could give him a clear answer to his questions. He returned to his hometown of Chicago where two month later he was talking to his friend Victor Wiseman. Wiseman was studying physics at the University of Chicago at the time. Inspired by his friend’s troubles, he sat down and wrote up a set of tables for his friend to use to create his stories. For the next four months Wiseman researched the available literature on planets, stars, rockets, and even a little biology. By the spring of 1940 he had over two dozen pages of tables, charts, and notes for Miller.

Miller loved what Wiseman had done and immediately used them to create his own worlds and settings pulling material from E.E. Smith and other writers of the time. When Miller found something that wasn’t clear or difficult to use, he made notes and worked with Wiseman to make the charts easier to use. One innovation that introduced at this time was the use of dice to randomize various results.

Miller wrote in Imagination #64,
I was making the first sector of the Spinward Republic and starting to get repetitive in how my worlds were turning out. To give my head a break I started rolling dice to randomly pick items off of the tables, modifying the more outlandish results. When I showed Wiseman what I was doing, he picked up on it right away. He knew quite a bit about statistics and probability from his work at the University. For the third revision he reorganized the tables so you could use 1 or more dice to roll for the results.
At the end of the spring term, Miller and Wiseman had what would be the first edition of Travelling finished. With the second World Con coming in September, the pair decided to spend $100 and print their charts and notes as a small book and sell it at the Con. They figured that there were other writers had the same problems as Miller did and Travelling would sell.
So that summer, Miller took all of Wiseman’s notes and charts and typed them up. To Wiseman’s star, world, creatures, and starship charts, he added chapters on characters, equipment, and mileau. At the end he included a small subsector of his Spinward Republic setting, the classic Victoria Subsector.

When September rolled around, Miller went to the WorldCon and set up a table with 100 copies of Travelling for sale for $2. Travelling was a hit! With all 100 copies sold out by the end of the second day. Years later Robert Heinlein wrote
“I walked by and saw Miller there with a crowd of people. I picked a copy of Travelling. Now I knew a lot of what Wiseman and Miller wrote and had the reference books; but it was nice to have it all in one place. Plus being able to use dice helped when you are stuck trying to figure out exactly what a place looked like.
Miller left the convention with orders for two dozen more books. In addition he used some of the cash to pay for ads in next month’s issue of Astounding and other magazines. When he got back he split the profits with Wiseman and the two ordered 100 more books. Throughout that first year Travelling was reprinted two more times. The third print run was 200 copies and the fourth was 500 copies.

The next major step in Travelling evolution were Chadwick’s famous “Bottle Caps” rules. Named for the use of bottle caps to represent starships and people. This first appeared in the March 1941 issue of Astounding, John Chadwick came up with a set of rules, using dice, to resolve combat using the starships and personal weapons listed in Travelling. Miller, immediately like the “bottle caps” rules. He contacted Chadwick and was able to get permission to incorporate them into the 2nd edition of Travelling.

The 2nd edition was released the fall of 1941 at the third WorldCon in Denver with a modified version of Chadwick’s rules incorporated. 2nd edition included chapters on characters, combat, worlds, stars, creatures, equipment, and starships. Over a 1000 copies were made and all were sold within months.

The 2nd edition was the first that could be played as a game. Although the characters and the equipment lists were much cruder than subsequent editions. The second edition increased Travelling popularity throughout World War 2 .

After the 2nd Edition was released, Campbell at Astounding Magazine was inundated with submissions based on Travelling. Some were little more than lists randomly generated from the charts in Travelling. Campbell founded a new bi-monthly magazine called Imagination, Gateway to the Future and filled it with Travelling submissions. The first issue featured Miller’s Spinward Republic outlining a complete sector done in the Travelling format.

Travelling and World War 2.
Travelling 3rd Edition
How Pirates & Plunder almost sank Adventures Games in the 50s
Spy versus Spy and revival of Adventure Games in the 60s.
The triumph of the Hobbit, Adventure Games return to the past and fantasy.
The Future of Adventure Games.

If you like reading alternate history there is no better place on the Internet than the Alternate History Forums.

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